Friday, November 6, 2009

Rocket Man

Fringe: Earthling
Season 2, Episode 6

Not to reverse my position on how this show needed to step away from the main Bell/Bishop experiments mythology, but this week's stand alone was easily the weakest episode of the show's sophomore season. What's worse is that it finally shown a bit of the spotlight on my favorite actor in the cast. Perhaps I haven't adequately detailed how much I love every actor associated with The Wire. Because it's a lot! Besides a decent opening sequence (but that gimmick is wearing thin lately - more on that later) and the terrific performance by Lance Reddick, even a glimpse of the Observer and Stargate SG-1 cameo can't redeem a rather dull adventure. And it was even directed by Mr. 24 himself, Jon Cassar.

So with so much going right, how did it all go so wrong?

Well for starters, Cassar doesn't really bring much to the table that's very unique. I've watched every episode of 24 enough to learn Cassar doesn't bring much more than functionality to the table. He's the dishes and silverware, but he isn't the meal, at least not as a director. But he doesn't make this a weak episode.

The script by J.H. Wyman and Jeff Vlaming takes care of that little chore. The decision to become less of a version of Planetary (the seminal comic book by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday - thanks for pointing out the great comparison Billy) and more a ripoff of The X-Files. You can get away with doing the former because it wasn't a television show. But don't blatantly rip off the villain from "Space" with your own incorporeal force and pretend it's anything more than redundant.

Their biggest mistake is in limiting Walter's involvement and abilities. Wyman and Vlaming decided to emphasize the theme of contrasting the solid with the ethereal by having Walter unable to comprehend the formula behind this week's villain until he visually constructs it out of toys. It's the kind of heavy-handed writing that even Noble can't redeem. And unfortunately, PEter seems shoved into the background to accomodate Broyles, which is twice as much of a shame since A) Peter's the second best character in the show and B) when he and Broyles worked off each other in the pilot while Olivia was out of the picture, there was some strong chemistry between the two of them. Nothing like the Walter-Peter stuff, but it had the potential to be more interesting and engaging than the Peter-Olivia interactions. But that might just be the effect of the numerous problems I have with Olivia (i.e. not exploring her powers and all of her painful bowling/therapy scenes).

But I've come to enjoy this show enough that when I can't get interested in a plot heavily involving Reddick and guest starring JR Bourne (Martouf from Stargate: SG-1) something bad is up. In the end, the problem is how futile all the efforts of the main characters are. I still don't understand how Broyles really got any sense of resolution since the villain isn't destroyed at the end. Beyond that Walter spends the entire episode solving a formula that is in fact, unable to be fixed. Way to neuter the efforts of your characters. Being able to effect no significant change or resolution leaves the characters cuckolded and ranks just slightly lower on the Plot Developments That Piss Me Off List than discovering the problem will solve itself.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Higher Expectations

Dollhouse: Belonging
Season 2, Episode 4

Whenever we talk about Dollhouse, there's the continuous debate between the show's potential and the generally poor execution on several levels. Unlike previously hyped episodes that are supposed to reinvent the series, this episode was the first I've entered with incredibly high expectations. Even if I was able to temper my hopes in the past (I just wanted a decent episode out of "Man on the Street"), after watching "Epitaph One", I circled the next episode by the same writers, "Belonging", on my calendar. If I could have higher hopes than an episode written by the team of Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon, adding Bill Riker himself as the director sufficiently did me in. I mean, Jonathan Frakes did direct First Contact, the most impressive Star Trek movie of all time. That's right. I went there Wrath of Khan fans.

Going back to the third episode of the series, when Echo played an unconvincing struggling singer and Sierra absolutely killed as the starstruck fangirl, I became convinced that Dichen Lachman could act circles around the often-struggling Eliza Dushku. And by the time we learned a bit of their back stories - that Caroline chose this life and Sierra/Priya was kidnapped into it against her will - that she was the far more interesting character.

In this episode, which had some nicely handled use of jumping backward and forward in time, we learned that Priya wasn't actually kidnapped by the Dollhouse or the Rossum Corporation, as we were led to believe during last season's "Needs". Instead she turned down the affections of Dr. Nolan Kinnard (played by a creepy without having to try Vincent Ventresca) works with the corporation. After drugging her into madness, he calls in the Dollhouse to help her. It's an incomplete way to excuse Adelle and Topher and other employees of the Dollhouse - that she was kidnapped, but it was the higher forces that are the bad guys, like the Rossum executive Matthew Hardin played by Keith Carradine (Dexter, Deadwood) who excuses Nolan's behavior and demands Adelle hand over Priya permanently.

While the episode makes Topher (generally one of the two creepiest characters on the show) a bit more sympathetic, I don't understand why he couldn't just heal this mentally disturbed girl instead of making her a Doll for five years. The mentally ill can't really consent to the standard Dollhouse contract. And again its not especially understandable why afterwards he doesn't just erase her one bad day and let Priya go back to her life. Besides those two substantive plot holes however, its a great episode. The character development of Victor and Topher is even more interesting than Priya's story and that's saying something.

Between his passion to discover the truth and his remorse in this episode, his breakdown in "Epitaph One" and his scenes with Saunders in the season premiere, Topher has made huge strides this season in becoming a more empatheticcharacter and not just an amoral mad scientist. Previously just the morally empty version of Xander Harris designed to provide cute jokes (that almost never hit as well as the writers planned), Topher has become an almost tragic figure that could figure out any problem, but couldn't see the bigger picture to accept how the work he was doing was utterly wrong. The scene where he and Boyd dismember the body of Dr. Kinnard is handled expertly by Frakes

Despite the early positioning of Echo as the lead and her relationship with Ballard as the somewhat obvious routes for the series to take, the emotional heart of this episode and the series altogether is Victor and Sierra/Priya. When they first meet, Priya is still herself and Victor is one of many Dolls at a party specifically designed by Priya's stalker, with Echo and Victor extolling his many imagined virtues. It's humorous to watch her flirt with him while he mindlessly pimps out Nolan. It's actually moving to see how these characters love each other on such a basic level that it goes beyond who they are and what they know. Victor removing the black paint that haunts her and waiting without explanation or reason for her return after being sent to Nolan are some of the most emotionally moving moments in the series. When confronting Nolan and eventually taking her revenge, Priya has absolutely no memory of him, but know Victor exists and that she loves and will fight for.

For the most part Echo sits in the background, only pushing Topher off on his investigation of Sierra's past. I tend to think that the best episode of each of the first two seasons thus far has used Echo only sparingly. So often, little about her makes sense. We don't know specifically how she is able to remember things throughout various wipes. We don't know why she is queen of the glitches. And for the life of me, I have know idea how she convinced Boyd that she was trustworthy enough to entrust with an access key to the entire Dollhouse. Such a level of trust would be much more in line with the plot so far this year if Ballard (who for no reason besides they needed to avoid paying Tahmoh Penikett this week, is absent) provided the access card. Boyd has been onscreen far too infrequently this year (especially in scenes with Echo) for this development to feel authentic.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Blue is Blue, Honey

Mad Men: The Color Blue
Season 3, Episode 10

First off, apologies for not reviewing episode nine individually last week. I planned on doing a split review this week, but it turned out there was so much happening this week in what has been the best episode of the season (possibly excluding "Guy Walks in to an Advertising Agency") and one so full of such significant moments in the history of the show... I decided unilaterally it would be unfair to each to try and cram them together.

I always comment about how so much is going on in every episode of Mad Men that my reviews never cover everything I could talk about, but this week seems to crank that feeling up to 11.

In the biggest development of the night, thanks to Don being distracted by baby Gene, he got careless with the key to his office drawer. Betty leaps at the opportunity (with joyous zeal, no less) to find out what her ultra-secretive husband has hidden from the world. Uncovering the dogtags for Don Draper and Dick Whitman, in addition to Dick's childhood photographs, isn't that interesting for her. She isn't able to put things together on his identity and is only left with more questions from these discoveries. The epic discovery that sets her off is the copy of Don's divorce decree. While I should re-watch his west coast trip from season two, I seem to remember Don returned to ask the original Mrs. Draper for a divorce just before he married Betty. So not only did her husband never tell her that he was married before, but he was still married when he met and courted Betty.

In one of the biggest audience let downs in the history of the show, we never get the confrontation between Don and Betty because he never comes home that night. Poor Betty never gets to tear into him like she wants to so bad while waiting in the kitchen with that box of evidence. I'm not sure if after returning the box and going to the Sterling Cooper 40th anniversary dinner that she will use this as her excuse to sleep with Henry Francis or if she is accepting her utter defeat in her marriage and will return to being Don's doormat. I lean towards thinking it will be the former.

One of this week's main themes seems to be perception, the title derived from a question between Don and his latest paramour (and Sally's teacher), Suzanne Farrell. "How do I know that what you see as the color blue is the same thing that I see?" Between this and catching Don on the train (and possibly calling his house), Suzanne is probably more into Don than any woman he's been with. The way she looks at him with such utter devotion or how she wants Don to meet her brother, the character is definitely giving me flashes of Gloria Trillo from the third season of The Sopranos and I expect this will end as well. I'm looking forward to the carnage when Don tries to break it off with the woman who said she didn't care about his wife or job "as long as you're with me." That's the type of line that has me fearing she goes Fatal Attraction on Sally someday... this will not end well.

And of course Don and Suzanne think of their relationship differently. She practically considers him part of the family while the idea of meeting the family (or going anywhere in public together) was not part of his plan. But besides being a possible psycho, Suzanne's attitude with her brother serves as a completely opposite reflection of the relationship Don had with Adam back in season one. Both Don and Danny end up with different perceptions of each other. Danny thought Don was a bastard using his sister when really he just was nervous and caught off guard. Don looks at Danny and sees the kids that rolled him over the summer, the junkie friends of Midge and most of all, his loser brother, Adam, and everything about life he loathes. Danny really has a bit in common with Dick Whitman. Both hated their place in life and how others viewed them, but Danny's epilepsy isn't something he can fix by taking another man's dog tags. In the end, Don does his lover's brother a far better turn than he did his own. In addition to some cash, he gives Danny his business card and an offer to help if its needed. Instead of buying off an inconvenience that olive branch leaves Don looking much better to the audience, especially given the knowledge about how Adam turned out.

Going back to the phone call that Suzanne may or may not have made. I absolutely loved the scene where Don is worried Suzanne is cold calling him and Betty is just as worried its Henry calling for her. I'm hoping for an affair for Betty to put things on a little more equal footing and finding out about Don's divorce might turn into her excuse. And of course, the best moment is Sally's "Geez, Louise."

We have two substantive plots at Sterling Cooper this week. With Paul and Peggy competing more actively in creative, he burns the midnight oil coming up with a campaign for Western Union telegraph. After meeting a janitor named Achilles, he finds his inspiration, only to fail to jot it down and forget it the next day. While its great humor at the expense of the office blowhard, the writers perhaps laid it on a little thick with Peggy and Don both showing such a viceral reaction to the story for fear of when they forget their own ideas (hence why Don will turn any scrap of paper into a notepad). But they were being a bit cute with the overreactions, like they had this exchange when scripting the episode:

"Let's have everyone devastated over this lost idea. I f-cking hate it when that happens."

"Yeah, every writer and critic out there will identify with it."

Paul's perception that Peggy is succeeding because she is a woman or because she remains Don's favorite is blown out of the water, when after on the spur of the moment she turns some philosophical quote of Paul's into a great campaign. "Wow." He just gets it in that moment and its funny how he can't even contain his surprise at how wrong he was.

Lane Pryce was never really on my good side early on, especially when he brought in the news that PPC was going to kill the Madison Square Garden deal. He seemed to be a penny-pincher out to destroy the great American creative power. But without a word, two supremely well-performed moments made this character one I empathize with the most. The first came in "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency" with the reaction to being relocated to Bombay and the realization his bosses don't think of his as anything more than an efficient stopgap. He was so destroyed in that moment. In this episode, he learns PPC plans to turn over Sterling Cooper, selling it to the highest bidder and that goal is their only operating strategy at this time.

Between how well he interacts with Cooper and his non-verbalized dissent to his wife's enthusiasm to returning to England, Jared Harris does a spectacular job as Lane this week. Without ever saying a word, he makes sure we all know that not only does he prefer New York and Sterling Cooper to exile in India, but he actually would rather stay in place than return home. I hope that he risks it all to align himself with Bert Cooper and the Americans and keep the company safely intact.

Lastly, a farewell for Sal Romano, who was fired for not having sex with a client. We might see him again (and I hope we do, a show without him OR Joan would be a far weaker experience), but Bryan Batt was given a character that should have been a joke and turned it into something very moving on more than one occasion. Watching the premiere, every member of the audience figured out the truth about Sal and figured it would be a running joke that nobody else notices what we considered obvious. But his ongoing tragedy was really moving. He had to never talk to anyone at work about his personal life. He had to enter into a sham marriage that nobody could be happy in (even putting the Drapers to shame) to stop people from asking questions. And now he can't tell his wife he was fired because he can't admit why. Also, his farewell reminded us what a vile person Don can be when he is struggling in one area of his life. Like when lashing out at Peggy earlier in season one, Don can't really compartmentalize his anger well when the shit hits the fan.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Enter Sandman

Fringe: Dream Logic
Season 2, Episode 5

For a few weeks now, I've been mentioning my favorite parts of the second season so far. The third favorite, Kirk Acevedo's terrific work seamlessly moving from playing Agent Charlie Francis to Fake Face Charlie, is all over now, but like Olivia I mourn his loss to the show. The other two highlights are both on prime display this week. Walter, who carried the show significantly in season one and still does a bit more than his share to this day, continues to be a fabulous man-child when confronted with things he doesn't understand. And I always like a bit more of the depth the storyline behind Peter's past provides.

It's safe to say this episode delivered on everything I enjoy about the show in spades. Walter is in full mad scientist mode. Peter continues to lend a hand in ever more involved ways while hinting at his tragic past. And Olivia... um... is there as well.

I was bound to dislike Olivia's storyline from the very beginning when she went to visit her bowling instructor/life coach Sam Weiss. Kevin Corrigan's performance as Weiss continues to grate on me. It's not just a case of not liking Corrigan (eventhough I really, really don't). His character is so shrouded in quirkiness, it doesn't even fit for this show. He's a zen guru who runs a bowling alley and has acted as a therapist for the CEO of one of the biggest corporations in this world and FBI agents. So there's obviously more to him than just being an average schmo. But that's how he's played for now until his larger purpose and place in the grand scheme of things is revealed. He's no substance and all showy-ness; basically everything I hated about the early days of this show. It's the same story we've seen a hundred times. Teacher roles acts crazy and makes student do stupid and pointless things. Student gets mad and wants to give up. Student realizes they've learned something. It doesn't change the fact that Mr. Miyagi was a dick that got thousands of dollars of free labor to remodel his home. At least Yoda settled for a piggyback ride and a flashlight.

John Noble on the other hand, him I love to death. His unique and humorous role was one of the first things that started reattaching Fringe for me on the DVDs. But this year continues to be a big step forward. He isn't just the convenient source for the writers to provide answers through like their own private deus ex machina. This week, he displays both his frailty (being unable to work long term outside his lab at Harvard) and sense of wonderment. Almost as fun as him experimenting on the FBI agent that escorted him back from Seattle is watching him talk Astrid into doing it. He just loves discovering answers to impossible questions. And now that he doesn't no everything, Peter gets to help out more. I loved the look of pride on Walter's face when Peter suggests the idea of mind control. Noble and Joshua Jackson have by far and away the best chemistry on the show (definitely more than Broyles and Sharp...uuggghh).

It is disappointing the show hasn't been able to prove more successful about improving their third lead. Olivia spends the episode following the nonsensical advice of Weiss (cringe-worthy), being depressed that Charlie is gone and being there when we need to shoot something. I hope now with her getting to that "You're Gonna Be Fine" message that she can leave Angst-land and have some fun with the rest of the gang. It seemed to ring false that after Walter and Peter do all the heavy lifting to solve the mystery (finding the device in their minds, making the leaps toward mind control and ultimately solving the mystery that someone is receiving the dreams of the victims and absorbing them like a drug), that Olivia gets to just throw the random connection of her father's Jekyl and Hyde approach to alcoholism to decide it must be the doctor. Considering she was along for the ride asking people for business cards to discover Weiss' message, I loathed that she got to just randomly come up with the answer. Yes, she confirmed it with good old-fashioned police work by comparing the writing samples, but once again - that was just a confirmation about her utterly wild assumption. It would have worked so much better if she was just studying the note (you know, like an FBI agent would) and found the evidence, using her personal history to back up the evidence. It's a bass-ackwards approach to presenting a resolution. This episode seems to nail the Dreams, but for the resolution at least doesn't have much Logic.

But all my complaints go away when Peter talks about his past. The fact that Walter taught him not to remember his nightmares reminds us all that Walter had a good reason to try and make Peter forget everything before he was abducted from his reality. That's the double-sided tragedy of that story because Walter needs him to forget and be like his dead son. If Peter is his son, than he is a hero in a loving father. If Peter is not his son and remembers his life before coming to Earth-1, than Walter is a sick monster that stole a child from his bed at night.

The main thing to love about this plot is how this season, we as the audience know more than a main character (in this case Peter). So much of science fiction on television today (Lost, Flashforward) is about the audience discovering something at the slower pace the main characters do. Some character knows the truth, but we can't view the situation from their perspective most of the time. So we identify with the people discovering the truth (Locke and his hatch, Jack and how to get off the island, Joseph Feinnes and why the world blacked out). It's this carrot that the creators of the show dangle in front of us for months or years at a time. And in that time we stop caring because we're tired of reaching for some truth only to have it pulled away time and time again.

In this case, we already have the carrot - the truth about Peter's early life. And now we get to enjoy how that truth is hidden or revealed a bit every week. When Peter talks about being conditioned to forget his nightmares, we don't have to wonder about the backstory. We can figure it out easily with the information we already have. His nightmare at the end isn't a clue. We know what is happening when he is snatched out of bed. And we're in a unique place that because we like Walter, we don't want him to remember and are kind of glad when he says he doesn't. Of course, if Peter does remember, it will make his eventual confrontation with Walter all the more interesting.

Walter did something we can understand, but is utterly indefensible. He couldn't accept his son's death and would bridge the gaps between realities to get him back even at the cost of his life and sanity. But you can't excuse it from Peter's perspective. He was kidnapped from his home and taken away by a man who pretended to be his father and did a poor job of it due to his mental illness. It's a lot easier to wait for the confrontation than the mystery. There are enough mysteries on this show.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Back and Forth

Just to keep things fresh here at That's a Wrap!, we'll be mixing things up to add some content besides our standard reviews. First up, Jim and Billy banter about one of their new favorite shows, Supernatural, and discuss the state of its latest and likely final season. The conversation ran over the course of Monday morning through Wednesday night.


So, while I'm working on my extremely late Supernatural review, I thought we could do the email discussion thing you were talking about before. I'm not sure what you want to discuss first so we may as well begin with Supernatural. What's been your favorite thing about this season so far?

-- JIM

If it helps, my review for Mad Men is running late too. I still need to watch the episode. The Red Sox just destroyed me Sunday and I was no use to man nor beast. Start with our favorite things? What are you trying to do, write a puff piece? Let's talk about our biggest problem. Besides crowding up my already busy Thursday nights, I've been worried that we might miss out on all the fun. By that I mean breaking up the main season story with isolated and lighter fair like "Criss Angel is a Douchbag", "Ghostfacers" and "Hollywood Babylon". As far as season long arcs go, the apocalypse is kind of heavy on the doom and gloom and I'm worried that amidst all that they might loose the feel for the fun episodes. And it really isn't a good sign for cutting back the angst every now and then considering the Winchester brothers are (as mentioned in your reviews) the most important people on the planet and being hunted by the forces of heaven and hell. That's heavy, Doc.

Humor is always in the background, but some of my favorite episodes ever are the concise stand-alones where I don't have to think about all the other episode plots and backstory to enjoy things. Occasionally, you want to shut your mind off a little and watch Dean die a couple hundred times in "Mystery Spot". The episode you are probably working on the review for even now, "Fallen Idols" sort of solves that problem with the idea that they should stop fighting and arguing about who is responsible for starting the end of the world. But it guest stars Paris Hilton. They nail some of the humor, I mean ever since I saw Fight Club, I wanted to see somebody fight Ghandi. But it guest stars Paris Hilton. It's creepy and funny and I loved the James Dean stuff. But it guest stars Paris Hilton. And how cool is it when they kill Paris Hilton? But it guest stars Paris Hilton. I guess I'm not too worried, but want to see a humorous episode that doesn't involve stunt casting one of the most annoying pop culture icons ever know. Ya know?


In Hilton's defense, she was LIGHT YEARS better than Britney Spears was as a guest on How I Met Your Mother. '"Fallen Idol" was a step in a humorous direction, but honestly as funny as the Ghandi stuff was I just wanted to get back to the apocalypse storyline. I feel like the stakes have been raised too high and now I want to ride this high tension roller coaster to what is inevitably going to be an awesome finale.

I love the funny episodes. I just rewatched "Mystery Spot" and hearing "Heat of the Moment" kills me every time but the fact is the humor needs to spring from the characters and in this show it does -- often. We don't exactly need a gimmick episode to deliver the laughs. It's nice every so often to have these episodes but when the fate of the world is on the line I think it would be disingenuous to jump into a comedy episode.

For me, I think the big mistake this season is twofold. First, I'd like to see more of the apocalypse, prove to me (aside from a few characters mentioning that they've noticed signs and omens) that the world is close to ending. Second, and admittedly this is a problem the series has had the entire time, I want to see the hunter culture at large. I want to see what the other hunters are doing to prevent the Earth's destruction. We've gotten small, tantalizing glimpses at this with the return of Jo, Ellen and Rufus, but they disappeared just as soon as they returned.

-- JIM

First off, they did dedicate some screen time to the hunters that Bobby sent to help a temporarily inactive Sam. I think it's likely now that the other hunters know what Sam did, that plot will be revisited in a future confrontation. But it seems we have our first substantive divide here between us when it comes to the show. You're worried about keeping enough attention on the apocalypse part, while I worry about the non-apocalypse episodes maintaining their quality. But this show isn't like Lost where I'm fearing every episode that doesn't deal with the mythology of the show. There's no Jack's tattoo episode here. And don't you think it's a little daunting to have 22 consecutive episodes without diverging from the main mythology? I mean those stand-alone episodes might expose us to other hunters like you seem to want so much (and I agree, more Jo, Ellen and Rufus is worth seeing).

While I hope we see other hunters, it isn't necessary to contain to the apocalypse plot. We know Lucifer's endgame has two main plots: Streamline the Croatoan virus and get his permanent meat-suit, Sam. Given this I can understand how most of the action involving the Big-A directly revolves around Dean-Sam-Cas and few others. And is it me or is the wheelchair thing going to severely limit Bobby's involvement this year. I understand they wanted significant characters to experience permanent consequences for all they go through, but were they just making room for Cas at the expense of our third favorite hunter?


I have a strong feeling that Bobby's wheelchair problem will be solved before the end. I don't read spoilers so this is a pure hunch, but I don't think he'll be wheeling around for long. As for "22 consecutive episodes without diverging from the main mythology," I put forth "Good God Y'all" as proof that you can have an episode that is part of the bigger story but doesn't reveal itself as such until the end. "Fallen Idol" had a TINY bit of that with the Paris-Demi God explaining that she's only revealing herself because the Earth is doomed.

With the other hunters, you are right, we did get to see those hunters Bobby sent to Sam. And I loved what we got. It's always interesting to me when we find out what drives a hunter. Most of the time it's some personal tragedy but it's always compelling. We just need more faces in the hunter community so that the inevitable showdown near the end will have some recognizable people for us to see.

The lack of Bobby is a sticking point for me. I love Castiel and Misha Collins performance (anyone who played a Drazen brother in 24 is cool in my book), but Jim Beaver deserved to become a regular cast member before the new guy. It does strike me as odd that this happened AND they crippled Bobby. I understand they probably don't want to have Bobby in every episode because then he becomes the answer to every problem and question. It's like having John Winchester around -- why solve the problem when you can defer to the older and wiser hunter. So, I get that, but making an angel a regular? That's even worse. We've been shown just how powerful angels are, so we know Cas is strong and smart. He's a regular cast member and the writers have had to come up with ways to gimp Cas such as the sigils he carved in the boys ribs, meant to "keep other angels away" when in reality it's meant as a quick fix to keep Cas less powerful and helpful. It's very obvious that the sigils weren't dictated by plot, but rather the writers realized that they had to de-power Cas in some way. Everything gets a bit too convenient when an angel can pop in and save the day.

-- JIM

You're dead on about the sigils being a plot device. They've been in place only a few episodes and already Lucifer contacted Sam in a dream and Zachariah actually found Dean. It seems the only character that it does fully insulate the boys from is Cas. And yes, while taking NOTHING away from Misha Collins, I'd have a problem with that if I was Beaver and starred in a substantive amount of episodes for three plus years and hadn't been given the bump. I would speculate it might be financial. A non-regular is obviously cheaper, but perhaps they had to lock Misha up to prevent him from going somewhere else. All talking out my ass on that, just guessing. I've been pretty diligent about avoiding spoilers as well. I even stopped watching the "Next Week On" stuff, which I watch on just about every show out there. What makes this show so special to take those steps?


Making regular cast members reoccurring is something that's done for financial purposes all the time in television. Even if the actor is still listed in the credits they might not appear in very many episodes. Veronica Mars did this in season three to save money and Dollhouse is doing it right now for the same reason (Harry Lennix's Boyd seems to disappear randomly). So it's a little weird that a show like Supernatural would go about promoting someone to regular in this economy when it's lived as a two person cast for four years. Maybe you are on to something with your theory about locking Misha in for the duration.

I can't explain why this show would be the one that you stopped watching previews for. I know I was a spoiler-addict for many, many years. I remember trolling the AOL boards for The X-Files for spoilers. But I've seen cleaned up my act. The difference between then and now is the serial nature of television. Watch a preview for 24 or Lost and you might ruin the whole season. I don't suspect Supernatural would be as ruinable as those two shows, but part of what draws me to this show is the possibility of being surprised. It's always had the capability of surprising me.

-- JIM

Well it's easier for a show to surprise you when you're watching four seasons over the course of one or two months on DVD without the end bumpers (which yes, nowadays excluding Mad Men give away at least a substantive portion of the next episode). I'm sure if we watched the show from the beginning four years ago, we'd give each episode a bit more thought, but that's kind of besides the point. I suppose I avoid the spoilers here because I wasn't spoiled on the first four and would like to continue that if there is only one year left. And I can't imagine given the ratings that the show gets renewed again. It doesn't seem like a cheap project and it bottomed out as the lowest rated network show for the fourth consecutive Thursday last week. When you can't beat the disaster that is Jay Leno, you've got some serious problems.

But on a more optimistic note, I think this will let them end on a creative highpoint - completing Kripke's five year plan. I know a few other creators that would kill for a five year run nowadays and that it fits his original plan is a nice bit of synergy. Plus this isn't Buffy or Angel and when you are set in a less fantastic world where your main villain is Lucifer, aka Satan, aka the Morningstar, etc. you only get to do the apocalypse once. It's literally the worst fight Earth will ever see. What would you even do in season six? Aliens? Hmm.....


I do hate sounding like a doomsayer, but even on The CW the ratings are abysmal. I Really can't see this show getting picked up. On one hand I feel completely devastated by this thought, but on the other hand (and I know I make this comparison a lot), Babylon 5 had a finite story to tell and it worked WONDERFULLY. Once that show finished it's story and got another bonus year it lost all of it's momentum. Kripke should be proud of his five years that (God willing) tell one complete story.

I know that if The X-Files had been canceled after year five I would have been devastated. I followed that show from day one. I'm sure that many of the fans of this show have followed it since day one and will be devastated when/if the cancellation happens, and maybe I don't have the same perspective since I just caught up over the summer but some of my favorite shows like Battlestar Galactica and Lost have ended their runs or announced their end dates and that has only made them stronger. Famed comic book writer Brian K. Vaughan said once that endings are what give stories meaning and he's right. Five solid years with a spectacular ending...that's all I want.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Let The Healing Sorta Kinda Begin

Supernatural: Fallen Idol
Season 5, Episode 5

Well, we're about a quarter of the way through this season and we finally got an episode that doesn't quite stack up. Not that 'Fallen Idols' was a BAD episode but it just wasn't up to the standards set by the previous four episodes. Its never a good sign when the boys mention (and try to explain!) that they are doing something unrelated to the oncoming apocalypse. It's tantamount to the producers straight up telling us that we're going to be seeing a standalone episode. Standalone episodes are fine, but with the show's mythology drilling the importance of the apocalypse into our brains it seems out of place to go on a random hunt. I know that Sam and Dean bicker over this detail and Dean insists that they need to get some training in as duo before tackling the devil head on but I don't buy it.

There's been a lot of dread on the internet regarding this episode because of a certain "celebrity" guest starring and yes, Paris Hilton does have a relatively large role as the baddie in this episode but doesn't derail the episode much. Wait! What? Yes, that's right. I'm going to say it right now, in terms of stunt casting Paris Hilton doesn't do a terrible job. She's not a good actor by any stretch of the imagination, but I've seen Britney Spears guest star on How I Met Your Mother and barely survived. Compared to Ms. Spears, Paris Hilton is fabulous.

So the boys are in Canton, Ohio investigating murders that seem to be committed by famous dead people. It's pretty cool to have the episode set in a town that I lived fairly close to at one point (not as awesome as the episode that took place in my hometown of Erie, Pa however).

This episode easily could suffice as our "comedy" episode this season as we get to see homicidal versions of Abe Lincoln and Ghandi. Plus we got to see Dean's impersonation of Honest Abe--comic gold. The silliness of the killers and the always funny quips from Dean made this episode fairly funny without being out and out goofy like 'Monster Movie Special.'

Without any movement on the main story line the only thing keeping this episode from feeling like a complete waste is the movement in the Winchester boys drama. It seems as if the problems between the boys aren't completely ironed out. Sam feels like Dean is treating him with kid gloves and Dean... well, Dean knows he's treating Sam with kid gloves and just doesn't care. Okay, maybe that's not exactly true, Dean is too proud to admit that he's treating Sam any differently. Dean is treating Sam like an older brother treats his younger sibling, like he's older, wiser and knows what's best. Ultimately most of the problems that the boys are having boils down to this.

In the end it's interesting to note that you can track Dean's feelings towards Sam by his car. When Dean offers to let Sam drive the Impala you know he's trying to smooth things over with his brother. It's the best gesture that Dean can make to Sam and he's been making the same sort of gesture since before their falling out. Still, it's nice to see the boys get some of these issues ironed out and start making amends.

All in all this episode was not one of my favorites, the stunt casting (while not deadly) was distracting, the story was rather bland and honestly I want more arc based storytelling.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Good Gracious

Dollhouse: Belle Chose
Season 2, Episode 3

"Topher has ethical problems......... Topher." - Boyd

I have ethical problems myself. Since this show's ratings are.. um.. corpse-like (and THAT is being kind), the show has apparently spent nearly a year of my life getting to the point I wanted to be reach only a month or two in, only to have the plug pulled when we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I think a lot of people have a reasonable excuse for having given up on this show back in season one. After all, there's only so many times you can talk about a show's potential and little else positive before giving up completely. Sounds logical right? But then someone needs to explain Heroes fans to my Earth logic.

Entering this year, a second chance I gave the show, I mostly just wanted to move things towards the reality of "Epitaph One." That's all I'm asking for here. Just a little apocalypse, people. Work with me. And while I've complained about things moving too slow, Echo retaining her imprint information has been a significant step towards making Caroline a character again. We need the technology and plot to catch up just a wee bit more. We are SO close. But I worried. They don't call it the Friday Night Death Slot because people are dying to watch some television.

And wow, I've never heard Michael Hogan when he wasn't being Saul Tigh. Good to know he can be creepy when not pounding off the last whiskey in the Twelve Colonies. His role this week as the uncle of a raging sociopath is yet another one of our fun ethical dilemmas of the Dollhouse. The sociopath, Terry, coincidentally likes to make girls dress up to set up his imaginary still-life fantasies - drugging them into a mannequin-like state. So it's funny because he's like a one-man Dollhouse.

Since Terry is hit by a car and off in Coma-land, Terry's Uncle Brad wants the Dollhouse to save him. Barring that he wants to try and find the women Terry has kidnapped to buy them off (since you can't buy off a corpse as he mentions) - nice guy. Ballard's investigative skills make him a bit of a star this week. And what do we think happens when we put a sociopath incapable of empathy into the body of highly trained soldier? A good piece of advice might have been to dump him into someone a little less threatening.

One of the worst scenes is the girls Terry left behind waking up in a cage. Normally, I have nothing but good things to say about Tim Minear (or as I like to call him, The Man - Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Wonderfalls, The Inside, Drive - Jimmy like). But in this scene he lays it on too thick. We know Terry's game is a metaphor for the Dollhouse itself, but we don't need lines like, "We're human beings. Remember that."

Uncle Brad breaks Terry/Victor out... which I love, this is what happens when he doesn't have Adama making decisions for him. And I don't love it for the letting a killer out on the streets alone (of course he escapes Uncle Brad), but because we're finally introducing some of the larger concepts of the future that I want to see more of.

First, we have Brad who views an imprinted Victor as Terry because of the wipe this IS TERRY. What if he got away for five years? When is he not Victor? When is he Terry?

And then we have the idea of the remote wipe, which Alpha pulled off back in season one and Adelle wants Topher to use to stop Terry. And since we know the idea of remotely wiping effectively causes the world of "Epitaph One" - Jimmy like. Watching Topher actually pull it off is genuinely exciting. Then the lights go out... so it's kind of funny.

And where's Echo in all this? Being a hooker, of course. As party girl Kiki Turner, she's helping a college professor live out... well, I don't really need to go further, do I? But when the remote wipe somehow dumps Terry over into Echo and Kiki into Victor. One is creepy and the other is... creepy in another way. Enver Gjokaj slips into a crazy rave girl really easily.

And then there's:

"Paul, why did you ever leave me?" - Victor/Kiki
"You got a problem?" - Paul to the rest of the club

Watching Terry/Echo terrorize the escaping girls is of course, substantively less funny. Being aware of imprints makes Echo an inconvenient place for a killer to jump in, so we get a fight for control. Echo wants the girls to kill him/her and Terry wants to kill them. Paul and a Dollhouse swat crew show up just before Echo can talk them into it. And while the Paul-Echo dynamic isn't the Paul-Caroline one we're looking for, its nice to see the recognition between them. A little glimpse at the end is Echo saying Terry's catchphrase, "Good gracious." And it is curious how this imprint will change her. Is she really just a mix of all her imprints? Could she be evil if enough monsters were imprinted? Or is there some Caroline-esque core holding her together? There are some interesting questions. I just hope we get answers before the end of it all.