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.


One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Fringe: Momentum Deferred
Season 2, Episode 4

As we learned in the season one finale of Lost and into the second, the biggest disadvantage to dragging a mystery out for more than half of a season is that expectations get too big for anything to live up to them. The hatch was never going to be as cool as it was meant to be for John Locke. I've been telling Billy that The Wire is one of the three best shows ever for years... well, I remain confident that one will live up to the billing when he finally watches it. Hear that, Billy?! Watch It!

Back to the main point, its especially frustrating that characters obsess over something so much that its revelation outweighs anything else. Sure, I love them getting Walter out of his comfort zone so John Noble can shine and anything relating to Peter being from Earth-2 has me downright giddy. But for the vast majority of us, the questions all revolve around William Bell and what happened when Olivia finally met him in (of course) the last shot of the season. And once again we get delayed satisfaction. In Lost, it was spending MULTIPLE episodes getting INTO the hatch from MULTIPLE perspectives. In the case of Fringe, we had Olivia's unexplained car accident and convenient amnesia.... ahh, amnesia, the lazy writer's filler (see Teri in season one of 24 for further examples). Fringe has at least handled it better, giving us exciting new science to chase while keeping the conspiracy simmering in the background. But as they say, it's time to "nut up or shut up."

For starters, any episode of any show that starts with Curtis from 24 (the always great Roger Cross) blasting some guys apart and acting all conspiratorially with a mercury-bleeding shape-shifting so-called super soldier has got a quick thumbs up from me. Apparently, he really needs him some frozen human heads. Actually, he needs one specific human head... the rest get tossed after inspection. Basically, we have the best episode of this show in a long time, one that starts off with a bang, gets us some of what we've been waiting for (NIMOY!!!!) and peals back some of the ongoing mysteries.

Curtis sharing screen-time with Fake Face Charlie continues to outline a conspiracy of these shape-shifters attempting to get to Bell through Olivia and while they have been a bit heavy handed with it this week, I was sad to hear FFC would die if he didn't get into another body soon. Because really, how many mercury thermometer's can you chug down as a quick fix while Walter and company are closing in on you?

I was hoping they would have a episode that focused on him helping them with an unrelated case, simultaneously having him hide the fact that he isn't Charlie while performing Charlie's job. But it seems that will remain a lost opportunity.

But jumping from there, we're back in the old "I remembered this experiment Bell-y and I did." grindhouse of season one. But it was fun seeing Olivia just downing a glass of crushed up flatworms while Peter and Walter argue about it. I enjoy the Let's Just Go With It approach to fringe science investigation.

When Peter once again gets to flex his "jack of all trades" status by examining the shape-shifting control device, I loved the line about him not sleeping after seeing Invasion of the Body Snatchers because he is a pod person. Earth-1 Peter fell asleep (i.e. died) and he was brought from another world to take the boy's place. Between that and his trip with Walter to visit the latter's former experiment subject/crush, it's a funny and quirky week for the Bishop boys - as it should be. Peter giving Walter some money to help him get a girl... hilarious.

But that's not what you want to talk about really. So let's get to the Nimoy Action. He shows up (of course, in the last shot before a commercial break - good old predictable television) in one of Olivia's flatworm-induced flashbacks. Apparently, Bell (call me William, or Willem) briefly catches up with Olivia and sort-of, not-really apologizes for what his experiments did to people before explain that his and Walter's goal was to create a GateKeeper (does that make one of them the KeyMaster? Must consult Bill Murray on this ASAP) to guard between the two realities. Apparently this is Olivia, which is fitting since she isn't as interesting a character as Walter or Peter so they can keep her on par with the others by making her this show's Most Important Person in the World. And no complaints from people who watch a show that made two brothers the first and second most important people in the history of the world.

Also, Bell mentions may never be able to return to ours (yeah, right). He confirm the shape-shifters as soldiers of Earth-2. I would be mad that Bell promises that the "truth" will come out, rather than telling her more of the story. But what were you expecting? It isn't like Mulder was hanging out with aliens and discussing their long term goals in season two. But now the main characters know a war is coming and they are the front line of defense. We do get the sweet story of how she came flying through that car in the premiere and altogether it was enough to intrigue the audience and as long as we get that every so often and we never have an episode explaining how Peter got a tattoo, I can live with it for now. We even have Nina Sharp to explain Bell's words of "a storm coming" meaning one of the world's won't survive the doorway opening.

My only true complaint is how shocked and surprised everyone is to not suspect Charlie, the man who was first on the scene with the body that they prove this week wasn't the shapeshifter. Shouldn't he have been one of the first suspects? Instead of Olivia's flashback of the shape-shifter's leader's symbol or Massive Dynamic rendering the last copy from the changing device, you would think simple police work would have solved that mystery. Even if they had a great showdown between Olivia and FFC, it still could have been reached through a simpler plot. It was only really done the way it was to justify Curtis from 24 recovering his leader's head. But it gave us a great final shot with his eyes opening. And Curtis likes apples too... good to know.

Finally, just a bit of a scheduling update. I know this came a day later than usual and hopefully I'll get to Dollhouse review tonight or tomorrow morning before the Red Sox once again try their worst to get me back on a regular television watching schedule (stupid untimely hitting slump... but that's neither here nor there for our purposes). Even if it takes me until next Tuesday or Wednesday, I feel obligated to posting something about this week's The Office. It's really too big a moment to skip, even if thanks to Fringe, Supernatural and baseball postseason, it's been relegated to Check Out On Hulu Friday or Saturday Status... it's still one of my three favorite comedies on today. So hopefully, you'll hear more from me soon on all of this fun stuff.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

O Captain! My Captain!

How I Met Your Mother: Robin 101
Season 5, Episode 3

One of the dominating concerns that I had coming into this season of HIMYM was how the writers would handle the Barney/Robin relationship. I feel a bit like Robin and Barney from the end of last season, part of me loves the idea of the two of them together and then when I admit that another part of me realizes that I just Mosbied the other part and now I don't like the idea very much. On paper, the two of them are made for each other. Going all the way back to the first season when Robin played Wingman for Barney and they enjoyed whiskey and cigars with each other, you could see this relationship as potentially happening in the future. But half of the jokes about Barney revolve around him being a misogynistic player, we know he wasn't always like this but for better or worse THIS is the Barney we know and (begrudgingly) love.

Putting Barney into a committed relationship (with any woman) would seem a bit like neutering his character. Episodes like last week's "Double Date" didn't exactly make me feel any better about this situation. Barney got to act like himself for the most part but Robin just played the catty jealous girlfriend who was unhappy about her boyfriend going to a strip club. The problem here is that back in season one she was A-OK with going to a strip club with Barney and Ted in "Belly Full of Turkey." So her annoyance at the situation seems hypocritical. "Double Date" ended with absolutely no resolution of Robin's issues. Nope, instead, Barney stayed just as oblivious and Robin stayed just as mad. In short, it did nothing to make me feel any better about the new status quo.

"Robin 101" doesn't right all the wrongs that "Double Date" created but it does work to fix a couple issues and we get our first glimpse of Professor Mosby albeit not teaching students.

Let's get the gripes out of the way. Though Marshall's love of his college barrel and Lily's sad case of "barrel resin allergy" were funny (especially Lily's, "Damn baby, be cool" to Robin) the whole plot was just another one note misuse of Jason Segal. I'm still waiting for something meatier for him and Marshall and while the "Bermuda Triangle" in front of the apartment steps was funny, it just wasn't anything to write home about.

What was great was the Barney/Ted interaction. I suspect that this is the closest that we'll come to seeing Professor Mosby for a while and it didn't let me down. Barney acting like the typical ADHD addled college student and begging Ted to have class outside was just one of a number of hilarious moments in these scenes (Robin is a typical cover hog? Who knew).

Meanwhile, Robin and Lily obsessing over the notebook found in Barney's briefcase played out just as obnoxiously as you might imagine. It's not that I don't empathize with Robin, I mean she is dating Barney after all. That's got to be nerve wracking. But for all of Robin's going on about how she isn't a typical girl she sure acts like a stereotype. Even going so far as to become downright insulted when she confronts Barney and Ted.

Of course Barney and Robin talk it out in the end and everything is presumably going to be fine between the two of them. During all this I realized two things. 1. Barney and Robin as a couple are inevitably going to neuter Barney's character and 2. This isn't a bad thing. Some of the funniest Barney moments have nothing to do with him as a sexual miscreant. As I was going through season four on Blu Ray this weekend I was reminded of the episode where Barney and Ted keep McClaren's open during the snowstorm. That whole sequence is framed around the two trying to get with some girls but the jokes are all about Ted and Barney being goofy. Or how about Barney and the marathon or Barney and Bob Barker; the list goes on. Barney can still be slimy, but Barney can still be Barney without sleeping around New York.


Monday, October 5, 2009

What's In a Name?

Mad Men: Souvenir
Season 3, Episode 8

I like the meanings behind episode titles (needless to say its one of the things I enjoy about shows written by Joss Whedon), but I'm especially fond of it this week. We can have a great trip, but all that's left in the end are memories and trinkets. The timing, placing the episode in August, gives everyone an excuse to take a break from the daily working grind at Sterling Cooper. In fact, the office is barely seen at all before Pete spends a weekend home along and Don and Betty jet off to visit a hotel in Rome for Connie Hilton.

In a way, this isn't an episode I'd expect to enjoy too much. Pete and Betty have always been two of my least favorite characters and numerous character I enjoy Peggy, Paul, Harry and Cooper are unseen or only seen briefly there to say adios to Pete. But at this point I know even an episode of "Mad Men" that's not sitting in my wheelhouse is at least going to be well executed.

The big theme this week is pretending and slipping identities is the norm. I don't think I've ever found January Jones as attractive as when Betty was flirting with two men at an outdoor restaurant, running along in perfect Italian and then pretending not to know Don. It's an incredible change of scenery for them, both literally and figuratively. As someone who has been bashing this sham of a marriage almost nonstop since the pilot, its been easy to forget how well this couple can look together. To borrow Betty's idea of every kiss being a shadow of a couple's first, I think this is what she and Don were like when they first met. Both can not only look attractive, but be flirty and adventurous and sensual with one another. Don obviously finds it especially endearing, since he's the show's resident expert on dropping one life for another. While Betty is turned on by something exotic and new, I think Don is much more attracted to seeing how well Betty can fulfill the deception. Either way, this is a rare highpoint for the Drapers.

But don't get too happy. Back in their suburban reality/nightmare, things are as rough as ever. Don still considers his wife as little more than scenery. I loved how Don used Betty's call list as just another piece of scrap paper. It sums up how he treats her often - she's handy, like a napkin when he has a new idea to jot down.

And if nothing else, this Betty-centric episode reminds us that for all his whining and near escape attempts, Don isn't the only person trapped in this marriage. Betty might act like a shrew more than a little, but she's still this beautiful, intelligent woman that her daughter idolizes (even if they don't understand one another like Sally and Don do) and more than a few men find attractive. But just as she responded to the near collapse of her marriage last season with a one night stand before letting Don come back, Betty once again flirts with something more (kissing Henry after the council meeting) before reverting to her depressing marriage. She certainly possesses a lack of self-deception when they return and Betty is the one to admit it was nothing more than a trip and everything that is wrong is still there. Morbidly depressing words from an annoying downer killing Don's high? Yes. The truth? Also yes.

In the other main story, Pete spends the weekend home alone with Trudy out of town. Either he's playing at being a kid (I literally laughed out loud seeing him eating cereal and giggling at a kid's show) or playing the hero (helping a neighbor's nanny replace a damaged dress), Pete continues to falter every time he is denied utter acceptance. From Don at work or Trudy at home, Pete has never been able to differentiate his own self-worth from the opinions of others. The most painful part of the episode was watching him force himself on the nanny, Gudrun. Just a week after defending him to Billy as someone who had matured so much since the first season, it was disappointing to watch. And we know its coming, from the moment we see Pete's disappointed face when her thanks over the replacement dress isn't as special and glowing as he wanted. Sure enough, a bit of booze later and he's back at her door, being the juvenile prick he was back in the first episode.

In another one of our Life sure was different back then Moments, the neighbor comes by and reprimands Pete - Not because Pete sexually assaulted the woman, but because of the trouble he'd have finding a new nanny that his wife would get along with. The stand out scene of the week where I think how different it would go a generation or two later.

These episodes are so thick I normally leave a bit of discussion out, but I'd kick myself if I didn't mention the cheer I let out when seeing the manager assisting Pete at the department store turned out to be Joan. Keeping with the theme of the week, she plays and pretends to be a happy housewife just filling her time while her lovely husband starts on a new career path. We remember how desperate and sad her fallen expectations and loser husband have left her. But even now she's the consummate professional at any task and hardly dropping a hint of anything being out of sorts until after Pete leaves. And of course Joan solved his problem in no time flat... she is Joan after all.

Finally, I wanted to apologize for this review being a couple days late. I'd say it will never happen again, but that would be foolish on my part as we enter the playoffs.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

SAT Time! Night of the Living Dead:Shaun of the Dead::28 Days Later:___________

There are quite a few rules to survival in Zombieland or so we're told by Jesse Eisenberg's Columbus a neurotic survivor of the zombie apocalypse. Rule number one: cardio, rule number 3: seatbelts and so on, it's clear that Columbus has thought a lot about how to survive in a world dominated by the walking dead. And, I imagine most of the audience for Zombieland will have as well considering how popular and prominent zombie horror movies have become in the forty-one years since George Romero created the modern take on the monster with Night of the Living Dead.

Romero's zombie is a slow, shambling reanimated corpse, the Romero style zombie was lampooned in 2004's zombie romantic comedy Shaun of the Dead. Romero has publicly stated that he doesn't like the idea of quick running zombies, but with the box office hit 28 Days Later audiences proved that they don't agree. And so we have Zombieland a horror movie that openly lampoons it's own subject matter. But the big question is, does it succeed?

Zombieland follows several survivors after the world is decimated by an outbreak of zombie. Columbus(Jesse Eisenberg) is on his way to his parents house in Columbus, Ohio when he meets Tallahassee(Woody Harrelson). Tallahassee insists that the two don't use real names so that they don't get too attached to one another. Along the way the duo meet with Wichita(Emma Stone) and Little Rock(Abigail Breslin), sisters on their way to Los Angeles to visit an amusement park they once went to before the world went to hell.

The cast is small, but the performances are not. Harrelson in particular wows as the gruff Tallahassee who takes glee in killing every zombie he sees and yearns for a twinkie. Tallahassee at first seems like a one note joke, and honestly he's the funniest character in the picture, but his character has the strongest emotional arc of the film. It's this arc that elevates Zombieland from being a somewhat forgettable comedy to something stronger. Harrelson may be the crown jewel of this picture, but the other cast members don't slack. It's kinda weird to see Abigail Breslin in a zombie movie since the predominate vision in my head of her is as the little girl in Signs, she does a fine job here and when she and Harrelson share the screen it's a joy to see.

If there is a defining fault to Zombieland it would be it's lack of zombies! For a movie that insists that the world is dead and filled with the walking dead, I could literally count on two hands the number of zombies the group encounter between Texas and Los Angeles. I'm not sure if the director was saving money for the big finale or what, but it's a glaring oversight. When the group casually drives into the center of Los Angeles without seeing a single zombie--it's a problem. With a population between the city and the surrounding areas in excess of 17 million I expect to see more than six zombies in downtown L.A. When there ARE zombies in the movie it does work as a horror movie, with quite a few scares, some of them are generic jump scares, but overall the movie doesn't slight on the horror aspect.

One of the greatest aspects of this film is the narration coupled with the "survival rules." Columbus narrates the film and his survival rules accompany the narration on the screen as the happen. It's a beautiful twist that looks wonderful and results in quite a few laughs. It's like we're viewing a movie version of Max Brooks "Zombie Survival Handbook." These parts coupled with the tremendous opening title sequence make this film a visual joy to watch

Whether or not you enjoy Zombieland largely depends on how you like your comedy. Zombieland is an American comedy through and through. There is less subtlety to the humor and it plays less like an homage to it's source material than Shaun did. That's not a slight against the film, but if you liked Shaun and are expecting more of the same you'll be disappointed. The funniest portion of the movie comes during the last third of the film when the group looks for suitable lodging in L.A. I'm loathe to reveal much about it, but it's the highlight of the film and you'll recognize it when you see it.

Maybe I'm not the most partial person to review a zombie movie, I've grown up watching the Living Dead films, one of my favorite video games is Left 4 Dead, hell, my parent's first date was to see Dawn of the Dead, I can basically credit my existence to the the genre. I tell you this as full disclosure, I'm a big zombie whore. I'll pretty much watch anything with zombies in them. But I don't enjoy everything with zombies in it, the Resident Evil films have zombies in them and they are still steaming piles of shit. So, trust me when I say that Zombieland is a great film certainly worth a look during this spooky month.

Its funny, it's scary and really what else is there to look forward to in the genre this month? Saw 6? Now, THAT is funny!


Friday, October 2, 2009

Back to the Beginning

Dollhouse: Instinct
Season 2, Episode 2

While I could tolerate the premiere wasting a great deal of time trying to catch readers up with the status quo (who everyone is and how they are involved in the Dollhouse organization) at least it was well executed. Whedon's script and direction at the least were a form of well-done monotony. But this week's episode is written (Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters) and directed (Marita Grabiak) are new to the show, so perhaps there's some learning curve benefit of the doubt I can give them. I wouldn't classify this as a poorly executed episode, just one that was rotten from the point of conception. Don't misunderstand me that there are some big problems throughout the episode, but the actors all do a very strong job. Dushku does well enough, but really what could any actress do with lines like, "Mommy's here." while holding a newborn and a butcher's knife?

The latest leap forward in imprinting technology of course occurs in Echo. It's funny how all of the other Dolls work so well, especially Sierra (who works with Echo this week and manages not to turn into a lunatic when the assignment is closed). Topher remarks that he imprinted Echo's mind so thoroughly she had a biological reaction. Meaning she's breast-feeding up a storm, as the mother to a newborn who lost his mother at birth. Since dad is blaming the poor kid, he brings in a replacement mother who glitches out (surprised? maybe that there's only one glitch this week) and gets attached in a way beyond memory.

In a way, Fazekas and Butters were a source of hope I had in this season. The creators of Reaper were being added to the writing staff in place of the departing show runners Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, a pair I had little trust in after the first year bounced around so much between a show with potential and an underwhelming mess.

The reason I put a great deal of the blame on the writers is that they kept going back to the glitching well with too much frequency. And they can't adequately get over the easy solution. In the case of this episode its getting Ballard and Echo together. Because once they are in the picture together, their under-explained mutual understanding will take over. First, Echo miraculously climbs out a second story window while holding a baby only to be caught when she goes to the police for help. Nevermind ignoring the questionable ability to scurry out the window (good thing the ladder was there) while holding a baby!, but the only reason they do it is so Ballard can't ask Echo if she would like a treatment. Then the have the supposedly momentous bit involving Echo refusing a treatment and freaking out take place off-screen, only seeing the final bit before she is put in the chair.

Then Ballard gets distracted by Mellie/November/Madeline so echo can knock out Topher after her wipe. Then (again off-screen) she gets out of her handcuffs and wanders past all of the Dollhouse's security forces. She then bounces from asking a car to drive (that's a cheap throwaway joke that the writers probably thought was much funnier than it really was)to driving the car back to the baby's house. Good thing they don't take the keys out of the cars. Anytime a climax needs four or five outstanding lucky coincidences to be achieved that probably means it wasn't earned.

Do I even need to describe the problems with the finale which includes Echo taking a page from Michael Myers (cutting the power before breaking in), turning into another unfunny and blatantly obvious joke ("Mommy's home." Seriously?!?!?! No, I mean it seriously???) and ultimately being convinced to give up the child by the repentant father.

The character of the father is portrayed fine, another take on the grieving widow played by Patton Oswald in "Man on the Street" and this one doesn't even sleep with her. The lack of quasi-consensual rape we get on a weekly basis and his somewhat moving journey to forgive and form a bond with his son is all handled just fine. But even this character is tainted by the unending coincidences that plague this episode. Of course, Echo overhears him calling Adelle to return Echo to sender.

And at the end of everything, we finally get to Ballard and Echo sitting together to commit themselves to taking the Dollhouse. Which would have been great if the previous episode didn't end on The. Exact. Same. Scene. I just wish we weren't sitting around and spinning our wheels with this show.

One of the most enjoyable sequences is the scenes involving Alexis Denisof's performance as Senator Perrin stalling on his investigation of Rossum before getting a mysterious package. There isn't much substance here, we're really just setting the table for this plot. I would hope things would pick up if or when he goes looking for the FBI agent that was assigned to investigate the Dollhouse. I'm anxiously awaiting the guy who played my favorite character in the Buffyverse getting a chance to stretch his legs a bit more.


Gettin' The Band Back Together

Supernatural:The End
Season 5, Episode 4

One thing that I absolutely love is the idea of a "What if..." story. I adore Marvel Comics What If... books(though I have not read one in about a decade. Do they still exist?) because they are always interesting at the very least. These types of stories allow the reader/viewer to see something that could have or might happen. Supernatural fans are particularly used to this form of storytelling from episodes like "What Is And What Should Never Be"(wherein Dean is drugged by a Djinn to believe his mother never died).

These stories seem to crop up quite a bit in genre television with your mirror universes, vengeance demons and quantum mirrors allowing characters to visit a different reality to see what might have been or what might occur. These stories are always interesting to me when a character from the show gets a chance to see this altered reality and learn something important that can possibly benefit them. Stargate SG-1 did this wonderfully in the first season where Daniel Jackson visited an alternate reality through a quantum mirror wherein he learned that the Goa'uld were headed towards Earth. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer did this horrendously in the episode 'The Wish' where a vengeance demon sends Cordelia to an alternate reality where Buffy never came to Sunnydale. In that episode Cordelia is killed and when the world reverts back to the status quo NO ONE remembered that any of it happened. It was a wasted event.

I'm happy to say that Supernatural follows the SG-1 model and doesn't make this episode worthless. Plus, ya know, semi-sequel to two of my favorite episodes: 'Croatoan' and 'In The Beginning.'

I think I can safely say that this episode of Supernatural will go down as a classic. If for nothing else than the spectacular acting of Jensen Ackles. Dean speaks to Sam after last week's reveal that he is the vessel of Lucifer and, well, let's just say that the phone call didn't go the way that Sam exactly wanted it to. Sam is at a point where he needs his brother to strengthen his resolve and keep him from submitting to Lucifer. Dean tells Sam that the two of them need to stay away from each other because staying together might be worse--might cause the catastrophe they are trying to prevent. The emotion in Dean's voice and on his face betray his true feelings to us. This separation is killing Dean just as much as it's hurting Sam. Dean is just too proud to admit this to Sam or Castiel.

Dean ends his call and goes to sleep but when he wakes he finds that he is in the near future of 2014 where most of the world has been decimated by the Croatoan virus. It's a spectacular reveal, after the season two episode where the boys first encountered Croatoan. My only gripe, and this is a small one considering how awesome the resulting action sequence was, is that the infected people act more like 28 Days Later zombies than the demon infected people from the first 'Croatoan' episode. Dean escapes the infection zone and heads off to find Bobby.

Zachariah appears to Dean and reveals a couple things about this nightmare vision of the future. Yes, Sarah Palin is president. The end of the world is indeed nigh. Also, Dean has to stay in the future for three days. Supposedly this all happens because Dean doesn't agree to be host to Michael. So Dean gets to play Ebenzer Scrooge and visit his and his friends futures.

Let's see where everyone stands
Future Dean: Kind of a Dick
Future Castiel: De-Angeled and leading a harem in orgies
Future Impala: Busted and rusted
Future Sam: Dead to Dean

Of course, WE can tell that Future Dean is lying. In fact Future Sam isn't dead, or at least his body isn't. Apparently in the future at some point Sam will say yes to Lucifer and become his host. Think back to 'Croatoan.' Remember when the infected guy left town and told(presumably) Yellow Eyes that Sam was immune to the virus? Well, we've got our answer as to why that was important. I had assumed that the Croatoan virus was never going to be brought back into play since Yellow Eyes was killed so the fact that it was made a large part of this episode was invigorating, but getting an answer to why Sam being immune was important was downright amazing. It's part of why I love this show. It truly is the Babylon 5 of horror and if it turns out that all of this wasn't the result of planning, but just happy coincidence...well, then these writers are the luckiest people in Hollywood.

Future Dean has succeeded in finding the Colt and intends to use it to kill Lucifer once and for all. I've got to question whether this would work or not. When Dean first met Castiel, he tried using the demon killing knife on him and it didn't work. Lucifer is a fallen angel, it stand to reason that the demon killing knife would not work and if the knife doesn't work who is to say that the Colt will work. Regardless Dean and Dean head out to attempt anyway. Dean is knocked out by Future Dean(who isn't a very nice guy and intended to use his friends as a diversion while he faced Lucifer) and when he awakes he finds Future Dean dead at the feet of Lucifer/Sam.

Now, my praise of Ackles stands as the best acting in this episode, but Jared Padalecki's portrayal of the devil was spectacular as well. His Lucifer isn't as great as Mark Pellegrino's but it's so off-putting to watch Sam as the devil. Lucifer continues his attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people by explaining that he's a good guy who's only crime was loving God too much. That the angels were better than humans who only kill and make war. Hello! Mr. Lucifer! It's the pot calling, he says the kettle is black. Dean pleads with Lucifer to kill him, because if he doesn't then Dean is going to find and kill him.

Zachariah ends this trip to the future and again asks Dean to be Michael's sword. Zachariah is appalled when Dean again refuses. Dean's a smart guy, there is one thing that he can change that may prevent this future: he can bring his brother back into the cool kids club to help stop Lucifer. And so the Winchester brothers are back together. Though they only spent two episodes away from each other, the return is much appreciated.

So in the end, can we believe any of what Dean saw in the future? Did Zachariah really send Dean into the future or is this another one of his games. Last season he did make the boys forget who they were. None of that was real, why should we believe this is any more real? Plus, President Palin? Preposterous!

So, we got our "What if..." story and we got the boys back together. Dean remembers everything from the future and is determined not to have it happen. Now more than ever I cannot wait to see what is going to happen next on this series.

As a fan of the show, I must caution everyone to be prepared for the worst. The ratings this season have been abysmal. Thursday is a very competitive night of television. The Winchesters may be facing an apocalypse in more than one way.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Drink Up

Fringe: Fracture
Season 2, Episode 3

"To all that's weird." - Peter Bishop

While I can't agree with Peter's choice of drink (I still prefer my Russians White, not Red), I easily embrace his toast. The second season has gotten off to a much better start than the first's early stumbling. It's been good to relegate Olivia remembering her time on Earth-2 to the B-plot each week. It isn't ignored and will probably be the lead story sooner rather than later, its just nice to let things take a slower pace and develop more layers to this Weird World. The bulk of the episode revolves around a single monster/villain seemingly unrelated to the multi-verse wandering experiments of Walter and Bell.

As far as creepy villains go, Man Bombs is sufficiently high on the list. It's nice for scifi shows to have those stock episode plots to fall back on - in this case military science experiment continued by crazy commander. It's a formula that works well enough, especially in this episode where the main bad guy, Colonel Raymond Gordon is played by Stephen McHattie, a television veteran I remember best as the bad guy in The X-Files two-part story in "Nisei" and "731." Casting 24 and The X-Files veterans are generally both solid moves in my book.

At least we don't think its part of the main series mystery until the final reveal that Colonel Gordon's bombs are meant to destroy agents reporting to the Observer. And here I never even knew he had minions. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The mysterious opening involves a police officer abandoning his partner and searching for a man with a black briefcase as the man on his phone, Gordon, has instructed. Promptly after finding the man, the policeman crystallizes and goes Ka-Boom. And a good time was had by all. It's a decent effect and the resulting carnarge looks great. Generally everything this week involving discovering the Colonel's identity and plans and the science behind it is golden. From Peter and Olivia's evening trip to Baghdad to Walter blowing up a watermelon like some science fair version of Mount Vesuvius - all good stuff. Fun, humorous and gives us a few tiny, but interesting peeks into Peter's back story.

The mystery that Peter does as much to solve as Walter, gives them both a chance to shine separately. Pairing Walter, Astrid and an exploding watermelon works. I mean we see it coming from the first shot of the scene, but it's still fun. John Noble always has his little quirks (licking the ear brings a special smile to my face), but in the few times he is really experimenting in the unknown and being surprised works the best. Above anything else, Noble can sell this great sense of wonderment for things and its important since this quirky character would be torturously bad if he couldn't sell those jokes at least a little. But letting Walter not have all the answers right away also gives Peter a way to step up in mentally helping solve problems (discovering the radio-wave trigger) in addition to helping carry the load of physical action with Olivia hobbling around like the female Dr. House.

Speaking of Olivia's injuries, while I'm fine with dragging out the mystery for a couple more weeks, it unfortunately only took two episodes for Kevin Corrigan's stint as Olivia's... um... bowling alley owning therapist, Sam Weiss... to wear thin. I realize he might tie more into the mystery and frankly, I'm dreading it. He just happens to be one of those That Guys that seems to always be playing themselves. And not like Dennis Quaid is always playing Quaid or Denzel Washington is usually playing Denzel, but a bad way. I've seen him in seven or eight things since, but he's still the annoying, detached guy from Grounded For Life. And his tactic of annoy Olivia until she stops relying on her cane is just... nope, nevermind, annoying is the perfect word to describe it. I can only hope he either disappears quickly or is killed off... painfully.

While talking about limiting the cast, splitting time between the mystery and Olivia's drama is helped by trimming the cast for the week. Nina Sharp, our new agent Amy Jessup and Fake Face Charlie are all unseen this week, which is a bit unusual since a major FBI operation goes down to capture the Colonel and his final (Wo)Man Bomb. It stinks to miss Kurt Acevedo as Fake Face Charlie, given how well he's performed in the first two episodes this year. Jessup is still a non-entity for me, so no problem there and the less tonsil-hockey I see between Sharp and Broyles the better.

To end things, let's mention that the ending scenes are too rushed. Perhaps some of the writers and directors have to get used to allowing for more commercial breaks this season, but there is almost no time after Gordon is taken down by Peter and Olivia to explain his motivation. They obviously wanted to tie it back to end on the Observer getting a bunch of surveillance photos of Walter and company, but it meant Gordon explaining his crazy plan of detonating his own soldiers and accepting massive civilian casualties without actually being seen by the audience while talking. And that's a hard sell, my friends, especially since the bit we do see has him sharing face time with a surprised Broyles. McHattie's best assets are his grim expression and kind of creepy face and it hurts losing these tools during his big moment of the episode. I guarantee he probably nailed the scene, but it was ruined in favor or either poor directing or saving a few extra seconds from the running time.

And come to think of it, why does the Observer need to have other people photograph the Bishops? Isn't observing people already kind of his thing?