Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Blink": Existential Horror and the Passage of Time

Human beings often take their senses for granted. That's one of the great joys of Halloween -- it's the one time of year when you have to force yourself to be aware, lest you become an object of someone else's fear-mongering. One of our favorite senses is sight. Oftentimes, what we cannot see is more terrifying than what we can see. But what does that mean for the things we can see, and do see, every day? This is just one question at the heart of the Doctor Who episode "Blink".








KILLING YOU NICELY

The single most universal fear any human being has is of death. After all, why would we spend so many hours and so many pages figuring out what happens after we die, metaphysically speaking, if we weren't at least a tiny bit afraid of death? In this episode of Doctor Who, the Weeping Angels have devised the perfect method of murder -- as soon as they touch you, you're zapped to another point in time, usually in the past, where you'll be forced to live out your life isolated from the people and places you're familiar with. Two people Sally Sparrow interacts with in the episode die by this method: Kathy Nightingale, her best friend, and Billy Shipton, the police officer who flirts with her when she goes to the police about the house at Wester Drumlins -- the residence of the Weeping Angels.

There are two strange things about these two characters and the way they react to what happens to them. First, and most interestingly, neither of them feels remorse or despair for being transported to different times. Kathy admits, in her letter to Sally delivered via grandson, that time-traveling is "a strange way to start a new life," but "a new life is exactly what she always wanted." (Of course, she maintains her youthful spirit -- "told him you were eighteen, you lying cow!") Billy Shipton has a similar experience -- he falls in love with another woman named Sally after he gets transported to 1969; he is also instrumental in planting the Doctor's DVD Easter eggs. Indeed, Billy's perspective on time changes -- when asked by Sally why he clocked out of work early, he replies, "Because life is short and you are hot." Later, when Sally meets the elderly Billy Shipton, he says wistfully, "Life is long and you are hot." LOST fans will note the comparison to "The Constant" -- Sally Sparrow is the constant for people in this episode.

The second strange thing about Billy and Kathy is the exact circumstances of their disappearances in Sally's time. Both of them are caught up in other peoples' lives when the Angels take them -- in particular, they're caught up in Sally Sparrow. When Kathy is taken, she's in the Wester Drumlins house, eavesdropping on Sally's conversation with her yet-to-be-conceived grandson (I know, I know -- wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff). Billy, meanwhile, is flirting with Sally, and only when he looks back over at the TARDIS does he even notice the Angels creeping up on it. And then, in the blink of an eye, their lives are gone. Creepy.




Of course, Sally Sparrow loves old things. "They make me feel sad," she tells Kathy at the beginning of the episode. Sally's capacity to love drives her to find the Doctor and stop the Weeping Angels.

Speaking of which...

EXISTENCE ON SIGHT

The Weeping Angels are the antagonists of the episode -- the "Monster of the Week", if you will. These creatures personify the terror of things we cannot see, as well as the existential terror of what we can see.

DOCTOR

Lonely assassins, they were called. No-one knows where they came from. They're as old as the universe, or very nearly. They've survived this long as they have the most perfect defence system ever evolved. They are quantum-locked. They don't exist when being observed. The moment they're seen by any other living creature they freeze into rock. No choice. It's a fact of their biology. In the sight of any living thing, they literally turn to stone. And you can't kill a stone. Course, a stone can't kill you either. But then you turn your head away, then you blink, and oh, yes it can!

SALLY

Don't take your eyes off that.

DOCTOR

That's why they cover their eyes. They're not weeping, they can't risk looking at each other. Their greatest asset is their greatest curse. They can never be seen. The loneliest creatures in the universe.

The Doctor explicitly states in the above dialogue that the Angels don't exist when they're being observed. This concept is explored in Jean-Paul Sartre's existentialist writings as "the look". In brief: as soon as we lay our eyes upon someone, we objectify them, quantify them by parts instead of a whole being. In the case of the Angels, they literally turn to stone when someone sees them. But as soon as you turn away, "they are fast, faster than you can imagine." When you aren't looking at them, the Angels exist and can move about freely -- and they are scary, and they are quick.

Indeed, these creatures contribute to how we are supposed to interpret the final images of the episode. Various statues from art history flash by while the Doctor gives his chilling warning: "Don't blink. Blink and you're dead! Don't turn your back, don't look away, and DON'T BLINK! Good luck." In any other context, this might be a commentary on the way that we often ignore the beauty of our own cultured history on Earth, but in this context, where statues are objectifications of actual entities, the meaning is quite different. Time kills, and no entities know this better than the statues of cultures long dead. In the above scene, Sally instructs Larry not take his eyes off the nearby Angel, for if he does, time will very quickly catch up with him.



CONCLUSION

The Doctor claims that the Angels aren't "weeping" but in the same breath calls them "the loneliest creatures in the universe." Given their grotesque faces, it's easy to assume that they aren't weeping, but one can't help but wonder about what it would be like to actually turn to stone when someone sees you -- and to zap someone into another time just by touching someone. The subtle undertone of the episode, personified in both the Angels and in Sally Sparrow's predicament, is that time is a very lonely thing to be lost in. This ties directly to the lonely nature of being the Doctor, a largely unseen character in this episode. Loneliness, and fear of death, drive everybody in this episode to the strangest of circumstances and back again, and makes "Blink" one of the most terrifying episodes of television.




(The transcript excerpt quoted above is from http://who-transcripts.atspace.com/2007/transcripts/310_blink.html -- the images are from http://doctorwho.sonicbiro.co.uk/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=37)

REFERENCES

Moffat, S. (Writer), & MacDonald, H. (Director). (2007). Blink [Television series episode]. In P. Collinson (Producer), Doctor who. Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom: BBC One.

Sartre, J-P. (1956). Being and nothingness: an essay on phenomenological ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes. New York, New York: Philosophical Library.

Quickie: Friday, October 29, 2010

In this Quickie post, I'm going to post a few thoughts on shows I'm watching "in the background" as it were. These are shows that I won't be writing about every week because I'm still catching up with them, but I wanted to throw out a post just to show that I am, in fact, aware of them. No spoilers please!

Terriers 1.03 "Change Partners"

Yeah, without a doubt, this is the show to save this fall. I was digging the vibe of the show in the first couple of episodes, but the story was mostly just sliding across my glazed-over eyeballs until NOW. Especially loved the story with Britt and Katie -- their open and honest communication about past misdeeds is refreshing, particularly against Hank's own inability to say "no" to his ex-wife and her new fiance. And that ending... damn. Must-see TV.

Supernatural 1.01 "Pilot"

Whoa, hit me with your best shot! Despite the pedigree, and the crossover of Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel fans, I wasn't sure how I was going to take the first episode of this one. But right away, there are layers of storytelling at work visually and thematically. The focus is specifically on Sam, but is an excellent way of grounding the "demon hunting business" in tangible (or intangible, as the case may be) emotional connections. I like the brothers just fine for now, but it might take a while for me to warm up to them -- but as it took a season and a half for Angel to become a wildly complex character, I'm willing to give Dean and Sam the benefit of the doubt. What a fun show. Can't wait to see more!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Quickie: Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cougar Town 2.06 "You Don't Know How It Feels"

This episode reminded me of Scrubs at its very best -- simultaneously hilarious and heartwarming. Ken Jenkins as Jules' dad was just awesome (excellent piece of comedy with his name, too), Travis and Laurie were having fun, and poor Bobby is still trying to be a good guy, even though he was removed as Stan's guardian. The show integrated Halloween well, even using it to its advantage -- it took me longer than it should have to realize that the bear was actually Chick in disguise. Overall, a great episode of a great show.

Community 2.06 "Epidemiology"

Have I declared my love for Community on this blog yet? Is it too stereotypical of me to do so? Community is one of those shows that is good at committing totally, willingly, to the craziest ideas you can think of for episodes of television. This Halloween episode is no different. I mean, come on, a zombie infection set to ABBA? A horror homage/parody piece where the black guy is actually the hero? SHIRLEY AND CHANG HAVE SEX?! Most of all, I deeply appreciated Troy's journey (insert Illiad reference here) of self-identity; of all the identities in the world that can be denied by a person, "nerd" is the hardest. This episode is going on my stack of Halloween reruns -- in fact, I may never watch the Boy Meets World slasher parody episode again. (I'm kidding. Who doesn't love Jennifer Love Hewitt parodying herself?)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review: The Event 1.06 "Loyalty"

Loyalty: honorable, and dangerous. At least, that's the concept of loyalty as presented by this week's episode of The Event. It's a very fitting title, considering that those of us who have been loyal to the show for this long have now been rewarded with an actual, watchable show, one that avoids Flashforward's pitfalls, learned just the right amount of lessons from LOST, and has all the high-octane action that 24 delivered for eight straight seasons.

The main story here revolves around Agent Simon Li (not his real name!), the double agent whose story I completely dismissed back in the pilot. I apologize for that -- the revelations from last week regarding Thomas (and how cool it is to have aliens that look like humans who don't age -- props to the creative team for that idea) opens the door to a whole host of new stories involving the extra-terrestrials (henceforth ETs, at the risk of getting sued by Spielberg). For Simon, we get a simple love story -- he loved a woman in 1954, but sacrificed her for his loyalty to his people. They encounter each other again, after "Mason" has changed his name to Simon and gets work as an agent of the government, but she's got Alzheimer's and he's a young whipper-snapper. Ultimately, though, Simon isn't willing to make the sacrifice for his loyalty again; though he lets Thomas and Sophia escape (and smacks his superior upside the head, though I think we all know how inconsequential that was), he also tries to save his field team. Honorable, but dangerous when an entire building is collapsing all around you. For added brilliance: leave his fate unknown until the next episode. I'm hooked.

But let's not forget Jason Ritter just yet! Sean's finally got Leila back... and now Leila gets to find out that her mom is dead, her kid sister was kidnapped, and her dad is who-knows-where. Desperate for answers, they leave behind FBI Girl and return to Leila's house, searching for evidence that Michael Buchanan was somehow involved in something that caused him to submit to a terrorist's will. And then we get Paula Malcolmson, freshly revived from Caprica's demise, playing a crazy journalist whom Michael called when he accidently stumbled upon the Inostranka facility during a re-routing of his flight. It's kind of a cheap way to get Sean and Leila involved with the rest of the characters, and with the plot at large, but I'll take it, if only because not everyone was a fan of the Sean-Leila plot in the first five episodes, and this promises to be a more interesting line to follow.

Most importantly, "Loyalty" showcases, for the first time, the brilliance of the show's title. The Event doesn't just have to be about the game-changing ET crash-landing in 1944 -- it can also be about the events in our lives that shape us to be who we are, and the events that are catalysts for change. Sean's loyalty is noble, if kind of stupidly blind to the person Leila really is, while Simon's is tenuous but brutally honest. It's clear he loved this woman, and it's clear he didn't want to leave her, but his loyalties were torn, and he chose to help his people instead of living the life he wanted. But all of these characters got to this point through various "events" in their lives, and it is these events that are the focus of the flashbacks -- which now fit comfortably into an episode without being intrusive, confusing, or both.

And... I will leave you with the quote of the night, because I don't want to forget it: "Are you an angel?" "No... I'm so far from that."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Quickie: Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Glee 2.05 "The Rocky Horror Glee Show"

Remember back in my "Britney/Brittany" reflection post, how I said it was critically a hot mess? Well, if that episode is a hot mess, this one is a scorching disaster. Most of what I have to say reflects the way the rest of the critics reacted, but in brief: it didn't work. Doing themed episodes is fun and all, but it has to function in a way that is logical to the show; predictably for a Ryan Murphy teleplay, the show came second to being completely over-the-top. Though I dug Mercedes as Frank-N-Furter, and Finn's storyline was a neat one, there's just no room for Will/Emma/Carl in the same breath as "themed episode". Everything here was just off-putting and wrong. And yes, that was the worst rendition of "Time Warp" I've ever seen (and yes, I too have seen the Drew Carey Show version).

Reflections: Caprica cancellation

Frak.

It always sucks to see great science fiction suffer. The one-two punch of losing Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles one year, then Dollhouse the next, was psychological torture to my wounded heart. But not even flowery prose can save Caprica anymore.

I'm really sorry that it has to go -- the show seemed to be on an upswing recently, and despite the slow start, it was figuring out its themes pretty clearly, while differentiating itself as much as possible from parent show Battlestar Galactica. Especially after losing Dollhouse, this show was a welcome presence.

As for the blog: I'll start reviewing Glee by throwing up a quick post covering all the episodes to date. Due to various obligations, it's unlikely I'll be able to watch it live, so my review posts are likely to be up the following day. As for the gap in my Tuesday nights: what better excuse to watch Parenthood again? And when SyFy burns off the rest of Caprica Season 1.5 in 2011, I will review those dutifully.

Return to the soil, Caprica. So say we all!

Quickie: Tuesday, October 26, 2010

So after doing that "Quick Updates" post... whenever that was (yesterday? Sunday? My days blur together), I was hit with a stroke of genius: why not do a Quickie post every day in order to update my blog readers on my impressions of each episode of each show that I'm watching? Since I don't do detailed reviews of every show I watch, and I don't have a lot of time to get in-depth with Reflections, it's a nice way to throw out my basic reactions to my shows. So without further ado, the first Quickie post of the blog!

Chuck 4.06 "Chuck vs. the Aisle of Terror"

Robert Englund, Linda Hamilton, and a plot that was simultaneously interesting on its own counts and involved with the overarching plot -- that's the Chuck I love. I really dug how we are never really able to know Mommy Bartowski's true motives, merely following her long trail of allegiances. Casey and Morgan continue to shine together, and we seem to have thankfully gotten past the regular Chuck/Sarah relationship angst. FINALLY. Good episode, minus the forgettable Buy More plot.

How I Met Your Mother 6.06 "Baby Talk"

The wacky Family Guy-esque cutaways worked here, where Lily and Marshall debate over baby names becomes metaphorical for the pounds of responsibility that's gonna slap them in the face when said baby finally gets here (note: soon, please -- this story isn't as interesting as you think it is, Bays & Thomas). Prize-winning story here was the Ted/Robin/Barney stuff, though -- particularly coming back to Robin's fierce independence and the contrasts drawn between Ted and Barney. Not the best episode of the season to date, but a mighty fine one nonetheless.

House 7.05 "Unplanned Parenthood"

Unusual case paired with fun baby antics, House-style. The case was cool -- House has done babies before, but never ones that are barely out of the womb. It is a bit of a rehash (mommy and baby affecting each other was done in an earlier season of House, can't remember which off the top of my head), but the House/Wilson/Rachel story was enough to keep me hooked for the parallels. Less interesting was the on-going search for a female doctor. I liked Dr. Chang, but I once again had the feeling that she would be as disposable as Foreman's pick. The problem with trying to make this story a C-plot is a) we know Amber Tamblyn's on the way and b) we know Olivia Wilde's back soon enough. Spare me the minute details of the in-between stuff, please. Otherwise, solid episode of House, especially that last shot -- I laughed out loud.

Caprica 1.14 "False Labor"

I'll have a full review of this later, but in brief: love the Sam story, digging Amanda a little more, digging Daniel a lot more. I really love seeing how Zoe continues to be the dominating presence of the show even when she's not in the episode -- that her death and subsequent avatar resurrection continues to haunt the Graystones is partially telling of how significant that death was. Even Joe Adama can't let Daniel forget. Another solid episode in the bag -- one more and we might be back to epic levels of awesome for this show.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review: Lie To Me 3.04 "Double Blind"

In last week's review, I commented that the show was gaining a greater amount of nuance and subtlety in its storytelling. While the nuance remains this week, particularly in the dialogue, the plot of this week's Lie To Me was remarkably blunt, lacking the subtle brilliance of "Dirty Loyal".

The focus of the episode is a new art exhibit, with the key pieces being a gemstone dug up by archaeologists in 1908 India, and a statue of Osiris from Egypt. When two thieves dressed as cops get shot by the museum guard on duty, the curator blames Torres, who vetted all of his museum employees sometime prior to the events of the episode. Of course, the curator has a drug problem and two regular wall painters whom he failed to mention to Torres at the time of the employee screening. Meanwhile, Lightman gets involved with a woman named Naomi while waiting at the hospital to see if the thief that survived the museum guard's wrath survives. As is revealed through Lightman's flirtations and interactions with her, Naomi used to be involved in the planned heist, but dropped out when her boyfriend resorted to using violence. Now the ex is harassing her, and she drags Lightman into her life. This, of course, is a decoy -- Naomi wanted to steal the gemstone back so it could be returned to its rightful owner. Nuts to her, then, because Lightman had the curator switch out the real gemstone for a fake.

It was hard to really engage with this episode. Part of me thinks that was by design. The title of the episode, "Double Blind", refers to a kind of psychological experiment where neither the test subjects nor the researchers know which test subjects are in the control group (the normal conditions against which a hypothesis is tested) and which are in the experimental group. That may have worked for Naomi, blinding both herself and Lightman to the truth of the events, but it doesn't work for an episode of television; instead of drawing us in, the episode attempts to push us away.

I did appreciate the butterfly metaphor. The subplot involves Torres dealing with the fact that she may have screwed up when vetting the museum employees. In response, Lightman asks her to look up the difference between a Monarch butterfly and a viceroy butterfly. Loker provides the explanation: "They're nearly identical. Predators can't tell the difference between the two, they just know one is toxic, so they leave them both alone." (This is kind of misleading; viceroy butterflies can still upset a predator's stomach -- not as dangerous as being poisoned by the Monarch, but still not very preferable, and therefore a good deterrent for predators.) The idea is that Torres and Lightman work together, against the curator, in order to confuse him, make him unsure whether Lightman or Torres are the more dangerous prey, so that he'll leave them both alone. Lightman later invokes the metaphor after Naomi reveals her cards, telling her, "Viceroy butterfly" in response to a dinner proposal. It's a nice touch of subtlety in an otherwise unsubtle episode.

The season's extended metaphor of "Lightman Group as family" played less of a role here, but was still invoked. The Torres subplot definitively places Foster and Lightman in parental roles to Torres -- it works within the family metaphor, but as a stand-alone plot, it irked me from a feminist point of view. Foster is once again left out of another Lightman sleight-of-hand, having not been told about the fake gemstone. When she confronts him, he tells her, "It's called 'cat-and-mouse', Jill, not 'cats-and-mouse'." Lightman's ego seems to be an on-going problem this season as well; when he and Naomi go for coffee, he asks her to call him Lightman, which for me invoked the first episode of the season: "Let there be Lightman!"

Overall, "Double Blind" was not as strong as the previous three episodes. Though there were some great ideas at play, the execution was by-the-numbers procedural work -- which, admittedly, is more interesting under the lens of the Lightman Group, but within context, this episode was not a particularly strong use of Lie To Me's greatest strengths.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Quick Update: October 25 2010

Greetings! I know there are quite a few readers out there reading this blog now. Thank you so much!

I've been doing my best to come up with ways of spicing up the blog a bit, making sure it isn't always just reviews and reflections at random times. It's a challenge working around a college student's schedule, but so far I've been making it work pretty well.

I just wanted to quickly inform readers that tonight's review of Lie To Me will be a tad late. I probably won't be able to watch it until much later tonight, and I won't be able to get a review up until tomorrow at noon by the earliest. In related news, because I'm also reviewing The Event, and because Fringe is not on this week, I'll be reviewing The Event on Thursday this week, same as I did last week.

In really cool news, though, I would like to prepare you for something I cooked up this weekend. Because it's the week leading up to Halloween, I wanted to do something horror-related. And what should I watch but "Blink", one of the scariest episodes of Doctor Who? I remembered how I got there (via Myles McNutt, who called Buffy episode "Hush" the equivalent episode in that series) and decided that I could easily do a special "Horror TV" series of posts this week, analyzing these two both separately and in relation to each other. So look for that in the coming week.

I've got to dash now, but keep watching those RSS feeds -- I'll be around!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Review: The Event 1.05 "Casualties of War"

This week's episode of The Event reminded me very strongly of the Battlestar Galactica movie-episode "Razor". That story focuses on Admiral Helena Cain's theory of war: at one point, she tells new arrival Kendra Shaw that "sometimes we have to do things we never thought we were capable of, if only to show the enemy our will." This concept was at the heart of "Casualties of War" -- in war, sometimes you have to commit fully to inhumane acts in order to regain your own humanity.

The main plot focuses on a fully developed razor of war -- Thomas, a leader hand-picked by Sophia to be a sleeping dog inside America's fence -- and President Eli, a razor-in-training. Their conflict starts with the fates of the passengers of Avias 514 at risk. Thomas is unrelenting, almost eager to execute the passengers, but he reveals to Simon that he believes Eli will cave. But Eli doesn't cave -- instead, he flips the script: if the passengers of Avias 514 (who are all dying by some non-terrestial agent which only Thomas can cure, by the way) die, then Eli replies in turn by executing Sophia and all of the detainees at Inostranka. Flashbacks reveal the nature of Thomas's character: he's a soldier, through and through, and he'll follow his orders even if they're no longer coming from the same woman that he received orders from so many years ago. But this time, it's too much, and he caves. The negotiation is this: put Sophia on a train to him, and Thomas releases the passengers from their torment. So in the end, Eli gets what he wants -- but his wife questions whether or not he really would have gone through with his genocidal threat, and frankly, so do I.

The secondary plot, meanwhile, focuses on a tense conclusion to Sean's search for Leila. Just as Sean gets Leila's message from the police department, Leila discovers that the cops aren't all they say they are ("celebrating fifteen years this January" my ass). She makes another poor escape attempt (no, seriously, Leila is just bad at escapes -- or maybe her captors are just really good at coincidence) and is locked inside a room again. Sean arrives at the station just as his buddy gets him the location of Vicky's cell phone number -- which was just turned on inside that very station. But Sean has a plan -- he logically assumes, based on what he learned about Vicky's "son" Adam last week, that she obtained him through less-than-typical means, and uses this information as blackmail in order to safely get Leila out. It works -- Vicky lets Sean and Leila leave, and she covers for them and takes out all of her once-partners (save one, whom Sean, Leila, and FBI Girl kidnap for "further questioning"). Flashbacks reveal the mission in which she obtained Adam, showing her to be a solider willingly following orders, but unwilling to shoot a baby in cold blood. Like Thomas, she gives in -- some emotional connection prevents her from committing to her orders, just as Thomas was unwilling to have genocide on his hands via President Eli's threat.

I really dug this episode. It wore its theme will, executing a miniature version of "Razor" while using the show's previously established mythology to build to the all-important choices Vicky and Thomas have to make at the end. There was generally a lot of creativity in the writing and structuring of this episode, and much of my attention came from the emotional tensions rising between the characters as opposed to the adrenaline rush of a good shootout (only one this time, and it was in the police station in order to save Leila). A real show is starting to emerge here, and with news this week of a full season pickup, I hope there's as much narrative strength in the rest of the season as there was here in this episode.

In other words, "if you can be this... for as long as you have to be, then you're a razor."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Review: Caprica 1.12 "Things We Lock Away"

What are the "Things We Lock Away"? Memories, secrets... even human beings. That we can call them "things" and lock them away implies that we have power over them, that we can oppress them. It is the nature of this relationship between the thing in the safe and the owner of the safe that is at the heart of tonight's wonderfully engaging episode of Caprica -- and with three loaded stories to boot.

Let's start in the V-World. Picking up from "Unvanquished", Zoe finds the gladiator-esque arena where Tamara's been killing time and confronts her. Thing is, Tamara's kinda pissed about that whole MAG-LEV bombing and how it killed her and her mom, and she and other family members of MAG-LEV victims want revenge on Zoe for her terrorist ways. At first, Zoe is compliant, but over the episode, she recovers memories from Zoe's life that lead her to a simple conclusion: she is not Zoe, and she does not have to follow the path that Zoe laid out for her. This all culminates in a fantastic fight sequence between Zoe and Tamara that ends with Zoe lending Tamara a hand, then they look upward at their captors.

Lacy, meanwhile, is having less of a good time. Clarice locks her up in her attic while she brings Amanda back to the Graystone residence (sans Daniel for the brief time she's there, so no reunion just yet). Oh, sure, Lacy's got some food and water, but it's drugged, and Lacy isn't happy about that. Finally, after much psychological torture, Clarice visits Lacy, and Lacy reveals that, while Zoe's original files are all fried, she may have had a backup in the STO infinity symbol she used to wear. Satisfied that Lacy is now under her thumb, Clarice ships her off to Gemenon for STO training. It's only after this that Clarice brings Amanda to live with her at her home. Clarice is quite the puppetmaster -- she knows how to hide the strings.

The final plot deals with Daniel Graystone. Predictably, he is voted back as CEO of his own company again. However, Joseph lays down basic Tauron beliefs upon him: Vergis will never stop coming after Daniel, so the only course of action left is to end him. Daniel disagrees. He thinks he can play the business game with Tomas, boxing him into a corner, locking him away so he can never really fight Daniel with any power ever again. But Tomas is a proud Tauron, and in a brutal final scene, he forces Daniel to thrust Tomas's own blade into his chest.

The illusion is that we only think we have power over these things we lock away. But Zoe and Tamara subvert the gladiator spectators' expectations by extending a helping hand to each other in the end. Lacy will no doubt be back for Clarice (as one of Clarice's husbands notes as she is chauffeured away), ending the reign of terror she has exerted over Lacy, Amanda, and her immediate family. And Daniel's own illusions are falling apart: he is beginning to realize that violence, not business, is truly power, and he has crossed the Rubicon in that arena.

I noted that last week's Caprica seemed to be spinning its wheels -- now it's easy to see why. This episode, like Zoe's memories or Lacy, was locked away, waiting for the right moment to exert its influence upon the series. What this episode did so well is that it incorporated the show's strongest elements into a cohesive story with a strong thematic heart that kept each scene alive with meaning, with purpose. This is Caprica at its finest.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Lie To Me 3.03 "Dirty Loyal"

Dare I detect subtlety and nuance? This week's Lie To Me takes an old procedural trope -- dirty cops -- and twists it into a story about loyalty, and the pitfalls thereof. It also layers the show with the issue at the heart of the Lightman Group in this season -- "A house divided cannot stand."

Tonight's episode, "Dirty Loyal", deals with Lightman's new girlfriend/connection to the cops, Wallowski, and her connection to a dirty cop (her partner, Detective Farr) and the gangs she watches as part of her job. When Prince John, a Ninety-Sixer, winds up dead, all fingers point to Wallowski being dirty, thanks mostly to an eyewitness. But Loker and Torres pull some science on that eyewitness by pointing out "change blindness" -- we see what we want to see, blind to any subtle changes that might occur. Meanwhile, another Ninety-Sixer kicks the bucket, and the truth comes out: Farr's been getting some "off-duty booty" which resulted in a son, Suarez. He was trying to be a good father, Wallowski was trying to be a good partner, and because of that, the two got caught up in a bloody battle for gang leadership which ultimately brings the truth to Internal Affairs.

The episode felt a bit dragging, especially with one act devoted exclusively to the shootout at Wallowski's house, but it ultimately offered a lot of commentary on the values and dangers of loyalty. By the end of the episode, I felt kinda sorry for Farr: he was really just trying to be a good dad, and the system responded by kicking him in the ass. Same for Lightman and Foster, each attempting to be loyal to the same thing for entirely different reasons.

This episode is definitely the beginning of a series of introspective pieces involving the Lightman Group. With Loker on his way out, a new set of interns on their way in, and Lightman and Foster literally divided by a woman (loved the shot of the two walking away from the IA agent in opposite directions), the show is open to new thematic stories to tell based on these characters.

Most of all, I appreciated the subtlety of the episode -- the Group has stopped with the lengthy, wordy explanations of their science, instead letting Wallowski's facial expressions betray her for them. They've also lost their ability to communicate -- Lightman bounds away as soon as Foster and Wallowski start talking about him. At first, I was a bit thrown by how different this season is in comparison to the previous season, but now I'm all in, if these are the kinds of stories we can expect this year.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review: The Event 1.04 "A Matter of Life and Death"

I always feel exhausted after watching an episode of The Event. I think it's just my suspension of disbelief faculties working overtime. I was never a 24 viewer, so this kind of high-stress plot involvement is a new thing for me.

This week's episode, "A Matter of Life and Death", flips the script, relegating last week's cliffhanger to the B-plot while we deal primarily with Sean and Leila. Sean and his new cop buddy (yes, I did already forget her name) are hunting down Vicky Roberts while, in Snyder, TX, Leila attempts to and succeeds at freeing herself from her captors, only to get caught in the web again -- one of the cops she finds after escaping is working with Vicky in order to capture Sean. Interspersed in this story were flashbacks to Thanksgiving dinner five years ago, when Leila's parents meet Sean for the first time. The flashbacks were great in this episode, but they added little to the situation at hand, which was a little disorienting.

So, those airplane passengers? They're alive because of this Other named Thomas, a rogue who would prefer to use means of terrorism (as opposed to diplomacy, Sophia's preferred method) in order to free the prisoners at Inostranka. He makes a menacing(?) threat to the president that unless Sophia and the other Others go free, more people will die. And then their noses start bleeding -- because LOST didn't make that piece of business scary enough already.

All in all, this episode was weaker than last week's, but still stronger than the first two. The show has definitely figured out how to balance the time between flashbacks and present-day stories, but there hasn't been an attempt to make a thematic connection. When that spark hits, I'm bound to give a glowing review. Until then, The Event continues the mighty first-season struggle to find itself. Lucky for them, I'm a patient man.

Review: Fringe 3.04 "Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?"

I had a moment, at the commercial break with Walter and Ray the shapeshifter in the elevator together, when I realized that absolutely anything is possible on this show. (It was a horrifying revelation at the time. Walter could have died!) As Walter himself says, there are no limits except what we impose on ourselves. Such is the beauty and power of "Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?" an hour of television that is essentially indescribable because to do so would be imposing limits on a show that believes in the endless impossibility.

More than "The Box", this episode convinced me of the awesome factor of the myth-alone as it functions within the Blue Universe. The teaser begins with a couple of nice, early-Fringe-esque scenes, particularly the lemonade stand sequence, but by the end we know three things: Broyles has a semi-personal connection to this person, Newton has been called in to interfere with this guy, and, oh yeah, the senator's a SHAPESHIFTER. Of these three things, only the Broyles connection gets short-changed, but at this point I'm so used to it happening that I didn't even notice. So Senator Van Horn gets transported to the new Massive Dynamic labs, where a self-medicated Walter attempts to find his brain. He and Astrid finally figure out that having fake emotions eventually leads to real emotions replacing them, thus the senator's wife is the quickest way to locate the data center. They find it at the base of the spine -- his ass -- but Walter thinks that's impossible until he remembers the stegosaurus (through conversation with Astrid).

The rest of the episode's stories connect at about this point in the show. Newton is the mastermind of the episode; he is quick to point out how Fauxlivia is becoming attached to our team, and he discovers the reason Ray the shapeshifter is so reluctant to perform his duty of recovering the data center from Van Horn at Massive Dynamic. Ray manages to slip in and out of Massive Dynamic with the data center, but only just (and I won't lie, I was scared stiff when he and Walter were in close proximity to each other)... only to be shot by Newton outside of his house. Fauxlivia, of course, wants to have her cake and eat it too; after a harrowing car chase, she recovers the data center and doesn't tell Peter about it... and then she calls him over to have sex. (A clear and present danger, or the best spy ever?)

There was definitely a meta-fictional vibe to this episode. I've always loved J. J. Abrams' TED Talk, particularly the way he describes the function of mystery in storytelling. Mechanical plot business is just that: mechanical. "It's a machine!" declares Walter at one point. But in order for a machine to complete its mission -- at least, for our shapeshifters to do so -- it must learn how to emulate emotions. And for shapeshifters, who are part organic, this can lead to real emotions. The mystery, the science, the mythology all fall by the wayside when Walter's life is threatened by an emotionally compromised shapeshifter.

This is televised storytelling at its finest: a show with an overarching mythology crafts an episode that plays to the hardcore audience while providing easy-access emotional through-lines to help guide them through the myriad of twists and turns. I feel like a little kid again when I'm watching this show -- and I mean that in the best way possible.

Review: Caprica 1.11 "Retribution"

"Spinning its wheels" is a phrase I hear bandied about from TV critics when a show takes an episode to put its ducks in order, maneuvering pieces to the right places in the plot in order to make real progress later on in the story.

Such is the case with this week's Caprica, "Retribution". It's not a bad episode of television, but it has the challenge of following up from last week's incredible "Unvanquished" and having to handle a character most people thought dead after "End of Line" -- Amanda Graystone. In attempting to handle each character with care, the episode fails in comparison to other, more focused episodes of Caprica.

The real lagging piece of the episode is the Daniel storyline. Sure, we get it -- he's going to be working with the Adamas in morally grey areas in order to get his company back. Cool. Can we not pretend that the Adamas don't have their own motives, though? It's a real shame to see sparkling characters like Joseph and Sam made out as little more than gangster pawns in Daniel Graystone's master plot. Worse yet, with the dynamic between Daniel and Zoe temporarily unavailable, why are we supposed to care about what Daniel does? I get the feeling the episode wanted us to connect with Daniel in the sense that his master creation is being used as little more than weapons, but, well, he's no Tony Stark or Mark Zuckerberg.

If we could just cut out that plot and focus instead on Lacy, Clarice, and Amanda, the episode would have been much better. The episode's basic premise is this: what would you do in the name of retribution? Daniel leans on Taurons and spies to get his job done, but Clarice prefers a more personal touch -- as Barnabas fatally discovers this week. Caught in the middle of everything is Lacy, whose life is now forfeit to Clarice for attempting to bomb her plane (and failing, thanks to Lacy's sudden lack of a backbone). Meanwhile, Amanda is debating whether or not to spy on Clarice, who may or may not be an STO agent; she's also reflecting upon the events after her bridge-jump suicide fail via a series of flashbacks and dreams that remind me of that knock-knock joke about the interrupting cow.

So yes, this episode is doing a lot of wheel-spinning. I still think Caprica spins wheels better than most shows (LOST and parent show Battlestar Galactica did it better; high praise, no?) but mechanically moving characters from Point A to Point B in a single episode is boring. My favorite quote from the episode sums things up well: "You're a disgrace. / That's not the point."

Reflections: 30 Rock 5.04 "Live Show"

The first thought that came to mind when I heard that 30 Rock was doing a live show was: "hey, what a great idea considering what the show is built upon!" I'm guessing I was in some sort of minority, because in reality, doing a live version of a scripted show -- any scripted show -- would be impossible if not ridiculously difficult to pull off. And yet, because of the show's concept, and because the show has Tina Fey -- whose writing exploits I frequently adore -- 30 Rock was in a unique position to do the impossible, Joss Whedon style.

And do it they did. Though the plots were skeleton sketches compared to a typical episode of the show, they necessarily had to be in order to allow the actors room to sketch out the jokes for themselves. I was delighted at the wonderful amount of soul-searching occurring in the episode -- by going live, the show and its creative team was forced to find out just what was so gosh darn funny about the show from the beginning.

For that, I can at least mostly credit the cast. I'm among the legions who has a major screen crush on Tina Fey, but everyone was on their A-game in this one, from Tracy Morgan's hilarious attempts to sabotage the show by breaking character to Jack McBrayer's Kenneth constantly cracking up at an "I'm with stupid" shirt to Alec Baldwin for, well, being Alec Baldwin. I'll admit freely in this reflection to not being a regular 30 Rock viewer, so I'm not entirely sure if Baldwin's Jack character mimicking his wife's inability to drink during pregnancy was part of an on-going story involving his home life, but the various failures at being off alcohol led to him sticking his nose down Jane Krakowski's mouth. That was more than enough to convince me of the humor in the situation.

The final touch that I really enjoyed about the episode was the meta-humor. I'm going to touch on meta-fictional television sometime in the future, but for this episode in particular, the meta-humor is what really helped the show transcend both pre-taped/scripted and live television and gave it a flavor that makes me pine for more live scripted shows in a way that reality television could never do. It was also a very convenient way to slide a viewer into the show by subtly pointing out right from the beginning that something was "off", then send us back home with a final taped shot of Tina and Alec.

Given the heavy SNL leanings of the show, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that this episode worked as well as it did. But it's still an accomplishment, and I'm willing to grant it that. So this post is one big kudos to the 30 Rock cast, crew, etc. not only for pulling off a live show, but for reminding me why this show is funny and fun to watch.

Blamo!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Review: Lie To Me 3.02 "The Royal We"

In the opening of this week's Lie To Me, "The Royal We", Emily quotes Tolstoy: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Though not obvious at first, this is the core theme of the episode. While Lightman has to handle writing a new book, ejecting Loker, and inducting the new employees into his service, he also has a deadly family situation at his fingertips.

Beauty pageants come up a lot in procedurals; I even have vague recollections of one in an episode of Numb3rs, one of my all-time favorite procedurals in the past decade. A lot of them tend to focus mostly on the innocence of the little girls, the sacrifices the families make so their little girls can be successful and blah de blah. So it was nice to see Lie To Me take the extreme psychological route in order to highlight more subtle nuances to Lightman's work. In this case, the little girl is far from innocent; she's sadistic, cutting herself on the thigh while reading her mom's diary from her own pageant days. See, she gets off to pain, which her mom has a-plenty, and then little Megan takes it upon herself to extend that pain to others, resulting in a sexual assault charge against Mr. Fletcher, soccer mom-widow extraordinaire. But Megan also has the usual pageant girl issues -- the scene in the rafters where Lightman belittles his own mom's suicide is remarkable, not just for the shocking truths that Lightman and Megan lay bare in the conversation, but for the continuity of Cal's character bringing new emotional weight to a worn out procedural plot.

Somewhat less impressive, but somehow still very humorous, is how Cal and Loker are handling each other now that Loker is on his way out. Cal throws Loker's stuff onto the floor; in retaliation, Loker steals a pen, then helps Cal out during a particularly difficult point in the case. They're both awfully like children, aren't they? But the real stinger comes at the end, when Torres finds out that Loker has applied for a job at The Pentagon -- Lightman's old bosses.

The episode has some issues. Notably, it's becoming more difficult to see the thematic connection between the main case and the drama within Lightman Group. Sure, I get that they're supposed to be family, but especially within the past few episodes (and I'm including the end of S2 in this), it's been hard to really make that familial bond clear. And I don't think I have to tick off the list of reasons why relating to a sadistic pageant girl with mommy issues is a hard thing to do.

Overall, though, "The Royal We" is on par with some of the darker episodes the show has ever done -- quite an achievement for an episode about pageant girls. The only thing I could really request of the show right now is that we get more Foster and Torres moments. Cal and Emily are great, but they're the core blood family of the show, and at some point, we know what to expect from them (not unlike the Taylors in Friday Night Lights). The Lightman Group is peppered with wonderful characters, and I'd like to see them in the spotlight more. There's no need to always say "Let there be Lightman."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review: Fringe 3.03 "The Plateau"

Patterns are consistent and predictable behaviors. They can be found in math as in human beings, and are based primarily on what can be known about the real world. But what happens when you break the pattern?

This week's Fringe, "The Plateau" attempts to answer that question on multiple levels. In one sense, the episode is about our Antagonist of the Week, Milo, who's been jacked up with so many intelligence-enhancing drugs that he can predict the patterns of human beings, enabling him to commit multiple murders simply by setting off a chain reaction using ballpoint pens.

Sounds like a Herculean task, taking him down. But nobody counted on Olivia -- and that's our Olivia, though she's having a hard time remembering that. With Olivia's story, the show also makes a meta-fictional appeal to the fans of the show. Remember "The Pattern"? It's OK if you don't; the phrase hasn't been used in connection to Fringe Division cases since at least late season one or early season two. Instead, we have alternate universes, which have shattered the pattern of television episodes. On Fringe, the "myth-alone" episode prevails, and it is presenting a fascinating challenge to the hybrid procedural/mythological television shows in the landscape. Our Olivia's memories are bleeding through, even guiding Fauxlivia's actions, to the point that she does not recognize a sign indicating lack of oxygen in a given construction site and instead plows ahead to tackle Milo -- an action that is outside Fauxlivia's normal patterns, and is ultimately Milo's downfall.

The other major theme of the episode is perception. How does Fringe Division perceive Olivia? How does Olivia perceive herself? Everyone's feeling a kind of cognitive dissonance here in Red Universe. Today, that dissonance saved Olivia's life. In two weeks? It could be her undoing. It's no accident that submerging Olivia in water was brought up again -- the show reaches back into its past (the pilot episode is likely the reference here, and it's definitely no accident that the word "pattern" was used specifically) to generate a new future, one that is outside the pattern of regular television, even the previous pattern that Fringe developed over the course of its first season. It also makes Broyles uncomfortable -- outside of the pattern means outside of control, and he doesn't want to risk losing another agent.

And that makes for one hell of an hour of entertainment. I need no further evidence of the show's alternating between universes -- this works on a level far beyond what I previously thought the show was capable of. The impossible truly has become real. But it's all part of The Pattern, now, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Review: Caprica 1.10 "Unvanquished"

Caprica is a show that shares its parent show's ridiculously complex topics for stories. Fortunately, both shows also work well when they zero in on a particular topic and examine it from a variety of viewpoints.

This week's episode of Caprica, the triumphant return of the show to television, is mostly about the sanctity of human life. Daniel, grieving now for the loss (though not necessarily death) of his wife and his company, is ready to jump into bed with the Tauron gangs -- though not for the life of his mother -- in order to set things right again. Clarice, meanwhile, presents an intriguing use of the V-World to her superiors in the religion (one with a power structure not so unlike the Catholic Church): a virtual heaven, where souls could live on after they had died.

The show's title has a nice ring to it: "Unvanquished". Clarice is unvanquished in her goal to assert monotheistic thought across all the colonies, an ambition she can finally realize now that the only man in her way is dead via Brutus (or Diego -- and I'm pretty damn sure the scene was set up to parallel that scene from the play on purpose). Daniel is unvanquished in his quest to uncover the secret behind eternal life, though he is slowed by the fact that Vergas is putting out chassis of the U-87 that can walk and shoot (which is, of course, good enough for the military). And Zoe is, well, just plain unvanquished -- the U-87 with her consciousness inside was boxed mercifully by Cyrus (going against orders from Vergas to melt down the parts for scrap metal), and her virtual self is a Dead Walker like Tamara -- not a coincidence since Zoe is looking for her.

It's tough to come back from a long break and jump right back into a world as richly detailed as Caprica, but this show remains a love-child of Battlestar Galactica, and that means you can't keep the strongest elements from shining through when necessary. The acting was top-notch (particularly the under-stated emotions in Zoe and Daniel) and some of these shots were just plain gorgeous -- how else would a drunken, grieving man wake up but with the feeling that the whole world is upside down? I will never get enough of this show and what it adds to the television landscape.

(Expect a Reflections piece on this one later on this week. There was a LOT of symbolism and imagery at work here, too much to cover in a single review.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Review: The Event 1.03 "Protect Them From The Truth"

Ah, there's that emotional core I was looking for!

In last week's review, I noted how The Event was essentially two stories trying to work as one. This week, the two have finally found some kind of peaceful co-existence, though they briefly rubbed against each other towards the end.

Sean Walker doesn't really know it yet, but he's caught up in a giant conspiracy. Like Yorick in Y: The Last Man, however, he's focused on one singular goal: finding his girlfriend. That gives him the drive needed to keep the story pushing slowly forward, but leaves the vague "truth-is-out-there" search by the wayside. He even manages to convince an FBI agent to help him in this episode, thanks largely to the interference of government agents under the command of Laila's kidnappers.

Yes, government agents. On the President Eli side of things, the layers of conspiracy are reaching mind-numbing levels. This time, however, we finally meet the "alien" who was willing to give up his people for freedom -- a choice Sophia was not going to make. Unfortunately, he met a simple, yet effective, tragic ending at the hands of his girlfriend Maya. This works just fine for Blake Sterling, who continues to insist that everything be under his complete control.

"Protect Them From The Truth" features the best use of the flashback structure to date. In previous episodes, I felt that the flashbacks were too long and too expository, though I understood how they were meant to function within the structure of the episode. With all the major background information out of the way, flashbacks are now shorter and contain only the information necessary to move the plot forward or develop a character a little bit more. I'm not sure if the show can continue to survive on cliffhanger endings, but the meat of the episodes is now in place, and on a narrative level, it works.

Another thing I really appreciated about this episode was the moments that defined each of the major characters. Sean is desperate, but he's also smart, a fact that was established by the end of the teaser (one of my favorite teasers so far this season). Blair Sterling tells his partner to keep the discovery of Sean Walker on a "need-to-know" basis and, in an earlier scene, politely and tersely tells a superior that his concern for "who investigates the investigator" is noted. He's tough and unreasonable, a combination that's sure to get him trouble soon enough.

I'm still not 100% sure where the show intends to go with its sci-fi elements, but -- dare I say? -- the rest of the show is actually pretty good. It's a joyful cohabitation of LOST and 24, a combination that can provide solid storytelling now that the boring expository scenes have been cleaned out. There's still work to be done, but the way ahead for The Event is lit much brighter than any other serialized show attempted by any other network -- notably Flashforward, which had a much more interesting premise but stumbled far too much far too quickly.

So I guess I've made my judgment: I'm along for the ride. Look for reviews a day or two after the episode airs -- I want to know where this is going!

Review: Lie To Me 3.01 "In The Red"

Lie To Me is in one funky period of transition.

The worst part about this is simply the fact that we have no idea what particular events can be attributed to the show's weirdly shifting tone. Is it the revolving door of writers and showrunners? Is it FOX's unusual decision to burn season two throughout the summer while also purchasing a third season? Is there just too much craziness to handle?

Fortunately, despite the weight of constant change, Lie To Me continues to deliver solid drama week by week. Considering the fact that the season two finale was barely a few weeks ago, it feels nice to transition neatly from the dark, emotional tone of season two to the meaty procedural twist-up that appears to be the order of the day for season three.

This week's episode, "In The Red", is about replacing the old with the new. In the procedural case, Cal has to find a new source of temporary income when Foster freezes the company's accounts. This drives him to the bank, where Lady Luck brings him a victim of the mortgage crisis whom Cal immediately recognizes as someone who is ready to rob a bank. What follows is a pretty fascinating take on the old bank heist story as Cal plays both sides of the law, attempting to come out on top with assets unfrozen and a guilty bank manager brought to justice at last.

Which brings us to the second replacement, and one I'm not terribly thrilled about. The fate of Agent Reynolds was left unclear after season two's explosive finale, but the fate of Lightman's connection to the FBI was made perfectly clear: he's out, and now Cal's found a new source for doing the boring crime scene work in the local police department. It's kind of a step down from the FBI, but at least there won't be any conspiracy theories to worry about -- just dirty cops. On the other hand, losing Mekhi Pfeifer is a tragedy -- I really grew to like his character and the actor's presence on the show, particularly in the season two finale when played against Tim Roth to full effect. It's a shame to see him go.

The third replacement is another sad loss: Loker. He's pretty much over Cal Lightman and is interviewing replacements for his graduate studies position at the company. This leads to a particularly humorous scene involving Cal yelling at a deaf girl, "THERE'S NO NEED TO YELL!" (though of course he was referring to her face, as she actually has a very controlled vocal volume)... and then hiring her on the spot. It's a neat shift in dynamic, but also has me worried: is this the end of Loker as well? And what about his relationship with Torres? (And why the hell don't we get more awesome Torres moments like that episode with her sister?)

All things considered, Lie To Me does manage to strike a balance in this premiere episode. The changes could be disastrous or excellent (the same can be said of Human Target -- but that's a whole other blog post sometime in the future), but despite having been written and directed by many a talented hand, the show hasn't lost sight of its core principles -- which still makes it one of the best procedural dramas on television.