It’s becoming more and more apparent that 666 Park Avenue is all bout mystery.
When I thought that Gavin Doran was the devil himself, or something like it, I thought the arc of the show would follow Jane as she slowly uncovered the truth. That’s a reasonable premise for a movie, but for a television show, it sounds dreadfully dull, and more than that, it sounds predictable.
Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. Obviously, this show isn’t The Wire (although the insufferable news editor from Season 5 makes a brief appearance in this episode), but it’s shaping up to be a little more complex than Rosemary’s Baby: The Series.
First, there’s Gavin himself. He still appears to be some sort of demon with sinister wish-granting powers, but those powers manifest themselves in ways that don’t make him seem like he’s straight-up Lucifer. Look at the women he helps in episodes two and three: sure, his “help” ends up costing them dearly, but it’s not implied that a “for-your-soul” bargain took place. Hell, in this episode, Annie the journalist doesn’t even ask him for help, she just suddenly attains the power to change reality with her words.
And if Gavin is the devil, why does he seem so interested in Henry’s political career? We know that the Dorans need to “get Henry” for something, but what, exactly? And speaking of which, what’s the deal with Olivia Doran? Did she just marry into this demonic lifestyle, or is there more to her story? When Gavin tells Henry that he knows what it’s like to come from nothing and fight for everything you get, is it a lie or a hint about his true origins? What’s up with that thief girl who gave Jane the article last episode? Why can she see the future? Why wasn’t she in this episode? Why wasn’t my favorite character Tony the Doorman in this episode? Where’s Tony? WHERE IS HE, YOU MONSTERS?
The show wouldn’t work if I didn’t care about the answers to any of those questions, but I actually do. Sure, it’s based on curiosity of what direction the show’s going to take as opposed to me needing to follow these characters wherever they go… but, hey, interest is interest, and if a show can make me this curious, it’s doing something right.
Of course, when a series is based around mysteries, the creators are taking a big risk. It’s a risk that isn’t present in short-form mysteries, like an Agatha Christie novel or an episode of Law and Order. When an audience becomes invested in the mysteries of a long-running television show, they expect a good payoff, and if you don’t deliver that, you are screwed. Even if you do solve the mystery, viewers can still turn on you if it isn’t exactly what they wanted. Just ask anyone who bailed on the second half of Twin Peaks, or any of those people who didn’t understand Lost.*
Yes, dear reader, I hear you: this business about mystery is all well and good, this is supposed to be a horror show, confound it! Shouldn’t 666 Park Avenue be trying a little harder to scare us?
True, the show is rarely “scary,” but it does its best to cram each episode full of horror tropes. This episode alone had Jane hallucinate blood pouring out of the mystery door and then seeing a creepy little girl in the hallway, whispering creepy little girl thing. Whether or not something is “scary” is purely subjective, but there’s no denying that the creators of Park Avenue have at least a basic knowledge of horror movies.
Besides, I’m not entirely convinced you can really “do” horror on television, at least not the way it’s done in movies. American Horror Story took the general framework of a haunted-house movie and stretched it out to 12 episodes, and we ended up with… well, I’m still not sure what exactly we ended up with.But for all the things that American Horror Story is, “scary” is not really one of them. Maybe it has to do with pacing or maybe it’s just hard to build an atmosphere when you have to break for commercials every ten minutes.
But that’s a broad subject, better suited for another time. And hey, you can’t say Park Avenue isn’t at least trying to scare us. So far, we’ve gotten one big “horror” set piece per episode: In the pilot, it was the guy getting thrown against the wall and consumed in a manner that reminded me of the underrated The Exorcist 3. In the second episode, it was the exterminator getting attacked by birds and then ran over, which was laughable. I mean, seriously laughable. As in, I laughed at it.
“The Dead Don’t Stay Dead” gave us the short but well-executed scene of Kandinsky, Annie’s made-up Soviet assassin, coming into existence and breaking into Annie’s apartment. And speaking of him: the lack of resolution to the Damned Of The Week sub-plot was baffling to me… until I saw the “next week on” previews during the credits. I know, that’s cheating, but I’m glad I saw them, because I caught a glimpse of Kandinsky in the next episode. I wouldn’t be surprised if we never saw Annie again, but the fact that part of this week’s sub-plot is going to continue into next week is exciting, as it continues to dismantle my original low expectations.
Some of the mysteries within the plot of 666 Park Avenue are a little clunky—Jane finally unlocked the mystery door, and inside she found a MYSTERY BOX—but the meta-mysteries of what kind of show this is going be, where is everything going… I’m finding those more compelling as time goes on. Hopefully, I’m not the only one.
* – On the real, Lost isn’t a perfect show, but most of the people who still complain about the show’s “unsolved mysteries” are just being needlessly pedantic.