666 Park Avenue, “The Hero Complex”

666 Park Avenue is never going to be a show with deep, fleshed-out characters. That’s not a shot against the writers, that’s just the kind of show it is. It doesn’t need deep, fleshed-out characters. Park Avenue isn’t character-driven because it’s built from the template of horror movies, which are typically plot-driven. This ‘character/plot-driven’ division is sometimes exaggerated (especially in discussions of ‘genre’ writing and ‘literary’ writing), but it’s still a good way to adjust your expectations for a work of art. Even if it fulfills its potential and becomes a pulpy, thrill-a-minute creep-show, 666 Park Avenue is never gonna be Deadwood.

666 Park Avenue does have one big thing in its favor: the show wants us to like the characters. Even if the characters never “come alive,” the writers at least want the audience to enjoy spending time with them. This attitude stands in stark contrast to the strategy behind The Walking Dead, which appears to be “make everything feel as unpleasant to the viewer as it does to the characters.” That’s some real post-modern, viewer-immersion type stuff they’ve got going on, but it doesn’t make for good entertainment.

Let’s look at the main couples from both shows: From the moment we meet Jane and Henry, they’re walking arm in arm, laughing and joking about their new apartment. As the show goes on, we see the comfortable way they interact with each other, bantering about their day and making kissy-faces. Sure, it gets laid on a little thick sometimes—and it’s kind of hard to enjoy it, knowing that things probably won’t end well for them—but it’s refreshing to see a couple on television that don’t despise each other.

Now, compare that with Rick and Lori Grimes from The Walking Dead, who are literally arguing with each other before the series even begins. Seriously. In the first post-credit scene of the pilot, Rick and Shane are complaining about how terrible women are—in a way that now seems to foreshadow the entire series—and Rick is going off about something terrible that Lori said to him, and how he could never be that cruel. So, before we even meet the female half of this marriage, we know that she is just the worst, and that the Grimes have a relationship built on abusing one another in front of their son.

Okay, so, obviously, all couples fight, that doesn’t mean they’re bad people. And the creators of The Walking Dead were pretty much beholden to the Rick/Lori relationship from the comics the show is based on (a relationship that is problematic in entirely different ways). But the fact remains that we’re supposed to be rooting for these characters and yet we’re given no reason to care about them. At least the creators of 666 Park Avenue are trying to make us like Jane and Henry.

“The Hero Complex” was a messy episode of 666 Park Avenue. However, it wasn’t miserable to watch, partially because the main characters are attempting to do the right thing, whether it’s Henry re-committing himself to Gavin’s friendship or Jane showing lenience with Nona, the Drake Thief. As the semi-ironic title suggests, they may be misguided in their noble actions—in Henry’s case, there’s no “may be” about it—but they’re still acting like heroes, people you might actually want to spend time with.

Part of what made this episode messy was the number of stories running through it. Earlier episodes have mostly focused on Jane’s exploits, with the Damned of the Week as a b-story and the friendship between Henry and Gavin turning up occasionally. “The Hero Complex” had four plotlines, and the episode suffered for it.

The biggest offender, I’m sad to say, is the continuing saga of Annie the journalist and the Russian hit man she wrote into existence. The Damned Of The Week is the aspect of the show that I’m most fascinated by, and when Annie appeared, I was excited that her story was continuing into another episode. It turned out to be pretty much useless, though. The end result of this plotline, which featured some of the show’s worst dialogue (Annie runs around making bold declarations to herself such as “I have to warn him!” and “What have I done?”), was two-fold: Annie gets killed in an off-handed manner, and Kandinsky attempts to murder Henry’s former employer.

It was nice to see the Kandinsky story dovetail with Henry’s moral dilemma, especially when Henry decides not to compromise his values even though it costs him his job. Henry’s character has so far been nebulously defined as “the good boyfriend who is a lawyer”, and while this didn’t add much nuance to that, it did bring some sharper definition to it. Now, he’s “the pretty good boyfriend who used to be a lawyer and will risk his life to save a guy who just fired him”. It’s a little wordy, I admit.

This episode suffered for another reason, though: Jane was barely in it. That means we only got a few (admittedly creepy) scenes of freaky supernatural business, while most of the episode was turned over to half-hearted corporate intrigue. Henry isn’t as interesting as Jane, if only because Jane is the one who understands something strange is going on. Meanwhile, Henry’s main concerns have to do with property development and Gavin and blah blah blah. Get a clue, Henry! Your girlfriend is already talking to creepy little girl ghosts like it’s nothing and you still think she’s just dragging out old luggage for the hell of it.

In real life, Henry would probably be just as freaked out as Jane. But this isn’t real life, this is a work of genre fiction, so the characters will go wherever the plot needs them to go. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way that this kind of story works. There’s no shame in characters being pawns as long as their actions make sense… oh, yeah, and as long as we don’t mind spending an hour with them each week.

  •  I guess no one cares about that Councilman that Gavin murdered? In fact, it seems like he’s still making calls, if Henry’s comment about getting blown off is any indication.
  • My biggest take-away from this week’s Nona story: apparently, she has the same kind of powers that Johnny Smith had in The Dead Zone.
  • This week we got more of Nona the Thief and Tony the Doorman, but we didn’t check in with Brian and Louise. I’m not complaining, but it is curious that parts of the supporting cast disappear and reappear between episodes.
  • I didn’t mention the poorly rendered CGI smoke because I couldn’t decide between a joke about the smoke monster on Lost or a joke about the similarly terrible purple fog from ABC’s Once Upon A Time. 
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