666 Park Avenue

666 Park Avenue, “Hypnos”

“Hypnos” is the first episode of 666 Park Avenue that I’ve watched with other people since I started writing about the show. Like watching a favorite movie in a crowded theater, experiencing something in public that you’re used to experiencing in private can change the way you look at it, or at least offer a new perspective. In this case, I gained some clarity on the show’s many failures when one of my friends asked, “What is this show about?”

I was at a total loss. I ended up saying something like, “There’s an apartment complex that is evil or magic and then the owner of the building is like the devil and then the blonde girl is trying to figure out what is happening.” That was the best I could do, and I spend more time thinking about this show than anyone else in the world.

Of course, if ABC’s marketing department can’t convince people to watch this show, I don’t think I even have a chance. It was their job to sell the public on this show, and the best tagline they could come up with is “New York’s Most Seductive Address?”

It's not exactly false advertising, but it is awful.

It’s not exactly false advertising, but it is awful.

My friend Daniel has already written about the bafflingly inept ad campaign for 666 Park Avenue, but I think it’s worth re-visiting, if only to marvel at the fact that Terry O’Qunn—who I imagine is the reason most people even watched this show to begin with—is completely absent from the poster, and only appeared for a few seconds in the commercials. I guess the network was hoping to promote this show solely on the image of Rachael Taylor, otherwise known as “Anthony Anderson’s friend from Transformers.

Remember this scene? What? No? Well, geez, you don't have to get all defensive about it.

Remember this scene? What? No? Well, geez, you don’t have to get all defensive about it.

In all fairness, it can’t be easy to advertise a show when the show itself doesn’t know what it wants to be. At the beginning of the season, the mystery of 666 Park Avenue excited me. I didn’t know where any of the plotlines were going or even what the show was actually about! Maybe it was naïve of me to see either of those things as a positive. But at this point, with nine episodes of plot development behind us, what the show is about has become apparent. What’s also apparent is that the first four episodes were an almost complete waste of time.

I touched on this last week, so I don’t need to get into it again, but I’m now convinced that episodes two through four were pretty much useless. The creators wasted time with the one-off Damned Of The Week characters and muddled the show’s villain with boring, un-villainous characterization. The parts of those episodes that actually matter (the beginning of the Brian/Alexis/Louise plot, Henry’s rise to political prominence) could have been handled a lot better and a lot quicker.

But let’s give 666 Park Avenue the benefit of the doubt. It’s not unusual for a show with a rocky start to develop into something worthwhile or even great. The ability to refine and adjust a television show is possibly the best thing about the medium, and to the credit of this show’s creators, they seem to be slowly narrowing in on the show they actually want to make, a show full of weird occult stuff symbols that keep demons from entering rooms and trips into the past that leave Shining-style clues as to their reality. Sure, the show still stumbles in the small moments—Jane’s cop friend stripping down to his undershirt for a ridiculous wall-smashing scene—and the big moments—Meris exploding into a flock of white birds after finally leaving The Drake—but the writers are also stumbling towards a show that’s fun to watch, a show that actually has a theme.

Yes! A theme! In this show! In this episode, Meris tells Gavin that “there’s a price to pay for what we want the most,” which is pretty on-the-nose for a show where people make deals with a literal devil. However, this episode added a twist to Henry’s storyline that gives the idea unprecedented depth.

I had assumed that Henry’s “journey to the dark side” (as the creators referred to it) would have him driven away from Jane by a lust for power. This week, though, we see a darker side of Henry himself when he blackmails a potential political ally who tries to exploit Jane’s recent hospital visit. If Henry’s soul is in danger, it’s not because he doesn’t care about Jane, it’s because he cares about her too much. What he wants most is to protect her, and given that he’s currently allied with not one, but two members of the Doran family, Henry might end up paying a high price indeed.

See? Somewhere underneath all the CGI mirrors and magical birds and lines like “I burned your buns” is a show that actually has something to say about the price of success. We’re probably never going to see that show, but isn’t it nice to know that it’s there?

One more thing: after this episode was over, one of my friends asked if “Hypnos” was, by this show’s standards, “a good episode.” I answered, “yes,” and everyone started laughing, which was not a totally unreasonable response.

  • The campaign manager turning out to be the Doran’s missing daughter is a twist I feel like I should have seen coming. Still, I have to congratulate the show whenever it pulls off a twist ending that doesn’t revolve around Jane getting stuck behind something. This reveal actually raises some interesting questions about Sasha’s motives and how she’ll proceed from here. Kudos!
  • “Your family has a dark legacy.” Gee, Meris, ya think?
  • So, Meris is made of white CGI birds, but the Drake is full of black CGI birds. I have no idea what this whole bird fixation is about, but the writers are clearly not going to let it go.
  • I hope the show isn’t building to a face-off between Kandinsky and Tony. Tony’s still my favorite character, and I don’t think I could handle it if he died.
  • The super-depressing 666 Park Avenue Facebook page referred to this episode as the “winter finale,” and there’s no telling when the last four episodes will air, but… uh, see you then, I guess.
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666 Park Avenue, “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?”

Hey, everyone! It’s official!

During that horrible two-week period where we had no new 666 Park Avenue to watch, the show managed to go and get itself cancelled! The announcement was such a foregone conclusion that I don’t have much to say about it. I’m not surprised, because I’ve known this was coming since the second episode aired—except for that brief period of optimism when ABC ordered two more scripts, it’s been all downhill for this show. I’m not sad, either, because while I still find this show interesting, I’m not sure the creators have it in them to turn it into the “compulsively watchable” horror-themed soap I was predicting a few months ago.

One bit of news that I do appreciate: the creators are tweaking the season finale in order to wrap up the entire series. This is great, not because I’m so invested in the show that an unresolved cliffhanger would haunt me for the rest of my life—Twin Peaks this ain’t—but because it means we might get a totally insane logic-goes-out-the-window, gonzo-style ending. Maybe they’ll even go full-tilt Life on Mars and reveal that the entire complex is really just a doll house that Jane owned as a little girl, and Gavin is actually her dad, and he’s really just an insurance salesman, and “Henry” is the name of her favorite doll and… I don’t know, something like that.

Jane Van Veen, seen here attempting to pull her legs into her own chest.

In the mean time, we’ve got five episodes left of a show that is still showing glimmers of promise now and then. Not only did this episode experience a mild bump in the ratings—which I can only assume is from cancelled-show fetishists like myself—but we got forward movement on all fronts, including the Brian/Louise/Alexis storyline, which is just now starting to show signs of relevance.

In my ongoing attempt to mentally remake this show into something good, Gavin Doran receives a lot of attention. Before the show aired, I read a review that claimed it was a failure because it broadcast Gavin’s villainy so early on. There was no mystery or suspense, this writer claimed, in a show where the audience knew so much more than the main character this early on.

I was resistant to this idea, partially because I wanted the show to be good and partially because, after the pilot, the show really dialed back on Gavin’s villainy. I even said that the show’s semi-sympathetic depiction of Gavin was one of my favorite things about it, because of how it played against our first impression of him.

Well, I was wrong. Once you establish someone as a soul-reaping demon in the first episode, you can’t back off from that. I mean, you can, but it obscures the character and confuses the audience about what kind of show you’re making. Gavin does’t need to be moustache-twirling devil, constantly scheming about how to steal Jane’s soul, but this is the kind of show that needs the villain to be consistently villainous. All of the best Gavin moments either involve him doing something clearly evil—remember when he chopped that dude’s head off?—or interacting with his wife. If Gavin’s character was pared down to those two aspects, he would become a lot more fun to watch without turning into a one-note cartoon.

Gavin has three great scenes in this episode, and they all cast him in a creepy, villainous light. My favorite is the church scene, which is among the best things the show has ever done. Yes, “Sympathy For The Devil” is a beyond-obvious musical cue, and the cover they chose is not the best, but when you’ve got Terry O’Quinn walking menacingly through a cathedral, you don’t need much to make it cool. And to top it off, he has a creepy conversation with the priest about a mysterious demon box! There’s an electricity to this plotline that’s missing from a lot of the show.

Gavin’s scenes leading up to this moment put him back in the mode of demonic crime boss, matching wits with his adversary Victor Shaw. Shaw spends most of the episode tied up in one of The Drake’s many creepy basements, trying to play the Dorans against one another. At one point, he reveals to Gavin that his daughter killed herself and that Olivia knows the truth. Gavin and Olivia move past this pretty quickly—probably due to the show’s sudden insistence on cramming every single plotline into each episode—and Gavin pulls out the big guns: impersonating Victor’s dead father.

Magically disguised as a dead man from until East Germany, Gavin tricks Shaw into giving up the box’s location. It shows how dirty Gavin is willing to play, it gives us some hints about what he’s capable of, and it’s a pretty cool scene, overall… that is, until Gavin dispels the illusion. Before the reveal, there’s a long, lingering shot of Victor’s father staring at the camera, and when I realized what was about to happen, I shouted, “Oh, no, please don’t.”

Sure enough, that terrible, network-grade CGI strikes again, as the old man’s face dissolves into dust, leaving behind a hilariously bad skeleton. It only lasts for about five seconds, but it’s so bad and so unnecessary that it drags the whole scene down. Seriously, guys, you couldn’t think of a better way to do this? Haven’t you ever heard of a cross-fade?

“What do you mean you still can’t get me a role on a good show? You are the worst agent ever.”

Gavin has one last big, villainous moment towards the end of the episode, during a meeting with Alexis. We see a different, more human side of Alexis, as she begs Gavin to release her from one of his trademark bargain. Apparently, she’s seducing Brian under his orders, and she can’t stand what she’s doing to him. Again, this scene is over too quickly, but it gives some shading to Alexis. She’s not just an evil person! She actually has emotions! And Gavin just shrugs it off with an incongruously cheery platitude. His casual disregard of human misery isn’t as over-the-top as a CGI skeleton, but it’s chilling to see someone’s life tossed aside with so little care.

666 Park Avenue was advertised (and probably pitched) as a vehicle for Terry O’Quinn’s peculiar brand of ominous mystery, and I think the show would be better off if it gave him more opportunities to do what he does. I actually like Jane—unlike most of the show’s tiny fandom—but it’s hard to create a compelling protagonist when your antagonist spends half his time worrying about land deals.

In fact, it usually seems like Jane and Gavin are on completely different shows… but it’s possible we might still get a confrontation between the two of them. There are only five episodes left, and according to the executive producers, 666 Park Avenue is building to “powerful and surprising series finale” where all of our question will be answered! Questions like:  “What?” and also “Why?” In fact, the only question that probably won’t get answered is “could this show ever have been successful?”

I’m not sure, but I’ll keep on speculating, all the way through to the end of “Jane and Henry’s incredible journey to the dark side,” and probably well beyond that.

 

  • Oh, yeah, Jane’s back from her two-day journey below The Drake and she has that kind of amnesia that television characters get when the writers don’t want to reveal something yet. Not a lot of good things to say about her storyline this episode, though I did appreciate the change of scenery.
  • Next week is the long-anticipated (I guess?) appearance of Whoopi Goldberg. I was hoping she would show up at the end of this episode, but getting Goldberg for two episodes is probably way out of the show’s budget.
  • The title this week is a reference to the deeply unsettling 1962 Bette Davis/Joan Crawford movie of the same title. It’s mildly clever, but since this episode actually reveals nothing about Jane’s history, I’m thinking it could have been better deployed somewhere down the line.
  • After next week, I’m not sure what the plan is for the four remaining episodes. I doubt ABC’s wants to drag this into 2013, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we got a “special two-hour finale event” on some dark Saturday in late December.

666 Park Avenue, “Downward Spiral”

There’s still no word on the future of 666 Park Avenue, but I think we all know how this is going to go. The ratings have dropped by three million since the already-lackluster premiere, an untold amount of the set was destroyed, and now they’re taking two weeks off between episodes? Sure, “Downward Spiral” ends with the most suspenseful cliffhanger of the series, but for a show that people are watching mostly out of habit, this loss of momentum could be disastrous. By the time the ninth episode airs, I might literally be the only person watching, instead of just feeling like I’m the only person watching.

666 Park Avenue is not long for this world. We all know it, and I can’t imagine anyone is all that upset about it. For the purposes of these write-ups, however, the show’s obvious doom is kind of distracting. I know, it’s the reason I started doing these write-ups in the first place, but I’m getting kind of sick of it, aren’t you? I always end up bemoaning the show’s end and not taking the time to figure out why the show isn’t doing so well in the first place.

The easy answer would be that it’s just not that good. Now, I will admit to a certain fondness for the show (though that fondness, like many secondary characters on 666 Park Avenue, comes and goes weekly), but beyond that, I honestly believe what I said when I began these reviews: this show has the potential to be fast-paced, soap-y, creepy, and above all, just plain fun, and if the creators had a little time, I think 666 Park Avenue could be all those things.

Of course, it’s not going to get that time, but I’d like to put that aside for a while. What I want to explore is this: how could this show be better?

First things first: 666 Park Avenue should be moving at a breakneck pace. With a show this silly, you’ve got to keep things going. Just look at Revenge or The Vampire Diaries. TVD especially is well known for burning through plotlines like it was nothing (Homeland also takes this approach, but we’re talking network dramas, here).

666 Park Avenue seemed like it was picking up steam when Jane opened up the ominous locked door in just the second episode… but it turns out all she found behind the door was a creepy suitcase. The creepy suitcase gave us a few potentially interesting turns, but the end result was just to bring Jane back down to the basement and get her to open up a different door.

I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing that the creators of the show utilizing the slow-drip method of revealing stuff because they’re trying to keep mystery of The Drake shrouded in secrecy as long as possible. I understand why they’re doing this, but it’s unnecessary because the mystery of The Drake is probably the least interesting thing happening right now (next to Alexis and Brian). Maybe the creators just don’t want to shake things up too much this early on, to which I say: really? Really? Is Jane really going to find anything in that staircase that will change the premise of the show?

I guess that when Jane finds out that Gavin is evil (or possessed or the devil or possessed by the devil or whatever) that’s going to be a game-changer… but this show could use a game-changer. Besides, what are the creators afraid will happen once the secret is out? That the show will be all about Gavin working his demonic influence while someone else tries to stop him? Guess what, we already had an episode like that last week. And it was great!

For some reason, I think Gavin’s sunglasses in this scene are hilarious.

Sadly, the Damned of The Week, the part of the show that I used to find so interesting, has turned out to be the biggest waste of time. It seems like it’s not even a thing anymore. And you know what? That’s fine. As cool as it seemed that each episode would have a miniature version of The Twilight Zone tucked away inside of it, I can absolutely live without it.

Except that now, a huge chunk of those early episodes looks like a waste. Why did we need that guy and his dead wife in the pilot? We’d already established that Gavin makes shady supernatural deals with people; we saw it before the opening credits! And that eternally young woman in the second episode who couldn’t stop killing people? What was that all about?

Episodes three and four gave us Annie the Journalist and in turn Kandinsky, who the show is dedicated to keeping around for some reason. But surely there was a better way to get a shady Russian hit man onto the show than by having a guest star get magical powers and then dream him up.

The show has actually improved in this area: the closest thing we’ve had to a Damned of the Week since Annie is Dr. Scott, and he’s been worked into the show so well that his continued presence isn’t totally distracting. And once again, I’m curious about what’s going to happen with him. After his attempted murder of Gavin this episode, I guess that Scott will be out of the picture before long, but honestly? I have no idea.

In fact, I have no idea what’s going to happen in any of the five plotlines that were crammed into the show this week. I still don’t even know what kind of show this is. Is it a mystery about a young girl’s past? A character-driven drama with supernatural overtones? A horror story stuffed with homages to classic films? A soap opera that takes place in a haunted hotel? 666 Park Avenue is none of these shows and yet it is all of these shows.

And even when those shows annoy me—the Brian/Alexis plot showed some promise tonight, but it still feels like it was snatched out of a different show entirely—I want to know how they’re going to play out. The show’s creators need to focus on that and stop trying to artificially lengthen the mystery surrounding the building itself. I get it—it’s a creepy demon building, a cult used to live there, the owner has magic powers. I’m on board with all that. Quite screwing around and tell me what happens next.

I mean, hypothetically speaking. This show’s not going to last another two months.

Aw, dang it. I did it again.

 

  • You may notice the distinct lack of last week’s “Jane and Henry are breaking my heart”-style criticism. I’d like to chalk this up to an increase in emotional stability, but I think it’s actually because this episode was way over-stuffed and nothing got time to breathe, especially Jane and Henry’s relationship.
  • Maybe it’s because body-horror is the one horror trope that really gets me, but that sequence where Kandinsky pulls the knife out of his stomach is the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen on this show.
  • The spiral staircase hidden beneath that awful CGI-steampunk floor appears to be the same staircase from the opening titles. Hands up if you just assumed that staircase was somewhere in the building and didn’t think it would ever be significant.

666 Park Avenue, “Diabolical”

I am becoming way too invested in this show. To be specific, I have an embarrassingly real emotional stake in Jane and Henry’s relationship. Now, I’m not really a fandom guy (he said, glancing at his feet and clearing his throat) but when Henry had a “moment” with his new P.R. lady Laurel when she was tying his tie, my reaction was similar to that of someone who feels that their OTP is under assault.

My notes from that section include phrases like “I will end you” and “Girl, don’t,” and all other manner of things that make me sound like a wine-guzzling Supernatural fangirl. During Henry and Jane’s argument at the end of the episode, I was actually getting worked up about how upset Jane was. I mean, look at her, she had tears in her eyes! Why don’t you believe her, Henry? WHY WON’T YOU JUST LISTEN?

Don’t worry, Jane, I STILL BELIEVE YOU

This is pretty dumb. Not because fandom is dumb—something based around people liking things can’t be all that bad—but because a) this is not the kind of show where you’re supposed to care about the characters. This is the show where the creepy bald guy from Lost lives in a magical demon apartment full of evil birds.

And b) this show is definitely going to get cancelled.

There hasn’t been an official announcement yet, but as of this week, the ratings have dropped to just below four million people—nearly half of what the show started with. That itself is enough to kill a critically ignored show like this, but as I briefly mentioned last week, Hurricane Sandy flooded many of the show’s sets. I’m not too well versed in the business side of television production, but I’m guessing that when a show is in ratings free-fall, spending a lot of money to re-build the sets isn’t exactly a priority.

I knew from the beginning that this show was probably doomed. I didn’t think that I would ever be upset about it, though. Let’s be clear: this is not going to be a cult-classic, a “too good for TV” situation. There’s not going to be a fan uprising once it’s cancelled and no one is going to demand that the characters live on after the show has ended. Trust me, I’ve been on Tumblr: there is a fandom for this show, but it’s made up of about seven people, three of whom don’t know why they’re still watching and one of whom is me.

Last week’s episode was so “bleh” that I couldn’t even work up a mild sense of devotion to the show. “Let them cancel it,” I thought, “At least then we can stop pretending anyone cares.” This week, things are a little more complicated. Maybe I’ve lowered my expectations, or maybe I’m just developing the TV show version of Stockholm Syndrome, but I thought this episode was pretty darn good.

Back when episode two aired, I predicted that the best possible version of 666 Park Avenue was one where the plot developments came quick and the horror imagery remained constant. “Diabolical” was an episode of that version of the show, a show good enough to look someone in the eyes, nod and say, “It’s actually surprising good.” Not only where there a ton of good “horror moments” (the opening with the hapless thief, Dr. Todd’s debt being burned into his flesh, a straight-up severed head in a box), but a lot of things in the plot were clarified.

We now have a better idea of who Gavin is. Since the pilot, the show has kind of backed off from the more evil aspects of Gavin. Aside from the murdered councilman (which is apparently never going to be mentioned), he hasn’t actively done a lot of villainous stuff. Well, in this episode, when he figures out one of his associates is betraying him, he traps the man in a never-ending labyrinth of hallways, then decapitates him and deliver the severed head to his new enemy, Victor Shaw.

Speaking of Victor Shaw, his emergence as Gavin’s rival gives the show more direction and deepens the mysteries of The Drake. Shaw apparently used to own the building before Gavin “stole” it from him, and now he’s using the stolen red box as leverage to get it back. Now, instead of watching Gavin manipulate Henry to a still-unknown end, we can watch a battle of wits play out between Gavin and an equally slick rival. With all this wheeling, dealing and violent intimidation, Gavin is looking less like a vaguely demonic figure and more like a crime boss with a supernatural edge. Which is fantastic.

“Here, let me offer you a loan! Nothing bad has ever happened to someone who took a loan!”

We still don’t know what’s in The Red Box, by the way. We know it’s not good, from the ominous thudding noise that it emits, the fate of Shaw’s hired man and the fact that everyone in the show is frightened of it. There’s a vague suggestion that it might contain the obsessive lover that plagued Olivia before Gavin “trapped” him… which would make it 666 Park Avenue’s second locked object containing an evil soul.

Yeah, this show clearly has a thing for boxes. From The Red Box to the suitcase that held Peter Kramer’s soul to the locked-up basement to the gift-wrapped severed head… it’s definitely variations on a theme. But I’m willing to let it slide because it means the show now has a theme.

One of the oldest tropes of the haunted-house/hotel/whatever story is that you can’t escape it, no matter how much you try. It was only a matter of time before this cropped up in 666 Park Avenue—obviously Jane’s going to want to peace out eventually, and obviously the show has to keep her where she is. We’re only at the beginning of this plotline, but Jane’s situation is reflected by Gavin’s associate, running desperately through the halls of the Drake, looking for a way out that doesn’t exist. That’s why he shows up briefly in the middle of the episode, running past Jane in an explosion of terrible CGI: they’re both trapped in the Drake, Jane just hasn’t realized it yet.

You see that? Just last week, I never thought that I would be able to find anything that intelligent in this show. Sure, that sort of inconsistency is the reason why this will probably never be a “surprisingly good,” but it also makes the experience of watching it even more exciting. What will we get next week? The even-handed, sort-of-creepy portrayal of a woman caught up in something she can’t escape, something that began decades before she was born? Or will it be more pointless nonsense about Brian and Alexis? And what about the week after that? That episode is actually titled “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” which is crazy for about ten different reasons.

It’s almost a shame that no one’s watching this show… and that no one’s going to remember it when it’s gone.

  • If you don’t know what OTP stands for, trust me, you’re better off not knowing.
  • Another interesting thing I found while searching the ‘666 Park Avenue’ tag on Tumblr: by and large, people don’t seem to like Jane. First of all, NUH-UH, SHUT YOUR MOUTH, YOU DON’T KNOW HER. Second: I have some ideas about why this might be the case, but I don’t want to get into it here.
  • I’m surprised that Jane’s new cop friend made it through the episode. Still, he’s too open-minded and sympathetic to last long. I predict Death By Kandinsky sometime in the next two weeks.
  • Also: imagine trying to explain the character of Kandinsky to someone who’s never seen this show. “He’s a russian hit-man who didn’t exist until this report wrote him into existence after Gavin gave her super-powers and then he tortured her because she exposed him and then he tried to kill her boss but Henry stopped him and now… hey, wait, stop, I’m not done…”
  • I didn’t get a chance to mention this, but finding out that Tony the Doorman is also an enforcer for Gavin makes me incredibly happy. Tony hasn’t gotten many of his signature wisecracks in the last few episodes, but hopefully that’ll change soon.

666 Park Avenue, “A Crowd Of Demons”

As of last week, The AV Club has ended their coverage of 666 Park Avenue. The way I see it, that makes me the only legitimate blogger still writing about this show. Indeed, it is a lonely realization, but more than that, it brought me to a question: do I actually like watching this show?

It’s an irrelevant question, since I’m not going to stop watching until the show is over. I have committed myself to the covering of 666 Park Avenue, and now we are bound together as one being, in defiance of all sense and reason, from now until the end of time, or until the show gets cancelled.

Which do you think will happen first, Prezbo? I mean, uh, “Peter Kramer.”

Still, I had this nagging worry throughout “A Crowd Of Demons” that maybe, just maybe, this show isn’t that good. Worse, I started wondering if it would ever get better. I realize this is a sudden turn-around from my somewhat-unsupported optimism of the past few weeks; maybe this gives you an idea of how much faith I put in the AV Club. But I think it has more to do with this episode being a disappointment in almost every way.

First off, there was that opening scene, which was so unsubtle and loaded with bald-faced exposition that it elicited more than a few groans. When I saw that we were flashing back to 1929, I was excited: a little bit of period style couldn’t hurt the show, and maybe we’d learn more about the history of the Drake and the Order of the Dragon, who were such a big deal in the first episode and have been pretty much forgotten about since then.

On the first count, I was immediately let down. Apparently, in 666 Park Avenue the only difference between the 1920’s and the 2010’s is the kind of hat that people wear. And while we did learn about the Order of the Dragon (kind of? I guess?), it was done in such an artless way that I regretted ever wanting it.

Apparently, Creepy Smoke Guy from the suitcase in the last episode (real name Peter Kramer) was involved with the Order and one of their wacky occult schemes, which made him go crazy and murder his wife. The moment immediately before the murder was actually pretty creepy: Kramer brandishes a weapon and approaches his wife, his left eye vibrating unnaturally while he says, “In heaven you will be truly happy.

It’s an effective moment immediately ruined by the show rushing to the next bit of exposition. Somehow, the dying woman is able to walk calmly to her daughter’s room, find her under the bed and giving her a necklace, warning her to “keep it safe, keep it in the family,” and boy, I don’t think that’s going to look good on a tombstone, do you? “Here lies Mrs. Kramer: Killed Whilst Giving Her Daughter A MacGuffin.”

Oh, by the way, that necklace is the same necklace that Jane has. The one that Nona stole from her and then returned last week? We still don’t know exactly what the significance is, which I don’t mind, but… I’m sure there was a better way to introduce it.

Anyway, he rest of the episode was pretty bleh. You’d think an episode of this show set during a Halloween ball would lead to something pretty crazy, but the setting largely went ignored… though it did lead to a pretty funny scene where the Dorans give Jane a costume to wear and it turns out to be Tippi Hendren from The Birds. Other than that, we got some forward movement on Henry’s rise to political prominence and a weird continuation in the Brian/Louise/Alexis plot. We find out that Louise is addicted to pills for some reason, and Brian’s mad because she’s been hanging out with some doctor, and Alexis tries to make nice with Brian, but it turns out that she’s just trying to wreck his marriage… it’s a mess.

Meanwhile, Jane and Henry continue to be weirdly adorable.

By the way, I had no idea that Brian and Louise were married. I’m sure it was mentioned in the first episode, but that plotline is so thoroughly baffling to me that I must have just ignored it. Seriously, where is this going? Clearly, Gavin is positioning Henry to influence the city for his own devil-ish designs (whatever they may be), but Brian/Louise/Alexis is starting to seem like it belongs on an entirely different show. Maybe we’ll find out that Alexis is actually the ghost of Gavin and Olivia’s daughter. Whatever it is, the creators better tie these characters into the show sometime soon, because I’m ready to write them off entirely.

But right as I was trying to decide if it’s too late to start writing about this season of American Horror Story, this show pulled out something cool. During the Halloween ball, the power is cut, and the ghostly Peter Kramer pursues Jane through the building in a sequence that plays as a totally acceptable recreation of a slasher film. All the tropes are there: the moody lighting, the close call in the dumb-waiter, the innocent bystander who gets stabbed when he tries to help the heroine… there’s even a jump scare! I know, I know, the jump-scare is a pretty cheap way to shock people, but you’ve got to admit, not a lot of television shows would take the time to pace one out this effectively.

Of course, it all falls apart in the end when Peter, his eye all a-twitch, attempts to murder Jane, misses and stabs the wall, at which point hundreds of birds fly out of and peck him to death, in one of the most ridiculous call-backs I’ve ever seen. So, the evil birds from episode two are still living in the walls and… they’re protecting Jane? What? Why? And also, why does the Drake dissolve the bodies of Kramer and his victim into a pile of CGI goo as the police are about to discover them?

The show probably plans to address these mysteries soon—unless, like the councilman that Gavin murdered in episode three, they just got forgotten about—but I hope the creators either work on the subtlety of the show’s writing or just go full-on, balls-to-the-wall, American Horror Story-style crazy… because this is a show about an evil apartment complex, and there’s not a lot of middle ground.

  • Aaaaaand right as I was editing this article, I discovered this lovely piece of news: Hurricane Sandy has done serious damage to the sets of 666 Park Avenue. “Serious damage” as in, the whole thing was flooded with water. I wish I could predict how this affects the show’s future, but I have no idea what it means, if anything. Considering that the ratings have continued to slide downhill (4.61 million for this episode), I don’t really expect good news.
  • Seriously, is no one going to mention that dead councilman? As of last episode, he was apparently still making calls, since his office cancelled Henry’s appointment.
  • Also, with Jim-True Frost appearing as Peter Kramer, that marks two veterans of The Wire to cameo on this show. Maybe Gavin can get a meeting with Mayor Carcetti soon?
  • This show is becoming really fond of the episode-ending montage, isn’t it? In all fairness, I had never heard this week’s song before (“The Stations,” by The Gutter Twins) and I quite liked it.

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. 

666 Park Avenue, “The Dead Don’t Stay Dead”

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.