television

Continuum, “Time’s Up”

After last week’s emotional examination of a classic time travel trope, Continuum turns its attention to more political maters. Aside from a few subplots that get advanced and a few bits of intriguing backstory, “Time’s Up” is all about the beliefs and methods of Liber8. This brings us back to one of the big questions of the series: whose side are we supposed to be on?

We’ve danced around this issue before, but we’re at a point in the series where the writers have given us enough material to really address it. When the series begins, it’s clear that Kierra’s world is not one any of us would want to live in. I know there are, ahem, certain factions of our society that think the government is crazy out-of-control with power, but I doubt that even they would prefer we be ruled over by a council of corporations.

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From the moment Kierra is introduced as an unthinking cog in the dystopian future of 2077, the series sets up a cognitive dissonance—our hero is fighting on behalf of a system we despise—that can only be resolved in one of two ways: either the show demonstrates why Kierra’s future isn’t all that bad, or Kierra slowly comes to understand the viewpoint of Liber8, even if she despises their methods. “Time’s Up” has a few moments indicating that Continuum is committed to the latter course. It’s nice to see the beginnings of a moral dilemma in Kierra’s mind, but it’s handled in a pretty awkward way, with flashback-Kierra stumbling upon a plot by the council to withhold rations. Actually, the fact that Kierra experiences a moment of sympathy for Liber8’s cause in a flashback could potential undermine her entire character arc, but I choose to view that as a single poor piece of writing rather than a series-destroying mistake.

The depiction of Kierra’s future and the continued exploration of Liber8’s beliefs make the group’s actions in the pilot seem… not justified, because they do murder thousands of innocent people, but understandable. The mass murder itself is rendered in a distant, CGI explosion, so while the audience is intellectually aware of Liber8’s awful crimes, we don’t get an opportunity to sympathize with the victims.  This has held true for the rest of the series so far: the most emotionally upsetting thing that Liber8 has done is the murder of Kellog’s grandmother, and even that act is decried by Kagame as soon as it happens.

“Time’s Up” continues this trend. Aside from the cold-blooded murder of the security guards (again carried out by Travis, the same member who violently strayed from the plan last week), Liber8’s actions in this episode take the form of vigilante justice. They force a criminal to confess and hand out millions of dollars to the public. Sure, the audience knows that Liber8 is a terrorist group, but it’s not hard to see why the Vancouver public of 2012 would like them.

All this could have been better explored in an episode with a little more breathing room. The plot of “Time’s Up” is too conventionally twisty for its own good, crowding up a story about Kierra and Liber8 with boring scenes about two Exotrol employees working to take down their own company. The whole thing was unnecessary, and all it got us was another chase/fight scene. To the writers of Continuum: I don’t actually need you to include a fistfight in every episode, especially if it’s going to be as lame as this one.

Liber8 had enough going on this week to fill two episodes, but the corporate espionage plotline crowds them out. I could have watched an entire episode about Liber8 infiltrating and winning over the anarchist group, but that gets breezed over in the first few scenes. Once the CEO of Exotrol is kidnapped, the entire episode could have just been a cat and mouse game between Liber8 and Kierra. The gimmick of having citizens vote for whether someone lives or dies is a storytelling device that has been popping up here and there ever since the internet became a massive cultural force, and it’s usually connected to the worst kind of “the-internet-is-destroying-our-souls” alarmism, but here, it doesn’t even matter! The voting goes live and Alec tracks down Liber8 almost immediately. Continuum had an opportunity to do something worthwhile with this semi-cliché, since the idea of Liber8 holding a public tribunal for a CEO is completely in character, but the writers dropped the ball.

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The kidnapping plot is eventually revealed to be an elaborate method of getting the CEO to confess and winning the public over to Liber8’s cause. If the writers had left it at that, I would have been fine. The final shot of Liber8’s logo being spray-painted on a wall is suitably ominous: how will Kierra fight against Liber8 if they have a whole army of citizens behind them? But then the show returns to the stupid corporate espionage plot, wasting another five minutes just to show that Liber8 was also playing Exotrol from the inside in order to… get a lot of money? Huh?

The best motive I can ascribe to the show’s writers here is that they wanted to address the unspoken question of how Liber8 is funding their terrorist activities. But that question had gone unspoken because no one cares. This is a show about time travel. I don’t care about how the bad guys get their money; I care about how they exploit their unique position to accomplish their goals. If the writers really wanted to explain how Liber8 gets their funding, they could have found a better way to do it.

How about this: in the imaginary version of this episode that I wrote in my head—the one all about Liber8 allying themselves with anarchist groups—Liber8 manipulates their new allies into robbing banks for “the cause.” There! That would take up maybe a scene or two and it would have been much more interesting than this.

Continuum is a show with a unique premise that trips over itself when it tries to introduce plotlines from a standard procedural show. Unlike the case of the week in episode three, the events of “Time’s Up” at least connect to the rest of the show, but they’re obscured by a big lumpy subplot about an attempted corporate takeover. Continuum, I know you want to be like those other shows, those American shows that run on CBS and NBC, but you don’t have to be like them! You can be your own show! You just have to believe in yourself, Continuum, you just have to believe.

 

  • I did appreciate how much “sci-fi stuff” was used in the main plotline, like the re-appearance of the truth serum and Kierra using her H.U.D. to shoot out a weak point in the chain-link walkway. 
  • It seems like Alec’s step-father owned a farm until he was forced out by corporations, and he’s understandably a little tense about it. Hey, that’s way more backstory than I thought we would get for that character! 
  • The photos that SyFy released for this episode make it seem like it was going to be all about Alec’s family, which would ALSO have been better than what we actually got.

Continuum, “A Test Of Time”

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This guy!

“A Test Of Time” is the best episode of Continuum so far. It crafts a story that only a show like this could do, but grounds it with emotional beats that resonated better than they have all season. There’s not many shows that could build an episode around the grandfather paradox, and Continuum makes the most out of it. This episode climaxes with a hostage exchange involving not one, but three different characters’ ancestors.

It gets a little ridiculous when Kellog reveals Kagame’s mother—after all, he is “very resourceful”—but it’s still sad when poor Maddie gets shot. Seeing Kellog kneeling over the dying body of his grandmother was moving in a strange way. It’s a scene that seems like it shouldn’t resonante emotionally, because there’s no real emotional precedent for it—as far as I know, most people don’t take on a father/daughter relationship with their grandparents—and yet, it works. After all, Maddie is an innocent caught in the crossfire, but to Kellog, she was more family. Time paradoxes aside, everyone knows how it feels to lose someone you love, and seeing one of the show’s most likeable characters in that state was wrenching.

I haven’t been feeling that kind of emotional connection with Kierra, but her separation from her loved ones actually clicked for me this week. I’m willing to chock it up to personal feelings about fictional proposals—I’m sorry, I think people devoting themselves to each other is just so beautiful AND NO I AM NOT CRYING—but it didn’t hurt that we actually saw Kierra and her husband loving each other, instead of arguing or talking about the baby. Seeing Kierra fret over her husband’s safety in the flashback was nice—as was her son not having to deliver horrible dialogue—and made her love for her family seem much more real. So, when Kierra gives that speech to her grandmother about being surrounded by love, it has actual weight to it. Having children seems like an absolute nightmare to me, but the way Kierra described it was really lovely.

This episode was so good that it redeems last week’s underwhelming effort. “A Test of Time” reveals that last week’s episode was actually Continuum’s first pieces-setting episode. Heavily serialized shows are usually allowed a couple of episodes to set up payoffs further down the road, but this early in a show’s run, it’s hard to tell if it’s going to be good enough to deserve that sort of slack… and in Continuum’s case, it was unclear if the show was even serialized enough to deserve that sort of slack. But with “A Test of Time,” Continuum proved its dedication to telling a long form story with episodes so good that they don’t even need a shootout to be satisfying.

Last week’s time with Kellog set up the devastating turn of events in his storyline, but the most important piece that got moved around was Kagame, the leader of Liber8 who had been absent from 2012 (and the show itself) for unclear reasons since the pilot. Well, he’s back, and he’s already a fantastic addition to the show.

His presence gives Liber8 coherence and a level of motivation they didn’t have when they were flailing about just trying not to die. Now that their leader is back, Liber8 has transformed into a legitimate antagonistic force. Not only are they actively working against Kierra, but it looks like they’re going to devote all of their energy to starting the revolution that they lost the first time around.

It helps that Kagame himself is the sort of interesting, nuanced villain that’s been missing from the show thus far. We find out early on in this episode that Kagame doesn’t want to take a life when it isn’t needed, and that gets reinforced when he chews out Travis for shooting Kellog’s grandmother. Kagame’s philosophical clarity and moral code gives the massive terrorist act at the beginning of the series even more weight. If Kagame thought that all those people needed to die, he must have been serious about it. He may be dedicated to his cause, but you can see in his eyes that he feels the weight of every death.

Kagame is the only Liber8 member that’s almost likeable—except Kellog, but he doesn’t count—but the show never tries to make him anything less than a villain. Even when he gets a sympathetic flashback like last episode, it’s tempered a cold act of calculated evil. Kagame’s ordering the murder of an innocent Lily Cole, just because she might be Kierra’s grandmother, is a perfect example. Liber8 has not been more viscerally frightening than when Travis executed that screaming girl in the alleyway.

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You can tell she’s bad news because she has two piercings. TWO!

This episode works so well that I can overlook the tiny bits that don’t make sense, because they get the wheel rolling on everything else. When Kellog shows up at the Liber8 base, I can understand why Kagame would want to speak with him, but why would the others let him in? The last time he showed up, he was carrying a tracking device. And then there was Sonya’s method of extracting a tissue sample from Kierra. If you can get close enough to stab her with a medical instrument, why not just stab her with a knife and deal with the problem directly?

I still don’t want to slide into the trap of over-praising Continuum just because it’s better than it should be, but I think it’s earned a little faith. You really have to give some leeway on plot-holes to any long-form fiction, especially a genre show like this one that’s so plot-heavy. And at least Continuum doesn’t let the really stupid stuff just lay there for too long, like when the second episode immediately addressed Kierra’s super-flimsy alias, or in this episode, when Kellog’s treachery was exposed almost immediately. This is a show with at least some amount of brains, and this episode proves that it may have a heart, too.

  • The fact that the REAL Lily Cole was a sterotypical “bad girl” seems kind of hokey in retrospect, but when she first showed up it was a nice little twist.
  • Proof that Kellog actually cared about Maddie: he doesn’t even care that her death didn’t wipe him from existence. Awww.
  • Alec’s speech to his stepbrother is probably going to have negative consequences. Wouldn’t it be crazy if he accidentally inspired his family to join Liber8? Maybe “crazy” is a bit much—“natural plot development” might be a better term.
  • The “FETUS DETECTED” thing that popped up in Kierra’s H.U.D. was so funny I almost missed the car crash that happened five seconds later. 

Continuum, “A Matter Of Time”

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I was disappointed when Kierra settled in with the Vancouver police force of 2012. It made sense from a plot and character standpoint—Kierra was a cop in her time, of course she would join up with a law enforcement team—but the setting was too reminiscent of the police procedural genre for my taste. I’m not knocking procedurals, they’ve got their place in the television landscape, but they’re not my cup of tea and they’re not what I was looking for in Continuum.

After resisting the format for three episodes, Continuum finally went full procedural with “Matter Of Time.” The episode opens with Carlos investigating a the scene of a murder and from that point on, everything plays out exactly as you’d expect. There are a few sci-fi touches that gesture faintly towards the more interesting show happening off to the side: the victim, Martin Ames, was a scientist working on an anti-matter device that blew a hole through five floors when it killed him (which leads to a neat CGI-assisted zoom through the hole).

But for the most part, this plotline follows the standard beats of a police procedural. Kierra and Carlos interview the suspects a few times each, scrounge for clues and finally interrogate the perp until he confesses… but then, a bit of information discovered at the last minute leads to a twist and the discovery of the real criminal. It’s kind of bizarre and more than a little disappointing to see Kierra trapped in the rote plotline of CBS drama when last week she was engaging in a two-on-one fistfight with a terrorist from the future. I thought I was watching Continuum, not Law & Order: 2012! Wait, that doesn’t really work. Law & Order: Vancouver? No, that’s stupid, too. Well, you get the point.

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Sometimes jokes can be hard

Episodes two and three both devoted time to self-contained storylines, but the one in episode two was directly related to the premise of the show (Kierra tries to return home) and the one in episode three took a backseat to character development for Kellog and a big punch-out for everyone else. The investigation into the murder of Martin Ames hints that it will tie into the overarching plot, but it never does, except in the broadest thematic sense.

It turns out that Ames’ partner, Dr. Dobeck, fearing that their work would be weaponized, murdered Ames to prevent him from selling out to the government. In the end, Kierra not only lets Dobeck go free, she lets her keep the work. It seems that this unnecessary plotline will be redeemed with a major bit of character development. Is Kierra finally beginning to see that there are more important things than upholding the law?

Actually, Kierra was just upholding a different kind of law, the law of time travel. In her time, Dobeck is widely hailed for developing an energy resource that saves millions of people. Kierra decides that Dobeck’s future work is too important to lose, so important that she lets her get away with murder. As Alec eloquently puts it, “That’s messed up.”

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“I think I left the stove running in 2077.”

The whole thing is slightly redeemed by a bit of parallel structure. Kagame, leader of Liber8, has finally joined everyone else in 2012, and when Kierra shows up to take him in, he says that he’s spent his whole life “making decisions that affect millions of people,” and darn it, that’s just what he’s good at. At the end of the episode, Alec explicitly compares what Liber8 is doing with what Kierra has done: in a way, they’re both playing God.

It would have been a nice bit of character work if it hadn’t been set up with that extremely awkward line from Kagame. In fact, the entire scene where Kierra confronts him is awkward. During the episode, we see a glimpse into Kagame’s past, and it brings us dangerously close to sympathizing with him and his cause. The writers can’t have that, though, so when Liber8 shows up to rescue their leader, they threaten to murder an infant. Good work, writers, nice and subtle. Way to keep everything in good taste.

Everything around Kierra’s case of the week is still interesting. Kellog is getting more flagrant with his knowledge of the future, buying a boat and helping out a young girl who is pretty clearly his grandmother. He didn’t even interact with any of the main characters this week; he just hung out in the past and bought stock. It was still fun to spend time with him.

The rest of Liber8 didn’t get a lot to do this week, but at least they were having a pretty good time until their leader showed up. In their first scene, Canada’s favorite time-displaced criminals beat up a couple of marijuana farmers and take their house. Travis and Sonya immediately post up and start smoking weed, having sex and watching television. This was the first week where I at least knew what the group’s goal was: at the beginning of the episode, they just wanted a new place to live. After Kagame shows back up, they re-dedicate themselves to starting their revolution 60 years early. Right. Got it. Let’s try to keep things simple from here on out, okay?

Continuum needs to stay away from this kind of filler episode in the future. There’s only ten episodes a season, after all, it’s not like they have a lot of time to kill. Still, even “Matter Of Time” worked in a few interesting character moments and some developments that could pay off down the road… and there was plenty of Alec. More Alec is always good in my book.

  • I didn’t even talk about how Alec and Kierra finally meet face-to-face in this episode! And they have a cute bit of banter about dry-cleaning. It’s good to know their chemistry works just as well face-to-face.
  • Really, Carlos? You’re worried about Liber8 “adding to their numbers?” Relax, this is the first week where one of them hasn’t died.

Continuum, “Fast Times”

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Time travel is cool. If you don’t get too hung up on the confusing bits—or pull a Looper and just have fun with them—it’s a fantastic storytelling engine, offering up plenty of ways to explore predetermination, destiny, chaos theory, and other things like that. The first episode of Continuum provided the bare bones of a time-travel story that would be light on philosophy but heavy on action. The premise just screams “pulpy fun:” a police officer from the future has to track down a group of terrorists that have escaped into the past? It’s like a reverse-Alcatraz! In another reversal of Alcatraz, it was actually good.

It wasn’t perfect, though. The main character, Kiera Cameron, was a bit of blank slate, not helped out by the underwhelming performance of Rachel Nichols. The emotional core of the show is that Kiera is trapped in the past, separated by sixty years from her husband and son. However, we only spent about ten minutes in Kiera’s time before she and the prisoners vanished, so we don’t get to spend any time with her family. I applaud the show for wanting to get things moving, but it’s hard to sympathize with Kiera when her husband and child only exist in an abstract sense… and it doesn’t help that her son is the kind of annoying child character that no one likes.

Once Kiera arrived in the past, she hooked up with a local police force in order to track down the escaped terrorists, which is fine, except Kiera passed herself off as Portland police officer and no one ever asked for her badge. It was the kind of plot hole I was willing to overlook as long as the show offered more cool stuff with Liber8 (the terrorists) and Alex (Kiera’s new paradox-inducing sidekick) but it did make the show a little stupider than it needed to be.

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To my delight, the second episode of Continuum, “Fast Times,” addresses the show’s biggest problems in the first ten minutes. We open with a flashback to Kiera’s first day as a Protector (read: future-cop), and I’m not sure if it’s because Rachel Nichols stepped her game up or if the writers realized that the main character needed to be a little more human, but she is immediately more interesting to watch. We see a bit of social-awkwardness peeking out through the cracks in her tough-as-nails future-cop exterior, making her more relatable. To me, at least. Maybe you don’t have that sort of problem, I don’t know.

Anyway, Kiera’s discomfort in social situations continues into the next present-day scene, where the false identity she used in the first episode is immediately revealed. By the end of the episode she’s got the whole thing settled, setting up a more thorough false identity with the help of her super-hacker sidekick. I was a little disappointed that the show was sticking with the police precinct setting, but I was just glad that they addressed it.

Even if the law-enforcement setting/supporting characters are a played-out television cliché, it makes sense that Kiera would hook up with a new team to take down Liber8. The only worry I really have about the setting is that it would transform the show into another boring procedural. Alcatraz—boy, that show is really taking a beating—had a lot of promise but immediately squandered it and became a run-of-the-mill cop show, with the science-fiction aspect reduced to window dressing.

All you ever did was disappoint us, you stupid, stupid show

All you ever did was disappoint us, you stupid, stupid show

Continuum put any fears I had to rest in this episode. Whether it was furthering several interesting plotlines—what’s the deal with Alec’s family? Is that one member of Liber8 starting a new life in the past?—or building the climax around a failed attempt to utilize nuclear fission to activate a time-travel orb, the writers have made it clear that this is not going to be another CSI clone.

Some things still come a little too easy, like when the wife of the kidnapped doctor helps out Kiera. Her husband was just kidnapped by terrorists, but when another stranger comes to the door looking for him, the woman offers her total assistance almost immediately. It’s a small problem, though, and I still can’t fault the show for wanting to keep things moving. Continuum ain’t Looper, and my enthusiasm might fall off if Kiera spends the entire second half of this season sitting around on a farm.

Hopefully, the show will continue to use flashbacks to flesh out Kiera’s character, although her son is still grating, even in the small glimpse we get of him in this episode. Maybe the whole “I get two tuck-ins?” doe-eyed innocence thing plays better for people who have children. For the rest of us, it’s like nails on a chalkboard… or maybe that’s just me, too. Either way, if Continuum can keep developing its characters and deliver a cool gunfight in every episode, it’s going to turn into quite the show.

The Forty Ounce, Episode 16: … and introducing Merle Dixon as “Ol’ Knife-Hand”

In a sudden but not unreasonable shift away from our podcast’s original theme, me and Daniel have devoted an entire episode of The Forty Ounce to our feelings about The Walking Dead. Because why not, right?

Do you like the Forty Ounce but hate all that talk about music? Do you watch The Walking Dead on AMC? Do you want to hear Jason lose a dollar over a stupid bet? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes,’ then this is the episode for you!

In this episode, Jason and Daniel take a break from ranting about pop music to rant about The Walking Dead. Topics discussed range all the way from how bad the show was in Season 2 to how much better Season 3 is than Season 2. Plus, you can find out who Jason and Daniel’s favorite characters are, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Join the Forty Ounce as we discuss the most problematic show on basic cable!

Considering that this is our first episode that has nothing to do with music, I think it came out pretty well. We could probably have been a little more organized, but that’s always going to be a problem for us. The fact that we stuck to even a basic format is a small miracle in itself.

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.

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.