television reviews

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. 
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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, “Wasting Time”

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That green chick from Star Trek sure cleans up nice.

Look, I know I said that I admire the creators of Continuum for their commitment to putting a gunfight into every episode, but this week’s shootout was kind of dull. Maybe it was because Kierra’s partner Carlos was the one taking aim at Liber8 member Curtis, and boy, Carlos is just eight different flavors of vanilla. More likely, it was just that the action itself wasn’t exciting. They’re both firing at each other behind cover, nothing really seems to be at stake, and the whole thing is just static… that is, until Curtis pops out from behind his cover, jumps off of a wall and punches Carlos in the face.

At that point, what was a dull gunfight turns into an exciting fistfight. Even more exciting was that Kierra got involved after a few minutes. I was worried that the show was having Carlos trade blows with Curtis because the creators were uncomfortable having a man and woman wail on each other, but I let go of that when Curtis threw Kierra through a window. Kierra is supposed to be a tough-as-nails future-cop action hero, and I’m glad the show lets her get down and dirty. I’ll even forgive the fact that the fight ends with a trick used to better (and gorier) effect in Dredd 3D. Up until then, it’s a good fight, surprisingly good for a television show. There’s a real dearth of good fight scenes on TV.

I’m willing to forgive Continuum for a lot of flaws because the show itself is something we don’t have a lot of: a serialized sci-fi action/drama. Yeah, I know, we all miss Firefly, but it ain’t coming back, and what do you expect me to watch, Revolution? Please. Besides, Continuum has one major advantage over both of those shows: time travel. I’m struggling to come up with another show that has used time travel as the basis of its plot the way Continuum does… the closest I can think of is Samurai Jack.

Too old, too cancelled, too British.

Too old, too cancelled, too British.

“Wasting Time” is the least time-travel-centric episode of Continuum yet. Sure, that trip into the past is still hanging on the edge of the plot, influencing the actions of almost every character, but this episode was more about the immediate needs of Liber8 and how that puts them into conflict with Kierra. Those needs have something to do with an mysterious illness contracted by the leader of Liber8, and the lengths that one member (Sonya, aka The Queen of Hearts”) will go through to save him. The flashback at the episode’s beginning gives the impression that “Wasting Time” will be all about Kierra’s attempt to stop Sonya’s killing spree, which includes removing the pituitary gland of her victims so she can use their genetic code to synthesize a super-steroid… or something. Turns out, not so much.

(Sidebar here: I have no idea what’s going on with Liber8. Their situation and their goals seem to change episode-to-episode. In the pilot, I got the impression that they were stranded in 2012, but that they intended to carry out their pre-revolution anyway. When the second episode opened, they were talking about a plan to get back to their original destination. In this episode, Travis is suddenly dying of an unexplained illness. I don’t know if SyFy is airing these episodes with scenes missing, but it sure felt like it this week. They’re certainly placing the commercial breaks at the wrong point, which is especially awkward when we come back from commercial just in time for the dramatic act break. But I digress.)

The whole pituitary-gland thing just fizzles out—or, rather, Liber8’s plans to synthesize a cure for their leader work out exactly as planned. But the possibility of Travis’s death drives a wedge between members Curtis and Kellog, which leads to the aforementioned shootout/fistfight and to Kellog’s banishment from the group. Kellog claims to be a non-violent member of Liber8 and wants to start a new life in 2012, so he strikes up a bargain with Kierra.

Kellog’s alliance with Kierra is a welcome development because it gives Kierra an ally that isn’t Alec—though Alec is awesome—or Carlos (aka GuyCop McBlanderson) and because it provides some much-needed character development for the supporting cast. So far, the members of Liber8 have been characterized just enough to serve as cannon fodder. Don’t get me wrong, I think Curtis’s actions in this episode made sense for his character, it would just be nice if his character was more than “kill innocents and also everyone else”. But, he’s dead now, so maybe that would have just been wasted time. Oh, hey, that’s the name of the episode. How fun!

No show is without flaws, but Continuum is surprisingly well made for a Canadian import doing a second-run on SyFy. I realize that a show’s genre or its channel/country of origin is no excuse for sloppy storytelling, but the fact that this show is so unique makes me more forgiving when episodes come out lumpy and weird. I only hope the creators can tighten things up so that this show can live up to the highest standard it can hope to achieve: solid B-level television. You know what? Make that B+. Reach for the stars, Continuum, reach for the stars.

  • Kierra’s longing stare at the happy family in the restaurant was a nice way to remind us of how much she misses her home without beating us over the head with it.
  • Dredd 3D is pretty okay, if you were wondering. It’s better than you would expect but the story is still kind of dull. I wish I’d seen it in 3D.
  • “You’re a terrorist and a revolutionary.”“No, that guy won’t be born until 2041.” Dang, that’s cool. Time travel is cool. 

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 Following, “Pilot”

You can tell what kind of show The Following is going to be in the opening seconds of the pilot. The first thing you see is the exterior of a prison that will soon be the sight of a violent break-out, and the first sounds you hear are the opening strains of Marilyn Manson’s cover of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”. Released right as Manson was breaking into the mainstream, the song pretty much sums up his entire persona: dark and grim to the point of dreariness and “creepy” in a way that flirts with self-awareness but never quite gets there. Manson was all about flash, surface-over-substance, and a healthy dose of shock value. Coincidentally, that’s also a perfect description of The Following.

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The premise for The Following (developed by Kevin Williamson, writer/creator of Scream and Dawson’s Creek) is so outrageous and dumb that it goes back around to being good again. The long version is something like this: Kevin Bacon plays a disgraced, alcoholic FBI agent who is called out of retirement after the serial killer (played by James Purefoy) he put away escapes and starts killing again… only this time, the killer has help. The short version is: the guy from Wild Things fights a cult of serial killers.

A cult of serial killers. Now, neither cults nor serial killers are fun in real life, but when you cram them together into a tv show, it has the potential for trashy, pulpy fun. It sounds like a forgotten horror movie from the early-80’s, a blood-soaked nightmare of pop-culture death-obsession and Reagan-era paranoia. If you don’t think any of that sounds a little awesome, well, you’re entitled to your opinion, but remember it is possible for your taste to be too refined.

Think of all the possibilities: maybe the cult worships a made-up “Egyptian” god of death, or maybe they treat all the famous real-life serial killers as saints. It might be in bad taste, but there’s room for a little bad taste on television. This show could be great as long as it didn’t take itself too seriously. Think of how boring that could get, if The Following was so dark and humorless that even the violence started to feel perfunctory? Or if the writers peppered the script with literary references in a failed reach at meaning? Boy, a show like that wouldn’t be very good at all.

Unfortunately, the show we got is not a silly, over-the-top story that the premise calls to mind, but is actually a pretty dour affair. The term ‘misery porn’ gets bandied about a little too frequently, but it conjures up an image of misery for misery’s sake, and that’s a good description of this show. At least in the pilot, the world of The Following is filled to the brim with evil people doing evil things. It’s such a depressing place to be that every time a character tries to crack a joke–which happens rarely–it comes across as awkward and forced.

Speaking of misery porn, there’s another lesser-known term that fits this show: ‘gorn’. Gorn is a portmanteau of ‘gore’ and ‘porn’, and there’s about as much of that here as you could get on a major network. If you have any ocular mutilation phobias or just a general aversion to animals being harmed, you should probably skip out on this one.

If you can get past the bleakness and the bloodshed, though… you might want to stick around. The Following is never going to be great, and it probably won’t even live up to its admittedly meager pedigree (“The guy who wrote Cursed and the villain from Hollow Man? Sign me up!” says no one). But it could be reasonably entertaining if it just chose a side. Obviously, the trashy/over-the-top/Saint-Ed-Gein version of the show would be great, but there’s also a version of this show where all the Edgar Allen Poe stuff seems necessary instead of just a coming across as a pretentious affectation. That version of the show peeks its head out for about five minutes at the end of the pilot.

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After Purefoy is re-captured, Bacon confronts him in a holding facility. Purefoy sees his killing as art (he’s a literary professor, which at least gives some context for the never-ending barrage of references to “The Raven”) and he’s getting ready to start up a new work. He considers it a sequel to his first “story,” and he’s cast Bacon in the lead role. Purefoy’s monologue takes the familiar tropes and archetypes of serial-killer story and pokes at them. For example, Bacon’s character is one of the most clichéd “troubled man seeking redemption” characters to come around in a while, but his one-note, scowl-y persona is almost redeemed when Purefoy explicitly calls him out as a “troubled man seeking redemption.”

Purefoy’s monologue also addresses the most unpleasant part of the episode: the death of Sarah, the only one of Purefoy’s targets that Bacon was able to save, and the person he spends the entire episode trying to protect. When she dies, it’s more disappointing than scary: the show could have done several interesting things with her character that didn’t involve killing her. However, Purefoy taunts Bacon by framing her death as “the inciting incident” of his new work, something to give Bacon motivation, and it comes close to making it seem not only necessary, but kind of smart. The whole thing is very Kevin Williamson-y, which is absolutely a real word.

This one self-aware scene isn’t enough to make the rest of the pilot any less of a drag, but it does point the way to a version of this show that’s closer to Scream. Scream is sometimes criticized for thinking that meta-commentary is clever in itself, as if just pointing out a cliché makes it okay to indulge in that cliché. Scream does fall into this trap sometimes, but it’s mostly effective in using that commentary to liven up the proceedings while delivering a thrilling and entertaining slasher movie.

You can almost see a version of The Following that works the same way: a tense cat-and-mouse game played out between the disgraced hero and a villain that uses his own genre-saviness to gain the upper-hand. It would be thrilling, it would be meta-fictional, and it would almost certainly fall apart after one or two seasons. But boy, what a show it would be.

It’s also the sort of show you wouldn’t normally find on a network like Fox, and while Fox has claimed in advertisements that “you won’t believe The Following isn’t on a cable network,” you absolutely will believe it isn’t on a cable network. Sure, it looks good, it’s got famous actors, and it approaches Starz-levels of gore, but most successful cable dramas are defined by one of two things: they’re either highly cerebral stories like The Sopranos or Deadwood, or they fully embrace their trashiness, like the Strike Backs and Sparatcus’s of the world. You can’t have it both ways, and the creators of The Following would do well to realize that as soon as possible.

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.