Tag Archives: drama series

LOST Kill Count

1 May

Some statistical analysis for the Losties out there.  Kind of.

For the last six months, I’ve been re-watching LOST (yes, all of it), and recently finished up season five.  Meanwhile, two astonishingly illegible post-its have been taped to my desk.  Their purpose?  Tracking the violent acts of characters in the show.  Here’s what I have so far–I typed out the numbers because even my tallies are hard to read (let’s remember I literally failed handwriting in 2nd grade):

Wait… Jack killed someone?  Saint Jack Shephard?  Son of Christian Shepherd (oy vey, what a name)?  It’s okay Jack fans, whatever strange folks you must be, don’t freak out–it was way back in Season 1 when Sawyer shot the marshal and… well… kind of missed and Jack had to smother him out.  As you can see, Sawyer became a much better shot as time went on.

No surprise that Sayid is one of the deadliest castaways–he almost never fails.  But then, he’s a trained assassin, or, as Hurley famously says: “He is my friend. Be he also has this double life where he does crazy ninja moves and spy stuff.”  I can’t even remember who that 1 attempted kill was, but the tallies don’t lie.

The rest of the numbers hold few surprises either–Juliet’s a cold fish; Keamy’s friggin terrifying; Smokey’s a monster, literally; Sawyer’s a badass, and Eko too.  The beard cutting thing, though, that was a little weird.

But probably you’ve already noticed the most glaring exception from the list, by far the most dangerous individual on the Island.  That’s right, it’s–

And let’s not forget that this is just seasons 1 through 5; I’m pretty sure Ben gets some more kills in season 6 (Widmore, for example).  Pretty much the only way you can escape Ben Linus is to be a kid (Charlie Hume), have a kid (Penny Widmore, Danielle Rousseau), or stay out of his way.  And stay away from Juliet.  This count doesn’t even include the deaths he masterminded.  Anyone remember Goodwin?  I didn’t think so.

Word to the wise.


What the Heaven and Hell!? (V gets religious)

29 Jan

Or, how a show I used to really enjoy has suspended my suspension of disbelief.

I wanted to write this a week ago, but there is no wrath, after all, like an atheist socked in the face with preachy religious messages in the middle of a science fiction program that’s supposed to be about, well, science fiction, and I didn’t want to have a completely incoherent rant splashed all over search engines for the rest of time.  After two-ish years of science fiction blogging, I still have some dignity.  Maybe.

So here goes:

I’ve been reviewing ABC’s alien invasion drama V since it premiered last year.  I was thrilled with the show: Elizabeth Mitchell and Morena Baccarin are both fantastic actresses, and to see them face off in an intergalactic war seemed pretty exciting.  I’ll admit–part of me was trying to fill that LOST-shaped hole in my heart, and FlashForward just wasn’t doing it.  FF had the plot twists, but V had the characters worth caring about.

There’s the FBI agent turned terrorist, the omnicompetent mercenary who can kill soldier aliens with a shovel, the slick tv anchor with access to the mothership,  the turncoat reptiloid traitor, and the Catholic priest who lets them plot and plan their revolution against the Visitors in the basement of his church.  Meanwhile, they banter and make Thorn Birds references.  This season they added that son of Satan from Reaper as the smart-ass scientist, and at last the cast was complete.  It would sound like the premise for a really bizarre sitcom–if the fate of the universe weren’t at stake.

It’s not surprising that the priest, Father Jack Landry, grated on my nerves at first.  He was so dreadfully naive–letting vital information slip to all the wrong people, and biting his fingernails over violence (this is a revolution, buddy).  But he grew on me–mostly because he’s just such a terrible priest.  For God’s sake, there’s a mercenary weapons expert torturing a captive in the middle of the rectory!  Not to mention the whole Jack-Landry-breaks-the-Seal-of-the-Confessional-to-his-own-personal-confessor,-the-FBI-agent thing, which is kind of a bad sin, for a priest.

Simply put, I liked the show–and I defended it against Kate the Lostie, who was all the time pushing me toward Fringe and Minecraft videos.

But I stopped watching halfway through episode 2.2, “Serpent’s Tooth,” and haven’t started up again.  Here’s the thing:

Season One dealt very well with the differences between humans and Visitors.  At that time, it was all about emotion–namely, love (and even more namely, love of a mother for her children).  Reason’s great and all, but love was what worried V Queen Anna most of all.  And in a fantastic season finale twist, Anna herself experienced her first burst of human emotion (rage) when her own children (well, creepy soldier children reptile eggs) were… er… frozen to death by the Fifth Column.

This season, the emphasis has shifted.  In one of the most ridiculous television scenes I have ever had the misfortune of watching:

Apparently, what makes humans human isn’t emotion, empathy, love–it’s The Soul.

“I have human skin, I feel, but I need you to tell me something…” Ryan begs of Father J, “Do I have a soul!”

(Cut scene) “I will isolate it in the medical bay!” Anna exclaims.

(Cut again) “Every creature can feel the grace of God!” Jack tells Ryan.

(And again) “It’s too complex!” cries Diana.

*cue creepy piano music*

Oh, I’ll pick V up again when I can find it on Megavideo, I guess.  But I won’t be so naively happy about it myself, and I don’t know that I’ll ever get that immersion experience that a good story–print or film–can give you if it successfully suspends your disbelief.  If the show continues along this path, viewers have to accept that “humanity” in the world of Anna and Jack is defined in terms of religion.

No, the idea of a soul isn’t very controversial in the United States, but to base an entire science fiction series on it is… jarring (and a lot harder to deny in V than it ever was in the at-times-somewhat-spiritual LOST).  I’m an American Studies major–I’ll learn to look at V the way I do any other historical artifact: as a product of its time and culture.  But who really wants to be a scholar watching tv?

Mommy Issues (ABC’s V, ep 2.1: “Red Sky”)

5 Jan

There was a time in my life when everything I read, or watched, or thought reminded me of LOST.  I’m not saying that’s quite over, but Kate the Lostie is Kate the Fringe Fan these days, and more and more I’m seeing J. J. Abrams’s other show in everything I read, watch, and think.  I’ve been texting myself descriptions of my déjà vus just so I can learn about what Parallel Universe Isabela’s like.

So when we learned last night on the season two premiere of ABC’s V that Erica Evans, FBI agent and Fifth Column High Commander, may have been experimented on while pregnant with her son Tyler, my first thought was, quite naturally, “Cortexiphan!”  More like a phosphorous supplement, but still.  Erica and her son are the Chosen Ones.  No wonder Erica had that weird psychic dream about acidic red rain.  No wonder Tyler’s so effing annoying.

But let’s back up:

The Ensemble

Season one closed with “Red Sky”—remember?  The episode where Lisa the Lizard Princess gives Erica a Blue Energy alien bomb and Erica explodes Anna’s spawning soldier children, causing Anna to experience her first human emotions and, in a fit of vengeance, “initiate the sequence.”  All these months I’ve been wondering what that meant.  All we saw on the finale was that it made the sky turn red.

Well I admit, that’s pretty freaky.  The people of V thought so too, and all the adoration, appreciation, and adulation the masses had for the Visitors last season quickly turned to riots, wrath, and religion.  Tyler was stupid enough to wear his peace ambassador uniform on the street and got beaten up.  I was kind of pleased about it, but, admittedly, that’s probably a bad sign about the state of society.

And when the titular “Red Rain” starts to fall, it doesn’t become a YouTube musical sensation—it’s pure chaos.

Father Landry goes back to the church (figures), Kyle Hobbes starts stockpiling guns (figures), and Chad Decker has an emotional breakdown (finally).  Erica shouts at Anna for an explanation about the Red Sky.  No harm done—Anna’s pretty sure they’re besties now.

Things would seem good for the Fifth Column right about now.  A random New Yorker and fervent Tea Partier (okay, so that part’s speculation) sums up the public attitude:

“If Anna’s bringing Armageddon, I’m goin’ out fighting!”

Hell. Yes.

Anna and Marcus

There’s even dissention in the ranks of the V elite.  Marcus, ever the cold-blooded reptile, warns Anna that some of her ships’ captains are suspicious that she’s being infected by that perfidious human emotion.  Anna has to flense and impale one of them just to prove she’s still the reptile queen at heart.  I mean… er… well you know what I mean.

The killing continues in the nursery.  Out of the hundreds (thousands?) of soldier eggs she laid last season, only six survived the bomb.  In “Red Rain,” Anna and Marcus take a little trip to the intensive care unit, in which Anna takes her babies off life support in a symbolic act of destroying the thing that made her weak and emotional: her children.  Marcus approves, but then, he doesn’t see the pain on her face when she turns away and… sniffles?

Then there’s the problem of the rioting humans down on the ground, who are pretty convinced that she sky is bleeding and the End of Days is just around the corner.  The people are ripe for a revolution, but the people are fickle, and they easily accept Anna’s explanation that it’s a cleansing gift that’s going to clean up the ocean, stop global warming, and save the polar bears.

Still, Anna’s on shaky ground, and that’s a change for the Lizard Queen, who was calling all the shots last season.  This time around, she has something to prove—and notably, she needs to prove it to Marcus, her closest advisor and the epitome of V violence and dispassion.  If Anna wants to keep her power, she needs the approval of this guy.

Oh right, and her mother, who apparently lives in some jungle nest in the bowels of the ship.

Anna and Erica

Agent Evans is sitting pretty in “Red Sky.”  No matter that the FBI’s been infiltrated by the reptiloids and Erica’s leader of a terrorist cell—Anna has complete confidence that Erica, Fifth Column mastermind, is her most trusted ally on Earth.  Erica’s close enough to the seat of power that she can just fly on up to the mothership and talk to Anna pretty much whenever she wants.

The linchpin in this relationship is (gag) her son Tyler, Lisa’s paramour, who has decided once again that he wants to live up on the ship.  On the one hand, it keeps Erica in the inner circle.  On the other, Anna has some seriously nefarious plans for Tyler that definitely involve breeding.

Erica, we learn in “Red Rain,” had an unusually high level of phosphorous in the blood while she was pregnant with Tyler—after being experimented on by aliens.  And that’s what the red rain is: phosphorous.  Turns out Anna doesn’t care about climate change (gasp!) unless it’s about making the climate more suitable for raising reptile babies.  Fun times.

Lisa and Tyler and Joshua (oh my!)

There have always been a lot of mommy issues in this show.  Lisa’s mommy dearest, recall, had her legs broken as a public relations stunt against the Fifth Column.  That’s pretty harsh.

For her mother, the princess plays the dutiful daughter: meaning, she seduces Tyler once and for all, as Anna surveils them.  But Lisa’s character is growing increasingly complex: she’s not the tortured teenage V of last season.  She’s actively conspiring with Erica against Anna, actively conspiring with Erica against Marcus, actively conspiring with Anna against Tyler, actively conspiring with Joshua except that he seems to have lost his memory—and all the while I still can’t tell who she’s really in love with.  Still rooting for Josh; still guessing it’s Tyler.

Oh, dear dear Tyler Evans.  It’s no secret that I can’t stand your blank expressions and terrible acting.  As Kate the Lostie commented: “I tried to watch the first episode, but his smile was too annoying.”  Per usual, he didn’t do anything exciting last night except get hit on the head and have his face dissolve with terrible special effects in Erica’s psychic dream about Anna threatening to kill Erica’s child for payback.

Of course it won’t happen—not now that Tyler’s all phosphored up and going to be the Lizard King or whatever.

Ryan and… It

But let’s not forget Ryan and Val’s hybrid baby girl, currently unnamed.  With Val out of the way, and Ryan all Blissed up, Anna snatched the ugly little thing away and appointed herself both mother and captor.

“Every being in the world understands a mother’s pain when her child suffers,” Anna tells Erica, truthfully for once.  That pain made Anna weak last season, and in “Red Rain” it looks like Anna’s using that lesson to weaken Ryan.  Marcus is shocked when Anna decides to send Ryan back to Earth—he’ll join back up with the Fifth Column!  Of course, that’s exactly what she wants: a man on the inside she can manipulate.

Jack and Chad

Erica might be buying Ryan’s sincerity, but Jack (Jack!) is finally on the same page as the ever-paranoid Kyle Hobbes.  “What would you do to protect Tyler?” the priest asks, “At some pt, Ryan’s going to have to make a choice: his daughter or us.”

I’ve been ragging on Father Jack Landry as the most naïve member of the Fifth Column for a whole season now, and it seems that at last he might be learning the pilot episode “Don’t trust anyone” lesson.  But this season, for the first time: Jack’s actually in a position to do something.

This time last year, Chad Decker was wheedling information out of Father Jack, just like any good reporter can.  He was Anna’s mouthpiece, praising the Live Aboard Program (AKA, abduction and experimentation initiative) the high heavens and allowing V doctors to save him from a potentially-fatal aneurysm, all on live tv.  But Chad realized what I’ve been thinking all along, that the Vs gave him the aneurysm.  Now, after witnessing Anna’s experiments on humans firsthand in the season one finale, Chad’s feeling responsible.  And where do you go when you need absolution?  A priest.

Chad wants forgiveness, and practically begs Jack to let him into the Fifth Column clubhouse.  He wants to fight back—publish a report and broadcast interviews about and from the victims of Anna’s experimentation.  But just as Erica shrewdly keeps Tyler close to Anna, Chad has to preserve his relationship with the high queen as well.  If he can make Anna believe he’s still her town crier, he’ll be the Fifthers’ most valuable inside man.

Chin up, Chad, you’re a journalist—you’ll be a great actor.

Hobbes and the New Guy

The Fifth Column, after all, doesn’t need more soldiers yet—at least not when they have a badass like Kyle Hobbes.  Hobbes did have some shady dealings with Marcus last season, but it still seems like he’s committed to the Fifth Column.  And the writers still seem committed to giving him the best lines ever.  Him and the new guy, anyway.

The Fifth Column has a new recruit, and whoever’s in charge of casting did a great job.  So maybe Bret Harrison (of Grounded for Life and Reaper semi-fame) doesn’t look like a PhD.  But the Fifth Column lost Georgie last year, and some comic relief is definitely in order.

When the Visitors take out Ellis Watts, an environmental scientist beginning to suspect the true nature and purpose of the red rain, they overlook the true brains behind the operation: his young associate Sidney Miller, who’s squirreled away “Alpha,” the skeleton of a V he found in a mysterious mass grave in New Mexico, in his janitor closet-like office.

Needless to say—and especially after he sees Hobbes kill a V tracker on their trail—Sidney Miller isn’t going anywhere.  “I’m not a fighter!” he protests.  And Hobbes:

“We don’t need your fists, we need your brain.  And if you say no, we’ll kill you…  Ahh, relax.  I’m kidding.  Maybe.”

So the Fifth Column club gets themselves a scientist with comedic timing to rival Hobbes’s.

“Anna’s a lizard?” Miller asks.  “That sucks.  She’s so hot.”  (cue incredulity)  “Sorry… I joke when I’m nervous.”

When Miller calms down, he explains what’s been hinted at throughout the episode: the red rain is changing the planet and human physiology to make them capable of bearing little Visitors.  Cue horror, and Hobbes:

“So, first they want to invade us, then they want to shag us.”

Pretty much.

“Red Rain” is, essentially, about children.  Using them, manipulating them, breeding, killing, protecting them, and all that jazz.  And in my opinion at least, that’s a smart way to handle a galactic plot: make it about relationships.  Humans vs. Visitors boils down to Erica vs. Anna, a much more manageably-scaled sort of conflict.

V is for Vengeance (Recap: Season One, ABC’s V)

3 Jan

As we all celebrate the last year before the end of the world, ABC’s awesome alien invasion drama is coming back tomorrow night.  But let’s recap: V finished off season one with a surprisingly satisfying finale.  The last scene left us with a major question for next season, to be sure, but the major enjoyability factor was definitely the interesting twists the writers put into a number of characters’ fate lines.  So here’s a look at where our favorite terrorists and alien invaders started off, and ended up on the season one finale of V:

Here’s the recap/review for season one.

Mad Men returns… along with Ayn Rand

26 Jul

I couldn’t believe it when the Season 4 premiere of Mad Men opened with the line “Who is Don Draper?”  Too perfect—considering that this time last year I wrote an article on the parallels between Mad Men and Ayn Rand’s famous fictional characters for the Season 3 opener.  “Public Relations” brought back familiar waves of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead déjà vu as well as some fascinating character evolution.

In sum, the tv and literary characters I matched up last August aren’t the same this summer.  And now, at least, we know who John Galt may be.

Read at The Best Shows You’re Not Watching.  And watch out: Spoilers for both Mad Men and Ayn Rand’s novels below.

Don Draper: Hank Rearden

Don doesn’t know how to answer that famous first line in an interview the new advertising firm Sterling Cooper Draper Price (that’s a tongue-twister for Joan, isn’t it?) hopes will turn out to be a great PR opportunity for them.  They’re so strapped for cash in this season four debut that they can’t even afford a proper conference table, and Don Draper—brilliant creative director—is the goose that lays the golden egg.  But in this interview, Don’s standard taciturnity doesn’t come off as modest or mysterious.  As Roger Sterling says after reading the article, it’s terrible publicity—and “plus, you sound like a prick.”

That’s an interesting comment considering that Ayn Rand detractor’s often criticize her heroes as being cold, hard, and selfish.  Hank Rearden refuses to support his mother and (admittedly a loser) younger brother, and Howard Roark bombs a housing community for the poor, for goodness’ sake.  Pricks?  Maybe for readers who don’t appreciate the philosophy behind Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

It’s the same with Draper.  When Roger Sterling, Bertram Cooper, Lane Price, and Harry Crane of all people ambush him with criticism about the negative PR the article’s bringing—Don’s laconic reserve actually lost the ad man a major television account Harry had just cinched in Los Angeles—Draper can’t understand why he’s being required to be personable or charming on newsprint.  “Who gives a crap what I say anyway?” he asks, more bewildered than I’ve ever seen him;  “My work speaks for me.”

This is classic Hank Rearden.  In Atlas Shrugged, Rearden makes an astonishing metal alloy.  To use his own words, “I want Rearden Metal to be to steel what steel was to iron.”  And it is—or at least, it should be: it works.  But Hank Rearden has the same problem Don does—bad press.  He’d rather be lovingly watching his mills pour out the first heat of Rearden Metal than at one of his wife’s high-society parties; he’s known for his bluntness and chilly demeanor; he gets little pleasure at home where he must conform to society’s expectations, and ends up finding fleeting happiness elsewhere—in the arms of other women as unlike his perfect wife as possible.  Sound familiar?  (quoth Roger Sterling from the season 3 finale: you can’t maintain relationships “because you don’t value them”)

Don Draper: Howard Roark

But in “Public Relations,” Don Draper transitions from Atlas Shrugged’s Hank Rearden to the hero of The Fountainhead: Howard Roark.  In one particularly disturbing scene of this episode, Don spends his Thanksgiving with a woman we can presume is not just a prostitute, but a regular—and what he likes, it seems, is her to slap his face as hard as she can (all right, all right: cue jokes about Ayn Rand’s violent sex scenes).  This seem to indicate a self-loathing similar to Rearden’s when he first sleeps with Dagny Taggart: the morning after, Rearden goes on a long tirade about what terrible people they both are, and all the more terrible for not caring about the fact that he’s married and by all social conventions they’re acting immorally.  Who is Don Draper?  He doesn’t answer, because for all his success in work—he’s not proud of himself, because he’s unable to live up to society’s expectations of a husband.

By the end of the episode, however, Draper has his Howard Roark moment.  When a prudish bathing suit company balks at his ad campaign (But it’s not a bikini, Don!), he won’t have it anymore and storms out of the “conference room”—sans table, of course.  And while Peter Campbell tries to sweet talk the clients into giving the volatile artist a little time to come around, Don storms right back in and comes pretty close to physically throwing the two “choir boys” out of the building.  This is a lot like Howard Roark the architect—a creative director of sorts, himself, who refuses to take commissions from clients who compromise his vision.

The turnaround may come in part, I think, from his divorce.  Although it was Betty leaving him and not the other way around, Don no longer has to play the social game he did before—at least at home—and he’s finally ready to be just as uncompromising in his work.  Hence the final scene, the complete opposite of the first: when a new reporter (this one from the WSJ) asks which name in Sterling Cooper Draper Price defines the firm, Don takes ownership of his identity.  And that’s totally new, considering that, for the last three seasons, he’s been wrestling with the fact that it isn’t his.  It may be symbolic that we didn’t have a single Dick Whitman flashback this entire episode.  His final interview shows that new confidence—and willingness to talk about himself and his genius.

Peggy Olson, Dagny Taggart, and the new Eddie Willers

Last year I was inclined to compare Peggy to Eddie Willers, the faithful sidekick of Atlas Shrugged’s unflappable female executive, Dagny Taggart.  But Peggy’s moved up in the world—in the season 3 finale, she called Don on his expectation that she just up and follow him “like a sick poodle.”  Don replied thus: “I think of you as an extension of myself… but you’re not.”

It’s true.  Eddie Willers was, in a sense, an extension of Dagny—naïve, hard-working, omnicompetent, and unfailingly supportive.  But Peggy Olson in her new capacity as the head copywriter of SCDP is her own woman: independent, self-confident, and far better dressed (not to mention, the bangs are longer too).  The first time we see her in season four, after all, she’s sitting atop her desk, relaxed and self-assured, bantering with Peter her own sidekick Joey.

Who is this guy anyway?  And is he the same man who accompanies Peggy to Don’sapartment on turkey day?  In that introductory scene, I thought for a moment he was Smitty.  But this is a new season, taking a place a year after the season 3 finale, and there have been some new hirings as well.  Joey’s a pleasant guy and literally runs to work when Peggy says “chop chop”; of course there’s that other man (or is he the same?  either way, it’s kind of disconcerting that he’s Alex Linus’s boyfriend Karl from LOST) who defends her when Don gets upset about a PR stunt gone awry and takes it out on Peggy.  Don doesn’t know who he is either—and gets the answer “I’m her fiancé… Mark.”  Neither may true, but Peggy seems content with his explanation that “it just slipped out.”  Ayn Rand fans might find that logical too, thinking back to Eddie’s not-so-secret love for Dagny.

Oh, and the new Peggy smokes like Dagny too.

Betty Draper (should I say Francis?) and Lillian Rearden

First of all, I don’t think Betty’s the evil scheme Don Draper’s wife is in Atlas Shrugged.  But there are some similarities, and don’t forget—Henry Francis’s mother, Betty’s new mother-in-law, notes that children are terrified of that “silly woman.”

Betty has, throughout the series, been everything the postwar culture expected of a woman: a perfect wife and mother, a perfect homemaker, prim and proper and perfectly coiffed.  Compare with Lillian, the impeccably-groomed wife resentful of her husband for pretty much the same reasons Betty left Don.  And because of this, the two women could get a lot of sympathy.  But Betty isn’t being completely reasonable herself: she wants that picture-perfect life but, because of this focus on the exterior, just ends up looking hollow herself.

Pete Campbell and Co: Not Peter Keating, anyway

Peter the rich kid with a sense of entitlement and a knack for climbing the social ladder didn’t make an appearance in this first episode of season 4.  Oh he’s still the charming, consummate account man, but he’s sloughed off the envy for Don Draper that most made him like The Fountainhead’s slimy Peter Keating.

After the formation of SCDP, everyone in the firm became a self-made man—earning them some major Ayn Rand points.  And no one’s flourishing more than Peter Campbell, who at one point in the episode actually sold the new firm to Don: “We’re the scrappy upstart!” he says, actually delighting in their independence and slightly disreputable image (apparently, having no conference table is a big deal in the 1960s ad agency world).  It’s the American ideal, pioneering and making something new, and now it’s not just Don embodying that sentiment.  Not even Harry Crane crumbles under Don’s loss of his hard-earned Los Angeles account—“Fix it!” he demands, the most assertive two words he’s ever said.

So it’s looking up for Sterling Cooper Draper Price, and so far it’s Ayn Rand protagonists all around.  But even Howard Roark falls on hard times, and we’ll see who spirals downward this season.  As Don said, after all, “They raise you up, and they knock you down.”

But until then, let the Ayn Rand fanfiction continue.

Flashback to FlashForward (finale recap)

31 May

Despite all the hype as a potential successor to ABC’s cult science fiction drama LOST, the infant FlashForward ended up airing its series finale just days after LOST’s own.

Irony’s a bitch.

Like LOSTFlashForward presented viewers with a Byzantine plot, philosophical puzzles, and Dominic Monaghan.  Unlike LOST—and the reason why, I’m convinced, FlashForward didn’t get another season—it wasn’t a character-driven show.  However engaging the storyline and mysterious the subject matter, a show still has to hook us on an emotional level, something Mark Benford and his lackluster FBI cohorts just didn’t manage to do.

The series did have some high points, however.

Physicists, it seems, are hot in contemporary science fiction (you can make anything plausible with reference to quantum mechanics).  Losties got twitchy Daniel Faraday with his endearingly spasmodic hand movements, inevitable skinny tie, and at-times-inaudible science-speak mumbling.  FlashForward brought us Lloyd Simcoe and Simon Campos—the first one being as romantic as Faraday but considerably less socially awkward, and the latter being absolutely effing terrifying.  The most engaging subplots of the show generally involved these two—Simcoe and his relationship with Olivia, and Campos’s teeter-tottering between sociopathic scheming and genuine inner turmoil.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these were the most emotionally fraught storylines, either.

In the penultimate episode The Countdown (1.21), in fact, Lloyd and Olivia have a short phone conversation that might just sum up the entire reason FlashForward failed.  When Olivia decides to drive off with Charlie the night of the blackout to get away from Lloyd (who desperately needs her to be with him at her house, mainly so he can solve an important equation he was supposed to write in lipstick on her bedroom mirror), we get this:

Lloyd: Certain conditions have to be met!

Olivia: Don’t make this about fate, don’t make this about free will.

In other words, make it about the characters.

Well alas alack, it’s a trifle late for that now.  But since the show has gone the way of other sadly misbegotten science fiction (see Dollhouse and Firefly), at the very least a series recap is in order for FlashForward to rest in peace.

The Countdown brought up an interesting idea that probably would have been expanded upon if the series were to have continued: two people having mutually exclusive flash forwards about each other.

After enduring a lengthy speech from global blackout mastermind and sharp dresser Hellinger, Mark seemed to have resigned himself to his own death.  And after being thrown out of the FBI for snapping and beating the crap out of the interrogee turned interrogator, Mark laughs like an hysterial madman when he shows up at a “Flash Forward Day” party (ironic, isn’t it?) and gets a flask pushed on him by another man who’d seen himself quitting drinking.  At this point, Mark’s thoroughly frustrated by his own impotence.  And yet, he can’t entirely give himself up to The Universe.  As Hellinger says:

All of this is so futile, but your faith is admirable.  That board in your office—how much time have you spent on it?  How much time have you spent looking at it, all on faith.  But deep down you must know what that board really is—it’s nothing but a scrapbook of your failures.  A freed Nazi, a failed trip to Somalia, dead birds—but you keep believing, you keep fighting, because that’s what you do.

All this in a condescendingly contemptuous tone, naturally, made all the worse by an upper-crust British accent.  British accents always make me feel inferior.

So when a stranger in a bar says that his flash forward involved talking to Mark—a major departure from Mark seeing masked men with rifles searching him out in his office—the strain might have been just a little too much.  Benford snaps and beats the crap out of his second guy in forty-two minutes.  And gets thrown in jail.

As for everyone else—

At the end of the second-to-last episode, some futures are coming true and some have already shattered:

Nicole starts feeling guilty for hiding her information about Keiko’s whereabouts from Bryce (and thus fears getting drowned and liking it), so she confesses; Bryce, naturally, is angry and shocked, and rushes off to find his illegal immigrant lover.

Aaron’s saved his daughter Tracy from Jericho and learned from a captured Jericho interrogator (Aaron can do some serious Jack Bauer strategic finger-jabbing) that the private defense firm hadn’t killed anyone—as Tracy had thought.  It had been yet more blackout beta-testing, and Tracy was a target because she’d been in the radius but remained awake.  Except, since she did die after all, I guess we’ll never know why she was important (kind of like Walt and the Others…).

Olivia and Charlie are ditching the physicist and his son, the latter two of which are understandably pissed.

Demetri admits to his fiancé that he slept with Janis so she could get pregnant—while he though we was about to get murdered—and then has the gall to ask, “Please marry me.”  Zoey stalks off to Hawaii with her parents.  There goes one escape from the inevitable.  So the once-again-fatalistic Demetri teams up with a guilt-ridden Janis and a vengeful Simon Campos to sneak into the particle accelerator and see if they can figure out whatever crazy system Hellinger used to cause the first blackout—and so stop the next.

End act one.

Future Shock (1.22), the season/series finale, opens with just an hour and eighteen minutes to the time seen in the blackout: April 29th, 10:00 pm.

Let’s start with the good news—Tracy’s alive after all!  That was sure unexpected, and it might even be touching… if I actually cared about her and Aaron.  Bryce meets Keiko as hoped for, and Nicole, though she was drowning, isn’t actually murdered but saved y the sinister man above the watery abyss.  Janis’s baby’s still healthy, and a boy And from Lloyd, another great scientist pick-up line: “You’re part of the equation, and I can’t do it without you.”  (That equation on the mirror, by the way, is Dillan’s.)

Meanwhile, in a creepy octagonal (or something) room filled with large computers and flashing panels, Simon tries in vain to find a file on the computer before the time on the clock runs out and the electromagnetism is released from the Swan hatch and—

Sorry, more flashbacks.

In any case, because of Simon’s physicist inside jokes and because Olivia agrees to recreate the circumstances of the flash forward and ends up looking deep into Lloyd Simcoe’s eyes—“I fought it, and resisted it, and… the future happened,” she explains—Lloyd solves his math problem and discovers that the next blackout is… sometime in the next two days.  In fact, it’s in twelve minutes. Which is shockingly convenient, considering the episode needs to wrap up the entire series and answer that pressing question of another blackout in, at this point, thirteen minutes too.

But there’s worse—Hellinger’s been messing with Mark the whole time.  As it turns out, he has men on the inside (besides Janis), and they’re all ready to shoot up a re-instated Mark Benford just as he figures out the time of the new blackout and channels Jack Bauer in a super intense gunfight.

During all this, Hellinger’s cronies–presumably–activate the accelerator in secret.  Remember all those doomsday predictions about the LHC back in September?  It’s like that.

And just like that, Simon gets a conscience as he tries to shut down the hackers—“I’m not going to let them do this to me—to use my mind, my machine!  Millions of people, Demetri!  Millions of people don’t deserve to die,” he says at gunpoint, in an impassioned tone (see image above).  It would be redemption for the evil scientist… if it were a little less hurried.

In fact, it’s not even clear whether Simon did turn into a good guy at all.  Back a couple episodes, Simon Campos and Hellinger had a major battle of British accents in a seedy hotel room.  But while Simon does demonstrate his contempt for the men he’s been unwittingly working for his entire life, we never do actually hear him answer the Big Guy’s ultimatum: Join us and finish your great scientific work, or die in ignominy.

The finale includes a pretty long scene with Simon hacking into the mainframe–and the only assurance that it’s Hellinger’s men comes from… Simon.  No corroborating evidence (no wonder Demetri’s so close to shooting him).  If he really was not working for the enemy, he failed to stop the blackout with all his rapid keyboard pounding.  Personally, I think he wanted to fire that NLAP particle accelerator up again.  He warned Demetri to take a seat for his safety, and despite his talk of saving millions of lives, his first words were–“I’m not going to let them do this to me—to use my mind, my machine!”  They could be Benford and co.  “I,” “me,” and “my” are pretty self-explanatory.  He values his mind and his work.

Maybe he was still working for the enemy. Simon Campos has a good track record for lying, anyway.

And so the second blackout does happen, though with ten minutes forewarning to world governments, which, I guess, saved a couple million.  The flights that couldn’t be grounded in time, however, might end up on a mysterious island run by the mysterious Hurley and his ambassador Ben.

As for our protagonist—Mark Benford is last scene running toward a window (fourth story at least, I’d guess) in the exploding Los Angeles FBI hq.  His daughter, however, comes full circle with her flash forward: while first she saw her father being reported dead, on April 29, 2010 Charlie sees a much older self (in 2015) telling someone, “They found him.”

All in all, FlashForward gave us a neater tying-up of ends than LOST and a pinch of ambiguity in the end, but neither the story the creators intended, nor the depth of its older sibling, nor nearly as much sobbing by fans.

Though, I will miss that kangaroo.

Love and War (V 1.11, “Fruition”)

12 May

To recap—last night on V, the “Lizard Princess” got Nancy Kerriganed by mommy dearest and ended up beginning to build a relationship (equally manipulative) with Tyler’s mommy as well, Fifth Column High Commander Erica Evans.

All quite apropos, because “Fruition” was an episode all about Vs acting like humans, humans acting like Vs, and, picking up on last week’s title, the battle between “Hearts and Minds.”

When Agent Evans got the call about a violent attack on a V, she rushed to the hospital to find—much to her surprise—that the victim was Tyler’s girlfriend Lisa (however bruised and battered the poor girl may have been, Erica certainly would have recognized the red bra and panties Lisa was sporting the first time they met).  But while Erica had known about the hidden cameras in the peace ambassador uniforms (and her son’s naivete), she’d broken her own rule trusting him even a little bit—and now got the biggest shock a parent could possibly have: my son is dating a reptile.

Of course, in characteristic low-key, low-voiced Elizabeth Mitchell fashion, Erica’s conversation at the end of the episode was a little less dramatic than the situation might have called for.

Tyler: I just wanted to make sure you’re okay with me… dating a V.

EE: It’s a little weird—not gonna lie.

Yes, yes it is a little weird.  But human teens lying to their parents isn’t so weird as parents ordering their kid’s legs broken and face slashed open to make good theater for a press conference.  Even before Erica found out that Anna was behind the attack, she saw the look of all-consuming terror on Lisa’s face when her mother came to take Erica’s place comforting her at the hospital.  Even Erica in her shock had been genuinely horrified, and stayed by Lisa’s bedside even while the girl was sleeping—brushing her hair back from her face and holding her warmly.  When Anna hugged her daughter, she smiled as sinisterly as only an evil alien queen can do, and Lisa, stiff, looked wide-eyed at Erica.

The two mother’s couldn’t have been much more different.  While Lisa told doctor Joshua “My son’s in love with a V,” Anna thought she was being convincingly sincere when she told Erica—“Lisa is very fond of Tyler.”


But Lisa, as Joshua realized and told Erica later in this episode, is more than just “fond” of Tyler-of-the-vacant-expression (am I going to ship Lisa/Joshua one of these days?  Quite possibly).  She’s beginning to develop human emotions—which makes her perfect material for the Fifth Column.  Or at least, for manipulation by the Fifth Column.

It’s interesting to note here that Erica and Anna might have more in common than they think.  Anna, as we’ve known for a couple weeks now, has some nefarious plan involving Tyler—the details of which are still unknown.  And though Erica’s compassion score is probably off the charts (exceeded only by Father Jack, who’s passed compassion and edged into the betazoid empath zone), she’s quite happy to use someone else’s kid too.  Quoth Evans: “If she’s going to use my son then I’m sure as hell going to use her daughter.”

But Erica drew the line at involving her own Tyler.  When Hobbes suggested (supported by Ryan) that they might bring the boy into the Fifth Column quadrilateral of trust, Erica adamantly refused.  Consideration for her son’s safety?  Ostensibly.  But Tyler, they know now, is already in danger, and the only added danger that might come from telling her son about her secret life as a terrorist might be to the Fifthers themselves.

Tyler loved Lisa.  That’s pretty well-established.  And she, it seems, loves him back.  From a strategic standpoint, there’s no reason to put anything between that mutual trust—especially when Lisa’s human emotions nearly had her confessing to her mother’s scheme in framing Hobbes and climatologist Lawrence Parker for her attack.

Erica recognizes the value in teen love toward the end of the episode.  After Tyler apologizes for lying and calls her “my hero” for catching the man who (says Anna) attacked Lisa, Erica responds with this warm peace offering: “Tyler, I was wrong about the Visitors—you were right.  I’d like to get to know Lisa better, and Anna too, if that’s all right with you.”

Erica’s qualms, it appears, don’t lie with using Tyler—but with giving him more information than he needs to know.  She’s manipulating her son just as surely as Anna is her daughter.  Though, to Erica’s credit, she’d probably never take a crowbar to Tyler’s kneecaps.

Kyle Hobbes is another Fifther to reveal some suspiciously V-like tactics in “Fruition.”  But whereas Erica wants to promote the rebel cause by encouraging the development of Lisa’s empathy, Hobbes prefers eliminating emotions.

Ryan’s been sporting a relatively flat affect for the past couple weeks, even since Val found out his true identity and the fact that her baby’s some sort of hybrid (Val might want to consider checking out Splice in theaters for useful parenting tips).  On a stakeout outside Parker’s Chinatown apartment, Ryan confessed to Father Jack that he didn’t think he could continue fighting without Val, and the love she’d supported him with.

Jack Landry gives the conventional priestly response— have faith.

Kyle Hobbes’s advice is a little different.  In the Fifth Column bunker, surrounded by his spy gear and stolen hard drives, he gives us this gem of personal insight:

“When special ops soldiers go to war, they don’t carry any family mementos, no photos, nothing.  You know why?  Because they can be taken from you and used against you.  In war, emotions can get you killed.  Leave your feelings for her behind—burn any trace of them out of your heart.”

It’s an interesting comment, considering that Erica, just minutes before, gave Lisa a picture of her son to carry with her—“for strength.”

Hobbes is, in effect, teaching Ryan how to be a V.  Because while Anna kills those who fail the empathy test (failure meaning showing empathy), Hobbes’s ruthless pragmatism would make him a perfect lieutenant.

And so, with this insight into the mind of a mercenary, we learn that Hobbes really doesn’t have too much emotional attachment to… anything (there goes my Hobbes/Even theory).  That is, anything except himself and his own interests.

Anna’s minions framed Hobbes and Larry Parker for the supposed Fifth Column attack on Lisa.  Of course, Hobbes was too busy blowing shuttles out of the sky to possibly be involved—and Parker was a chubby academic with thick glasses and a twitchy demeanor (but to be fair, being on a V hit list might do that to anyone).  The reason Parker was a target stems from his research on global warming.  Apparently, he and a team of scientists developed a compound that would help reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.  Unfortunately, the compound had a dangerous side-effect—it produced fish, amphibian, and reptile-killing algae.

No wonder the Vs wanted him gone.  What’s more confusing is why Hobbes would steal his hard drive without telling his Fifth Column compatriots that he had potentially the most important weapon against the Visitors in his possession.

Answer: Because Hobbes isn’t as human as the rest of them.

Meeting with Marcus in a dark alley, Hobbes makes a deal to trade the research for a fat bank account and a “clean slate,” or, “everything the Vs have on me.”  Which begs the question—what exactly do the Vs have one him?

Likely they don’t know he’s Fifth Column.  They do know that he very likely murdered five helpless scientists (Parker’s fellow researchers, who had all “disappeared” in the previous months).  They also framed him twice, and got him on the FBI’s most wanted list.

That’s a pretty dirty slate—and if he can be cleared with the human authorities, he won’t have to shave his sinister (and quite recognizable) mustache and goatee—but Hobbes’s betrayal makes it entirely possible there’s a whole lot more.

Ryan asked him, “Since when do you worry about anyone else but yourself?”  After this week, we can pretty safely say the answer is—never.  And in another case of human/V crossover, Hobbes’s characterization is starting to parallel Anna’s more and more.  As Joshua said to Erica, when she couldn’t believe Anna would injure her own daughter: “She’s not human.  She will do anything to get what she wants.”

That’s the problem for the Fifth Column these days.  Will stopping the Vs make them like their enemies?  Father Jack raised the question last week in “Hearts and Minds,” but the debate raged on and came to (get ready for it) “Fruition” last Tuesday.  With the season coming to a close, we’ll find out soon.

On a lighter note, Anna’s eggs are about to hatch and Lisa’s considering fratricide (that’s what human emotions bring—love for Tyler and the desire to kill thousands of babies).  And Anna, I’m pretty sure, was reading off a Kindle.

This has been the one-year anniversary post of the Scattering’s birth.  Happy birthday blog!

“We’re Terrorists Now” (V 1.10)

6 May

There’s nothing like a priest blowing up spacecraft with a Surface-to-air missile.  All right, so it was Kyle Hobbes (big surprise), but Father Jack was standing right there with the other two Fifth Column men and didn’t say a word—until afterward, of course, when he had his little panic attack and nearly spilled everything to the V-infested FBI.

But let’s back up.

ABC’s V is fast approaching the end of its first season, and even with the time slot directly after LOST, the alien invasion drama’s still holding it’s own.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who started watching V and FlashForward with the hope that I could fill the hole in my heart where polar bears and Dharma jumpsuits used to be—so it’s quite appropriate that “Hearts and Minds,” the pen-penultimate episode, proved me right.

Even the uninitiated know that the LOST plotlines are hopelessly convoluted; I’m so confused, I don’t even know what questions to ask (except—what was Dr. Linus’s European History dissertation topic?).  But even in the first two or three episodes or season one, when things almost made sense and John Locke was just an ex-paralytic who liked backgammon and orange peels, the show was compelling for reasons other than plot: characters (see first half of sentence).  FlashForward has plot; V has characters to care about.

Ryan’s dropped to a minor role since his girlfriend absconded with their hybrid baby, but now, not even the on-ship Vs are completely heartless.  Joshua the Fifth Column doctor seems to be popular among viewers (if fanfiction forums are any sort of indication; there’s a Lisa/Joshua ship putting out the sea).  And though Tyler still annoys me to the nth degree, I’m starting to like Lisa ever since she failed the Voight-Kampff test.  Of course, maybe it’s just natural we’re going to start feeling sympathy for a teenage alien girl whose mommy just ordered henchmen to break her legs.

We’re the humans, after all.

Best scene of the episode might have been the boxing/boxing trivia competition between Jack, Erica, and Hobbes—there’s something bizarre and hilarious about a priest, an FBI agent, and a British mercenary hanging out together in a church rectory, making obscure literary references.  Quoth Hobbes, walking in on Jack and Erica getting very sweaty with a punching bag: “It’s like The Thorn Birds in here.”

The Thorn Birds, if I recall—mostly what I recall is checking it out of my Catholic high school’s library and getting dirty looks from the librarian, who said I was “corrupting myself”—centers on a handsome priest breaking his vows (and no, I don’t mean the vows of poverty) with a pretty red-headed girl on a farm.  Or something.  In any case, it’s a good line—and probably what everyone’s been thinking since day one.

But Father Jack Landry probably won’t be sinning any time soon, considering how freaked out he got when he, Hobbes, and Ryan shot down a V shuttle and discovered that they hadn’t killed a dangerous V tracking team after all—but (they thought) humans, and possibly children.  Jack should’ve felt guilty—but not for the reason he thought.  His secret vestibule meetings with Chad Decker aren’t doing him any good, especially when he hints at Fifth Column activities.  And after Erica shouted at him about just such mistakes in the season opener, remember?: “What part of ‘don’t trust anyone’ don’t you understand!”

(Though, speaking of Chad Decker—does anyone else think that his sudden loyalty to Anna ramifies from something more than ambition… an “aneurysm surgery,” perchance?)

In any case Jack, feeling blood on his hands, panicked (does this sound like any other Jacks we know on ABC?) and would have given everything up if Erica hadn’t shown him the light in an FBI interrogation room.  Light, or maybe the dark.

Because Kyle Hobbes, another compelling character, made a particularly astute remark—there’s no love lost between Hobbes and Jack, or Hobbes and Ryan, but the mercenary was right about one thing: “Make no mistake, kids—we’re terrorists now.”

Like Hobbes said, calling yourselves “freedom fighters” or “rebels” doesn’t change the facts—for whatever cause, shooting down shuttles with illegal weapons, wiping security tapes and hiding evidence from the FBI is definitely terrorism.

Jack doesn’t seem to be able to handle that—and I see more crises of conscience in store if the only thing keeping the priest in the group is the belief that they’re not going to kill anyone.  Morally upright?  Sure.  Naïve?  Absolutely.  And this even after “Heretics Fork” (1.9), when a similarly naïve computer programmer got sniped because why?  He didn’t listen to Hobbes.

Jack appears to rely on Erica instead as his slightly-cooler-under-pressure moral compass.  When he gave his speech that he wasn’t willing to lose one life and asked Erica if she was with him, her affirmative answer calmed him down and kept the fire and brimstone sermons at bay.  But when he left the room—

Elizabeth Mitchell is the star for a reason; she’s made Agent Erica Evans as torn as Father Jack, but with none of his histrionics.  Case in point: When Jack left the cellar Fifth Column HQ, Erica made an almost complete turnaround.  Hobbes gave his speech and got an I’m-with-you answer too, which might be contradictory if anyone besides Jack actually believes that Erica has Jack’s moral squeamishness.

She doesn’t, and there’s not going to be any Thorn Bird action in this show—at least, not this season.

I’m shipping Evans/Hobbes.  Terrorists flirting and bonding over favorite boxers… so romantic.

Update: So, I realized that Charles Mesure (Hobbes) was actually in an episode of LOST called–wait for it– “Hearts and Minds.”  Even stranger, the season one episode focused on Boone and Shannon’s creepy and semi-incestuous relationship; Mesure was Shannon’s off-Island boyfriend.  Which just makes Hobbes walking in on Jack and Erica with his Thorn Birds reference even more perfect, somehow.

Pregnant on Primetime

24 Jan

After Lifetime’s debut of the original movie The Pregnanacy Pact, the verdict is in: America has a cultural fascination with sensational pregnancies—and the more controversial, the better (remember Octomom?).

The timeline could be said to start on April 10, 2007, with the premiere of Discovery Health’s (later, TLC’s) Jon & Kate Plus 8, which followed the beleaguered parents of one pair of twins and another set of sextuplets.  The late-2009 divorce made headlines everywhere; meanwhile, viewer-ship skyrocketed to 10.6 million for the episode announcing the couple’s separation—talk about sensation.

Next to come was 17 Kids and Counting (as of today, the count’s up to 19) in September 2009, documenting the surprisingly tranquil Duggar household (the only marital problems I can posit seem to be the ongoing quest for more names starting with “J” for the ever-increasing Duggar brood).  A handful of one-hour specials aired starting in 2004, but publicity shot up once Michelle Duggar’s number of kids could be rounded up to 20.  (Just one more, Mom…)

On the fictional front, The Secret Life of the American Teenager brought teen pregnancy to ABC in a big way.  With a middle-aged Molly Ringwald, a theme song titled “Let’s Do It,” and possibly the most obnoxiously didactic dialogue I’ve ever heard, “Secret Life” succeeds 7th Heaven (no surprise there: they had the same producer) as the only show on primetime to exceed The 700 Club in painful moralizing—the best way I can describe the cast is as sermons with legs.  From the New York Times: “ ‘Secret Life’ doesn’t take the fun out of teenage pregnancy, it takes the fun out of television.”

To be honest, I want the three minutes of my life back that I spent writing that paragraph above—the program is probably the worst show you’re not watching (at least, I sincerely hope you’re not watching).  The reason I mention it is that “Secret Life,” despite its abysmal reviews, still has millions of viewers.  The only explanation I can offer is the guilty pleasure hypothesis: pregnancy is something of a taboo subject in a country where the spirit of Puritanism yet lingers around social discussions (or lack thereof) about sexuality.

In any case, summer 2009 saw MTV’s 16 and Pregnant bring some reality to the issue of teenage pregnancy—the spin-off series Teen Mom continues to document the lives of the young women from the first series.  And for every insult I paid “Secret Life,” Teen Mom gets a thumbs-up (about the number of thumbs the Duggar kids have all told).  Of the four, three of the young mothers are exceptionally admirable (one still insists on going out clubbing all night, but 3 out of 4 ain’t bad):

Maci devotes every ounce of attention to her son Bentley, even when her (loser) fiancé doesn’t lift a finger to help; she’s about as responsible as I can imagine any mother of any age to be.  Amber doggedly pursues her GED while caring for baby Leah; and Catelynn made the tough choice of giving her daughter up for adoption with considerable grace.  The hardships of being a teen mom come across loud and clear—but the heroines are a lot more admirable than Molly Ringwald’s fictional daughter.

Which brings up to the most recent depiction of sensational pregnancy on television: Lifetime’s The Pregnancy Pact, based off of the June 2008 news story about a supposed “pact” between 18 girls at a Gloucester, MA high school to get pregnant and raise their kids together.  While the existence of such an agreement was never proven, the media had a field day, capitalizing on the cultural fixation that makes us shake our heads in disapproval while at the same time glued to the television screen.

Lifetime’s fictionalized account raises the issue of this sort of hypocrisy and more.  I was personally pleased to see a blogger-turned-investigative-reported take center stage, but that’s ultimately less important than the interesting question The Pregnancy Pact raises about America’s sometimes-contradictory cultural values.

Sara, our protaganist, is the daughter of no less than the Family Values Committee president, and it shows—“All I need to make me happy is to get married and have kids.  That’s all I want.” she insists, when blogger Sidney (who was the little sister in Hocus Pocus the last time I saw her, by the way) questions why such a bright girl would want to get pregnant so young.

It seems like a contradiction on Sara’s part, to be so traditional in her values and yet ignore the injunction to abstain, but there’s just as glaring a paradox in the rhetoric of such as the Gloucester “Family Values Committee.”  Unmarried pregnancy is a mistake, but babies are a gift from God?  Something of a ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ sort of outlook, I’d imagine, but confusing nonetheless.  It confuses Sara and her Gloucester friends, at least.

The Pregnancy Pact does get a bit pedagogical toward the end, but I’m willing to forgive in this case—the message isn’t the “Secret Life” sort of Teenage Pregnancy is Bad; Don’t Have Sex.  Nor is it simply a blanket call for contraceptives in schools.  In this case, the idea is a little more subtle:

“I’m beginning to see that talking about this is a good thing,” Sidney’s ex-boyfriend admits at one point, to which she responds.

And I’m of the opinion that this sort of attitude applies just as strongly outside the Gloucester city limits—as long as we’re watching these shows behind closed doors, we might as well admit what tv producers already know: we need a cultural outlet for dialogue about sex, pregnancy, and the things society tells us are aberrant.  At the risk of being didactic myself, I’ll quote Lifetime’s crusading blogger Sidney Bloom:

“What we need to do now is have a real conversation.”

It may not be a coincidence that the mysterious exploding pregnancy rate happened in Gloucester, after all—old Nat Hawthorne set The Scarlet Letter in Massachusetts for a reason: that Puritan mindset doesn’t die easily.

The Prisoner Confusing, Nightmarish, and Absolutely Brilliant

27 Nov

“Remake” and “original” are loaded words.

The Prisoner, AMC’s remake of the 1967 British series of the same name, is nothing like its predecessor.  Or at least that’s what I’m told—not having seen the first version, I watched the new miniseries with a mind wiped as clean of preconceptions as one of the brainwashed members of The Village.  And along with most of them, I liked what I saw—The Prisoner (2009) was a strong, character-driven, self-contained story: an original in its own right.

Brilliant, enigmatic, and utterly horrifying in the way all good dystopian science fiction is—the final scene alone was enough to bring up a wave of déjà vu from reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four for the first time and naively imagining torture and death were the worst O’Brien could do to Winston (or in this case, Two to Six).

I was wrong.

Throughout the miniseries, Six’s single-minded dedication to escape—“I am not a number!” he cries on multiple occasions, “I’m a free man!”— is almost heartbreaking.  Mental conviction, Six (James Caviezel) insists during early episodes, is stronger than anything the manipulative leader of The Village, Two (Ian McKellan, in a terrifying departure from the grandfatherly Gandalf), can throw at him.

But the theme of The Prisoner seems to be that the mind is not as secure a vault as we might imagine.  Six, after all, can’t even remember the name he supposedly had in his supposed other life and its supposed other world.  Any evidence he or any other number in the village has is as fragile as the wisp of a dream left after waking up—literally.  “Dreamers,” who draw fragments of their other lives on scraps of paper (the Statue of Liberty, a stick figure with a bag over its head), are disruptive elements in a society that sees them as crazy.

Add self-doubt to the mix and getting out starts to look impossible for the increasingly irresolute Six.

From my own experience, I’d say viewers can relate—as Six attempts to piece together memory fragments of a creepy corporate life at a mysterious surveillance company called Summakor (and his own quitting, even though “Nobody resigns from Summakor”), we’re trying to straighten out the plot from a thoroughly disjointed, non-linear story structure.  Episode one, “Arrival,” I’ll warn you, is nearly incomprehensible.

It’s not easy for anyone to straighten out the mysteries of The Village—neither us nor its own denizens—but the nonlinear narrative is as masterfully done an example of television text painting as I’ve ever seen.  The series, after all, is all about manipulating the human mind.

And no one’s better at that than Two, whose “death-cold eyes” (as described by one terrified villager) and gelid calm are absolutely convincing—I’m pretty sure smiling benignly while playing catch with a grenade is something only an elder statesman of drama like Sir Ian McKellan could pull off.

The rest of the cast, as well, is stellar, successfully portraying incredible depths of characterization (careful! some spoilers below) —

Two’s son, 11-12 (Jamie Campbell-Bower) shifts chillingly between the frigid self-possession of his father and the tortured confusion he picked up from Six;

Ruth Wilson’s self-composure as 313 is flawless, until the total disassociation of her “real” self from the “real” world is revealed, and makes a jarring contrast;

And Caviezel’s disorientation and resolution to escape are through the early episodes are utterly believable—only makes his ultimate end even more horrifying (here’s a hint: remember Winston Smith?).

But The Prisoner recalls Aldous Huxley as much as George Orwell: Two’s seemingly sincere belief that he can “help” people, perfect humans against their will, makes The Village as brave a new world as Huxley imagined for London of the 26th century.

“The great war is psychological.  It’s in here,” Two insists, tapping his head.  And he’s right—not just in terms of the control he exerts over the minds of Six, 313, and his son 11-12 (for a while, at least).

“Postmodern” nonlinear editing doesn’t mean that the themes aren’t relevant, or predictive rather than contemporary—The Prisoner’s emphasis on the difference (or lack thereof?) between what’s real and what’s a construct is a very modern moral dilemma in an age when scientific and technological advances blur the line between the “real” the synthetic.

(Is 313’s love natural, or manufactured?  And even if it is a product of Two’s nefarious gene therapy, does that make it less real now that she does feel it?  Does The Village exist in any physical space, or just the mind?  Does it make a difference?)

In any case—with a disjointed structure, an just-barely-comprehensible storyline, a nightmarish conclusion, and a concept disconcertingly contemporary, watching AMC’s The Prisoner was something like having a bad dream, only to wake up and shudder that it could be possible.

But if Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World are any sort of examples (or Shakespeare’s tragedies, or Euripides’, or Sophocles’…), dystopia and tragedy have a long shelf life.

I’m definitely buying the DVD.