Tag Archives: the best shows you’re not watching

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.

Follow the Leader (The Colony, 2.4)

27 Aug

When last we left off, low man on the totem pole Jim was showing his mettle in hand-to-hand combat with two Others lurking around the abandoned industrial zone the Colonists had decided to scavenge.  At the start of episode 2.4, “To Have and Have Not,” Jim’s actions still haven’t earned him much respect and, as Sally comments, now “the guys with cattle prods are a threat.”


Becka’s right that the survivors are just that—in “survival mode”—prepared to protect absolutely everything they have from outsiders.  But surviving the viral apocalypse is a two-way street.  While Jim’s jousting skills helped Sally and Becka get away with two entire shopping carts of scavenged parts, they left behind two (or probably more) really pissed off guys with a serious grudge.  Or as Reno so poetically calls them (with a sly grin): “Those three monsters Jim got his ass kicked by.”

Tagline of this season’s Colony?  “Thanks a lot, Jim.”  Maybe it’s symbolic that his bridge collapses on Day 15… and that he happily eats the maggoty fish the others throw away.

Meanwhile, back on the bayou, George looks pretty badass in his metalworker’s apron and Becka’s making everyone forget that she, in a past life, was a model.  Not only was Becka Sally’s chosen accomplice on the recent warehouse raid she’s also apprenticing for Reno on gate security detail.  But maybe that’s for another reason.  Hey, she was a model.

On the diplomatic front, too, Becka heads up the embassy to the still-semi-isolated Michael and Amber, after Sally canvasses the original seven on whether or not to bring the two newcomers into their house and hearts.  Hearts might be pushing it, but for the sake of security and under threat of electrocution by cattle prod, they vote the anatomy teacher and the logger in.  Current security consists of a wooden plank with the word LOCK sharpied on, and Amber, let’s admit it, has some pretty impressive forearms.

It’s interesting to note, though, that (privately) Michael and Amber reveal their real reason for moving in with the Colonists to be about society, not safety: “Moving into the main house, it brings us right into to where everything happens,” Michael admits to the camera, “We’re the New Colonists, they’re the Old Colonists… now we’re being TheColonists.”

So while Michael and Amber work out their social climbing schemes, Reno—characteristically—just gets down to work.  Sian the teacher, who stays out of these blog posts mainly because she stays out of the drama (while staying inthe house), is worried about dwindling food supplies.  But Reno’s worried about fuel.  Escaping from his entourage for the rare moment alone, he considers the his responsibilities.

“I feel like I need to come up with a plan,” he says darkly.

Hair and bandana blowing in the wind, inspiration strikes.

When Reno announces the Colony’s newest engineering project (and a series first), Becka’s eyes widen incredulously—but she’s part of the A-team now, and better not balk now if she wants to keep up with George and Sally, both of whom get singled out as project leaders for their respective metalworking and automotive skills.  But Becka gets the seal of approval too, in the form of a coveted high-five from our beloved leader.

Oh, right, I forgot—the project’s a windmill.

But plans get put way on hold when the Colonists wake up at dark o’clock in the morning on Day 15 to, in Jim’s immortal words, “a big-ass fire” set by (guess who?) the Cattle Prod Kids.

“It’s revenge motive,” Deville correctly suggests, just before Sian spots the arson running across the yard outside.  Her description may just be the understatement of the season—“It was definitely an unfriendly-looking person.”

Windmill supplies, including the welding mask, get nabbed and Becka solidifies her spot on the A-Team.  When (who’da thunk it) Jim wants to go out and fight in a blaze of glory (pardon the pun), she replies with the Colony’s weary motto: “Shut-up, Jim.”

They send Reno instead, alone.

By now the sun’s come up on an even more desolated site than usual, and Sally sits down the crew to discuss the chaos of the night before.  It’s Amber, Michael, and Jim in the hot seats for getting too “amped up.”  Amber feels “deflated” that she hasn’t been able to prove herself to the group, but Jim doesn’t have much to say, except to the camera: “Reno’s got everyone buffaloed.”

But he’s too busy to care.

“After the fire, I do what I have to do,” Reno says with a shrug.  “It’s just back to work, you know?”

Everyone knows soon enough, when Mother Nature sends a big-ass rainstorm to follow their big-ass fire.  After the initial excitement of running around in their underwear in the rain, the leaks and waterlogged house get old, fast.

“I’m so happy that the world is ending it’s pouring rain inside my fucking house,” Reno tells his crew.  “Grinning ear to ear, baby.”

They may be wet, exhausted, and literally starving, but they have a leader with a sense of humor. That’s got to be worth something, right?

Oh, and we have a downed aircraft, a parachute in the canopy, and mysterious Others kidnapping the pretty girl in the last thirty seconds of the episode.  Now who said Lost was off the air…

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (The Colony, 2.3)

23 Aug

Or at least, for the first time since the Yellow Armband Gang struck—snatching their cache of government meds, laying a beat down with some seriously brutal metal pipe action, and misting our virus-wary heroes with pepper spray—the Colonists have neighbors.

Amber (a 31-year-old logger) and Michael (a 33-year-old anatomy instructor) appeared on the post-apocalyptic landscape with their hands raised and no CAUTION tape insignia in sight, in episode 2.3 “Trust.”  Nevertheless, after their rather chaotic first week the Colonists weren’t about to give up the Us versus Them mentality.  Or to put it in LOST terms—it’s another case of not knowing when to trust the Others.

Naturally, paranoia ensues.

Jim in particular wasn’t about to play Mr. Rogers.  The most vocal Christian among the volunteers, Jim hasn’t said much about Jesus since he last tried to be the good Samaritan—offering water and powered milk and water to a guy who turned out to be the yellow armband warlord and, literally, getting burned after.

When Michael and Amber start to scavenge on the Colony grounds without permission, breaking the 12-hour quarantine rule, Jim has to be restrained by Reno as he calls for his knife and shouts: “I’ll cut you up into a million pieces.”

As Reno says: “He doesn’t have the social skills to deal with situation like that, and it shows.”

As I say: Jim’s gone batshit crazy.

This might be the strangest thing about The Colony—the disconnect between what seems normal in our world and what seems normal in theirs.  When diplomacy transitions to suspicion, fear, and hostility, Reno’s less horrified than vaguely irked.  Jim’s actions are almost understandable in a situation where no one trusts each other.

“We have two more people fighting for the last beans, last berries, last… snake,” he explains.

And of course, there’s the ever-present threat of contracting Nuclear Flu.  Our survivors are not, after all, Will Smith in I Am Legend—they were quarantined in a government camp.  Part of the major conflict between newcomers Amber and Michael and the Colonists is whether or not the logger and the teacher actually went through the VOPA decontamination process like they claim.

Clever troublemakers that they are, Discovery Channel’s Colony producers didn’t put Amber and Michael through the same pre-taping process that the Colonists experienced (72-hours of quarantine, each in his or her own room).  These Others shared a tent, for less than 36 hours.  (What happens next?  Jim freaks out.)  But of course, they n00bs are wary too:

You could be the bad guys,” Amber says, when Jack and Kate—I’m sorry, Reno and Sally—try to calm things down after Jim’s meltdown.

Adding to the stressed atmosphere is the fact that resources are already strained.  The Colonists originally had six days’ worth of food.  After stretching it to last two weeks, they’re getting pretty hungry.  Maybe emaciated’s a better word.

In 11 days, mad inventor George lost 23 pounds.  Reno, who didn’t have any flab to spare to begin with, lost 13 (and gained a scruffy beard).  Sally’s down 10—and as we know from watching Biggest Loser, it’s harder for women to lose weight… unless it’s Armageddon, I guess.  Jim dropped 24 (half of those probably from screaming), and by day 11 Deville’s minus 14.  Unfortunately, the seven decades under his belt aren’t going to keep those pants from slipping.

Of course, despite the reality of the situation (ie: starvation), the gang’s favorite pastime seems to be daydreaming (or in Becka’s case—really dreaming) about the food they miss from the time before society collapsed.  Deville, in particular, grieves for “soft-whip” ice cream and smoothies.  Or as Becka says:

“I miss… my life the most.”

The hard-nosed, tough-minded Reno, of course, is the one to spoil the party, bringing everyone back to the realization that this is life now: “I think as a group we need to stop talking about all this crap and start thinking about things that we’ve done good here, and keep moving forward”

It’s a live together, die alone sort of thing.

Which brings us to this week’s Colony projects:

Optimistically assuming that they’ll be able to catch game out in the bayou (wild boars, anyone?), Reno works on a smokehouse.  Without refrigeration, there’s no way for cold storage—drying and smoking meat seems the best bet.

In a similarly practical vein, George takes up the mantle of mad scientist with the successful construction of a forge and bellows—essentially, a giant oven for melting metal.  Mmm, mmm, toasty.  “Right now,” he quips, “we’re basically in the Stone Age.  This will help us move into the very early Iron Age.”

But Deville’s the one who knows his constituents.  Still dreaming of smoothies, he designs and constructs a shower, less strictly survival-oriented than the other works in progress, but certainly geared to raising morale and keeping those psyches strong. “I do believe that cleanliness gives you a little hope for living,” he explains.

And it’s true—it makes you feel human.  Deville, notably, is the colonist most able to keep up that human necessity: humor.  Example?

“I thought those rotten pigs from the truck smelled bad.  But then—I smelled myself!”

All this construction and society-building may be technically interesting to a civil engineer, but for viewers like me at least, it’s a chance to peer into the social order of the neighborhood.  Take George, for example:

Low man on the totem pole for the first few days and first televised episode, the artist/inventor got a bad rap for napping during the day and riding a bike instead of walking.  Personally, I think it was a matter of self-esteem—George was the one who arrived on the first day looking desperately for a leader, a VOPA representative, or a government agent to tell him what to do.

At this point, on day 11, the social structure of the Colony has begun to take shape, and George is an able and willing lieutenant to Reno and Sally.  And George’s forge now places him definitively on the A-team.  If we’re looking at this 10-acre neighborhood in post-Katrina, post-Nuclear Flu Louisiana as something akin to early human civilization, the Toolmaker has instant status.  Quoth George:

“The Lord made some men big and some men small… but metal made ‘em all equal.”

Of course that’s not entirely true.  George, who makes the metal, definitely has some distinction over a guy like Jim, for example, who makes it onto Reno and Sally’s shit list when he nearly burns down the smokehouse.

And I mean that literally.  He’s the one emptying the port-a-potty (and to give a sense of how disgusting that work is, just think: Discovery actually censoredthe torrent of excrement).

Reno and Sally, as expected, share the alpha position fairly amiably.  Reno, for his part, seems to be everywhere—with a hand in every project, as a laborer, not just overseer.  What struck me was the fact that after Deville made his truly beautiful sanitation center, it was Reno who gave Becka permission to take the first shower.

As a team, Reno and Sally work well together.  They’re the two who handle Amber and Michael’s arrival, diplomatically.  They’re in perfect agreement about Jim being a complete loser.  And they organize the exchange when a traveling trader comes punting down the river.

And though Amber and Sally initially have about two-minutes’ worth of on-air power struggle, Amber seems to see how the social order’s established and waves the white flag for the sake of peace.  The white flag being a chocolate bar at dinner (not quite soft-serve ice cream, but it’ll do), and a big ol’ jug of vodka she and Michael had been saving but choose to sacrifice to the trader for the sake of getting Sally and Reno a much-coveted generator.

Booze brings people together.  After that, Sian says quite matter-of-factly: “I think we’re one group.”

Two weeks in, and there’s peace in the neighborhood.  How long will it last?  Until the credits start to roll and we get, for our preview of coming attractions, Jim in the abandoned industrial zone fighting off two guys in Dharma jumpsuits.

No more Mr. Nice Guy, I guess.  And definitely no Mr. Rogers.

Let There Be Light (The Colony, 2.2)

5 Aug

There are a couple routes to go when it comes to constructing the New World Order.  The yellow armband gang prowling the neighborhood around the Colony opted for the might makes right sort of society (the 30-against-7 fight at the end of the season premiere was absolutely insane).  But when it comes to self-government, the colonists have a better idea: meritocracy.

Read this and other tv reviews on The Best Shows You’re Not Watching

Artist/Inventor George met with some serious social pressure for napping last episode, but it’s a new day and everyone in the Colony has a project.

Top of the list is security.

While getting food, water, shelter, and fire in the first three days is an accomplishment worthy of the survivors of Oceanic 815, Discovery Channel’s survivors had to face hostile Others a lot sooner than Jack, Kate, and Hurley.  In three days, the colonists got down to fisticuffs twice, the latter fight being more of a rout, with over a score of violent outsiders attacking the Colony and successfully looting all their precious medical supplies (they were under some adult magazines in Sawyer’s tent… wait a second…).

For anyone skeptical of just how real Discovery Channel’s reality series really is, that fight scene alone should erase any and all doubts.  While the choreography was a muddled mess and not quite up to the aesthetic standards we expect from Hollywood, the battle was brutal: the colonists’ biohazard suits got ripped to shreds off their backs, and schoolteacher Sian wasn’t afraid to pick up a long metal pipe and lay down a beating.  Those pre-show disclaimers warning about “graphic scenes” and “viewer discretion” are no joke.

Of course, the colonists did—as construction foreman Reno so bluntly commented—get “annihilated.”  But Jim was a little more optimistic.

At least, he says cheerfully, “I didn’t see not a sucker cut and run.”

As destructive as the attack proved to be, and as bad as the colonists got walloped by a roving gang of ruffians wearing caution tape on their arms (is that threatening or what?), episode two opens with nerves steeling “After the Fall.”  And in their determination to turn their Gulf Coast not-quite-a-vacation home into “Fort Knox” reveals some new leaders.

As predicted, Reno is everywhere—with his hammers, drills, and callused hands in the middle of every project, getting things done.  His motto from the premiere?  Lead by example.  But an even more assertive and self-assured leader may be emerging in Sally, the 28-year-old auto mechanic who’s taking the conditions of her post-Apocalypse life (sharing a toothbrush with six other people, for example) in stride.

“The more I look around,” she tells the camera, confidentially, “the more I feel that it’s all Indians and no chiefs.”

Sally takes up the mantle by taking charge of their dubious power situation.  Two drained batteries salvaged from a broken-down truck aren’t enough to keep the lights on—let alone the power tools Reno needs to secure the house in case of another attack, which everyone agrees must be imminent.  But Sally has a plan: finding an old red tractor on the Colony grounds, she hopes to get the alternator running and so charge the batteries.

All the colonists rally to the clarion call—even George, whose motivation and morale are perking up with Sally taking charge.  “George!” she exclaims at one point, as he helps her make preparations for a tricky welding job, “You’re the man.”  He looks down, embarrassed.

“I think we’re both the man,” he says.

In a meritocracy, it’s knowledge and skills that rise to the top.  And in “After the Fall,” it might be hard to choose exactly who’s the top man—everyone has a skill and is sticking to it.

Jim—discouraged that his bridge-building campaign yields like results in the intended purpose of making net-dragging from both sides of the canal fails—makes the Colony’s first kill on a hunting trip to the bayou.  Trying his hand at tracking, the devout Christian uncovers a nearly six-foot snake under a rotting log and, no hesitation, grabs it barehanded behind the head.  The other hand unsheathes the knife at his belt in barely more time and beheads it.

Dinner’s ready, folks!

Any meat, however rubbery, is a welcome treat for the colonists, who have been subsisting on canned food, dried beans, and rice.  The trip to the abandoned shopping center, after all, didn’t yield too much—save a truck filled with rancid pig carcasses swarming with writhing yellow maggots.

They’re definitely not ingestible, but the 70-year-old Deville figures he can find a way to feed the pigs to the Tractor Power Plan.  The Colony is desperately wanting fuel, without which neither the security projects nor the lights can go on.  But maybe there is wisdom in age: “Being a country boy, there’s a lot of things I remember—like making oil out of animal fat.”

Gosh, now I feel bad for making fun of him last week.

Harvesting lard from rotting pig corpses isn’t exactly a coveted task–with his characteristic dryness, Reno explains the situation:

“The whole process sucked.  Nobody enjoyed it.  Now we can have lights, we can work at night.  We don’t have to live in total darkness.”

It’s a poignant note to end the episode on—the electricity flickering on in the Colony for the first time—and a symbolic reminder that these survivors have to do more than just survive: rebuild.  But even after this victory, the colonists know not to get overconfident.

They’re not the only society in the new world order.

Apocalypse 2.0 (Discovery Channel’s The Colony)

1 Aug

The virulent Nuclear Flu scourged the earth last week, when seven lucky Americans escaped uninfected to a 10-acre VOPA (Viral Outbreak Protection Agency) way station where, after 72 hours’ quarantine, they waved goodbye to the friendly government helicopter and settled in for 50 days of pure survival in the burnt-out carcass of a Gulf Coast neighborhood still smarting from Katrina, and harboring a mob of hostile Others.  The colonists’ motto?  “Survive—Rebuild—Thrive.”  Or as former construction foreman Reno quips, in the new world order: “It doesn’t matter what your credit score is.”  It’s survival of the fittest.

Read “Apocalypse 2.0” at The Best Shows You’re Not Watching.

It sounds like the plot of a Stephen King novel, or the shorthand notes of Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof plotting out seasons 4 and 5 of LOST (Deville actually comes pretty close when he says “Die together, live together”). In reality—reality tv to be exact—it’s Discovery Channel’sThe Colony, back for a second season of social experimentation and simulated apocalypse.  Of course, “simulated” might be too weak a word when the backstory involves a false government agency with a very convincing acronyms and the detailed pathology of an Avian Flu variant already mapped out.

“Reality” tv isn’t just the realm of Snooki, Ryan Seacrest, and Co this summer—the Discovery Channel has created in The Colony a frighteningly realistic portrayal of life after a major global catastrophe.

“The volunteers,” our ominous-sounding narrator tells us in the first few minutes, “have signed their lives away for 50 days.”  And if that doesn’t do the trick, next two lines prove without a doubt that thisisn’t the reality tv American audiences are used to:  “This is not a competition.  I will receive no cash prize.”

If you’re wondering who would sign up for this, you’re not alone.  Tuesdays at 10/9c on the Discovery Channel give us an hour of the really rather heroic survival efforts of VOPA’s motley crew:

Reno, 28, a construction foreman instantly welcomed as a leader by (most) the other bedraggled colonists

Robert Deville, 70 (!), a retired contractor whose advanced age and experience fuels a number of quite insightful suggestions.  My favorite—“Upstairs we can defend ourselves, kind of like you would do in the old time castle days when you could throw stuff down.”  I’d make a joke about whether he remembers ye olde dayes, but that wouldn’t be respecting my elders.

Jim, 42, a carpenter who from the first sitting speaks to the camera in the mindset of a relieved survivor (“they let me out of quarantine today…”)

George, 46, the artist/inventor who’s currently sitting secure on the omega rung of the social ladder

Sian, 39, a teacher who actually covers geologic disasters and resources in her courses

Sally, 28, an auto mechanic whose skill sets couldn’t possibly be more useful

And Becca, 22, not only the youngest of the bunch but a model no less—and yet, despite stereotypes, level-headed and efficient.

With no power from the grid, no running (or, often, even potable for that matter) water, no communication, and the constant threat not only of environmental dangers but hostile marauders from the outside, The Colony is Survivor the way it out to be—group politics aplenty, but a lot higher stakes and much more drama than finding a hidden immunity idol under a rock.

The incentive for the participants might be cloudy at this point—an adventure? An ill-placed bet? an outlet for socially-inappropriate machismo?—but for viewers this is entertainment that turns from fantasy to horror when we realize that the disasters we think of as science fiction could easily be science fact.  There’s no denying something raised goosebumps when I realized that all I could offer in a VOPA “safe zone” would be lessons on using microfilm readers.

So here’s a warning to potential viewers: Be prepared to stock up on flint and water when the episode’s over.  Oh, and possibly grenades.

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.