The Mole (2008) – “Episode Two”

“Episode Two”

June 9th, 2008

Last week’s premiere of The Mole’s fifth season (if we’re counting the celebrity editions) was one of those episodes where you could see some growing pains, but beneath them was the core of the show we enjoyed before. There was the unique tasks that brought out the worst in the competitors, the wonderfully cheesy music, and a game that was more about the mind than anything else.

However, it’s not an easy sell for new viewers: I made a quick guest appearance on the /Filmcast last night, and guest GreatWhiteSnark (From his eponymous site) really didn’t understand all of the hype after last week’s episode. I tried my best to explain it, but it isn’t the easiest thing to do in thirty seconds and ABC.com’s synopsis is fairly useless. However, I stand by my assertion that as a mind game it rises above most reality shows, and that we’ll eventually get to that point.

What’s funny about this, the season’s second episode, is that it’s one step forward and one step back. While I am pleased to report that host Jon Kelley was much improved the second time around, especially with his voiceover work, the end-of-episode quiz was dumbed down to the point that it felt like the game was a mockery of its former self. While it might be the same on the surface, if this is seriously all they expect of these people they must not be a very smart group.

But we could have known that from the wheelbarrow.

The episode, in terms of its tasks, features everything we’ve come to expect: tasks which divide into groups to divide up suspicion, and in some cases pit those groups against each other. The first task further proves my theory that humiliation is one of the key components of a good Mole task, as nine of the players are embarrassed by young Chilean football prodigies (Yes, I mean soccer – loved the moment when half of the team answered Football and Jon was like “Yes, Soccer” as if the Football people were wrong) while the other two fight their way to the top of the hill with exemptions, but no money, as their goal.

It allowed for three major things to happen: to continue the rehabilitation of Nicole (set up by an early testimonial), to establish Bobby and Paul as mortal enemies, and to demonstrate Jon Kelley’s ability to mimic Anderson Cooper to moderate success. The first point is actually really intriguing, to be honest – I imagine that Nicole is kind of like Natalie on Survivor: Fans vs. Favorites, except that whereas Natalie came out as a raving psycho halfway through the season Nicole just decided to do it day one…which was obviously a pretty poor strategy. That she seems to be able to dial it down is good for her future in the game, and as I’ll discuss later she definitely went from complete annoyance to hilarious and homicidal by episode’s end.

The Bobby and Paul story, meanwhile, kicks off as we see Bobby’s legs disintegrate from under him as he attempts to play soccer, which he apparently was really good at in middle school. Well, considering that he can’t run with any consistency due to both cramps and apparently total leg failure, that obviously isn’t the case anymore.  As someone else who isn’t so much into the lengthy running while exerting one’s self, I can say from experience that at a certain point anyone with any bit of fitness should find a point where you aren’t dry heaving anymore. That’s just not healthy.

Paul, however, destroyed Bobby for his poor performance, much to Victoria’s chagrin. Paul, of course, had also laid down during the tough soccer match, but being a hypocrite doesn’t seem to be all that worrisome to Paul. While I don’t quite know if classless is the word I’d used, obnoxious is certainly up there – it seemed more than a little bit thick in terms of how to address someone’s incompetence, and while I agree that Bobby seemed to be more out of shape than humanly possible the dramatics will (and did) cost them to a certain extent.

The last thing the task brought to the table was, well, a table – not being kind to himself by drawing such comparisons, Jon Kelley pulls an Anderson Cooper and sets up a little shop where they can stop, have a drink, and take money out of the pot in order to get their exemptions guaranteed by a cab ride. It’s tough to recapture Anderson’s snarkiness, but Kelley’s attempt is at least inoffensive – the guy is trying here, and it was a charming little moment that played well to my nostalgia.

Kelley was good overall, to be honest – I felt that he sold the hokey setup to the second test pretty well all things considered, and the ADR (Voiceover) work was much improved. I had mentioned it to my mother before we started watching (I’m home visiting for the week), and she even noticed a change between this week and last. It just felt more natural, and the fact that the show is willing to course-correct with these types of things means that they’re learning well.

The second task really returned to a lot of the same themes: Nicole continued to get a light edit, Bobby got pushed around in a wheelbarrow because he was too sore from the soccer game (Seriously?), and Kelley was in good form. The task was good in that it involved multiple different parts, and I liked the exemption trick even if I felt the episode had two too many exemptions. It felt like it was trying a bit too hard to be complicated (Don’t know about timing based on pottery), but it had a lot of fun moments.

The real emergence there is Alex, Paul’s “partner-in-crime” in Bobby’s mind, who is struggling with not taking complete control. Yes, he was good at the task, but he did eventually need to cede some control (Where Craig hilariously stepped into the picture to prove the benefit of summer camp balloon slingshots). That he later left his journal in a room, and apparently attempted to pass it off as a strategy move, shows that he needs to be more aware of his game (A lesson that Nicole, apparently, learned).

But they all made it through the quiz, where Liz was the Mole’s second victim. However, if I was her, I would feel both screwed (by the three exemptions) and a little bit upset with myself at failing the easiest quiz of all time. In fact, I’d also call it the stupidest quiz of all time, a poorly constructed sign that perhaps the game isn’t as smart as we think it is.

While the tasks might be similar, the players weren’t asked to remember anything much: they were asked to remember what people did, one case of what order they arrived, and in some cases a monkey could have answered the questions. While I know that they don’t know the exact answer, there were too many freebies. Take, for example, the ninth question:

Question 9: During “When Pigs Fly,” was the Mole transported in a wheelbarrow for the majority of the time?

If you’re any of the other players, if you don’t think Bobby is the Mole it’s a freebie. If you’re Bobby, it’s a free question. This is a joke question, and has no business being on the quiz. The other questions all have too few options – too many yes and no, and not enough “What did the Mole have for dinner?” What are these journals for, exactly, if we watching at home can figure out the answers within two seconds flat? Liz probably lost on speed rather than actual knowledge, considering how much room for guesswork and error are here – I can’t imagine there not being a ridiculous amount of ties that would have little to do with their research or observational skills.

So it’s a step forward for Kelley, a step backward for the quiz, and then a brilliant step for Nicole: as Paul takes the time after the quiz to attack her and Bobby for not deserving to be there, Nicole proceeds to tell Paul that she will murder him in his sleep and that she knows how to make it so there’s no forensic evidence. It was a hilarious moment that caught everyone off guard: and how weird is it that now I’m kind of rooting for her, whereas a week ago it would have been the exact opposite. It might just be the weird editing, but there’s definitely changes afoot.

Cultural Observations

  • While they changed the rest of the music, the theme song is intact and still as awesome as ever.
  • I’ve already talked a lot about everything, so let’s let others do some talking: ABC has a great couple of behind-the scenes blogs following the show, including one from host Jon Kelley and one from a member of the production crew. Take a look, and look forward to next week!

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