Tag Archives: Cliffhanger

Dollhouse – “Getting Closer”

“Getting Closer”

January 8th, 2010

I was talking (okay, tweeting) with The A.V. Club’s Scott Tobias this weekend, and he classified “Getting Closer” as a fine example of a time when being hired to write immediate responses to television is not only inconvenient but downright confounding (to paraphrase).

It’s a great way to classify the episode, because a few days after watching it I still don’t really know what to say about it. I can say that I was surprised at various points where the episode wanted me to be surprised, and in a way which reflected emotional response rather than complete confusion. I can say that I saw the conclusion to Tim Minear’s script coming before the show made it explicitly clear, but what’s most interesting is that despite predicting the ending I still have absolutely no idea how it works.

“Getting Closer” is a fantastically entertaining episode of television, but its twists and turns depict a moral ambiguity which makes it almost entirely comprehensible. Tim Minear’s script is not so dense that we can’t comprehend what we’re seeing, but rather neglects (on purpose) character motivations to the point where the war which is supposed to pit one side (good) against the other (bad) has instead become more complex than anything in the Attic could ever be.

Which is yet another fascinating development in a second season that has been nothing if not compelling.

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Season Finale: Dexter – “The Getaway”

“The Getaway”

December 13th, 2009

When Dexter started its season, I spent a lengthy post comparing the show to 24, arguing that the show’s initial interest in Dexter as a psychological case study has been all but eradicated by seasons which have turned the show into your basic serial thriller that fails to take into account just how complex the character truly is. The show took two seasons to establish that Dexter is someone who has a code, and who kills those who deserve to be killed, and now it has taken that stock character and turned him into the blood analyst equivalent of Jack Bauer, happening to find himself wrapped up in compelling cases each and every season that speak to Dexter more than something wholly random but often do so in a superficial way. And like 24, these situations can often be quite compelling, but if you stop and think about the real potential in this character and the series you can’t help but feel that all involved could do better.

If we choose to accept that this is all Dexter is going to be, the fourth season has been quite solid, benefitting from a terrific and terrifying performance by John Lithgow as Arthur Mitchell, also known as the Trinity Killer. And much as 24’s fifth season was one of its strongest due to the amount of time spent crafting Gregory Itzin’s President Logan into a complex antagonist, the show works infinitely better when it takes the time to create a character that can give us chills, and who brings out interesting shades in Dexter’s character. So long as we ignore how convenient it is that Trinity is based in Miami, the consequences (like Jennifer Carpenter’s fine work post-shooting, like more time with Keith Carradine, etc.) are quite engaging, and viewed on their own represent some great dramatic television.

But they’re surrounded by a show that can’t help but call attention to its faults, and how those faults could have been prevented. Harry Morgan, once an integral part of the series’ mythos, has devolved to the point of serving as an exposition tool, a physical representation of Dexter’s self-conscience that the writer aren’t even willing to define as either angel or devil because they’re afraid that question would be too complex to handle. The supporting characters, like Batista and LaGuerta, are given stories that are literally just excuses for them to remain in the cast. Rita and her kids, once a beard for Dexter’s inner emptiness, have become a way for the show to investigate fidelity and suburban life, but never in a way that feels like it goes beyond melodrama.

“The Getaway” takes a lot of these elements and puts them to good use, unearthing Dexter’s bloody past in a way which feels organic and concluding the Trinity arc with the sort of momentum that the show is so very good at developing. And in its conclusion, which is in fact truly game-changing, there contains the DNA for the show to reinvent itself, to send it down a darker and more complex path that harkens back to the show’s first season.

And I’d be a hell of a lot more excited if I thought that was actually going to happen.

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Fall Finale: V – “It’s Only the Beginning”

“It’s Only the Beginning”

November 24th, 2009

“Is this the real life / is this just fantasy … open your eyes / look up to the skies and see”

In addressing the fall finale of ABC’s science fiction series V, I quote Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody for two reasons. The first is an excuse to link to the gleeful and wondrous Muppets version of the song released to YouTube today (if you need a better justification, let’s go with corporate synergy). The second is that the opening lines of this classic song feel like they capture the basic condition of most of V’s characters when these spaceships descended upon them. The very nature of science fiction that is roughly set in our own world is the question of whether the supernatural elements are “for real” in the sense that they should be trusted, which is perhaps what V has been missing since it debuted a mere three weeks ago. For a show about a race of aliens descending on humanity, the show has jettisoned the period of reflection in favour of drawing a line in the sand between skeptics who form a resistance against them and believers who freely choose to walk among them.

The logic behind the relative speed at which this has been accomplished is found within “It’s Only the Beginning,” which lives up to its cheeky title by confirming that, yes, this four-episode premiere event of sorts hasn’t actually managed to accomplish much of anything. In the show’s haste to define the characters quickly in order to bring in enough plot to tide people over until March (when the show is most likely to return), they forgot to show these characters struggling to come to terms with the Vs and the promises they offer to the world, and as such this finale has nothing to fall back on. The plot twists we see are intriguing (as the premise has not been the show’s biggest problem) if we care about the characters, but by separating the interesting individuals from the interesting stories (outside of Morena Baccarin’s Anna) the show has never tapped into the binary between these two cultures and the potential that lies within this premise.

Accordingly, it’s a good thing for the show’s creative future that it is only the beginning, although whether the series’ ratings future will be able to survive a rocky start is yet to be determined.

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Dexter – “Dirty Harry”

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“Dirty Harry”

October 25th, 2009

When “Dirty Harry” begins, the problems start before the episode even does. After the exciting finale to “Dex Takes a Holiday,” which was a strong episode which really connected with the qualities that make the show work and which ended on that cliffhanger of Deb and Lundy bleeding on the pavement, things seemed exciting in a way that the show was struggling with early on.

However, the lengthy “Previously on Dexter” sequence reminded us that the things that made that episode great were an exclusion (of Rita and the kids) and a shock (that won’t be recreated in the next episode), which means that “Dirty Harry” is immediately handicapped. And while there are some stories that seem legitimately compelling, those seem to be at a standstill while the “drama” comes from conflicts that are either entirely uninteresting or which feel like the sort of simple “Dexter meets Suburbia” type stories the show has been dealing with this season.

It proves once and for all that Dexter is a series best watched in extended bursts on DVD, because the hype is going to create expectations that this season isn’t able to live up to.

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FlashForward – “Black Swan”

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“Black Swan”

October 15th, 2009

All I can hear is the clock ticking.

Yeah, well, all I can hear is the crickets, FlashForward.

“Black Swan” is yet another example of the ways in which FlashForward seems fundamentally unwilling to engage with its most interesting elements and choosing, instead, to continue to ponderously engage with small-scale stories that feel like note cards on a bulletin board rather than something that’s part of a mosaic.

What’s interesting is that, if the show had ignored the notions of global conspiracy and the worldwide destruction, I actually think this would be an interesting hour of television. If the show had ignored the chaos of the pilot, and had instead had everyone experience a vision of their future without any time passing, then “Black Swan” would be an interesting investigation into a patient whose flash forward is inexplicable, or a young babysitter who wonders how she can atone for a sin she has yet to commit. Those questions are on their own a decent structure for an almost procedural series, a world like our own but where alternate futures dominate everyday conversation.

The problem with the show hasn’t been sold as anything close to that, but rather as a show rife with conspiracy theories and exciting serialized elements. And in an episode like this one, we understand the show’s central dilemma: when the show spends time with the mundane, we’re left wondering what’s going on with the big picture, but when they do spend time with the big picture we wonder why we were spending time with the mundane at all. And as long as both sides of the show’s storylines have some pretty serious execution problems, I don’t know how long the dichotomy is going to hold.

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Season Premiere: Dexter – “Living the Dream”

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“Living the Dream”

September 27th, 2009

“It’s already over.”

I have always made the argument that Dexter, slowly but surely, has turned into the pay cable equivalent of 24. However, until watching “Living the Dream,” I had always considered it a sort of referential shorthand for me to say that I’m not amongst those who consider the show in the same league as more complex cable series. After watching the show’s fourth season premiere, however, I’m now convinced that the show is intent on proving me right.

It is a show driven by a single lead character whose personal struggles form the basis of emotional investment. It is a show where each season features a different “threat” that the lead character needs to respond to. It is a show where the supporting characters are interesting when interacting with the lead, but mind-numbingly boring and pointless when left to their own devices. And, perhaps more importantly, it is a show where the similarities between seasons begin to feel repetitive, resulting in its negative qualities becoming that much more apparent in subsequent seasons.

I would be fine with formula if I felt that the formula was actually resulting in a show that made good on the first season’s premise of a vigilante serial killer coming to terms with his morality and engaging with “The Dark Defender.” However, the fourth season is shaping up to continue the trend of the third season, drawing most of its interest from an implausible scenario whereby a national serial killer happens to have originated in Miami, just as every terrorist attack seemed to happen within driving distance of Los Angeles on 24, than from what that means for Dexter.

And while Michael C. Hall will continue to be fantastic in a storyline played more for laughs and convenience than anything else, the show feels as if it is rebooting every time they start a new season. And for a character once defined by the haunting of the past, and by a complex set of characteristics I do not feel have been significantly examined to be undermined, to have only as much past as the show decides he should, is to find a show moving further away from a complex character study and closer and closer to a serialized action thriller with a strong central character and nothing else to show for it.

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Season Finale: Warehouse 13 – “MacPherson”

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“MacPherson”

September 22nd, 2009

There is something potentially idiosyncratic about “MacPherson,” the finale to one of the summer’s most enjoyable new series Warehouse 13. The show has oft times been notable not for its epic, mythology laden finales but rather its clever short form action pieces, delivering procedural episodes which connect with the audience and highlight the show’s enjoyable cast of characters. “Macpherson,” by comparison, is all about twists and turns and for the most part puts aside its indulgences in favour of appealing to other senses.

It’s a bold decision for a show that has been built around a fairly simple formula and now is going to have a heck of a time getting back to that status quo, and it’s one that I like in theory. While I had expected this episode to put to rest the MacPherson story for good, a first season arc that provided necessary back story for Artie and the warehouse itself, instead it felt like a whole new launching off point which compromised the integrity of our cast of characters beyond recognition.

It leaves a lot of open questions in regards to just what this show is going to look like in the years ahead, something that I didn’t expect from a show which felt so gosh darn comfortable in its own skin just a few episodes ago. I’m not entirely convinced that it’s the right decision, and in some ways I think the finale needed to do something more to make it all work, but consider me most certainly intrigued.

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Season Premiere: Greek – “The Day After”

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“The Day After”

August 31st, 2009

As one of the few critics who has spent a lot of time analyzing ABC Family’s Greek (although welcome Todd VanDerWerff to the club), I’ve been somewhat harsh on the main romantic element of the series. Casey, as a character, is trapped in a romantic spiral, and the show has spent far too much time humming and hawwing when it comes to her various entanglements. When Casey is actually with someone, the character is neurotic but in a way that seems productive: when she’s pining for someone or trapped in between two options, things because convoluted and almost seem to crawl to a halt. Greek is not so much a guilty pleasure as it is a very solid dramedy masquerading as a teen soap opera, but in these moments the show becomes the very definition of what its detractors (who haven’t seen the show) believe it to be.

However, I want to give them a fair deal of credit. “The Day After,” picking up the morning following the second season finale, spends a lot of time dealing with the relationship between Casey and Cappie, and in a way that I think really works. One of the problems some shows have when dealing with an inevitable coupling delayed by circumstance (See: Gilmore Girls) is that they’re secretly perfect for one another and yet just can’t seem to make it work. It means that when they do get together, when everything seems to fit, the show’s drama stops, and in order to prolong that drama one must contrive reasons for them to split regardless of logic…okay, Gilmore Girls rant over.

My point is that I like what they’re doing in the relationship between Casey and Cappie because of how flawed they would be as a couple, and how they’re not pretending that’s not an issue. Cappie is by far the show’s most interesting character, and the way he handles the aftermath of “The End of the World” demonstrates the complexity of Greek’s plan for their partnership. Yes, I still think the rest of the show is often more interesting, but if this is how Cappie is going to spend some of his time this season then I think my Casey bashing will be somewhat less as the year continues.

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Season Finale: Weeds – “All About My Mom”

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“All About My Mom”

August 31st, 2009

“Something happens today, something else will happen tomorrow.”

That’s really the motto of this show, isn’t it? Shane, in his numbed and disconnected state, is the poster child for the series, accepting of the idea that if something goes bad today, you might as well just shrug it off and move onto tomorrow, when something similarly terrible is going to happen. Shane got shot, a shot meant for Nancy, but rather than send him into some sort of depressive state it seems like he sees this world (if not reality, which we know has little to no connection to this sensationalist fable of sorts) clearer than he’s ever seen it before.

Whereas Nancy Botwin, she has never seen this world clearly. She is impulsive and in over her head at every turn, making decisions that she knows she will eventually regret but struggling to stop herself, to really right herself on this particular journey. At the end of this, the show’s fifth season, Nancy finds herself surrounded by people who are suddenly seeing the world in a different light. Andy has grown up, purchased a minivan and proposed to Audra. Celia has decided she’s set on doing what Nancy did, and looks to regain power of her drug dealing future. And Shane, young and formerly naive Shane, decides to take matters into his own hands when it matters most.

What separates this finale from every other is that it seems as if the show has accepted its identity: it, like Shane, accepts that something happens today and something else happens tomorrow, and that this season’s cliffhanger will not be the last for the show. While this season has had its quirks, and has been perhaps the most different of any season, where it succeeds is in its clarity: the actions undertaken in the finale are cleaner, more precise, than they’ve ever been before, but with an opportunity for consequences as complicated as the show has ever dealt with.

Which, if not quite what drew me into the show into the first place, at least feels like a consistent and effective dramatic purpose for the aging series.

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Season Finale: My Boys – “Spring Training”

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“Spring Training”

May 26th, 2009

My Boys has, perhaps, the oddest season structure on television. Its sporadically placed nine episode seasons always feel as if they barely start before they’re done, and they often seem designed so as to make no sense by the time they actually air (with this finale taking place during Spring Training despite finding the Baseball season in full swing – yeah, I said it – or the recent episode about the depths of winter taking place, well, not during the depths of winter).

But, more importantly, the show has this really weird pattern of ending and opening seasons with these highly dramatic scenarios of romantic cliffhangers and major events, but then abandoning them for the entire season in favour of standalone stories that are just about these character hanging out. This wouldn’t be a problem if these two forms were all that compatible, but to be honest they’re not: the end of last season was a bit of a mess, and when the show transitioned into a less serialized format this season it was kind of fantastic. I haven’t been blogging about the show due to time restraints, but there was some really great individual episodes in there, more than enough to convince me that the show is still in great shape.

As a result, it was with some caution that I entered into “Spring Training,” already pretty well knowing what we were heading into: Kenny and Stephanie’s hookup way back in last season’s finale was swept under the rug except for a few moments this season, so it was inevitable that we would be confronting that particular storyline. However, to my surprise, that’s the only attempt at drama the show made in the half hour, providing a finale that draws a simpler cliffhanger, and a trip out to that cliff which let the guys be guys, let P.J. go without any stated relationship trouble, and allowed a pretty great little season go out on a pretty good note.

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