Tag Archives: Suicide

Yes, I’m Still Watching…FX’s Damages

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Yes, I’m Still Watching…Damages

February 25th, 2009

Oh, Damages.

When the show debuted in 2007, there was something very fresh about its structure, something that I couldn’t really put my finger on at the time. It was a show that brought to the table some great acting talent, in particular strong work from Glenn Close and a career re-making role for Ted Danson, and a flash-forward plotline that at the very least kept you guessing of how the show was going to traverse from Point A to Point B. I never had a problem with either of these two elements: I thought the show started on a good note with the introduction of Ellen Parsons as a naive young attorney in the cutthroat world of Patty Hewes, and I felt the end of the season was similarly sophisticated in its handling of the long known climax.

But when Damages began its second season, I was reminded that the journey between Points A and B was more than a bit meandering, and while a few stops along the road were worthwhile (Hi, Zjelko Ivanek!) there were other storylines that felt like killing time. I began to think back to another show that had followed almost exactly the same road, a show that I once thought quite fondly of and now have very little interest in. But I didn’t want to, early in the season, so quickly link Damages with 24, a show that I have more or less written off.

As the season has gone on, however, the similarities are getting tougher to ignore: the show has become about a constant state of well-acted but poorly executed elevation. Characters and storylines are tossed aside at the writers’ whim as soon as they find something more interesting, and mysteries are solved without resonance but instead with a sense that one can’t linger on one moment too long before the next storyline needs to get started. If each of these arcs felt like they were being sufficiently wrapped up, that we got out of them all that we could, I’d be fine with this: but Damages, like 24 in its hey day, is all about leaving you wanting more, and the bad news for Damages is that I’m starting to see through it all too clearly.

Which says more for the writers’ reliance on the same ol’ bag of tricks than it does for the actors who are at their whim, a disconnect broad strong enough on the latter end to keep me watching but weak enough on the former to keep me at an emotional distance.

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Lost – “316”

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“316”

February 18th, 2009

“We’re all convinced sooner or later, Jack.”

There is a point in “316” where Ben tells Jack the story of Thomas the Apostle, a man who is best known for doubting Jesus’ resurrection. What we take from Ben’s explanation is that Thomas was a brave man, who stood up for Jesus during his life and was unwilling to back away from threats against him. And yet, he isn’t known for that: he is known for not believing, for not welcoming Jesus back into this world under circumstances that he couldn’t grasp immediately. While he did eventually believe once he felt Jesus’ wounds with his own hands, that doubt has defined his existence.

In many ways, “316” is a study of Jack Shepherd’s willingness to believe, and whether or not fate and history will remember him as the person who rebuffed John Locke when he first came to Jack off the island or as the person who eventually became a believer and got on Ajira Airways Flight 316 in order to return to the island. The same pattern goes for the rest of the Oceanic Six: are the decisions they made, the sacrifices they take in order to go back to the island, enough to overcome the fact that they ignored Locke when he first came to them? They were all convinced, sooner or later, to return, but where they sit on that timeline could be very important to their futures.

What this week’s episode, scripted by Lost overlords Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, doesn’t do is give us the ability to answer these questions, presenting a labyrinth that is complex not because of some sort of twisted time warp but rather because we are still missing parts, human parts, of this story. While we got to see what brought Jack to the end of this episode, we do not yet understand the context of the letter he receives, or how the rest of the Oceanic Six resolves this conflict. These questions aren’t going to be solved by Mrs. Hawking spouting off techno-babble, but rather an investigation into these characters, their motivations, and the kinds of questions that have formed the foundation of the series since its opening.

Perhaps its fitting, then, that we begin this episode the same way we began the pilot, a close-up of Jack’s eye as he wakes up in a whole new world for the second time.

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Gossip Girl – “You’ve Got Yale!” and House – “Painless”

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“You’ve Got Yale!”

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“Painless”

January 19th, 2009

After starting the season seemingly boosted by summer buzz and showing positive growth, Gossip Girl has been on a ratings and creative slide for quite some time. It is not so much that the show was great to begin with, but rather that it was showing an odd sort of complacency: rather than trading a period of angst and contrivance (mostly surrounding young Jenny) the show rights itself by introducing a mysterious son given up for adoption and by insisting that its central relationship is worth testing even when I, as a viewer, am convinced that it was dead a long time ago. “You’ve got Yale!,” despite its usual movie title-pun charm, feels like the show just doesn’t get it: whatever fun we might get from Blair going back on the warpath can’t possibly overcome the idea we’re supposed to care as much about Dan and Serena as Gossip Girl’s readers.

The funny thing is that House is in many ways going through the same problem: for weeks, the show has been focusing on Thirteen as a central source of drama and interest in a series that has always been most interesting when focused on its eponymous doctor. While it is ostensibly an ensemble, the show is really about House, and while the show’s tendency to have patients who reflect their doctor’s problems can on occasion be frustrating I was just kind of glad to finally have a patient who is about House instead. What “Painless” does wrong, though, is feel as if it needs to pile on the drama: House’s pain is enough reason for the show to stop and consider his illness, compounding that with more drama for Thirteen and Cuddy’s complete and total breakdown seems both false and overkill.

Neither show is going off the rails enough for me to be disinterested, but I remain skeptical about whether they know what they are doing isn’t working.

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Season Premiere: Battlestar Galactica – “Sometimes a Great Notion”

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“Sometimes a Great Notion”

January 16th, 2009

I had to wait over forty-eight hours to watch this, the beginning of the end for Battlestar Galactica as it enters its final ten-episode stretch. I logged onto Twitter in my hotel on Friday evening, as I am in Montreal for the continent’s longest running debating invitational; it was a force of habit really, but I found something I wasn’t prepared for. I saw a tweet that said the words “Final Cylon.” I paused, threw my hands in front of my screen, and immediately went on a self-imposed twitter ban (which failed miserably once I devised security methods to avoid spotting more spoiler material).

I was, regardless of my adverse reaction to spoilers in general, shocked by this news: here is this piece of news that we were so desperate to discover, so apparently integral to this final season that they changed the opening title cards, and all of a sudden we have the answer in this episode’s final moments. It all felt so counter-intuitive, so different from how we expected this episode to go down.

In that sense, it is almost exactly the opposite of the fourth season premiere last year, which felt like the very basic repercussions we had spent a lengthy time imagining. Here, the common trait was that everything was bigger than we imagined: while not outside of the realm of possibility and the breadth of internet predictions, the events which transpired had an extremist slant that never felt sensationalist and more importantly never felt as if they were ending or simply stalling for time. The “who” question for the Final Cylon is not really the show’s preoccupation: instead, their identity is a sharpening of focus, a lynchpin of identity for what we now know is a far more complicated Cylon mythology.

The world of Battlestar Galactica was broken open when we learned the identity of eighty percent of the final five, but what resulted was an isolation of their turmoil to an investigation into their psychological well-being. The irony is that here, as their identity becomes public and the entire fleet becomes part of their journey, their inner trauma only becomes more profound: these characters now have even more complicated questions about their identity, just as humanity does facing the scorched earth they believed and prayed was home, and they have new factors such as history or destiny to consider more carefully.

“Sometimes a Great Notion” feels like another stage of escalation in the season’s general purpose: it is not about who the Final Cylons are so much as who they were, who they are, what they are understood to be, and who they wish to be in the future. Answering those questions is not so much about naming them than letting them loose in a world now even more defined by their unique journey. The result here is an episode that, more than anything in the first half of the season, feels like we’re sifting through the denseness of this serious to the intersection of philosophical and personal interests that will define the series finale.

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