Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Greek is pretty much the anti-Gossip Girl (and I mean that keeping in mind completely that I love both shows): it's sunny and light where Gossip Girl is dark and dramatic. The stakes on this show tend to be tiny (sorority rushes, Cameron Diaz's bangs) as opposed to GG's (murder, drug abuse, college), but the characters take them super seriously, even when the show does not. It's got deeply moral characters, who never lose their ridiculousness. Even the seemingly "bad characters," live by their own code and would never turn on a friend. Aside from all that, it's actually a lot like it's New York cousin: it has a deep entrenched wit and parade of great and great-looking actors filling out its characters.
The show has grown a lot since its inception: for the first few episodes, Cappie was an Animal House throw back with little in the way of real character, Casey was an empty vacuous jerkface, Evan was an evil playboy, and Rebecca was a "ho." This could pretty much all still be applied, but the beauty of Greek is the way they've grown their characters without ever losing what made them awesome in the first place. Cappie is terrified of growing older and maturing, so he's taking time having fun and playing hacky sack (and watching Jon and Kate Plus 8) until he's forced cruelly out into the adult world. Casey is a deeply ambitious but deeply lost girl trying to find her place in the world in a way that doesn't compromise who she is (she also has a pretty damn Cappie-esque side that she tries to fight against). It's a decent character, but it's Graham who really makes her shine. She grounds the perky optimism and determination to do good in an intelligence and love of fun that helps us get through storylines that just have her trying to outdo her social rivals. Plus, the Casey and Ashley girl love is a nice equalizing force. The two actually have fun together in a way that too often female friendships on television shows aren't grounded in. This week, for example, saw them teaming up to take down the newly formed IKI house (how much do I love that name?) and giggling manically as they do it.
Evan is still kind of an evil playboy, but he's also fiercely loyal to his gay Little, Calvin, and deeply hurt by all his "poor little richboy" angst. And Rebecca... well Rebecca is a revelation. From loving Cappie, to moling for ZBZ, she's a complicated, brilliant, amazing character whose never stopped being interesting even as she's gotten less overtly bitchy.
The heart of the show, though, is Rusty, the geeky, awkward, and yet inexplicably cool littlest Cartwright, who brings out the best in all the characters around him. Cappie is never so endearing as when he's mentoring his Little, and his genuine affection for Rusty is what makes us able to put up with all his manwhoring and questionable meat eating. The Casey and Rusty relationship has grown so much since the first episodes embarrassed indifference, and some of the best Casey beats over the season have been with the little bro. Rusty, Calvin, and Dale (the nerdy KT, ambitious and gay Omega Chai, and southern uber-Christian, respectively) make for the strangest of strange three amigos, but it works, and it brings out the best in all three of them.
It'd be disingenuous to pretend that Greek is a perfect show. It's ultimately pretty light and fluffy for my taste, and they tend to flipflop on secondary characters whenever it's convenient (Franny, for example, has gone from unapologetic biyatch to reformed good girl to biyatch to uber biyatch as the story has called for it; meanwhile Evan has gotten tantalizingly close to real growth as a character just to be thrown back into the position of jerk because the story calls for it). But the Season Premier illustrated clearly: Greek is one of the most consistently entertaining hours in the business, and the writers haven't lost their grasp on what makes life at Cyprus Rhodes University fun.
Dale: My roommate is Canadian. How am I supposed to sleep at night when some foreigners waving his flag around in what is clearly an act of aggression?
Franny: You girls are playing with fire.
Casey: We know, that's how you make smores.
Casey: (about her Washington Internship peers) And worst of all... they called me Elle Woods.
Monday, March 30, 2009
In this week's episode "Remains of the J," Serena attempted to throw a Sweet Sixteen Party for Jenny. Meanwhile, the Blair, Chuck, Nate and Vanessa love-quadrangle took center stage, with Nate finally biting the metaphorical bullet and breaking up with Vanessa, just as Vanessa and Chuck start getting all scheme-y (before getting steamy). They're both pretty much A-stories, so we'll just call them Story 1 (Serena, Jenny) and Story 2 (B, C, N and V). There was also a third story about The Humphreys lacking the funds to send Dan to Yale (Come on. Have they never heard of Sallie Mae? As someone who went to a super-expensive four year school on a middle class salary, I'm offended) that was pretty much just treading ground for an eventual, season's end, college shake up.
Story 2 was the old school Gossip Girl goodness, in more ways than one. Nate and Blair have surprisingly good chemistry (although obviously nowhere near the fireworks of Blair and Chuck), much better chemistry in fact than Nate has with anyone else, so if anyone has to be smooching Blair when it's not Chuck, I'm glad it's Nate. That being said, Nate was pretty much an idiot all episode. It seems like the writer's use Nate's indecisiveness as a crutch; whenever they want to draw out a story line, they just ask Chase Crawford to stare blankly at the camera with his man bangs. And he was totally lying to himself if he truly thought ending things with Vanessa had nothing to do with Blair. Nate is the classic (and classically Kelly-described) dichotomy of Nice vs. Good. Nate is very, very nice. He doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. But this episode clearly demonstrated how not good he is. Which leaves us with Blair, who seemed kind of declawed in this episode. Watching her reveal her deeply hurt heart over Chuck may have been a nice reminder of why she just can't play kiss and makeup with him yet, but it's getting repetive. And she seemed almost pathetic chasing after Nate and Normalcy (this was most exemplified when she melodramatically whined at Nate, "Only my boyfriend gets to touch my hair."). No one wants you normal, B. It's what makes you fantastic.
Meanwhile, Vanessa got to be interesting for the first time in ages. Freed from the going nowhere boringness of coupledom with Nate, she finally got to give in to her bad side. It's not a coincidence that the "bad" characters on this show are everyone's favorites -- they're clearly the writers' favorites. With this episode, Vanessa got to indulge in a little bad, and not the stupid kind of bad that leads to letter stealing or Blair fighting, but the good kind that manifests in Chuck kissing and dress removing. Watching her and Chuck team up and scheme against Nate and Blair was perfection.
Story 1, meanwhile, was a much more frustrating affair. Although you wouldn't know it from the previous couple of episodes, Jenny and Eric do still exist. They've even got quite a few lines in this episode. Eric is a welcome breath of sardonic air, bringing his level-headed wit to the whole Serena/Jenny party debacle. And Jenny didn't annoy me for the first time in decades (although texting into Gossip Girl was old school Little J, you should know better by this point). No, this storyline's ire is all for Ms. Serena Vanderwoodsen.
Serena's at her best when she's a friendly, glowy type of personality. We accept that she's handed so much in life because she just seems to be grooving on it. But having her spend all episode pretending to be nice while really using Jenny for her selfish ends was just... too much. There's no way that Serena truly believed what Jenny wanted was for all of Serena's friends to come to a fancy shindig at the casa Vanderwoodsen, and so her final tell-off/storm-out at the end felt juvenile and annoying. More than that, Serena demonstrated in this episode just how selfish and not interesting she is. It always seemed like the clubbing and scenester-ness of Serena was more of a side story, that at heart she was a great best friend and interested in cooler things. Here, the show had her jumping in league with Poppy Lifton, the third most annoying character in Gossip Girl History*, and jumping on a plane to Spain. I've been a pretty big Serena defender over the two seasons of the show, but this episode she jumped the shark as she jumped on that plane (okay, some days, I go a bit over board with the punny language). It's not a good sign when at the end of the episode I think it'd be more fun to be friends with Jenny (I mean hello, what makes better birthday than Hungry Hungry Hippos and Apples to Apples) than Serena.
Poor Dan Humphrey. Outside of teacher-lovin' and Yale-acceptin', our main Humphrey man isn't getting much of a story. But the episode did end with him setting into motion what's sure to be a huge storyline. Dan contacts his New Yorker piece's fan, and we see that the fan in question is in fact his and Serena's half-brother, Scott, who ostensibly knows about his heritage. But I hope Dan gets something interesting to do, stat, outside of just his family drama. Who knows? Maybe we could get a new, actually interesting love interest for him (or maybe, given the fact that she's hooked up with nearly everyone else on the show, he could hook up with Blair. Or Vanessa. Damn, this show really is getting too incestuous. They're going to have to go to college just to get new love interests).
Still, despite my character qualms, I'm finally feeling the old gossip girl flow throughout the hour I spent in the world of the Uppereast Side. It was bitchy, ridiculous, and all sorts of intriguing.
~ It was really nice seeing the Chuckster back in school.
~ Highlight of the Vanessa and Chuck Team Up is when Vanessa cruelly says to Nate (pre-anything physical actually happening): "We're not a couple. Just physical."
~ The only times I liked Serena all episode is when she was being friendly with Dan during the party. I hope they keep these two just friends.
~ Eric's looking hot!
~ I'd like to think this wasn't why Vanessa seemed so much more fun this episode, but damn did that girl look good in her purple dress.
* Most annoying characters in Gossip Girl History:
3. Poppy Lifton (more for her effect on Serena than for herself)
Sunday, March 29, 2009
You'll notice I haven't once mentioned Echo. For all that the ostensibly B-story was goofy, fun, monster-of-the-week goodness, the Echo story was all revelations and clunky exposition. The problems with the Echo story started with this week's imprint: she was back with the guy from the pilot, although this time instead of a badass, she was a pretty blank girly-girl with anime-clothing. Since this was the first week we've really gotten to see Echo outside of her job of the week, this meant that we spent a lot of this episode (an episode in which we were supposed to connect emotionally with the character) with the tabula-rasa esque Alice, who was ridiculously dressed, yes, and a big old blank of good ole fashion morals to boot.
The Caroline revelations played equally blankly. To put it briefly, the revelation of her character was disappointing. I would prefer if Caroline were a flawed woman who fell into a situation desperate enough to be picked on by the Dollhouse (more like what happened to the new guy introduced in this episode, who at the end of the episode Dewitt began courting to make a new doll thanks to his weakened position). Instead, she was a pretty generic animal rights chick who just really loved her boyfriend (who was, in his turn, shot during the attempt to unearth the bad dealings of the Rossum group). I feel like blank characters like Carolina and this week's imprint aren't Dushku's strong suit. I still strongly maintain the chick is capable of great heights in acting, but I think that she needs a complicated, conflicted, interesting character to make it happen, so it's disappointing to have the writers hand her ones that are so boring.
The Rossum group was the other big revelation of this episode. They're a shady organization, experimenting on animals and humans with equal abandon, that is deeply, deeply connected to the Dollhouse (possibly founders of?). I'm sure we'll get more about this in the future, but I hope it's handled better than in this episode with the valueless moral judgments like "This is Rossum. They don't care about souls, human or animal."
All that really happened with Ballard this episode is that he and Mellie broke up, and I'm a little confused by it. Did the Dollhouse decide she was no longer necessary (and why the hell would they), or was it just that within the imprint they could no longer make Mellie put herself through that? That would introduce an interesting limitation to the whole concept of Actives. Since they're designed as real people, are there limitations to what you can make a given imprint do?
Somehow, in review, it seems like I didn't like this episode. I did. A lot. It brought the funny in a way that standalone, place-holder type episodes should (Whedon himself has said that 6 and 8 are the big episodes, and judging by next week's insanely awesome looking preview, I can see why). Not every episode of a show has to be explosions and game changers. There's something to be said for being able to understand aftermath and the status quo*. And all the non-Echo centered stuff in this episode was solid, stand-alone episode gold. I just hope the writers take more control of the character of Caroline and make her into more of a character that I can root for.
Topher: What are you doing besides being...
Dewitt: What? Saracastic? Unfeeling? British?
Dewitt: You must admit I am very British. I don't say hard Rs.
Dewitt: I find lentils completely incomprehensible.
Boyd: Well, I did NOT take control of that situation.
Topher has a drawer of inappropriate starches?
Dominic: I tried to burn you to death. Who does that?
NEXT WEEK'S EPISODE?!!!
*Because the status is not quo. And I just have to... rule it.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
Friday, March 27, 2009
Hello readers of My TV. My name is Lauren and I am the newest writer to join this fabulous blog. Please enjoy my first post.
After having an Office marathon with my friend, I needed a new show to obsess over. Only having watched a couple episodes of Scrubs here and there, I decided to catch up on seasons 1-7, while watching season 8 as it aired on ABC. Suffice to say I completely adore Scrubs.
Yes, Scrubs is about a hospital. And, yes it’s about JD, Turk and Elliot's experiences while working within the hospital's system. But, the meat of the show is the relationships that are formed. The heart of the show comes not from JD's voice-overs at the beginning and the end of the episodes, but from the friendships, partnerships, and companionships that are created. There are countless relationships that could be analyzed, but I have chosen my Top-10.
1. JD and Turk: This may be my favourite TV friendship of all time. It is my favourite because of the love that radiates from it. JD and Turk survived medical school together and now they are there to help each other survive their residencies at Sacred Heart. There are a few things about this friendship that I absolutely love: the nicknames, the pranks, and the honesty.
Chocolate Bear and Vanilla Bear: their nicknames are based on their races, but other than the nicknames, their races never affect their friendship. Many times there are jokes about why Turk has a harder life than JD, and the first response is "Is it because I'm black?" and JD always responds with, "No, It's because you're diabetic. What's hard about being black?" I love it. I love that they recognize that they are different, but that never never never affects how they treat each other.
The Pranks: always entertaining. Despite being best friends, JD and Turk always pull pranks on each other. There's the "fat daddy" prank, the "Suck it, Bitch" prank, and the countless pranks involving JD's brother. They also pull pranks on different members of the staff, especially Hooch. I love that they do not take themselves too seriously; they find time through all the death and personal trouble to have fun. They rejuvenate one another. And whenever one of them tries to pull "we're adults, now" the other reminds them that that line of logic is insane. They will always be the two buffoons who are trying to joke around all the time.
The Honesty: JD and Turk know each well enough and love each other enough that they do not hold back. When JD thinks about getting back together with Kim, Turk tells him that he shouldn’t; and this honesty does not upset JD at all. When Turk is flirting with his ex-girlfriend after getting married to Carla, JD calls him on it; JD is not quick to take Turk's side if he is wrong. When JD questions Turk's ability on a surgery, it really bothers Turk because JD's opinion is the only opinion he cares about. At times, they are the only ones that can reach each other.
This relationship is so incredibly touching. It defies all conventions of the TV male best friendship. They don't talk about sports- in fact, JD does not even know who Michael Jordan is. That is not what's important in their friendship. They love one another, which is really all that matters.
2. Carla and JD: The reason that I chose this relationship as one of the top ten is because of what Carla and JD offer each other. JD is the new doctor. Carla is the nurse that has been working at Sacred Heart for 8 years. JD is the one who has to navigate a new system, and Carla is the one who knows the system. They fit. They work. And occasionally, JD insults Carla and questions her knowledge because she did not go to college, and their friendship falters, but they never falter to their point of no return—they always learn from each other. Another comical side to this friendship is that JD is Carla's gossip buddy.
However, this relationship is not just about Carla and JD, it also becomes about Turk. Carla is the third wheel in the JD-Turk team. What I like about this is that Carla never insists that Turk has to choose one relationship over the other; she understands that JD and Turk share a special bond that is indescribable. She recognizes that JD and Turk complement each other, and to question their bond is to question the foundation of Turk.
Carla is also JD's savior. She protects him from those in the hospital who insist that he is a fool. At times, this aggravates JD- but he really is thankful. When JD goes through his emotional breakdown in season 6, Carla is the one who organizes his friends to help him. She cares for JD's mental sanity because she recognizes his importance in the hospital. If not for Carla, JD would have failed many times. She is his savior. And it’s truly heartwarming.
3. JD and Elliot: In the beginning, I wasn’t sure how to respond to Elliot: is she the goody two shoes from Connecticut? The insecure “Barbie”? Out for her own gain? Or, is she just as confused as JD is? As Elliot evolves, we see that she is more neurotic than we could have expected; and it’s that neurotic behavior that influences everything that she does. Despite this, JD and the audience can’t help but find her charming. The two soon become incredibly close and help each other to survive the murky waters of Sacred Heart. Elliot is the girl that JD shares a beer and pizza with after work—and the platonic feelings that JD has for Elliot grow into something more.
Now, we might expect that because these two understand each other so well that in a romantic relationship, they would flourish. But, JD and Elliot are too immature to understand that in a relationship, you need to compromise. It is interesting to watch these two try and fail, because they do it more than once. As I watched JD and Elliot break up, I generally felt that Elliot always got more upset with JD than JD did with Elliot. Elliot always asks for space and JD always obliges—and that is why these two are able to return to their friendship. JD does not allow his ego to interfere because he wants to save their friendship, which is endearing.
When Carla and Turk finally kick JD out, Elliot is the one to take him in. As I watched this, I was curious to see how it would turn out, seeing as these two once used to sleep together. It works, but why? It has to be that JD and Elliot have both grown from their past failed relationships. And when they have a new boyfriend or girlfriend, they help each other avoid the pitfalls that usually plague their relationships. It is clear that these two really value each other’s friendship because they confront one another when they are messing up—and, where others make fun of JD and Elliot, they never make fun of each other.
4. Carla and Turk: Turk is a surgeon—an accepted boy’s club. Carla is head nurse and a Type-A personality. Turk is laid back and Carla is tightly wound. Turk minds his own business, whereas Carla is sure to tell anyone when he or she needs to fix something. However, when these two begin to date, they bring out the best in each other. Carla encourages Turk to study medicine, and Turk encourages Carla not to gossip as much. As their relationship grows, they avoid the petty games that JD often plays with his girlfriends. They challenge each other to grow as a person.
After getting married and working through their first major struggle, they decide to have a baby. At different moments along the way, they both have their freak-outs. They both think that they will be inadequate parents, but then they talk it out and calm each other down. They are the ideal companionship. After she has her baby, Carla experiences postpartum depression. Turk is the one to encourage therapy. When Carla wants another baby, Turk is honest with her and lets her know that he is not ready, especially after the difficulties with the first baby.
They are a charming couple. They communicate with one another and Carla is never threatened by Turk's relationship with JD. I want my husband to be like Turk, and I hope that my marriage is something like Carla and Turk's; they work through things together and they love one another, what more could you ask?
5. JD and the Janitor: It is accepted that the Janitor is crazy, everyone agrees. Yet he holds a great deal of power. It is also accepted that JD is a well-liked doctor by all of his patients. The funny thing though is the relationship between the two of these characters. The Janitor pulls pranks on JD all the time and JD is rarely able to pull a prank on the Janitor. I think what makes this relationship work is that JD has done nothing to deserve the maltreatment—however, it deservedly humbles him. As JD's ego grows, the Janitor is there to let him know that he can be fooled. Another aspect of this relationship that adds to the hilarity is that JD always hopes that he and the Janitor can be friends—and that hope is always smashed. But JD maintains his hope, and the Janitor takes advantage of it all the time! Despite the silly pranks, JD and the Janitor do respect each other and they refuse to let their relationship get in the way of helping patients.
6. JD and Dr. Cox: Dr. Cox is a narcissist who cannot stand JD. In fact, Dr. Cox refuses to call JD by his real name, instead calling him every female name under the sun. And yet, these two help each other in their darkest hours: it is only JD who can bring Dr. Cox back from his downward spiral when he was responsible for three deaths in a day; and it is Dr. Cox who brings back JD when he cannot process his father’s death. Perry Cox and John Dorian are perfect foils: Dr. Cox teaches JD how to grow up and become the doctor he is capable of being, and JD teaches Dr. Cox compassion and that a new dog can learn new tricks. They are completely dependent on each other.
Dr. Cox also represents a father figure to JD. And although Dr. Cox claims he despises it, he truly does love that JD needs him. Dr. Cox loves that JD holds him in high esteem because if he did not like it, he would switch residents; he certainly wouldn’t dole out advice when JD acts immaturely, nor would he make such an effort to insult him. Dr. Cox does these things because he knows JD will be back the next day.
7. Dr. Cox and Bob Kelso: Who has two thumbs and doesn’t give a crap? Bob Kelso. And that is how he runs Sacred Heart. Now, compare this attitude with Dr. Cox, who treats the patients that he deems worthy with the utmost care, despite the fact they may not have health insurance. Why do these two work so well? It is because of their inherent juxtaposition: through the façade of Dr. Cox’s narcissism, we see that he cares for his patients, and we see that Dr. Kelso sacrifices himself for the hospital. Despite the dichotomy, Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso are more or less the same: they are both lonely, they both have weird relationships with their wives, they both care way too much about themselves, and they both care about Sacred Heart. Nevertheless, they are both to pig-headed to acknowledge this, and thus they create a hilarious dynamic.
8. Ted and the Janitor: Now, I couldn’t decide between Dr. Kelso’s relationship with Ted or the Janitor’s relationship with Ted, but in the end, I deemed Ted and the Janitor’s relationship more noteworthy. Ted and the Janitor are the least respected staff members at Sacred Heart; Dr. Kelso treats Ted as his gofer, and the Janitor is generally ignored or laughed at. Nonetheless, the Janitor does wield a great deal of power- he is the one who successfully arranges for the support staff to get dental coverage. Unlike the Janitor, Ted holds no power at all. He merely walks around the hospital hoping to be offed or for someone to off Dr. Kelso. However, when these two form their friendship, something special happens. The Janitor teaches Ted how to stand up for himself and say no to Kelso, while at the same time taking advantage of Ted's willingness to say 'yes.' I feel bad for Ted because everyone ignores him, except the Janitor. It is the reversal of power that makes this relationship comical. One would expect the Janitor to walk around feeling hopeless about life like Ted does, but instead his attitude is "I'm a winner." And Ted, who holds the hospital's reputation in his hands, does nothing with that. Hilarious.
9. Dr. Perry Cox and Jordan: This relationship is funny by itself, but it is the pairing with Turk's and Carla's relationship that makes it HILARIOUS! Perry and Jordan are estranged ex-spouses in the first seasons, but as the show progresses, they have a baby and challenge the preconceived notion of a relationship. They somehow manage to turn their hatred for one another into appreciation and learn to see the positives that they each bring to their partnership. Perry and Jordan live on their own terms, rejecting expectations. Instead of asking Jordan to marry him again, Perry asks her to continue to be his ex-wife. They do not care what others think of them and they know what works for their relationship. Through their bickering, the love that they have for each other shines through. Perry gives in and is the first to call Jordan when she is at her mom's house, thus losing their bet; and Jordan has no qualms about using her pull with the board to promote Perry.
We have the example of the 'ideal' couple in Turk and Carla, and we have the anti-couple in Perry and Jordan; Perry and Jordan make fun of this all the time. They recognize that they are not the norm and they make no apologies for it. They mock Turk and Carla (as in "My Princess" when Perry turns Turk and Carla into the double headed witch). Perry and Jordan's relationship offers the alternative- an alternative that still works. Yet, in both of these partnerships, you cannot question the essential fact that Turk loves Carla and that Perry loves Jordan.
10. Carla and Elliot: This friendship had the most volatile start. Elliot is the "Chicana" from Connecticut and Carla is the Dominican from Chicago. Clearly, Carla has had the more obviously difficult upbringing. Both Carla and Elliot judge each other from the beginning, which causes strife. However, as Elliot starts to understand that not everyone has had the same advantages growing up, she starts to understand why Carla finds her annoying; and, as Carla starts to understand that money does not guarantee an easy life, she starts to understand why Elliot is insane. Elliot grew up with emotionally abusive parents, and that affects the person she is. The blossoming of their friendship is so subtle, that they do not even notice it. They overcome their rough beginning to become best friends. Carla becomes the person in Elliot's life that sets her straight when her neurosis goes into overdrive. She is also able to talk Elliot through her engagement. And, most importantly, Carla understands why Elliot is so neurotic and does not try to change that. Elliot is the person that Carla can have a glass of wine with and unwind. Elliot supports Carla without even asking why.
Scrubs' charm radiates from the multitude of relationships that exist on the show. No one relationship is perfect, but each dynamic has wonderful qualities. These relationships add to the comedy of the show and they are what keep you coming back for more.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
That's about as much of this episode I can discuss without getting into SPOILERS, so please be advised from this point forward.
Let's start with the structure of this week's episode. The whole piece was intercut with man on the street interviews, giving us a broader sense of what the Dollhouse is and how it exists in the world. This ties in thematically with a lot of the broadening that this episode did. It also provided with the most grandiose (in the best possible way) explanation of the stakes of this television show: "If this technology exists... it'll be global. And we will be over. As a species. We will cease to matter." Up until this point, this has just been the story of one very blank girl. All of a sudden, with this episode, Dollhouse became a show about all of humanity.
This change mirrored a lot of the ways this episode subtly changed the game that we thought we'd been playing, the show we thought we were following. Most obviously, this episode fleshed out the physical Dollhouse. The LA branch is only one of twenty. They've been around since the 80s. They're more powerful than anything we've seen so far. Dewitt, thus far the most powerful person we've seen on screen, answers to a group that's as powerful and terrifying as were the Senior Partners for five seasons of Angel. Most importantly, though, we've learned that while brainwashing hotties to serve the needs of the rich may be how the organization is making its money, it's not it's ultimate purpose.
This episode also changed the very nature of the dollhouse. Sure, we've found the actives' blank faces creepy as they Tabula Rasa their way around the Dollhouse, but the physical threat of abuse, in this episode in the form of rape, suddenly made all these metaphorical loose ends tie together. Suddenly, it's not a well lit sanctuary; the subtext of what they've been doing to these people is made flesh.
The rape also served an important dramatic purpose. It redefined the characters surrounding it. Boyd got to play the unambigous hero here, punching out Sir Rapes-A-Lot and not wanting a reward for it. But Dewitt, as the boss of the whole ambigous operation, couldn't allow such goodness. Her need to pay him for basic human decency was her way of transforming a good deed into just another job for the company. She's keeping him from redemption.
Dewitt has a huge week this week. She is an ambiguous figure; we never see her acting outright evil, but we're given to believe that there is something very, very wrong with the way that the dollhouse treats human beings and she is more than just a little complicit in this process. But one thing Whedon has always been VERY good at is defining his bad guys: Dewitt is the mastermind of a multipronged evil organization, but she's got a clear sense of her own rights and wrongs. And what Hearn (Sierra's handler, who this episode reveals has been raping her) did is wrong. This episode gave her a clearly defined, although still deliciously ambiguous, moral compass. Having Hearn killed by a woman who he was trying to rape wasn't just justice; it was revenge. It was a feminist bitch smacking of epic proportions. Mellie didn't just kill him, she humiliated him when he thought he was on the edge of victory.
Since she's popped into my recap, let's talk about Mellie. She was one of this episode's big reveals, and even though I saw it coming, I loved the way it was played. It was incredibly smooth: first, they give her more personality than just lasanga-making. Here, she's flirting and awkward, and they set you up to think, "here it comes. Joss loves to tragically kill female love interests in order to spur revenge." And they show us Ballard trying to call her as he runs frantically to his apartment, and we're so ready for the oncoming tragedy, for Tara to die in Willow's arms, for Penny to get hit by a bit of shrapnel. So when the phone rings, it's the tragic death scene. Except, it's Dewitt. And all of a sudden Mellie's not Mellie, she's November. And we're forced to rethink the whole nature of her and Ballard and everything around her.
But even here the show doesn't settle for black and whites. It doesn't completely invalidate all the legitimate character work between her and Ballard. As Dewitt sardonically notes at the tail of the episode, "she loves him." There's something real between Ballard and Mellie, despite the latent doll programming. And in a way, this also transforms Ballard into the people he's despising.
For the first time in this episode, Ballard does something right on the job. He follows the money, and he comes face to face with both Echo and her John for this episode. Now here's where this becomes more than just game changing awesomeness- it's also a damn fine episode. The storyline of the week is actually really affecting. Patton Oswald guest stars as Joel Mynor, a software tycoon who just wants to live the happy moment he never got to have with his dead wife. His wife, incidentally, is my favorite Echo imprint to date, whether she's flinging her hands up in fear or balefully wondering, "Is this a porn man?" when gunmen interrupt her romantic moment.
After Ballard spoils his and Echo's reenactment, he sits down with the FBI officer and the two have a heart-to-heart that shockingly doesn't feel forced. Here, the show once again plays with ambiguity: Mynor's not some sex-crazed nerd just wanting to bang a super hottie, nor is he in need of an assasin or a thief. He's a sad man who lost his wife and just wants the chance to show her the house he bought for her. As one of the man-on-the-street interviews puts it, it seems "kind of nice." But this storyline works a lot like the episode "Lie to Me" on Buffy* did -- it presents us with seeming ambiguity and then undercuts it, showing the way that no amount of personal tragedy allows this blatant crossing of the moral line. It actually enhances the arguments that it seems Mynor's arguing against.
On top of that, the interview with Mynor helps us to more clearly define Ballard. Mynor explains explicitly the way that Ballard's obsession with Echo is affecting his relationship with the case. Ballard gets more screen time than Echo this episode, and it's very much so for the good. He's a real person (as far as we know and I'll be severly peeved if they take that away) and it's much easier to invest in him than it is to invest in the constantly shifting Echo (although I'm starting to). We start getting backstory on him. The erst-while Badger from Firefly speaking of Caroline and his obsession with Caroline calls her, "a whore. Just your type. No offense, though, I'm sure she has a heart of gold." Ballard himself tells us he used to be married. Suddenly, he's more than just a disrespected FBI man. He's got a whole past. Plus, we finally get to see him be good at his job, and be cute and flirting and a fully-fleshed out human being. The ninja skills are just a plus.
Speaking of ninja skills, the Ballard/Echo showdown could be the best fight scene I've ever seen on t.v. Period. It's long and cool and brutal, and I'm pleasantly surprised by the great stunt work done on this show (especially if you compare it with early Buffy spot-the-stunt-double games). Plus, it's freaking hot.
Which leads us to our final, biggest, most game-changing-iest reveal yet: There's someone inside the Dollhouse, and they're trying to help Ballard. My first time watching the episode I wasn't sure if this was for real or if it was a Dewitt attempt at keeping Ballard off their case. I've decided it was legit for three main reasons:
- It makes more story sense. If it's true, then we've got a whole new, wholey awesome subplot brewing in each and every episode that the writers can put on the slow burner and that helps to explain the way the dolls are all evolving and glitching all of a sudden.
- The conversation between Dewitt and Dominic after the Echo/Ballard showdown doesn't seem like she realizes how completely she redefined Ballard's mission for himself. It seems like she just got him kicked out of the FBI and taken off the case.
- The door behind Topher in the computer room.
Assuming the inside man is true, then, we can see how completely redefined the show is now. It's no longer a quest of a single man, alone, against a small-scale organization. It's the workings of a team against a global network of evil. Whedon has both expanded and changed the whole shape of the show, and promised so much with a single episode. "Man on the Street" was a funny and smart action thriller that featured intrigue, danger, and romance, and the promise of a whole lot more awesomeness to come.
RANDOM GREATNESS (or how Joss Whedon learned to be unafraid of the dialogue that makes his shows so amazing):
- "He'll throw the Kindle at you." -Mynor to Ballard
- "I'm sure I'm in need of some serious moral spankitude, but guess who's not qualified to be my rabbi?" -Mynor
- "The dollhouse? It's pink and it opens up and yoyu puit the boy doll on top of the girl doll and you learn about urges." -Mynor again (Oswald sure can carry a witty a line, and who knew he was so good at emoting?)
- "A guy wants to know what it's like to be with another man. Just once, nothing queeny. And then after, the other guy forgets. That could be sweet for some guys." -from a man on the street interview from a very, very intimidating guy standing next to his slightly alarmed girlfriend
- The entire exchange between Mellie and Ballard that began --> "Weren't you seeing that guy, Rick?" "Dick." "Oh I thought his name was Rick." "Oh it was." and ended --> "What a Rick."
* "Lie to Me" was the episode where Buffy's old school friend, Billy (played by Roswell's Jason Behr), comes to town. All seems good until we find out that Billy is actually part of a vampire-loving cult that wants to be turned by the dark ones, and that he's willing to trade Buffy in for his chance at eternal, soul-less life. Just when Buffy's berating him for his naivete and causality with human life, he reveals that he's dying of cancer and that all he wants to do is live a little longer. He cries how "unfair" his situation is. For a moment, Buffy looks sorry for him. But the point is that while that sucks, and while it's truly unfair that Billy's sick, that's no excuse for what he's doing.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
On top of that, Chuck's old life wasn't all that good. He'd been in a holding pattern since being kicked out of college, sans a girlfriend since the unremarkable Jill unceremoniously dumped him, and living with his sister because he was too afraid to be an adult. Plus, when you think about it, his old world was entirely defined by the CIA. Bryce framed him in college so he could get away from the CIA. Jill dumped him because she was turning Fulcrum. Every single motionless part of the next ten years, therefore, was defined by their relationship to the CIA. Still, I want Chuck to be able to move on, emotionally and maybe even professionally, I just wish he could realize that he can do that and save the world.
Which isn't to say that the storyline isn't leading us to some really cool places. Chuck taking control of his own destiny and having to work against his handlers (who seem especially intrusive this episode, and I find myself thinking seriously about the privacy limits of Chuck's constant surveillance) is an interesting concept. The idea of the war between Fulcrum and the US government escalating is awesome. I even like the place they're taking us with Orion. It's just that by the end of this episode, I was pretty sure that if I had to hear the words "I will get my old life back" one more time, I was going to explode.
Other than that, this was a pretty solid episode. I liked how the Buy More storyline intersected (oh man, the puns keep on coming) with the spy game. I liked finally seeing Beckman in real life, and Sarah standing up to her was pretty cool (aside from that, though, this was a pretty Sarah-lite episode. Very little asskicking to be had). I especially liked the confusion of identities scene in the Buy More when the dueling robbers, all clad in black masks, were mistaken for each other more times than in a Shakespeare play. I loved that Sarah knows Chuck well enough to know that if he's not barging into their meeting with the General then something is definitely wrong, and I like that she was legitimately hurt that he didn't confide in her about his investigations. I think the whole Chuck and Sarah storyline works much better when we focus on her loving him but not really knowing how to trust that and what to do with it outside of her professional fidelity. And I liked the final implications of the episode, from Beckman taking a much closer look at the fairly unprofessional relationship between Chuck and Sarah to Chuck deciding to one hundred percent go off on his own with his efforts to understand the intersect.
I think the show is building towards Chuck realizing that despite his best efforts, he's actually pretty good at partnering with Sarah and Casey. When he was in charge tonight, from foiling the mistaken predator attack on both Buy Mores, to the overall mission at the Buy More, he was an authoritative Chuck that we've somewhat missed during the Cole storylines.
* The Cylon eye on the predator
* Chuck, in command of the two missions at the Buy More, and specifically with his authoritative shout of "Go now!" during the first showdown.
* Beckman, upon seeing Casey's much beloved Ronald Reagan picture, saying, "Wake up Casey. The 80s are over."