Monday, November 5, 2012

666 Park Avenue: Diabolic (1.6)

There is a fantastic show buried deep inside of 666 Park Avenue. The series has so far been ruptured by a scattershot feeling throughout each additional episode, spooky events happening for no discernible reason, characters rarely interacting beyond surface level exchanges of dialogue, and subplots that have yet to grant us reason to care. Diabolic, the strongest episode so far, reined everybody in, so to speak. While characters are still stuck in their own smaller adventures, writer Christopher Hollier this week developed something resembling a through-line, one thing somewhat connected to the next thing, and so forth. Throwing in a bunch of revelations that actually lived up to the word also helped, and it seems like the show is trying to turn a corner.

It's clearest in how Diabolic positions Gavin and Olivia center stage, a decision I'm hoping is permanent. The previous five episodes made the awkward mistake of casting these two as mere supporting players, refusing to totally push them as protagonists, presumably as the writers assumed they couldn't remain ambiguous and intriguing if they were on-screen so often. This episode doesn't reveal anything truly concrete about the two of them, but the writing made their presence work in spite of that. We already know that Terry O'Quinn and Vanessa Williams are doing a marvelous job of developing a relationship grounded in deep love yet fraying a little due to secrets and lies, but here their mutual encounters with a shady new antagonist helps develop additional depth to both of them.

Nick Chinlund's slithery Victor Shaw knows a lot about Gavin and the box of mystery that he swiped last episode. Using its contents for various means, Victor confronts Olivia and warns her off her 'monstrous' hubbie, and later informs Gavin that he'll exchange the box for the Drake itself. Even further, whatever is inside the box seems to be an actual person, someone who fell in love with Olivia and got trapped inside by Gavin as retribution. Is it Satan himself? There certainly seemed to be an inkling of it there...

What works so well here is that Victor is directly acting as an antagonist, his showy confrontational quality helping the season move forward in terms of narrative. Freshman series that initially stumble around seem to be crying out for this kind of character: a newbie who forces plot propulsion on his or her own terms. After weeks of meandering, 666 Park Avenue feels like it's finally headed somewhere fun. Even the showier moments feel less paint-by-numbers this week, the guy trapped in the never-ending hallways and Gavin somehow instigating it all via some kind of psychic transference. Cool scene.

There are still issues, naturally, but they weren't as distracting here as they were in previous weeks. It's a little frustrating that the show insists on hanging onto characters that just don't seem to work: here we had Gavin striking a deal with Enrique Murciano, and later springing the Kandinsky dude from jail to act as his own personal bodyguard of sorts. And while Writer-Wife-Window were all absent, the show seems to be repeating a similar tale with Tessa Thompson's character. I've already pegged Window Gal as a Succubus of sorts, but it seems like Tessa is one, too -- trying to lure Henry away from Jane, for purposes unknown. I wouldn't actually be opposed to this in principal, as it could at least make WWW less distant and superfluous-seeming as a subplot. Even better, though, would be if they were written out entirely, but I'm sure contract issues would interfere with that.

And while Jane is still directionless as a character, Diabolic felt like the first episode to really push the emotional depth of her relationship with Henry. Sure, Henry's still kind of a drip, but Rachael Taylor did some really great work this week, particularly in the scene where she's crying out for Henry to believe her ramblings about being haunted by ghosts, and Henry can only see her as a crazy-person. It's a generic story, but the actors are just about selling it at this point.

So this was strangely decent. The dead weight was missing, every plot seemed purposeful (even the ones that I'm not entirely thrilled about feel at least important in one way or another), and the re-structuring of the show's leads worked like a dream. Henry and Jane aren't strong enough characters to headline the series, while Gavin and Olivia are too intriguing to keep on the back-burner. I don't think it's a coincidence that switching them up resulted in the first episode this season that felt genuinely exciting. It sucks that ABC are totally going to can this within the next couple of days, though. Calling it! B+

Guest stars
Enrique Murciano (Dr. Scott Evans); Teddy Sears (Detective Hayden Cooper); Tessa Thompson (Laurel Harris); Nick Chinlund (Victor Shaw); Peter Friedman (Samuel Steinberg); Misha Kuznetsov (Kandinsky)
Writer Christopher Hollier Director Allison Liddi Brown

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