There's a fantastic scene in Six Feet Under's third season wherein Kathy Bates' jaded middle-aged caretaker encourages Frances Conroy to indulge in some light shoplifting, not so much because it's fun, but more because they may as well. They're women in their fifties that look their age, ignored by so much of society and rendered entirely invisible as a result. They won't get caught, nobody will even notice, so what the hell? It was a moment that Enlightened brought to mind this week, since it focused so tight on a character who has unexpectedly stumbled into the exact same circumstance: Tyler is so invisible as a person that he's practically a ghost.
Saturday, February 16, 2013
A moment that really resonated this week was Amy's trip to a party being held by an acclaimed blogger, somebody who started her own corporate revolution from behind her computer screen. Even without the expected anxiety of showing up at a party where you don't know many of the other guests, Amy finds herself struggling to handle how technologically savvy everybody seems to be, how they're talking about things and doing things that have entirely passed by her social radar. She has that hope and determination to eventually understand it all, but it's still a huge gulf.
If The Comfort of Death represented the speedy efficiency that cancellation brings, then Sins of the Fathers is where things start to get a little muddled. In an effort to bring things to a close in time for the series finale, it's not too surprising that the writers are forced to cut corners and make previously ambiguous characters turn specifically in one direction, but the stuff this week with Sasha struggled to make any logical sense. With Victor Shaw seemingly out of the picture, Sasha is adrift on her own quest, but it's a quest that is hard to define. Does she simply want revenge? If so, why pursue it through a third party priest? It's naturally confused as an episode.
Let's talk about pacing. 666 Park Avenue premiered in September a lightweight supernatural thriller with a pulpy, reasonably strong premise. But it quickly became one of those shows that never knew when to pursue or retreat from arc-driven storytelling, ABC presumably wanting a series that could play as a standalone anthology show as well as a serialized drama. Because that always works out. In the end, however, like so many of those hybrid shows, the standalone elements were primarily weak, while the major story arcs were dragged out to such an extent that it became easy to drift away from 666 itself.
It's interesting to see how your reaction to In Treatment can frequently differ from your reaction to other shows, primarily when it comes to character motivation. Almost every patient this show has ever explored has issues rooted in how they were brought up, their parents' neuroses generally invading their own psyches and turning them into these troubled, vulnerable adults. It's a theme repeated constantly. On any other show, the use of the same plot device could frustrate after a while, the writers traveling to the same emotional hub over and over again. But there's a specialness about In Treatment that allows you to forgive that. Because isn't it based so much on truth? I would assume in most cases that the way we were raised had a significant effect on our adult lives and how we conduct ourselves, more so than our environments or our experiences outside of the home. It's such a cliche in itself, but also so horribly real.
There was a simplicity to last week's episodes, events aligning just right in order to allow Paul's patients to open up, or alternatively to allow Paul in. It was a real breakthrough week, but Paul himself had to step over the line more than once to get there, becoming so intimate and personal with his patients that there were few boundaries left anymore. This week was all about the emotional fallout, characters reacting mostly negatively to his sudden need to retreat. Couple that with a weeks' worth of canceled sessions due to his father's death, and bitterness naturally hung over the encounters.
I feel like I'm reiterating it every week, but season two is about letting people in, to an extent that is potentially damaging. There was at least one instance every episode this week in which a patient took that additional step into Paul's consciousness. This occurred literally, with Mia invading his kitchen and Oliver asking about doorways and Paul's own son, as well as in a less physical movement -- Paul so desperate to help that he's almost clinging onto April and Walter as they walk out the door, intent on keeping them intact and becoming so emotionally involved in their stories that they seem to be the most important people in his life. This was the strongest week so far, breakthroughs occurring in every single session.
This is an episode designed to bring everything to a close. With time running out and the writers seemingly intending to make the last run of episodes more intimate, anchored by the regulars we know and love, it makes sense to shut down all the assy subplots that have bugged for most of the year. So, goodbye Oliver. Goodbye Dana Ashbrook and all your money. Goodbye Sarah Shahi. Bye Professor Hetson, who had more personalities than Raising Cain. Bye sweet, confident David, presumably about to run into the arms of a guy who isn't bogged down by angst and sexual dysfunction. But damn you Jensen Ackles for not departing the show this week and insisting on sticking around long after your presence became a huge drag! Gah.
I remember it being around, but I never actually saw Loveline, MTV's half-hearted teen advice show that birthed the opportunistic fame-whore that is Dr. Drew Pinsky. Based on this episode, the second commercial endorsement disguised as a regular Dawson's Creek hour this season, I'm glad it stayed off my radar. Dr. Drew is all about the inappropriate questions, fine with casually asking young women if they were abused as kids, while his unfunny co-hort, hideous Man Show relic Adam Carolla, sticks around to throw in lightweight barbs, generally involving offensive commentary that entirely undermines what is supposed to be a legit source for guidance. Ugh.
Yeah, Joey made the wrong decision. Instead or running away with Pacey and having whip-smart, endlessly charming babies with him, she decides to let him down gently and reunite with bland bland bland Oliver, who reappeared out of nowhere at the very end of last episode. It's hard to justify on an emotional level, considering Oliver has the charisma of a paint can, but you can just about understand where Joey is coming from as a character. The last couple of episodes have had this heavy past/present/future vibe, the writers specifically using Harley and her boyfriend as a reminder of the show's teenage years, which in itself has allowed Joey and Pacey to exorcise some of their own demons. And while all the teenage angst between the two of them has finally been resolved, you get why she'd want to pursue new pastures at this point, if only to see where it'll take her. It's not an all-out dismissal of Pacey himself, but instead a nice awareness of the importance taking a chance.
This is Dawson's Creek's first out-and-out comedy episode in a long time, an hour that wades through various romantic comedy cliches with considerable finesse and fun, while getting all meta and knowing like the very best of the first couple of seasons. After a year of false starts and suppressive blandness, Dawson finally stumbles into an entertaining subplot, pitching a movie about young adults growing up in a small coastal town. The only problem is the head of the studio is more interested in putting the 'adult' in 'young adult', slowly turning a Creek Daze re-run into a movie called Sunset Stripped featuring, as he so eloquently describes, "wall-to-wall boobs". This is obviously ridiculous, but admittedly funny.
One of this episode's greatest blessings is that final twist. From early on this hour, you're led to believe that Jack had murdered Irina out of malice, that ordering a hit on her was merely an excuse to get her out of the picture and make things a little less complicated between him and his daughter. Upon discovering it, the writers briefly returned to "petulant Syd" mode, in which she acts like a brat and outwardly whines about her problems to higher-ups who don't really care. It reminded me too much of early season three, where Sydney and Lauren became screechy banshees because they both loved the same dude. Ugh. So you head into Part 2 with a ton of eye-rolling, Sydney once again becoming unlikable and annoying.
All right, it's probably best to open with the obvious: the entire premise of APO is inherently silly. This is Alias frantically pushing the emergency reboot button, reverting so many of the twists and turns of the last two seasons and returning the show to its initial roots. It's a change-up that tosses a lot of strong work out of the window, and seems only there to attract more eyeballs. Sloane in charge again, try as they might to rationalize it, is insanely precarious a turn of events. Dixon happily working under the man who brutally murdered his wife even more so. And you can only sort of sigh at the sight of a show that was once beautifully complex and masterful get rapidly streamlined and simplified.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
And the intimacy continues. Whether its Oliver's turtle or April's project, or Mia's general presence, Paul is still allowing his patients to linger long after they've left his practice. It was a theme that ran through most of this week's episodes, that constant blurring between appropriate conduct and personal friendship. Like last season, it's never just a patient who anchors their own episode. Every action somehow bounces back at Paul, and I don't know if it's a personal weakness of his that he winds up so rattled by every movement they make. More than ever, this season seems to be about Paul's faults as a therapist as well as a man, and the unearthing of where that comes from.
Week Two lacked the immediacy of last week's premiere episodes, but you can already see certain ideas and themes that are being generated through each session. There's a harsher, meaner vibe to the stories this year, and it's arguably far more incestuous than the already frantic bending of confidentiality last season, with Paul intimately involved with the far majority of his patients. Whether its Mia and their history, his connection with April or the turtle hanging around in his office, he's allowing himself to be far more attached to these people than is probably good.
I'm assuming luring in new viewers wasn't one of HBO's major priorities while opening up the second season of In Treatment, one of the most absorbing and frustratingly subtle series around. While it's fine getting thrown into several of the series' new patients, the opening week spends a lot of time exploring the aftermath of season one. Notably, this involves Alex's bitter father, who has launched a malpractice suit against Paul. It's an interesting angle to start up the year, and lends the series an unexpected feeling of a dark cloud hanging over everything.
Appropriately for an episode bearing that title, this was mostly distracted by the idea of going home again and viewing past experiences from a present-day perspective. Joey and Pacey's resurrected feelings fold mostly into this, both characters still discussing whether or not they should really pursue anything together, the complications of their past relationship casting a major shadow over everything they have today. But there's a pleasant quality to these conversations; not burdened by over-analytical angst, instead being something smooth and relatable -- both of them deciding to step back and think it over before leaping in.
That sound you hear is the writers finally doing something right for a change. Castaways successfully restructures the show after recent weeks of drifting, firmly positioning Joey and Pacey as Dawson's Creek's go-to central couple. Stuck in a locked K-Mart after hours, this is a beautifully-written two-hander, one that explores both of them as individuals, as well as what remains of their relationship. Along the way, old resentments and disappointments are unearthed, but Gina Fattore's script remains steadfastly adorable, both actors easily slipping back into their old rhythms together and quickly making the audience at home collectively squee over the thought of them hooking up again.
I don't know when the writers first became aware that this would be the final season of Dawson's Creek, but there definitely seems to have been an attempt over these last two episodes to draw to a close the various shitty subplots that have been distracting away from the main cast lately, as well as position certain storylines as the focus for this final run of episodes. Not only does Clean and Sober resurrect a true sense of fun compared to the melodramatic lethargy of recent episodes, it also features a genuinely sweet resurfacing of the ballad of Pacey and Joey, a coupling that worked so well all those years ago, before being put on the back-burner to make way for more Dawson and Joey hooey. Some of that was fun, but it's absolutely the right time to bring Pacey back into the romantic fold.
Grams! Gosh, I've missed Grams. She probably had the most fun storyline here, not that there's a huge amount of competition, but it was the one most reminiscent of what the show used to be, before across-the-board suckage commenced. She and Clifton Smalls have gone their separate ways, not due to anything sex-related (Grams even making some crack about his last name not being entirely appropriate, which... gah), but instead because he wanted her to convert to Judaism. Sad and mopey, Grams is set up with C.J.'s similarly depressed uncle, an amusing double date scenario turning out to be a lot of fun. Sure, none of this is particularly interesting on a grand scale and seems to be headed nowhere in particular, but it at least utilizes some of the show's more underutilized actors of late.
Alias' third season is its most divisive in the show's history, many believing it to be the show's death knell, others finding its awfulness was more than a little exaggerated. When I first watched it nearly ten years ago, I was more in the latter camp, believing it to be less interesting than its predecessors but still generally absorbing. Watching it again, I'm more inclined to say it was an elaborate misfire. Granted, those first two seasons were so above anything else in this genre, an irresistible blend of high-octane thrills and moving character-based drama, that any lesser season would be treated worse by mere association. But it can't disguise how muddled and annoying season three wound up being, an opinion not improved a whole lot with this confused finale.