Saturday, February 16, 2013

666 Park Avenue: The Comfort of Death (1.10)

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.

Which brings us to The Comfort of Death, the first episode to air following ABC's decision to pull it from Sunday nights. Pacing is a major point here, as there seems to be an immediate flood of momentum this week, as if the writers realized that slow, precise plotting just can't work for a show like this one. As convoluted as something like American Horror Story gets, it at least deserves credit for acknowledging that burning through story works wonders for this kind of genre.

Last time we saw these guys, the long-thought-dead Sasha Doran had been exposed as shady media consultant Laurel Harris, and here we see something of a family reunion -- only with Sasha being all Machiavellian and awkward, the motive for faking her death still up in the air. There's a surprisingly little amount of family dysfunctional here, which frustrates, the bulk of Doran-related screentime given to Henry's city council aspirations. This arc is an area in which 666 hasn't improved, since it's very much about delaying tactics instead of anything concrete or focused. Henry, too, is an issue, since he's never been an active participant in any of it. He's always blathered and seemed sort of uninterested in it all, more than willing to get swept up in political intrigue instead of pursuing it on his own terms. It's made it pretty dull as a storyline.

A similar feeling is definitely present in the Jane story, but it at least features the plot moving forward in some capacity, even if it's still being depicted in the exact same way it always has. Here Jane discovers that she needs to release the spirit of her ancestor's babysitter (the one that got sacrificed in that flashback vision quest) in order to halt the Drake's wacky karmic voodoo, sending her down another road of exposition and spooky CGI. There are some interesting aspects to this, including the sudden ambiguity given to Detective Cooper, but it's annoying that the show never found a way to present all of it in a way that didn't just involve Jane wandering around with a flashlight. It's sort of Ringer-ish, a vacant blonde drifting between clues that she just happens to stumble upon. At least we have an actual villain now, a member of the Order of the Dragon cult who reappears in Manhattan following a kooky skin-peel party. That was kind of cool.

Surprisingly, the one area of this episode that really felt propulsive was the continued drama of Writer Window Wife. So much that I can only imagine somebody sparked up a cattle prod in the writers' room and they suddenly realized how horrible these three characters have been for the last nine weeks. I guess a lot of it is still contrived, but the revelation that Wife got into a car-wreck with Window years prior, leaving Window briefly paralyzed before Gavin fixed it all up for her, was crazy strong as a plot point -- enough at least to make you realize where all of this went wrong. As an idea, Writer Window Wife had a great third-act plot twist, but the writers obviously had to go backwards from there, meaning a lot of drifting around had to occur before they got to the good stuff. It's obviously not great, but explains away why this subplot always seemed so directionless.

As an average episode of 666 Park Avenue, the pacing is getting better and the writers seem to be tracking where everything is headed. But I think The Comfort of Death works better knowing that there are only three episodes left. Abruptly canceled with little time to entirely pull together a satisfying ending, I'm expecting the events of the next couple of hours to be generally low-key and unassuming. But if this episode is any indication of how things are going to turn out, I have no real problems with it. We have our villains that can be easily dispatched of, a couple of deus ex machinas that will hopefully bring stories to a close, and characters that feel on-point. This isn't great television, but a satisfactory resolution for what has been a soft ride. B

Guest stars
Tessa Thompson (Laurel Harris/Sasha Doran); Teddy Sears (Detective Hayden Cooper); Richard Short (Harlan Moore); Thomas Kopache (Old Harlan Moore); Richard Joseph Paul (Frank Sullivan)
Writer Vincent Angell Director John Terlesky

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