Thursday, March 7, 2013

666 Park Avenue: Lazarus (1.13)

Because it'd be all kinds of obvious if I were to trash everything Lazarus does, instead I'm going to be talking about what might have been, if the show had lived past its abridged first season. If anything, 666 Park Avenue at least ends with a final scene that proves to be the most interesting thing the show ever did -- a gothic, morally complex epilogue that leaves enough up in the air to distract your mind for a good half-hour post-show. That probably didn't read like a compliment, but I promise it is. There was always a darker underbelly to this series, as if a coiled, conniving dragon was struggling to get out and breathe fire all over the place, only for it to be buried under standards and practices and annoying network notes. Lazarus goes there, eventually, but it's all too little too late.

666 comes to a close with Jane sacrificing her identity in order to bring Henry back from the dead, another Faustian deal masterminded by Gavin who, I should add, is revealed to be Jane's birth father. Yeah. So our final scene sees a successful Jane and Henry all rich and sexy and friendly with the Dorans, but also cold and evil-lookin', Jane about to have an antichrist baby and the world presumably doomed. As a resolution, it's wonderfully pessimistic and miserable -- a surprise considering how lightweight most of this show was. And it makes you wonder whether the strange dampening of religious/satanic subtext and all the ambiguity that goes with that was a product of ABC's meddling, and less because of a bunch of unambitious writers.

If we're to take this episode's resolution as an indication of where the show could have been headed, then it's intriguing in its darkness. Fiction has long been distracted by moral dilemmas, the kinds of social questions we ask ourselves and the acts we wonder if we could actually go through with. There were definitely elements of that here and there throughout 666 Park Avenue, but they were mostly suppressed in exchange for goofy scares and muddled plotting. That closer brings it all to the surface, a fun moment of ambiguity that makes bargaining with the Devil seem just as prosperous and carefree as it is dangerous. And that's a nice climax to it all.

Before that, unsurprisingly, we get a ton of ass. The show has struggled of late to define its villains, even the promising Victor Shaw arc seeming half-baked in hindsight, and the last three episodes got annoyingly wrapped up in dispatching the show's antagonists one by one with little flare. Laurel's exit was odd, Harlan Moore's demise was underwhelming, and here the show gets all distracted by Jane's father and the shock murder of her mother, who drowned in a Drake bathtub years before. It turns out that Gavin was her mother's lover, murdering her after she ended their affair, but not before he totally fathered Jane herself. Ugh. It's overtly soapy and delivered with all the bark and intensity of a hair commercial, but I'm prepared to cut the show some slack considering how rushed these episodes were.

Elsewhere, Writer and Wife dump Window's body, misplace key evidence, and then get trapped in a wall once Gavin gets word of their recent actions. It's rushed and silly, though this storyline was always assy. True to form, Vanessa Williams gets absolutely nothing to do, and Nona is also awkwardly dropped into the action helping Henry out with his political campaign. But she at least gets a strong ending in which she's positioned as the proverbial ying to Jane's devil-baby's yang, so that's all good.

When Lazarus works, it works well. But like so much of 666 Park Avenue, it's far outweighed by the bad or the generally underwhelming, a problem that the show arrived with back in September and never fully got over. Like a faustian pact itself, this was a series that looked all bright and shiny on initial inspection, only for it to be a major disappointment once you got a little closer. Great views, fancy locale and a decent price tag, but I think I'd prefer to just eat a cookie or something. C+

Guest stars
William Sadler (Nate McKenny); Misha Kuznetsov (Kandinsky); Richard Joseph Paul (Frank Sullivan)
Writers Christopher Hollier, Leigh Dana Jackson Director Robert Duncan McNeill

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