Friday, November 20, 2009

Fringe “August” An Observer “Going Rogue”

Photos from Fox

Fringe (Fox) continues to amaze, as it did with last night’s episode, “August.” It seems that not only have the Observers been observing things for a long, long time, there are more than one of them. But in this case, we get an Observer named August who “goes rogue” and decides to interfere in the life of one woman, preventing her from dying in an airplane crash. We find later it is more than that – this Observer apparently has feelings for this woman, who he has observed for years. When August says, “"She crossed my mind and somehow she never left,” it was clear that the Observers likely don’t feel emotion as we do, their detached nature very fitting for what they do, which seems to be a “look but don’t touch” method of operation. The Observers may not be aware of the Heisenberg Principle, which states that just by the act of observing something, an event is changed. No matter, really, because it was made evident that they already interfered in Peter’s life, without Peter really being aware of it.

When Observer #2 – August (Peter Woodward) – kidnaps a woman, magically dodging bullets in the process, viewers were left to wonder at first if he was doing it for good or for bad reasons. Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) has to break her plans for a day of fun with her niece Ella as the Fringe team gets involved. They find that the victim, Christine (Jennifer Missoni), 27 years old, is just a grad student with nothing special going on. August left a book at the scene with weird symbols, and while Astrid (Jasika Nicole) struggles to decode it, it is evident that Walter (John Noble) is already figuring it out. She later finds that someone at Massive Dynamic is also inquiring on some of those same code symbols. When Olivia and Peter (Joshua Jackson) talk with the guy at Massive Dynamic who was also checking on the symbols, they find that he doesn’t know exactly what they mean either. But, he has found evidence in art objects relating to big historical events over the years where images of an Observer has been recorded, and it seems they have some ability to move through time. But the Observes usually appear rarely, and since they’ve had 25 sightings in just the past few months, it makes them wonder what big thing is about to happen.

Meanwhile, August has Christine tied up in a motel room, and later, shows her via a TV news story that he saved her from an airplane crash, and she begins to trust him. August, however, is in deep trouble with the other Observers who are in the area mulling over what to do next. They are in a restaurant eating food with tons of hot sauce and pepper. This information is also important because apparently August got a drop of this unique King Cobra hot sauce on the book he left at the scene, and this is later used to track the Observers to possible locations where this particular hot sauce can be found. But the other Observers, including the first Observer (Michael Cerveris)with whom we are so familiar, tell August they are already working to correct the matter – meaning to kill Christine. August doesn’t understand, because he knows they interfered before in other events, but Observer #1 said it was to correct a problem of their own making.

While Peter and Olivia visit Christine’s friend who is subletting her place, they find Christine was supposed to be on an airplane trip. Peter also notices a photo of a young Christine, holding a teddy bear, with her parents, and an Observer in the background. As Christine’s parents were killed in a brigde collapse during the 1989 earthquake, they wonder why she is on the Observers' radar.

The Observers have apparently sent out a hit man – Donald Long (Paul Rae) – to kill Christine. August now knows this, so he plans a ruse to protect Christine. Donald has broken in to August's apartment, and unfortunately, it’s right before Olivia and Peter arrive at the same place, having tracked a shipment of the unusual hot sauce which was shipped to that address. Peter gets held at gunpoint by Donald and manages to deflect his gun when Olivia approaches. Donald runs off and Olivia loses him. Peter and Olivia scan August’s room, finding photos of Christine throughout her life, along with many old newspaper clippings.

Unbeknownst to Olivia and Peter, Walter has decoded the message and finds August in one of the restaurants, and August was glad he got his message. Walter first asks August not to take his son, but August says it is not about that, he need’s Walter’s help. He tells Walter about the Observers being determined to kill Christine, and thinks Walter can help because he saw beyond the limitations of his problems before. But Walter says he just missed his son. When Walter questions what is so important about Christine, August can't explain it, but it sure there is something, he’s seen it. Walter tells him to make her important and be prepared to face the consequences.

Olivia and Peter get the news that someone matching the Observer was spotted at a motel, and as they race there, Donald is already there. As he enters the room and opens the closet, August is there, and zaps Donald with his special kind of “stun gun blaster.” August runs off to draw Donald away, yet allows him to catch up. While Donald has him at gunpoint, he asks August if he is crazy, and then August lets Donald shoot him. When Peter and Olivia arrive at the motel, Olivia follows Donald back to the motel and Peter tends to August. August puts the “blaster” into Peter’s hands. This comes in handy when Donald has Olivia at a disadvantage, and Peter manages to fire the blaster to knock Donald over the railing, with Olivia shooting a nanosecond later. Needless to say, Donald looks very dead on laying on the ground. Olivia finds Christine tucked literally behind the bed in the motel room.

Meanwhile, Observer #1 is driving August away, and August explains first seeing Christine when her parents were killed in the earthquake. He says “"She crossed my mind and somehow she never left” adding he think this is what they call feelings – he thinks he loved her. It is clear that the Observers are detached in more ways that one. As he dies, a tear runs down his face, and Observer #1 tells August that she will be safe now, because August made her important because "she was responsible for the death of one of us."

Back in Christine’s apartment trying to understand it all, Walter shocks Peter when he gives Christine a teddy bear that he said August said to give to her. She identifies it as the teddy bear she was holding when her parents died in the bridge collapse in the earthquake. Afterwards, Peter is upset with Walter for holding back that he met with an Observer, saying they are very close to getting the answers, something I am sure Walter would rather that Peter not get.

Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick) tells Olivia that Donald was an assassin, and that it seems that August made the tip off call himself. He also says they can’t make the Observer’s gun fire again, thinking Peter fired the last round. Olivia manages to get the rest of the day off to spend it at the amusement part with Ella. What they don’t know is while they are on the roller coaster, Observers are watching, with one saying, "Look how happy she is," he says, "it's a shame things are about to get so hard for her."

The episode closes with the huge question – what exactly will happen in Olivia’s life that will make thing so hard for her? My first concern was for Ella, who Olivia was so concerned about giving her a happy day. Will something tragic occur with Ella that makes this day even more important for Olivia? Or, was it just an accidental reference, not relating to Ella at all, but just some other bad times for Olivia?

I believe Peter is starting to really suspect that Walter knows a lot more than what he lets on. When Walter recalls the frozen lake car crash story from when Peter was a boy and says the Observer saved them, Peter looked at him with a suspicious and questioning glance. Its is if Walter had said something that meant more than Walter’s simple words. Since we are on the subject of Peter, let’s go over his use of that special stun gun blaster. It is possible that August gave Peter the blaster because he knew it would work for Peter, because Peter is really not from this current time? Is that the same reason why no one can get the gun to fire again, because it will only work for people not of this time? I almost wish they would find an excuse to get the gun back in Peter’s hands to test that theory.

The fact that there is more than one Observer wasn’t too much of a surprise, although the fact that they do not experience feelings was an interesting bit of knowledge. When August delivers the line "She crossed my mind and somehow she never left" it was a beautiful way to describe something he had never felt before – love. For a moment, I felt very bad for the Observers, whose purpose seem to go through the past – through history – with detachment. When we heard that they only interfered to correct a mistake of their own, it makes me wonder if bringing Peter from the other timeline was to correct that error, and what exactly was the error that they had made that prompted their correction?

One of the reasons why I love Fringe is that with each episode, it seems we get to learn a little more, but at the same time, the resulting questions become deeper and more complex. Like the Observers, viewers have no choice but to watch and not interfere. But unlike the Observers, we have the ability to feel and to love. This means now I am very afraid for Olivia and what will happen to rock her world. I am concerned that Peter will dig into things and dig a little too far and that Walter’s big secret will be revealed. Who knows, maybe this will be one of the things that make life so hard for Olivia. All we can do is observe - by staying tuned.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

The CSI Franchise: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

All Photos CBS

I haven’t had too much time lately to be able to recap or review any of the CSI franchise shows, but I still watch all of them faithfully. Over the last few years, however, I found that my opinions of the respective shows – CSI (Las Vegas), CSI NY, and CSI Miami – have changed. The differences between the three series became most obvious for me with last week’s “trilogy” of episodes that crossed over the cities of Miami, New York, and Las Vegas. While the word “crossover” was used to describe this TV event, it really served as just a way to feature the newer kid on the CSI block, Laurence Fishburne. Many fans complained that they felt mislead about the trilogy, and I was disappointed that Fishburne was the only one to cross over. I do understand that crossovers can get expensive due to the actors’ salaries, so I guess I can’t fault CBS for trying to create a TV event without spending a fortune.

Here are my opinions on the shows of the CSI franchise, classified as the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good: I find myself now looking forward to episodes of CSI NY for many reasons. The cast has grown on me. With complex story lines for some of the key characters, I find myself becoming more interested in what happens to them. For example, Detective Danny Messer (Carmine Giovinazzo), after becoming paralyzed when shot in a drive by shooting, fought his way back to regain his ability to walk and is now walking without assistance. Detective Don Flack (Eddie Cahill), still reeling over the shooting death of Detective Jessica Angell (Emmanuelle Vaugier), drowns himself in drinking and bad behavior. In last night’s episode, “Cuckoo’s Nest” Flack gets mugged in the subway, and coupled with some tough love by Detective Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise), Flack decides to clean up his act. And while I’m on the subject of “Cuckoo’s Nest,” I should note that CSI NY is probably the best in the franchise in creating story lines that can span multiple episodes, as this one, which involved the second appearance of the “compass killer.”

CSI NY also does an excellent job of showcasing the city of New York, with frequent shots of the skyline and key landmarks. Again, last night’s “Cuckoo’s Nest” had some great scenes with the skyline as a backdrop The shots of the Unisphere at night with the fountains running full blast was also visually enjoyable.

CSI NY, which used to be the series that I had a hard time enjoying, has now become my favorite of the three

The Bad: CSI, once the king of all CSIs, has become a shadow of its former self, after loosing many of the key members of the cast – William Petersen, Jorja Fox, and Gary Dourdan. Unlike the Law & Order franchise, which is accustomed to a revolving door of actors, CSI’s success can be attributed in part to the stability of the cast. With so many cast changes over what seemed like a short period, the show seemed to be rattled a bit. The addition of Laurence Fishburne last season made the show a little more interesting for a while, but the show also seemed to become very dreary and gloomy with its story lines at the same time. The lighting also seems very dark and heavy, making the show feel almost depressing to watch. Sure, murder is never a happy subject, but it seems that the show spends too much time making everything look so heavy and oppressive that I can’t even enjoy the mystery of the crime itself. Fishburne is a fine addition to the show, but after the novelty of his character going through the ropes of becoming a CSI, he needs a new “hook” to keep fans intrigued.

I may be too harsh in calling the show “bad”, but I can’t say that it is good anymore, or that I enjoy watching it like I used to.

The Ugly: OK, you knew CSI Miami would be at the bottom of my list, didn’t you? It’s bad enough that we have to contend with the wooden yet scenery-chewing acting of David Caruso. But with the departure of Adam Rodriguez, a few more actors have been thrown in to the mix, and they are not necessarily adding much to the show. Eddie Cibrian was introduced to the series in a flashback when his character Jesse Cardoza was with the CSI Miami team before they got all glitzy and orange. Cibrian’s acting is as wooden as Caruso’s, and I suppose that they were hoping that with Cibrian’s good looks that no one would notice. (I did.) They’ve also added another CSI Walter Simmons (Omar Miller) who is hard to miss because he is so tall. He is also hard to miss because he is always spouting off every little detail about what he sees and what he knows, not only annoying his colleagues, but me as well. Calleigh Duquesne (Emily Proctor) is also getting very tiresome, with her sanctimonious attitude and her stiff, board-like posture, she is just plain grating.

The story lines are overly simplistic, the crimes so filled with ridiculous events and scenarios, the dialog so awful, and the acting so bad, that the show has become well known as the highest rated cheese-fest on television. (Don’t mistake this for meaning it is the highest rated TV show, I'm only talking cheese-fests.) The fact that they continue to over-saturate the colors – especially the orange Velveeta glow of Miami which makes it looks like the city is constantly on fire or worse yet, in a giant fondue – doesn’t help matters any. CSI Miami is so bad you almost HAVE to watch. And yes, I still do, but for the life of me I have no idea why. I could be an illness. Or maybe it’s because I don’t watch sitcoms and I need some comedy in my life? Regardless of my reasons, the show is virtually unwatchable at times, and if I missed an episode I wouldn’t be crying over it.

Don’t get me wrong, the CSI franchise is still good television, just some of it is better than others. And I am sure there are many out there who don’t agree with my assessment of each show. But the fact that CSI NY has only improved with age and grown on me may mean that CSI can recover from all the cast changes and be back on the top of my list. But CSI Miami? Sorry, I don’t see any hope that show will every make it out of the bottom for me.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

AMC’s “The Prisoner”: Heavy, Cerebral Psychological Drama

Photos from AMC

AMC’s “The Prisoner,” a remake of the 1960’s cult classic of the same name, began airing last night with two episodes. I had only vague recall of the original series, so went into this with a relatively open mind. What I didn’t realize that the episodes were going to air in two-hour clumps over a period of a few days. With the series being a little heavier and far more cerebral than the original, I found that it was just too much watching two episodes in a row, much less watching two episodes in a row for several days in a row. Needless to say, I’m going to DVR the series and watch at my leisure.

The premise of the show is simple enough – if one remembers the old series or looked up some information about it beforehand. But for those unfamiliar with the series may find themselves confused after the first 10 minutes. It seems that a man – who we will only know as Number Six (James Caviezel) finds himself in an isolated, desert area with an old man running for his life. After the man dies and tells Six to get a message to 554 that he got out, the troubles really begin.
Six finds himself in a place called “The Village’ from which there seems to be no escape. The Village is the only place many of the residents seem to know. He manages to find 554 (Jessica Haines) working at a diner, and after he delivers the old man’s message, she is later killed in an explosion. Six also meets who seems like the man in charge – or shall I say the second man in charge, because he is named Number Two (Sir Ian McKellen). Number Two seems to like to threaten people with a grenade, which is likely what killed 554 in the diner explosion. It appears that the old man – and some others – have what they think are dreams or memories of places not in The Village – the old man drew a picture of Big Ben and 554, before her untimely death, drew the Statue of Liberty.

Number Six also remembers life from before he came to The Village; it seems he just resigned from a job, and that evening, meets a mysterious woman and they end up in his apartment. While he is in The Village, though, Six seems to be unable to remember the details clearly, or his name for that matter. It is clear, though, that Number Two wants the information that he thinks Six is hiding from that life. And Six will spend his time trying to escape The Village, the only beacon visible are the two large, shiny towers in the distance that he just can’t seem to reach.

Six also finds that he has a brother, who Six doesn’t believe is his real brother, then he does believe it is his brother, who then tells him he really isn’t his brother, who winds up getting killed in the same manner as his real brother. (!) Now you may see what I mean when I say the show is very cerebral. Viewers will be drawn in trying to figure out what is real, what isn't real, and wonder if The Village is real or just a figment of a crazy - or drugged - mind.

Before I had started watching the show, I had assumed that they were going to be showing two hours on Sunday night and then an hour each Sunday night afterwards. I was surprised to see that they are running the series for two hours every night early this week. Either I wasn’t quite paying attention, or the show was promoted badly or not clearly, but the show is far too heavy and requires too much concentration on my part to handle it so many days, and so many hours, in a row. Don’t misunderstand my hesitance to watch it live as meaning that I did not like the show. On the contrary, I found it very interesting and something that I would not want to miss. But be sure that if/when you watch, that your brain is fully engaged, because you may need all of your faculties to comprehend what is going on. Otherwise, you will feel just confused in your brain as “The Prisoner” himself.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Fringe “Of Human Action” Pushes Peter Into Trouble

Photos from Fox

Fringe (Fox) “Of Human Action” had a character somewhat reminiscent of an X-Files episode “The Pusher” where Robert P. Modell was able to “push” people into doing things they didn’t want to do, like kill themselves. But this episode of Fringe had a slight twist: in this case, it was a teenage kid, Tyler Carson (Cameron Monaghan ) who had the ability to control the minds of others, and we find later the story is much more complex. In addition, Walter’s world gets rocked when Peter is sucked into a dangerous situation and Walter fears he will lose him. This was an excellent episode that not only featured a good case for the Fringe team, it also shows how desperately that Walter needs Peter in his life. Sadly, Peter does not know that, like Tyler’s father, his own father has been lying to him for almost his whole life.

When the episode begins, it seems Tyler has been kidnapped and that his abductors are causing others to kill themselves and others. The Fringe team - Agents Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), along with Walter (John Noble) and Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) - visit Massive Dynamic. They confer with Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), and find that Tyler’s father Dr. Carson (Andrew Airlie) also works there in the aerospace division. They are told that Tyler’s mother is dead. By the way, when Walter arrives at Massive Dynamic, he is amazed at how massive it really is, seemingly envious of his former colleague William Bell’s company and accomplishments. He tells Peter that Bell introduced him to Peter’s mother.

The Fringe team works to disrupt and block the controlling brain waves from whom they think are Tyler’s captors by using the sound from an old teddy bear of Peter’s that emits a white noise. But when they think they have the men cornered, they find that it’s not the men who can control minds, it’s Tyler. And Peter finds out that the white noise doesn’t block his ability to control minds when Tyler is able to take control of Peter.

While Peter is forced to drive away with Tyler, the rest of the Fringe team works to track them down. Meanwhile, Tyler continues to force Peter to drive, having Peter speed up and drive dangerously, and then getting stopped by police. When Tyler “pushes” Peter to kill the police officer, Peter uses everything in his power to put down the gun and just knock the officer down instead.

Nina admits that Dr. Carson has been working with the pharmaceutical division on an aerospace guidance system, which allows a pilot to fly a plane by thought. The pilots are given a drug to help in this matter, and she adds that an employee's families are not allowed to be test subjects. Dr. Carson admits he took some samples home and Tyler could have gotten his hands on them. But, Carson doesn't understand how Tyler could use drugs meant to work with computers to control people. Upon hearing this, Walter gets very testy and explains that the brain is a computer and guesses that Tyler was on other medication. Carson admits Tyler was being medicated for ADD. Walter is livid, indicating this is the perfect cocktail for mind control drugs. I wonder, does Walter know this from experience?

But Olivia is not happy when Broyles tells her that Fringe is off the case because Tyler is now classified as national security threat. She is very concerned because she thinks this will mean Peter is in danger as he will be considered collateral damage. The real story here is Walter, who seems suddenly frozen with fear for Peter, and comments that he can’t lose him "again." Of course, we know what he means by that comment, as it’s been made clear in previous episodes that the real Peter is dead and the Peter we now see is a “replacement” from an alternate timeline. John Noble shows his mastery of acting as his worry seems very real. Both Olivia and Nina try to get Walter to come up with a solution without having Peter there to guide him.

Astrid (Jasika Nicole) is able to find searches on Tyler’s computer about women who died in car accidents in their 20s, and his most recent search was of a Renee Davis. Carson says that is his ex-wife and Tyler’s mom, and admits she is not dead, he just told Tyler that because Renee was an addict who used to disappear all the time and he didn’t want Tyler to know she abandoned him. But Tyler, now in a strip club with Peter, knows that his father lied to him and is heading off to get this mother and be a family again.

Meanwhile, Astrid and Walter, both wearing foil “tin hats” to protect themselves from Massive Dynamic reading their thoughts, believe that an electromagnetic pulse should be able to disorient Tyler long enough for them to get control. This scene gives credibility to "tinhats" everywhere, I am sure.

Tyler and Peter arrive at Renee’s (Jacqueline Ann Steuart) house, and she is shocked and somewhat uncomfortable upon seeing Tyler. Inside the house, when Tyler tells his mother he wants her to leave with him, her husband walks in and Tyler is not happy at this development. Broyles and Dunham are already outside the house, and when it looks like Walter and Astrid won’t get there right away, Broyles goes into the home. Peter, who was forced to hold a gun on Renee’s husband, now puts the gun on Broyles and shoots him in the arm, and then Peter and Tyler flee. When Walter and Astrid arrive, Olivia heads off to make chase, once Broyles tells her to go, despite his injury.

They manage to catch up to Peter and Tyler, and activate the pulse, disorienting Tyler and giving Peter the chance to run the car into a telephone pole, knocking Tyler out. Walter is happy that Peter is OK, and Tyler is OK but sedated, and being taken to a hospital.

Back at home, Walter wants to pamper Peter by making crepes, and says that Peter used to call them “creeps.” But a look on Peter’s face gave me the feeling that he doesn’t have any recall of that fact.

But the big secret is revealed when Nina types a note, on what looks like an old computer terminal, to William Bell, and indicates that “one of the Tylers” did show the ability for mind control, but there were unintended consequences in that he tried to reunite with his surrogate mother. We also see Dr. Carson flipping though a file folder which shows a few more Tylers with what look like different fathers. We also see what looks like the Tyler we knew being wheeled on a gurney into a room, unconscious, likely being put in for storage with what looks like many others. Nina writes that despite he unfortunate circumstances, they can consider the project a success.

While “Fringe” can be accused of using similar themes as the X-Files, they seem to take these stories and work them in very well to the Fringe team’s ongoing work with “the pattern.” It also keeps the connections to Walter’s past with Massive Dynamic, and William Bell. I feel badly for the show, though, that it is not in the best time slot for the series to succeed in the ratings, its Thursday time slot bumping up against ratings powerhouses CSI and Grey’s Anatomy. Hopefully, Fox will move the show to a better time slot that will allow it to grab more viewers. If it helps matters any, this is one show that I watch live, which should make advertisers happy. I can only hope that Fox will stick with this series, because it is really the best of its kind on television right now.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

“V: There Is No Normal Anymore" Means Trust No One

Photo from ABC

The second installment of ”V” “There Is No Normal Anymore” continues the story right where we left off in last week's “V” pilot episode. This is a refreshing change from shows that lately feel the need to go backwards or forwards in time in order to advance their story. At least for now, the present in “V” is all that is important. The main characters seemed well developed in the first episode, so it is actually very easy to jump right back into the story without being confused as to what is going on. But the show quickly establishes that mistrust and paranoia are going to be the order of things down the road.

This episode emphasizes for Agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) and Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch) that they may not be able to trust anyone. When Erica decides to make an anonymous call to police to report the massacre in the warehouse, she finds that even a public telephone can’t be trusted when a flying object – the same kind that disrupted their meeting and killed many, hones and in them and chases them down. Erica manages to bat it down. She comes to the conclusion that since her work partner of 7 years - Dale - was one of them and operating right under her nose, she knows no one can be trusted. She tells Jack to go home and act as if nothing happened. (By the way, I was amused at the address number of the warehouse – 4400 – which seems like a tip of the hat to both Scott Peters, “V” writer, and Joel Gretsch, both who were involved in the series The 4400.)

Erica comes home and begs her son Tyler (Logan Huffman) not to get involved with the Vs. He promises her that he won't, but it’s actually too late, he’s already signed up to be one of their peace ambassadors. Later, though, V Lisa (Laura Vandervoort) tells him he’s now out because he and his friend Brandon (Jesse Wheeler) got into a fight with some people giving them a hard time, and Tyler punches one of them. But it seems that Tyler still has feelings for Lisa, which could be his undoing. I find Tyler's storyline the least compelling right now.

Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut) is still trying to figure out what to do since his girlfriend Valerie Holt (Lourdes Benedicto) found the engagement ring in the last episode. He also has to figure out how to fix that horrible gash he got at the warehouse which shows his lizard body underneath. He gives Val a line that he cut it on a file cabinet, and then hunts down someone at Al's Garage named Angelo Russo. The mechanic who is under a car says he's never heard of him, but Ryan knows it's him and yanks him out from under the car. Angelo is not happy to see Ryan, but he heard about the warehouse incident and brings out the equipment to fix him up. As he does so, he lectures Ryan and then seems to have drugged him, saying he can’t trust Ryan. Later, with Ryan coming to and running home, he finds Val is not there. Angelo calls him and tells him if he really loves her, he will stay away from her, and if he can find out about her, so can the Vs. When Val gets home later, she checks out Ryan’s wound which now just looks like a very long scratch. She notices a photo on the mantle is upside down, and underneath is a card with the name Cyrus and the address 51509 Gibbs Ave. He says it was some guy he used to know, and she seemed to buy it. Of course, since I am not sure who can be trusted, I find myself wondering if she already knows who that is.

While all this is going on, Erica and Jack find themselves being separately questioned by the FBI. Erica is questioned on her missing work partner Dale, and Jack about the dead man in the church (from the previous episode). When Jack cooperates and gives the pictures that the now dead man gave him, he is shocked to find that Erica works at the FBI. She is shocked to find out he is a priest. They argue over trust, and Jack thought that since Erica told him to pretend things didn’t happen that he was on his own. Bottom line is that Erica convinces her boss that Dale was involved with “terrorists” but doesn’t let on that he is a V. Erica later approaches Jack saying he is the only one she can trust, but he wants no involvement, saying he’s just a priest. But when he later hears the announcement that the US has agreed on diplomatic relations with the Vs, he says this made him sick, and now he seems to be back in. Erica, likely with the same feelings, tells him she stole a list of every person that has contacted the FBI about aliens. It’s a huge list, and they hope that they have some people on that list they can recruit to fight the Vs.

News anchor Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) decides that he isn’t going to play Anna’s (Morena Baccarin), the leader of the Vs, game. He has a television interview that seems to encourage opposing views to the Vs, but later, when confronted by Anna on the issue, he says that he actually helped her cause as more people are now on the side of the Vs and he thinks that they will now get the diplomatic recognition they want. And they do, likely giving Chad a feeling of a little more power in their relationship, but he’s just a little too self assured. I find myself wondering if he is just playing right into her hands, seeing that she thinks she understands human being so well.

Something about Jack’s pastor is creeping me out a bit, and I suspect he’s working for the other team, likely one of the Vs who has been on earth for years. He seems too supportive of the Vs and seems to be cautioning Jack a little too much.

Back on the V ship, Dale’s body is laying on a slab – and then comes back to life. No surprise here.

The “trust no one” theme is certainly not new, the phase being the centerpiece of The X-Files and linked with that series' main character, Fox Mulder. But with V, the audience may find themselves taking that philosophy to new heights, as, unless they cut into someone, it will be hard to tell if they are a V or human. Even then, as with the case of Ryan, some of the Vs are working on the side of humanity. It will be a guessing game for the viewers on who to trust, and right now, maybe with the exception of Jack, Erica, and her son Tyler, everyone is fair game. The main weakness for V is that it is a remake, and that they revealed fact that they have lizard bodies underneath their human skin, both which takes a lot of the mystery out of the series. The issue will be if they can make paranoia and trusting no one into a sustainable series. So far they are off to a good start. They will need a new twist in order to keep viewers intrigued and coming back, seeing that after the show’s 4 episode run, the series won’t be returning until after the 2010 Winter Olympics. Let’s hope they have enough of a cliffhanger to encourage fans to wait.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

House “Known Unknowns” A Weird Episode

Photo from Fox

After an absence due to the World Series, House (Fox) finally returns with an episode that can best be described as weird. The pacing was off, the storyline was off, the dialog was off, and the whole thing was just a mess.

The patient of the week was a young girl who becomes ill after managing to get into an after concert party with her friend. The day after the concert, she tells her other friends that she managed to hang out with one of the bad members, and when they notice her feet and hands swelling, she collapses. She finds herself in Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, where, as usual, they poke, prod, test and treat her to find out what is wrong. Coming up with the correct diagnosis is hard as her condition causes her to lie about everything. It’s a rather dull case that House will solve – later, of course, because that's the formula for this show. It’s a given that the patient is always just a backdrop for House’s own storylines and I am OK with that, but for some reason this patient didn’t seem to enhance the story at all.

Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) has plans for House (Hugh Laurie) to accompany him to a medical conference. House doesn’t want to go. When House gets to the hospital, he goes to see Dr. Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) who is in an unusually low cut top, and we get various shots of her cleavage, and her backside that is outfitted with a skintight skirt. We get the usual sexually demeaning comments from House, something that doesn’t seem to rattle Cuddy. The problem is, it should. This is one matter where I continue to voice my disappointment with the show, and their need to paint Cuddy as strictly a sexual object. They repeatedly do not show her the respect she should have for her role as the hospital’s head administrator. I would have less problem with it if they made Cuddy into a character who was a little stronger in presenting a positive image as a woman as a professional, not make her into someone whose main goal is to find a man , and who dresses not for work, but for a night of clubbing.

When House and Wilson go to leave, House finds out that Cuddy is also going to the conference, and he decides that he’ll attend after all. Of course, while agreeing to do so has to throw in another comment about her being some sort of trollop. I can’t recall if that was his exact word, but if not, you get the idea. Cuddy has to being her baby to the conference too, which I also thought was a little unrealistic but we will later find it is just a plot device. When House gets to the conference, he takes the ID of some other doctor. This will come in handy later.

Making matters worse, this medical conference – the complete contents outlined in a tiny 3-page pamphlet, very unrealistic for a real medical conference – has some sort of 1980’s themed party. House arrived dressed up for the 1780s. I guess it must be very easy for someone to get a costume like this on a moment’s notice, seeing that House wasn’t even planning to go to the conference to begin with. His appearance in costume would have been better had he actually dressed for the 1980s. Cuddy, of course, is dressed in provocative attire and she and House dance. We are then assaulted with horribly written dialog about their early times together, and I find that my mind is tuning out. These are two adult talking like they are teenagers at a high school dance, and it seemed rather forced. I found the whole scene silly.

Meanwhile, Drs. Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) are having marital problems. She thinks he’s cheating, we all know it’s because he killed Dibala a few episodes back. This actually could have been the more interesting story line of the episode but it only received very clich├ęd treatment of a couple having marital problems.

When Cuddy has babysitter problems, Wilson convinces House to help Cuddy baby sit her daughter. When he goes there to offer his services, she lies to him and tells him the baby is in day care. But, when cries from the baby come from inside Cuddy’s room, House enters and sees that Lucas (Michael Weston), the weird private investigator House previously hired, is there taking care of the baby. She needs someone who she can depend on, and Lucas seems to be that guy. I am unimpressed because I didn’t like the character of Lucas when he first showed up on this series, and think that Cuddy must really have issues if this is the best man she can get.

House, however, is very worried about Wilson when he finds out that Wilson is going to address the medical conference to talk about euthanasia – in favor of it and even admitting that he’s done it. Of course, House’s answer to this is to drug Wilson so Wilson can’t give the speech. Where did House get the drugs I wonder? Shouldn’t that be of some concern that an addict like him can still get his hands on something that can knock out Wilson?

House then gives Wilson’s speech under the name of the stolen doctor's ID. Wilson comes in at the tail end of it, finally waking up in time. Wilson is upset but House says he got Wilson’s ideas out there without Wilson actually having to risk his job and career to do so. What I find strange is that Wilson’s opinion about euthanasia seemed to just drop out of the sky. He’s always been someone who seems to be very open about his feeling about treating his patients, and it was odd that his feelings on this issue seemed to go unnoticed by his closest friends.

While House and Wilson argue about what House did, Wilson says a trigger word – there has to be a trigger word in every episode – that gives House the diagnosis for the patient of the week. She is, of course, diagnosed with vibrio vulnificus and hemochromatosis and then cured. I find that I could care less.

Afterwards, House and Wilson have lunch with Cuddy and Lucas, and Cuddy admits that she hired Lucas to investigate an accounting problem and one thing led to another. She says she kept the relationship secret, as she doesn't like to advertise her personal life. I am thinking that she sure loves to advertise her body, though, so what would be the big deal in talking about a relationship? I have come to the conclusion that Cuddy is messed up in the head. Lucas then starts running at the mouth, and for someone who is a PI he sure seems to be a little too chatty about personal things. It seems clear to me that the Cuddy is a poor judge of people and appears to have some self esteem problems. In her position in the hospital, one would think she would have professional contacts in her field that would make better candidates for a relationship than Lucas. With every passing episode, I feel like Cuddy is becoming more and more of a mess of a character and more insulting to women everywhere.

At the end of the episode, the only evidence of drama is when Chase admits to Cameron that he killed Dibala.

“Known Unknowns” was a bit of a train wreck, being a collision of a bad medical case, an “out of the blue” revelation about Wilson and euthanasia, Cuddy’s continued morphing into a bimbo, and House just being up to his old tricks. It was a shame that after having to wait so long for a new episode, that viewers had to sit through this episode, which seemed poorly conceived and poorly written. Viewers deserved better.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Mad Men “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” A Smashing Finale

All photos from AMC

Mad Men (AMC) proves itself yet again as the best drama on television these days in the season finale, “Shut the Door, Have a Seat.” Everything this season has been building to this final episode, and it means big changes for the people at Sterling Cooper. It also means big changes in the lives of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his wife Betty (January Jones). Not only is Don’s marriage on the rocks, but he finds that Sterling Cooper is also on the rocks as well.

This episode not only means the reinvention of Sterling Cooper, but also a reinvention of Don and Betty’s lives. I laughed, however, when Don had the nerve to call Betty a whore, seeing that Don is probably the biggest whore in the history of television drama. It is clear that Don is a chauvinist and thinks that it’s OK for men to cheat and sleep around, but not women. Betty also knows of his past, and even with a divorce, she can wield a lot of power over him.

The episode also seems to be setting the stage for women having a stronger influence. Peggy doesn’t back down with Don when he seems to demand she join his cause, and one can only hope that his respect for what she does is genuine. It’s hard to tell with a salesman such as Don when he means something and when he is just saying it to get what he wants. I was amused when Roger asked her to get her coffee and she refused, much to his surprise.

It is also great to see Joan back, and it is clear that she’s probably the one who is really running the company. Sure, Lane knows the ins and outs of cash management, but Joan knows where all the proverbial bodies are buried. I hope that her value to the company eventually translates to a nice title with some real power.

In case you missed the episode, here’s what happened:

When the episode begins, it’s a few weeks before Christmas, 1963. Don is at home, waking up in Gene’s room. He arrives late to an appointment with Conrad Hilton (Chelcie Ross), who drops the bomb on Don that not only is Sterling Cooper being sold, but so is their parent company, Putnam, Powell, & Lowe. The company buying them is McCann-Erikson, and Don does not want to work at what he called a “sausage factory." Don is miffed that Hilton also seems to be cutting him loose because of that same fact, and thinks Hilton has been messing with him all along, especially by referring to Don as “son.” Hilton tells Don he was a self-made man, not a crybaby, and he though Don was the same. They shake hands and Hilton tells Don some other time they'll try again.

When Don walks into the Sterling Cooper offices, he sees a secretary crumpling up some paper, and has a flash back to when he was a boy and his father was complaining to his co-op about low crop prices. His father tells the co-op that he’s out.

Don tells Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) what he’s found out about the sale of PP&L, and even though Bert seems to have no desire to risk what he has, Don convinces him that the should buy Sterling Cooper themselves. They approach Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and tell him what’s going on. At first, Roger doesn’t seem to care, and Bert tells Roger that sold his birthright to marry that trollop. Needless to say, Roger is not impressed with their sales pitch, but Don admits he was wrong and that he does see the importance of account men, and he does value his relationship with Roger. Bert implies that when people leave their jobs because they’ve lost the appetite for it, they're dead shortly thereafter. Roger asks if this means join or die? Needless to say, he’s in.

But when Don gets back at home, Betty sends the kids to bed, and then tells Don she wants a divorce. He patronizes her, and she knows it. She says she isn’t the one who broke up the family.

Back at Sterling Cooper, Bert, Don, and Roger meet with Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) and they tell him what they know about McCann buying PP&L. They offer Lane the original purchase price plus 12%. But Lane basically laughs off their offer.

Meanwhile, Betty has taken Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) to her meeting with her divorce lawyer, who tells her that New York doesn’t want people divorcing, that’s why everyone goes to Reno to do it. She has to go there and establish residency for 6 weeks, and after that it is a snap, Don only has to consent, he doesn’t have to go. When he asks what she wants as a settlement, she says to whatever she's entitled. But Henry says she doesn't need what Don can provide, but she reminds him of her children. Henry promises to take care of her and them and doesn't want her to owe Don anything.

Lane calls Lane calls St. John and tells him that people know about McCann buying Sterling Cooper, but is shocked with St. John confirms that McCann is buying PP&L. He also gets a jolt when St. John basically has included Lane with that deal. Lane thanks him in a controlled voice but then slams down the phone.

When Don gets home, he sees Sally sleeping in bed, and has a flashback to his childhood. His father is drunk and wants to go to Chicago to sell his crops. It’s raining with lightning, and young Dick Whitman takes a swig of booze from his father’s jug, making a face. But a horse is startled by the lighting, and kicks his father in the face, knocking him to the ground. He looks dead. Back in the present, Don looks back at Sally and climbs into her bed and puts his arm around her.

Back at Sterling Cooper, Don meets with Bert, Roger, and Lane. Lane doesn’t want to be involved in a conspiracy and says he should just fire them all. Don tells him to go ahead since that's all he did well here anyway, but Lane objects, saying he did a great many things at Sterling Cooper. Don has an idea; as Lane has absolute authority to fire anyone, he tells Lane to fire the three of them and vacate their contracts. Lane asks why would he do that, and Don reminds him that when Lane gets to McCann he'll get be thrown overboard like a corpse knocking against the hull. Lane comments that nothing good comes from seeking revenge, and Bert says they will make him a partner. Lane thinks he’s worth more than that, and Don is happy that Lane is showing he can negotiate and then says they will put his name on the door. When Roger seems to balk at that, Don asks if he knows how to do what Lane does? Bert says he doesn't know either, and with the look on Roger’s face it seems like Lane is in.

They outline their plan of attack. Lane says they will need accounts, and then says if he sends a telex to PP&L after noon New York time saying he’s sacked them all, it will be after the offices close in London and they won’t see it until Monday. Then can spend the weekend getting (stealing) accounts and all the other necessary support material. They raise their hands in agreement, and in doing so, Lane says they are now fired. Roger adds, "it's official, Friday Dec. 13, 1963, four guys shot their own legs off." They exit the office in a rush, Don telling his secretary that the office will be closed over the weekend for carpet cleaning, and yells for Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) to come into his office.

She comes in, thinking it’s about Western Union, but when Don clues her in to what is really going on, she’s a little miffed that he seems to think she will do whatever he says. She doesn’t bite, seemingly wanting Don to ask in a better fashion. He says he won’t beg, and she says she doesn’t want to make a career for being there just so he can kick her when he fails. She walks out.

Roger and Don head to Pete’s (Vincent Kartheiser) who wasn’t at work, he faked being sick. Roger and Don tell Pete what is going on and Pete wants to hear Don say why he wants him to come with them. Don says Pete is able to see what is coming better than they can. They say they will make him a partner, but when he asks for his name in the lobby, Don says there won’t be a lobby. Pete has files for about $8 million in accounts, and say Pete will be in if he can deliver all of them by Sunday. Pete is in.

Don and Roger share a drink at the bar, and when Don tells him he and Betty are divorcing, Roger mentions Henry Francis. Don has no idea who that is, and Roger tells him that Margaret is friends with Henry’s daughter and they know something is going on between Betty and Henry. Roger thought Don knew, and is apologizes to Don.

Don comes home, drunk, and asks a sleeping Betty who is Henry Francis. She plays dumb, but then they begin to fight loudly over it. She asks why he cares and he says it is because she's so good and everyone else is so bad. He accuses her that all the while she's been building a life raft. When she tells him to get out, Don says she got everything she ever wanted, she loved it and now he's not good enough for her, adding Betty won't get a nickel and he'll take the kids and they'll be better off. She counters that she's going to Reno and he's going to consent and to not threaten her, and adds she knows all about him. He grabs her and calls her a whore. When the baby starts to cry, Betty picks him up and says she wants Don out of the house.

The next day, Pete is in the elevator heading to the office and Harry (Rich Sommer) rushes in. Pete almost let on to Harry what is going on, assuming that Harry knew. But he didn’t, and when Harry arrives, he finds that unless he takes the offer to join them, they will have to lock him in the storage room until morning. When they realize that they don’t know where all the things are that they need to take with them, Roger says he’ll make a phone call. It seems he knows the perfect person to help.

Don, however, isn’t there, he is at home while he and Betty break the news of their father moving out. Sally take it very hard and runs off, Bobby grabs on to his dad for dear life. Betty is clearly rocked by the kids’ reactions. He then goes to Peggy’s place and uses his best sales skills to make Peggy feel valuable, and asks if she will help him. She smiles but seems upset, saying what if she says no, he'll never speak to her again. He hardens and says he won't spend the rest of his life trying to hire her. Needless to say, she is in.

Back at the office, it is controlled chaos when Joan (Christina Hendricks) arrives and whips everybody in to shape, as she knows where everything is and what needs to be gathered. Don has to kick in the door to the art department because no one has the key. While Roger is working, he asks Peggy to get him some coffee and she says no. As movers haul everything out, Don asks Joan to find him a furnished apartment. She is sorry, as she can deduce what is going on there. When Don and Roger look back at the office Roger asks him how long he thinks it will take them to work in a place like this again. Don responds that he never saw himself working in a place like this. When they leave, Don moves to lock the door and Roger tells him not to bother.

The next morning Allison (Alexa Alemanni) walks in to Don's office and seeing it look emptied and in disarray, screams they were robbed. Meanwhile, St. John calls Lane, who is in a happy mood, but St. John is having a complete meltdown for how much Lane has cost them, and fires him. Lane could care less.

The new company is set up in a hotel room, and Joan is reading out a set of operating rules. When the phone rings. Joan answers “Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce.” But it’s only Harry, looking for their room number.

Back at the Sterling Cooper office, Allison is crying that Don left without saying goodbye, and Ken (Aaron Staton) adds that Pete tried to poach John Deere. He realizes he must have gone with Draper. Kinsey (Michael Gladis) gets a worried look and opens Peggy's office door and sees she's cleared out.

At the hotel, everyone is hard at work. Pete’s wife Trudy arrives with lunch and a cake and she seems pumped. When Don goes into the bedroom where Harry is working and tells him there is food, Harry races out, leaving Don alone in the room to call Betty. He tells her he is not sure where he will be staying but will be working out of the Pierre. He says he won’t fight her and hopes she gets what she always wanted. She says he will always be their father. They say their goodbyes and he walks back in to their new “office” where there is a lot of activity, and Lane has arrived.

We close as Betty is on a plane with the baby, and with Henry Francis, likely to Reno. Carla, meanwhile, is at the Draper home with Sally, Bobby, and the dog as they are glued to the TV. Don is walking up the steps to his new apartment in the city as the screen fades to black.

This was an excellent close to the season, all the storylines neatly wrapped up. Yet it left viewers with their interest piqued on when the show will pick up next season. Will Betty and Don already be divorced and Betty remarried? Will Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Price been on solid ground and will they be working out of a real office? Will Joan have duped that loser husband of hers, and will Roger still be happy with Jane? There are so many directions where this show can go, and I’m just sorry that viewers have to wait so long to find out!

Video Recap “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Fringe “Earthling” An Ashes to Ashes Mystery

Photos from Fox

The episode of Fringe (Fox) titled “Earthling” put the focus on Agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) and gives the usually secretive mystery man a little back story. It seems that the case the Fringe team is called in to work on is a case that Broyles became so obsessed that it broke up his marriage. He got involved in these types of cases to keep his family safe, but Broyles admits that it actually drove his family away.

X-Files fans may recognize the near morphing of two X-Files storylines into one in “Earthling.” The first episode that comes to mind is the episode called “The Soft Light” where an experiment goes wrong and a scientist (played by Tony Shalhoub) is altered in a way that if his shadow touches someone, they turn to dust. The other X-Files episode was from their first season, “Space,” and was about an astronaut who, while in space, seems to have gained an alien presence in his body, one who seems to be sabotaging the space program. While there are many comparisons to X-Files, Fringe makes what seems like some of the same types of strange encounters seem fresh and new. I think a good part of that is the great cast of Fringe, specifically John Noble as the genius yet slightly mad scientist Walter Bishop.

In “Earthling,” random people are being killed by being turned into dust. We are shown a shadowy figure with the first killing, and when the body is discovered by the man’s wife, he begins to collapse into a pile of dust and ashes. This was an excellent special effect and I have to say that whoever created the bodies that were half formed and half ash did a fabulous job. And Walter (John Noble), upon examining the body, asks for a Dust Devil – lots of them. (He also gives us the tidbit of information that Peter used to draw genitalia on the Christmas reindeer decorations, and Peter give him that "too much information" look.) Broyles wants to know if they can find if the dead man spent any time in a hospital, as he’s seen this thing happen before. It was four years ago in Washington DC and five were dead.

Broyles takes Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson), Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and Walter to a storage locker where he gives them information on his past case that included a strange chemical formula. He had received a call from an Eastern European man who said he'd tell them about the deaths if they could decode his formula. The scientists failed, but the killings later stopped. Olivia had found that the recent victim had visited Latchmere General the day before. Olivia and Broyles visit that hospital the next day, looking for an employee of Eastern European descent who also worked in Washington DC. Walter, meanwhile, is still working with the ash and finds it is not radioactive as it should be. He’s also working on the equation that Broyles had in his files.

Back at the hospital, the shadow seems to be on the loose, and we find he’s taken another person’s life when a fly lands on a patient and the slight pressure causes the patient to disintegrate into ash. The nurses saw no one in the room or the area. Olivia and Broyles find that there was a man who fits the description of an Eastern European who worked in DC, his name is Tomas Koslov (Ravil Isyanov), and he also didn't come in to work that day. They found a finger print, and also find electrical components, one with Cyrillic writing on it and later suspect this is a link to some sort of Russian fringe science.

While Broyles has his team working on the case, Broyles gets a call for a face to face with Senator Van Horne in DC, who tells him that the Russian government may be involved and that Koslov may have stolen something. But he also tells Boyles to back off the case. Of course, Broyles does not, and he tells Olivia to keep working on it but not put anything in writing. While they are talking on the phone, she sees the shadow image on the hospital surveillance camera. Walter suspects that Tomas may have stolen Russian technology that the Russians are trying to get back.

Later, Broyles gets a helpful, top secret file from the senator, who assumes that Broyles didn’t stop working in the case. It seems Koslov’s brother was a cosmonaut and has been in a coma since his return from space. We find that Koslov did not steal technology; he stole his brother, and inside his brother is an entity that he picked up while he was in space. The entity needs radiation to survive and of course there is plenty of that in hospitals. The first man in the episode was killed because he also had been flying in a plane the day before sitting in a window seat and received an extra dose of x-rays just from that activity.

Koslov drugs a nurse and gets his brother out of the hospital and into a hotel room, where he tries to contain the shadow being by charging his brother with electrical currents. It seems he needs more and more electricity in order to keep the shadow in, but that it is not enough. Broyles had left Koslov a voice mail message, and while Koslov returns Broyles' call (which is being traced), Broyles tells him that they know what is going on and they can help him. But when Koslov quits talking and the phone line remains open, viewers see that a fan lightly blowing on Koslov starts to blow away part of his face into dust.

Walter, meanwhile, is still working on the formula and goes home with Peter to recreate it using Tinker Toys. Looking at that physical representation, Walter comes to the conclusion that the entity, and Koslov's brother, have become one and are permanently linked and there is no way to get the entity out for good.

Going to the location of Koslov’s traced call, they find themselves at a motel and see the remains of Koslov. They also find his comatose brother in a van, and it seems the entity is out looking for more energy. While Walter thinks of a way to harm the body to draw the entity back in to it, they hear a child scream – it appears the entity is in her hotel room. Broyles takes matters into his own hands and shoots the cosmonaut in the head, causing the entity to disappear from the girl’s room. The girl looks like she’s been frozen in the ash form, but it seems she was literally scared stiff, telling her mother she saw a shadow man.

Later, the Russians take away the cosmonaut’s body in a lead case.

Broyles goes to visit his ex wife and tells her that he solved the case from 4 years ago, and when she invites him in to join her and her husband for dinner, he declines. But as Broyles returns to his car, a man calls to him, and says that Broyles has a real friend in Senator Van Horne. He also tells Broyles that when the CIA says to cease and desist, they mean it. He wants to make sure that Broyles isn't going to prepare any report. When Broyles asks what they did with the cosmonaut, the CIA man says they had no choice once the cosmonaut started breathing again, and points towards the night sky filled with stars.

Like the X-Files, not every episode of Fringe follows the core mystery behind what they call “the pattern”. That is a good thing because it gives the show the opportunity to branch into many more story lines than just trying to solve one mystery alone, which sometimes can trap a show. With every episode, I find myself watching not just for the cases, but also to see what Walter Bishop will say or do. While “Earthling” was a relatively tame episode, it did provide a bit of a back story for the usually stoic Broyles and made him seem more like a normal human being with normal feelings.

Fringe continues to be one of the few shows that I never want to miss and – this should make advertisers happy – I actually watch it live and DVR CSI instead. I’ve found that I can delay my CSI fix, but not my Fringe fix!

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Verdict on V = Very Intriguing

All photos from ABC

Last night, ABC aired the ”V” pilot episode of the re-imagining of the 1980's miniseries of the same name, and it was an hour packed with action and suspense. The “V” stands for Visitors, and the show chronicles the arrival of aliens who call themselves The Visitors. They seem to be friendly and say they only want something from us that we have in abundance in exchange for some of their technology and other advances such as cures for certain human ailments. Even if you don’t know anything about the original 1980s series, you have a feeling that their niceness is phony and what they want from earthlings is far more than they let on. Pilot episodes usually try too hard to fit too much information into the initial outing, but in the case of “V”, they were able to establish the premise very quickly and move into the story without leaving viewers with a feeling of confusion.

The arrival of the aliens may have seemed like an earthquake to some, but when the reflections of something large in the sky begin to show up in the glass buildings, and a huge spaceship appears overhead, it becomes quickly obvious that this is no earthquake. Alien ships have appeared in all the major cities across the world in the same fashion. When the bottom of the ship, which faces the ground, transforms itself into a giant video screen with the image of a woman, everyone is transfixed. She looks human but she is not, she’s Anna (Morena Baccarin), the leader of the Vs. She tells the residents of earth – in all their native languages at the same time - that the Visitors have needs and are willing to exchange their advanced knowledge for some of our resources, and says they have arrived in peace. It’s the repetitive reinforcement of the “we come in peace” messages that makes me suspicious.

While some embrace the Vs and what they can do for humanity, such as cure many of our diseases; others do not have open arms. Two key characters, FBI Counter Terrorist Agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) and priest Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch), are on the side of the cautious. Erica finds her son Tyler (Logan Huffman) jumping on the V bandwagon a little too quickly. He becomes smitten with one of them named Lisa (Laura Vandervoort) and signs up to join the Vs, forging his mother’s signature on a permission form to do so. Erica, while working counter terrorism, thinks she’s found a sleeper cell that seems to have ramped up activity at the same time the Vs arrived, gets her work partner Dale Maddox (Alan Tudyk) involved in trying to track them down.

Meanwhile, Father Landry is dealing with a church that suddenly is full of worshippers, and a pastor who wants Landry to tow the Vatican line and accept the Vs. But when a churchgoer comes into the church with a fatal injury he said was dealt to him at the hands of the Vs, the man hands Landry an envelope and tells him to go to a meeting with the envelope. Landry, suspicious of the Vs, decides to go.

In the background of all this is Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut) who is planning on proposing marriage to Valerie Holt (Lourdes Benedicto). But when a friend of the past tries to rope him into some past activity that we don’t find out what it is right away, Nichols seems to want to back away from him.

News anchor Chad Decker (Scott Wolf), gets pulled into the Vs plans when he connects in a brief Q&A with Anna and she decides he’s the one she wants. We later find she wants him to do a one on one exclusive interview and be the mouthpiece between the Vs and the TV audience. He balks when she says he can’t ask any questions that paint the Vs in a negative light, but when Anna reminds him this is his chance to make himself known world wide, he goes ahead with the interview, caving to her wishes. Clearly he compromised himself, although I think he now has serious doubts about the Vs.

Erica and Dale close in on what they think is a sleeper cell, but the cell always seems to be a step behind them. When they uncover what appears to be a meeting place, Erica goes in and is admitted without problems. Father Jack is also there with his envelope. Ryan’s friend is running the gathering, and it becomes clear quickly that this is no terrorist cell in the manner that Erica first thought – this is an anti-V cell. Each person must get a V-shaped cut behind their ears, and they are told that this is to prove they are not V infiltrators, as the V people have been here for years and they have lizard bodies underneath their human form. Erica is skeptical and asks for proof that the Vs have been here, and Father Jack brings out the envelope of photos, which include a photo of a person Erica thought was part of a sleeper cell but of whom they were unable to find any record of their existence. A mysterious object floats into the room, and after shouts to get down, the object shoots out some sort of projectile in an attempt to kill the meeting attendees. More people invade the meeting and a fight ensues, and Erica is shocked to see on of the people she is fighting is none other that her work partner, Dale. He is injured in the process and she sees a lizard form underneath his skin. She kills him on the spot (or so we think – he seems to appear in the show’s preview for upcoming episodes).

Ryan also comes to help save the day, much to his friend’s shock, seeing that Ryan didn’t seem interested in helping him before. But his friend is in for a shock when Ryan shows him a cut on his arm and lizard skin underneath. Ryan reassures his friend that he is not on the same side as the Vs and there are more of him there that do not support the Vs as well. Ryan decides he can’t propose to Valerie with all that is going on, but when he gets home, those plans get messed up when Valerie finds the engagement ring.

The cast seems solid, with Elizabeth Mitchell and Joel Gretsch both being very believable in their roles. Scott Wolf, as the anchor who now seems to have compromised himself by agreeing to Anna’s rules, looks more like a man-boy rather than a news anchor. I can’t help but thinking he looks like someone took the faces of Michael J. Fox and Tom Cruise and morphed them together. It’s the only person in the show that I felt just did not look the part. Morena Baccarin, on the other hand, is perfect as the cool and controlled Anna, with a face that can look almost uncomfortably calm and peaceful. But Erica’s son Tyler is a character that I have tired of already.

The effects are very good for television and they are able to convey very well the technological advancements of the alien beings.

The show tries to diffuse viewer comments that the series is just like other alien invader shows by bringing out the event’s similarities to the movie “Independence Day” or other sci-fi shows. It is very true there have been many TV shows and movies, V’s own 1980s series being one of them, which show aliens arriving in big space ships. The theme of aliens coming in peace, gaining trust, and then taking something from humans that they normally would not give is also not uncommon. V’s success will be how well they can develop its main characters and if they can weave a story that may be different than the first TV show of the same name. Despite the predictability, the series made a good start, and I am sure viewers will come back for more. However, I hope that the show doesn’t get too heavy handed on the social commentary, which seems to have crept in several scenes in this first episode, mostly with Erica and her son. The act of aliens arriving on earth will mean unavoidable references to the issue of how people accept foreigners so I don’t think they can avoid that issue. Current social and political issues probably will be raised often, so as long as the series doesn’t make these references too heavy handed or too obvious it should not drag down the show.

All in all, the pilot episode of V was a great start and I can see the series going in many directions that the original series could not go. With FlashForward still trying to find it’s way, V looks like it will be a winner for ABC.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NBC’s Heroes: A Confused, Pointless Mess

Photo from NBC
Last season, NBC’s Heroes started adding many new characters and, as a result, diluted interest in the core characters. In this season, the practice has continued to the point that now Heroes is a confused, directionless mess.

Last night’s episode, ”Once Upon a Time In Texas” made matters worse by going back three years to have Hiro (Masi Oka) save Charlie (Jayma Mays) who he thinks is his one true love. Sylar (Zachary Quinto) killed her three years ago and Hiro thinks he can stop it from happening. But Samuel (Robert Knepper) a weird guy who as far as I can tell lives in some sort of imagined or cloaked carnival, has some person at the carnival who can also time travel like Hiro, and he gets this guy to also transport him where Hiro is located in the past. Oh yeah, Samuel seems to be able to inject some kind of ink into some woman and then she reads the tattoos that magically form on her body. After the watching the creepy Knepper on Fox’s “Prison Break” I am not interested in seeing him play just another creepy character.

Since we’re back three years, we also see Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman) interacting with his daughter Claire (Hayden Panettiere) who is, at that time, still a cheerleader. The episode seems to spend too much time on pointless dialog between Claire and her father. This highlights another problem Heroes has this season – spending too much time on scenes that do nothing to advance the storyline or add interest to the episode.

Noah also is at the same diner where Hiro is trying to save Charlie, and he is meeting up with a woman that he works with, Lauren (Elisabeth Rohm). She thinks that there is something between them, based on the fact that they keep meeting at this out-of-the-way diner. Since he hasn’t made the first move, she decides to do so by getting a room at a local hotel. Rohm, who was frequently – and deservedly – panned for her lack of acting skills while she was on NBC’s Law & Order, also seems "forced" in this role. It seems that almost every line she delivered included some sort of laugh. I find that I could care less about Noah Bennet’s past as his character ceased to have any mystery, or any real purpose, long ago. Another problem with this whole scenario is that I though that at that time 3 years ago that Bennet already knew what Sylar and Hiro looked like, so how can these people walk past him or be in the same place as him and he has no knowledge of who they are? But I guess he doesn’t know Sylar because later he goes to see Isaac – the guy who painted the future – and asks him to paint Sylar.

Meanwhile, Hiro tries to prevent Sylar from killing Charlie, and Samuel tries to get Hiro to understand that unless he does it just right, Hiro may change the future. Well, he WILL change the future if he saves Charlie, it is as simple as that, seeing that she won’t be dead. Hiro thinks that if he gets himself back in a picture of Charlie that is posted on the diner bulletin board, he thinks all will be OK. When Hiro dangles the knowledge of the future in front of the Sylar of the past, suddenly the Sylar of the past - who we knew only wanted other people’s powers and killed at the drop of a hat - seems to want to help Hiro. Not only that, but now Sylar seems to have the power not only to remove people’s powers via cutting through their heads, but now he can fix Charlie’s brain tumor with his finger with surgical precision. When did he get that power? Sylar then appears to go right back on his quest from three years ago to get Claire’s power, and since Hiro knows the cheerleader was already saved, he doesn’t seem to care. But how does he really know that, since it is clear he changed the past, and who knows what ripple effects have occurred? Hiro also tells Ando (James Kyson Lee) to wait for him in the diner because he is future Hiro and the present Hiro will be by soon. I am so confused.

Lauren and Noah meet at the hotel room, and despite her flirty attempts to get Noah interested in her, he really doesn’t seem to want to get into a workplace thing. He says he still loves his daughter and family and hopes to one day be able to tell them the truth. Actually, he looked like he couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there, and she says, “let’s get back to work.”

Later, back at the office break room, Lauren hands Noah an envelope that she said was left on her desk by accident. He opens it and finds the hotel room key and she asks him if he is planning a stay. He looks at her with an odd face and he asks her if they're now pretending they've never been to the "Burnt Toast" diner. Now she looks at him funny, but then he reads the note with the hotel room key that says "Noah, gone Haitian, wiped my memory, better this way, more professional, love, Lauren." I find myself wishing that the Haitian would wipe my own memory of this episode as well.

Samuel’s appearance in the past was more than to just warn Hiro that his messing with the past can mess up the future. Once Hiro saves Charlie, Samuel transports Charlie to his carnival (I think by using the man he already has that can time travel). Samuel wants to use that fact to get Hiro to come back with him because Samuel’s time travel guy is dying and he needs Hiro to take his place. Hiro take Samuel there and then realizes he is trapped, and Samuel says he needs Hiro to fix a mistake he made 8 weeks ago. I find that I no longer care.

Since we probably haven’t traveled through time enough in this episode, we are taken to a place 8 weeks prior to the present (!) with a dead man lying on the floor. Samuel is saying he is sorry, and the man on the floor is Mohinder (Sendhil Ramamurthy). I am underwhelmed.

I am convinced that the creative minds behind this episode are just making things up as they go along. They drop new characters in to the show rather than develop the core characters that they started with, and those were the people that made the show popular. Heroes seems to be dropping rapidly in the ratings each week, likely because the show seems to be jerking between aimless story lines that seem to have no cohesive theme or purpose. My guess is that this is the last season for Heroes. I don’t think there is any effort heroic enough that anyone can make at this point in time to save the show.

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Mad Men “The Grown Ups” An Assassination Rocks Their World

All Photos from AMC

Mad Men “The Grown Ups” seems to have been building to this point all season: the country gets the horrific news that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Anyone old enough to have lived through that day can remember it vividly. I was 8 years old and in class when the news came over the public address system. Even at that young age, we all knew that this news was serious business. I also can recall sitting glued in front of the TV for days watching the news coverage. “The Grown Ups” was a perfect episode for people like me who saw the event through a child’s eyes – not unlike Sally and Bobby Draper – but now had a chance to see it through the eyes of the grown ups who still had to go about their daily lives. I also found it interesting that the episode showed other coverage besides the usual Walter Cronkite video of the event. Our household was an NBC household so we were glued to Chet Huntley and their coverage the entire time.

In “The Grown Ups,” before the assassination happened, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) got the news from Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) that Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) was given the title of Senior Vice President of Account Services, and Pete would be had of account management . Needless to say, Pete takes the news calmly while in Lane's office, but then leaves for the day to wallow at home in his perceived failure. Pete’s wife Trudy (Alison Brie) tries to look at the situation with Pete’s job rationally in order to calm him. But when he later says he doesn’t want to go to Margaret’s wedding after the assassination has occurred, she agrees with him and stays home with him.

Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) arrives at work with her new roommate Karen Ericson (Carla Gallo) and they talk about men. Her roomie doesn’t like Duck, saying that his cologne lingers too much. Later, Duck (Mark Moses) calls Peggy for a “nooner” and on her way there, Duck hears the news on TV that Kennedy has been shot, and while he seems rattled about it, he unplugs the TV to likely keep the news, and the distraction, away from Peggy and his planned afternoon delight. When he finally turns on the TV, the news that Kennedy is dead shocks both of them.

Roger Sterling’s (John Slattery) daughter is getting married that weekend, and Roger's wife Jane (Peyton List ) gives Margaret (Elizabeth Rice) a gift of beautiful earrings in an attempt to make peace with Margaret. But this only incenses Margaret more, who throws a tantrum with her mother, Mona (Talia Balsam). When Margaret drags Roger into her drama, Mona tries to calm the situation further with Margaret so the wedding can go on. Roger, however, rants to Jane about why she even got involved when he told her to stay away from Margaret. As the wedding gets close and news of the assassination comes out, Margaret sobs uncontrollably, her worst fears about her wedding being doomed coming to reality.

At the office, everyone goes about their normal workday, and when Pete is talking with Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) they are so engrossed in the discussion that they don’t even see the news bulletin come across the TV screen. When it seems that the entire floor of employees for Sterling Cooper descends on Harry’s office to see the news bulletin, Harry and Pete are shocked. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) meanwhile is battling with Lane about hiring a replacement for Sal. When Don doesn’t like Lane’s answer, he says that Bert Cooper still has a say in the company, and Don storms out. But when Don hears all the office phones ringing and everyone seems to be collected in Harry’s office, he then hears the grim news. Betty Draper (January Jones) is at home, and already crying over the news when Carla (Deborah Lacey) comes home with Sally (Kiernan Shipka) and Bobby (Jared S. Gilmore). Betty is already in a funk after finding out about her husband’s secret past life, and this new news rocks her world even further.

When Don arrives home and finds the kids glued to the TV, he tells Betty he wants them away from it. But when she wonders how she can keep it from them, his answer to her is to take a pill and lie down. He proceeds to sit down with the kids and seemingly becomes glue to the TV just as they were. Later. with Betty already in the darkened bedroom lying down, he takes a pill himself.

The day of Margaret’s wedding, everyone seems to struggled with whether they should attend the reception or not attend. Pete and Trudy decide to stay home. The Drapers, however, decide to go, but it’s clear that many people were no shows by the look of all the empty seats. Roger tries to salvage a bad situation the best he can despite the fact that he finds out there is no wedding cake and his wife seems to be stuck in the ballroom kitchen glued to the television.

Betty gets a surprise when she sees Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) show up at the reception, and he meets with a young woman. She is relieved when she overhears the woman is Francis’ daughter Elanor (Veronica Taylor). Elanor later notices that her father can’t keep his eyes off Betty. Don and Betty are also dancing, and he kisses her and tells her everything will be fine.

After the reception, Roger carries a drunk Jane into the bedroom and flops her on the bed, and when he seems sure she is out cold, he picks up the phone and calls Joan (Christina Hendricks). It seems clear that Roger still has feelings for Joan and I wonder what will happen with those two during the season finale.

Back at home the next day, Betty is watching TV and screams loudly as she watched on live TV the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald. But when Don tries to reassure her, she says "Leave me alone," and pushes him away and leaves the room. When Sally enters and asks. "What happened?" Don says "Nothing," which is typical for Don, who seems to think that he can just sweep everything away with a few words.

When Betty wants to go for a drive alone to “clear hear head,” Don seems perplexed. I guess he doesn’t quite know what it’s like when someone keeps secrets from him. Betty meets Henry Francis in a parking lot, and he stuns her by saying he wants to marry her. They share a kiss. He thinks he can make her happy (and I think to myself, “good luck with that”).

Back at home, Betty tells Don she is upset at him for ruining all of this, and then says she does not love him. She goes on to say that when he kissed her the day before she felt nothing. Don tries to blow her off as he always does, saying she will feel better tomorrow. She says he can’t even hear her right now, and he says she is right.

The next day, it seems like business as usual at home, with Don going to work and the kids having breakfast, but he and Betty do not speak. No businesses were open that day for Kennedy’s funeral. When Don gets into the office, he finds Peggy there, who also seemed to have the need to escape her own place, as her roommate brought in a whole group of people to watch the funeral and to write letters to Jackie, and her mother and sister are at home crying and praying. She decided to go to Bert Cooper’s office to watch the funeral, and Don heads to his own office for a drink.

I thought this episode used the events of the Kennedy assassination with the right mix of television coverage – just enough to show how the people reacted to the news, but not too much that it overpowered the episode. It was clear that everyone’s lives were due for a shakeup anyway, and this event may have rocked their worlds enough that they will use it as an excuse to make changes in their own lives. But when Henry Francis said he can make Betty happy, I find myself wondering if he is aware of what a cold fish she can be? I am not sure that anything can make Betty happy, and while she has taken the big step of confronting Don about her lack of feelings for him, I still sense she is conflicted over the whole matter and I wonder if Betty is just one step away from going off the deep edge?

Pete is getting to be a bit of a whiner. He seems almost too insecure about things that he appears immature. He’s another person that I sense is one step away from something – maybe it’s making a bad career move. The smarmy Duck wouldn’t be good for Pete, and I also question his motives with Peggy.

It was a great episode with plenty of drama with all the key players, and hopefully it will lead to a very exciting season finale next week. I can’t wait!

Video Recap: Mad Men “The Grown Ups”

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