Tuesday, December 29, 2009

HIMYM 5.11: "Last Cigarette Ever"

“We had a fairly intense screaming match. Wherein I suggested that you take your head and store it within yourself. In a fashion that while space-saving might limit its exposure to sunshine.”


“Last Cigarette Ever” seems to be another episode that more closely resembles the earlier seasons of HIMYM, where the characters face a typical situation for someone in their mid-20’s to early-30’s in their own unique way. Not being a smoker myself, I can’t vouch for this episode’s authenticity like I can for others, but I would guess it has been written with the same attention to emotional detail as episodes like “Okay Awesome,” “Arividerci Fiero,” and the two-part Season 2 finale “Something Borrowed” and “Something Blue.” Because I am not a smoker but I have felt discomfort at “fun” social activities like clubbing, contemplated giving up my first car, and have participated in my best friend’s wedding, I didn’t feel the same connection to “Last Cigarette Ever” as I felt to the other episodes I mentioned, although there were still plenty of good character moments to make it a worthy episode overall.

Robin is facing some extra stress at work. She has a new co-anchor, Don Frank, who is the veteran of 38 local morning news teams. Robin is excited about this at first, thinking she’ll be getting a co-anchor with a lot of wisdom to bring to the job. Instead, she winds up with a jaded loser. Robin deals with the stress by indulging in her vice of choice, smoking. It turns out that the entire gang are smokers to some degree, even though they deny their status most of the time (especially Barney). The HIMYM writers are once again taking advantage of the “Ted as an unreliable narrator” trope to create an episode’s story. Ted has been hiding the fact that they were all smokers from his kids, and they are quite surprised to learn the truth.

Dominoes keep falling to make more of the characters start smoking more frequently. Marshall smokes to get in good with his new boss at GNB, “Artillery Arthur” from the Season 3 episode “The Chain of Screaming.” Marshall and Arthur were not fond of each other to say the least, and their working relationship ended in a massive screaming match. Arthur was brought into GNB to fire a bunch of employees, and word is that he fires people he doesn’t know. Surprisingly, he doesn’t remember Marshall, but he tells Marshall that he finds sharing a cigarette to be a great way to get to know someone.

Marshall smoking more frequently makes Lily immediately fall back off the wagon. Ted and Barney are then left sitting alone in MacLaren’s as Robin, Marshall, and Lily are all outside smoking. We get a great flash back to what it was like when people were allowed to smoke in bars. The entire screen is covered in smoke, and Barney and Ted are having trouble finding women to hit on amid the haze. It’s reminiscent of the very loud club in “Okay Awesome” where all the dialogue was captioned. It’s an obvious call back joke, but it’s still funny because it’s so true. Ted and Barney decide they might as well go outside and join the rest of the gang, so now they’re smoking too.

After a few weeks of smoking, everyone has reached their “breaking point.” Lily wakes up one day with a “smoker voice” provided by Harvey Firestein. Ted has a great deal of trouble climbing the stairs to his apartment. Barney notices a burn mark on his tie (and reacts with a hilarious girly scream perfectly produced by Neil Patrick Harris). Marshall witnesses Arthur have a heart attack during one of their workday rooftop cigarette breaks. We get some more time-traveling Marshall, and this time early-30s (present day) Marshall goes back in time to beat up his 13-year-old self who thought starting smoking was a good idea. It’s pretty amusing, although it feels a bit redundant to have time traveling Marshall I think I liked the first version better. 60-year-old Marshall still caring deeply for Lily was poignant as well as funny. gags two weeks in a row.

The group then makes a pact to quit, but Robin’s work troubles don’t make keeping the pact easy. As I alluded to earlier, Don is not the helpful professional Robin was hoping for. He has lost hope of ever finding true success in journalism, and his attitude is affecting the rest of the staff at Robin’s show. As is his habit of working in just tightie whities and no pants (the anchor desk hides his legs, after all). Robin, still determined to succeed, is furiously trying to get Mayor Bloomberg to come on the show. This is one of the reasons she agrees to quit smoking, actually, considering Bloomberg is the “Anti-smoking Mayor.” Don is convinced Robin is wasting her time, and he turns out to be right- for now, at least. The Mayor agrees to be on the show, but he cancels at the last minute.

The thing I liked most about Robin’s plotline in this episode is what happens on her show after she finds out that the Mayor cancelled. Don has convinced her to just goof off on air since nobody really watches the show. Robin is about to light a cigarette, when she gets a phone call from Marshall. The whole gang actually decided to watch her show for once (since it’s on so early in the morning, they’re usually all asleep). Marshall calls to beg Robin not to light that cigarette, because if she starts smoking again, all of them will fall off the wagon. I thought that Robin’s reaction to her friends actually watching the show was sweet, and I enjoy that these are characters who seem to genuinely like each other. On the other hand, Saget!Ted informs us that Robin will be dating Don within three months. Don was mildly amusing, but I think I will find him insufferable in larger doses. I can only hope their relationship does not last as long as is hinted at in “The Playbook.”

The end of the episode is what makes the episode as a whole work. It’s truly vintage HIMYM, with a healthy dose of sentimentality. The gang are all on the roof, and they decide to have a mutual “Last Cigarette Ever.” As the camera pans over each character, Saget!Ted tells us when each of them truly quit smoking. Some of the revelations were more interesting than others. Barney will quit in 2017, which is interesting because we know that he will at least live that long (there aren’t many references to Future!Barney). Lily will quit when she and Marshall start trying to have a baby, and Marshall will quit when their son is born. Ted quits a few weeks after he meets his future wife.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dollhouse 2.08: "A Love Supreme"

“That’s what I love about the British. Your talent for understatement. Also Python.”


“A Love Supreme” was a stunning episode of Dollhouse in many senses of the word. It was stunning in an artistic sense, as it plays expertly with the viewer’s emotions. It was stunning in the sense that it ended with a hell of a twist. Overall, it was yet another beautiful episode that will make me truly miss Dollhouse when it ends in January. I like television that makes me think and makes me feel, and Dollhouse, and this episode in particular, most certainly did both. Add in yet another commanding performance by Alan Tudyk, back in the creepy persona of Alpha after a brief stint as Dale, the creepy sleeper Visitor, in V (I’m kind of sensing a theme here), and you have my TV nirvana.

A man is sitting outside his trailer in a dusty desert town, telling his story about how he blew all his money on engagements. He still loves the Active he hired, and that love is all he has left. We then see the person he’s talking to- it’s Alpha. Alpha, being Alpha, ends up killing the guy with a hunting knife. Clearly his Echo obsession is still in full force, and it’s going to be quite an interesting ride.

Meanwhile, Adelle is indulging in quite the sadistic streak herself. She has Echo in solitary confinement, withholding treatments. The severe headaches persist as Psychiatrist!Victor questions her. Boyd and Paul observe from a window outside the cell, and Paul is incensed at how Adelle has been treating Echo since their return. Boyd isn’t thrilled about the situation either (as he says “I looked into her eyes and swore to protect her, same as you. Before you.”), but he’s determined to let practicality win the day. Adelle is torturing Echo specifically to make one of them, probably Paul, squirm and tell her the truth about what’s been going on with Echo. Boyd believes that silence is the best way to protect Echo in this situation.

Topher has independently come to the same conclusion that Adelle shouldn’t be trusted. He lies to Adelle about Echo’s brain scans, saying the scans are perfectly normal. Next thing we know, he’s confronting Paul and Boyd about the scans, telling them they’re the craziest scans he’s ever seen. Boyd spills the beans- Echo has become her own person. Topher’s reaction is one of my favorite moments of the series to date. His child-like curiosity takes over. He wants to know, in detail, exactly what Echo thinks and feels. As he preps for Echo’s upcoming romantic engagement (yet another Adelle tactic to make Paul squirm), Topher repeatedly asks if Echo is various previous imprints, and Boyd keeps answering “Yes.” When Echo actually enters the imprint room, Topher actually treats her like a person instead of a biological computer. To me, it was the greatest Topher moment since the reveal in Epitaph One that he suffered a complete breakdown and couldn’t deal with the fact that his tech caused the end of the world. Topher speaks directly to Echo, explains the engagement, and asks if it’s okay with her. It turns out Echo doesn’t even need to be imprinted- she can just call up the imprint from memory since it’s a repeat engagement.

The client is named Frank, and Echo is his sister-in-law who Frank wishes would suddenly realize that marrying Frank’s brother was a mistake. Paul is uncomfortable being Echo’s pimp again, but he has no choice if they want to keep up the ruse and eventually bring down the Dollhouse. What happens when they arrive at Frank’s house is right out of the classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Passion.” Echo follows a trail of rose petals into the dining room of Frank’s house only to find Frank sitting at the table, long dead.

Echo, still stuck in her imprint, is absolutely hysterical, and Paul can’t break her out of it. It’s so bad that he calls Boyd. I do really enjoy seeing Paul and Boyd working together. It was a fun, reluctant partnership back in the first season finale “Omega,” and now it’s a real partnership, forged due to their mutual desire to protect Echo. Paul and Boyd are eventually able to bring Echo back to herself, and Echo immediately realizes that Alpha is behind all of this. There’s a note with some of the flowers that references “number one.” Whiskey was number one until Alpha went on his knifing rampage way back when and Echo became number one. After some more sleuthing back at the Dollhouse, Paul and Boyd realize that a surprising number of Echo’s past romantic engagements have recently died violent deaths.

It turns out that Alpha’s scheming goes far deeper than anyone imagined. Sierra returns from an engagement (where she was right out of the 1920’s), and before Topher wipes the imprint, Sierra tells him that her client’s name was Alpha. This instantly sets off alarm bells (as it should). Adelle suspects that other Dolls might be affected as well, so she orders all engagements suspended and all Dolls wiped clean. There’s a huge line waiting to get into the imprint room, that’s for sure.

There’s a clue that the next person to be killed will be someone who “ages well.” Boyd figures out that this is probably Matt, the guy from the beginning of the pilot episode, who hires Echo every year on his birthday. He and Paul head out with a full, armed security detail, but they’re too late. Alpha has Matt strapped to a bomb on the roof of the building. All this because Matt said his time with Echo was “a blast.” Boyd and Paul try to talk Alpha out of killing Matt, but it’s obvious that’s a tactic that will never work. As Alpha says, “There are many parts of me that know that this is wrong. None that care. And six that just find it funny.” He is truly a psychopath, and Alan Tudyk plays him to creepy perfection. Paul realizes just in time that the bomb is about to go off, and the team ducks for cover. Matt, however, does not survive. I find it interesting that Fox has no problem with violence- we see Matt become “pink mist” (to use a term from old-school Grey’s) right before our eyes, yet they have problems with the implication that what goes on at the Dollhouse is indeed prostitution. I think this is really a problem inherent in our whole country, though, not just the Fox network, and it’s a rant probably better saved for another forum.

The only one of Echo’s past romantic engagements still not accounted for is Joel Mynor, the software entrepreneur from Season 1’s game changing episode, “Man on the Street.” Paul has to go find him, and the result is absolutely hilarious, considering that the last time Paul and Joel met, Paul was still an FBI agent obsessed with bringing down the Dollhouse, and now Paul works for the Dollhosue. Joel pretty much says as much, and he pretty much says that’s pathetic. Topher explaining the situation to Joel back at the Dollhouse is also pretty great. Joel can’t believe just how bad the situation is- Alpha broke out and back in, you say? Indeed he did. And, what do you know? He’s broken in a second time as well. He walks out of the bathroom in Adelle’s office to give Adelle a rather unpleasant surprise. The rest of the Dollhouse is alerted when Paul looks at a security monitor and sees Alpha with Adelle in Adelle’s private elevator. Sounding the alarm doesn’t do much good, though. Alpha has a device, enabled by a virus that spread when Adelle ordered all of the Dolls wiped clean, that makes the Dolls turn on their handlers. It’s complete chaos.

The chaos reaches the imprint room as well. Topher had been in the middle of wiping Victor, and when Victor wakes up, he punches out Topher. Now, I have grown to appreciate the character of Topher as the series has progressed, but Victor punching him out was strangely satisfying, maybe because Topher is most directly responsible for what Victor has endured for almost five years. Soon after Topher is knocked out, Alpha arrives at the imprint room and looms menacingly at Joel.

Paul arrives in time to help Topher back up, but it turns to be a pretty bad move. All this time, Alpha has been setting up a bait-and-switch. It’s Paul he’s after, not Joel. Alpha straps Paul into the imprint chair. Alpha stalked Paul and Echo the entire three months that they were in Texas, and he has become convinced that Echo loves Paul. He backs up his claims with photographs. This incenses Alpha, because he wants Echo to love only him. His big plan is to sort of crack open Paul’s brain to figure out what makes him worthy of Echo’s love. Alpha gets quite carried away with himself and zaps Paul until Paul is brain dead.

Meanwhile, Echo, who has broken out of solitary confinement but doesn’t realize Paul is in trouble, saves Adelle from the advancing murderous Actives. Echo, Adelle, Joel, Boyd, and Topher conference in one of the sleeping pod rooms. That’s when Joel reveals that Alpha was actually after Paul, and Echo runs off quick as she can. Topher and Boyd have their own mission. They’re going to the manufacturing room to get one of Topher’s new remote wipe devices. When Echo gets to the imprint room, it’s too late. Alpha is sitting in the imprint chair, and Paul is slumped on the floor. Alpha, in his smarmy, self-important way, tells Echo that her “boyfriend’s dead” and promptly propositions her. Echo’s ready for a fight and doesn’t hesitate to attack Alpha. Alpha wins the day, however, thanks to imprinting himself with Paul. Just as Echo is about to deliver the killing blow, Paul’s voice comes through, begging Echo to end Alpha!Paul’s life. Hearing Paul’s voice, Echo just can’t bring herself to kill Alpha, and Alpha escapes.

Topher and Boyd have more success. The remote wipe device works to reset all the murderous Dolls, and Topher using it as Boyd covers him with a real gun is a pretty hilarious picture. They eventually make their way back to the imprint room, where they find Echo sobbing over Paul’s body. This image is extremely powerful, although I think it would be more powerful if there had been a chance to devote a few more episodes to the three months Paul and Echo spent training in Texas. Without that background, Echo’s pain doesn’t have the emotional impact for the viewer that it would otherwise.

At the end of the episode, Echo tries to give Joel some peace. She channels the imprint of Rebecca, Joel’s late wife, and tells Joel that Rebecca would want him to be happy and continue on with plans to marry the new woman in his life. I think Dollhouse as a show has really taken off since making Echo a fully realized character in her own right. I’ve kind of gotten to like her in these past few episodes, certainly more than I liked Caroline, the person who originally inhabited Echo’s body. Even as she tries to give comfort to Joel, Echo herself is still grieving- after Joel leaves, we see Echo return to Paul’s bedside, where he’s still brain dead, now on a ventilator.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Holiday "Classic" Recap: The Big Bang Theory "The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis"

“Do you realize what this means? All I need is a healthy ovum and I could grow my own Leonard Nimoy!”


I was a little torn about what holiday episode to spotlight on the blog this year- there are so many great ones. “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” from the second season of Grey’s Anatomy is heartfelt with the edge that made the early episodes of that series so great. “The Christmas Show” from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is one of my favorite episodes of television overall. For a much maligned show, “The Christmas Show” was absolutely a stand-out episode and used all of Aaron Sorkin’s skills to full effect. On Monday night, however, CBS broadcast this episode of The Big Bang Theory, and my decision was made. I loved this episode when I first saw it last year, and I still love it upon rewatch, mostly because of Jim Parsons’ performance as Sheldon. This is actually the episode he submitted for Emmy consideration last year. The A story of the episode is fairly middling for the series, but the B story, where Sheldon struggles to buy Penny a Christmas present, is what makes the episode truly special.

Leonard and Penny drama never makes for the best episodes of The Big Bang Theory (which I believe is part of the reason that the early episodes of this season were comparatively weak), so here’s a quick run-down before we get to the good stuff. Dave Underhill, one of Leonard’s physics idols, is visiting the university where Leonard and the rest of the guys work. Not only is Dave a super genius, he’s also extremely “cool,” in the conventional sense. He rides a motorcycle, and he’s a womanizer. Although he was originally bitter about Dave rendering his own work obsolete, Leonard is starstruck when he actually meets the guy. As Raj and Wolowitz say, Leonard develops quite the “man crush.” He even tries riding Dave’s motorcycle, although it falls on his leg before he can even get it started.

Things go from bad to worse for Leonard when he and Dave run into Penny in the hallway as Dave is helping Leonard home after the motorcycle “accident.” There’s an instant connection between Penny and Dave, and suddenly Penny is all about science and wanting to know everything about what Dave does for work. Poor Leonard whose “leg is killing [him]” had been trying to take Penny for a tour of the university for the past two years. Eventually, Leonard has had enough, but he chooses the worst possible time to confront Penny- she just found out that Dave is actually married. Leonard manages to worm his way out of getting in trouble for putting his foot in his mouth, and Leonard and Penny’s friendship survives another week.

Far more entertaining and endearing is Sheldon’s struggle to find the perfect Christmas present for Penny. In Sheldon’s world, giving a gift is actually giving an obligation (he has to figure out a return gift of similar value and reflective of the proper level of friendship), so he kind of freaks out when Penny tells him that she bought Christmas gifts for the guys. It’s a typical Sheldon rant, delivered with perfection by Jim Parsons. Raj and Wolowitz think this is hilarious because Sheldon is freaking out at somebody other than them, but they get stuck taking Sheldon to the mall to purchase a reciprocal gift.

The guys end up in a Bath and Body Works-type store, and when Wolowitz suggests Sheldon simply buy a gift basket, Sheldon is stumped about the proper size of gift basket to purchase. He tries to ask for help from a store employee, but predictably, just ends up freaking her out. Sheldon wants to know what exactly gifting a particular basket would signify about his relationship with Penny, and he gets a little too specific about examples of potential meanings. Sheldon eventually comes up with a plan that is acceptable in his strange little world. He buys a bunch of gift baskets, all in different sizes. After he opens Penny’s gift, he’ll pretend he has “digestive distress” so he can run off, look up the price of the gift, and give Penny the gift basket that is the closest in value to her gift. The visual of Raj and Wolowitz carrying the myriad baskets up to Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment is hilarious.

It’s the end of the episode that really makes it a classic. Sheldon opens up Penny’s gift, and it’s a napkin. It’s not just any napkin, though. Leonard Nimoy used and autographed it when he ate a meal at the Cheesecake Factory where Penny works as a waitress. Sheldon is completely flabbergasted, not only that Penny got him Leonard Nimoy’s autograph, but that she got Leonard Nimoy’s DNA (from using the napkin). Over-the-top Sheldon moments like this are where Jim Parsons really shines. Still almost speechless, Sheldon bolts to his bedroom, presumably to get Penny’s gift. He returns carrying all of the gift baskets and drops them in front of Penny. When Penny starts to protest, Sheldon says that all those gift baskets aren’t really enough. He then does his best to hug Penny, something that Sheldon never, ever does. I think the moment can be appreciated by even a casual fan of the show, but a regular viewer who understands just how deep Sheldon’s neuroses run can realize just how special and rare a moment like that is.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

MTVP 2009 Christmas TV Wish List

The past year has been full of life changes for this TV Junkie. I’ve graduated law school, moved to a new apartment, been turned down for quite a few jobs, and decided I’ll probably be headed back to school next fall. It certainly hasn’t been an easy year. So on Christmas Eve, instead of thinking about material things (such as TV on DVD sets), I’d like to put together a wish list of a different sort- my wish list for the coming year in television. It ranges from hopes for currently existing shows, to hopes that certain types of new shows will soon be in development, to hopes for awards season. Most are probably pretty predictable if you follow this blog enough to know my taste in TV.

1. A satisfying finale to Lost.

The finale of Lost will have to do two things for me to consider it satisfying. It will have to somewhat answer some of the series’ burning questions, but not in such detail that it’s a Midichlorians redux (a Star Wars reference for the non-geeks out there). Second, and most importantly, characters during major events should not be motivated by the Love Quadrangle of Doom. Yeah, Jack’s “I’m going to blow up the Island because I messed up with Kate” and Juliet’s “I’m going to go along with blowing up the island because Sawyer will always love Kate” diatribes in the Season 5 finale didn’t really work for me. I would be highly disappointed if we went there again.

2. Dr. Horrible 2 and more work from Joss Whedon.

I think the first half of this wish could happen, at least, provided Team Horrible gets the script together in time for shooting over the summer hiatus, when Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, and Simon Helberg, who all have regular jobs on network shows at the moment, are more likely to be available. As for the second part, I would like to see more work from Joss Whedon either on the internet or on cable where he would have the creative freedom he needs to tell stories in the detailed, cerebral way that he does so well. It’s very sad to be losing Dollhouse in 2010, but I’m trying to look on the bright side and anticipate what’s next.

3. Concrete news on new projects from Aaron Sorkin and/or Bryan Fuller.

These two creators complete my Favorite TV Showrunner Trifecta. Word on IMDB is that Sorkin is working on a drama about a cable news show like Keith Olbermann’s (which, like The West Wing, would be a good, appropriate setting for Sorkin’s sometimes preachy style). Fuller is bringing his unique take on the world to several projects for NBC/Universal, including an adaptation of the novel Sellevision as a one hour drama and a half hour sitcom about an animal shelter. Although neither of Fuller’s projects seem to be genre, they both seem like they would provide ample room for his unique, often macabre, sense of humor.

4. Solid ratings for Season 3 of Chuck and the next “pod” of V.

These are two shows that deserve a chance, and hopefully viewers will turn out in high enough numbers to give them that chance. Chuck is heartfelt and funny, has a unique premise, and has well developed characters. It just barely scored a renewal for this season, and I’m hoping things take a turn for the better ratings-wise this winter despite a very crowded Monday night timeslot. Although V is still experiencing some growing pains (the characters aren’t as developed as I generally like), I think it deserves a continued chance to prove itself. I love seeing hard sci-fi on network television, and V could be make-or-break for networks picking up any similar shows for a long time to come.

5. An Emmy Win for Neil Patrick Harris (finally!).

Neil Patrick Harris has been nominated for an Emmy three times for his work as Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. It’s about high time one of his Emmy nominations turns into a win. Defying stereotypes, he continually produces high-quality work- handling both comedy and drama with ease no matter what the character, be it a womanizing corporate exec or a shy, kind of angry nerd. He is truly a top-notch all-around entertainer, incorporating singing and dancing with ease. And I’ll stop now before this starts sounding like a job search cover letter or letter of recommendation.

6. Continued success (and lots of Emmy love) for Glee.

Glee is, to me, the best new show of this television season. I love the subversive, dark comedy, the heightened reality, and of course the singing. Many of the characters have become quite three-dimensional, too. I hope Glee can keep up its current level of quality going forward and not get bogged down in what drama is going to happen next. The real charm of Glee is how the characters all interact with each other- not in finding out who is pregnant by whom. I also hope that the plethora of Golden Globe nominations Glee recently received will be repeated come Emmy time- this is a show that’s not afraid to be original or controversial.

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it (and for those who don’t, I hope you also have been having a lovely holiday season). May all your wishes, television and otherwise, come true in the new year.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dollhouse 2.07: "Meet Jane Doe"

“Thirty-six personalities and not one of them can cook?”


“Meet Jane Doe” continued the excellent run of Dollhouse episodes leading up to the series finale, which will be broadcast in January. The plot has really sped into high gear. The Dollhouse crew is trying to tell us as much of the story as possible while they still can, and for the devoted fan, the investment is paying off in spades. This episode alone could be the basis for an entire season of the show, albeit with the show’s premise turned on its head a bit. One of the things I generally appreciate about Joss Whedon’s work is his “slow burn” style of storytelling, where the puzzle pieces come together gradually, and you really get immersed in the world. That obviously can’t happen here. I’m torn between whether I miss that style or whether I’m grateful to know as much of the story Joss had in his head as possible. I’m leaning towards the latter, because the story being told is indeed fascinating.

The episode opens with a brief moment of comedy before things start to get heavy. Topher is recapping what happened in DC for his assistant, Ivy. He’s fixated on Bennett’s betrayal, telling Ivy that he’ll “never trust another woman.” This line takes on added meaning after what happens at the end of this episode. He goes on to relate how he knocked Bennett out, when Ivy really just wants to know what happened to Echo. She’s still missing, and, as we see by the end of the teaser, surviving by scrounging for garbage.

Echo finds herself in a grocery store in middle-of-nowhere Texas (Boyd has speculated to Adelle that Echo left the DC area via hitchhiking). She grabs an orange, and the grocery store manager rudely tries to throw her out. She sees someone in similarly dire straits- a Spanish-speaking woman trying unsuccessfully to pay for her groceries with food stamps. Echo decides to take action- she grabs some bread and runs out of the store- trying to give some of the bread to the other woman. The shop manager calls over to the nearby Sheriff, and things get chaotic fast. The woman, whose name is Galena, is arrested. Echo manages to escape thanks to timely flashes back to her fighting skills. We later see that this was a moment of awakening for Echo. Something about the fight and Bennett giving her a memory of Caroline formed Echo into a whole person.

Adelle, however, is not so empowered. Since the DC debacle, she’s been kept under the thumb of Mr. Harding, a Dollhouse executive higher-up than she is. He’s reduced her role basically to just arranging the engagements that he picks and chooses. A lot of changes have happened around the Dollhouse. Actives are being sent on more dangerous missions, they’re doing jumping jacks instead of tai chi, and Topher is the new golden boy. Mr. Harding is very excited about some of the tech Topher could be capable of inventing. Adelle is the subservient little girl in all this, serving tea, or inclining her head whenever in the presence of Mr. Harding. It’s very unlike Adelle, and it’s a fascinating transformation. The only thing kind of amusing in all of it is that Topher is using Victor and Sierra as his assistants for his experiments. Victor and Sierra are always entertaining.

Whatever clicked in Echo’s brain following the fight triggered her to call Paul’s cell phone for help, and now the two of them are living in Texas, cooking up a plan to free Galena from jail and training for Echo’s inevitable reentry into the Dollhouse. Echo is using information from an old imprint to work as a nurse, and nurses from this hospital often treat patients at the nearby county jail where Galena is being held. Echo cons her way into being the nurse to go to the jail, and she gives Galena some medicine that will be part of the escape plan.

When Echo gets home, she’s attacked as soon as she walks into the apartment. It’s not a big deal, though. It’s just Paul. He’s being the Cato to her Inspector Clousseau, for you “Pink Panther” fans out there. Echo offers to make dinner, and we get some insight into the kind of odd mind of Paul Ballard. He thinks food and sex are intertwined. This explains why Mellie was so effective, and perhaps even show the extent to which the Dollhouse had researched his psyche before trying to stop his investigation. Despite this flirtatious conversation, Echo and Paul have actually not slept together. Not for Echo’s lack of trying, though. Paul makes it very clear the he doesn’t believe he “has the right.” They relieve the tension with an intense training session. Not only can Echo fight like a machine, she can draw blueprints to the jail on two white boards simultaneously. Oh, and Boyd is in on this whole plan, too. I can see this show’s “Scooby Gang” starting to form, and that is only strengthened in the next episode.

Echo needs to free Galena and return to the Dollhouse soon, because the headaches she’s experiencing (I guess due to lack of a Treatment) are getting more intense. It doesn’t take long to set the plan in motion. Galena is brought to the infirmary due to the medicine Echo gave her, and while she’s there, Echo gives her an injection that slows down her heart. The whole time, Echo uses one of her imprints to speak Spanish to Galena, because Galena understands Spanish and the Corrections Officers don’t. Echo makes the Corrections Officers believe that Galena has died, and because Galena has some pretty severe bruising, the jail could be in big trouble if word of her death gets out. Echo offers to cover up the death, but there’s a ticking clock. The drug Echo gave Galena to slow her heart will only last for four minutes, and convincing the COs to go along with the cover-up has already used up one of them.

The plan doesn’t really work as hoped. They run out of time as they’re going through some outer doors of the jail because the security procedures took too long. At first the CO escorting them is freaked out by Galena suddenly coming back to life, but soon everybody jumps to action and Echo and Galena are thrown into a holding room. Galena is concerned, but Echo says it’s “just a hiccup. She’s about to try and break them out when she gets a killer headache.

Things are going from bad to worse for Adelle as well. She’s brought into a meeting of (all male, coincidentally) Dollhouse big-wigs, including Mr. Ambrose, who is every bit as gregarious as when he was portrayed by Enver Gjokaj in "Epitaph One." A new Dollhouse is opening in Dubai, and Adele is told that she must send a few of her Actives there. Even futuristic brothels have to have an expansion draft when a new franchise gets started, I guess. On the elevator after the meeting, Boyd tells a frustrated Adelle that she must take back the House. When Adelle asks him why, Boyd says that the Adelle he knew would never need to ask that question.

Topher, still playing the part of Harding’s golden boy, is ready to show off his new and improved tech, a remote wiping device. And we once again get an appearance from the always entertaining Kilo, played by Dollhouse writer and Joss Whedon’s sister-in-law, Maurissa Tancharoen. Her persona in this demonstration requires to use what is described in “Commentary! The Musical” (a special feature on the DVD of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) as her “bedroom voice,” aka a super-ghetto chick. Topher successfully remote wipes her into her blank Doll state. Victor and Sierra (still in their scientist imprints) kiss in the middle of all the excitement, and an embarrassed Topher quickly remote wipes them, too. Mr. Harding tells Topher not to worry about it- grouping is a common phenomenon, and the problem can be solved by sending Sierra to Dubai.

Back at the Texas jail, Echo finally manages to pull herself back together and access a variety of imprints to free herself and Galena. The getaway requires an assist from Paul as well, who channels his former FBI agent self and acts as an agent investigating prison abuse. He blackmails a CO to let Echo and Galena finish their escape. Later, Paul and Echo give Galena a new identity and take a brief moment to contemplate their next move. They end up kissing passionately, but Paul breaks away. My current theory is that he is still feeling some residual guilt over what happened with Mellie. He’s wary of being involved with a Doll again. Before they have a chance to talk things out, Boyd arrives. It’s time to go home.

It turns out that Paul, Echo, and Boyd’s timing couldn’t possibly have been worse (except for the pesky fact of Echo’s headaches requiring a Treatment). Shortly before the big homecoming, Topher approaches Adelle with a gamechanger. He realized Rossum was having each Dollhouse build a small piece (the remote wipe was Topher’s piece) of a much bigger, more sinister device- a portable device that can imprint anyone, even if the person doesn’t have Dollhouse architecture in their brain. Topher has, of course, figured out how to make the whole device, and Topher wants Adelle to keep the plans a secret. Adelle, now fully in self-preservation mode, almost immediately betrays Topher’s trust and gives the plans to Harding in exchange for Harding backing off.

When Topher finds out what Adelle did, he’s furious, and he actually fights back a little, calling Adelle “the coldest bitch on the planet.” Adelle has fully regained control, though. She wants Topher to do nothing more than imprint Actives until further notice. She says Topher was playing when he developed the tech that will soon end the world (if the future in "Epitaph One" comes true)- the “Topher is a child” well is one she draws upon often when arguing with Topher. Paul and Boyd choose this moment to bring Echo in. Newly once again assertive, Adelle wants to know what the heck was going on. Neither Paul nor Boyd will give the full story, so she’s putting Echo in isolation to see how long she can withstand having those headaches.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fringe 2.10: "Grey Matters"

“In theory, he shouldn't be able to. But in theory, he should still be a frozen head. So in the department of how to make impossible things possible, what would he need to do?”


“Grey Matters” was one of the better episodes of Fringe this season, no doubt because, like “Snakehead,” it focused heavily on Walter. John Noble never fails to give an excellent performance. In this episode, we learned a lot more about why precisely Walter is the way he is, and we see just how much he means to the rest of the Fringe team. Walter is also forced to confront his past demons, and we get a glimpse of what he was like before be was institutionalized at St. Claire’s and became the Walter we know today.

The episode opens on a typical Fringe gross-out scene. It wouldn’t be Fringe if the set-up for the episode wasn’t gory and made me cringe. Before the gross-out though, my reaction was more like “Hey! It’s Thatcher Grey!” Also that guy who Sawyer mistook for “Original Sawyer” and killed in Australia on “Lost.” In other words, the episode opened on veteran character actor Jeff Perry. He is in some sort of medical facility (it turns out to be a mental institution), and some pretty shady characters are doing something to the back of his head. One of these shady guys goes out into the hallway to stand watch and ends up shooting a passing security guard. They high tail it out of there, and the camera pans to reveal that the back of the patient’s skull has been removed, and his brain is exposed.

This guy, Joseph Slater, had been admitted to the institution for schizophrenia, but following his impromptu brain surgery, he was cured. This draws the attention of the Fringe team. One of the great things about John Noble’s performance in this episode is that you can feel how visiting a mental institution has Walter on edge due to his time in St. Claire’s. Walter, having insight into these types of matters, wants to know what Slater was like before he was cured. The team is shown video of Slater mumbling about a girl in a red dress.

Later, when looking at some security footage, Olivia recognizes one of the shady guys who had been operating on Slater. He’s the guy whose head the shifters from the Other Side had been looking for. Apparently, they found it. And reanimated it. Creepy. His name is Thomas Newton. Some research into “Dr. Paris,” who had been responsible for Slater’s admission into the institution, also turns up two more patients. The team visits one of them, a woman who had become obsessed with the number 28. She has a fresh scar on the back of her head, likely from a similar procedure to whatever they did to Slater. It looks like Dr. Paris had been using these three brains to store small pieces of foreign brain tissue. A later phone call from a doctor at the facility makes the scope of the investigation even larger- Dr. Paris visited Walter while he was at St. Claire’s. It just so happens Walter has a very old scar on the back of his head, too.

Walter needs an MRI to figure out just what exactly was done to him. He’s terribly afraid, no so much about the procedure itself, but what it might reveal. He self-prescribes a much larger dose of Valium than he should have. Astrid takes him home after the procedure, and he’s really feeling the effect of the drug. Walter sends Astrid over to the lab to pick up a particular record album that he claims helps him come down from a Valium high. Why doesn’t it surprise me that Walter has specific music for this purpose?

Meanwhile, Peter and Olivia find out the very interesting results of the MRI. Walter has had three pieces of his hippocampus removed. This is part of the brain that stores memories. It turns out that the empty spaces in Walter’s brain match up perfectly to the pieces of extra brain the three other patients had been housing before their recent, impromptu surgeries. It stands to reason that somebody wants to put Walter’s brain back together. Which means Walter is most definitely in danger.

Before Astrid can get back to the house (she was on her way to fetch that album when Peter called her to let her know what was going on), Walter is taken by Newton and his cronies. First they try to use picture association to help Walter remember things. They show him four pictures, three of which make him think of Peter. The final picture (one of the three that make him think of Peter) is a coffin. It’s a stark reminder of the circumstances that led Walter to go so far as to open a door to the Other Side all those years ago.

Peter’s first instinct is to use the GPS tracking chip Walter implanted in himself the week before, but if he had watched the recent Dollhouse episode “The Left Hand,” he’d know that was a plan that was never going to work. Like Cindy Perrin and her minions, Peter and Olivia and the FBI team only find a bloody tracking chip in a bathroom sink. All hope isn’t lost, however. Peter realizes that to jog Walter’s memory, Newton and his goons probably took Walter to the place where Walter first had the idea to open a door to the Other Side. Peter’s childhood home, which happens to be across the street from 2828 Green St., a house where a little girl lived while Peter was growing up.

Newton, the goons, and Walter are indeed at the house where Peter grew up. They essentially hook up Walter to the missing pieces of his brain. They want to find out how he created that door to the Other Side, because, as William Bell said earlier this season, that’s the goal of the Shifters- to open a door. You can see the change in Walter’s demeanor as soon as the procedure takes effect. He’s not the gentle soul we now know. He loudly demands his wife and son, and his face is defiant. It doesn’t seem like whole Walter was a very pleasant person to be around.

By the time Olivia and Peter get to the house, it’s too late- Newton has just left, and Walter has been disconnected from the missing pieces of his brain. Olivia sprints out the back door and catches up to Newton, but there’s one more surprise in store. Newton has injected Walter with a toxin, and he will only tell Olivia the antidote if she lets him escape. She struggles with her choice momentarily, but desperate pleas for help from Peter over the phone help her make her choice. She runs back to the house, and Newton tells her the instructions for saving Walter. The Fringe team may have lost the battle, but the war isn’t over yet, and with Walter still around, they have a fighting chance. Oh, and Dr. Paris? He was actually William Bell. Which was kind of surprising and not surprising all at the same time.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Community 1.12: "Comparative Religion"

“Rumor has it that non-denominational Mr. Winter is on his way to the student lounge!”

-The Dean

I enjoyed this episode of Community more than I have enjoyed other recent episodes. I like that it expressed a message of tolerance, but without getting too preachy with it. Disrespecting people of other religions is called out as being ridiculous and not acceptable behavior, but so is extreme secularism and political correctness. I generally fall more on the political correctness side of the political correctness-evangelism spectrum, but extremes are never good for anyone, and that’s what this episode tried to show as the study group tries to put up with Shirley’s increasingly obnoxious attitude as she plans a Christmas party.

Before getting to Shirley’s side of the spectrum, though, we see political correctness taken to extremes. The Dean is making his last campus-wide announcements before winter break, and he’s being careful to be as secular as possible, even eschewing more secular symbols associated with Christmas such as Santa Claus. Instead, he’ll be going around campus dressed as “Mr. Winter.” Mr. Winter is later seen rolling through the study lounge shouting “Ha ha ha! Merry happy!” which most definitely cracked me up because it was so ridiculous.

Shirley, upset about the secularization of the holidays, gives each of the study group members bracelets that say WWBJD—“What Would Baby Jesus Do.” She starts on a diatribe about how Jesus is the real meaning of the holiday season, and the rest of the group just looks uncomfortable. Abed goes to get some cookies and is harassed by a bully, played by Anthony Michael Hall of 80’s brat pack fame. The bully want’s Abed’s Winterdoodle cookies because they’re the only cookies he’s not allergic to. Abed starts to panic, but Jeff steps in and tries to help Abed by using his gift of gab. Pierce thinks Jeff should have fought the bully right then and there, but Shirley is pleased that Jeff chose peace, especially during the holiday season. Britta just thinks fighting is gay.

Shirley is throwing a Christmas party for the study group, and the reset of the group is less than enthused. It turns out nobody else celebrates Christmas. Troy’s is Jehovah’s Witness, Annie is Jewish, Abed is Muslim, Britta is Atheist, Jeff is Agnostic (it kind of amused me how he got booed for that by his friends), and Pierce is part of some sketchy cult that sounds like a cross between Buddhism and an especially crazy video game. Laser Lotus? Really? Shirley, getting kind of exasperated, tells everybody they can bring a symbol of their philosophy to the party.

Jeff is kind of on edge about his Spanish final, because he is seriously in danger of failing the class. Having recently been a law student, Annie’s reaction to that news cracked me up. We lawyers/law students tend to be perfectionist overachievers like Annie, and the thought of failing a class would probably make most of us practically spontaneously combust, too. Jeff valiantly attempts the Spanish final, but the bully, of course, has to interrupt the test and put Jeff’s grade in jeopardy. He waltzes right into the room, looks at Jeff’s test, and starts correcting it. This is the final straw. Jeff wants the bully to meet him at 3 o’clock, by the bike rack, but not the one by the parking lot. He ends up accepting fighting lessons from the other study group guys after the bully and his minions taunt him even more later in the student lounge. I actually found the bully plot to be the least interesting part of the episode. Anthony Michael Hall’s performance was just so over-the-top that it wasn’t really funny.

Shirley is decorating a Christmas tree and singing carols (Yvette Nicole Brown can seriously sing, by the way) as Annie enters the room where they’re going to have the party. She brought a menorah with her, and Shirley hides it deep in the tree. Annie spills the beans about the upcoming fight, which upsets Shirley. Shirley rushes out of the room to stop it and leaves Annie with the Baby Jesus from the nativity scene. Annie puts Baby Jesus deep in the Christmas tree with the menorah. I thought that was a nice comeback on Annie’s part after Shirley had been so disrespectful.

The guys are teaching Jeff the psychology of fighting (especially the correct inflection of a rhetorical “Sup?”) more than they’re teaching him any actual fighting moves. Shirley interrupts the lesson to express her disapproval. Because of her recent divorce, this study group Christmas party will be the only Christmas party she throws this year, and she doesn’t want her “new family” to let her down. She tells Jeff that if he’s going to go ahead with the fight, he’s not welcome at the party.

Jeff ends up not showing up to the party, and it creates a lot of tension that nobody’s willing to talk about at first. Shirley starts singing “Jesus is a Friend of Mine, ”.and things escalate into everybody yelling at each other simultaneously, presumably about religion. Britta finally puts a stop to it. It was nice to see her get on her soap box for a good, close-to-home cause for once. She tells the group that there’s one thing they can all agree on- they want Jeff at the party. Everyone agrees but Shelly, who is still on her high horse about fighting not being appropriate for the holiday season. Britta walks out to go support Jeff at the fight, and everybody follows her.

The actual fight is just all great moments from beginning to end. First is Jeff trying out all the psych-out techniques the guys tried to teach him. There’s insults and “Sup’s” and a kind of scary stare. Jeff puts up his fists, ready to fight, and he sees the WWBJD bracelet. He suddenly has a change of heart and doesn’t want to fight anymore. Not because of religion, but because of his friendship with Shirley. He respects her “turn the other cheek” attitude. Shirley arrives just in time to see this happen. She also arrives in time to see the bully sucker punch Jeff. Jeff tries to keep going on about how he’s not going to fight, and the bully just keeps beating on him. This, in turn, gives Shirley a change of heart. She gives Jeff permission to kick the bully’s ass. The rest of the study group gets in on the action, too, taking on the bully’s minions and destroying Greendale’s festive winter display in the process.

After the fight, everybody’s pretty badly beaten up, but they go back to Shirley’s Christmas party, and Shirley sings more secular lyrics to the tune of “Silent Night.” Even though they’re all hurting from the fight, they’re happy to be together. Senor Chang crashing the party to announce everybody, even Jeff, passed Spanish completes the perfect moment.