Sunday, September 22, 2013

Summer TV Rewind: Wonderfalls 1.12: "Totem Mole"

“But let’s face it. Seer-ing, or whatever, isn’t my destiny. I’m just not cut out for that kind of work.”

“Totem Mole” is kind of an odd episode of “Wonderfalls.” It’s the penultimate episode, so you would think that the major plot arc at the moment, aka the Jaye/Eric/Heidi drama, would take front and center. Instead, Eric and Heidi don’t make an appearance. They aren’t even mentioned at all, actually. It’s an attempt, I think, to kind of meditate on the nature of Jaye’s abilities before wrapping up all the character drama. Jaye, Mahandra, and Sharon took a trip to a Native American reservation in this episode, and the result was all spiritual angst about whether or not Jaye is a true seer. It’s a bit too abstract, for my taste, though, and I think it literally loses the plot. To be honest, I tend to love Bryan Fuller shows more for the quirky characters and the twee (yes, there’s even some quirk and twee in “Hannibal,” believe it or not) as opposed to the big spiritual/philosophical wrangling he sometimes tries to do.

As I already mentioned in the intro, the big plot point of this episode is that Jaye, Mahandra, and Sharon go to a Satsuma reservation. There are a couple reasons for the trip. Mahandra is 1/8 Satsuma, and she wants to become an official member of the tribe. She goes on about “tribe loyalty,” but what she really wants is to be able to take advantage of a federal program that will help pay off her student loans if she’s officially Native American. Sharon’s on the trip to buy some cheap, tax-free cigarettes. Jaye just wants to escape Niagara for a day to get a break from all the Muses. Unfortunately, the Muses have other plans. A totem pole talks to Jaye in this one, admonishing her to, among other things, “tell him who is special.” Actually, the first thing that the Muses tell Jaye to do is to go inside a teepee. Inside, Jaye talks to an elderly woman who claims to have some knowledge of Jaye’s ability and potentially how to make it go away. The conversation is interrupted when the woman’s grandson, Bill, enters the teepee. The woman is Bill’s grandmother, and she’s dead. Bill is on the reservation for the funeral.

Meanwhile, Mahandra is trying to turn in her application, and Sharon is trying to buy a couple cartons of cigarettes. Sharon is about to pay for her haul when she is stopped by a former law school classmate, Deanna Littlefoot. Deanna has given up her lucrative law practice to be the tribal lawyer on the reservation, and she’s gone on a crusade to make sure that outsiders aren’t profiting at all from exploiting her people. This includes limiting the amount of cigarettes that can be sold at a discount to non-tribe members. Which means Deanna puts the kibosh on Sharon’s cigarette purchase. Deanna and Sharon are both hyper-competitive to the extreme. You know, like most law students and lawyers. Only worse. Deanna was first in their class, and they get into a heated argument over Sharon’s ranking. When Mahandra enters the store with her application, Deanna immediately tells Mahandra that her application is denied, basically just because she knows Sharon.

Jaye and company hightail it off the reservation before they can cause any more trouble, but what Jaye learned there continues to stick in her head. She wants to be able to talk to the tribe seer and find out how she can be relieved of the burden of the Muses. The clerk of the reservation convenience store, who seems to be pretty much the only Satsuma who doesn’t hate Jaye, says that since Gentlefeather, the woman Jaye was “speaking” with died, the tribe has been without a seer. Jaye wonders why this is, considering Gentelfeather’s grandson lives. Then Jaye takes it as her mission to convince Bill that he has the gift of Sight and should give up his accountant job to become the Satsuma tribe seer. To accomplish this, Jaye brings Bill into Wonderfalls and shows him the “I Surrender to Destiny” video. I guess she wanted him to see his people had legends worth preserving or something? Anyway, it works, and Bill heads up to the reservation to try and take his rightful place.

Meanwhile, Mahandra is allowed to appeal the denial of her application, so the whole crew heads back up to the reservation. Sharon is going to be Mahandra’s lawyer (probably not the smartest move considering Sharon is the reason Mahandra’s application was denied in the first place), and Jaye wants to check on Bill. Anyway, the appeal before the tribal court doesn’t go well at all. Deanna has won the game before it even starts. The previous night, she had gotten the tribal council to approve a new rule limiting the forms of birth certificate that would be acceptable in an application to join the tribe. What do you know, Bryan Fuller and crew were kid of prescient here given the controversy that would turn up about our President’s birth certificate much later that decade. Anyway, this just makes Sharon even more crazy determined, which naturally ups Deanna’s level of crazy, too.

Jaye spends her time on the reservation sitting in on the tests Bill is going through to determine if he is really a seer. First, a feather is supposed to float across a room and land on someone with the gift of Sight. Of course it lands on Jaye. Then, Bill has to do the classic “which one of the items belongs to your grandmother” test. A bear skull tells Jaye that it should be picked, and Jaye only slightly surreptitiously passes the message on to Bill. The final test is finding out if Bill can come “back to life” after smoking a bit too much peyote. With Jaye’s help (she sort of tries to do CPR), he does, and the tribe accepts him as seer. This doesn’t result in the answers Jaye hoped for, though. Bill takes a contingent of the tribe to Wonderfalls to stage a sit-in protest over all the tacky Native American souvenirs they sell. Alec calls the cops, and all the protesters but Bill quickly disburse. Jaye tries to tell Bill that she’s the one who is special, not him, but he doesn’t want to listen.

Sharon and Deanna end up at the same gym, and that turns into both of them being in the steam room together, each trying to outdo the other for how long they can take the heat. Sharon eventually gives up, and the bracelet she had been wearing accidentally gets caught in the steam room door, trapping Deanna inside. By the time Deanna is released, she’s had a sort of spiritual awakening. When the whole crew again returns to the reservation, Deanna is poised to be the tribe’s new spiritual leader. Instead of staying bogged down in the tribe’s past, she’s looking toward its future. She wants to try to get the Satsuma nation in on some casino action. And, what do you know, she needs a good accountant like Bill to help make that happen. So, as the episode ends, everyone has seemingly found their place in the world. Except for Jaye, of course, who is still reluctant to accept her gift.

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