Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 2/17/09

Time for another big catch-up column, thanks to the holiday and the fact that there’s so much good television on…

I’m reserving judgment on this volume HEROES, which seems pretty uneven so far. The opening chapter rocked, but last week’s episode went downhill fast. This week was a step in the right direction, but went back to the familiar tropes of the series: HRG is secretly capturing powered people again, and he and Claire are lying to her mother about it again, and Claire wants to be independent and oppose him again. So Claire narc’d on Noah, and then Sandra insisted Noah out. The scenes gave Jack Coleman and Hayden Pannetiere a chance to finally emote again, and they really went to town. Meanwhile, Nathan got a visit from Homeland Security in the (sexy) form of Moira Kelly’s Abby Collins, who doubted the existence of superpowered humans and was aghast that prisoners were being held without charge or human-rights protections. Hmmm, I thought Homeland Security was into all that stuff? Anyway, Abby got an order to shut down the operation — but Tracy conveniently chose that moment to break free and callously murder a man right in front of Abby, prompting her to change her mind and fully fund Nathan’s initiative. Meanwhile, Luke told Sylar that his dad sold him for cash. I totally do not like Luke, and absolutely hated Sylar giving him tips on using powers. But I cheered when Sylar left Luke to the tender mercies of the capture team. That was more in character than all that surrogate father crap. But then he returned and rescued Luke. An attack of conscience? No, Sylar just wanted to retrieve a tracking device. Hiro’s enthusiasm remains an endearing positive, and I liked his motto: “When destiny calls, you answer the phone.” There may be hope for HEROES yet.

THE AMAZING RACE 14 took off from southern California with a couple of interesting teams, including mother and son team Margie and Luke (who is deaf and doesn’t read lips); a pair of stuntmen who double for children; and screenwriter Mike White and his gay father. I love the new graphics that seem to use satellite imagery. Margie and Luke were the first to arrive (Phil welcomed them in sign language); despite the final clue requiring they follow the sound of yodelers to find the pit stop. Preston and Jennifer were eliminated, which was good, because we didn’t need to watch another couple argue for weeks while we wonder why they’re together. They were at each others’ throats right from departure, when they missed a train. Good riddance.

The entire second season of SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL has been heading in this direction, but Hannah still didn’t see it coming. She was determined to tell Alex about Belle, but when she wiggled out of one last opportunity to make the painful reveal, the inevitable happened: Alex walked in on her with a client, Blake. Naturally Alex lost it, but he lashed out at Ben instead of Hannah. “There’s Hannah, and there’s Belle,” Ben offered by way of explanation. There was a nice bit where Blake remarked about Belle’s gentleness, noting she’s almost like a real girl. “I am a real girl,” she replied. “My name is Hannah.” I noticed that she gave up her real name without hesitation, a violation of one of her strictest rules. Speaking of being “a real girl,” at this point in the series, hiding Billie’s pregnancy (she gave birth to a son in October 2008) has become quite a problem. Belle is forced to wear ridiculously shapeless bubble dresses that no escort would be caught dead in, and both she and Hannah are forced to stand behind furniture and the directors frequently shoot her from behind. Her stand—ins are frequently shot from the neck down, while another angle captures Billie’s face.

This is the episode I have been waiting for ever since the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA miniseries: What the frak is up with the Cylons. It revealed almost everything I wanted to know except the exact nature of the skinjobs. What are they? They obviously do not have metal endoskeletons, but there is circuitry of some sort, and something makes their spines light up during sex. Still, the story was informative and lots of fun, starting with a taste of resurrection from the Cylon’s point of view as we saw Ellen Tigh reborn some 18 months ago (story time), after Saul Tigh poisoned her on New Caprica. She called Cavil “John,” and noted she made him in the image of her father. Meanwhile, on Galactica, the bullet in Sam’s brain (Did you notice John Hodgman, from the computer commercials, playing the brain surgeon?) allowed him to access buried memories of his history. Sam’s oral history was complemented by cross-cutting with Ellen’s story on the Cylon base star. The short version of Cylon history: Humans on Kobol created the so-called “Five” humanoid Cylons. Cavil was first, the 1. The Centurions believed in one merciful god, and the Five decided that if the skinjobs embraced love, they could avoid the errors of Earth. But Cavil rejected mercy and killed the Five. When they downloaded, he cut them off from their knowledge and implanted fake memories. Then he boxed them, and reintroduced them after the first Cylon war — except for No. 7, Daniel. Cavil intended for the Five to suffer and learn how horrible the humans really were; to teach the Five humility so they would embrace him. Ellen said he’s driven by jealousy and rage, and she knows what he did to Daniel, the sensitive artist. Cavil contaminated the amniotic fluid of the Daniels and corrupted the programming. Sharon rescued Ellen from Cavil’s machinations and they jumped away, but where did they go? In piecing together the history of the Cylons, it occurred to me that Cavil is the “Lucifer” character — created first, the best and the brightest, he refused to accept a subservient position and rebelled against his creator. I looked it up, and the definition of the verb “cavil” is to raise trivial and frivolous objections. From the Latin cavillari to jest and calvi, to deceive. (Hats off to the BSG powers-that-be for coming up with an English word I actually had to look up!) So that fits with his obstructionist, rabble-rousing ways.

I see the potential in DOLLHOUSE, but the series has to show us a little more. Eliza Dushku stars as Echo, a mysterious woman who works for an even more mysterious organization nicknamed the “Dollhouse.” The idea is that a mysterious company provides whatever personnel a client wants to hire — whether that’s a date for a night, an omelet chef or an assassin. The Dollhouse does this by imprinting a personality on its agents, known as “Actives,” whose original personalities have been erased. After each mission, the Active’s mind is erased, leaving him or her a child-like blank slate, ready to be imprinted with the next personality. The interesting point is, the personalities are created from templates that use real people — and incorporate the original person’s flaws — thus, one of Echo’s new personalities suffered from near-sightedness and asthma, even though Echo was a perfect physical specimen. This premise can go in a lot of directions, and I really hope they don’t concentrate on action every week. The premiere episode suffered from being too plot-driven, and turned on an utterly ludicrous plot contrivance: That Echo’s imprinted persona just happened to run into the man who kidnapped and molested her as a child. Out of everybody in the world these two found each other? That silliness took me right out of the story. Viewers are vastly more forgiving of coincidence in the real world; a writer who relies on coincidence to tell a story is just being lazy. Then again, creator Joss Whedon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) was forced to rewrite the pilot on the fly, much like he had to do with FIREFLY (and we all know how that turned out…) But more than that, the episode was not a good introduction because it does not clearly set out the premise and establish the rules for programming the Actives before tossing in the plot complication of programming gone wrong.

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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