The Wife:

Because Sal is one of my favorite characters, his storyline in “Wee Small Hours” stood out the most to me, and seemed almost like a separate, isolated event when compared to Betty’s continued flirtation with Henry Francis and Don’s late-night rendezvous with Miss Farrell and Connie Hilton, all of which seemed last week to be building toward a massive fallout — a bomb which indeed dropped all over Draperville with this week’s installment, “The Color Blue.”

Do you remember how happy we all were just a few episodes ago when Sal was promoted to Sterling-Cooper’s commercial director and finally able to feel somewhat secure with himself in this changing world — a world where knowing the opening sequence of a popular musical beat-by-beat might not be so horrible? Well, all of those dreams for a potentially gay future have come crashing down . . . all because Sal wouldn’t fuck Lee Garner, Jr. in the editing room. Sal’s rejection of Lee’s admittedly rape-y advances earned a late-night call to Harry Crane to can Sal, which lead to a big mess for Don that could only be cleaned up with the very thing Lee Garner, Jr. had asked for: the removal of Sal from Sterling-Cooper.

But Im married!

But I'm married!

The idea of Garner attempting to take advantage of Sal was revolting enough, but the abuse of power was even more so. Can’t a gay man on the down low catch a break on this show? All I can say is that I hope Mad Men jumps forward in time enough to see Stonewall happen, because I desperately want Sal to be able to be Sal (and free Kitty from the chains of her beard-dom). Worse, even, than Garner’s abuse of power was Don’s hate-fueled firing of Sal. When Sal was called in to explain the situation, he tried to do so as delicately as possible without making himself or Mr. Garner look bad. But in Don’s eyes, Lee Garner, Jr. isn’t queer; Sal, however, is. And Don knows it because he’s seen it. He creates a vision of Sal as a lecher, implying that something more must have occurred than what Sal told him. My stomach churns when I hear Don spout, “You people” at Sal, reinforcing the cultural norm of homosexuality as a dirty, marginal position.

And so Don pushes Sal out onto those margins, booting him and his turtlenecks from Sterling-Cooper, after which Sal makes himself into exactly the kind of gay man Don thought he was as he calls Kitty from a payphone in Central Park to tell her he would be home late, just before he sets out to troll for some strange. As a person who has taken exactly one class in gay literature, let me tell you something about anonymous park sex: it never ends well. I fear for Sal. I really do.

Don, meanwhile, is incredibly restless. Connie Hilton has him on retainer for ideas at any given hour, and Don is already having trouble sleeping. He goes on an early-morning drive and spies Miss Farrell, Bowdoin Grad, jogging along the road. After a fateful conversation in the car about MLK and the changing face of the world, he drops her home, but goes out looking for her again another morning. Eventually, Don finds his way to Miss Farrell’s bed, fulfilling the expectations we’ve had for him ever since he watched her dance around the Maypole and he touched the earth upon which she trod.

Don’s work for Hilton provides a nice cover to the night he spends in Miss Farrell’s over-the-garage apartment, making love to a woman who, unlike his wife, is loud in bed and likes to be on top from time to time. Unfortunately, one of their lovemaking sessions is interrupted by Miss Farrell’s brother. She wants Don to meet him, but Don would much rather slip out the back unnoticed. Part of the fun of an affair, after all, is that no one knows. And Miss Farrell’s brother can easily see how uncomfortable Don is with the situation. It’s obvious to him that guys like Don prefer to keep a public face and a private face, but Miss Farrell insists Don isn’t like that at all.

It’s clear then that even though she thinks he knows him, she only knows him about as well as Betty does. Don has a secret drawer in his desk at home where he’s been squirreling away all of his cash bonuses, as well as all evidence of his former life as Dick Whitman. And its an unfortunate accident that Don’s carelessness — interrupted by Eugene’s cries as he stashed his latest bonus away — made him leave his secret keys in his bathrobe, which Betty later found tumbling around in the dryer on laundry day. As I think any curious person would do, she opened the drawer and found the money and a box of items belonging to a man she absolutely doesn’t know. Photos. Dog tags. Divorce certificates. Deeds. Each item dissolving her image of Don further and further into nothingness. Her first instinct seems to be fear, instructing Carla to take the children out of the house as though she had just discovered Don was a serial killer and her family had to be protected during the confrontation. But when Don didn’t return and instead returned to the arms of his lover, her fear and confusion turned to rage, which she tried to mask when Don called her from work the next morning, donning one of his stash of fresh white shirts and instructing her to be ready to be the perfect accessory for his arm at the Sterling-Cooper anniversary party that evening.

We dont like you very much either, Don.

We don't like you very much either, Don.

I don’t know how this show has done it, but I really don’t like Don very much anymore. Suddenly, I hate him as much as Betty does. I, too, would be nearly unable to move in that icy sheath, preparing to put on a face to meet the faces that I’d meet, had I found out my husband was not at all the man I thought I knew. The image of Don and Betty as that couple on top the wedding cake is not simply beginning to show cracks in its foundation, but has completely fallen down. Though they sit together at the anniversary party, there is nothing about them that seems whole or connected, and there’s a part of you that wishes Betty hadn’t given up on her affair with Henry Francis because then, in some way, she and Don would be a bit more level.

Meanwhile, at Sterling-Cooper, Paul and Peggy are competing for jobs. Kinsey is angry that Don doesn’t like his writerly idea to sell Aquanet, fearing that with each “And then” the ladies at home will misunderstand. Peggy distills Paul’s idea into its essence, a pithy version of his narrative made for the short attention span of a television viewer. And Kinsey, ever jealous, hates her for this. The two work late, but separately, on Western Union, Peggy speaking off-the-cuff into her Dictaphone while Paul gets soused and distracted from work by jacking off to the Maidenform ad. (I’d like to add here that the version of the Maidenform ad he pulls from his desk is the Dyna Moe rendering. She’s the awesome lady who helped you all MadMenYourself prior to this season.) Unable to concentrate, Paul strikes up a conversation with Achilles the janitor and happens upon the best idea of his career . . . only he gets too drunk, falls asleep and fails to write it down, losing the idea forever because the “faintest ink is better than the fondest memory.”

Before their meeting with Don, Peggy sympathizes with Paul’s plight and encourages him to tell Don what happened. When indeed he does, Don isn’t upset. He understands what it’s like to lose an idea. And it’s here that Peggy spins her magic. She remembers the Chinese saying and posits that a telegram is something you can save, unlike a phone call, which is so temporal that it disappears from existence the minute it’s finished. Paul is stunned at her quick wit, and realizes that she really is this good and her gender hasn’t unfairly endeared her to Don as he previously supposed. Don likes the idea, too, and urges the two to keep working on it.

All this in the midst of a massive change at Sterling-Cooper: the Brits are putting the 40-year-old ad agency up for sale, which means Lane Pryce might get to give his shrewish wife her wish to return to London. Maybe Betty can go with them. She can get a real nanny and a pram there.

Stray thoughts:

  • Why is Don being such a dick these days? He’s so mean to everyone at Sterling-Cooper that it’s become a point of mirth in my house.
  • “There is no deadline. Give me work as you think of it. I need more ideas to reject.” — Don
  • “America is wherever you look, wherever we’re going to be.” — Hilton
  • “Your work is good, but when I say I want the moon, I’ll get the moon.” — Hilton
  • Don has had an awful lot of fateful conversations with people in cars: the grifters who rob him, Miss Farrell, her epileptic brother . . . it feels very Kerouac.
  • “There was nothing and then there was it and then there was nothing again.” — Kinsey providing us with one of Mad Men’s most existential lines
  • I really, really, really enjoy Roger’s mom. Truly.
  • I feel like these two lines from the people cheating on Betty bear some weight on her situation:
    “The truth is that some people may see things differently, but they don’t really want to.” — Don
    “People are ignorant. They’re scared of things they don’t understand.” — Miss Farrell

The Husband:

It happens every year. Just like the film industry, ideas seem to come in packs of two or three. In 2004, Lost fever infected the networks, and three deep mystery science-fiction shows were unveiled for the 2005-2006 season. Two made it a full season before being unceremoniously canceled (Invasion and Surface) while one didn’t even make it to midseason (Threshold). The quality of these shows are unimportant, because they were created to either capitalize on a trend or a repair a hole missing from the schedule. This works in the film world, too. In 1998, we had both Armageddon and Deep Impact. In the same year, we had both A Bug’s Life and Antz. In 2005 we had both Capote and Infamous (one was pushed back to 2006, can you guess which?). And this is not a new concept in Hollywood. I can trace back to most years started with the studio system and can point out virtually identical films coming out within the same few months. But with television this year, two things happened:

1. CBS tried once again to give us their version of what they think draws people into Grey’s Anatomy, but on their own network. That show is called Three Rivers.

2. After a staggering 15-year run, ER finally came to a close last season, and NBC frantically tried to recreate its medical drama glory. But this time, they decided split the show in two to hedge their bets but take up too much room on a schedule already reeling from one man named Jay Leno.

If you don’t feel like listening to my half-assed television history lesson for the remainder of this article, let me just break it down for you. So far, NBC’s Mercy has aired three episodes, NBC’s Trauma has aired two, and CBS’s Three Rivers has aired one. And how do they rank in terms of quality? The exact order I just put them in, with Mercy almost head-and-shoulders above Trauma and Three Rivers, with only a single episode, drudging the bottom of the lake.

The title is probably ironic.

The title is probably ironic.

So about that splitting ER into two parts. It’s really not at all complicated. Mercy is the character drama, and Trauma is the action show. Put together, these elements apparently made some of the best ER episodes of all time, but on their own, it can be a struggle. So far, however, Mercy is a remarkably competent (big praise, I know) slice-of-life story about the unsung heroes of hospitals — the nurses. This year they have come back in a big way, and while I haven’t seen an episode of similarly themed Nurse Jackie and Hawthorne (two other nurse dramas, unseen because I don’t have Showtime and I avoid networks like TNT and USA like the plague), I can tell you that it’s a refreshing change of pace. Surgeons get all the glory, but nurses are the backbone of any hospital. Taylor Schilling leads the show as former army nurse Veronica Callahan, and she is in the top five best new characters on television this season. Tough and hard-edged but sympathetic, she seems like a real woman doing an unappreciated job, and her quiet energy is such a welcome respite from the outwardly emotional hysterics that populate Seattle Grace and Oceanside Wellness. She is a true find, and her personal life storylines (her troubled marriage, her drunk family, her affair with Men In Trees‘s James Tupper) help the very reality-skewing Jersey City-set show and are handled by the writers with what at least appears to be a great deal of honesty.

I haven’t been able to get a handle of many of the remaining characters, but Guillermo Diaz (he of Weeds and Half Baked) does well playing against type, and while the casting of Michelle Trachtenberg as rookie nurse Chloe Payne brings the wrong kind of tone to the character, casting a lesser known and more sullen actress would have made the character completely unimportant. My favorite element, oddly enough, seems to be the reversal of roles, as James LeGros’s doctor character, Dan Harris, is mostly seen on the outskirts of storylines, much how most nurses are treated on nearly every other hospital drama. (You know how Nurse Olivia was just let go from Seattle Grace at Grey’s Anatomy? It took me a good thirty minutes to remember that she was the one who gave George syphilis after getting it from Karev way back in the early seasons.) And, almost more than anything, I appreciate the fleeting comparisons the show finds between Jersey City and the warzone of Iraq. Both are lost places in their own way, and it’s haunting without being obvious. This is definitely staying on my Season Pass list, and I hope that its unfortunate placement Wednesday at 10 (it belongs later, but thanks to The Jay Leno Show, half of NBC’s schedule seems misplaced.)

HOLY SHIT THIS IS EXPENSIVE! AND ON FIRE!

HOLY SHIT THIS IS EXPENSIVE! AND ON FIRE!

Trauma, so far, is just a big, slick, expensive version of Emergency!, a spin-off of a spin-off (Dragnet to Adam-12 to…) which ran for several seasons back in the 1970s (six seasons plus a handful of TV movies). From the several episodes I’ve seen of that show (starring a young Kevin Tighe, a.k.a. Locke’s father on Lost), I really can’t see much of a difference between the two programs other than its location and its budget. I complained that I couldn’t get too much of a handle on Mercy‘s characters, but at least I can give you a general impression of their internal monologue. Not so on Trauma, which is as surface-level as one could get outside of a CW primetime soap. New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis is, so far, the only character with any personality (unfortunately, it’s a shitty one) and the rest get lost in the shuffle.

What Trauma has going for it, though, is a whole lot of money behind it, something that could cause it to be canceled very soon. Paired up with the fledgling Heroes, Trauma continues to represent how NBC is hemorrhaging money and viewers, and by not putting the show at a proper 10 p.m. spot, it’s getting crushed by the two CBS Chuck Lorre sitcoms. But oh man, does it ever get saved by its big action sequences. Nothing has been spared in the high-octane situations that structure the show, from the mostly unnecessary season opener that blew up part of a building to what can’t be cheap San Francisco location shooting. But with an HD DVR and a 52″ HD LCD Eco-Series Bravia television, I’ve never missed my old stomping grounds of the San Francisco Bay Area more. I’m staying to watch this show just from how much is shot there, how [mostly] accurate the set-ups are, and even its inclusion of mayor Gavin Newsome’s actress wife in the supporting cast. My wife can tell you more about the show’s focus on North Beach, where she worked for two years.

My issue, though, is seemingly contradictory. The action is what makes the show work, but it’s a chore sitting through a single episode. It’s fun to yell out “Trauma!” whenever something terrible happens, but in the second episode, we had four separate cases of trauma including the Embarcadero Street Fair getting pummeled by a car piloted by a man having a stroke. This is enough for three episodes on Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s almost a sidenote here. It’s too much action in a show that desperately needs it to survive. But goddamn, does it look expensive. And that expense kind of negates the verité style it’s going for, so I don’t know what to think anymore.

I would rather see Alex O'Laughlin do anything else.

I would rather see Alex O'Laughlin do anything else.

Three Rivers has only aired one episode, and this is after it was heavily recast (which happened to Alex O’Loughlin’s last show Moonlight as well) as it was decided to air the second episode first. No matter, because the show helped drop CBS to one of its lowest-rated Sunday nights ever, being paired up with Cold Case. (All the family viewers and young professionals pretty much abandon the channel after The Amazing Race is over.) It’s not long for this world, and for good reason. It thinks that we want to be preached to right off the gate, and so this drama about an organ transplant facility in Pittsburgh just doesn’t work. It’s unfair to judge it based on one episode (and one that isn’t the damned pilot), but when a show starts off talking down to us, it’s not a good feeling. ABC’s Grey’s started off as a much frothier show (I would even call it a dramedy) and only later fell into its soapy rhythms, but Three Rivers doesn’t seem to have time for that. A major problem: I understand its decision to include the story about where the organs are coming from in order to humanize the situation, but it’s mostly unnecessary and I hope they abandon it, because it makes the characters back at the facility complete ciphers, just going through the procedural motions. Even O’Loughlin, as famed surgeon Andy Yablonski, isn’t enough to draw me back for much longer, and I once again fear that Alfre Woodard is one of the most misused actresses of her generation. It’s not the worst new drama of the season, nor is it the most obnoxious (so far, that seems to be the tonally misshapen The Forgotten), but if it doesn’t pick up soon, it will be canceled before I even give up on it. (Remember CBS’s hospital drama 3 Lbs.? No? It was on less than five years ago. Still don’t remember it? Exactly. But I watched all three episodes.)

So give Mercy a chance, and I don’t think you’ll regret it. Its cases, while mostly unoriginal, are handled delicately, and the characters feel like actual people. The other two shows? If you’re not into high-definition cinematography of San Francisco or learning about the intricacies of putting new hearts into pregnant women, they probably won’t work for you, either.

The Wife:
I worry about Mercy‘s necessity. Fundamentally, I like the show. And I really didn’t think I would. When NBC was promoting Mercy, they almost entirely glossed over the fact that this show is a narrative about an Iraq war veteran struggling to reintegrate into civilian life, instead using its promo time to make it look like some slick, glossy glorification of nursing (which indeed deserves such glory) and the bonds of female friendship. Case in point: even if Veronica’s background as a soldier was included, what I remember from those promos is the shots of the girls at the bar together, drinking and smiling.

The hurt backpack.

The hurt backpack.

I do think Mercy, as a show about a female Iraq war veteran, an Army nurse not unlike my mother (who once made her non-military living as an OR nurse), is utterly necessary. It is important for us to experience narratives of soldiers returning from conflicts overseas and to understand what it’s like for them to try to carry on with all the horror they’ve experienced. And it’s especially critical that this is a narrative about a female soldier. For all the women who fight for this country, too many artistic renderings of soldiers focus on the men and their experiences. I even applaud the decision to focus this story around the life of an Army medic, a crucial military position I think many forget about. My mother never (thankfully) saw conflict. But when I hear Veronica talk about setting up field hospitals, I can’t help but think of my mother. She knows how to do that, and has done so many times in her life. I’ve seen what those hospitals look like, as we always went to the family day at the end of the Army Reserve’s two-week summer training exercises where her medical unit practiced setting up those hospitals. So this character is perhaps doubly unique to me. I know the women that she is drawn from, my mother and her friends, and that alone makes her utterly real to me.
But although I think Veronica is a starkly unique character and its important for us to have a narrative of a female Iraq war veteran, I do think that gets lost in the way NBC advertised Mercy and its inevitable pigeonhole as just another medical show. I don’t care so much about the cases Veronica deals with, but I care deeply about her inability to share her wartime experiences with her no-longer-estranged husband. Seeing her hold his head in her hands so that he cannot face her when she talks about losing her friend in the field was truly effective, and I hope those of you who watch Mercy continue to tune in for those stunning portraits of a soldier coming home to a world she no longer knows how to navigate.

As for Trauma, the best parts of the show are screaming “Trauma!” when something traumatic happens, and realizing that I probably walked through the set dozens of times when I worked in North Beach. In fact, there was a scene filmed on Green St. between Grant and Broadway in the second episode that I know I’d walked through during tear-down one day when my coworker and I were heading up to North Beach Pizza for lunch. (I was extra impressed that they got a shot of the new location of North Beach Pizza, which only opened in April or May . . . directly across the street from its former location.) This scene happened to feature a homeless drug addict trying to scam the EMTs into giving him morphine, and I frankly wouldn’t be surprised if the show stumbled upon some of North Beach’s actual colorful homeless people. I will keep watching simply to see restaurants I used to frequent and, hopefully, a glimpse of Knifey Knife (a homeless woman who once threatened my friend at the bakery across from my old office with a pumpkin carving knife) and Charlotte (a kindly homeless woman who enjoyed wigs and often sat outside my office, complimenting me on my shoes). Hell, if one of my couriers, Junior, made it into B-roll on Anthony Bourdain’s San Francisco episode of No Reservations, he might even turn up in a long shot, riding his bike down Columbus.

There is really nothing good about Three Rivers.

The Wife:

Proving that she is totally on top of the cultural pulse, Tyra decided to do an ANTM-America’s Best Dance Crew crossover episode . . . four seasons too late. Granted, ANTM and ABDC churn out seasons at breakneck pace (giving us two a year), so they’re in good company on that front, but it somehow felt incredibly stale for her to teach the models how to use dance by sending them to learn moves from first season winners Jabbawockeez with the guidance of Lil Mama and Benny Ninja. Her point in using the Jabbawockeez, who wear masks during their performances and yet still create completely effective dance works, is valid, which is to say that sometimes a model can’t just rely on her face to convey an emotion. But the execution of the challenge reminded me of, well, this Sesame Street segment:

She asked the Jabbawockeez to perform happiness, sadness and anger, and then asked the models to follow suit. Exactly like Muppet Don Draper makes lackeys Muppet Pete Campbell and Muppet Paul Kinsey do in the Sesame Street Mad Men parody. The Jabawockeez and muppets did this adequately. The models failed. Even Dancer Ashley couldn’t choreograph a cohesive dance piece for her competitors that demonstrated anything worthwhile. I’m presently trying to banish said dance pieces from my mind, because they were all fucking terrible.

Marginally less terrible than the others was the team of Jennifer, Kara and Rae, who won 17K in jewelry. Then the girls were taken to Vegas for a photoshoot involving Cirque du Soleil, which I am pretty sure Mr. Jay could just join anytime he wants to. He makes a good host for a carnival of horrors, and I’m pretty sure that end is achieved through years of practice on ANTM. (Alternately, I think he’d make a great flight attendant. I mean, we all heard how nicely he promoted TSA regulations on that “You’re Going to Vegas” video, right?)

Alternate career for Brittany: playing Magenta in Rocky Horror.

Alternate career for Brittany: playing Magenta in Rocky Horror.

But as excited as I usually am by all things cirque and carnival related, this shoot with members of Mystère was sort of blah, even though photographer Mike Rosenthal had the distinction of shooting the actual Sideshow shoot back in Cycle 7. I think part of the problem here is that the girls had to work in groups, which I agree is an important skill to learn, but was also limiting here, not only to the girls, but also creatively. Making the girls pose in groups disallowed anyone to tell a story with the final image. All of the shots ended up being cloudlike women posing listlessly with masked circus acrobats. I mean, what is that even about?

  • Brittany: “I think it’s the Bride of Frankenstein’s second cousin, who is a model.” — Tyra. Because the Bride of Frankenstein herself would never book a modeling job. With that hair.
  • Rae: She did a really admirable job of pushing herself out from the background of this picture and looking mildly alive.
  • Jennifer: Her photo is lifeless and her outtakes from the shoot are even worse. Possibly the worst I’ve ever seen on ANTM.
  • Laura: She worked the pole on the fringes of this shot. It was great, but incredibly strippery. Props to her for looking alive, though.
  • Ashley: Bleh! Bleh! Bleh!
  • Kara: She looks absolutely hideous in this picture, but the judges seem to like her face for some reason I will never understand. Kara is one of those girls who looks pretty in person, but photographs like a Drag Queen from Outer Space.
  • Erin: I think she’s totally lost in this photograph, but guest judge Josie Marin really likes it.
  • Nicole: It’s a fine photograph, but she really suffered from unfortunate positioning here, wedged underneath the crotch of that acrobat, with the light shining right out of her own crotch. Dreadful, dreadful composition.

    Shes being violated by that light.

    She's being violated by that light.

  • Sundai: I have grown weary of Sundai’s single face in every photograph. She looks like she’s waterskiing in this shot.

Callouts: Tyra awarded the first three spots to the girls who had the best group shot as a whole, so that honor went to Jennifer, Rae and Brittany. She then called girls individually: Laura, Nicole, Sundai and Erin, leaving Ashley and Kara in the bottom two. To my delight, Ashley was kicked out of the competition and Kara stayed. Now it’s only a matter of time before Kara gets the axe, as well . . .

Looking less than ethereal.

Looking less than ethereal.

Some thoughts:

  • “He asked for angry, but I think my dance ended up being way more bipolar.” — Nicole
  • Are all the best dancers really that short, Benny Ninja? I think Cyd Charisse would beg to differ.
  • “It’s not just what mama and daddy did, it’s what I did with it.” — Tyra
  • During their discussion of the photos, the judges said Jennifer was being too sexually forward in her photos. Why is this the standard critique given to every Asian model to ever appear on Top Model? These girls can’t all fall into the stereotype of the sexually exotic Asian woman, can they? Sheena, certainly, but Lazy-Eye Jennifer? Really?

The Husband:

No matter what your thoughts are on most of Entourage‘s sixth season, and oh man do I know a lot of people who were threatening to give up on the show this year, I think it ended on a very clear, concise note of an overarching theme that just took too long to get started. No matter what the flaws, the constant deviation away from the life of central character Vinnie Chase and his movie star woes, one remarkably poor casting decision, it wrapped up nicely, and season six came to be about the pros and cons of being impulsive. Everybody except Vince — who pretty much had no arc thanks to him already having a job to go to at the end of the season, shooting Frank Darabont’s Ferrari biopic — completely redefined their lives over the course of what seemed like a very short season, and while it couldn’t get to the heights of some of Entourage‘s best arcs, a lackluster season of this show is still an effortlessly watchable endeavor.

This was the year that we really got into the lives of “the guys,” and for better or worse, I’m glad it was able to dive so deeply. Eric, failing to get his management company off of the ground, takes a job at a bigger firm run by George Segal, gets a sweet-ass receptionist played by Brokeback Mountain‘s Kate Mara (who will definitely present some major opposition to E’s happiness next season) and already establishes himself as a dominate force against douchey Scott Caan. But his love life has become lazy, and his multi-episode back-and-forth with Alexis Dziena didn’t seem to amount to anything other than obnoxious scenes that went nowhere. And yes, Dziena sucked the life out of any scene in which she appeared, even though I can’t remember having a problem with her acting in the past in work such as Invasion and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. But she was terribly miscast here, and her presence was only validated when E finished off the season declaring his love for Emmanuelle Chriqui’s Sloan and finally getting engaged. It took a long time to get going, but I’m fine with E’s story overall. His impulsiveness threatened to destroy two of his relationships, but it ended up working in his favor.

Turtle, meanwhile, got the best arc of the season, or at least the most sincere, in exploring his relationship with Jamie-Lynn Sigler after their canoodling last season. For the first time in a while, their relationship seemed to be built with a major dose of reality, and their problems — her jealousy, his wandering eye while studying business at UCLA, the long-distance dating problem that is part of the world of a wanted film and television actor — didn’t feel like the frat raunch fest mode that this show has a tendency to slip into. And upon their final break-up, Turtle’s impulsive decision to hop aboard a plane headed for New Zealand turned into humiliation, and here’s hoping that between this and his education, he can mature further into adulthood.

Drama’s story was the one I dreaded the most this season, because honestly I tend to roll my eyes at nearly everything he does nowadays. I’ve been sick of his shitty decision-making for seasons now, and his comic relief persona hasn’t rubbed me the right way the entire time. It’s one thing for the world to work against you, but it’s another to be the sole cause of all of your problems, whether you were an asshole in the past or an asshole in the present. His impulsive decision, based entirely around the word of somebody who could have easily fucked up his career just for kicks, to drop out of Five Towns (after his physical confrontation with that douche from Eli Stone, of course) only to see his Melrose Place audition nearly cause him a heart attack (no thanks to you, Dean Cain), was going to be the latest straw of self-destructive behavior. But for the most part, this show doesn’t like to keep its characters in hell, and while Drama suffered so much this season that he nearly quit acting, his MP audition got “the network” interested in creating a star vehicle just for him. The soul-searching came too late to really save the arc, but it’s appreciated nonetheless.

And, of course, we have the saga of Ari versus Lloyd, whose pairing finally implodes when Ari so terribly tortures his assistant that Lloyd has no choice but to up and quit, moving on over to Malcolm McDowell’s company (and Ari’s former employer). It had been a long time coming, and the only way to break what was starting to become a tedious plot device (Lloyd does something good, Ari berates him, repeat) blossomed into something bigger and better. This led to Ari making some majorly ill-advised impulsive decisions when offered the chance to buy out McDowell and merge their companies, but his final decision to give in to a few ego-bruising demands made it all worthwhile. It’s still a bitch that Ari would even consider using his wife’s television money to make the deal, and that it was originally all for spite, and maybe you shouldn’t go around shooting paintballs at your new employees to indicate that the merger equals them losing their jobs, it was an emotional change for Ari nevertheless. It was also a considerably better story than last year’s moral quandary over whether or not he should have become a studio head.

No one likes you right now.

No one likes you right now.

Yes, some of the episodes didn’t add up, and the stalker mini-story fit into what Ebert would call the Idiot Plot where everything could have easily been solved had everybody not been a complete idiot. I don’t think I hate the golf episode as much as, say, my sister does, but the fact that I barely remember it doesn’t speak volumes for its quality either. It’s a pain in the ass to have Vinnie become a non-character on his own goddamn show, though, and Entourage always works better when he’s struggling for work, but it’s not like I hated anything he was doing.

But admit it, you really liked the episode where Zac Efron and Frank Darabont make some surprising (fake) revelations about themselves, the Aaron-Sorkin-visiting-Gary-Cole-in-jail episode was a better episode than it had any right to be, and Matt Damon outright stole the season finale.

With the show’s evolution comes the fact that we can’t simply see the same stories over and over again, and while showrunner Doug Ellin (who I didn’t realize played the asshole TV director until about an hour ago) doesn’t always know how to structure an episode as well as, say, James L. Brooks could, and he still has a bit of an emotional disconnect from his characters at the oddest times, he’s realized this fact. The stories may not be working at a 100% success fate, but in this day and age, I’ll settle for 75%. Besides, do you remember the first season, where nothing happened? That’s how you should weigh all seasons of Entourage, because it’s not the plot that matters, but the characters. Disagree if you wish, but I always look forward to another summer and another season.

But goddamn it, I wish they would have showed us at least one scene from Martin Scorsese’s Gatsby. We can all agree on that.

The Wife:

When I saw the opening of this week’s Mad Men, featuring S-C employees discussing how the big wigs are out of town on vacations and business trips, I had hoped to receive an episode on par with my favorite from last season, “The Gold Violin,” which concentrated on minor characters and beautifully explored the themes in Ken Cosgrove’s titular short story as they applied to the lives of Sal and other characters. “The Souvenir” was not quite so astonishing, but it did tell us a lot about the fantasy lives of Pete and Betty.

With Trudy away at her parents (i.e. being on Community), Pete is spending his summer holiday alone. His first act of freedom is to sit alone with his shirt off in the dark, followed by a hazy montage of Pete eating cereal while watching Davy and Goliath on Children’s Catholic Television (side note: I totally watched that show at my Catholic grade school), sleeping for most of the day and then suddenly realizing he should buy other food, only to come home to find Gudrun the German Au Pair sobbing over a stained party dress in the hallway. Save for that last event, it is evident that Pete is just a giant manchild, in one way enjoying the deregulation of married living, but on the other hand, utterly lost without a caretaker. In his Pete Campbell-y way, he convinces Gudrun to let him solve her dress problem, and he does, by storming into a high-end dept. store (which I’m assuming was not Menken’s, but Macy’s or Bloomingdale’s) and lying his way into an exchange of merchandise. This exchanged happened, and it was awesome:

Pete: Let me speak to the manager.

Salesgirl: Of the entire store.

Pete: Of the Republic of Dresses! Whoever can help me!

And when the manager does arrive, it happens to be Joan, ruling over department store girls with the same stately authority with which she once drove the secretarial pool at S-C. But it’s evident there’s something different about Joan. Her hair is free of its official French twist, loosely curled around her face in what I can only assume is a “younger” fashion. And she’s lying just as much as Pete is. “I’m just filling in. They needed some extra help,” she says, when Pete incredulously asks if she’s working in retail now. She takes care of the entire dress exchange for him, free of charge, despite his insistence on paying.

Let me get that for you . . . and youll have sex with me, too, right?

Let me get that for you . . . and you'll have sex with me, too, right?

I think this act is important because it shows Joan’s attempt to present the same face to Pete that she always presented at S-C (notice how she sighs in shame at being “found out” once he leaves her sales floor), but it also contributes to Pete’s further misunderstanding of how the world works. He believes himself to be such an influential man that things just happen for him, but more often than not they don’t. In fact, when he gives Gudrun the new dress to replace the one she’d ruined, he fully expects a reward in kind, but Gudrun shuts him down. I think Pete is always looking for some kind of Madonna-Whore figure. He wants someone to mother him, but, just as much, he needs someone to be submissive to him sexually. (See Trudy for the former, Peggy for the latter.) So when Gudrun turns him down, the only alternative in his mind is to get trashed, force his way into her apartment (as gently as one can invade a home) and take at advantage of her. At the very least, we know he kisses her. But given the way Gudrun’s employer speaks to Pete at the end of the episode, I think we can safely assumed that more was implied. He is told something he should have already known: the first rule of nanny-fucking is that you stay out of your own building.

As for Betty, thanks to Mr. Henry Francis showing up in the nick of time with a letter from the Governor, she and the Junior League manage to successfully stall the Tarrytown reservoir project until further study can be done. Don is impressed by her efforts, and so his Henry Francis, who takes the time to make out with Betty in her car after the meeting. This whole Jr. League business, including the makeout session, imbues Betty with a new sense of control over her own life and she wakes up Don in the middle of the night to ask if she can tag along on his business trip to meet with Conrad Hilton in Rome.

Once there, Betty seizes onto the life she could have had — if only she’d kept up modeling, if only she hadn’t married Don, if only she hadn’t had children. In Italy, men are popping into frame to light her cigarettes all the time, and fashionable women stroll the lobbies of rich hotels. Here, we learn that Betty apparently learned Italian sometime during her few years at Bryn Mawr and speaks it well enough to get around Rome on her own. While Don is still sleeping, she calls a beauty salon and shows up at that evening’s dinner in the Hilton courtyard with Conrad Hilton dressed in a darker, sexier version of the clothing the fashionable Italian girl she’d seen in the lobby earlier: her hair in a complicated updo befitting any Fellini heroine, her black dress bedecked with the first hints of shimmy fringe the 1960s of Mad Men has ever known. She’s a knockout, and she knows it. And so do the ever-so-forward Italian men she takes a table beside in the courtyard. Certainly, Betty is complimented on her beauty enough back in New York, but here she’s a completely different girl. The girl she’s always wanted to be who can trade barbs with suitors in a foreign tongue, playing her aloofness off as mystery and intrigue.

After their dinner with Hilton, Don and Betty have one of the most passionate nights they’ve had in a long time, making love in view of the ruins. It was very Antonioni. But soon they return home to their life as usual, dealing with Sally’s temper and their two month old son and all of the other banal problems of suburban life. She’s returned from abroad a different woman, wearing her brand new Pucci maxi dress and smart headband around the kitchen, showing it off with nowhere else to go. (I note here that I have actually witnessed Italian women doing dishes in their Cavalli gowns, and I still can’t decide if it was sad or amazing.) She’s visually out of place amongst the summery sleeveless tops and Capri pants lining her block, and its no wonder that Betty should so suddenly and strongly announce her hatred for the suburbs and their friends there. Even when Don gives her a Coliseum charm for her charm bracelet, sent all the way from Rome by Connie Hilton, it’s not enough for her. It’s not the promise of a different life, but merely “something to look at when I tell the story of the time we went to Rome.”

Stray thoughts:

  • “They should just do it up in Newberg. It’s already disgusting.” — Betty, telling NYC suburbs what’s what.
  • I really don’t know what to make of the scene where Sally watches Betty blot her lips, followed by the scene of her brutally attacking her brother after playacting Mommy and Daddy in the bathtub with Francine’s kid. She’s trying so hard to be feminine, but she’s just got such a damn mean streak in her.
  • That vintage Pucci Betty brought back from Rome, by the way, was a stunner. I’m not into maxi dresses so much, but I fucking adore that one.
  • Does looking at that stupid fainting couch just make Betty think about kissing Henry Francis now, or what?
  • I actually like Joan’s hair down.
  • Italian suitors! How dare you call Jon Hamm ugly! YOU SPEAK FILTHY LIES!

The Wife:

Flash Forward, at its core, is a show about epistemology. When everyone in the world blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, each having their own vision of what they believe to be the future, the show asks its characters and viewers to constantly question the knowledge we’re being given:

  • How do we know these are flashes of the future, and not something else, despite the fact that everyone flashed forward to the same date, April 29, 2010?
  • How do we acquire the knowledge/facts to help us determine what we think we know?
  • What is truth, belief or conjecture?

And from these central questions of epistemics, the show branches out into a Lostian exploration of fate and destiny, asking whether or not they exist, if the future can be changed and how much control we can exert over a predetermined course.

So far, I am into it. It’s slightly more penetrable than Lost, but still contains that show’s crucial elements of action, human drama and mystery to keep up interest in the show. Lost was reinvigorated when it introduced the flash forward structure at the end of season 3, and I like the idea of this show also having a similar endgame. It’s nice to know, as a viewer, that your showrunners have an idea of where they’re going and the experience of finding out if the flash forwards will come to pass is the same for us as it is for the characters on the show.

Because of that, we’re learning things in time with the characters, so all we know at this point regarding what may have caused the blackout is that there is a person of interest called D. Gibbons (who stole the credit card of DiDi Gibbons of DiDelicious Cupcakes) who was working on some major hack in a creepy-ass doll factory, and who made a call 30 seconds into the blackout to the only known person to not fall asleep: a man at a Detroit Tigers game, veiled in black, who walked away nonchalantly as if he knew this would happen. (For my money, I am sure he will be played by Dominic Monaghan, as I know my favorite hobbit has a deal to appear on this show and hasn’t yet done so.)

Lost in time, lost in space . . . and meaning.

Lost in time, lost in space . . . and meaning.

By the end of the second episode, we’ve unveiled almost all of the symbols on the flash of the Mosaic board that Joseph Fiennes’s Mark Benford was putting together in the future: we’ve seen the friendship bracelet his daughter gives him, the name D. Gibbons, the crime scene photo of the burned baby doll, but not yet the blue hand or the man with the star tattoos. John Cho’s Demitri Noh learns that there are other people who saw nothing in the blackout, but not five minutes after meeting one, she dies. He also receives a phone call from someone in Shanghai (I think) (Husband Note: It’s Hong Kong, but I shall correct my wife instead of editing the right answer in because I’m MEAAAAAN!) informing him that she was reading a report of his death in her flash forward, on March 15, 2010. Sonya Walger’s Olivia meets the man with whom she’ll have an affair (Swingtown’s Jack Davenport, using his natural accent), and her daughter Charlie recognizes Davenport’s son from her flash forward.

It’s too early for us to start building Lostian theories about the nature of the “future” or even what we think we know here, but I’m sure we’ll find out next week if Benford burning his daughter’s friendship bracelet has any effect on the future. If this show were to take a banal turn, I’d expect that little Charlie would just keep making them for her daddy, constantly, feeling hurt each time she saw him without it.

Stray thoughts:

  • How good was the opening of the pilot episode? The simplest images stood out: the balloons floating away, the kangaroo on the loose. These were a lovely, almost surrealist expression of the disjointedness of life after a disaster.
  • Speaking of which, has anyone ever seen children playing make-believe versions of disasters on the playground? Watching a bunch of children play “blackout” while “Ring Around the Rosy” sang out was terrifically creepy, as was the repetition of the song in the doll factory. I ask about the validity of this exercise because, while I understand the notion of communal play acting as a method of coping, I don’t remember ever play acting those kind of current events as a child. We play acted the 1994 Lillehammer games, where the worst thing that happened was Nancy Kerrigan’s knee getting bashed in by Tonya Harding.
  • Can Sonya Walger now only play women with children named Charlie?
  • Nice FBI agent cameo, Seth McFarlane! (Husband Note: He’s coming back, which further pisses off everybody who hates his funny shows.)
  • Seeing Joseph Fiennes on TV makes me mourn the unwanted pilot that was Ryan Murphy’s Pretty/Handsome, which was to be an F/X series about a man struggling with a gender identity crisis. The trailer for it was lovely, and I’m sure you can find it on YouTube. But know that when I try to see Fiennes as an FBI agent, I have a really hard time because I think of him surreptitiously fondling silk panties or, of course, unwrapping Gwyneth Paltrow’s bubbies.

The Husband:

The mystery is there, but the characters aren’t. The show has picked up some bizarre backlash in only its second week (with major complaints about Courtney B. Vance’s comic relief bathroom blackout story), but I think that’s just a gut reaction to having yet another deep mystery show on primetime, and this time people have their guard up. The themes and general questions being thrown about are, without question, fascinating, but I can understand some people being frustrated by some very one-dimensional character work. Right now, I’m only feeling Sonya Walger as far as emotions are concerned, because it’s tough for the rest of the show to work its procedural angle without losing some major character time, something from which most procedurals that aren’t named Bones tend to suffer. (But hey, at least Demitri Noh is an awesome name.)

But I’m not hating on the series so much as being distracted by my complete lack of connection, and after the first sequence of “holy shit,” things have settled into a procedural groove a tad too quickly.

The showrunners and writers must have a lot of information up their sleeves, because right now they’re racing through this mofo. Give me a reason to care other than the central conceit itself. Because I’m there, but I don’t know if others will stick around.

The Wife:

Another two weeks of SYTYCD auditions, and here are our notable dancers out of Boston, Atlanta and the Big Easy:

Please give this woman an Emmy. Please?

Please give this woman an Emmy. Please?

Teddy Tedhome: He wore plaid pants, and that makes him both funky and awesome. He goes straight to Vegas.

Jean Llauret: He is a good breaker, but I feel like he is stronger than he is interesting in either movement or personality. Still, we’ll see him in Vegas.

Kimara Wood: I would totally cast this long-dreaded dude in a Cajun Country Blues version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Oberon. Believe me, I’ve seen such a production of Midsummer and he is exactly what their Oberon looked like. He goes to Vegas.

Channing Cooke: She is Kherington 2.0, which means Nigel likes her because she is pretty and blonde. She makes it to the choreo round.

Super Tall Ryan Casey: He’s a good tapper, if ungainly due to his height. Though he doesn’t make it to Vegas, I suspect he is somehow related to Conan O’Brien.

Russell Ferguson: Unfortunately, his excellent krump audition was ruined by the producers inserting shots of Tyce DiOrio grooving for no fucking reason. I DO NOT CARE ABOUT TYCE!

Karen and Matthew Haver: If these two dance like this together, what must their marriage bed be like? They both go to Vegas to burn the sheets there. Once again, I had to ask myself why Cat Deeley and the producers are rewriting SYTYCD history. They claimed that Karen and Matthew were the first married couple to make it to Vegas together, but that’s not true! Artem and his wife both made it to Vegas in season one. Artem made the show, his wife didn’t.

K-Bez: His performance was good, but not great, and made me officially announce that I am over any and all Black Eyed Peas summer dance hits. Somehow, he still goes to Vegas.

Gene Burstin: He is a very sexy Russian with a very unsexy name and goes to Vegas.

Billy Bell: He reminds me of Billy Elliot, so we shall call this sprightly male ballet poof Billy Belliot for the duration of his time on the show. (It works on two levels, you see, because the actor who played Billy Elliot is called Jamie Bell.) Billy Belliot here is amazing, and he goes straight to Vegas.

Amber Jackson: I am pretty sure Nigel just threatened violence upon this girl because he liked her dancing, but didn’t think her performance was engaging. I mean, on the one hand, I agree about engaging your audience, especially at an audition, but sometimes, you’re just not dancing that kind of dance, you know?

Victor Smalley: He isn’t Hawaiian, as far as I can tell, but dances like a combination of Mark and Kupono. Good times.

Jessica Jensen: How many times have I begged my readers to get skin checks? Please do, because you do not want to have a sarcoma in your hand and end up like this girl. Although, if you do have to lose a hand, please be like this girl. Jessica here was a good dancer, but not a great one, and I’m glad that the judges didn’t get her a free pass to Vegas simply because of her missing hand. She does, however, have personality for days. I loved her joke about gnawing off her fingers with nervousness, and the shot of her walking out of the theatre with her boyfriend, where he tenderly held the nub where her hand used to be. She’s kind of my hero.

Thomas Hamilton: The world’s most graceful crackbaby gets a ticket to Vegas.

Shelby “Skip” Skipper: One of the most energetic hip-hoppers we’ve seen so far in auditions. Mary was either amazed, or on drugs, or both by the sound of her praise of his work.

Jonathan Litzler: He’s an acrobat, and you know what I don’t need? Another Neil Haskell. I can’t deny his talent (he’s better than Neil), I just think his tumbling overshadowed his dancing. Well, that and the fact that he only wears one sock or shoe while dancing. What’s up with that?

Allison Nance: Her stand-out moment was when she made a pinwheel with her legs over her torso, and yet somehow remained stationary through her core. I do not understand how one achieves such a thing.

Edward Spots: Should be cast in The Lion King. Right now.

Justin Kenny: He is probably the most lithe breakers we’ve ever seen. Some of his moves are a little awkward, but when it works, it’s stellar.

Kimalee Piadad: I have never heard of competition theatre arts dancing, but I assume that’s what you have to call competitive partner dancing that isn’t in a defined ballroom style. She and her partner were really great, achieving lifts I’ve really only seen people do on ice skates and not half so well. Kimalee goes straight to Vegas.

Diana Drexler: She performed a very moving lyrical piece, and it was all the more moving to her after losing her grandfather passed away just before her audition. I’m sorry she didn’t want to be “that girl” (with the story, the package of tragedy), because the producers clearly wanted her to be.

Stray thoughts:

  • I liked watching Cat learn how to do the Stanky Legg. I know how to do that from America’s Best Dance Crew!
  • Even more than this, I enjoyed watching Cat learn the New Orleans bounce.
  • “My salsa looked more like some guacamole.” — Boogie Links, who was having way more fun hitting on girls than he was dancing.
  • Where are the mind-blowing hip-hoppers this season? I haven’t seen nearly as many as I should be seeing.
  • And I missed the girl who fell down and showed her lady bits. Why would you even go to a dance competition without underwear on in the first place? Wouldn’t we have seen all that during her piece, which I’m sure was filled with leg extensions and leaps?

The Husband:

The producers claim that it wasn’t her lady bits, but “a crease in her panties,” which is one of the best press release phrases in quite some time.

Quick hint: it wasn’t “a crease in her panties.” Panties don’t have a furry front patch. At least no panties I know.

And Thomas Hamilton reminded me that I wanted to play this clip. Not that I don’t like him, but even if he makes it into the Top 20 and then starts sucking (neither of which I can foresee, because I’m not a soothsayer), I will have probably forgotten by then that I would want to use this clip when he is kicked off. So here I preemptively give him shit and expose my bad taste, if me talking about furry panties didn’t already tip you off.

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