Eli Stone

The Wife:

Eli Stone

Just a stones through from greatness.

Just a stone's throw from greatness.

I’ve written previously in my two (count ’em!) posts on Eli Stone this season about how I think the show lost some of its spark during the second season, but the most underwhelming parts of season two were, evidently, saved for last, to slowly peter out during this three-episode burn-off. To be honest with you, I’d forgotten a lot of this season simply because of the break between when I last watched and these remnants. Thus, nothing really stood out to me about them and they only served to reinforce my early assessments of what went wrong with the show. And keeping Maggie and Eli away from each other, while it did allow Maggie to come into her own (looking especially confident and sexy in the last episode) it lost a little bit of the spark from one of the most interesting relationships on the show, only to half-assedly rekindle it in the final episode’s desperate attempt for closure.

I actually found the whole central vision-mystery from the last episode to be extremely frustrating for two reasons, one complaint for each part of it:

1. The parents of the braindead girl who didn’t want to give up her heart to that dying woman are selfish idiots. I am not a religious or spiritual person, but I was raised Catholic and I can tell you that there are several flaws in their argument about “not wanting their daughter’s heart to burn in hell because it’s inside an atheist.” First of all, denying someone the chance to live is possibly the least Christ-like thing a so-called Christian could ever do. Second of all, Christianity believes in the soul, not the body. So if their daughter dies, she goes to God, not her body and not her organs. Certainly, if she signed up to be an organ donor, she is aware of that fact, and so are her parents who are executors to her will. This whole case was insanely stupid, and I’m glad Eli proved their idiocy by basically pointing out my first complaint that denying someone the chance to live because they have different beliefs than you do isn’t only discriminatory, but COMPLETELY ANTITHETICAL TO YOUR SUPPOSED FAITH.

2. I guess Eli was busy using all his smarts and logic on that because he seemed COMPLETELY INCAPABLE of using it to interpret the plane crash part of his vision. He knew from the beginning it was a KeyStar air flight. He made a correct step in getting employee flight records after seeing the Weathersby Stone travel bags, but for some reason never made the connection between the name of the airline and what employees might be flying on that airline. Instead, he totally wasted Jordan, Taylor and Matt’s time by asking them not to board their flights. (Now, I suppose in the world of Eli Stone, KeyStar might be the ONLY airline, but I find that highly doubtful, as that would be an air travel monopoly and, surely, some client of WPK would have already sued them and broken up said air travel monopoly long before Eli turned over a new leaf.) Then, once he got the time and date of the crash in his next vision, he didn’t take any further steps toward, say, looking up KeyStar flights departing from SFO that day and figuring out, based on listed travel times, which ones would potentially be the ones that would crash. I realize he’d still look like a crazy person/terrorist if he called the TSA and gave them a list of specific flights to check, but it would also stand to reason that he might be able to better prevent the crash if he actually took the time to narrow down the field of possibilities.

Instead, we got a little deus ex machina with Maggie’s fateful voicemail announcing her receipt of the Weathersby Stone travel bag and her intended us of it during her flight to Italy, departing that day. I suppose I should be happy that it got him there in time to drop seemingly-dead, only to have him reunite with Maggie, who just happened to demand to be let off the plane before it took off due to her own hunch, which then caused a flight delay for another safety check, allowing the airport staff to find a safety problem with the plane, preventing it from blowing up and saving the lives of all of its passengers. I should also be happy that Eli’s burst aneurism didn’t kill him, although I guess he’s still got that second one in there, waiting to destroy him.

Then there’s also that who odd and problematic talk with God/his father, in which its revealed (yet more telling instead of showing) that the atheist he fought so hard to get a heart for ended up dying during her transplant, which miraculously and conveniently ended up giving that braindead girl’s heart to none other than Eli’s soul mate, Grace. Are they still soul mates now that Eli’s still got a deadly aneurism and Grace has a new heart that will allow her to live a normal life? And how does Grace figure in to last season’s vision of Maggie with a baby that is presumably Eli’s? I know this God-snowglobe ending was meant to tie up loose ends, but I feel like it mostly made a mess of things.

Harper’s Island

The next murder Im hosting will definitely be held in my new murder basement, by the way.

The next murder I'm hosting will definitely be held in my new murder basement, by the way.

I never got the chance to write about Harper’s Island prior to this, but I did watch the limited-run series in its entirety and enjoyed the show’s commitment to campy fun good times. You see, I like murder mysteries. In fact, every year, I host a murder mystery party at my house in which I invite some friends over for dinner and a 4-hour immersive role playing game with lots of improvised craziness and clue-solving. Watching Harper’s Island was exactly like playing one of my murder mystery dinners, only with a significant increase in the number of potential suspects and an ever-growing body count. (At my dinners, only one person dies. And they stay dead, unlike John Wakefield.) Clearly, I am inclined to like such a thing.

In the beginning, I thought the show wasn’t going to be as cool as it ended up being, and part of my problem was with the casting and the writing. Too many of the actresses looked the same, and didn’t seem to have distinct enough personalities. In fact, up until the near-end, I would sometimes confuse Bride Trish’s sister with her step-mother, and I’m glad Bridesmaid Lucy died so early on because otherwise, I’m not sure I’d have been able to tell her apart from Chloe (unless Chloe were in every scene with Cal, like he has was cute her British accessory, or something). But once certain unnecessary bodies were dispensed of, the key players really started to flesh themselves out and the show got good. I’d say this is when the cast was probably at a total of 10, just after Mr. Wellington’s encounter with that headspade that awakened everyone to the possibility that there was something other than a wedding going on on Harper’s Island. (Here I must insert that my murder dinners are meant for eight, which is a perfect number because these things are filled with a plethora of information to keep straight, and maintaining tidbits from any more than eight sources while drinking bottle after bottle of wine is exceptionally difficult.) Once we got down to a manageable number of characters, we started to explore Abby’s past with the island, the history of the Wakefield murders, her mother’s diaries, her father’s obsession and the possibility that she – or someone else – could have been John Wakefield’s love child.

I also became somewhat invested in the growing relationship between Chloe and Cal, and, subsequently, in the changes in their characters during this whole ordeal. At the beginning of the show, Chloe was an effervescent party girl who was nothing if not gorgeous, which is perhaps why I couldn’t tell her apart from Lucy. Cal, on the other hand, was a fish-out-of-water Englishman, a man a bit too posh and uptight for seafaring life in the Pacific Northwest, constantly picked on by other party guests and locals because of his difference and because a girl like Chloe had no business being with a man like that. But as they found themselves in the midst of danger, Cal and Chloe stuck together. She got a lot tougher and a lot smarter, and he likewise proved his mettle by employing his medical knowledge (from working as a mortician, I believe), to help the survivors figure out facts relating to bodily injuries and their causes, as well as patching up certain wounds and instructing others how to patch up his own. Nothing cemented their growth more for me, though, than Cal’s death at the hands of John Wakefield and Chloe’s defiant swan dive to join her would-be fiancé in the river below, growling, “You can’t have me,” just before she takes the plunge. Beginning-of-the-series Chloe wouldn’t have done that for Cal, but end-of-the-series Chloe did.

Now, about that John Wakefield love child. As it turns out, that love child ended up being Wakefield’s accomplice, and it isn’t Abby, but her childhood best friend, Groom Henry, who reveals to her (after kidnapping her and murdering his father and anyone else still alive except for hostage Jimmy) that he set up this whole thing (including his fake relationship and fake wedding to Trish . . . ouch!) to lure Abby back to the island so they could be together . . . even though they’re technically siblings . . . which is really creepy, but doesn’t seem to bother Henry at all. I don’t understand why he kept Jimmy alive to allegedly pin the title of “Wakefield’s accomplice” on, especially after going through all the trouble to stage the burning deaths of Trish, Abby, Jimmy, Wakefield and himself. Even with “Wakefield’s accomplice” alive somewhere, it’s doubtful that the Washington State police would dig further into people “proven dead” or go digging about on an even more remote part of the island to look for said accomplice. So to take someone hostage and force them to write a false confession? This strikes me as very bad planning on Henry’s part, especially since his only post-massacre plan was to hole up in a really sweet house with Abby for the rest of their days, living out a warped little domestic fantasy and hoping she developed Stockholm Syndrome. Clearly, keeping Jimmy as a hostage is just a handy plot device so freaked-out Abby can find him, thus making her even more freaked-out and so Jimmy can find a reason to break free from his restraints and launch himself at Henry, thus taking him out with a very large boat knife and allowing Jimmy and Abby to ride off on a state police boat into the Puget Sound sunset.

But all in all, I had a lot of fun watching this show, delighting in the ever-growing body count, the inventive, nautical deaths and the various murder mystery tropes and red herrings dropped along the way. I wish the series had been more of a success, though, because I like the idea of these limited-run series. As my friend Drew wrote, they definitely solve the problem of Twin Peaks Season 2, and other series with a central mystery that outlived the story they’d planned to tell. (Joss Whedon was always very good at keeping each Big Bad around for only one season, and any subsequent seasons would deal with a new and different evil.) Plus, it was kind of like having a murder mystery at my house, only without all that cooking and planning. I’d have been interested to see other incarnations, especially because Creepy Little Madison was already poised as a natural successor to Abby as a Wakefield survivor for the next edition of murders in and around the Pacific Northwest.

The Husband:

As usual, my wife catches me with this article just when I’m getting extremely busy at work, so I can’t contribute very much, but I will agree with pretty much everything she said about both shows.

In a little way, I think I enjoyed the final four episodes of Eli Stone more than my wife simply because of some of the nice character development, but was left scrambling to reach for my iPhone and look up character names as they were mentioned, because a several months-long break between episodes kind of destroys any concept of who is named what. (This doesn’t happen to quality shows like Mad Men or anything on HBO, but that’s because they’re sweet programs that dare you to forget their characters.)

As for Harper’s Island (which I almost accidentally typed as Herpes Island, which is the inevitable porn spin-off), this was the perfect show to watch out of the corner of one’s eye while playing Peggle and Unblock Me on my nifty little Apple phone. (I plug! You give me money!) I had an even harder time telling the characters apart, but basically because I never bothered to learn their names in the first place. Except for Abby. (Yes, I forgot Henry’s name, even though the actor played a very memorable Harry on Ugly Betty over the last three years.)

More importantly, I don’t think there was one point in the entire series where either my wife or I ever bothered to venture a guess as to who was going to be the killer. No clues followed. No online community message board chats. I just watched until the next kill or the next shot of a scantily clad Chloe. (By the way, this Alvin & the Chipmunks actress, Cameron Richardson, has done her share of tasteful nude photography, so go forth and view.) Once during the final three episodes I jokingly guessed that it would be Madison, which, to be fair, wouldn’t have been the worst idea in the world. Just implausible.

More limited series, I ask, and networks could take a lesson from CBS sticking to this show, even if it was shifted from Thursday at 10 to Saturday at 10. To think, would Taye Diggs’ Day Break have developed more of a cult following had ABC allowed it to finish out its run? The world will never know.

The Wife:

A part of me feels like catching up with Eli Stone is too little too late at this point, as we are now nine episodes into the season, leaving only four after this before the show goes away forever, but Eli Stone, while this season has faltered a bit, doesn’t deserve to go away with a quiet whimper. It’s a good show. And it’s too bad people don’t watch it. I realize just now that’s its basically Private Practice – Medicine + Spirituality + The Law. (I’m basing that half-assed math solely on the fact that the shows are both about ethical dilemmas and how to approach them.) And if people won’t watch a medical show about Big Ethical Question that’s a spin-off of another highly successful medical show about people sleeping with other people, what hope is there for a show about a Prophet-Lawyer? The answer, evidently, is not much.

Seven episodes have aired since we last wrote about this show, largely dealing with the break-up of Weathersby, Posner & Kline and the reforming of those partners as two distinct legal entities. Jordan broke off to form Weathersby Stone with Eli as the other managing partner, successfully avoiding a breach-of-contract suit by proving that his newfound interest in pro-bono work was the original intent of Weathersby, Posner & Kline based on a cocktail napkin he and the other two partners signed containing the first draft of their mission statement when they formed their firm. From there, Posner and Kline try to seduce all of Weathersby Stone’s loyal employees by offering them the kind of money their newly pro-bono counterpart cannot. Taylor stays with her father, as does Keith, who has stepped up to become a much bigger character this season, while Matt Dowd goes where the money is and, much to Eli’s dismay, Maggie Decker, too, turns to the dark side, lured with the promise of being able to choose her own cases as head of the pro bono department.

From there, Eli has gone on to break up Maggie’s marriage (after having a vision of her fiancé cheating), as well as break up his brother’s marriage (after having a vision of Laura Benanti cheating on Nate with, uh, Eli). He’s gotten really good at breaking up engagements this year. But there’s more to his relationship with Nate than just Laura Benanti’s fickle affections. After getting his visions back from Nate and discovering their father’s journal, he grapples with living his life and knowing his fate. Ultimately, Dr. Chen convinces him to burn the journal (but not before making a secret copy for himself). However, desperate to unlock the journal’s secrets, Eli starts participating in a very dangerous kind of acupuncture called The Dark Truth, which Frank refuses to perform on Eli more than once, thus leading to a rift in their friendship as he turns to rival acupuncturist Dr. Lee (Melinda Clarke) for help. Meanwhile, he receives a vision about a burning building, complete with Victor Garber’s Jordan Weathersby singing the most strangely keyed version of “Don’t Mess Around with Jim” I’ve ever heard, leading Eli to take on a drug trial case for a wealthy businessman that turns into an emancipation hearing for that man’s son when, after Eli helps his father get permission to run an MS drug trial that could save him, contradicts the son’s own wishes. Eli needs to prove that the father (the Jim of the song) did not have his son’s best interests at heart, and he achieves this by having Nate look into Jimmy’s medical records, thereby discovering that his father had falsified his CT scans to show that his son’s MS had not worsened, thus allowing him to swim on the Olympic team. (Complicated, I know.) Nate’s testimony in the case means that he can no longer work for St. Vincent’s, the hospital at which Jimmy’s primary care physicians worked. Instead, St. Vincent’s offers Nate an extremely large amount of hush money to keep their shoddy and falsified medical records under wraps. Thus, while risking Nate’s job, Eli actually puts his brother in a pretty sweet position, financially, giving him the means and free time to ask Laura Benanti to marry him. And then Eli has that pesky vision. And Laura Benanti finally sings something. (Finally!) And then she leaves Nate on their wedding day, despite Eli’s best efforts to keep himself away from her. As it happens, he could do everything in his power to make sure he didn’t reciprocate, but there was nothing he could do about Laura Benanti’s feelings for him.

Pity. She looked fucking amazing in that wedding dress.

Needless to say, this leaves Nate furious with his brother – putting their father’s vision that they were to work together in dire jeopardy. It’s difficult to explain in a catch-up post just how intricate the late Mr. Stone’s journal has been to the Nate-Eli relationship, but it has been a good plot thread to keep this season together. Last season was about Eli coming to terms with his gift and learning how to use it, and this season has been about how that gift affects other people – especially the brother who didn’t end up with the vision-providing deadly aneurysm.

Couldnt we just have a threesome with Laura Benanti and call it a day?

Couldn't we just have a threesome with Laura Benanti and call it a day?

Meanwhile, Maggie is struggling to find her place at Posner & Kline and, other than plugging up an intel leak at Weathersby Stone, hasn’t been doing very much at all. She pines for Eli, but stays away when she isn’t met with quite the same reaction. Poor Julie Gonzalo goes underused again. It’s like on Veronica Mars – her character had such potential at the beginning of Season Three . . . and then it just petered out. I guess we’ll never find out how she ends up with Eli and a baby in the future now.

Keith got a good multi-episode arc with guest actress Tiraji P. Henson (who deserves a Supporting Actress nomination for her work in Benjamin Button; she also deserved that same accolade for her work in Hustle & Flow, but they let her sing with Three Six Mafia in the live performance of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” so I guess that’s a decent consolation prize). Henson starred as Angela, Patti’s daughter, a promising medical student who was arrested for a DUI when she wasn’t drunk. Keith managed to get her off that charge, while falling for her, until he finds out that she tested positive for cocaine. Angela insists that the false positive was because of some antibiotics she had been taking for a cold (which she probably shouldn’t have had even a glass of wine with, if warning labels on drugs are to be believed). Angela later gets suspended from medical school when she is accused of stealing drugs from the nurses station – a charge she tries to disprove, coming to blows with her mother over her drug addiction and, in the process, allowing Eli to discover that Patti once had a severe alcohol problem that was only solved by Jordan setting her straight. Henson and Loretta Devine have a great scene together during this confrontation, and it allowed us to see Patti as something other than a sassy black side character. (She’s great and all, but I often worry about black actresses being pigeonholed in the sassy black friend role. Or, sometimes, as the “magical negro” trope.) While Keith doesn’t get to end up with the girl, he does manage to help Patti and Angela have a real, honest relationship and assures mother and daughter that, while Angela probably can’t return to that medical school, she can find a way to work in medicine if she still wants to and make her mother proud.

And then there’s Matt and Taylor, whose strange relationship has taken up a lot of screen time this season and has culminated in a pregnancy. They’re learning how to be a couple, how to be good parents and, mostly, how to not be a Big Giant Douche and a Fucking Ice Bitch. In the latest episode, they thought, briefly, that there would be a chance their baby would have Down Syndrome, something that made Matt immediately want to find ways in his life to accommodate a special needs child, while Taylor turned straight down abortion alley. In actual human life, having a baby does change a lot. It certainly changes who you are as a person. I’ve just never seen a baby used as a character-changing plot device in this way. I mean, we’ve seen the dude-needs-to-shape-up-and-be-a-dad thread before (Knocked Up, Worst Week . . . oh, dozens of other examples), but I’ve never really seen it work both ways. And so deliberately. There is absolutely no reason for Taylor and Matt to be having a baby other than to see how they, as characters, react to this change. This plot, for me, is probably the strangest part about this season. I see its function, but I don’t really understand its necessity. Oh, well, Taylor won’t have that baby before the final episode airs in two weeks, right? I won’t have to care about this plot very soon.

Even with that weird baby plot, I will miss Eli Stone, and not only for the Victor Garber and Loretta Devine and Johnny Lee Miller’s very strangely large head, but for its heart and its faith. Much like Pushing Daisies, this show asks us to believe in miracles, and to have faith. It’s certainly not subtle about that approach, especially when George Michael appears in your living room and insists that you gotta, in fact, have faith, but I think we need things that ask us to believe in miracle-working lawyers and candy-coated pie shops filled with Anna Friel in beautiful dresses. If not for the landscape of arts and entertainment, where in the world are we asked, so blatantly, to indulge in hopes and fantasy?

That, and I’ll miss playing “Hi, Broadway actor!” with my husband when Broadway vet-fueled Eli and Daisies are gone.

The Wife:

Something about the first two episodes of this season of Eli Stone just isn’t recapturing the magic of the first season. I think part of what made the first season so interesting was that a.) one vision in every episode involved singing and dancing that usually culminated in an awkward moment where only Eli himself appears to be participating in this activity, which was always smile-inducing and b.) Eli’s quest to understand his strange new gift lead him on an interesting, Bryan Fuller-esque spiritual/philosophical quest that often had extreme ramifications for those around him.

In our first two episodes, “The Path” and “Grace,” the only person who seems to really be affected by Eli’s visions anymore is Jordan Wethersby, his boss. To be fair, with Eli’s aneurism removed, the first episode had Eli’s visions (and aneurism) falling to his brother, Dr. Nate, who, like Eli, struggles to understand his new gift. In meetings with Sigourney Weaver, Eli’s imaginary therapist filling the role of God, she tells him that one person in his family always has to have the visions, so if Eli were to reject this burden, they would transfer to someone else. Eli, seeing his brother’s potential to have a normal life with Laura Benanti and her autistic son, begs Sigourney Weaver to get his visions back. So too comes the aneurism.

Why is it that therapists, lawyers and adoption counselers are the only roles this lady can get anymore?

Why is it that therapists, lawyers and adoption counselors are the only roles this lady can get anymore?

Nate was literally affected by the visions for a time, and Jordan was directly affected by Nate’s sole vision of a crane collapse at a bank in which Jordan was trapped when the event came to pass. Nate had to re-enter the vision state with Eli and Dr. Chen’s help in order to find Jordan’s location in the building to help the search and rescue team dig him out. After his recovery, Jordan commits so fully to Eli’s pro bono work that he decides to take the entire firm in a new direction, helping only those clients with whom he feels exhibit good morals, essentially. Jordan committed to Eli’s pro bono work last season, so this change of heart after Eli’s visions (by Nate proxy) actually saved him makes absolute sense.

But my issue with this new story arc of Jordan Wethersby vs. Posner and Kline is that all of the Eli-related legislation from the first season was ultimately a question of faith vs. empirical evidence, and that core dialectic spilled over often into the cases Eli lobbied himself. The clash of the titans among the WPK partners is a question of “some money gained ethically” vs. “lots of money gained the way we always gained it,” and that is a less interesting core question for me. Eli’s visions usually brought in cases that affected the people in his life (like Silver Terrace, a low income housing complex where many of his secretary’s friends lived that was going to be the epicenter of a massive earthquake) or had visions specifically about protecting them (like the Golden Gate-destroying earthquake that almost claimed the life of Julie Gonzalo’s fiancé), so a vision of Katie Holmes? What’s the deal?

like roses, only smellier.

Hot dogs: like roses, only smellier.

While I liked the idea that Eli had a vision of Grace because somehow the two are soul mates – she has a congenital heart condition that could kill her at any minute, just like his aneurism; he likes pro bono work, she likes pro bono work – I was a little dismayed that, ultimately, Eli’s vision in this episode didn’t do what his visions are primarily meant to do: help someone. I did like the fact that Nate sent Grace the Marvels’ ticket to facilitate the two of them meeting in accordance with Eli’s father’s notebook (they’re a family of prophets, you see), because I think that notebook will add an interesting aspect to Eli’s struggle to know his deceased father and add another dimension to how the visions work.

I’d really like to see Eli Stone get back its magic, because its the idea of magic and spiritualism and faith in contrast with the rhetoric of the empirical law that really makes this show work. Oh, and I certainly don’t remember the Legislation-of-the-Week from the first season being quite nearly as schlocky as the soldier story from “Grace,” so let’s tone down the schmaltz, shall we, and get back to the good stuff.

The Husband:

Eli Stone was one of the unsung champions last television season, an intelligent lawyer show with fits of whimsy, great character interactions, intriguing ruminations on spirituality and fate and a whole lot of pretty sweet song-and-dance sequences, thanks to such previous Broadway stars-turned-cast members such as Victor Garber (Godspell, Merrily We Roll Along and Sweeney Todd) and Loretta Devine (Dreamgirls). (Unfortunately, Laura Benanti, who won a Tony during summer break, didn’t get any singing time as far as I can remember.) Now, it’s struggling to extend its charm into more than the first season’s 13-episode short order. I think my wife broke it down pretty well for you guys right above as to what’s going wrong, and I couldn’t agree more.

I do have my own major gripe about this show, and it’s how it has been treating San Francisco as a setting recently. Sometimes it gets a few things right (the show’s law offices are in this crazy SoMa monstrosity that you just can’t miss) and what it got wrong I didn’t really mind (SF’s City Hall does not look anything like the SoCal architecture of the one that appears on the show, but at least it looks like California). Sure, not every show can be Journeyman (which, aside from the confusing location of the Vasser house, got a great deal of the geography and location work right, thanks to a traveling film crew and people behind-the-scenes who seemed to actually give a crap), but this most recent episode of Eli Stone really bothered me.

Seeing this much blue at The Stick is just wrong. So wrong.

Seeing this much blue at The Stick is just wrong. So wrong.

During “Grace,” Eli and his brother attend a Marvels game, the local baseball team, for their final game before the stadium is to be destroyed. It’s fine to change the name of the Giants to the Marvels (I’m the guy who has been amused for nine years about all the fake team names in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday), but it’s another thing to show a wide shot of the stadium and have it be Candlestick Park (sorry, it will never be 3Com or Monster Park to me) where the actual San Francisco Giants have not played since the year 2000. And the stadium-wrecking detail, that’s clearly meant to evoke the current demolition of Yankee Stadium. Why would they even bother going this route when there is so much wrong with what they’re saying, and the details don’t seem to have any reason to be there in the first place? San Francisco is not New York. Not in any way. It has its own very special and very unique personality, so these decisions baffle and irk me to an unreasonable degree.