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.

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The Wife:

And so another season of Criminal Minds draws to a close with a bomb . . . only this time, it was a C-bomb! What what! C. Thomas Howell up in your faces, bitches! But I’ll get to Tommy later when I discuss the two-part season finale. But first, I must discuss three other episodes:

4.22 “The Big Wheel”

Criminal Minds often does some of its best character work when it allows us to identify first with the episode’s villain, even sometimes to sympathize and root for him. Certainly, I-don’t-know-why-he-isn’t-a-fucking-star-yet Anton Yelchin got a great character episode in season three’s “Sex, Birth and Death” (see also the Official Documentary of Matthew Gray Gubler on The Gube’s website, in which Yelchin does a great job of sucking up to The Gube and pretending like he’s an acting god; it’s good stuff), and here CBS favorite and Moonlight star Alex O’Loughlin got a great role in an otherwise totally obvious and uninteresting episode. O’Loughlin played a loner cameraman/photographer/videographer with OCD who, after witnessing his father murder his mother and watching a tape of the act repeatedly, murders women resembling his mother each year on the anniversary of his death. Only one year, he murdered a woman who had a blind son and, besieged by guilt for robbing a boy like himself of a mother, he later befriended the boy and planned to atone for what he had done. O’Loughlin’s Vincent found his victim’s son after he was placed in a foster home through a kind of Big Brothers-Big Sisters program and promised the boy he would one day take him on a Ferris wheel, alluded to throughout the episode by the repetition of two concentric circles (either drawn on the boy’s palm or circled around the date of the boy’s birthday). I don’t really know what a blind kid gets out of a Ferris wheel (wind? the feeling of being high up?), but Vincent managed to spirit him out of his home to fulfill his promise of taking the boy to the Ferris wheel, only to poison himself at the top of the ride and slip away into death while the boy simpered at his side and held his lifeless hand.

Even when I think about Feed, he's still cute.

Even when I think about Feed, he's still cute.

I’ll admit that I’m one of many, many humans on this planet powerless to the unstoppable sexiness of Alex O’Loughlin, and he is definitely hot in thick black glasses (with or without a camera mounted to them). And even hotter in long johns!

4.23 “Roadkill”

I didn’t like Deathproof and I didn’t like this episode.

Although, fundamentally, the motivations for murder with one’s vehicle were proven different in this episode (misdirected guilt vs. vehicular rape), I still find something about vehicular manslaughter to be unsettling. Could it be the fact that it would have been really, really easy for any of the victims in this episode to simply run off the road? Or, in the case of the parking garage, not to run up the parking structure, but, perhaps, back into the building from whence you came, weaving between barriers of vehicles the whole way? I guess in the very least I can say that I’m pleased Reid validated my dislike of Tarantino’s Deathproof by actually talking about vehicular rape.

In a semi-related note, I’d like to mention that my husband has been watching All-American Girl a.k.a. the sitcom starring Margaret Cho that is so totally not based on her stand-up at all, and he showed me the “Pulp Sitcom” episode last night, featuring her then-boyfriend Quentin Tarantino as a videotape bootlegger. I am glad he gave up acting. Because he really sucks at it. The only thing he’s good at is showing up for a brief cameo in Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror to have his junk blown off, which is kind of an apology for positing that a rape-act should be retribution for a rape-act, if we read the vehicular rape theory into Deathproof. And kind of not.

4.24 “Amplification”

Rarely does CM do something I find frightening, but anthrax is pretty scary, yo. Especially whacked-out mutant strains of anthrax unleashed onto unsuspecting groups of people! Especially when my darling Spencer Reid accidentally exposes himself to some of that super-mutant anthrax and nearly fucking dies! Not okay! (I mean, as a viewer, I was pretty sure Reid would live as he is so crucial to the show and all, but, still – how heartless would I be if I didn’t tear up when he called Garcia to record a message to his schizophrenic mother to tell her, as he sputtered and coughed from the anthrax in his lungs, that he was proud to be her son?) In addition to the horror of this episode’s threat, I have to say that it was one of CM‘s better thematic episodes, as well. With Reid’s sacrifice, we’re asked to ponder a central conceit bandied about during this episode, “Is it better to sacrifice the few to save the lives of many?”

J.J. and Emily struggle with their own interpretations of the question. When Hotch forbids the team from calling their families to warn them about potential outbreaks, J.J. wonders what harm it could do to call home and tell her nanny not to take her infant son for his daily park stroll. Hotch tells her it would be unfair of them to use privileged information to save their families when they couldn’t give the same information to the public they serve. Similarly, when Prentiss and Rossi investigate the home of the unsub, a curious neighbor comes up to them and inquires if she should get her children indoors, after seeing some commotion at the house. Prentiss seems like she’s about to tell the woman about the anthrax, but instead informs her that the house is infested with toxic mold. They shouldn’t come near the house, but her children should be safe to play outdoors. It would be wonderful for both J.J. and Emily to share their information and save a life, but both would be at the greater cost of potentially letting that information spread uncontrolled, causing panic and endangering more than it would save.

Hotch comes up against his own interpretation of the phrase when he goes against an army general for control of the anthrax investigation. They debate principles of information dissemination, with the general taking the opposite line of the BAU (and also totally not getting profiling, like, at all), asserting that its not appropriate to sacrifice the lives of the few to save the lives of many . . . thus completely destroying the hopes of anyone who practices utilitarianism of working in government . . . even though that’s basically the point of government . . . but . . . whatever. Eventually, General Witworth comes around to working with the FBI, especially when Garcia is able to track down Nicols’ assistant, a grad student doing a case study on anthrax with whom Nicols, a former government researcher, was more than happy to share his work. It’s this man, Chad Brown, rejected for working at government labs numerous times, who planned to initiate a large-scale anthrax attack that would cripple military presence in D.C. With help from Garcia, Reid discovered most of this while trapped inside Nichols’ home laboratory, nearly dying from anthrax, but not before discovering the cure for the mutant strain lodged in a safe, unsuspecting place: Nichols’ inhaler. So when Hotch and Morgan intercept Brown as he’s about to attack the D.C. subway system, Witworth steps in and pretends he wants Brown to recreate the strain of anthrax for government use, giving him the recognition he desired and getting him to hand over his bag full of lightbulb anthrax bombs while Morgan handcuffs him.

And thanks to Reid finding the cure, he and three other victims of the park attack survive. And thanks to the rest of the BAU, D.C. goes on, unaware of the threat to the lives of its citizens. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Good stuff, Criminal Minds. Good stuff.

4.25 “To Hell and Back”

As its own fucked-up, two-hour horror movie, this would be pretty great. I totally love the idea of a quadriplegic Garret Dillahunt forcibly controlling his mentally challenged younger, pig-farming brother with guilt and convincing him to kill transients and extract their spinal fluid in the twisted hope that, one day, mentally-challenged pig-farmer brother will be able to follow research and restore Dillahunt’s motor functions. I totally love that. I totally loved that there were never any bodies after Lucas and Mason’s experiments because, just like when Dillahunt was on Deadwood (both times, in fact), they were fed to the pigs. I loved that Lucas collected the shoes of his victims, and I loved that his most recent abductee, a crack whore named Kelly, was so good at convincing him to follow her lead instead of his brother’s that I really think she could have a career as a suicide counselor or a hostage negotiator once she gets out of rehab and into community college.

And I have to admit, the unnecessary shootout at the end, in which the SWAT team rains bullets on Lucas because he wants to make sure his new friend is okay, while the man who brought this case to the BAU, Sgt. Hightower, enters into the farmhouse to straight-up assassinate the defenseless Garret Dillahunt? That was pretty brutal. The BAU never wants to end a mission in bloodshed, and sometimes, there are not neat quotes to sum up a day’s events – especially when that day’s events truly end with George Foyett sneaking up on Hotch in his apartment, and the episode ends with the sound of a gunshot and blackness.

I kind of don’t care about Hotch, and I do deeply love how fucked up George Foyett is – especially because it’s clear to me that C. Thomas Howell will be around for a mutli-episode arc at the beginning of next season. By attacking Hotch, Foyett has gone outside of his normal methodology, which means something here is seriously wrong, and I can’t wait to find out what it is. The threat of a C-bomb is way better than the threat of an actual bomb, and that coda, complete with Hotch’s excellently creepy voiceover about the summation of events through quotations tells me we’re in for a wonderful season opener next year, in which I think we might actually lose someone important to the show . . . unlike this season’s opener, in which the person who died was someone no one cared about.

The Wife:

We don’t usually do news here, but since I’m trying to decide what shows I can and can’t watch next year (thus, can and can’t cover) because of grad school, I figured I’d help you all out by sharing my handy-dandy season schedules for the major networks here at Children of St. Clare.

I’ve listed everything by hour, as most networks are running hour-long shows these days, so two half-hour shows are listed in the same box with the time the latter show starts in between them. If a show runs longer than one hour, I’ve indicated the length and listed it in the hour in which it starts. Asterisks (*) indicate new shows, and I’ll have some snap judgments on those shows following these graphics:

falllineupMTWRF

And here’s the weekend schedule for the fall, which, as you can see, is largely blank:

FallineupSS

In January, the networks will change to their midseason schedules:

midseasonlineupMTWRF

And here’s the weekend midseason schedule

midseasonlineupSS

Now, on the midseason schedule, you may notice some funny little symbols after the network names. Here are those footnotes:

  • # ABC has not yet announced its midseason lineup. The have, however, three new shows on deck: V, Happy Town and The Deep End, as well as returning shows Lost, Wife Swap, True Beauty, The Bachelor, Better Off Ted and Scrubs. Timeslots all to be determined.
  • + CBS has not yet announced its midseason lineup, but has the following shows for midseason replacements: Miami Trauma*, The Bridge*, Undercover Boss*, Arranged Marriage*, Rules of Engagement, Flashpoint
  • = CW’s midseason debut is Parental Discretion Advised, timeslot to be determined.
  • Additionally, Fox has Hell’s Kitchen scheduled for Summer 2010, and has Kitchen Nightmares on deck to fill holes in the schedule.

Now, for my snap judgments . . .

NBC: While we all know by now how I feel about Jay Leno, I can honestly tell you that the only one of their new shows I will definitely watch is Joel McHale’s comedy pilot Community, joining the NBC Thursday comedy block in 30 Rock‘s spot until it returns at midseason. Community has a good premise (McHale finds his college degree is invalid and must go back to community college to make up the credits), and has both McHale and Chevy Chase, who turned in a good performance as the villain at the end of Chuck season 2. I am overjoyed that Chuck is returning at midseason, as I think a 13-episode run will give us only the most super-concentrated awesomeness Chuck has to offer. I do not need another medical show in my life, so I’m declining Trauma and Michelle Trachtenberg’s nursing show, Mercy. 100 Questions looks so much like Friends that it is entirely out of the question for me. But then there’s Day One, which has a nice pedigree of coming from the people who work on Lost, Heroes and Fringe. It could be awesome, or it could be hokey, but I think it’s the only other promising thing NBC has to offer us.

ABC: I am delighted that ABC has given a permanent slot to Castle, allowing Nathan Fillion to prove he is charming, rakish and shouldn’t be a showkiller! He and Adam Baldwin have broken their own curse! Other than that, though, I am extremely concerned at how unimpressive the new shows debuting for fall seem, compared to the stuff ABC has on deck for midseason. Not a single one of the Wednesday night comedy block shows looks palatable. Hank looks downright abysmal, The Middle looks, well, middling, Modern Family falls flat and Cougar Town is trying way too hard. I might DVR Eastwick because I like Rebecca Romjin and Lindsay Price, but I have no emotional ties to either the previous film or the novel upon which it’s based to grab my immediate attention. I watched a clip from The Forgotten and I can tell you right now that I think it’s going to be the most dour procedural on television, and I certainly don’t need that in my life. I am, however, intrigued by Flash Forward because I like both time travel and Joseph Fiennes. But what sounds really interesting are the midseason shows. The Deep End is about law students and, out of all the ABC clips I watched, it certainly has the most character, pizzazz and joy. It also has Tina Majorino, looking the prettiest she’s ever looked. I will give that a shot when it premeires. I will also give hardcore sci-fi reboot V a shot, as we certainly don’t have any shows on network TV currently dealing with alien invasion, and I’m really jazzed on the trailer for Happy Town, which seems like its going to be a slightly more normal Twin Peaks (in that its a small town mystery), only this time, with Amy Acker!

FOX: I’m wary of a fall edition of SYTYCD, but I do see the benefit of it giving FOX a consistent schedule so that things don’t get shitfucked when Idol rolls around at midseason. Perhaps, if this is a success, going forward we’ll have to find a new totally awesome summer reality competition . . . maybe one for actors? OR MAYBE WE CAN MAKE A TRIPLE THREAT SHOW BECAUSE I WOULD TOTALLY WATCH THAT????? (Please, FOX?!!!!) Fox is actually my favorite of the networks so far, actually. I’m happy to see they’ve renewed Dollhouse and paired Bones with Fringe, which makes for a really rockin’ Thursday. Also excited to see Sons of Tucson with Tyler Labine as it looks pretty funny from the promo.  Human Target looks pretty fun, too. And you best fucking bet I will be watching Glee. The only thing I think I’d really pass on, here, is Past Life, and that’s just because I’m not really interested in seeing a show that solves crimes using past life regression (although one of my favorite X-Files episodes has exactly that conceit). So, rock on, FOX. You are my winner for next season.

CBS: I will be skipping pretty much every new show on CBS this year as they continue to build their police procedural empire. However, I will give a try to the new Monday comedy Accidentally on Purpose, even though it’s based on the memoirs of a film critic I don’t like very much, the Contra Costa Times‘ Mary F. Pols, who can’t seem to see the good in anything at all. The show is set in San Francisco, though Pols lives somewhere in the Walnut Creek area in reality, I assume, and Jenna Elfman plays the fictional version of Pols’ film critic who accidentally gets pregnant by a younger, one-night stand and decides to keep the baby, and it’s daddy. I generally like Jenna Elfman and, of course, adore Grant Show, who will be playing her boss. I will also give Three Rivers a shot, because it stars Moonlight‘s Alex O’Laughlin and its about organ donation, so there’s a chance I could see him repeat at least part of his horrifying performance in Feed, a film in which he kidnaps obese women and feeds them their own fat until they die. (How he would repeat part of that performance, I don’t know, but I’d like to see CBS try.)

CW: Will I watch a show produced by Ashton Kutcher about teenage models called The Beautiful Life? Yes, I will. Will I watch a show about teenage vampires called The Vampire Diaries? Indeed, I would probably watch something like that, as long as it sucked in a good way and not a bad way. Melrose Place? I have even less of a connection to that show than to 90210, so I’m not inclined to watch the reboot — especially since Ashlee Simpson’s on it. But, hey, I might need some mind-numbing crap to counterbalance all my grad school reading, so perhaps. I’ll give Melrose Place a perhaps, a perhaps perhaps, even, if I choose to continue watching 90210, making my Tuesday nights just like 1992. I am, however, surprised that CW axed the Gossip Girl spin-off, as even though I didn’t like the backdoor pilot, I did think the show had potential. I’m also surprised they axed Jason Dohring and Minka Kelly’s legal show, Body Politic, if only because I was hoping both former Moonlight vampires would have jobs come fall, but I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for Josef Kostan nee Logan Echolls.

So, as the curtain on this TV season falls, you can look forward to me actually writing about Mad Men this summer, as well as many, many articles on SYTYCD. After that, I’m going to have to see what my fall schedule is like and compare it to the above fall schedules to see what I can really watch and what I can, in turn, cover.

I’ll make you guys a chart of all that later.

The Wife:

Finally, only 11 episodes into the season, we find out what the hell Sayid has been up to off island, and a little bit about how our favorite Iraqi torturer became the kind of man to kill for money. I’ll begin with that anecdote, and then try to put this together in some sort of chronological fashion. The opening scene asks us to question if Sayid was always meant to be a killer, as he steps in a wrings a chicken’s neck on his brother’s behalf, earning the accolade from his father, “At least one of you will become a man.” Sayid, it seems, has been indoctrinated with the idea that necessarily violence (killing one’s food, killing one’s enemy) is inherent to his masculinity. This brief intro into Sayid’s childhood cuts to our other favorite murderer, little Ben Linus, bringing his Iraqi hostile a chicken salad sandwich (presumably, no mustard). I adore this transition, where Sayid appeases his father by killing a chicken, little Ben tries to endear himself to the man he thinks will free him from his brutal, drunken father by bringing him another dead chicken (although minus the feathers and heavy on the mayonnaise). Ben’s got daddy issues, just like everyone else, and he desperately needs approval from a male authority figure. He knows he’s got Alpert’s approval, now he just needs someone to facilitate getting him to Alpert, and Sayid the Hostile should be that shepherd, something of a surrogate father.

Later in the episode, I thought that’s how it was going to go, when Sayid refuses Sawyer’s help in hatching an escape plan and declares that he’s on his own because he finally know what his purpose is. Little Ben sets up a flaming Dharma van to speed through Dharmaville, distracting Phil and other security members so he can free Sayid, under the following conditions:

Ben: If I let you out, will you take me with you? To your people?

Sayid: Yes, Ben. I will. That’s why I’m here.

But, no. I was very wrong. Before that, though, here’s some stuff that happened to Sayid, off-Island:

In Moscow, he finishes his final assignment as an assassin for Ben. Seems they were killing people who worked for Widmore — people Ben said were out to kill Sayid’s family. But once freed of his obligation to work for Ben and simultaneously avenge his wife’s death, Sayid doesn’t know what to do with his life. Killing is all he’s ever known. Ben’s suggestion: “I suppose you should go live your life. You’re free, Sayid.”

Struggling to change his stripes, Sayid winds up in the DR building La Escuela de Isla. Post-Jeremy Bentham’s visit, Ben arrives to announce Locke’s death. He claims it was murder in retribution for the work that Ben and Sayid have been doing, a plot executed by none other than Charles Widmore. Ben tries to tempt Sayid into killing again by telling him that people have been watching Hurley outside Santa Rosa, and that Hurley need’s Sayid’s help. (This, by the way, is only the first in what I feel are several Sayid/Christ comparisons in this episode.) He implores Sayid not to rebel against the fate he was made for: killing. Sayid responds: “I am not what you think I am. I don’t like killing.”

I really like your hair in that ponytail, Sayid . . .

I really like your hair in that ponytail, Sayid . . .

At the docks with Ben and the other O6ers, Sayid realizes that Ben if a liar and that everything he’s said so far about Widmore and his friends being in danger was all a ploy to get them back to the island. He walks away, and winds up drinking alone in a bar next to Ilana, whom I will, at least for now, stop calling by the name of the actress who plays her since I’ve finally gotten an idea of her character. Sayid thinks Iliana is a professional, but she says she’s not a prostitute, she just likes to go to bars, drink expensive Scotch (always Scotch on this show!) and talk to sad men. He tells her he’s trying to change who he is, and eventually they wind up in bed together. As he takes off her hooker boots, she kicks him in the face and pulls a gun on him. She is a professional, she says, a bounty hunter hired by the family of the man he killed in cold blood on an Italian golf course last year to be brought to justice in Guam. (In retrospect, perhaps killing someone in such a public place with a membership roster was not the best idea, eh?)

Ilana takes Sayid to the airport in cuffs. As he sees the O6 in various parts of the airport, he begins to grow suspicious. He asks Ilana, “Can you do me a favor? Can we get on the next plane? I am very superstitious when it comes to flying.” She refuses, and they board that fateful flight to Guam, from which he gets sucked out during bright white flashy time.

Back on the island, the Dharmites wonder what to do with their captured Hostile Sayid. Horace offers to help him if he’s somehow in trouble with his people, but Sayid won’t talk to anyone by Sawyer, who makes the first of a few attempts to save his friend by asking him to pretend that he’s a Hostile trying to defect, and beg for protection within Dharma if he can provide information to them about his people. Sayid refuses, and stays in his cell for a fascinated Little Ben to chat with while the Dharmites discuss their next plan. Roger “Work Man” Linus catches his son bringing Sayid a sandwich, and Sayid witnesses young Ben being beaten, a moment in which I had such tremendous sympathy for a man I know full well to be evil. You just don’t beat up a kid, man.

The Dharmites take Sayid out into the woods to visit Oldham (Deadwood‘s William Sanderson), who, as it turns out, is Dharma’s version of Sayid — a torturer, of sorts. (“He’s our you,” says Sawyer.) Being a dirty old hippie who lives in the woods, Oldham’s version of torture is tying victims to a tree and giving them some kind of LSD/Saliva Divinorum/Truth Serum combo to peacefully make them talk. Under the influence, Sayid tells the Dharmites everything. He babbles about airplanes and being from the future and warns them all that they’re going to die. Oldham wonders, “Maybe I should have used half a dropper,” but Sayid insists that he used exactly the right amount. This scene had some Christ-like images for me, with Sayid tied to a tree as though it were a cross, spouting off about being from the future as though he were some kind of prophet or Messiah. I had hoped that the Dharmites might suspect him less and worship him as a god-figure for a time, but alas, they simply think he’s crazy.

Ill sit in that jail cell as long as you guys want; just keep giving me that LSD shit you gave me in the woods.

I'll sit in that jail cell as long as you guys want; just keep giving me that LSD shit you gave me in the woods.

Dharma votes, encouraged by new mom Amy, to kill Sayid, reluctantly forcing his one defender, James LeFleur into agreeing with them (because Horace would really like to say the vote was unanimous). And then the Flaming Dharma Van interrupts further planning and Ben lets Sayid out. They abscond into the jungle, and run into Jin out on routine Dharma patrol. Sayid lies to Jin and tries to convince him that Sawyer let him go, but Jin, suspicious, calls to confirm, and Sayid is left with no choice but to knock him out. Little Ben admires Sayid’s bad-ass killing skills, and looks on in awe as Sayid huddles over Jin’s body, to make sure his friend is still breathing and to turn his radio off. And then, unexpectedly, Sayid announces, “You were right about me. I am a killer.”

AND DRAWS HIS FUCKING GUN AND SHOOTS LITTLE BEN LINUS.

Sayid shot a child.

An evil child, but a child.

For as piecemeal as I felt the “filling in the background” sections of this episode were, I was deeply impressed by the struggle for Sayid’s soul. And I think it really ties in to the major mindfuck question we’re presented with at the end here. How much of our lives are destiny/fate/island magic/predetermined, and how much do we choose? And what happens if we go against what is predetermined? If we are to believe the basic principle of time travel that you cannot change the past without rewriting the entire future, then Sayid was always supposed to come back in time and kill young Ben Linus, which in turn somehow cosmically ties Sayid to his one-time victim. If this was always how it was supposed to be, then Ben’s gunshot wounds are definitely not the end of Ben Linus. The island, I doubt, is done with him yet. (Either the island magic will save him as it has saved others, or Jacob or Richard Alpert will breathe life into him like God creating Adam.)

But what Sayid doesn’t realize when he pulls that trigger is that very basic principle of time travel. He thinks he will change things and save lives by assassinating Ben before he turns out to be the liar and the great manipulator we’ve come to know and love, but it won’t change a damn thing because it already happened that way and will always happen that way. And I really, really like the idea of Sayid working for Ben in the future being some sort of cosmic debt paid, as though Sayid, who wanted so badly to not be so eager to kill (and even fought back tears when he assassinated Ben), had to make it up to the victim of his crimes who actually lived. (Yes, Ben, like Harry Potter, will be The Boy Who Lived. I also saw Sayid taking pity on dad-beaten Ben as a sort of Sirius Black-type figure. You know, until he shot Ben. That kind of destroyed the whole Harry Potter parallel for me.)

As for the nature of Sayid’s soul, I subscribe to that whole humanist “duality of man” theory, so it’s difficult for me to say that his true nature is that of a killer. However, he is certainly meant for it, skilled at it. But its the ability to resist that basic instinct that makes him so interesting and, I think, compares to the basic conceit in a narrative about werewolves (see one of my favorite Buffy episodes ever, “Wild at Heart,” in which Oz cannot resist his wolf side and breaks poor Willow’s heart, all the while Angel has to learn to be human again when Buffy realizes that he has returned from his stint in hell without an ounce of humanity left in him) as well as any story about a vampire who has chosen not to drink of human blood (Angel, specifically, but also Moonlight‘s Mick St. John, Twilight‘s Edward and other Cullens). All of these are stories about resisting something intrinsic and antithetical to what is deemed socially acceptable. Certainly, the instincts of a killer are something that society, as a whole, have tried to suppress in order to function. But that doesn’t make them any less innately human. I’m glad Naveen Andrews got to play with that here, because I could see that struggle in his eyes in two key scenes:

1. When young Ben returns to him with his glasses broken, and Sayid asks if they broke because of what Roger did to him.

2. As he is about to pull the trigger.

When I think about both of those looks, a part of me wonders if, perhaps, heroics were not the only reason for Sayid to believe it was his destiny to kill Ben. The boy hated Dharmaville and wanted out, and had been abused by his father in front of Sayid. Perhaps, at least in some small part, this was a mercy killing.

The Husband:

BEN IS A ROBOT!

BEN IS A ROBOT!

BEN IS A ROBOT!

BEN IS A ROBOT!

BEN IS A ROBOT!

You heard it here first.

The Wife:

Wednesday nights are rough enough with Lost alone and are especially rough now that there’s Idol, ANTM and Make Me a Supermodel. It’s a reality show power block, and when faced with models making fools of themselves and wannabe popstars, it’s really difficult to make the decision to watch a procedural. I love Criminal Minds, but it’s just been getting backlogged on my DVR, so with due respect to other fans and to those involved on the show, here’s a catch up on the last four episodes or so.

4.13: “Bloodline”

In Bloodline, the BAU team investigates kidnappings of young blonde girls and discovers that, over the course of about 100 years, there have been other isolated disappearances. Not only do the kidnappers take the daughters, but murder the parents in their sleep so the girl will have no one to return to. The team ties these kidnappings and murders to a Romani (gypsy) family trying to find a wife for their young son. The mother of the Romani boy was once kidnapped herself, and developed a wicked case of Stockholm syndrome.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty cool episode, especially the twist with the boy’s mother and the extra twist at the end as she whispers to her son in Romani: “Don’t tell them about your brothers.”

4.14: “Cold Comfort”

This episode had a semi-Buffy reunion with a quick guest spot from Nick Brendon and Mercedes McNab (Harmony) as the victim, Brooke Lombardini. A string of missing blonde girls (always blondes as the fetish object on this show) prompts BAU involvement when some of the girls start turning up dead and, even more oddly, embalmed, each with double pierced ears and the same haircut.

As Brooke’s mother, Lolita “Catface” Davidovich gets her missing daughter’s necklace out of evidence and takes it to a psychic who believes he can read a person’s aura if he has contact with something of theirs. Rossi is not cool with this for a variety of reasons, citing the spread of false hope and the potential of conning victim’s families. J.J. is less sure, touched by Davidovich’s desperation to find her daughter, and eventually takes a piece of evidence to the psychic. The psychic her that he sees Brooke near a rocky shoreline, which makes J.J. think that their unsub has taken the girls to his parent’s home on Mercer Island. Only Mercer Island doesn’t match with any of the other evidence, including wire transfers from the unsub’s father to support his income for the four years he’s been killing, living off his trust fund and off the map.

A former medical student, the unsub was raised by an au pair from Denmark, a petite blonde named Abby with a bob and double pierced ears, who suddenly died one day when his parents were on vacation. For three days, he stayed curled up next to Abby’s body and has been trying to recreate her ever since. He kidnapped girls and held them until they admitted they were Abby, and then he killed them, dressed them up as her and raped their corpses.

The team catches him just in time in a warehouse, with Rossi boldly proclaiming that he was as far from Mercer Island as he could get . . . until Hotch takes a tarp off the window and reveals a painted mural of a lighthouse on a rocky shoreline.

J.J. apologizes to Rossi for bringing in the physic and potentially leading them down the wrong path. As a new mother, all she could see was a mother losing her child and she wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Rossi tells her that those feelings are valid and that believing in psychics is fine, as long as J.J. always remembers that she should believe foremost in what they do at the BAU.

Thats my son with Abby. I always knew he harbored a weird oedipal crush on her.

That's my son with Abby. I always knew he harbored a weird oedipal crush on her.

Cybill Shepard was also in this episode as the unsub’s mother, basically playing her character on The L Word as a powerful woman who constantly belittles her husband. (This character, too, was probably going to have an affair with Alice Piezecki and leave him.) It was a guest star-a-palooza, and a decent episode with a nice tension between faith and fact.

4.15: “Zoe’s Reprise”

In the Cleveland leg of his book tour, Rossi meets a young criminology student who tells him she believes there’s a serial killer in Cleveland due to the increased homicide rate. When she tells Rossi of the facts of the case, he says that he currently doesn’t see any serial involvement (as each murder location and type and victimology are wildly different), but tells Zoe to continue her studies, contact him for any career advice she might need and tells her to never stop until she’s got the answers she’s looking for.

When Zoe turns up dead at one of the previous crime scenes, Rossi blames himself, believing she never would have gone investigating if he hadn’t encouraged her to be so intrepid. Her mother doesn’t want anything to do with Rossi, and is incensed when she finds out that a guilty Rossi decided to take care of the funeral.

As for the serial killer, it took Zoe’s murder for people to realize that she was correct the whole time. He started as a copycat killer, unsure of his style, which is why all the murders prior to Zoe’s were so different. He killed first as Cleveland’s own Butcher of Kingsbury Park (who picked up dudes at gay clubs, killed them and left their bodies in the park), as the Son of Sam (shooting couples in cars), as BTK and even as Jack the Ripper, until, with Zoe, he finally found his signature: strangulation, sealed with a tender kiss to the forehead, wiped away with alcohol. The team doesn’t discover the bit about the kiss until two victims after Zoe, and Rossi has to ask Zoe’s mother to return her body to the morgue so they can examine her forehead and see if there’s a kiss. Zoe’s kiss wasn’t wiped away with alcohol, so from her body they are able to get the name of her killer and track him down.

They catch him in what they believe is an act of murder, only to find out he was just trying to have sex in public with his girlfriend – something he does often because it’s the only way he can get off. With him and the girlfriend in custody, Prentiss discovers that he took Linda to every single one of his crime scenes to have sex. The unsub tells Rossi that there are more bodies, which Reid is easily able to locate by comparing the sex list to the framed images on the unsub’s wall. It wasn’t enough for him to simply visit the crime scenes. He had to look at them every day in order to relive the experience.

Also a fan of Rossi’s work, the unsub tells him that he hopes Rossi can write a chapter on him in one of his books someday. Still guilt-ridden, Rossi returns to lay flowers on Zoe’s grave and runs into her mother, who asks if Zoe’s killer was captured and jailed. Rossi assures her that he is, and she tells Rossi that Zoe would be proud of that fact. Rossi goes on to cancel his book tour, and J.J. tells him that he was the reason she joined the BAU. Fresh out of Georgetown, she didn’t know what she wanted to do, but after hearing him speak, she applied to the FBI.

I enjoyed the sentimentality of this episode, as Rossi can sometimes play a little too gruff, but the murders themselves were no big mystery. The minute I saw them, I called copycat. (Thanks to my husband for showing me the film of the same name a couple months ago.) For people who study serial killers, it was most surprising to see the BAU team try to argue other methods of explanation such as escalation of violence or escalation of intimacy to explain the differences between the crimes, rather than seeing the obvious that, at the very least, the murdered couple shot to death in their car looked like Son of Sam and the strangled prostitute looked like Jack the Ripper.

4.16: “Pleasure Is My Business”

In this episode about a high-class call girl who kills her wealthy clients, I learned a couple of valuable pieces of information.

  1. Should I ever want to become a Madame, real estate makes a good cover with flexible hours.
  2. FinderSpyder has become the fiction search-engine du jour, officially outliving the last show it appeared on, Journeyman, in which I thought it was supposed to be LexisNexis. (If it is intended to be LexisNexis, the killer hooker in question has a background in journalism, time traveling, or time traveling journalism.)

(Husband Note: I too started to notice the widespread use of the fictional Finder-Spyder, a mixture of LexisNexis and Google, last television season when it showed up not only on Journeyman, but also on Moonlight. Now I see that there’s a Wikipedia page detailing its appearances, including two I should have already caught (on Prison Break and the guilty pleasure Hidden Palms). The link is here.)
When wealthy Dallas businessmen with a $10K hooker habit start turning up dead, the Dallas cops call in only Hotch, hoping to keep this as under wraps as possible. Hotch requests his team when it appears that there is a single serial killing prostitute, but he has to fight with the corporate lawyers working to cover these murders up as natural deaths for the entirety of the investigation.

The call girl, Megan, kills men who walked out on their families only because her father abandoned her family for a pro. For a female serial killer, the goal is only to kill, never to find some kind of sexual release. She contacts Hotchner when she hears from a client that the FBI plans to cooperate with the corporate lawyers to cover the whole thing up, desperately pleading with him to expose these men, and that she hoped he’d come and catch her because the men she killed were bad men who needed to be punished for leaving their families. She eventually lures her own father to come to her, and he tries to get her to give over her client list so that none of the men he works with will be exposed when she’s arrested. She hands over her Blackberry, but removes the SIM card. By the time Hotcher arrives, she’s poisoned herself, but as she waits to die, she hands the SIM card to him, telling him to stay with her until she succumbs to death.

Of these four episodes (and clearly, I watched “Bloodline” long before I watched the others, given how little I was able to say about it), “Pleasure Is My Business” was probably my least favorite. It tried to be one of the episodes that gives a good psychological portrait of the killer, but it mostly seemed to toss out information about the nature of high-class sex work. I find that information valuable, but I found the characterization of this killer weak. Glad to see a female serial killer, of course, as they’re unusual in the world and the world of this show, but there have been better storylines involving women. Any storyline, for instance, involving a mother who murders or kidnaps children is instantly more harrowing than a prostitute murdering her johns to teach them a lesson. There can be a nice reversal of power in that kind of story, as there is in Monster, but it just wasn’t here.

I’ll try to do these bad boys two at a time in the future, because writing up four is really daunting.