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.)



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:

I have a lot of catching up to do on Criminal Minds, I know. I got so caught up with all the other great stuff on TV before the holidays that I just let all these deliciously fucked up things sit on my DVR for weeks. There are a couple I watched while doing something else, holiday related, so I’m afraid my five-episodes-in-one catch-up won’t be as detailed as my usual writing about this show.

4.7 “Memoriam”

This episode was a great conclusion to “The Instincts,” with Reid staying in Vegas to continue his personal investigation into the murder of Riley Jenkins. During the course of his investigation, he reconnects with his father, whom he hasn’t seen in 17 years and with whom he is still incredibly angry. Based on information from his mother and a dream he relives through hypnosis, Reid begins to suspect that his father may have killed Riley and others, which would explain why he so suddenly left his family and why Reid remembers seeing his father burn bloody clothes in the backyard. As the investigation progresses, however, Reid learns from his mother and father the terrible truth about Riley’s murder and the murder of another boy around the same time, Gary Michaels: Riley’s father, Lou, had definitely killed young Gary, and Diana Reid walked in on the event, slipping in Michaels’ blood and covering her clothes in it. Realizing that she looked like an accessory to murder, Spencer’s father helped his wife burn the bloody clothes so that she could not be implicated in a crime she didn’t commit. Through this investigation, Reid puts his demons to rest and learns to forgive his father for being absent from his life for so many years.

As a nice coda to a two-episode arc about dead children, JJ gives birth to her son and the whole team is there to welcome the newest member of their family. Reid and Garcia are named as the baby’s godparents, with Reid promising to get baby Henry into CalTech with one phone call (because Yale was Reid’s safety school, and no godson of his will go to such a lowly place as Yale).

4.8 “Masterpiece”

And then that great episode was followed by something truly puzzling and bizarre, featuring Jason Alexander in a long white creepy wig with a mild soft-spoken Southern accent as a killer playing mind-games with Agent Rossi, who had previously convicted Alexander’s character’s brother of a violent crime. Alexander saw the elaborate torture and kidnapping scheme as a way to get back at Rossi for . . . doing his job? Alexander’s character also was obsessed with DaVinci and ancient Pythagorean geometry, devising his entire scheme around the golden ratio, which he knew would be very easy for Reid to solve, because Reid knows everything about everything. I have serious issues with the ideas presented by Alexander’s character, who claims to be a follower of DaVinci, but believes in killing humans simply because humans are a blight, an idea that is antithetical to DaVinci’s humanist principles. This episode was just freaking bizarre, and the casting of George Costanza in the role didn’t help. I just look at Jason Alexander’s face and all I see is a man who was once nicknamed Coco by his boss because he acted like a whiny monkey.

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? I will personally punch the casting director and the wardrobe stylist in the face for this episode.

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? I will personally punch the casting director and the wardrobe stylist in the face for this episode.

Although, I now know that Reid holds three doctorates (in chemistry, engineering and mathematics) and two bachelor’s in psychology and sociology. I’m totally intimidated and in awe of this character. I want to be like him when I grow up. And for the record, I laughed at his existentialist joke.

4.9 “52 Pickup”

I really liked this episode about a serial killer learning tricks of the trade from a pick-up artist for a variety of reasons.

1. The pick-up artist was clearly based on Mystery, star of that lame VH1 show that teaches losers how to get ladies and key player in the book The Game. You can tell Viper is supposed to be Mystery because he wears a large, fuzzy stovepipe pimp hat. Constantly.

2. Jordan really got initiated into this case, working side by side with Prentiss to catch Viper off-guard and demonstrate that none of those mind games work on the kind of women you’d actually want to have real relationships with. (Smart girls, for one.)

3. Reid got a girlfriend! He picked up a hot bartender by asking her for information on skeezy patrons with a magic trick. The Barney Stinson method works, my friends. Chicks dig magic.

It was also just a good case that involved everyone on the team using their skills well — and it was pretty funny, as far as Criminal Minds episodes go.

Wow, youre right. That hat really does make him look like a tool.

Wow, you're right. That hat really does make him look like a tool.

4.10 “Brothers in Arms”

I was doing something else entirely while I watched this episode, so I don’t remember any of it.

4.11 “Normal”

A crazy, unsettling episode in which The X-Files‘ Mitch Pileggi drives around batshit crazy straight up SHOOTING PEOPLE IN THE FUCKING FACE ON THE FREEWAY! Specifically, blonde women who drive luxury vehicles just like his wife, Faith Ford, who I realized during the course of this episode that I know way better as Corky Sherwood from Murphy Brown. Californians already have enough trouble merging; they don’t need Mitch Pileggi forcing them into confrontations at alternate merge sites in numerous construction zones just so he can shoot them in the face. It was interesting to see Mitch Pileggi play something other than a nose-to-the-grindstone hard-ass, and I actually found his foray into crazy-as-batshit to be quite terrifying, especially when we were shown scenes in “wacky Mitch Pileggi vision.” Also horrifying: the revelation that when he takes his family hostage and drives them at insane speeds through L.A. before crashing into a cop car on the freeway that his family wasn’t in the car with him at all because he’d already shot each of the blonde women in his home to death in their beds.

Yeah, I know, these write-ups are half-assed. I’m sorry. I also decided to go to sleep last night instead of watching Top Chef, so, for the five of you who care what I have to say about Top Chef, I’m sorry about that, too.

The Husband:

That episode, 4.10, that my wife doesn’t remember, it wasn’t worth remembering. Morgan got all hissy about cops dying in Arizona, Guillermo the drug dealer from Weeds shows up, and that’s about it.

As for 4.11 (“Normal”), Criminal Minds has redeemed a season full of missed opportunities and meh stories (except for the season premiere, half of the cult one and two-thirds of the Pick-Up Artist). Without question, this joins the premiere, plus episodes s1’s “LDSK,” s2’s “Sex, Birth, Death” (which re-airs on A&E this week), s2’s “Open Season” and all the Frankie Muniz stuff in s3’s “True Night” as one of my favorite episodes of this positively screwy and violent CBS procedural. Sure, the final twist was cheap, but it was also extremely effective. Mitch “The Shocker” Pileggi strikes again.

The Wife:

Picking up from where the last episode left off, Ned finds Chuck and her alive-again father. He barely has time to process what he’s seen before he hears the Aunts burst through the downstairs door, forcing Chuck and Charles Charles to hide in a closet. Lily’s no fool, though, and knows that something must be in the closet. When she opens the door, she shoots. Fortunately, what she shoots is a tiny clown doll that Chuck placed in the closet as she and her father squished close to the side wall, knowing how much her Aunt/Mother is terrified of clowns. Sated on both bloodlust and terror, Lily and Vivian return home, not to be seen for the rest of the episode. Chuck and Ned escort Charles Charles back to Ned’s place, knowing full well he can’t stay at the old Ned house anymore without Lily and Vivian finding their once-dead mutual lover. With zombie dad safely in Ned’s apartment, Ned and Chuck retreat to the roof to discuss the reckless and thoughtless thing that Chuck did in keeping her father alive. Though disturbed, Ned seems to accept Chuck’s actions once he knows that the person who died in Charles Charles’ stead was murderous Dwight Dixon, knowing also that he did this exact thing in bringing back Chuck. Happy that Ned isn’t unhappy with her, Chuck and Ned share a tarp-wrapped hug.

At the Pie Hole, young Shane Botwin from Weeds enters with a jar of coins, asking for Emerson’s help in solving his mother’s murder. A lighthousekeeper, the widow Nora McQuoddy was killed and melted onto her own Frensel lens. According to television reports, she was killed by her long-missing and presumed dead husband, Merle McQuoddy. Olive, a lover of ghost stories, informs everyone of the legend of Merle McQuoddy, which differs greatly from the reality that Merle McQuoddy was marooned by Typhoon Tyrone during a routine dungeoness crab fishing expedition and did not return home for an Odyssean ten years, when he was finally saved by a gay pleasure cruise. Though many didn’t know he was alive, young Elliot McQuoddy is sure that his father didn’t do it. All anyone saw fleeing the lighthouse was a yellow raincoat. It could have been anyone. Choosing instead to deal with Charles Charles, Ned and Chuck take a personal day, leaving the case in the hands of Emerson and Olive, whom I am very glad is joining up in the detective ranks more and more these days.

After waking up Nora McQuoddy, Ned and Emerson realize that this is going to be a much more difficult case. Nora can’t tell them who murdered her because her mouth has melted onto the Frensel, making it difficult to speak. She does, however, give the morse code for PCHS, which Emerson knows to be, not peaches, but the Papen County Historical Society. His duty done, Ned returns home to Chuck and her father, who has decided to resume being the dad he didn’t get to be for 20 years and has become increasingly concerned with Ned being around his daughter, lest Ned accidentally commit Chuck to the ground for good. (He’s also a bit pissed that Ned killed him.) Ned assures Charles Charles that he has rules in place for living with Chuck. Charles Charles agrees to live by said rules that Ned outlines in the Alive Again Handbook, but only if Ned agrees never to see Chuck again. Only allowed to canoodle at the Pie Hole, Chuck relishes the teenage-like romance she and Ned can now have – the one they never got to have as teenagers because Ned was away at boarding school and Chuck was an orphan in the care of her eccentric aunts, with no father to bully her boyfriends. The way Chuck sees it, she and Ned are now free to live out their high school fantasies, sneaking round, pretending to be jocks and cheerleaders and making out through saran wrap under the bleachers. (Wasn’t that saran wrap kiss spectacularly hot?)

Meanwhile, Emerson hooks up with Olive to work on the case, amused by her gift of a custom cod-print raincoat. (Olive also bought a pie-print raincoat for Ned and an olive-print one for herself.) Emerson is none too pleased with investigating the lighthouse case in the impending storm. He really doesn’t like rainy days. They meet with Augustus Papen, director of the Papen County Historical Society, who tells them that Nora McQuoddy had the lighthouse declared a protected historical sight after her husband’s alleged death, an idea she got while hanging out with Annabelle Vandersnoot, a woman who runs a social group for widows dedicated to making dioramas of their husband’s untimely demises.

“Such a depressing word. Diorama. It has ‘di’ in it. I like ‘rama.'” – Augustus Papen

Annabelle Vandersnoot demonstrates one of her dioramas for Olive and Emerson, a recreation of the munitions explosion that killed her ammo-producer husband. (Oh, Mary Kay Place. Of all the scheming Mormon wives of Roman Grant, I never thought you’d be the one to kill him. Cutthroat Bitch was all over that shit, and she wasn’t even his wife.) She tells the gumshoes that Nora was her best friend and she couldn’t imagine hurting a woman who had already been hurt so badly by the loss of her husband.

Boy, am I ever happy to not be wearing prairie dresses and long braids!

Boy, am I ever happy to not be wearing prairie dresses and long braids!

Charles Charles catches Ned and Chuck sneaking around at the Pie Hole, which forces Ned to throw out all of his customers and leads to a broom fight with zombie Charles in the bakery. Charles Charles just can’t imagine why his little girl would want to be with a guy like Ned, who makes pies, when Charlotte always preferred cake as a child. Ned insists that if Charles Charles is going to remain alive again, he has to follow the rules. Chuck gets to go out in the world because she doesn’t have a corpse face, but if corpse face Charles Charles gets it, it exposes Ned’s secret to the world. Charles Charles is upset that Ned is only thinking of himself in that case, referring to Ned as Victor Frankenstein, until Ned reminds him that the rules are in place for Mr. Charles’ own safety. It isn’t Victor Frankenstein that the villagers care about. They’re only after the monster. The two commence their fight when Charles Charles refuses to follow the rules, leading to Ned locking him in the walk-in until Chuck comes to rescue her dad, shooting daggers at Ned for being the kind of boyfriend who beats up a girl’s dad.

“Who’s not for chocolate? Everyone at least tolerates it!” – Ned

Thinking that Elliot McQuoddy might know more than he’s saying about his mother’s death, Emerson and Olive head to the lighthouse in their new raincoats. Emerson tells Olive that he and his wife used to love rainy days. When they were together, they’d stay inside by the fire, drinking cocoa and snuggling, but ever since she left, rainy days just haven’t been the same for Emerson Cod. They find Merle McQuoddy living in a cave, not too far from the lighthouse and interrogate him about his wife’s murder. Merle tells them that by the time he returned, his wife had taken a lover, assuming that her husband would never come back. While he didn’t know who that lover was, he new that said lover had given Nora a spoon engraved with their initials. Olive recognizes this as a Dutch love spoon, a trope from Harlequin romances and Emerson recognizes the lover’s initials, AP, as those of Augustus Papen. They later discover the plans to redevelop the lighthouse into an amusement park and think that Papen killed his lover because she wouldn’t release the lighthouse from its historical landmark status. Hoping to catch him at the scene of the crime, they find Elliot McQuoddy dangling over the side of the lighthouse by Papen’s hand. Papen was actually there to save Elliot from falling when he tried to raise the semaphore flags by himself in the rain. Papen then reveals that he and Nora had planned to turn the lighthouse into a day spa, complete with barbershop quartets who sing “Candle on the Water,” leaving only Annabelle Vandersnoot as a suspect. Vandersnoot appears downstairs, trailing gunpowder that Olive thinks is glitter. She killed Nora because she, too, loved Augustus Papen and she was simply not willing to share her lover with her best friend.

Arrr -- those be some fine raincoats, yerve got there!

Arrr -- those be some fine raincoats, yer've got there!

After the fight, Ned realizes that his relationship with Chuck (and her dad) just isn’t normal and that unless she helps Ned control her father, they have no chance of being normal together. Upset, Chuck goes to her father, who tells her that the way she lives with Ned marginalizes her. As a child, she and Charles Charles dreamed of going on adventures together, often playing them out in their living room per the claymation opening segment of this episode where a chicken poxed Chuck and her dad pretend to ride camels through the desert. He offers her a chance to leave and go on adventure with him, asserting that, without Ned, they could actually have a normal existence.

“We’re only freaks in Ned’s world.” –Charles Charles

He presents her, again, with the choice between cake and pie. I wondered while watching this about the validity of saying that cake is rich and complex where as pie is just a crust with a filling. As someone who has made both, I feel like Charles Charles is really oversimplifying here. Making the filling of a pie is easy, sure, but it’s the crust that holds it all together. And that’s the hardest part. The hardest part of pie is making a protective, encompassing layer that will itself hold. Something that isn’t too flaky. Or too moist. Or too dry. It has to be perfect for the pie to work. A cake, true, has literal layers, but the dough is easier to work with. It’s much easier to make a cake, even if it’s more complicated in terms of flavor and can be more attractive and varied in its appearance. Looking back, I see the validity of the metaphor. Ned is like that pie crust. His rules and regulations hold Chuck’s world together. With Ned, she is safe and happy and warm and perfect. Although not attractive at all anymore on the outside, having her father alive is a cake-like promise. It’s easy to want one’s father to be alive again, but that is an incredibly complex thing to actually pull off. It’s a little slippery, but I get where they were going. Ultimately, though, the writers are asking us to choose between confections, between two scenarios that are so fantastic that we should be happy to digest either one.

Chuck, however, chooses Ned. She chooses her pie crust, and her father claims that he will apologize to Ned, but when Chuck and Ned go to find him, they realize that he has given them the slip and headed out into the world, unprotected and unregulated, a formerly dead man with a bandaged-up corpse face. If there’s one good thing about this plotline, it’s that we’ll get to visit locations outside the PD canon in the coming weeks as Ned tracks down the monster he created. As for Olive and Emerson, Emerson thanks Olive for her good work on the case and offers her a job, should she ever find working with the man she loves and his undead lover to be too unbearable. In addition to paying her for her help, he also thanks her for her friendship – a friendship I was happy to see develop through simultaneous line readings and similar speech patterns over the course of this episode – in the sweetest line I heard all episode:

“Itty Bitty, you made me love a rainy day again.” – Emerson Cod

Olive and Emerson share a victory butt-fuck.

Olive and Emerson share a victory butt-fuck.

Costuming Notes:

  • I have Olive’s purple Banana Republic trenchcoat, but in charcoal grey. (The lining on my coat is that shade of purple.)
  • I hate the 1970s, so I wasn’t pleased with Chuck’s return to a 1970’s palette in this episode. However, it did make the most sense with her character’s state of mind. She’s wearing the kinds of colors and patterns that would have been popular in her youth (the late 70s/early 80s), which is appropriate for an episode in which she reconnects with her father, the only thing she really has from that childhood. Still, I miss 50s/60s-style Chuck.

The Husband:

I was prepared to get all referency with this episode, as the lighthouse, the missing husband at sea, the almost duplicated cave dwelling and the similarity of the name Merle McQuoddy to the town name of Passamaquoddy all point to a major episode-long reference to Pete’s Dragon. I wasn’t entirely certain if they were 100% aware of their homage to the 1977 Disney movie, but it was worth a thought. The movie itself is a wonderful-for-kids but ultimately disposable live-action trifle that was clearly made very quickly (except for Elliott the animated dragon, which according to IMDB was originally intended to be invisible) and then shelved for several years. (I especially enjoy the cheapness involved when despite the film taking place at a seaside town, the movie itself was clearly filmed nowhere near any semblance of water.) But I love the songs, and I think the dragon itself is a nice and nostalgic design. I’ve always felt bad for the kid playing Pete, though, because acting opposite an invisible dragon is not easy.

But then Bryan Fuller and the writers show their cards and have a barbershop quartet sing the film’s Oscar-nominated and most famous song, “Candle on the Water,” right in the freakin’ episode, leaving me to basically come here and state the obvious. (The song, along with “Nobody Does It Better,” lost the Oscar to “You Light Up My Life.” Ugh…)

So I’m just going to be the bitch and say that “Candle on the Water,” while pretty, is a pretty expendable song in the realm of the plot. I vastly prefer two other songs, both goofy, both strangely pretty, and both kind of absurd.

Here’s the first. (Note: This is a song I have mumbled to my cats more times than I’d like to remember.) The song starts at 6:23, but I hope you’d like to watch a bit of the movie anyway. It’s sweet, even if it is kind of a failure.

The second is just gloriously dumb and very 70s. The song starts around 1:40.

I’m also kind of amazed that they cast Josh Randall, an actor who has pretty much gotten by on shows like Scrubs and Courting Alex simply on his bland handsomeness and his slight sardonic quality, as Charles Charles, someone whose face is entirely hidden. It’s a testament to Randall that he didn’t completely suck, but I wish they’d gone for a better, less douchey actor. Someone with a little more fatherly inflections. I don’t know. Just not Josh Randall.

I loved the mystery, though, and appreciated that the twists were numerous but not completely impossible to follow. Also, maybe you all can help me. Was PCHS involved in that windmill sanctuary from PD s1 in that episode with Dash Mihok and Jayma Mays? I don’t have the time nor the energy to look into that too closely right now, so I’m counting on others to do that work for me.