Under the Dome: Singin’ in the Rain

Episode 2.03:  Force Majeure
Written by:  Brian K. Vaughan
Directed by:  Peter Leto
Original airdate:  July 14, 2014

UnderTheDomeThis is a little more like it.  After two somewhat lackluster episodes I feel like this series got its legs back with this episode.  The good citizens of Chester’s Mill are afflicted with a rain of blood that burns.  Rebecca and town barber Lyle (Dwight Yoakam) are the contestants on the Science Vs. Religion game show that results.  Meanwhile, Joe, Nonnie, and the mystery girl from the lake investigate end up at the school, where strange things are afoot.  Barbie and Julia are beginning to realize they may not be particularly compatible.

I think Rebecca is going to end up as the new, manipulative town baddie, and they’ve set things up for her to butt heads with Julia, who is becoming a true believer like Lyle.  Rebecca knows an awful lot of stuff, and manages to collect and analyze an inordinate amount of data in a ridiculously short period of time.  But, that’s TV science for you.  It’s how she’s using the data that’s interesting.  Naturally, she’s convinced that the rain has a perfectly natural cause, and if she can figure it out, she can stop it.  And she does.  So she’s got some credibility, particularly with Big Jim, who she butters up like crazy (he thinks she likes him).  It’s at the end of the episode that Rebecca becomes interesting, because she tells Big Jim that they don’t have enough food to feed everyone in town, and suggests a lottery to decrease their numbers.  TV likes to vilify religion and science and given that this show is about as subtle as a boot to the head, I’m not expecting much here.  But, the dilemma is an interesting one.  How do you, in a closed system with limited resources, figure out how to maximize survival?  It’s the old lifeboat problem.

The title of the episode is a legal term, “force majeure,” in which the parties involved in a contract are not held liable during some extraordinary and unavoidable circumstance.  Such as, oh I don’t know, I giant dome that cuts your town off from the rest of the world.  According to my brief google fu, liability is suspended in most cases, which basically means that when the dire circumstances are over, the normal terms of the contract are expected to resume.  So, in this case, Rebecca and Lyle are free to exercise their various perspectives to their logical and potentially deathly conclusion because of the dome.  This means I can still hope for some rational cannibalism, right?

Naturally, Big Jim and Barbie at least listen to Rebecca’s suggestion.  Julia is horrified.  The battle lines are being drawn, you see.  Big Jim and Rebecca against Lyle and Julia, with Barbie trying to play the reasonable guy in the middle who listens to both sides then finds his own solution.  Both ends are being presented as extremes, which is unfortunate, but as I said, subtly is not really this show’s strong suit.  I’m glad to see Barbie and Julia having problems based on different temperaments and ideas about the dome, rather than over another person hovering over the relationship.  I’m certain Barbie will emerge the hero over all of this in the end, but it should be fun to watch as it plays out.

The other side of this is Lyle, the town barber.  There’s a kind of cringey scene at the beginning of the episode when he gives Big Jim a shave, mainly because you can already see that Lyle isn’t playing with a completely full deck.  Dwight Yoakam, with his slightly off look is perfect for a role like this, since he does a creepy jailhouse rendition of CCR’s “Who’ll Stop the Rain.”  He kidnaps Rebecca and tortures her in an attempt to get her to put her faith in the dome.  Rebecca tries to fool him but it doesn’t work, of course.  Lyle’s eventually stopped by Barbie and Julia, and that gives us an opportunity to find out that Lyle and Junior’s mother used to date each other, and Pauline gets a message to Junior to talk to Lyle.  So Lyle knows a lot more about what’s happening.  Also, gosh, isn’t it great that a mysterious internet signal managed to get through the dome just in time for the kids at the school to be on their product placement tablets to check it out!

Speaking of the kids, Joe is back. I really like that kid, and I was so happy to see him back in charming problem-solving mode this week.  He’s really better as a quieter, cerebral character as last week demonstrated.  Nonnie, on the other hand, was still completely annoying.  She should get together with Junior, they’re both petulant.  We also find out more about the girl from the lake, whose name is Melanie (Grace Victoria Cox, she’s very pretty).

There seems to be something with handprints.  It’s probably just an effective visual motif, but we see a bloody handprint in the first episode against the dome, and one in these early episodes where Angie was killed.  It’s an effective visual as always, don’t know if it means anything else.

Like I said, I liked this one, mostly for the overblown and ruthless science vs. religion game.  If they keep it this bombastic it should be entertaining.  I definitely think Rebecca is setting herself up to be the major player in the town, but she’ll use Big Jim as a shield to get things done.  There may be hard decisions that have to be made, but as always, I expect the dome to provide a solution before things get too bad.  If the dome has an intelligence, and there were indications last season that it did, it seems interested in how the people of the town solve problems.  For all we know, this could be some big experiment.  That would be fun.

The Last Ship: The Wonder Years

Episode 1.04: We’ll Get There
Written by:  Quinton Peeples
Directed by:  Jack Bender
Original airdate: July 13, 2014

TheLastShipIn this episode, the crew of the good ship USS Nathan James take a moment to bond amid a sea of crisis, to get to know each other a little bit better over a few drinks.  Oh wait, scratch that, there’s no water.  Some mechanical mishap that I couldn’t be bothered to pay close attention to meant no engines and no water and no electricity for Dr. Scott’s delicate samples, including a possible cure that she’s eager to test out.

Normally I’d greet an opportunity to get to know the crew members a little better with interest.  After all, when Charlie’s Angels did it four episodes in we learned Sabrina has an ex-husband and Kelly was stuffed into a closet by a terrifying woman named Beamish.  How could you not want to learn more about characters!  Here, we find out a lot more about Chandler, Slattery, Jeter, and a few others as the crew troubleshoots this new crisis, and Chandler has a crisis of faith.

Lets run it down, starting with Chandler  He has the all-American family.  Nice house in the suburbs, pretty blonde wife, a son and a daughter.  It’s right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  I couldn’t believe how trite this all was.  I’m not looking for any kind of deep dysfunction in a show like this anymore, but geez, couldn’t they have done a little better than this?  The family is going through its deployment ritual of giving Dad gifts as he prepares to depart for his mission to the Arctic (for poo).  Slattery, who is sent to convince Quincy to cooperate with Scott, was a police officer in another life.  Quincy likes the sun and to play chess, and is not the least bit sorry for what he’s done and even plays a few bargaining chips along the way.  Later in the episode, as Chandler is having a crisis of faith in his own awesome abilities, he talks to Jeter who gives him about how he got his family killed and that, along with this crisis, convinced him that he has a God-given purpose in life.  It’s so cliche it’s worse than Chandler’s Wonderbread family.  Oh, and we get teased with a tiny bit of info about Scott, but mostly they take another opportunity to remind us that nobody likes or trusts her very much as Quincy gives her a pretty good dressing down.  It’s not like he threatened to infect the ship or anything.  I don’t know if there’s a big reveal coming about Scott, or if she’s just there as window dressing.  I suspect the latter.

Nothing much else to say about this one.  Of course they managed to solve all the problems being stuck in the doldrums without power throws their way, and make it to land just in time to have a sunset beach party.  This script would not allow for anything less.  Granderson even sings for the crew.  I thought last week showed some promise, but this episode was honestly horrible.  Not even Beard amused me, probably because he had to hang around with Danny who is all mopey because his ex-girlfriend has a life without him.  I really feel like the only thing that will make Danny even remotely interesting at this point is a full psychotic break; he’s just too childish and annoying to empathize with, and I keep wishing someone would slap him across his annoying little crumpled face most of the time.  In fact, I was hoping Beard would do it.

I’m going to keep at it for the rest of the season, because I do see flashes of some interesting things.  And I want to see Danny’s psychotic break, Slattery’s mutiny, and Scott do something more than just look gorgeously anxious.  I feel like it has to all come rattling apart at the seams in a big way as we progress through the season.  I can hope anyway.

Extant: A Space Odyssey

Episode 1.01:  Re-entry
Written by:  Mickey Fisher
Directed by:  Allen Coulter
Original airdate:  July 9, 2014

extant-tv-show-promo-logoThe new summer series Extant is what you would get if the movies Gravity and I.A Artificial Intelligence hooked up and made a baby, with 2001: A Space Odyssey acting as midwife.  In the pilot we first meet astronaut Molly Woods (Halle Berry) as she is in the early stages of reintegrating back into her life after an extensive solo mission in space.  She divides her time between reconnecting with her family and undergoing post-return evaluations from the space agency for which she works.  Husband John (Goran Visnjic) is an expert in artificial life, and we soon discover that their son Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) is not a human boy at all, but one of John’s robots.  To complicate matters, Molly has returned from her 13-month solo sojourn in space pregnant despite the fact that she’s infertile.

There’ve been some changes at the place where Molly works.  Most notably, it’s now a private agency owned (I think) by Hiroyuki Sanada (Hideki Yasumoto) who makes a dramatic entrance into the series from a stasis pod, though I’m not sure why.  Anyway, he seems to now own the place, and it’s clear from the get-go that he has designs on Molly and her family.  He funds John’s research to keep the family close, but it’s clear Molly is the one he’s interested in (or her baby at any rate).  Officials at the agency reassure Molly that the post-mission evaluations are just routine, and even brush off a 13-hour gap in the mission’s video logs as nothing.  The agency doctor knows Molly is pregnant, and Molly is sent to an agency psychiatrist and urged to talk about anything that’s bothering her.  They clearly know that something significant happened during the mission, and probably also know about the baby even though Molly is trying to hide it.

All of the issues with the space agency are linked to an earlier tragedy that Molly was involved in before this current mission, though it’s unclear how long ago.  There is a past lover of Molly’s, Marcus Dawkins, (Sergio Harford) who was killed, and another colleague who committed suicide (or so everyone thought).  In light of that, it’s odd that Molly was sent on that long solo mission, but I’m guessing that was no accident.  Marcus makes an appearance on the space station and is the reason why Molly erased the video.  It isn’t really Marcus, but some entity who looks like him.  The encounter between them was low key and creepy.  Molly is literally seeing a ghost in an impossible place and reacts accordingly.  She figures out very quickly that it isn’t Marcus, and I think she (rightly) assumes she’s having some kind of close encounter.  They touch each other, and repeat “It’s OK” over and over again.  But it’s not OK.  Everything that happens in the scene is very benign in appearance, but there is something about it that is unsettling and disturbing and violating.  This came across very effectively even though we barely know anything about these characters, which is what you get when you have an Academy Award winning actress playing your lead.  Afterwards, when Molly wakes up and reviews the tape, it looks like she had some kind of hallucination, because the Marcus-entity does not appear, so she erases them in a panic.  I guess she now knows that wasn’t an hallucination.  At the end of the episode, the man everyone thought committed suicide appears to Molly after passing her a note via balloon at the zoo, and tells her not to trust anyone and that she’s not hallucinating.

So the show has a few by-the-numbers elements.  A central mystery/conspiracy:  Check.  A beleaguered protagonist:  Check.  A huge and potentially shady megacorporation with a long reach:  Check.  A paranoid fringe element trying to uncover the conspiracy:  Check.  We’ve seen this a thousand times, so there’s probably nothing new here, but it will all depend on how well it’s executed.  If it’s anything like the encounter on the space station it could be good.

And then we have a few elements that are your typical science fiction television fare, most notably Ethan, but the show’s approach is direct and refreshing.  There’s a lot of room for moral complexity and commentary here, and unlike Orphan Black where it’s a backdrop, Extant seems like it’s going to charge head on into the issues.  John makes a pitch for a grant to further his research on artificial life and becomes incensed when he is asked by a member of the evaluating committee what safeguards he has built into Ethan to terminate him should he get out of control.  It’s a great scene—John is up there giving a TED-like presentation, and seems to be expecting the question, and yet can’t help his reaction because he is too emotionally tied to Ethan, whom he regards as his real son.  He asks the woman if she has children, then asks her what contingency plan she has in place to kill her own child should that child get out of control.  It’s a bit heavy-handed, but I really loved it, and applaud the fact that they don’t shy away from that kind of confrontation, or throwing out conversations about nature vs. nurture, souls, life experience, good and bad, and whatnot.  This is the most exciting part of the series for me, I think, and I hope they persist with these kinds of questions.

Ethan himself is a conundrum.  John has a blind spot for him, because he desperately wanted children, and he and Molly can’t.  So he compensates for that disappointment by turning Ethan, his work project, into his son, and invests heavily in him emotionally.  Molly is not so sure, and struggles to connect with Ethan.  There’s a lovely scene of them on an outing at the park sharing an ice cream cone.  It looks like Ethan has a normal childlike tantrum (he has one earlier in the episode as well) but that turns decidedly more serious and colder when Molly finds him standing next to a dead bird in the woods after he runs off.  He tells her he found it, but we’re of course left to wonder about that.  Is he becoming unstable?  What was fascinating is the way both Ethan and Molly come across as disconnected, though for different reasons.  Ethan is self-aware—he knows he’s not real and there’s an interesting question about whether this will become an existential question for him.  Molly is disconnected due to the mission and whatever happened to her out in space.  And when you get the two of them together, it starts out all right, but quickly begins to feel like dead space, like the air is suddenly sucked out of the room, because it looks like two people who want to connect, go through the motions of connecting, but ultimately don’t for a variety of reasons.  All really interesting stuff.

A final “character,” as it were, of the series, is technology.  It’s everywhere, from the bathroom mirror to the cars, to the little translucent pads everyone carries around with them.  The show tries much too hard to be casual about it that comes off as rather strained.  What is nice is that there’s nothing particularly eye-popping or eye-roll-worthy about it.  It’s essentially the same level of technology we have available today, just spread about the environment far more liberally.  I’d love to have a bathroom mirror like that, for example, but some of the 3D effects from John’s TED talk were annoying and unnecessary.  Clearly, the universe in which Extant is set is somewhat more technologically advanced than ours is, since they can produce sentient artificial life, but I hope most of the gadgets remain there as little background touches, save for Ethan, who hopefully won’t get abused too much as a deus ex machina as the plot progresses.

I liked this.  It was an interesting pilot because it was rather low-key.  There were no explosions or car chases, just moral dilemmas with a side of standard conspiracy plot.  I think it could be a good mix, especially if they really spend some time putting a face on some of the ethical questions about artificial life, privatization, corporatism, and other issues.  I’ll definitely be watching this one to see how Molly’s story unfolds.

Under the Dome: The Butterfly Effect

Episode 2.02:  Infestation
Written by:  Brian K. Vaughan
Directed by:  Ernest R. Dickerson
Original airdate:  July 7, 2014

UnderTheDomeThings are getting biblical in Chester’s Mill (and not in the fun way).  Instead of locusts the town is threatened by a plague of…butterflies.  Monarch butterflies. Yeah, that kind of takes the sting out of it, doesn’t it?  Butterflies figured into last season as well, as they were drawn to the dome, and one’s fate even got caught up with the fate of the egg, after getting trapped in the mini-dome.  This time around the thousands of butterflies that have suddenly appeared are threatening the fragile ecosystem by laying their eggs everywhere.  The eggs themselves aren’t the problem as much as what they grow into, voracious crop-eating caterpillars.  Science teacher Rebecca Pine (Karla Crome), who Knows Stuff, figures this out and immediately sets fire to the crops.  What’s a few more greenhouse gasses when you’re in a closed ecosystem, right?  Fortunately, Big Jim’s days as a drug runner come in very handy as he just happens to have a crop duster.  After a brief tussle between Barbie and Big Jim over who will fly it, Barbie wins the hero seat and proceeds to almost crash the plane into the dome.  All in all, just a typical day in Chester’s Mill.

Except for the murder of Angie, who is well and truly dead.  Julia and newly minted sheriff Phil Bushey (Nicholas Strong) hunt for whoever got grabby and choppy with her in the high school.  There’s a new hot young thing in town (the girl from the lake last week) so I guess Chester’s Mill only has room for one teenage bad girl (Norrie’s still too young and too whiney).  I like Colin Ford as Angie’s brother, Joe, but he’s guilty of some serious scenery chewing, even under these circumstances.  He was such a charming little know-it-all last season (I think he was my favorite character), and I just didn’t buy his suddenly hot headedness.

Junior and Uncle Sam bond about their shared mental illness and substance abuse problems.  And over the fact that they hate Big Jim.  Junior again waffles—first he hates his dad and thinks he killed Angie, then he thinks he did it.  I get whiplash from watching this kid trying to navigate through life under the dome.  He’s as annoyingly inept as Linda was at this point, there at the whim of whatever plot needs to have him rant and rave at or about.

Big Jim, for his part, has decided he’s being tested as he turns over a new leaf.  The plague of butterflies is a problem he thinks he has to solve to prove that he’s the leader the town needs.  Fortunately for him, he has Barbie to take all the risks, and a few people whispering into his ear about his leadership skills.  Town busybody Andrea Grinnell (Dale Raoul) is practically dewey-eyed over Big Jim at one point.  And Rebecca appears to have definitely hitched her wagon to Big Jim’s star, though I think that’s more strategic rather than genuine admirati on her part.  Big Jim was an over-the-top villain last season, and was a lot of fun to watch.  I’m not so sure about this kinder, gentler incarnation, but it might be interesting to see him try to be a positive force, only to lapse into some of his old habits from time to time.  I really miss his vicious mustache twirling, however.

They are definitely setting up a triangle between Barbie, Julia, and Sam.  Julia and Barbie are all lovey-dovey at the start of the episode.  Then, they have an Awkward Confrontation in which it’s revealed that Barbie has doubts about the dome’s sentience and Julia takes his doubt personally.  I literally wanted some new dome-manufactured disaster to interrupt their thoroughly unconvincing confrontation in the kitchen.  It was stilted and the actors clearly weren’t comfortable with it.  And then, of course, Barbie has to mention Sam.  I like both Barbie and Julia as characters, even though I am not particularly invested in their relationship, but Lost Girl has forever left me with an aversive reaction to the tired triangle trope.

Overall, this was another fractured episode that felt like it was written by committee and, judging by the performances, filmed in a rush.  So far, I’ve been less entertained this season, and none of the new characters or the changes to existing characters, such as Big Jim, are working very well for me.  I think things will settle down and the series will get into a new groove.  This is a summer series which means it’s just a bit of fluff to fill the hot summer months until the real television season starts.  I certainly appreciate it as that, and next week looks like a continuation of the biblical trials and tribulations which could be fun.  Resources are low and there are too many people.  Could cannibalism be far off?

The Last Ship: Russian Roulette

Episode 1.03: Dead Reckoning
Written by:  Steven Kane
Directed by:  Jack Bender
Original airdate: July 6, 2014

TheLastShipI think there was a small (tiny, minuscule) improvement in this episode.  The pacing was a bit better, and the actors are beginning to get into the swing of things with the technical stuff.   Rhona Mitra may be second-billed on this show, but she’s on par with a couple of the other crew members, who get an occasional speaking part.  Most of the time, she just gets to stand around and look gorgeously anxious, which she’s very good at.  But there was so much macho swaggering and posturing in this episode that it plays like a parody at times, but I don’t think I’m supposed to think that.

So the plot ridiculousness this time is that a Russian ship, captained by Vice Admiral Constantine Ruskov (Ravil Isyanov), a brilliant Russian military genius who has taken Quincy’s (Sam Spruell) family hostage in exchange for him procuring Dr. Scott and her research for him.  He wrote a book and everything.  About military strategy, not kidnapping a scientists family, though I’m sure that would be the definitive book on that, should he choose to write it.  This explains why Quincy has been Up To Something(tm) since the pilot, even though nobody noticed.  So Ruskov is the one who attacked Scott in Antarctica while Scott was on the hunt for poo.  And Ruskov is the one who nuked France.  And Ruskov is the one, now, mining the harbor at Gitmo to prevent the good ship USS Nathan James from escaping.  A wiley game of chess ensues between Chandler and Ruskov in which Chandler is a steely-eyed missile man at all times (doing his best John Wayne, I think), and Ruskov is, in turns, catatonic and unhinged.  It’s hardly a fair match, but I don’t think I’m supposed to think that.

Speaking of unhinged, Chandler has one of his own to contend with.  Danny (Travis van Winkle) and his manpain rears his ugly head and almost costs them the entire mission.  I really hope Danny and his overacting flame out spectacularly sooner rather than later; I don’t think I can watch an entire season of his histrionics. You see, he’s lost so many already, the poor dear, and he can’t bear the thought of allowing his secret girlfriend on the ship, Lt. Kara Foster (Marissa Neitling) to do her job when she’s assigned to play decoy for Dr. Scott.  Foster, btw, is as good a shot as Princess Leia, you go girl!  He inserts himself into the mission when she’s given the assignment despite the fact that he’s clearly unstable, and Chandler has obvious misgivings (he knows they’re schtupping, I think), then almost blows the whole thing when he stops the boat loaded with torpedoes so she can jump off.  See, Danny was just being manly and protective and not at all in any way disrespectful of her as a fellow officer or unprofessional himself.  His “I love you, stay away from me!” was so petulant and over-the-top it came across like he thought he was in the waterfall scene from Last of the Mohicans but I don’t think I’m supposed to think that.

So the decoy boat and the fact that the USS Nathan James has to traverse a shallow, coral-filled passage without radar or sonar make up the bulk of the suspense of the episode, though it’s not really very suspenseful.  The crew tries to inject nervous energy into the technical jargon as Chandler stands by looking stoic and tense but it’s kind of gibberish and fills up a lot of time.  Ruskov and Chandler’s chess game is so one-sided there’s no real suspense.  Ruskov’s threats are empty but they try to make him seem ruthless by having him shoot one of his own officers in the head to prove he means serious business.  He seems to want to become emperor of the world by controlling the cure for the virus.  It doesn’t really make any sense.  Everything works out in the end, including the USS Nathan James managing to fool the Russian ship’s radar with Reynolds Wrap.  The theory behind this is actually sound (ha ha, see what I did there) since one way to disrupt radar is to use other reflective surfaces.  I somehow doubt 10 feet of Reynolds Wrap will mask the radar signature of an entire naval ship, but whatever.  I thought it was hilarious, and this time, I think I’m supposed to think that. :)

The episode ends with an overblown confrontation between Quincy and Chandler in which they have a contest to see who can express their manpain the loudest.  Oh, if only Danny had been there, I’m sure he would’ve been the winner, hands down.  Quincy and Chandler get all shouty with each other, and we see the first chinks in Chandler’s armor as he huddles in the hall outside after the confrontation.  What would Chandler do, indeed.  Something like maybe decide to send his ship on a mission of his own design despite orders from the standing government, thereby endangering his ship and his crew?  I would so love to see that explored, and the XO has made some noises about not being happy with Chandler for this decision.  It should be leading to some unrest among the crew as they have, in a way, gone rogue.  I’m convinced we’ll get an attempted mutiny at some point, and I also think we’ll find out there’s more of a government in operation than we think, though probably run by Dick Cheney types.  It will likely only serve to solidify Chandler’s hold over the crew without addressing some of the gross errors in judgment he’s made, however.  There’s brief acknowledgment that he made one mistake in this episode by arranging a face-to-face meeting between himself and Ruskov while they mined the bay, but it’s quickly glossed over.  Three episodes in and I’m desperate for some flaws in Chandler’s character at this point, but I don’t think I’m supposed to think that.

All joking aside, there’s potential here, though I realize there’s no point in dwelling on that this early. But I will take a moment and do it anyway.  The series has, simultaneously, a claustrophobic setting and a huge geopolitical canvas with which to play out their human conflicts and drama amid the action sequences.  And they’re trying, I’ll give them that.  But the characters and the way they are responding to things is so two-dimensional.  I mentioned in my first post that this feels like a retread of every 1980s military rah rah movie ever made.  That worked in the 80s amid the backdrop of the conservative revolution, Reagan patriotism, and the waning days of the cold war.  Trying to revisit that in 2014 without an update in mindset is just missing so many opportunities—you could really explore how these outdated ideas of masculine military stoicism and dedication only get you so far in a world gone totally off the rails and not just because of Captain Trips.  I kind of hope the show grows into this.

There was one delightful scene and that’s at the end on the Russian ship.  Ruskov claims he has something to help with the cure that Chandler doesn’t, and at the end of the episode, Ruskov has a conciliatory talk with a rather unkempt guy (I’ll call him Ratman for now) who looks to be quarantined.  I’m guessing he’s infected, but doesn’t manifest any symptoms of the virus himself, yet he can infect others with it.  In a scene right out of the original V he picks up a rat and looks like he’s about to eat it, licking his lips and staring at it hungrily.  This was a much needed touch of camp that the show really needed amid the other over-acting, and I loved it.

Despite bad writing, the crew members are all starting to feel less generic to me, and I thought this episode, while extremely predictable television fare, was more entertaining than the first two episodes were.  It’ll be interesting to see where the ship goes next, since I think we’ve now exhausted the Gitmo storyline.  We’ll be seeing the Russian’s again, obviously.  I have some hope for Ratman on the Russian ship, and I fervently hope that they’re planning something catastrophic with Danny to make all this worth it.  Manpain will only get you so far, after all.

Idle Ruminations:

  • Crew count is down to 215 now, because two crewmen were lost surveying the shallow channel the boat had to pass through to escape.
  • Beard didn’t have much to do in this episode, much to my disappointment, just a moment of strong and vocal support for Chandler.  My OTP.
  • Lt. Uhura’s name is  Lt. Alisha Granderson (Christine Elmore), and I don’t think she’s the comm officer.  She seems to be a helmsman maybe, but it’s hard to say.  We do learn she wasn’t supposed to be on the ship but got last minute orders.  Something is afoot there, I think.
  • Ruskov makes a skeevy pass at Quincy’s wife.  Yuck.

The Last Ship: Trust in Me

Episode 1.02: Welcome to Gitmo
Written by:  Hank Steinberg and Steven Kane
Directed by:  Jack Bender
Original airdate: June 29, 2014

TheLastShipWith the first regular episode out of the gate, my resolve to blog about this series is already tested.  What an overblown testosterone-fest this series is only two episodes in.  Mind you, I expected it to be that, but I was hoping it would play funnier than it has so far.  At best, it’s just outdated 1980s charmless machismo.  At worst, it’s smug and condescending.

The crew of the USS Nathan James is still on the hunt for supplies and answers, and head to Gitmo for much needed food, fuel, and medical supplies. Quincy is still up to stuff, including talking in Russian on a secret phone and attempting to flood engineering with deadly Halon gas because his stateroom is too cold. Nobody seems to have any issues with this. But it’s precisely this kind of thing that is so stupid. Why?  Because the theme of this episode is trust. Does the XO trust the captain? Can the captain trust his XO?  Can the crew all trust each other to get the job done? Does anyone trust Dr. Scott? Meanwhile, throughout all of these trust issues nobody questions Quincy as he skulks around deadly gas canisters.

Speaking of the theme of trust, this was the most annoying thing for me about this entire episode. There is an early scene where the officers are briefed by Dr. Scott about the virus. Slattery, the XO, is openly critical and disdainful of her while Chandler observes silently. After the meeting breaks up, Chandler and Slattery discuss what just happened, and Chandler points out that the XO undermined her in front of the other officers. That’s the extent of their conversation about that, because they have more important things to talk about. Dr. Scott is not allowed to be a part of this conversation. Instead, we are treated to another clue that things are not sitting well with the XO, which is being clearly set up as a mutiny plot down the line. Or a defection of some sort. Either way, it’s predictable. The point is, the two men get to have a long conversation, man to man, in which they sort out where they stand with each other. By itself, this would not be a problem, because you would expect high-ranking officers to communicate and work together, especially in circumstances such as these. But when you couple it with the smugly condescending way Chandler, and by extension his crew, treats Dr. Scott, a huge problem begins to emerge. At the close of the episode, Chandler pulls Dr. Scott aside and tells her, in a gently paternalistic but firm fashion, that she does not have anything to prove. This, after the culture of his ship that he commands created exactly that expectation of her despite the fact that she was following orders just like everyone else on the crew. It was infuriating to watch.

Scott is never given an opportunity to explain herself, but instead has to posture amid accusation and innuendo from the highest levels of command.  And then, because that’s clearly not enough, she has to put her life in danger to prove something to the crew that it should never have been necessary for her to prove, something that the captain himself could’ve put an immediate stop to early in the episode. So the writers basically tried to have it both ways.  They set it up so that she did need to prove herself to the crew, and then tried to suggest it was all her own fault and unnecessary by having Chandler berate her for doing it.  Open acknowledgement of the trust issues, and Chandler’s role in not really fixing them, would have been a better way to go, but would not have been as flattering to Chandler. So, instead, they simply pretend it’s all in Scott’s head even though it isn’t. It said a lot more about Chandler than about Scott, and not in a good way.

Another side-plot is Danny, whose friend and bunkmate, Frankie, was offed in the pilot. Danny can’t quite get over the death of his friend and, well, the whole world. So he suffers through the episode, and spends a lot of it sulking about his manpain and being reckless. I guess this is meant to put a human face on the scope of the disaster, but it was just pathetic. In the episode, he’s in charge of the mission to get the medical supplies, and takes a lot of unnecessary risks for plot. And he is never called out on it; the only one who does is Dr. Scott, and nobody trusts her so it doesn’t matter.  Oh, and he gets to yell at her, too, and tell her how to do her job.

The rest of the episode is all about how macho and perfect Commander Chandler is, and how seamlessly he and his crew work together. Because trust is important, yo. He manages to defuse a hostage situation, pick up a mercenary that I’m just going to call Beard (crewmember 217) though his name is Tex (I’m going to ship Beard and Chandler, too, just because), and communicate in code to his XO telling him exactly where to shoot so as to kill all the terrorists in the building but not harm a hair on the rest of the crew.

Did I like anything at all about the episode? I did.  The one scene I liked was when Chandler informed Scott and Quincy that they were too valuable to allow off the ship. When Scott throws that back at Chander he tells her that the ship will be fine under the command of his XO. While this was all setup for Scott actually going ashore to save Danny’s teammate and a way to further showcase Chandler’s awesome aweseomeness, I did find the scene genuine. The truth is Chandler is a cog in a military machine, and can be replaced; Scott is the only thing standing between humanity and the virus, and I felt it was the only moment in the episode that was truthful and real. I also kind of liked the chief engineer (a woman) and we got to see a little more of Lt. Uhura (that’s what I’m going to call her until I figure out what her name is since she seems to be in charge of communications, a nice womanly job on a ship). But we’ll see–I doubt either of them will get much in the way of genuine character development.

Cringeworthy dialog:

CHANDLER: Revenge is best served cold.
BEARD: Let’s eat.

SLATTERY: Stay frosty. (Do people in the military really say this? Did they get it from Aliens, or did Aliens get it from the military ? It’s so 80s…)

I like to think I can keep watching this (so you don’t have to) and maybe at some point I’ll find the humor in it again.  The overall plot is decently put together, but the characters are so cliche and bland I have a hard time caring about any one of them or what they’re doing at any given moment.  I also think there are too many characters, but that’s a problem easily solved.  And, it’s not like they’re going to really develop many of them, anyway.

Next week, we at least get some Russians.    Hopefully that’ll make for some fun over-the-top 1980s cold war scenery chewing.

Under the Dome: Fatal Attraction

Episode 2.01:  Heads Will Roll
Written by:  Stephen King
Directed by:  Jack Bender
Original airdate:  June 30, 2014

UnderTheDomeUnder the Dome returned last night with an episode penned by Stephen King (who has a brief cameo toward the end, in the diner).  Overall, I was underwhelmed.  The episode was disorganized and cliched.  Several new characters materialized out of thin air and were awkwardly inserted into the plot, and at least one other makes an equally awkward and unexpected exit (though I have some thoughts about that).  I know I said the show had room for additional characters, but this was ridiculous.  This series isn’t Shakespeare or anything, but I was expecting better.

The cliffhangers from last season, the imminent execution of Barbie at the gallows and what’s going on with the dome now that Julia has dropped the egg into the lake drive the plot of the episode.

We’ll start with Julia.  When last we left her, she was standing in a boat in the middle of the lake, having just tossed the egg into the water, watching as pink streamers filled the sky (moving upward).  The effect of this was to magnetize the dome.  What this means is that everything that’s metal begins either inching toward the dome or flying at it at dangerously high speeds, depending on whatever the plot needs to happen.  Physics, we don’t need no stinking physics.  There’s a hand-waving explanation about how the magnetism is in waves, like labor contractions, from a new character, Rebecca, who is the science teacher at the high school who just appears out of nowhere but is now Very Important because she Knows Stuff.  Anyway, the contractions also cause waves of people to pass out, including Carolyn, who is passed out in the kitchen of Joe’s house, which is right next to the newly magnetized dome.  That sequence was pretty well done, as pots and pans, appliances, nails all fly through the air to threaten her and the kids.  Eventually, the whole house is torn asunder by the magnetic forces.

The shenanigans with the dome are enough to disrupt Barbie’s public execution.  First Junior, then Linda put a stop to it, and the four of them (Big Jim, Barbie, Linda, and Junior) all head out to the dome to investigate what’s going on.  Barbie is still in chains, so of course it drags him to the dome and pins him against it where he is in danger of being smooshed by large metal objects.  Linda rushes to his aid, frees him and pushes him out of the way, then is smooshed by an SUV that flattens her against the side of the dome as she stands there staring at it coming at her.  I literally rolled my eyes over that one.  I mentioned, in my season one write-up, that she’s a horrible police officer and her incompetence is used as a plot device.  This was the worst and while I didn’t like the character I can’t believe they killed her off in such a stupid and pointless way.  She appears later in the episode as a manifestation of the dome, so the actress may still stick around.  And there may be something up with her death that comes into play later.  Or not.  Who knows.

There’s a reason why Rebecca (the high school science teacher—shades of Heather from Jericho) described the magnetic activity as contractions.  Julia pulls a woman who appears right where she drops the egg and begins to drown from the lake (see what I mean about new characters out of thin air?).  So, did the egg give “birth” so to speak? There’s now a living, breathing manifestation of the dome walking around among the townsfolk?  This was also eyeroll worthy.  I have no idea what they’re planning with this character, but I’m sure we will never get any real answers from or about her.  This is the kind of thing that makes me lose patience with these Lost folks.  Too much deus ex machina.  It’s annoying.

Julia just happens to dump her egg and rescue the girl from the lake near a cabin inhabited by a reclusive hermit who just happens to be an EMT with a drinking problem who just happens to be Junior’s uncle.  There are some sparks between him and Julia.  I swear I will drop this show faster than a hot potato if they are setting up a triangle between Sam, Julia, and Barbie.

The climax of the episode is that everyone concludes that the dome wants Big Jim dead, including Big Jim.  Dora and Linda appear to him to convince him he needs to make a sacrifice or Junior will pay the price.  So, he gallantly decides to hang himself as the contractions from the dome get worse and worse (despite the fact that the mysterious girl has already been born, she’s still not quite all there).  There’s a lot of hemming, hawing, and posturing before Julia figures it all out.  You see, Big Jim didn’t need to literally sacrifice himself, because that would deprive the series of its sociopath.  No, he just has to go through the motions of sacrificing himself, including a period of repentance afterwards where he magnanimously puts out fires and solves problems.  We’ll see how long this lasts.  If it’s permanent, it was cheap, and they’ll need to bring in a new villain to replace him who won’t be nearly as much fun (Sam or the mysterious girl, perhaps).

A few other tidbits.

  • We learn that Junior’s mother, Pauline, is still alive and living somewhere outside the dome.  While he’s passed out, Junior sees and speaks to her, and we catch a glimpse of her at the end.  She seemed to know about the dome before her “suicide.”
  • The mysterious girl seeks out Linda’s body (still lying beneath the SUV that killed her) and apologizes.  I think this is a signal that there are to be no more killings or deaths within the dome, but again, who knows?  I suspect the series may not be entirely done with Linda, given how they killed her off.  But she does appear to be dead, and so far we have not seen the dome resurrect people from the dead so hopefully she’ll stay that way.  This feels very Lostish and not in a good way.
  • Last season we learned the dome was there to protect the people of Chester’s Mills.  Given the body count, I’d say the dome is doing a stellar job there!
  • Angie appears to get the chop (literally) at the end of the episode.  We don’t see who it is, and the implication is that it’s the mysterious girl, but I immediately thought it was Sam.  I don’t know why, but there’s some indication that things are not right with Sam.  Apparently mental illness runs in both sides of the Rennie family (because Big Jim is not exactly sane).
  • Not much for Joe to do this episode, other than get a nail through his hand.  I like this character a lot, and now that he, Norrie, Angie, and Carolyn are living with Big Jim it should be interesting.  I also really like Carolyn, and was very pleased to see her back and being smart.  Hopefully that’ll hold.
  • Speaking of Big Jim and Angie, what is their deal?  He’s awfully protective of her.  She was sleeping with Junior so I don’t think she’s his secret daughter, but I guess you never know in the post Game of Thrones TV landscape.  But there’s something definitely up there.
  • Junior was always annoying, but he’s becoming worse and worse and worse.  Apparently, his major role in the series is to help drive the plot by flip flopping his loyalties around to whatever is convenient for the writers.  First he’s for Angie, then his father, then Ollie, then his father, then Barbie, then the town, then his mother.  Blah blah blah.  Make up your damn mind already, kid.  I know it’s TV and you can turn on everyone constantly and still have them all inexplicably trust you, but nobody in the audience will care.
  • In one last moment of WTFery at the end Big Jim appoints Phil the new town sheriff.  Phil, the DJ because that somehow makes sense to somebody.  Maybe it’s because he knows how to talk on a radio and the police have radios.  Big Jim doesn’t even cop to killing Dora.  A zebra doesn’t change its stripes, after all.