Something that always bugged me about Star Trek: The Next Generation was that they continually seemed to be laboring under the misconceptions that the climax of a story and the end of the story were the same thing. You can do that on occasion, of course - hit the climax and let people conclude what happens next. Philip K. Dick did that a lot in his short stories - but you can’t make a steady diet of it. You need some time to digest what happened, to think of the ramifications, the consequences, to count the cost, to steel yourself before going on. TNG bugged me because in 18 episodes out of every 22, they’d just chug along at a steady storytelling pace and then - “oh, we’ve only got three minutes of air time left? Ok, well…uhm…let’s just have Geordie reverse the already-reversed polarity on the polarity reversers, thereby stopping the…uhm…doings from…uh…transpiring. Look, nobody cares how we end the damn thing, just wrap it up, show the ship cruising off in to the distance, and roll the damn credits. It’s not like the nerds care if any of this crap makes sense or anything.” (I may or may not be quoting Paramount internal memos here*) As any freshman lit professor can tell you, the Climax and the Conclusion are *not* the same thing. Unless, I suppose, you’re bad in bed. Or a Trekie. But then I repeat myself.
Thus, I’m grievously annoyed that tonight’s genuinely really solid episode pulled a Next Generation ending and ended up kinda’ ruining the whole ride. I also could have done without the sudden attack of Guinan/Troi syndrome, but that’s a rant for another day. Hopefully this will not be the shape of things to come for this show.
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After a recap of last week’s episode, we get a relatively useless flashback to Manhattan Island in the early 1600s. A Lenape Indian is making something, and the subtitles tell us that it’s for the one to come who will reunite all the elements. In 2009, we see a guy put on a buckskin cloak, jump through a wall, steal an ugly sculpture, and jump through another wall. The next morning, in whichever of the Dakotas the Warehouse is in (I forget) Claudia and her brother are staying at the Bed and Breakfast run by the pretty girl psychic girl who’s name I can never remember. They’re bickering because her brother wants to surf the net all day, and Claudia wants him to get a job. Artie yells at Claudia to finish writing up a report of how she hacked the Warehouse, and then she has to march over there and undo all the wiring higgledy-piggeldy she caused. She pouts. Artie sends Mika and Pete off to check out the theft in New York.
In New York, they check out the art house where the sculpture was stolen from. Turns out it was going to be privately auctioned the next day, as the owner had received offers from two separate interested parties. Pete hits on the auction house lady - badly - so Mika sends him out to investigate the prospective buyers to see if either stole it. The first one is a construction magnate named Ryburn, who’s building skyscrapers all over the place. While there, one of the workers - a guy named “LaSalle” with a portable ground-penetrating radar - gives Pete “The Stink Eye.” Before he can investigate the other guy, Mika calls Pete back to the art house, where she’s found a magical feather lodged half-way in the wall. They remove it, and Pete recklessly discovers that it allows his hand to pass through solid objects. There’s a gratuitous Rocky & Bullwinkle joke in here which is pretty good, though frankly if there’s a bad Rocky & Bullwinkle gag, I haven’t heard it. Artie gets to work on Native American Mythology to try and sort out the artifact’s story, while - in a very forced scene - The Pretty Girl From The Bed And Breakfast basically explains why Claudia is increasingly bitchy of late, and lays her emotions out there for all the slower people in the audience who couldn’t follow what was going on. (In essence, Claudia spent half her life trying to rescue her brother, she did, and now she has no purpose). Sigh. Bad writing. And the little “You like me” tag at the end was cringe-inducing.
Mika and Pete investigate the other prospective buyer, Joe Flannigan from Stargate: Atlantis. His dad was a con man, cultural strip-miner and all around bad egg, so we’re supposed to suspect Flannigan, but come on, it’s Shepherd. How can you not love the guy? They discover that he’s got a near-duplicate of the missing piece - there were four made - and they also discover that LaSalle is working for Flannigan as well. He persuades them to let him move his piece to a more secure location when Mika lets it slip that there’s a guy who can walk through walls out there. Flannigan doesn’t bat an eye at this. They move the piece by van, when our mysterious villain jumps through the wall of the moving van, smacks Pete around, pushes Pete out the wall of the still moving van, and runs away. Pete gets hurt. Surprisingly for a TV show of this sort, getting thrown out of a moving moving van (See what I did there?) actually hurts him.
Waking up in the hospital, Pete and Mika spar - in a better than average scene for them - about her being attracted to Joe Flannigan. Neither of them comment on his oddly pointy ears, but, hey, he’s a handsome guy, I’ll give him that. She and Flannigan have a distracting dinner in the hospital cafeteria while Artie calls up Pete and tells him to go break in to Flannigan’s place. There’s some good slapstick of him hurting himself in the hospital here, followed by a deliberate “Oh, come on!” moment at the apartment when he finds a secret room full of Indian stuff by the artist who made the sculpture in the first place.
Back at the Warehouse, The Pretty Lady From the B&B tells Artie to give Claudia a job. He doesn’t wanna, but Claudia’s brother gets a job at Cerne and leaves. Meanwhile, the actual bad guy is revealed to be Ryburn, who catches LaSalle spying on him and reveals the guy to be the nephew of the artist who made the pieces. He then kills LaSalle by depositing him *inside* a wall. Nasty. Having all four pieces, he arranges them in the right order and then the dawn hits them a’la the well of souls from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and projects a map of Manhattan on the wall, showing him the location…of…what exactly?
Turns out it’s the magical cave of creation where the Lenape believed humanity began or time started or something. Mika, Pete, Flannigan, and Artie try to figure out where it would be, Claudia suggests it might have something to do with Magnetic Lay lines, which sounds dirty but actually isn’t. It turns out to be the answer. She decides to hit Vegas, and Artie’s too distracted to stop her. Meanwhile, Pete, Mika, and Flannigan rush to one of Ryburn’s construction sites, while Ryburn uses his magic cloak to simply walk through the wall in to the cave. There he finds four elements that will give him eternal life and power over the weather, and he starts consuming them.
Upstairs, things go all Ghostbusters, and everyone runs panicking. The cave cracks open so the other actors can get in, and they tell him to stop, but he just slaps ’em around with his new superpowers. Flannigan tells him “It’s not meant for us,” but Ryburn continues to consume the elements. Pete grabs a magical arrow and stabs Ryburn with it. Ryburn explodes in to a ball of flame, and disappears.
Back at the Warehouse, Claudia shows up, having broken the bank at Vegas for some spending money, and Artie gives her a job.
This was actually a pretty solid episode. The mystery wasn’t particularly mysterious, but it built nicely, had some solid energy, and getting better and better until…oh crap! We’ve got a plot and a subplot to resolve, and only ninety seconds of air time left! Stab him with the arrow! Stab him with the arrow! That annoyed me, as I’ve already detailed. If I put aside my misgivings about that, however, this was still a pretty solid episode.
Of course I have a few quibbles:
Did Ryburn die because he partook of magic that was not meant for man? Or did he die because Pete stabbed him with a magical arrow? Or did he even die? Maybe he simply transformed to a spiritual realm where he now sits alongside the Lenape gods eating popcorn shrimp and gazes down upon Manhattan reflecting glumly on how he should have perhaps read the label before he drank the magic water? Dunno. Nobody seems to care. There's no resolution to this resolution.
The ‘400 years ago’ flashback was pretty useless, really. We’ve had artifacts before on the show without some introductory scene showing us how the Magic Rings were Forged. We didn’t need it, it didn’t add anything, and it padded out a story that was already bursting at the seams.
Though this is the best ‘standard’ episode of the series so far (I’d say last week’s ep was better, but it was an Artie episode, and clearly that’s not the normal format for these things), it contains the weakest point of the show to date: Namely, the tedious scene in which The Pretty Lady exposits Claudia’s feelings, thereby utterly robbing Claudia of the need to, I dunno, act or something. Seriously, this kind of Counselor Troi crap was annoying and senseless when they did it twenty years ago (And only marginally less annoying and senseless when Guinan did it, but then Guinan occasionally had some moral gravitas behind her), do we really need to haul this hoary and rotten-to-the-core chestnut out here? This kind of frightens me, actually, as The Pretty Lady hasn’t really served any function on the show thus far other than to make goo-goo eyes at Pete, and to be someone for Artie to exposit to. One gets the feeling that her true purpose hasn’t really kicked in yet, and if her actual dramatic function is simply to say “I sense he’s hiding something, Captain” for the benefit of those at home with brows furrowed in a vain effort to understand what these crazy people inside their magic picture box are talking about…well, if that’s what she’s there for, then include me out. But as bad as that is, it actually manages to hit a sub-TNG moment when Claudia says “It’s ok if I don’t like you, right?” and The Pretty Lady Responds with, “Yeah, but you do like me.”
Very happy to see that they diverged from the NCIS mystery format in this episode (“The first person with a speaking part that isn’t part of the cast is the bad guy”), and though the mystery wasn’t very deep, and could have been shallower still if Flannigan had just leveled with the feds like a reasonable person would do, it still worked fine.
Pete likes musical theater? What the hell is up with that? The Earth Wind and Fire throwaway gag seemed particularly out of character, too.
Flannigan, by the way, was good. He was trying to play a part different from SGA’s Shepherd, and a little more distant. This worked better in the earlier parts of the episode, less so when it got a bit more actioney later on, but still I’m going to say he put in the best performance by a guest star in the series so far. Of course I’ve always liked the guy. He’s got a reserved presence, good comedic timing, a self-deprecating manner, an interesting delivery, and - curiously - he’s one of the few actors I can think of that I don’t imagine to be up Crit’s Sheek when his TV gig ends. He’s always struck me as the kind of guy who could do pretty much anything he wanted and always land on his feet. He doesn’t *need* acting, he’d be successful at anything, but he likes it. There’s an odd kind of confidence implicit in that which makes any character they’re playing interesting. It’s a rare quality, though. The only other genre actor I can think of who has that quality off the top of my head is Jerry Doyle.
Where does Artie live? Does he live *in* the Warehouse, or does he have a home?
I like Claudia. I liked her last week, but I liked her a whole lot more this week when they weren’t trying to cram faux Whedonisms down her throat. I think she potentially could add a lot to the show. That said, they can’t get rid of her brother fast enough for my liking, and Ms. Frederick’s “There’s only two ways of dealing with them” cliffhanger from last week was pretty anti-climactically resolved this week by simply hiring ‘em.
Pete seems increasingly relegated to lunkheaded comedy relief, and Mika is seeming more and more dominant in the field. Me, personally, I’d prefer to see them as an equal team, or, failing that, just alternate who‘s in charge: This week’s a Mulder episode, next week is a Scully episode, week after that is another Mulder episode. I imagine they’ll find a balance eventually. I do not buy Mika as an authority figure - much less a federal agent - whatsoever, however I am growing to like her more just as something of an overly-repressed control freak. And she’s pretty, no getting around that. No doubt in my mind that she was miscast for the part in the pilot, but as we wander from initial conceptions of the show and in to the day-to-day realities of what it’s becoming, I find I like her more. This happens a lot. I hated Carter at the beginning of SG1, but the actress learns to spin it a bit one way, and the writers figure out what is and isn’t working, and - bang - in a season or two, Carter becomes the best female authority figure on TV. Can that happen with Mika? Eh. Too early to tell, especially as this show is so hokey-jokey, but it’s at least moving in the right direction. In any event, the two of them had a bit more chemistry in most of the scenes this time out than they generally do. Their writing was a bit better, too.
And that’s pretty much it. With two particularly damning exceptions, it was a really good episode, alas, those were pretty big potholes to try and drive through.