February is Star Trek geek month — don’t worry, I’ll explain why as we go along.
"Day 6: 12pm – 5pm"
Poor old Jack, his family makes the Borgias look like the Waltons. His brother was bad enough, but dear old dad just about takes the biscuit. James Cromwell hasn’t been this convincingly nasty since L.A. Confidential. I’m hoping that Morris will fall into his clutches soon and Bauer Sr. can put a bullet in him and save us all from his incessant whining. Still, at least Milo showed some backbone, fighting off the bad guys until the cavalry (in the form of Jack “Nick of Time” Bauer) arrived. Mr Lennox has also shown a little more spirit, standing up to the would-be presidential assassins. Of course being a little guy, this just resulted in him being tied up and gagged, but it’s the thought that counts. Then we have ex-president Logan — just what is he planning? The series has had its usual quota of ridiculous plot twists but the action has been a little lacking this year. Still Morris got tortured so it’s not all bad.
“The Woman King”
Sometimes it seems that Helo is the only truly decent person on Galactica and this episode certainly gives weight to that idea. Bruce Davison makes a guest appearance as a doctor with a grudge and only Helo suspects something is not right when his patients start dying. The episode isn’t afraid to show some of the main characters in an unflattering light, particularly Adama and Tigh, although the latter isn’t much of a surprise. Davison is good as the doctor and Tahmoh Penikett relishes having the spotlight turned on Helo, giving his best performance so far.
“A Day in the Life”
This was a little on the dull side. Chief Tyrol and Cally get stuck in an airlock while Adama mopes about, thinking of his ex-wife on their anniversary. There are some nice character moments between Adama and Lee but the lack of action makes for a painfully slow pace. The episode also highlights something that I find incredibly annoying. I can accept that the civilians' fashions are far too earth-like, or that the cigarettes the doctor is always smoking look like Marlboros. I can and do accept all that and more UNTIL they go and do something to try and convince me how different things are. What did they do? They cut the corners off books! My god how strange, how otherworldly, how ALIEN! Someone please explain the point of this to me.
This week Chief Tyrol gets upset when he sees the working conditions on one of the fleet’s ships and calls a strike. Aaron Douglas outdoes himself as Tyrol and the episode brings to light some hidden resentments and highlights the colonies' class system. It also shows Adama (again) and President Roslin in a harsh light, while Baltar is shown to be more sympathetic than before. The ending, however, feels like a cop-out with everything sorted by the time the credits roll. The series is often at its best when it mirrors real world events but this marks three episodes in a row without a Cylon and that’s pushing things a bit far.
“The Big Game”
James Van Der Beek is this week’s serial killer, murdering wealthy couples in their homes. It’s a good episode with the cast all on excellent form but as the first part of a two-part story, it really only serves to set things up for the cliff-hanger ending that puts Dr Reid in the killer's hands.
With Reid in the killer’s clutches it’s a race against time to save him. James Van Der Beek is surprisingly good as the killer who suffers from multiple personalities but the real star is Matthew Gray Gubler as Reid. His character really gets put through the wringer and the repercussions are still being felt. This episode really highlights why the series has improved this year; putting as much emphasis on the characters as on the plot has really paid dividends.
“Fear and Loathing”
This is a more by the numbers episode than recent entries, with only the racism angle setting this apart. It feels like someone’s read that serial killers are mostly but not always white males and decided to give us a black killer. The cast do their best but they really have little to work with. The worst episode of this season.
I think this is the first time the series has had us rooting for the killer, a war veteran suffering from PTSD who thinks he’s back in a war zone. It’s up to the BAU to find him before the local police do. You get the feeling almost from the start that things will end badly but you’re hoping against hope that you’ll be wrong. There’s always a sense of sadness about Gideon but this episode you really feel the weight he bears. Mandy Patinkin is never less than good but his work at the end here is stunning. He doesn’t have to say anything, we read it all in Gideon’s face.
This is similar to "Fear and Loathing" but instead of a black serial killer we have a female one. It’s better than that episode, although it could have done without the overused Jack the Ripper copycat idea. The ultimate responsibility for the murders falls to a cop, who, while not doing the killing, is indirectly responsible for them and the message is clearly that the law must treat everyone equally. As with "Distress" we feel some sympathy for the killer and the resolution is nicely played out. Also notable in this episode is the introduction of a possible love interest for JJ; whether this will be followed up remains to be seen.
The new guy again gets the better of the two stories this week as Keppler investigates the black market sales of body parts. Right from the start, when he opens an umbrella found inside a dead body, spattering Doc Robbins with blood and deadpans, “That's bad luck, isn't it?” you know you’re on to a winner. In another memorable moment he observes that Grissom’s habit of collecting things fits the profile of a serial killer. Any other week Catherine’s investigation into how a woman was murdered by her long lost son would have kept my attention but with Liev Schreiber in such fine form she just can’t compete.
“Law of Gravity”
Grissom returns but his comeback is overshadowed by Keppler’s exit. And what an exit! This ranks as one of the show's finest episodes in its seven-year run, a blend of hard-boiled detective story and clinical CSI investigation. In just a few short weeks Liev Schreiber won me over to such an extent that I was moved to tears by Keppler’s final scene.
“Monster in the Box”
And finally the box! It’s been sitting on Grissom’s desk for weeks, tormenting us and at last the wait is over. But, while the contents may have been revealed, the mystery has only gotten deeper. A nice guest appearance by Kathleen Quinlan and a good, if not entirely unexpected twist ending help alleviate the lack of closure. I get the feeling the killer will not be revealed until the season finale. I just hope it will be worth the wait. Time for the first Star Trek geek alert – Kobayashi Maru is Hodges' cat and the name comes from a starship in a training exercise in Star Trek.
This is the sort of excellent story that CSI does week in week out, unfortunately coming after two excellent episodes it seems a little duller than it really is. The identity of the killer isn’t even a surprise. Guest star Laura Harris is wasted as the photography teacher with a thing for one of her students; she’s clearly a red herring (sort of) from the start. Disappointing but far from bad.
An episode that builds towards the supposedly shocking revelation of Clair’s father; the thing is, for it to be a surprise we know it must be someone we’ve already encountered and only a couple of guys fit the bill – Claude and Nathan. The best moments this week are Sylar’s as he sits in Mr Bennet’s kitchen chatting to his wife with murder on his mind. I like Ali Larter but the Niki plot strand is dragging at the moment; still, I’m confident that will change. It’s time for the second (and last) Star Trek geek alert – the license plate of George “Mr Sulu” Takei is NCC-1701, which is of course the serial number of the Enterprise.
This is one of those “not much happens” episodes; this concentrates on Matt as he turns first security guard and then jewel thief. The focus is also on Niki as the mysterious Mr Linderman orders her to murder one of his employees who just happens to be the guy Matt’s guarding. Some nice action scenes keep things moving along. Nathan is once again at the centre of the cliffhanger ending as Linderman sets him up as Niki’s next target.
Matt and Ted the radioactive man get reunited and the pace really starts to pick up. The characters stories become ever more closely intertwined; Mr Bennet encounters several of the main players this week and ultimately ends up along with his family in the hands of Matt and Ted. It becomes clearer with every chapter just how well this story has been mapped out and while Hiro’s and Niki’s storyline may seem a little distant from the main plot, the reality I think will be very different. In Sylar the series has an excellent villain, an emotional void with a unquenchable thirst for power. The ending shows just how confident the series has become in telling its tale, leaving us with a leading character who may be dead, not just for one week, but for two as the following episode tightens the focus to just a few of the main ensemble.
A spectacularly good episode, this is the series' current high water mark. The structure, jumping from flashback to present day, works magnificently with Jack Coleman as Mr Bennet giving one of the finest performances I’ve seen in a weekly TV show. Bennet has been something of a bogeyman all season but in just forty-odd minutes Coleman turns all that on its head. We don’t excuse the bad things he’s done — in fact we see him do more as (in flashback) he shoots Claude, but none of that matters. It’s about a man and his love for his daughter and vice versa as both risk their lives for each other. It’s the sign of a good series when it can tap into your emotions well enough to bring a tear to your eye and this was the second show this month that had be blubbering.
“Not in Portland”
Juliet's past gets a little light shined on it this week and at least on the surface she appears the noble doctor, but things are not always what they seem on this show. She’s already shown a ruthless streak and it’s a given that there will be more twists to her tale. While there's a lot of running around for Sawyer and Kate, not much really happens and after an excellent start to the season the show seems to be treading water.
“Flashes Before Your Eyes”
An excellent episode as Desmond’s secret is revealed but that only serves to deepen the mystery. Episodes like this one are a joy to watch, particularly as Henry Ian Cusick is so good as Desmond, a man who’s as puzzled as the viewer as to what’s going on. The problem is, I’m left wondering if the writers weren’t as confused as Desmond and I were.
“Stranger in a Strange Land”
Last year Jack was one of my least favourite characters, this year he’s turned that feeling on its head. Here we learn some more of his past and the secret of his tattoo, a souvenir of his visit to Thailand. There is something inscrutable about Jack and it serves to make him immensely likeable or intensely annoying by turns. He’s also incredibly pigheaded which can also be a blessing and a curse and I wouldn’t take bets that he won't be on my least favourite list again by the end of the season.
“Tricia Tanaka is Dead”
A feel-good episode starring the master of disaster Hurley and introducing us to Hurley’s dad played by Cheech Marin. Nothing of consequence happens (or at least seems to) with the exception of the ending, but it will put a smile on your face all the same. Jorge Garcia has created in Hurley a character everyone loves, he’s impossible to dislike. Like CSI and Heroes, this episode strikes an emotional chord but a far happier one.
Masters of Horror
As with the final episode last season, this year finishes with a Japanese director at the helm. There are a couple of things that separate this from the first season’s "Imprint" though. Firstly this one actually aired ("Imprint" was deemed too shocking for American TV, even cable) and secondly Takashi Miike is a famous (or infamous) Japanese director while Norio Tsuruta is a nobody who’s most well known film, Ring 0: Birthday, is by a long way the worst film in that franchise.
Taken from a short story by Ring author Kôji Suzuki there is far too much going on here. We get a homicidally jealous husband, his dead first wife coming back for revenge while he’s trying to bump off wife number two. Add to this the ghostly dead brother of the man the second wife was having an affair with and you get an episode that’s bursting at the seams with ideas. The problem is the whole thing feels as if it was created backwards, as if it was built around the twist ending and it’s a twist that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Things aren’t helped by Naoya Takayama’s script; had it been written in Japanese it would probably have been fine but the English dialogue comes across stilted and false and it’s made worse by two of the lead actors clearly not being particularly comfortable in English. A disappointing end to a disappointing second season.
Life on Mars
Returning for a second series, this retro detective series with a twist (the whole thing may be a hallucination of the lead character) gets off to a slow start with a straightforward murder investigation but hints that that there may be more going on with Sam Tyler than previously thought.
Things pick up with episodes two and three as the series shines a light on the nostalgic golden years of '70s Britain and finds they weren’t all that great after all. While the series parodies '70s cop shows like The Sweeney in also brings home some of the prejudices of the time. Episode two focuses on racism and highlights how Blacks were treated then, a problem that was even prevalent in the police force. It’s the offhand way that the bigotry presents itself that’s most disturbing, like it was accepted behaviour (which at the time it was) with the minorities sometimes playing up to it so as not to rock the boat.
The '70s was a particularly bad time in Northern Ireland and the third episode focuses on the prejudices just being Irish invoked, with arrests made based solely on where you were born, without evidence to back it up. The message of the episode is clear; this sort of treatment may have pushed honest Irishmen to join the IRA.
Yet the series shows us all this and still manages to bring back fond memories of those times. As DI Gene Hunt, a violent, racist bully who makes The Sweeney's Jack Regan look like… well, Inspector Morse, Philip Glenister is brilliant. He takes this larger than life caricature and turns him into a human being, someone you may at times despise but who never fails to keep your attention. By contrast John Simm gets the less showy part of Sam Tyler. The opposite of Hunt, Tyler is moral, even-tempered (most of the time) and just an all round nice guy who you instinctively like. You’re rooting for him to get home, back to 2007 and yet and the same time you're not because if he leaves 1973 the series will end and it’s far too enjoyable to want that.
This new show from the British ITV channel is clearly looking for the same audience for family SF that the BBC showed was there with its successful re-launch of Doctor Who. The first episode borrows ideas from such disparate sources as Jurassic Park, canceled US TV show Surface and even Stargate and blends them together to create one of the best British SF series ever.
The show deals with holes in time, the creatures that come through them to create chaos in the modern world, and the team whose job it is to minimise the danger. It’s brilliantly paced, giving us lots of action each week but also just enough of the mystery surrounding the “anomalies” to keep us hooked. Best of all it has a cast of truly likable characters; everyone from scientist Nick Cutter to the team nerd Connor Temple are both brilliantly written and wonderfully played. One reason for watching the show is to see the monster of the week, but you also want to know what happens to the team, not just with regard to the big story but also the internal dynamics of the group.
You know you’re onto a winner when you can’t wait for the next episode and this has that feeling in spades (though not quite as much as Heroes).
March promises to be a quieter month, with no CSI and only one episode of Heroes, so next month's round-up will be a little shorter.