CRIMINAL MINDS: Some Swan Song

Did you happen to catch last night’s Criminal Minds and the exit of arguably my favorite character on the canvas, Paget Brewster’s Emily Prentiss? Ignoring the specifics of Prentiss going at it with an adversary from a recently remembered past, my biggest gripe with the episode was the subtle as a sledgehammer “twist” after Prentiss apparently met her maker via wooden stake. As soon as Hotch and the returned JJ conferred meaningfully behind the hospital glass, I knew Emily was not en route to that big BAU in the sky but rather would live life with a new identity in some far off corner of the world (in this case, it was Paris). Maybe it’s a trick we’ve seen too many times on too many procedurals, but it was about as unoriginal as you can get. Had they just killed Emily off, the grief displayed by Reid, Morgan, Garcia, and Rossi might have at least struck the proper chord. All I was left with was the feeling that Hotch and JJ (and to a lesser extent, Prentiss herself) let these people think they had lost a valued co-worker and friend. For their own good? They couldn’t be trusted with the information? They’re friggin’ FBI agents! Maybe I’m alone here, but the whole outing was obvious and, if you think about it, kind of cruel. At least I hear Brewster’s got a new show on the horizon. Sounds more inspired than what went down last night (and I speak as somebody who actually likes the often-maligned Criminal Minds).

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CRIMINAL MINDS: Make It Not So!

Just a few quick thoughts on this past Wednesday’s episode of Criminal Minds. What was more terrifying? A female serial killer who endured an abusive childhood and now abducts women, drugs them, and styles them like generic American Girl dolls in a twisted attempt to recreate the one happy moment from her damaged life? Or the fact that her psychiatrist/rapist father, who subjected her to electroshock therapy in attempt to hide his crimes, was played by Star Trek: TNG vet, Number One, William T. Riker, Jonathan-freaking-Frakes? The horror, the horror.

Telephoria’s Favorites: 2009

In honor of Futon Critic’s annual best of list, Telephoria weighs in with a few favorites. Spoilers abound!

CRIMINAL MINDS – “100”

My guilty pleasure as far as procedurals go (and particularly addictive in rerun blocks on A&E and ION Television), this episode, the crime drama’s one hundredth (hence the title) brought to a head the BAU’s search for serial killer George Foyet a.k.a. “The Reaper.” As the team recounted recent events to their supervisors, flashbacks revealed how Foyet ultimately located Aaron Hotchner’s ex-wife and son. Each member of the team told their part of the story, and it was pretty clear that none of their lives were about to end. But after a fast paced chase to Hotch’s former home, Foyet did claim a final victim: Hayley Hotchner. While never a major character, Hotch’s wife was a presence from the pilot, and her demise gave actor Thomas Gibson a chance to play rage (when beating Foyet to death), tenderness (when reuniting with his young son), and anguish (when cradling the body of his late wife) within the space of a few short minutes. All and all, it was a heart pounding hour with a gut wrenching climax.

THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS – “The Death and Funeral of Colleen Carlton” (tie)

It’s nearly impossible to single out one episode of a daytime drama since even the those featuring an event like a wedding or a birth or a death often feature other plots working on various levels, some just beginning, some wrapping up. I’ll admit that Y&R had better years, but two interconnected hours stand out. First, in what was almost a standalone episode, we saw Colleen Carlton drowned after her final heroic act, trying to save the life of her injured kidnapper. Friends, family, and former lovers appeared to the girl, telling her not to be afraid, but during those last moments underwater when her deceased father, Brad, beckoned her to the light, the room got mighty dusty. Colleen’s death set in motion storyline for years to come: the gift of her harvested heart to her family’s hated rival, Victor Newman, who inadvertently caused the young woman’s demise. But her memorial service, arranged as a celebration of her life by her bereaved Uncle Billy, saw most of Genoa City come together to praise a life cut short. The final shot, the guests releasing balloons while Colleen’s mother sang a gentle lullaby, would melt the iciest heart. Colleen’s final portrayer, actress Tammin Sursok, was not as appreciated or well-utilized as her predecessors, Lyndsy Fonseca and Adrianne Leon, but Colleen’s death and the communal mourning that followed paid tribute to a core character likely gone forever.

COMMUNITY – “Environmental Science”

It took me awhile to warm up to this freshman show. Hot shot lawyer Jeff having to enroll in his local community college because of a fraudulent BA didn’t completely wash. But after getting past this setup, viewers were treated to the burgeoning friendships of a misfit Spanish study group, notably Alison Brie’s uptight Annie and Danny Pudi’s pop culture savant Abed. “Environmental Science” saw Jeff make a deal with the devil of sorts: befriend the tyrannical Senor Chang in an effort to pass the afore-mentioned Spanish class. Ultimately, to get back into the good graces of his amigos and rid himself of the increasingly clingy Chang, Jeff arranges for the estranged Senora Chang to attend a performance by Celtic group Greene Daeye (not to be confused with), and while the band plays on, the Changs reunite on the dance floor, fellow Spanish student Shirley triumphs in her marketing class (with moral support from Chevy Chase’s Pierce), and Abed and lab partner/best friend Troy coax lab rat Fievel out of hiding while singing “Somewhere Out There.” A funny yet moving sequence, it ultimately sold me on the show as a whole.

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM – “The Table Read” and “Seinfeld” (tie)

This was not the strongest season for Larry David’s examination of bad manners among Hollywood types. However, it was arguably the most hyped with the promise of all members from the iconic Seinfeld quartet appearing for a mock reunion within the Curb universe. Those episodes that featured Jerry, Jason, Julia, and Michael tangling with the co-creator who only dragged them together in a scheme to win back former wife and now aspiring actress Cheryl featured the season’s best moments, especially in the final two installments. “The Table Read” is most notable for the titular event which truly felt like a brand new Seinfeld episode as well as Jason Alexander’s inventive and repulsive uses for Larry’s pen. But nothing topped the confrontation between Michael Richards and J.B. Smoove’s Leon, an uncomfortably hysterical sequence of mistaken identity where David allowed Richards to atone for his past racist tirade by turning the joke on the man who will forever be Kramer. The final episode, featuring Jason Alexander’s pretentious book on the craft of acting, makes the list simply for the sequence of Larry David playing Jason Alexander playing George, a mind boggling few minutes of meta comedy. Plus, Larry gets the girl in the end. David and Seinfeld are arguably the only writers who got to conclude a landmark television show twice, the way they wanted and the way the viewers wanted. Pretty, pretty, pretty, good!

IN TREATMENT – “Walter: Week Six” and Oliver: Week Seven” (tie)

The sophomore series of this highly addictive actors’ master class featured any number of stellar episodes. While the sessions of career driven Mia and in-denial cancer patient April received most of the kudos, I was more partial to those half hours focusing on crumbling CEO Walter and unloved soon-to-be child of divorce Oliver. Walter’s strongest moment came in his penultimate episode. John Mahoney, so long associated with the affable Martin on Frasier, shed that skin for Walter’s suits and long repressed feelings of guilt. Now, following a suicide attempt, he broke down like a baby and clung to his therapist, Paul, for fear he might fall off the face of the earth. It was all the more rewarding to hear him agree to continue therapy in his final episode. Oliver’s ending was less uplifting as his unbelievably selfish mother prepares to move him from the only home he’s ever known to forward her ambitions, and his equally self-absorbed father does nothing to intervene. Yet Paul gives Oliver a slim reed to hang on to with the promise that while their sessions are ending, Oliver can call Paul whenever he needs to talk. What follows is a test run: Paul dialing Oliver’s cell from the other end of his office. Reluctant at first, Oliver gradually gets into the spirit of the thing and tells Paul what he imagines his new life will be like, problems and all. Oliver’s fate is uncertain, but Paul’s commitment to the boy, the only adult with Oliver’s best interests at heart, is without question.

SCRUBS – “My Finale”

I have mixed feeling about the reincarnation of this wonderful show (is it a spinoff? a continuation? a dream sequence?). But those doubts aside, Scrubs Original Recipe came to a sweet, satisfying conclusion. Most every loose end was tied up (although I’m pretty sure we still didn’t learn the Janitor’s name), but there are two indelible images from John Dorian’s last day at Sacred Heart. As J.D. exited the hospital, nearly every patient, co-worker, former lover, and friend from his tenure lined the hallway to send him off. Also, a hopeful fantasy sequence where J.D. watched what he hoped his life would be in grainy footage projected on a blank wall: marrying Elliot, sharing Christmases with Turk/Carla, Cox/Jordan, and their respective children. And while the tears flowed, who didn’t crack up at J.D.’s imagined delight of the overwhelming joy he and Turk would feel should their children grow up and decide to wed, the ultimate reward for their bromance. From the beginning, Scrubs blended the absurd with the possible, and as J.D. walked into the night, both he and the viewers felt confident about his future.

MODERN FAMILY – “Coal Digger”

Unlike Community, this show had me from the pilot, Arrested Development crossed with The Office plus heartwarming final voiceovers (usually courtesy of Ed O’Neill’s patriarch Jay) that are never saccharine. I’m going with “Coal Digger” because, for most of the episode, it promises on what was only hinted at in the closing moments of the pilot: the entire clan trying to survive an evening together under one roof to watch a football game (who would’ve known that gay son Mitchell’s flamboyant partner, Cameron, was such a sports’ nut; he even dresses their adopted baby as a referee, which Mitchell mistakes for the Hamburglar). There’s already tension in the air because of a scuffle between Jay’s new stepson, Manny, and Manny’s “nephew,” Luke, but that’s nothing compared to the discovery that a remark by Luke’s mother, Claire, started the fight. Seems she thinks Jay’s bombshell Colombian bride, Gloria, is nothing but a “coal digger” (at least that’s the way Luke heard it). While Claire’s clueless, but well-meaning husband, Phil, tries to broker peace between his “two girls,” Jay grapples with insecurities about his physical appearance. Watching him confide in Cameron and Mitchell that he’s no “Erik Estrada,” but asking if they would still check him out if he were “in one of their clubs and the Righteous Brothers came on” is only topped by Cameron’s admission that Jay is totally his type, much to Mitchell’s horror. Awkward conversations give way to forgiveness, and the tag of Cameron and Jay sharing tips on snapping a football (and Mitchell telling Claire he’s never eating again) drives home the point that while loving, this family is far from functional.

MAD MEN – “My Old Kentucky Home”

Looking back at Season Three, most viewers would go with the unfortunate fate of Guy Mackendrick or the Ocean’s Eleven style season finale, but I’ll go against the grain and select the third episode from a stellar third season. Roger and Jane Sterling’s Kentucky Derby party introduced two men who would play key roles as the season unfolded: enigmatic Connie, later revealed as megalomaniac Conrad Hilton whose need for control would place a noose around Don Draper’s neck until the final episode, and charming Henry Francis who would ultimately lead Betty Draper out of her loveless marriage by filling the void left by her soon-to-be deceased father. Other threads also began in this episode: Roger realizing he’d gotten a child instead of a partner via his marriage to Jane, Joan starting to understand that not only had she married her rapist but as inept a medical professional as ever wielded a scalpel, Peggy grabbing what she wants as a woman and as a professional, and Pete and Trudy ever more in sync, demonstrated by an expertly choreographed Charleston. With the exception of the tragic Sal Romano, every character and plot arc to come is subtly set into motion in this episode, and upon the conclusion of the season, one must admire how skillfully the table was set without the writers tipping their hands too soon. And any episode that features the line, “I’m Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana,” deserves a shout out.

THE OFFICE – “Niagara”

One of the most anticipated television events of the year did not disappoint. Jim and Pam’s nuptials were everything a fan could have hoped for. Opening with a projectile vomit bit (pregnant Pam’s regurgitation sets off a chain reaction) and closing with a contented Jim smiling at the camera over his bride’s shoulder, every second was classic Office, one part cringe inducing, one part hilarious, and one part poignant. Whether it was Jim inadvertently letting the cat out of the bag at the rehearsal dinner that Pam was with child (to the horror of Pam’s conservative grandmother) or Andy tearing his scrotum while trying to impress crush Erin with his dance moves or the final sequence of Jim and Pam exchanging vows under the falls intercut with their office-mates dancing down the aisle a la one of 2009’s most memorable viral clips, everything clicked. And I’m of the mind that while Jim bought those tickets the “day I saw that You Tube clip” in order to give Pam the wedding of her dreams, part of him also knew that the co-workers he grudgingly respects would also want their moment in the sun. Jim’s the classic god guy, and in this episode the good guy (and everyone in his orbit) won.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA – “Daybreak”

I could have included any episode from BSG 4.5 on this list (with the possible exception of “Deadlock”), but I’m going with the divisive finale. When The Sopranos famously cut to black, part of me was unsatisfied (although after re-watching the finale and the enitre series, it is a perfect ending, albeit on an intellectual level). BSG took the opposite route. From the opening flashbacks “before the fall” (especially Roslin losing her entire family to a drunk driver), this was an affair for the heart and soul. Every human emotion was tapped before the colonial fleet finally reached what they would call Earth. But before that momentous event, we saw the ailing Roslin bid what she thought would be farewell to a speechless Doc Cottle, Apollo and Baltar calling each other out for their respective self-absorptions (the former’s wrapped up in Starbuck, the latter’s in himself), and a tense brig confrontation between a devastated Helo and a bitter Tyrol (Helo still had Athena if not Hera, but the Chief was now a shell of a Cylon). When the Old Man resolved to rescue the missing child, the sight of Roslin, barely able to walk, cross the line to be with her new family, turned something in Gaius Baltar. The second hour saw the overgrown child with too many appetites, unconsciously responsible for the fate of the Twelve Colonies, become a man to the delight of Caprica Six. The attack on the Colony was nothing short of awesome, whether it was the sickbay barreling into the Cylon stronghold or a horde of Centurions now on the humans’ side. The ill-fated Boomer, who lost the life Athena ultimately got, finally made a choice, no longer manipulated by her programming or Cavil, and returned Hera to her rightful mother before meeting a violent end. The race back to Galactica, complete with the jaw dropping sight of the Final Five a la opera house visions in the CIC was only the first taste of a sequence where most would forget to breathe: Baltar’s sermon, a shaky truce, Tyrol’s realization that Tory murdered his wife and his subsequent strangulation of the killer, Cavil’s suicide, and Kara’s final jump of the ship was enough for ten series’ finales. Then, the BSG team dialed it back and treated viewers to a pastoral planet where our heroes could truly, finally lay down their burdens (I confess; I always suspected they were in the past). Next came the waterworks: Kara dropping her dog tags into Sam’s hybrid bath, the entire fleet flying into the sun, Starbuck and Apollo saying goodbye to their shared father figure before the former vanished into thin air, Adama and Roslin’s “wedding” while in flight, Baltar’s tearful admission to Caprica that he “knows about farming,” and finally Adama laying out the cabin in his mind while watching over his lost love’s grave. Even the tag set in our present worked as an ironic reminder that the master can become the servant in terms of technology. Having watched this episode numerous times, I’ll admit that a few factors don’t add up (and I’m not talking about the Hand of God, the actual deus ex machina, since that was in motion from Season One). Who or what the resurrected Starbuck was is somewhat unclear. Why Lee would never see his father again was vague. And while always an Athena/Helo shipper, had their happy ending been denied and Gaius and Caprica were left to raise Hera, some of the prophecies from Season Two might have made more sense. But that first Friday night, I had no such quibbles, so in awe and awash in tears at expertly choreographed action sequences combined with an array of moving character beats. Every performance (especially those of Mary McDonnell, James Callis, and Grace Park) was transcendent, Ronald Moore’s dialogue pure poetry. Nothing will ever match the experience of that first viewing or discovering the plot twists in the series as the whole. But there are enough compelling characters and relationships to return to BSG again and again in the years to come. So say we all.