Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Castle Rock Companion - Golden years episodes 3 & 4


Episode 3 "Am I a Winner?"

Angie:

Terry is woken up at 3 am by one of her informants who tells her about the eye doctor being murdered.  She jumps out of bed to investigate, but also makes a  quick stop at a payphone to wake up General Crewes in D.C. and ask  him to find a payphone of his own and call her at another location later.  She even gives him the phone number using baseball plays as a secret code, because she's that confident that The Shop is tapping both their phones.  At the crime scene, she sees the sheriff and a classic King character if there ever was one, a photographer who works double duty for the newspaper and the sheriff's office in this small town, Steve Dent.  He's a total gore hound, humming a tune while taking grisly pictures and talking excitedly about all the gross things he's seen.  The sheriff shoos him out once he's done taking pictures, and then Terry pleads with the sheriff to let her inspect the crime scene alone.  He's reluctant, but the two of them clearly have some prior history working together and he eventually lets her do so based on the fact that he thinks she'll help him catch the killer.  Once he's gone she goes straight to the patient files, and confirms that Harlan's file is gone.  She's confident Andrews is responsible.

And she has good reason to, as we see him driving around listening to a tape of the conversation she had with her informant early this morning.

After another poor attempt at humor where a trucker is hogging the pay phone saying sweet nothings to his wife, Terry calls up Crewes, who plays the role of idiot just so she can explain all this just in case the audience hasn't been paying attention.  She also tells him she wants to take Harlan and Gina out of town somewhere, because she's confident that Andrews will kill Gina and capture Harlan.  He's reluctant to agree to this, and knows she will do it anyway.  We cut to Andrews killing off the photographer Dent, before we get one more scene of Terry asking for Crewes' approval again via another phone call, before he finally says okay and she heads to the Williams household.

She arrives there and ultimately gets them to trust her by revealing to them that their house is in fact bugged.  She convinces them to leave with her now, and it's a good thing because Andrews is on his way.  She can't resist leaving him a note before they go:  "Just like old times," it says.  Andrews nods at the message.  We then see him doing target practice, which is accompanied by a flashback of the time that the two of them used to work together.  Andrews has a man torturing a young man for information, and Terry orders him to stop.  She shows him some pictures that provide hard evidence of his abuse (including one of him holding an hilariously fake severed head) and assures him the photos are just copies.  He's to stop now or she'll leak the photos and make him infamous.  He was forced to stop then, but now he swears that she's got nothing on him, and he will kill her.  While the flashback is a little silly, the target practice is well done, where the camera cuts from him shooting targets to actually shooting Terry in a fantasy.

Terry asks the Williamses if they want to head east or west, and Gina chooses west.  Their daughter Francie lives in Chicago, and she's a political activist so Gina knows she would want to know about this.  Harlan doesn't really like the idea of getting her involved, but he agrees.  They also mention that she has a seeing eye dog named Whitney.

Meanwhile, Andrews has called in Fredericks, the guy who we saw snooping on the doctors last episode, to assist him and works with the sheriff's office on this.  He explains that his plan is to frame Harlan for the murder of the eye doctor, claiming he did it because he actually failed that last eye exam and the better results were just a forgery.  He's now supposedly taken Terry (who had arrived at the house to arrest him) and Gina hostage on the run.  It's actually a fairly logical cover up.  While Fredericks has the police looking for Terry's car, Andrews goes and talks to good old Dr. Toddhunter, telling him that Harlan is in fact turning visibly younger, and wouldn't he love to run some tests on him?  Toddhunter absolutely would, so Andrews tells him to make a phone call to the Secretary of Defense and convince him that catching Harlan is a high priority.  Frankly, I don't understand why this bit is necessary beyond trying to include Toddhunter in a scene.  From everything we've seen so far, Andrews has plenty of power on his own and shouldn't need Toddhunter's help here.
Meanwhile, Terry is getting a bad feeling about being out on the road, so she pulls over at a mall and finds a hearse in the parking lot.  She hotwires the hearse so they can steal it, and they leave her car there in the parking lot, hoping someone else will take it and run.  A group of teenagers do just that.  It's all a good plan - pick an oddball vehicle that the average policeman wouldn't think to suspect, guarantee that your car will do its own travelling - but the problem is this is a trick that Andrews taught her, and the moment the teens are caught joyriding in Terry's car, he knows exactly what's going on.  One police report of a stolen hearse later, and he's on to her.  He also decides to make a phone call to General Crewes as we fade to black on the episode.

While there's still a little bit of fat here that could stand to be trimmed, particularly in the beginning, this episode definitely feels much tighter and helps the story move forward much better.  Terry continues to be an interesting and likable character with a bit of quirkiness to her, but without anything as oddball as those marionettes last episode.  Harlan and Gina continue to have great chemistry, and the makeup is still doing a good job of showing us that he's continually getting younger.

I still don't really care for Andrews, but adding in Fredericks to play off of him helps tremendously.  I particularly like the part where Andrews barks some orders at him before hanging up, and Fredericks shouts in frustration "I'm not your secretary!" as he slams the phone down.  The biggest turn off for the episode for me though was one scene where, apropos of nothing, Andrews is lying in bed with a random woman, and the scene starts off zooming in tight on her bare leg slowly moving up and down before finally moving up her body until you see the two of them.  It's lecherous and creepy and does absolutely nothing for the story.

Noel:

I agree with Angie. There's still some pacing issues, some scenes that drag or are played too leisurely to fully connect, but the story is definitely moving along. Terry makes a bold choice, uprooting us from the small town locale to the broader setting of the road (and the promise of Chicago), while also fleshing out the small town a bit more with the introduction of the Sheriff and the (yeah, totally a King stock) crime scene photographer. I also like how Harlan and Gina are played, with her usual concern and indecision now being contrasted by her being the one to trust Terry and choose their destination while he's the one gritting his jaw with worry. Very curious to see who's playing their daughter, Francine, as she already sounds like she'll be fun.

Terry herself is evolving very nicely as a character, making her far richer and more compelling than she initially appeared. Early on, she was much colder and I didn't quite know where she was going to stand on things. She was sharp, biting, smart, all business, and her arguments over the handling of Harlan seemed to be more in the realm of a pissing contest between her branch and the Shop. We're seeing the human beneath that now. She's still brash and abrasive, but she's seen the hell Andrews can unleash and doesn't want to be party to it again, especially in a small town where she's come to know people. The scene between her and the Sheriff is a nice touch, showing the strong bonds she can forge while still remaining aloof.

I do like R.D. Call as Andrews, because he has this great casual evil about him, but I don't always like how they're handling his character. As Angie said, the bit where he imagines Terry on the shooting range, complete with a voiceover monologue which is usually tough to pull off, is chilling, but the flashback to their time together feels forced, fills in blanks we didn't need filled, and the abstract, expressionistic slanting of the set does not work at all. I also don't get why he killed the photographer. What purpose does that serve, and how does it not call even more attention to a coverup crime scene they supposedly want to sweep under the rug? It gets better in the second half as the interstate cat-and-mouse games build, and I love the laugh of stealing a hearse with a stiff in the back being undercut by Andrews instantly recognizing the tactic as one of his own.

On a final note before we move on, just wanted to pay further respect to Dick Smith, the makeup supervisor, who as of this writing just passed away at age 92. He was an Oscar winner on films like The Godfather and The Exorcist, and was noted for his ability to believably age actors. If nothing else, this series is another testament to his abilities as Harlan's slow transformation continues to take effect.

A few extra bits:

- Yeah, the multiple calls with the General go on waaaaay too long, and what's with the bit with the janitor and security guard? That never goes anywhere.
- I wonder if "I'M NOT YOUR SECRETARY!" was an on set improv. It was wonderful and felt so spontaneous. I'm so glad Ted Guinee went on to a successful character career because he's so much fun to watch here.
- We did not need this scene of Dr. Toddhunter. No no no no.
- Some parts of the music are starting to grow on me. They're drifting away from Twin Peaks, a bit more towards King's love of rock guitars.

Episode 4 "Not On My Watch"

With 40 miles left to go before reaching Francine in Chicago, Terry pulls them over to an abandoned farm for the night, where Harlan has the idea of further making their vehicle more conspicuously inconspicuous by spray painting it bright red. While there, they further stew about their situation, with Gina upset over the growing gap between her and Harlan's ages and his potential fate, Terry being pushed to get some sleep by a Harlan now fit enough to watch over himself, the stiff in the coffin being promised he'll be reunited with his loved ones (love this scene, with Gina being the one who took a peek as it still gives Harlan the willies), and Harlan bouncing all the potential fates around in his head. Whether he dies by the hands of the shop, old age, or reverse aging back to the point where his life even began, he figures he'll soon see the end of his journey one way or another, and he's now just fighting to make sure it goes on his terms and leaves Gina safe. Again, Gina and Harlan are wonderful together, the absolute heart of the show, and Terry is more than holding her own alongside them. Especially as she refuses to lie to them about their chances.

I'm sure Angie will also catch the amusing namedrop, where Terry says Andrews is even more of a skilled assassin than John Rainbird was. While I do like Andrews, I don't know that I'd go that far. Unless we're just talking about the filmed versions of Rainbird. :)
Back at the facility, everyone's freaking out. Dr. Ackerman has seen enough colleagues die that he's flipping out with paranoia. John Rothman overplays it a bit, but not unbelievably so, and I love the moment of him seeing headlights and trying to unlock his convertible door before just hopping over it, but can't start it because the keys are still in the door. The car, of course, explodes. And then General Crewes is back, and majorly pissed at how far Andrews' operation has gone, only to run into bureaucratic red tape which now has him subservient to Andrews and barred from leaving the base. And the local Sheriff is equally flustered as the command center for their operation is being uprooted and put behind base gates with the police completely cut off. And Fredericks still isn't getting any sleep.

And then we get more Dr. Toddhunter being Toddhunter, and wow, they just keep pushing it. He's fine in the first couple of scenes, playing his crazy more subdued as he studies the only surviving mouse from that fateful day, but then he gets all creepy, shielding the mouse from others as he strokes against the glass, packs up several of its girlfriends with it to smuggle to his home, and then... oh Angie is going to love this scene... he goes to his father's grave, digging up a lunchbox full of broken watches as he goes on and on about his obsession with the limits of the time we each get... then curls up for a nap against his dad's gravestone as he tells his father how much he loves him. Why did we need to go here! Ugh!
Anyway, his attempts at smuggling the mice out goes awry when they get loose from his van and two of the three run into the electrified fence. Where Billy has, of course, scooped them up for a taxidermy project, which Andrews is quick to learn about as he escorts the young man to his locker. His fate is left unrevealed so far.

Before our leads move on, Terry tries convincing Harlan and Gina that their best bet is to be picked up by local authorities for petty shoplifting, as that would put enough red tape in Andrews' way to buy them some time and get their case some public attention. Granted, they could still be killed in prison (Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby come up) so it doesn't guarantee a better fate, but it might be more of a chance. Cut to Andrews guessing this tactic and renewing his effort to get them first. Cut back to them as Gina convinces Harlan they should just push on.

Then there's a very well put together sequence of them driving along, all singing a happy church song over atmospheric music on the soundtrack, until they see a car flipped off the road with a man guarding his injured young son until help can arrive. Terry wants to push on, but Gina refuses to leave the boy, and when police arrive, the officer is quick to recognize them and pull a gun. Until Terry comes up behind him with her own gun, and he's left handcuffed to the hearse, dealing with a parroting ambulance driver. Our leads speed off down the road in a police cruiser.

Again, it's overly drawn out a bit, there's maybe one or two too many conversations at the farmhouse that night, and holy shit Dr. Toddhunter why, but I liked this episode. It's another done by Allan Coulter, and I really like the way he blocks and paces his scenes, and frames his shots, giving us nice moments like the sing-a-long in the car, Toddhunter's stroking fingers on a monitor next to his face, the POV fate of the poor mice. It's nicely done and he's definitely shining faults on the other, weaker directors we've had so far.
The chemistry between the leads remains. I love the General coming back only to have his power instantly neutered. The dueling strategies as the heroes work out how best to run, Andrews how best to pursue. And that entire climax is perfectly staged in my book, with even Gina's instinctive bungling of the situation feeling natural.

I'm not saying it's great, but these Coulter episodes (he also did the second) are the highlight of the series for me so far, showing what this show could be like in the right hands. Again, not that it entirely works (Toddhunter!) or would have magically kept going as a result (plot is wandering a bit much, Andrews is weeding through cast like a Mad TV Steven Seagal sketch), but I'm at least enjoying it more during these chapters.

 Angie:

I suppose if you can give King anything with this show, it's that he's being consistent.  Nearly every episode so far starts off really drawn out and slow, so that for the first quarter I'm sitting around wondering if any progress will truly get made at all in the episode.  Time and time again we see characters continue conversations they already had in their last scene with no new information being discussed, or even worse, a character will tell a new character something they told another character in a prior scene.  I've seen  him handle these kinds of situations fine in his very long novels, so I'm really confused as to why he chose to do this for television.  It makes me wonder if he initially thought of this show having half hour episodes and someone mandated they fill an hour time slot instead.

As far as this episode itself, once it finally started making some progress, I enjoyed it.  Watching Ackerman completely unravel when he knows he's next was fun to watch, and John Rothman really gives it his all.  It's over the top but also logical given how he's seen everyone else dropping like flies around him.  Maybe I wasn't supposed to laugh when his car exploded, but I really couldn't help it, it just the perfect sudden climax to all his blustering and freaking out.

And yes, Noel, I was sitting there going "Really?  really?!" during that scene with Toddhunter at the graveyard.  Once again,  I find myself confused here.  Is it that Bill Raymond isn't quite up to the task of playing one of King's madmen?  Or is it that this time around King has just slipped off the rails a bit?  I usually love his truly off the wall characters - think of Toomy in The Langoliers, Annie Wilkes in Misery, or Col. Kurtz in Dreamcatcher, among plenty others.  Toddhunter doesn't seem quite as capable of murder as some of them, but King's clearly trying to show us a man living in his own delusional version of reality. That scene at the graveyard certainly suggests abuse from his father playing a role as well, but Toddhunter is just no where near as interesting or fun to watch as any of those other characters.  Though I did enjoy the way he just randomly hides the mouse from Andrews' view, it was a nice bit of humor if anything else.

Also, I can't believe the whole weird set up with Billy the janitor was so he could steal the dead mice from the fence.  Surely we could get those in Andrews' possession some other way.

That said, I  hope we get to see Harlan and crew making it to Chicago by next episode.  While the moment at the accident had a nice amount of tension to it, I don't think I really want to see Gina, Harlan, and Terry continually running from cops every episode. 
 Particularly because every single time Terry comes up with a plan, Andrews figures it out immediately.  Yes, he's one step behind them therefore giving them a little bit of a lead, but Terry really needs to start playing from a different playbook than his.

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