Lou Grant: s04 e19 – Depression

As we roll towards the end of season 4, we’re finishing on a couple of really strong stories. Both halves of the penutimate episode were glued together by our title character but were otherwise separate, but both were personal and affecting stories, well-written, full of nuance and subtle. So what if one of them was left unfinished in the show’s signature manner, this was genuinely  story whose nature would have been betrayed by a wrap-up-in-45-minutes ending.

The primary story, which provided the episode with its title, focussed upon irregular guest star Peter Hobbs, playing veteran reporter, George Driscoll, the Trib’s man on the Police beat (fourth and final appearance). It starts with Driscoll getting into a shouting match with Rossi over the timing of new information that requires Rossi to re-write his piece. Driscoll’s angry and abrasive. It looks like he’s building up to fall off the wagon again. Sure enough, next we hear of him, he’s in the hospital. But he’s behind a Do Not Disturb sign when Lou calls. No, he’s not drying out again. George Driscoll had attempted to commit suicide.

For all the man’s flaws, Lou has vast sympathy for him, as a veteran, as a fellow old reporter, as someone whose thoughts and writing he understands. Puzzled, upset, Lou starts to investigate why Driscoll might have done this.

I don’t want to recite the details. They’re carefully thought-through, they add up to the life of a bright, talented, ambitious man who didn’t get to where he ought to go, who never progressed beyond a certain point, through small flaws, psychological issues imposed by an ‘old school’ father who crippled his son by his refusal to care about him. Reverses hit harder, the future he was fit for didn’t come about. The family life that was damaged, the wife who, it is all but stated, is carrying on an affair, the bright, clever, purposeful daughter estranged. The stuff of ordinary lives that eventually becomes unbearable when you feel that you are living behind glass walls that bar you from others, this I know.

It was a story that had no ending, no promise of a bright future. The closest it came to that was a reconciliation with the daughter, Amanda, in a scene that demonstrated just how bloody good Hobbs was, lay on his side in a hospital bed, shielding himself with shame and embarrassment, to be such in front of a daughter you want never to see you like this. Hobbs said nothing, until the end, when he gave in, but in body and face he was amazing.

So it ended the only way it could, in a beginning. Could amanda’s rediscovered love for her father help rebuild him? Could a final separation from mother Elizabeth be part of the answer, an answer? Not for us to know. But we wished the poor bugger well.

Inevitably, that story overshadowed its parallel, though that too was well-presented and given near equal time. Mrs Pybchon, growing envious of friends who have time to travel abroad, decides to create a new post, that of Executive Editor, someone to create the Trib’s future, help it grow, extend itself and set its own direction. naturally, she turns to her right-hand-man, Charlie Hume… to find a candidate.

This looks like being a guy called Hank Dougherty (James Sloyan), young, bright, forward looking, impressive. But what of Charlie himself? Good old easy-going Charlie, he who smooths out all paths. Charlie is bitterly hurt at not even being thought of, and whilst he puts his energies into securing Mrs Pynchon’s wishes, encouraging and approving of Dougherty, underneath he’s the proverbial smouldering volcano.

Lou sees this. Well, everyone sees this, or at least feels the effects of Charlie’s growing temper, but only Lou knows where it’s coming from, no matter how much Charie denies anything’s wrong.

This one at least could have a more-or-less ending. Lou sits in on the final meeting with Dougherty, studies his designs. All is well, everyone approves, it looks like a done deal, but Lou provokes Charie into an outburst, abut how resentful he is at being passed over, about Dougherty’s ideas being good but the same as one’s he’s proposed before, about change has to be managed gradually, not dumped in the readers’ laps all in one go, about how he’s been doing the job for years without the title and if Mrs Pynchon doesn’t make him Executive Editor, she’ll need a new Managing Editor.

It’s splendidly splenetic, not to mention cathartic, and confusing for poor Mrs Pynchon, who probably won’t get her holidays abroad after all. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!

Good stuff for once and what promises to be a strong season finale to follow. Coming up in seven…

Deep Space Nine: s05 e12: The Begotten

Three ‘generations’

In the immediate wake of Twin Peaks‘s conclusion, and especially my Bingewatch, I was concerned about what effect this might have upon watching ‘conventional’ television programmes. It recalled something I’d long forgotten, from the late Eighties, when for a time I drifted away from my usual love of mainstream superhero comics.

That was the time of my post-Watchmen trauma. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal series had so re-wired my expectations that, literally for years, I found the mainstream comic book series thin, and unengaging. What I did own of that era – Flash, Justice League International – was almost exclusively collected as back-issues of things that hadn’t come anywhere near satisfying me when I’d first tried them, and only started to affect me when, the best part of half a decade later, I’d moved on far enough that simple enjoyment could once again interest me.

So it’s fortunate that this was a strong, if somewhat obvious in some of its beats, episode of DS9, though I had my fears in the essentially comic open, what with Odo’s bad back and hypochondria and Quark trying to sell Odo something he rejects on principle (yes, ‘The Ascent’, a few episodes back, taught the Constable nothing). Until Quark’s find tuned out to be not a sick Changeling but instead a baby Changeling.

(Actually, it was both, which was the point of things in broader terms, but we’ll get to that.)

The whole episode was about babies, since the B story was about Major Kira finally going into labour with the O’Brien baby. Though I hadn’t noticed it, since I don’t take breaks between seasons, this was five months after this story was first seeded to accommodate Nana Visitor’s pregnancy, exactly corresponding with Bajoran pregnancy. This story was mainly played for laughs, with Chief O’Brien clearly uncomfortable with traditional Bajoran labour rituals, and something of a rivalry going on between him and Kira’s boyfriend, First Minister Shakaar. I was on the Chief’s side since the whole thing was clearly a bad case of threatened masculinity on Shakaar’s side, but of course the Chief got dumped on.

This was very much the junior branch, since the main story was about Odo, about Odo the parent. Remember that, at the end of season 4, Odo was changed into a humanoid, a solid. Though it’s been referred to, here and there, in passing, mainly to remind the audience that it happened, this move has been an almost complete bust. Nothing’s been done with it, it’s made no change to Odo’s grumpy character, nobody seems to have had any idea what to do with Odo the Solid. Thisepisode becomes the vehicle for the inevitable changing back of things.

First though, Odo becomes consumed by his amorphous blob of a charge. He’s going to teach the Little Changeling how to be a Changeling, and he’s going to do it without Dr Mora and especially without Doctor Mora’s invasive procedures. Inevitably, Mora turns up, offering help that is rudely rejected, that, when Odo’s methods seem to be getting nowhere and Starfleet is turning the screw about getting what can be got from the Little Changeling, have to be used.

All this is the foreground for the clashes between Odo and Mora about their relationship. At one point, I was struck by the generational aspect. The notion of Odo as father was openly put forward, and, with great cleverness, the parallel to Mora as father to Odo, and thus grandfather to the Little Changeling, was left entirely for the audience to make.

When not fending off Odo’s resentment, Mora was slowly able to make Odo see how alike their respective situations are. He openly admits that Odo’s patient and comforting methods have made the Little Changeling more receptive when he finally starts to change shape, and he is able to show Odo that the latter’s feelings towards his charge are no different for Mora’s to his ‘son’, a recognition Odo’s hatred has denied him.

It’s a moving experience, though not to Quark’s liking. A happy Odo is, to him, a thing against nature, and has him quoting Yeats. But this is the peak from which drama demands a fall: the Little Changeling is sick, indeed dying. Kira’s baby is coming into the world, Odo’s is leaving it, but it’s final act is to merge with the Constable, and restore his Changeling structure.

Very well, a reset it is. No-one but the Special Effects Budget ever expected it to be any different, but it’s as Odo says, it’s a pity it had to come this way.

So we come to a poignant ending. Odo sees Mora off, finally accepting the ties between them, and that these are ties of love. And Kira sees Shakaar off, back to Bajor, but despite having believed all along that she never wanted babies, the Major has found herself tied to her ‘own’ child, and deeply regretting that she cannot simply hold him. This latter was at Nana Visitor’s suggestion: as written, Kira was only too glad to get rid of ‘her’ child, but after having had a baby of her own, the actress knew far more of the complex emotions ingrained in motherhood.

Ironically, both farewells were final ones. Neither Duncan Regher nor James Sloyan would return to their roles. And for Rosalind Chao there was very little left: the dramatic impracticality of a woman with two children, one a baby, and the cost implications of having to work round two child actors, effectively ended her ongoing involvement. According to Memory Alpha (which I consult after watching each episode), Keiko O’Brien will be seen in only two further episodes, one of these fleetingly.

And since we’re mentioning such things, this was the first episode in which Terry Farrell does not appear, not even for a throwaway line.

Deep Space Nine: s2 e12 – ‘The Alternate’

Fathers, eh?

I’ve now reached the midpoint of season 2. As my regular commenter, Astrozac, has said, the consensus of opinion is that DS9 only really started to get good in season 3, after it was released from the shadow of Next Generation, contemporaneously enjoying its last season. Episodes like ‘The Alternate’, however, demonstrate that the programme was already capable of excellence, and on an increasingly regular basis.

This episode is another of the ‘focus’ episodes, where one of the cast is central to events to a degree that enables us to focus upon their position and character, in ways we previously have not been able to do so. In order not to blur a very serious episode, Quark’s presence is contained entirely within the open, in a routine confrontation with Odo that is interrupted by the unwelcome arrival of Dr Mora Pol.

Mora is the Bajoran scientist who was assigned to study the newly-discovered gelatinous substance that became Odo, the shapeshifter. He is the one who has taught Odo to be what he is in his humanoid form. In short, in everything except genetics, he is Odo’s father, and as such there is an oedipal conflict between them.

Not in the sense of Odo wishing to sleep with Mrs Dr Mora, which is the common notion that springs into everyone’s mind whenever you mention old Oedipus, but in the true meaning of the complex, which is the primal urge to overthrow and destroy the father, and replace him.

Mora is the archetypal proud father, assuming complete responsibility for the creation of Odo as he is, and demonstrating his pride in what Odo has become in exactly the same way an artist expresses pride in his painting. Odo, who left the lab because he needed to break free, to become his own person, to escape being shaped by another, is resentful and suspicious, and not without reason since Mora has always assumed Odo would not be adequate at maintaining a role in the outer world and would one day return, defeated, to the lab of his own volition, placing himself once more under the control of a loving father.

This is the story, and it is one of realisation and recognition on both parts, but most especially that of Mora, who recognises the errors and assumptions of his own position and who freely renounces ‘parental jurisdiction’ over Odo, asking only for the permission, or gift, of playing a small part in Odo’s life henceforth: as a friend and an equal, not as a father.

The realisation of this psychological journey is standard Star Trek stuff. Mora is on DS9 because Bajoran  scientists have discovered DNA patterns on a planet six light years into the Gamma Quadrant that closely resemble those of Odo. With Dax and Mora’s assistant, Odo takes Mora to the planet where they discover a metamorphosing lifeform that looks like a patch of red moss. They also discover a pillar carved with mysterious hieroglyphics that they beam aboard to study.

Doing so sets of an instant earthquake and eruptions of volcanic gas that overcome everyone except Odo, because he doesn’t have a respiratory system. But the earthquake and the pillar are red herrings, false trails designed to deflect the audience along paths of speculations that the story avoids.

As is the slightly unusual behaviour of Dax, who’s confined to the medical bay at first, until she turns up unexpectedly after the lifeform seemingly escapes from containment and busts up the lab. This and a couple of other moments – a very mild flirtation back at Doctor Bashir, the strange change in position of the pillar in Dax’s lab (it was in my way so I had it moved) are designed to keep the audience on its toes about whether a second shapeshifter has been found and is impersonating Dax.

In the end, the story’s actions are driven by a less than stellar cheat. Though the lifeform itself is soon discovered to be dead, the station is affected by a shapeshifting monster, making attacks at certain intervals. Mora, still fixed upon driving Odo back to his lab, correctly identifies this monster as being Odo himself, enabling a trap to beset up, which in turn leads to Mora’s damascene conversion. To explain, or rather excuse, Odo’s uncharacteristic violence, the show cheaply resorts to his having been affected by the volcanic gas, even though they’ve already ruled out the gas affecting Odo because he doesn’t breathe.

It’s the one moment of sloppy, rushed thinking in the script, but it’s still par for the weekly drama series course as we’ve seen so often already.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t greatly spoil an episode that  hooked onto its powerful themes and played them to great effect. James Sloyan was excellent as Dr Mora, and the show was very clever in selecting an actor with a similar height and facial shape to Odo, and equipping him with the same brushed-severely-back hairstyle, bringing the father-son relationship forward in visual form.

And it was even cleverer by not having Quark point this out for the hard-of-thinking.