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March 12th, 2006


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09:42 am - Reviewing excellent television: two episodes of Numb3rs
I've enjoyed this 2nd season of Numb3rs; the producers/writers, the actors, and everyone else have been quietly proving that it wasn't a one-season wonder. I've missed some of the rich interplay between the two brothers, but there have been solid episodes, clever math-related plots, and well-placed backstory.

But you know how some people "save the best for last"? If the latest two episodes are any indication, we may be in for a really good final third of the season.



"Protest"

Written by the creators, husband/wife team Nicolas Falacci and Cheryl Heuton.

I wasn't sure how this episode was going to play out. The promos CBS aired were somewhat manipulative, implying that Alan Eppes was going to be implicated in bombings that were somehow connected to Vietnam-era peace protests. And I have a hard time buying Alan-the-just as a bomber. (Can you blame me?) Also, I get a little twitchy whenever shows set in present-day tackle the issue of war and peace protests--mostly because I live in Hollywood and I get bombarded (pun not intended, actually) by anti-war propoganda everywhere I go anyway.

I underestimated these writers. Shame on me. I have rarely seen a more balanced portrayal--between government and dissenting citizens, between anti-war (I mean, they may be right) and pro-military, between different ways of doing one's job and making one's voice heard. By balanced, I don't mean just saying "both have their merits," either: I mean "both have their merits, and both have their bad side, their extremists." That's such a realistic view that I have to applaud the show simply for pulling that off.

The one small flaw I found in this episode was not enough Charlie. :-) It was Don's episode, through and through. Charlie helped with the math, as usual, but the conflicts in the case came because Don had to deal with peace activists and their families, some of whom were completely screwed over by the FBI back when this case was originally being investigated. He also had to deal with a retired agent, one who had gone undercover with this protest group, and whose cover persona had been indirectly responsible for inspiring the original bombing. A time of questioning his profession, after a fashion; but I though Don did an excellent job, doing his own investigating, refusing to simply take as gospel everything the retired agent tried to foist on him.

And Don had to deal with Alan--who was part of this protest group, and who apparently has his own bias against the FBI after the railroading and disappearence of the bombing suspect, who was a friend of Alan's. The tension between Don and Alan is tight in this episode, but Don gets around that too, eventually, and Alan brings out information he has and helps them figure out who the real bomber may have been...and who's recreating the bombings now.

I was impressed by the short conversation at the end of the episode, where Don tries to tell Alan that even if the FBI has a spotty record, the organization is different now. They have a moment of brutal honesty--Alan: "You know what my first thought was when you joined the FBI?" Don: "Where'd I go wrong?" Alan: "Actually, yeah." And yet they manage to bring it back to the fact that they respect each other; Alan knows that Don is good at his job, and respects him for doing it; and Don says he'd respect anything his father was involved in.

You just know there's a whole other reason here why Don went off to Arizona after joining the Buearu...he knew Alan wasn't thrilled with his choice of career.

But they've gotten over it enough, even with this case dragging it all up again, to wind up teasing each other.

Don: Commie.
Alan: G-man.

When this show is on target, I really, really love it. :-)




"Mind Games"

Again, written by Nicolas Falacci, Cheryl Heuton, apparently from a story by Peter MacNicol (aka Larry).

We've got a similar sort of conflict here as we do in "Protest," a conflict of methodology. Although given the way people talk about it, this goes a little deeper, down to what people believe in: purely things that can be proved (Charlie falls firmly on this side of the fence) or also, occasionally, in things that cannot be proved/haven't yet been proved (Larry providing the most eloquent defense of this position).

I'm not a fan of psychic characters, as a rule, especially not in my crime dramas. They usually come off as arrogant or manipulative, and Kraft (this week's main guest star), played smoothly by John Glover (Lionel Luthor from Smallville), is no different. I did enjoy the way in which the episode left us without a completely solid answer as to whether Kraft honestly had any extra-sensory abilities or not. Nothing he does is anything that couldn't potentially be explained in some way (even guessing at Megan's family background could just mean he's an incredibly shrewd people-reader).

The central conflict of the episode is that of Charlie's worldview with that of everyone else around him. Charlie is the only one we see who adamantly refuses to entertain the notion that Kraft may actually have these abilities. Given that it's Charlie's math which solves the case, part of me is abosolutely on Charlie's side.

But I found it hard to disagree with Don (who simply is willing to use whatever means may afford him a lead on the case), and with Alan (who thinks that Charlie just doesn't quite 'get' the messiness that is ordinary life), and especially with Larry. Larry's problem isn't so much that Charlie isn't willing to admit the possibility of ESP (though he does express interest in the idea), but that Charlie isn't willing to open his mind to the possibility that there are things out there that have yet to be discovered, much less proved. Larry's background in superstring theory makes him a perfect advocate in this area; string theory is currently only being proved through math (which Charlie should know), and a lot of it is airy theorizing, which is then tested to the extent that it can be tested. Our technology isn't up to most of that right now--string theory is not testable by experimentation. Yet. "What kind of 'reality' are we talking about?" he asks Charlie as they stand in the cafeteria buying lunch. "Newtonian reality? Einsteinian reality? Quantum reality?"

Friends and mentor/student, Larry and Charlie still fundamentally disagree in this one area. Charlie calls Larry's belief in possibilites "blind faith"; and in the line of the night, Larry refers to Charlie's unwillingness to entertain another view of things by saying, "That's not science. That's politics."

Now I'm wondering if Charlie has any concept of the possible existence of God; and whether Larry believes in a God or not, and if he does, how he would talk about it.

Another fine episode...marred only by the relative absence of Don, as Rob Morrow prepares to direct the next episode.


All in all, I'm really looking forward to the rest of the season.

Not to mention season 1 on DVD in May!
Current Mood: calmcalm

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:mistraltoes
Date:March 14th, 2006 03:11 am (UTC)
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I agree about 'Protest' being wonderfully balanced (although I could have seen Alan being much more militant in his younger days--people can mellow a lot as they age--definitely not as out there as a bomber). They really brought out the complexity and sincerity of both sides. The one thing that irritated me about that episode was the assertion (both by the guest character and Megan, as I recall) that people who resort to violent civil disobedience are similar pathologically to serial killers and terrorists. That, in my book, is sheer idiocy. As we say in Blakes 7 fandom, one's man terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. People just disagree where the line should be drawn; it doesn't mean they're deviant if their line doesn't conform to the current zeitgeist's.

Though I did enjoy it, I felt that 'Mind Games' didn't pull off the balancing trick as successfully. In fact, I'm not entirely certain that they were trying to be balanced. I did notice (and admire) the fact that they were careful to not let John Glover's character do anything that couldn't be explained away; OTOH, having Charlie being a rationalist to the point of irrationality while simultaneously putting everybody else effectively in the other camp left me wondering exactly what effect the writers were aiming for. It would have been better to have a couple of the FBI characters be skeptics as well. And Larry's attitude was wonderfully Larry-like, but his expression of it wasn't as sharp and insightful as usual. Also, I found Charlie's condescension in the elevator scene so incredibly rude that I just wanted to slap him, which didn't enhance my impression of any 'balance'. ::shrug:: Which isn't to say I didn't like the episode, but I didn't think it was nearly as well-written as it might have been.

Still, they're not going to lose me as a viewer as long as they give me halfway decent Larry. :)
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:March 14th, 2006 05:18 am (UTC)
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(although I could have seen Alan being much more militant in his younger days--people can mellow a lot as they age--definitely not as out there as a bomber).

That's absolutely true. :-) He's still a fairly firey guy when the occasion demands it.

The one thing that irritated me about that episode was the assertion (both by the guest character and Megan, as I recall) that people who resort to violent civil disobedience are similar pathologically to serial killers and terrorists.

Mmmm. They did say that, didn't they. I think I took it along the same lines as the comment someone made about such pathologies seeking out extreme groups where they can indulge those behaviors.

Now I'm gonna have to watch it again, to catch that line. Because I agree with you--there is such a thing as simply being pushed past one's usual limits, one's usual lines...or at least past society's current lines.

Though I did enjoy it, I felt that 'Mind Games' didn't pull off the balancing trick as successfully. In fact, I'm not entirely certain that they were trying to be balanced.

I agree that it wasn't as balanced as "Protest"...I'm not sure what you mean by wondering whether they were trying to balanced, though.

OTOH, having Charlie being a rationalist to the point of irrationality while simultaneously putting everybody else effectively in the other camp left me wondering exactly what effect the writers were aiming for. It would have been better to have a couple of the FBI characters be skeptics as well.

I've seen some other fans raising that point--that it was kind of unbelievable for all the Fibbies to go along with Kraft. (Though Don is such a pragmatist at times that I didn't wonder that he went for it.)

And Larry's attitude was wonderfully Larry-like, but his expression of it wasn't as sharp and insightful as usual.

Interesting. Could you explain that a bit more?

I thought he was the most articulate and insightful person in the episode, actually. I could be a little biased; I've been reading Brian Greene's book on superstring theory, The Elegant Universe, and all the stuff Larry was saying reflected the way he probably has to think just to be able to do his work. String theorist must, like Mulder, "want to believe," or they wouldn't be doing that kind of work.

One reason I really enjoyed this particular eppy was the Charlie & Larry interaction. For months my conjecture has been that Larry is open to things, to the point where I'd write him as a believer in God; and that Charlie really does think that EVERYTHING is numbers. Period. Then we get this episode, and boy, does canon ever back me up. Heh.

Also, I found Charlie's condescension in the elevator scene so incredibly rude that I just wanted to slap him, which didn't enhance my impression of any 'balance'. ::shrug::

LOL. I know what you mean, though I still think that was one of the best scenes in the episode. Charlie and Kraft are both arrogant, in their own ways (Charlie really is a genius with a bit of an ego problem), and while Charlie was kind of being a brat, so was Kraft, bringing up Mom like that.

Which isn't to say I didn't like the episode, but I didn't think it was nearly as well-written as it might have been.

Maybe. Still, a good pair of episodes.

Still, they're not going to lose me as a viewer as long as they give me halfway decent Larry. :)

A-men to that! :-D

Oh...you know how you said that if I tried, I'd probably find it not that hard to write Alan? Well, I did try. You were right; he's not as hard to write as I'd feared. And I really enjoy being inside his head. I'm not promising Alan fic in the future...but there might be some.

Larry fic...again, no promises. :-)

[User Picture]
From:mistraltoes
Date:March 16th, 2006 02:47 pm (UTC)
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Just wanted to let you know that I'm planning to re-watch these tomorrow and will reply after I've collected the appropriate data. ;-)
[User Picture]
From:izhilzha
Date:March 16th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)
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*snerk* Wonderful, I'll look forward to it.

BTW, I always feel like such a slack fan for not rewatching episodes the way I know so many do...I have them on tape, but I rarely just sit down and go, "okay, time for some ____" and rewatch a few. *shrug*

I really should rewatch "Protest," though. I did rewatch the final scene...it felt a lot longer than it really is.

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