Written by: Glenn Gordon Caron
Directed by: Glenn Gordon Caron
Episode Number: 101
Original Broadcast Date: September 24, 1999
Guest Stars: John Goodman (Michael Wiseman), Chad Lowe (Craig Spence), Kim Chan (Eggman), Chip Zien (Gerald Misenbach)
I taped it just in case real life decided to intervene - it's a Friday night in a college dorm - and I'm glad I did. "Origins" is one of those episodes that deserves a second viewing to appreciate it, especially if you're watching it while you're not fully awake. Or if you're watching it alone. I personally liked what I saw when I watched it again Saturday morning after a good cup of coffee. But I digress: let's get to the negative commentary first and get it over with.
The "bad points," in no particular order:
The musical pieces they picked for most of this episode. I can understand why they were playing "Got 'Til It's Gone" in the beginning before Michael was nailed by the subway train, just because the chorus fit the theme - but did they have to play it again and again? It certainly didn't fit the final scene. And Morris singing "Close to You" was obnoxious on one level, but I'll get to that later.
Admittedly, for the sake of character development, the pilot was fairly slow. But that's a minor nitpick.
While the very first scene helped to set up the subplot that'll come full circle by "Over Easy" - that is, Michael getting assigned to stop the toxic-egg terrorist - from the standpoint of the average viewer, it's not for the squeamish. I didn't really have a problem with it, since I found it appropriately disturbing, but it makes me worry that some people might have changed the channel before we got to the good stuff.
Major plausibility nitpick: the whole airport scene. Oh, come on, even I know there's no way in hell the airline would have allowed eggs to be carried on an international flight! Customs won't permit food items in general, especially not perishables like eggs! And according to a friend of mine, he wouldn't have been allowed to get on the plane with a brown paper bag unless he emptied the contents completely first for inspection. It's the 1990's; airport security, especially when it comes to international travel, is not that sloppy!
And lastly, we didn't see enough of Heather Matarazzo. Just the kitchen table scene, and that's it. Frankly, the kitchen table scene gave her nothing to do. I know Caron tried to set up the insurance problems, the lawyer, and give us a look into Roger and Lisa's characters for next week, but come on! Would it kill them to give us a little more insight into Heather? Hmm? I mean, if they're going to cast someone who can act, they should give the character more than one dimension.
And now, the good points.
It took me a second viewing to really warm to the character, but Dennis Haysbert did a nice job as Dr. Theodore Morris. From that first interview in the teaser on, he stole every single scene he was in. One minute he's exulting over the project like Don King - interestingly enough, he comes off initially like he's dealing out one hell of a sales pitch - the next, he's cold and condescending. Of the four characters who really got some development in the pilot, Haysbert's is the one I found the most intriguingly bizarre. Hopefully we'll get a little more background on this guy, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon.
Caron has denied accusations that the character had been altered for an African-American to pacify the NAACP, saying that Dr. Morris hadn't been changed from his original concept at all. Seeing the pilot now, with some of the lines Haysbert was given as well as his excellent performance, I believe him. Morris is so... well, weird that you can't picture anyone else doing it, nor can we believe that the character's been tinkered with. And while I found the singing of "Close to You" fairly obnoxious on the first viewing, it also hammered home another aspect of Morris; he's like Dr. Frankenstein gloating over his new creation. So in that respect, the first hospital scene wasn't quite as obnoxious when I watched it again.
Going back to that first scene where Michael wakes up... while the "Close to You" part was a bit much, I'm going to have to defend the "checking the package" part since it was derided by some people on the newsgroups. It's not that ridiculous if you think about it - any guy who'd just had a body transplant would inevitably check to make sure everything down there was intact. As for why they apparently bothered to make him well endowed, a friend of mine laughingly put it best: "Male scientists. Go figure."
There's not much I can say about Margaret Colin at this point. She's too busy playing the grieving widow in the pilot to stand out quite yet. But she was very subtle and sweet as Lisa - without seeming like a wilting violet or something like that - and I found myself liking the character greatly. Maybe some interaction with her daughter will shake things up later on. Gerrit Graham - eh, he didn't have much to do either. He was fine as Roger, who sympathizes with his friends but is too much of a coward to do what's right.
For the twenty minutes we got to see him, John Goodman did wonderfully; he portrayed Michael as a generally happy guy (despite the promotion), extremely likable with a surprising amount of integrity for an insurance executive. When he got hit by the train, you almost wish for the character's sake the show had a different premise... which was sort of the point.
Lastly, of course, Eric Close. I have a confession to make: one of the reasons I was obsessed with the show was because I'm a 20-year-old college student who only remembers Dark Skies because he was in it. Hormones aside, he did a fine job as Michael; his initial excitement was absolutely hysterical, especially during his discharge from the hospital.
The final scene of the pilot was by far the best, which is why I literally copied most of the dialogue in the synopsis. (No, I'm not saying that because it started with the shower scene! I'm not that bad!) It was around that point when Close was most believable as Michael; sure, he was just excited before to be alive and healthy, but once reality kicked in, I started to believe that this was the same guy - mentally, anyway - who was pushed in front of the subway train at the beginning. Morris' reaction to the cellphone incident was curious; one wonders if he isn't reluctant to follow through on the threat of death, or if that was a testr and he's an arrogant SOB. Or maybe there is a human being beneath that three-piece suit.
Despite several nitpicks and a surprisingly slow pace, you know the pilot's leading up to something better in future episodes. The previews for next week certainly look promising... and I, for one, will definitely be watching.
Notes of Interest:
- The music being played in the first scene is AC/DC's "Hells Bells." The original pilot used "I Am the Walrus" instead, but the Beatles rep wouldn't let them use it because of all the blood.
- Misenbach demands to know what Lisa's supposed to live on while the insurance company investigates. Is she otherwise employed? You'd think so, since it's been over six months since his death, not to mention her comment that it's a weekday, they can't fool around. And if eating dinner "out of a box" is habitual, she must not be spending all her time at home.
- Seems that Roger usually takes the path that's safe instead of the right path... there's quite a bit of emphasis on that here, which makes me wonder if he might be persuaded to change his testimony after his encounter with Michael.
- If you look closely at Craig Spence's computer when Lisa enters his office, you'll see he's playing Solitaire. Crisis in the Midwest, my ass.
- The building where Michael is housed appears to be somewhere in downtown New York. Why they'd have set it up there is a mystery - which could be explained later.
- There's something that the pilot has overlooked thus far when it comes to the obstacles Michael has between himself and his family. Security notwithstanding, if he does manage to make contact, what's he going to tell Lisa? Would she believe him? And even if she did, could she deal with it?
- A friend pointed this one out to me: Morris calls Lisa "Mrs. Wiseman." Although Lisa might not pick up on that, it's a real slip of the tongue unless she told him she was married.
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