Written by: Michael Angeli
Directed by: Tim Van Patten
Episode Number: 106
Original Broadcast Date: November 5, 1999
Guest Stars: Chip Zien (Gerald Misenbach), John DeVries (Ward Lomax), Bruce MacVittie (William Fox), Joyce Van Patten (Psychiatrist), John Bedford Lloyd (Richard), Timothy Devlin (Special Agent #1)

My God, this was a maddening episode.

I made the mistake of watching it after returning from a huge performance of "Jane Eyre," during which I spent half the time backstage being nervous either about screwing up my lines or whether or not the VCR would tape. Consequently, I was emotionally wired beyond belief by the time I made it back to watch my tape of the episode.

Well, I ended up crying and pitching throw pillows at the television set. After two weeks of deprivation, after a fairly uplifting episode like "The Insurance Man Always Rings Twice," that ending made me so angry.

How can I sum up the effect this episode had? The part of me that craves the "wish fulfillment" bits - like the "Over Easy" kiss and Lisa giving Michael a tour of the house - was screaming at a lot of parts, while the part of me that understands the need for plausibility, continuity, and conflict was quite pleased. Simply put, the head versus the heart, I guess.

Now that I'm more coherent, I'm not quite as frustrated with this episode, but it still had some problems - and as usual, I'll get them out of the way first. I'll admit I was glad the doc didn't let Michael go on the date - if he had been that lenient, I would have seriously worried. But I still believe that he was unnecessarily cruel.

This episode tried to cram too much into an hour: Lomax's nutty experiments, Lisa's blind date, Roger and Ruth, Heather pushing Lisa to ask Michael out, Misenbach trying to see Lisa again, and Michael frustrated by his new life. The scene with Roger arguing with an off-screen Ruth was pretty funny, true, but it just seemed thrown in there. The teaser was two separate and unrelated scenes, something almost unheard of in a lot of dramas... and unlike the offbeat opening of "Over Easy," it didn't work that well. I kept thinking that the writer couldn't pick which one would be the teaser, so he threw them both in there.

I will admit that as far as bad guys go, Lomax was certainly an improvement over Murphy. His delight over seeing the results of the spiked punch was amusing and sort of ran parallel to Morris' tendency to exult over the results of his work. And it was a nice change that for once, he wasn't trying to make money or hurt people, but honestly believed he was doing mankind a favor. However, he still couldn't hold a candle to the Eggman.

The writers need to make a distinction between fear and just plain common sense. That is, fear notwithstanding, why would you want to let go of a tower and fall or let yourself be pelted with golf balls? That's suicidal, not fearless.

Misenbach is back... and you know, I've got a real problem with this guy. Why couldn't he just not have been married? It seems that they're copping out slightly by making Lisa's new beau someone we're not encouraged to like. That is, he is a loser, and Michael or no Michael, if Lisa dumped him there would probably be a rationale behind it, an excuse. I think it would have been far more interesting if Lisa hooked up with someone who wasn't a bit of a sleaze, someone that we would like despite the fact that we'd also like Michael to be with his family again.

Now on to the good stuff.

If Morris had actually agreed to the date, or if Michael would have found his way to the restaurant somehow, I would have been much more disappointed. Let's face it, as things stand now, letting Michael go on that date would have been far too lenient even after "The Insurance Man Always Rings Twice." Besides, until now, Dr. Morris had no idea Lisa actually knew where the townhouse was, and that revelation probably didn't thrill him. His decision to call off the date was the most realistic decision he could have made, though the manner he insisted on was heartbreaking. How much more of this is Michael going to take until something gives way?

While the Roger and Ruth conversation did seem out of place, I also found it very funny. This episode, Gerrit Graham was a bit more subtle; most of the humor he generated came from his reactions to situations. In the wake of his bickering with Ruth over their daughter's roommate, his reaction to Richard's new girlfriend was priceless. So much for promising not to drink too much.

Finally - and I do mean finally - Heather Matarazzo had something to work with. She's been boxed in episode after episode as the "surly teenager" to the point that it's become annoying. Here, this was not the case. She retained the sarcastic streak that's been present in most of her lines, but this time around she was fairly funny and likable. Not to mention that she did have a point in encouraging Lisa to face her fears. Of course, I agreed with most of the things she said, but for different reasons. :) Her excitement coupled with Lisa's over the impending date only made the letdown even more sad.

As usual, the interaction between Dr. Morris and Michael was great. The scene with the brain teasers and "just say when" made me smile. It's apparent that these two know one another pretty well by now. Michael's observation was perfect: "You'd think it was Christmas. A woman died and a man is in a coma. All you can think about is 'Whatever the stuff is, why didn't I think of it first?'" The conflicting sides to Morris' treatment of Michael that I loved in "Over Easy" were played out again here - the relationship between creator and creation or jailer and prisoner is just getting more and more interesting. Michael's repeated entreaties to "call her" made me think of a child begging a parent for a new toy.

The ending was heartbreaking, but I still think that the last scene of "The Insurance Man Always Rings Twice" was much more poignant. Maybe it was the music, or maybe it was the fact that the ending was frustrating. Bittersweet endings I can deal with; frustrating endings I can't. The writing didn't help much either. Too much was crammed into the episode, and the clutter cut down on the impact it was aiming for. It spent too much time on aspects that didn't need half as much buildup - Lisa working up the courage to ask Michael out - and barely gave lip service to aspects that could have worked so much better - the whole fear-eliminating vaccine. We didn't need to see Misenbach with his shrink, although I totally agreed with her. We didn't need to see Roger and Ruth bickering. We would have liked to see a better climax with the bad guy.

Even speaking as someone who prefers the relationships to the action, I really think the writers tripped up here. They could have done so much more with the premise and the possible parallels. "One for the Money," while it didn't give us any Lisa and Michael interaction, was better than this.

Grade: C

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