Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"It's the shoes. It's always the shoes": Journeyman

It figures that the week I decide to give up on this show is the week it finally turns in a compelling hour that fully lives up to the promise of the series' premise. Effectively weaving Dan's work and home life, increasing tension with his brother Jack and Dan's adventures in time travel, "Keepers" was, well, a keeper. (GROAN, sorry.)

Part of the reason I've been having such a hard time getting invested in this series is that it never seemed to understand what kind of a show it wanted to be. Did it want to be a procedural? A family drama? A mythology-based sci fi/mystery? By attempting to throw all of these elements in the mix without first cementing who these characters were, the first five weeks felt at times like a book I picked up in the middle and decided to keep reading because I had nothing else to do. In this episode, all of these disparate elements came together (along with some great character development) to create a show with a real assuredness of tone, and it made all the difference.

The "past person of the week" story was definitely the best of the season so far. These plots are usually hackneyed and lazy, disconnected from the rest of the hour as if they only exist in the show's universe to have a reason to stick some time travel into each episode. Dan's quest this week to save two brothers who were essentially abandoned by their abusive father to fend for themselves was not only well paced, written and acted, but it also closely mirrored Dan and Jack's own personal situation and therefore had an emotional relevance to the present day that has been sorely lacking thus far. Tack on the fact that one of the brothers (Stephen Kowalchuk, in case the name comes up again later in the season) was a genius-level mathematician (with a slight chemical imbalance) who not only figured out Dan was a time traveler but used his experience with Dan to embark on research on the plausibility of time travel, research that brought him in contact with Elliot Langley, and you have the makings of an interesting plot indeed.

In the end, Stephen disavowed any of the research he did when he was mentally unstable, chalking up his belief in time travel to being off his meds, but his shifty nature when being asked about his research (especially when Langley's name came up) and his offhanded comment to Dan about his shoes that perfectly mirrored a comment he made to Dan in the past really makes you wonder. Is he afraid of Langley and only pretending time travel doesn't exist for fear of some sort of retribution? Does he know exactly who Dan is and what he can do? Why does Langley keep coming up at all? Even Dan's boss knows who he is, spouting two different companies Langley has worked for on cue. They wouldn't keep bringing him up if he wasn't integral to the show's mythology, and they did a great job of weaving him in this week.

As for the present day stories, they were dominated by Jack and his belief that Dan's strange behavior as of late means he's gambling again. Due to his previous relationship with Katie, Jack's a little more invested in the situation than he should be and goes completely overboard, using his detective status to check into their bank accounts and credit cards. It's pretty assy. Jack has been a tough character since the beginning, completely bullheaded and unlikable seemingly without cause. (Well, other than having his brother marry his ex-girlfriend, which must sting.) This week we got some very welcome insight into his state of mind when Dan walked into some flashbacks of his own life. First it was a nice scene from when they were teenagers, which showed that Jack looked out for Dan and much of the strife in their relationship comes from their father taking off on them. The second scene he overheard was a conversation between Katie and Jack right before Dan married her, where Katie reveals to Jack that she's pregnant with Dan's baby and is going to marry him. When she expresses (valid) concern that everything in their relationship is happening too quickly after Livia's death, Jack nicely assuages her fears and tells her Dan loves her and basically paves the road for their marriage.

These flashbacks were absolutely essential to strengthen both Dan and Katie's marital relationship and Jack and Dan's brother relationship, and both were very successful. That is definitely one interesting thing about this show -- they can use the flashback without ever having to do a cheesy flashback device, as their device is built right into the premise. By having Dan be present in the actual flashback it adds another layer of interest to the scene, and they really should be using this very effective device more often. They've set up a lot of complicated dynamics to the relationships on this show, and flashing back to how they all came to be can only help to cement the viewers' interest in them.

One thing that isn't working quite as well lately is Livia. At first it seemed like her character would serve a very interesting purpose, explaining to Dan why they were time traveling and helping him out with his journeys. Unfortunately in this episode she revealed that she doesn't know anything more about what's going on than he does, and her showing up at his every turn just kind of seems tedious if she's only there to hot wire a car now and then. Their relationship was one of the things that initially interested me about this show, but now that they've completely let it go in favor of solidifying the Dan/Katie bond, she just sort of seems out of place. Moon Bloodgood is a lovely actress, and I hope they figure out a way to make her more interesting in the future because otherwise her weekly visits will not be something I look forward to.

All in all, an engrossing episode that allays some of my fears about the series as a whole. And how about those previews for next week? Dan could affect something in the past that could erase his entire life as he knows it! And has to race to prevent everything from falling apart! Now that's what I've been waiting for, Journeyman! I'm not saying you're out of the woods yet because you could so easily slip back into banality next week, but I guess I won't give up on you after all.


page said...

I agree with you. I had given up on this show, watched this week anyway, and it was a good, interesting episode. I'll watch again next week to see if they can build on it. I hope they can.

Nea said...

I liked this weeks episode too.