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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

666 Park Avenue: “Hero Complex”

Illustration for article titled 666 Park Avenue: “Hero Complex”
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Does anyone involved on this show realize that it’s kind of ridiculous? I don’t mean that it can’t be sincere, or that it needs to embrace camp. That’s the way to agonizing death for a series’ credibility—nothing’s worse than a supposedly scary or riveting story suddenly deciding to play all clever and be in on the joke. But at least a more fundamental grasp of the genre would be a relief. “Hero Complex” features an imaginary-real assassin, a suitcase full of smoke, psychic visions, and a man hypnotized by a bell, and yet it still thinks it’s somber and affecting enough to spend the last three minutes in one of those musical montages that seem to have infected every drama (and many comedies) on television right now. There’s a mournful, haunting song, and various cuts of characters we’ve seen throughout the episode looking sad or lost or haunted. It just doesn’t work, particularly because one of those cuts includes the batshit, made up Russian murder man. What, are we supposed to contemplate his internal monologue as he’s hauled off in a police car? Or should we nod sadly at the damage he’s caused in the two episodes that he’s been a part of the show’s world?

Again: ridiculous. Or if not ridiculous, some other less pejorative word that nonetheless captures what should be 666 Park Avenue’s bread and butter. Pulpy, maybe. This is yet another largely mediocre hour with some good performances, a few effective scenes, and not much else. It all builds to a climactic confrontation at the mayor’s house, where Henry tries to stand his ground between his boss, Councilman Pike, and Gavin. It’s no surprise that Henry’s moral struggles should be important, as that was established in the pilot, but this just seems like another variation on his earlier qualms about Gavin’s land deal. The only idea we have is that Gavin is possibly shady, and Henry’s relationship with him might make Henry shady too. This episode doesn’t add anything particularly new to the conflict, apart from the fact that the A.D.A. has a number of pictures of Henry and Gavin in each other’s company. Which proves nothing, really; maybe it’s part of a strong-arm tactic that is supposed to indicate that neither side in this case is exactly morally clear, but it plays out all silly and childish, as though this was a kid’s movie version of political infighting and corruption. This premise isn’t helped when Henry decides to go all Spy Kids by sneaking into Gavin’s apartment and stealing the hilariously labeled “Greenpoint Towers.Doc” and “Henry Martin and Jane Van Been.Doc.” He mucks up the theft (of course), and then never actually looks at the files he stole, which is supposed to indicate he’s noble, but really just makes him look like a fool.

Speaking of kid’s movies, it turns out Annie, who has a reporter’s job that would be laughed off an episode of Adventure Time as being too silly (her editor is brutally murdered, she still has only had one non-obit story to her name, and yet she’s able to publish an exposé on a major political official just by hitting “send”?), didn’t die last week. While I like how that means we get a little more time on her story, forcing her to actually make a serious, morally corrupt decision to sacrifice her editor (albeit an entirely understandable one), there’s no real reason this couldn’t have been compressed to a single episode. It’s not like Annie is developed better. Gavin uses her to make Pike an embezzler and send Kandinsky after him (and maybe Henry) at the mayor’s party. Annie doesn’t understand this, because in addition to working at Fisher Price Press, she’s also a moron; thankfully, she has the Exposition Fairy as a coworker. She realizes she’s been used, rushes to the party, and gets shot in the head. It’s more of an arc than last week’s implied brutality, but at least the brutality was effectively unsettling. This is just dumb.

Amidst all of this, we spend some more time with Nona, who is the standard troubled kid: dead parents, she’s a klepto with a shrink, and she has a comatose grandma sitting in the back bedroom. Oh, and she’s getting psychic flashes. I hate psychic flashes. It’s a weak, clichéd device for writers to try and generate tension without using any of the usual ways like good writing and direction. Visions, as a rule, are just haphazard clips from scenes we’ll presumably see later on, so as soon as one hits, it brings with it a sense of resignation; oh look, here’s a scene we’re going to get eventually, it looks somewhat exciting, but now that I know it’s coming, I’m not sure I care. There are movies and shows and stories where this works, sure, but writers rarely seem to realize that using a psychic or a seer makes your story more difficult to pull off, not less, and thus we get stuff like Nona seeing a compass tattoo coming after Henry. Sure, that means Jane gets to shout out “Henry!” at an opportune moment, giving her boyfriend the chance to save Pike, knock Kandinsky (who, it must be said, for someone who was supposedly invented to be one of the most dangerous killers in the world, really sucks at killing people) out, and become, briefly, the man of the hour.

Which is very neat and all, and it’s sweet that Jane wants to bond with Nona over specialness, but this has all the narrative excitement of scuba diving. Even the out and out weirdest development in the episode—Jane’s evil suitcase opens itself and reveals a smoke monster that turns into a creepy man at the end—isn’t all that thrilling. This review marks the end of the AV Club’s current coverage of 666 Park Avenue. We’ll keep an eye on the series, and if it somehow gets better (unlikely) and also somehow manages to get significantly better (even more unlikely), we may drop back in. But for now, let’s all imagine what it would be like if Terry O’Quinn played the devil on a really good show. It’s nice, isn’t it? Yes. Yes it is.