You watch a fair amount of mysteries on TV, you start to recognize the patterns. This is because mysteries, while often terrific fun and even occasionally brilliant, tend to be reductive; something happened, someone did it, and that someone needs to have been present at some point in the episode before we learn the truth. Add in the fact that mysteries strive to reveal the unexpected without cheating their own rules, and there are only so many resolutions possible. Mysteries are still more than capable of surprising me (I’m not a computer), but when I say that I pegged the killers in this week’s Awake less than ten minutes in, that’s not something I’d necessarily criticize the episode for. I’ve talked about how good this show has been at using familiar, even cliched procedural tropes in the service of informing our understanding of Michael Britten’s situation. On a bad show, the resolution of the mystery is the only real point of the mystery (*cough*The Killing*cough*), in which case, if it’s not unexpected, than the viewer is going to be let down. But here, we’ve got a couple things going on with each case, and while I’d still rather be taken off guard by the ending, if I’m not, there’s plenty for me to enjoy. Hell, it can be even be kind of fun to know what’s going to happen; I can enjoy the plot for reasons beyond simple suspense, while at the same time pat myself on the back for being oh so clever. (Cleverness in this case being equal to “watching a lot of TV.”)
What’s disappointing about “Game Day,” then, isn’t that I figured things out very early on. What’s disappointing is that I figured it out by simply assuming the killer(s) would be the least likely, but still plausible, person in each case: the tormented brother, Kenneth, in Son World, and the silent wife in Wife World. And when I turned out to be right, the reveal didn’t change anything about either story. The justification for my reasoning was, so far as I can tell, the justification for why these characters were picked by the writers. At least in Son World, we get to know a little bit about the killer. Kenneth was angry at his brother for abusing and emasculating him, they had a fight, and it got out of hand. It’s not great, but it’s a character motivation. The firebombing wife, on the other hand, barely exists. She barely any lines before Michael comes to arrest her, because if she spoke more, she’d become a more obvious suspect (not because anything she said would necessarily give her away, but because the more prominent a non-lead character is a mystery like this, the more we wonder about them), and that would give away the game. Once she’s carted off to jail, she’s defined by her crime; she hisses at her husband for getting into debt, and she gives a very silly little speech about how everything would’ve been different if it hadn’t been for the outcome of a football game. She’s a non-entity.
Neither of these characters or their stories have any greater import. The best I can come up with is that both of them are, in their ways, victims of chance; if Kenneth hadn’t found that brick, and if the football game had gone her husband’s way, everything would’ve been fine. That’s a stretch, but say we accept that as an intent. There is certainly something profound in the idea of how easy it is for your life to jump off course, but it’s still a theme that’s been done so often, you either need to do it really well, or find something new to say. “Game Day” doesn’t do either. The mysteries are childishly simple (so no one thought to check if the cap by the dead guy actually fit his head? Seriously?), and they exist to fill space, no more, no less. The whole episode has a hollow feel to it, right down to Michael’s comment at the beginning about football. He says he doesn’t care about the game because “now that I can see how easily it can go either way, I wonder how we got so wrapped up in it to start with.” Well, for one thing, the potential uncertainty of sports is one of the primary reasons people love it. For another, this is a man who has invested his sanity into creating two separate realities to keep the people he loves alive. You’d think the ease with which things can go either way would be hugely important to him. Unless this is a sign that Michael’s attempt to balance different lives is turning him into a nihilist. That might work; for right now, it just seems out of character. But we’ll see. In this episode, we get him being mildly apathetic, and then learning his lesson at the end when he finds out how much of a big deal it can be when something goes differently than you’d expect. Which, again, doesn’t seem like a lesson he needed to learn.
The only part of the episode which seems at all connected to the show’s larger ambition is the reveal that Rex got his girlfriend, Emma, pregnant. In Son World, she lost the baby; in Wife World, the baby lives. This is… I’m not sure what to make of this yet, and I don’t want to form any real opinion until I get a chance to see it play out. I’m not looking forward to what happens next, though, and that’s rarely a good sign. As is, it seems both arbitrary and forced at the same time, and while it provides Michael with a way to stall the move to Oregon in Wife World, it’s kind of a stretch. For one thing, I’m not sure taking a pregnancy to term has the same statistical odds as kicking a field goal, and for another… Well, can I be honest? One of the reasons I’m trying to hold off judgment on this is because I instinctively really, really don’t like it, and whenever I instinctively really, really don’t like something, I get suspicious of my motives. This is an ambitious choice for the show, and it shifts everything in Wife World in a new direction, so it could go somewhere. I’m just not sure it’s a choice that leads in a direction we want to go. I’d probably be a lot more confident if it had come in an hour that seemed like more than window dressing. Also, babies are basically just the worst.
- John Koh, the gambler whose wife is responsible for an arson job and manslaughter in Wife World, was played by Francois Chau, who you might remember from a little show called Lost.
- Hey, remember Tara, Rex’s tennis coach and a potential dating complication for Michael? I wonder what happened to her.
- Betting $100,000 when you already owe $387,000 seems… ill-advised. I understand the inherently illogical nature of addiction, but Koh’s bookie comes off as an absolute moron.
- “I have a feeling, whichever way the game went, we’d still be working a case somewhere.” -Michael, being markedly un-profound