Here’s what’s up in the world of TV for Thursday, October 16. All times are Eastern.
Reign (The CW, 9 p.m.): Ellen Saunders reached up and adjusted her wig. After the president was killed—or not killed—actually, what the hell happened in that finale?—she’d gone undercover and changed her name, from Sanders to Saunders. Maybe her name had been Saunders all the time, she couldn’t remember. But IMDb lies; the CBS press site doesn’t always load; and occasionally characters billed as one name are hastily assigned another. At any rate, now she was Ellen Saunders, as God intended her to be. And this, here, was her synthetic hairpiece.
That was the first mystery, when it all began to unravel; her bangs. She’d wake up in the middle of the night pressing her hands to her face, trying to locate where the bangs ended and she began. Then her husband, Jimmy Cooper, would awaken from her thrashing and turn on the lamp, and in the dim gloaming she’d realize that he was wearing the blonde wig with its razor-sharp sheaf of bangs, and its power was making him slur his words.
“Ellen,” he began, fumbling. “Remember the time you kissed the guy that shot me?”
“Shut up, Jimmy,” she said, turning on her side. “Don’t forget to DVR Reign. Genevieve Valentine’s covering it tonight and I can’t miss that shit.”
How To Get Away With Murder (ABC, 10 p.m.): The next day when she woke up, the bangs were back on her head, where they belonged, and it was easy, deliciously easy, to believe that the incident of the night before, where her hair was no longer on her head, was just a fever-dream. She picked up and went to work as a top-ranking anaesthesiologist at a D.C.-area hospital, or was she an oncologist? She couldn’t remember anymore, and anyway, it didn’t matter, because the hair did most of the work, anyway.
Then she was reading one of Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya’s recaps of How To Get Away With Murder on her phone, in the operating room, while her bangs were wielding a scalpel with one strand and forceps with the other. All of the other doctors in the operating room were pinned to the wall with American-flag patterned restraints, because her hair, as it turned out, was a real patriot. And Kayla was like, “Naturally, Julianna Margulies’ wig on The Good Wife is the best wig of all time, but Viola Davis’ on HTGAWM is sharp. That weave is kicking ass and taking names, as Annalise Keating’s weave should.“
And Ellen Saunders suddenly realized that her hair was not her hair at all, but a wig, instead. That was why it had wandered off her head to alight on her husband’s; that was why she couldn’t feel the bangs on her face at night. That was probably why it knew how to do surgery.
“Wait,” Ellen thought to herself. “Do I know how to do surgery?”
Her wig impatiently tapped her hand, and Ellen accepted the clamp she was being offered. Might as well help, since she was here.
Look, there’s no way that certain members of What’s On Tonight are going to be able to top what certain, other, former members of What’s On Tonight produced for their last What’s On Tonight. That kind of thing is beautiful, it is epic, and it is the ravings of an unhinged man being removed from a building by security. Some of us are, in our old age, a little more dignified. A lot less important. And more afflicted by a sinus infection that we seem to have caught at a Friday night screening of Gone Girl.
But there is no way you are getting out of this without listening to “Free Bird.”
Scandal (ABC, 9 p.m.) ……………………………………………………………… Joshua Alston
Gracepoint (Fox, 9 p.m.) …………………………………………………………. Gwen Ihnat
A To Z (NBC, 9:30 p.m.) ………………………………………………………….. Brandon Nowalk
Parenthood (NBC, 10 p.m.) ……………………………………….,…………… Carrie Raisler
Featuring Genevieve Valentine and Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya as The Fortune Tellers
And introducing Sonia Saraiya as “The Wig”
It began, like all CBS dramas do, innocently enough. An action-drama, they said. Limited run, on the TV, and we’ll do it all on backlots so you don’t have to worry about leaving town. We’ll schedule it around your busy shooting schedule, Mr. McDermott. We just want to make you happy. Dylan McDermott paced around his cell, watching the clock. It was nearly noon, and that meant his daily visitor was about to stop by.
Right on time he heard a noise at the door, and then in stepped in—well, himself, basically, although it wasn’t actually him. Only a very careful observer would be able to tell the difference—spot the subtle nuances of stubble, the slight difference in cheek-to-jowl ratio, the millimeters between his height and Dylan’s own. The difference was that he, Dylan McDermott, was being kept in a prison cell somewhere on the CBS backlot—and Duncan Carlisle, unhinged ex-FBI failed assassin, was running loose in the wild.
“DYLAN. HOW ARE YOU.”
“I’m fine, Duncan, for a prisoner. Have you come to gloat?”
“WHAT IS GLOAT?”
“Uh, gloat, you know, like brag.”
Duncan’s face—that visage so like his own, but different—made some attempt to wrinkle into an emotion, but the endeavor failed partway through. “NO. I CAME TO TELL YOU THAT WE HAVE A SITUATION.”
“What kind of situation? Is Maggie Q. kicking your ass at work again?”
“DYLAN. SOUR GRAPES ARE NOT BECOMING IN A MAN YOUR AGE.”
“When I said, ‘I’d rather be kept in a small dark room for a year than participate in Stalker,’ I didn’t mean—”
“ELLEN HAS LEARNED THE TRUTH ABOUT HER HAIR.”
“Ellen. You mean Toni? Because—”
“NO. I MEAN ELLEN.”
Dylan McDermott narrowed his eyes and leaned forward in his prison chair, which he sat in at some point, he didn’t remember when. ”Are you trying to tell me that somewhere, Toni Collette is in a prison cell, too?”
“NO. THERE NEVER WAS A TONI COLLETTE. SHE WAS ELLEN THE WHOLE TIME.”
“Is there anyone in this network who thought Hostages was just a dumb action show?”
Duncan Carlisle observed him gravely. “DYLAN, THERE ARE FORCES AT WORK HERE YOU COULD NOT POSSIBLY UNDERSTAND.”
“Like, what, the American government?”
Dylan took a deep breath. ”You mean—”
“CBS,” they both said together.
Battlestar Galactica (2 p.m.): The wig wanted to go to L.A. Ellen knew this because the wig had reached down to the steering wheel when Ellen was driving to work and rerouted her to Dulles, where it had then stuck a credit card into the self-service kiosk and produced two tickets to LAX. Ellen was not too concerned about going to Los Angeles, where, she’d heard, a bunch of her former kidnappers had gone to retire. But did the wig really need a whole seat of its own?
The whole way there the wig insisted on watching Battlestar Galactica. Ellen tolerated the first season, but she wasn’t so sure about the two-part finale, which made minimal use of a certain blonde character named Ellen that was her particular favorite. The wig seemed pretty into it, though. At least Ellen and her wig agreed that “Kobol” looks better spelled “Cobol.”
“So what are we doing now?” Dylan asked Duncan.
“[STUBBLY GRUNT.] IS THERE ANYTHING ON TV?”
“ELLEN’S BEEN PRETTY COMPLIANT WITH HER WIG. BUT SHE’S COMING HERE.”
“What? She is? How do you know?”
“WOULD IT SURPRISE YOU TO LEARN THAT MAJOR TELEVISION NETWORKS KEEP TRACK OF EVERY AMERICAN WITH A TAG OF THEIR DNA OBTAINED FROM SMALLPOX VACCINES?”
“…Isn’t that a plot from The X-Files?”
“YOU THINK THE X-FILES IS ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT? THINK ABOUT IT, DYLAN! THE SHOW IS A PRODUCT OF A TELEVISION STUDIO. WHO WOULD STAND MOST TO GAIN BY PINNING THE BLAME ON THE GOVERNMENT?”
“Duncan, I’m going to be honest with you, I really don’t care, at all. Maybe we could watch this new show with Nasim Pedrad.”
“…YOU KNOW, FOR A HOSTAGE, YOU’RE NO FUN AT ALL.” Duncan Carlisle stared into space and thought about hostages of yore.
“Mulder, this story is completely nuts.”
“Shh, Scully, I’m working.”
“You’re just lifting details from cases we’ve worked on! And really, a sentient wig? That doesn’t even make sense. This is the realm of science fiction.”
“Scully, is it really so hard to believe that a woman who—up until the day that she was seen in ash-blonde bangs—was a totally normal doctor, wife, and mother—and then the day she gets that hairdo, she’s suddenly a president-assassinating willing hostage who falls in love with her captor?”
“…Mulder, I think it’s more likely that Hostages is just a bad television show.”
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC, 8 p.m.): I wonder if my wig has a nervous system. It’s dead matter, right? So how does it work? Maybe there’s some kind of electric impulse going through the strands? … Remember when I had a best friend that Duncan had killed, and then I kissed him anyway?
The This Old House Hour (PBS, 8 p.m.): Did I leave Jimmy Cooper at the house? Do my kids still live there? Did my daughter ever have her baby? Do I still have a dog? And for the love of god, is that flight attendant going to come around with the trash bag?
The Vampire Diaries (The CW, 8 p.m.): Dear diary, I have a wig that talks to me. I love Wig very much. Wig. Kind of a weird word the more you write it. Wig wig wig wig wig wig wig wig wig. Anyway, what was I saying?
Bad Judge (NBC, 9 p.m.): It’s actually great that my wig is such a great judge of character, because I am definitely not. I mean, Jimmy Cooper was cheating on me, and meanwhile, the guy I fell for, he was just cheating on his wife with leukemia!
Duncan Carlisle is dozing off in front of a rerun of Saturday Night Live when he suddenly remembers something vital: “Wait, did I have a daughter?”
Project Runway (Lifetime, 9 p.m.): The wig insisted on going to a salon before getting a taxi. Ellen accepted the ignominity, but only because the wig was paying. The wig got a blowout. Ellen got her eyebrows tinted. The effect is… awkward.
Why is this happening? Because I really did just want to know What Is On Tonight. Or, another note from our sponsors
We—no, I—am leaving The A.V. Club to take a job with another publication. I’ll be the TV critic for Salon. I am excited, and looking forward to this new thing. But The A.V. Club has been my everything for quite a while now, and it is very sad to say goodbye. And there is no way I’m going to be able to devote 2,000 or so words to fanfic in that job so I’m trying to get it all out of my system, RIGHT NOW.
To apologize for interrupting this program.
Dylan and Duncan, rapt by their mutual rugged looks, have been engaged in a staring contest for several hours. Dylan McDermott wonders to himself if it’s weird to want to make out with your own face.
“DO YOU EVER GET THE IMPRESSION THAT WE’RE JUST CHARACTERS IN SOMEONE ELSE’S STORY, AND THAT’S WHY REALITY ERRATICALLY FADES IN AND OUT?”
Dylan McDermott stares at Duncan Carlisle. “No. But then again, I am an actor, and not just a character in someone else’s story.”
“THE NICE THING ABOUT STEALING YOUR IDENTITY, GETTING MASSIVE PLASTIC SURGERY TO LOOK LIKE YOU, AND TAKING YOU HOSTAGE IN A SHOW ABOUT HOSTAGES IS THAT NO ONE WILL EVER BELIEVE YOU.”
“Duncan, are you hitting on me?”
“Scully, are you hitting on me?”
Thursday Night Football (CBS, 8:25 p.m.): Interrupting this tense moment is a knock at the door—a soft knock, like a feathered wing brushing over marble. But Duncan starts, and breaking his stare with Dylan, he sweeps the door of the cell open wide. Dylan has not seen outside the door of his cell in a year. But he’s transfixed, now, not by the pitiless Los Angeles sun, or the wide slabs of concrete that pave the lot, or the barista shipped in from a Culver City coffeeshop to provide espresso drinks for a group of visiting tourists. No, he’s transfixed by light bouncing off of a synthetic, straw-colored sheaf, a mid-length haircut so carefully styled it looks like armor. Ellen Saunders has just walked in, but more importantly, her hair has walked in, too.
Duncan Carlisle is a simple man, with simple wants. He isn’t always sure what those wants are, because a team of overworked writers has trouble defining them for him. But one of them is justice. The justice is what spurred him to create a plot against the president so that he could obtain bone marrow for his wife Nina that she didn’t want anyway. The justice is what convinced him to take an innocent family hostage, and implant chips in their bodies, and then yell a whole lot about premarital sex before gunning down a teenager who knocked up the daughter. His keen desire for justice had led him down a dark path that made very little sense to anyone, including himself, but he knew it was about justice, and not about something else, like ratings.
But now, watching the woman he’d tortured enter the room, another want of his became known to him—one that had compelled him to make rash, totally incomprehensible decisions in the middle of a hostage plot, one that had led him to betray his dying wife and that selfsame sense of justice so that he could place his mouth on someone else’s mouth—an overwhelming desire to worship Ellen’s hair, that beautiful helmet of ashy blonde follicles that never moved, even in a hurricane, and whose edges were razor-sharp, cutting to the quick of any human being, and also, goddammit, his heart.
“Duncan?” She stepped hesitantly into the room, almost tripping over the threshold. Not a single strand of her perfect hair fell out of place. “Why… why are there two of you?”
“Basically? We got bored.”
“Oh, well, that makes sense.”
Ellen Saunders’ sentient wig reached out a long tendril to caress Duncan’s face. Duncan was a little surprised that Ellen’s hair had the ability to move of its own free will, but took it manfully in stride. Ellen looked up at him adoringly, and after a moment said, “I missed your not-exactly-bearded face, Duncan.” Her hair seemed to be taking on light and mass, and it had never looked more beautiful.
Fleetingly, Dylan McDermott wondered what Duncan had that he didn’t.
Duncan reached out with a hand to touch Ellen’s hair, and it twined around his fingers, then his whole hand, enveloping him, pulsating with energy. More tendrils clung to his face, wrapped around his neck, held on tight. Too tight. It was suffocating him. Duncan Carlisle was being slowly killed by a sentient wig. Ellen Saunders’ eyes opened wide, but she was in the wig’s thrall, and could no more lift a finger to help then she could tell you how to perform emergency surgery. Dylan McDermott was eating potato chips, rapt. And outside the cell, no one cared at all, whatsoever.
Then with a small pop, the wig detatched from Ellen’s head—and with it, something fell off of Duncan’s head, too. Not his hair, it was too small for that. In horror he raised his hands to his cheeks and realized they were smooth—too smooth.
“MY STUBBLE!” he cried in anguish, falling to his knees, covering his face with his hands in a futile attempt to staunch tears of manful rage. “NOOOOOOOOOOO! IT WAS THE SOURCE OF MY POWER!”
Ellen Saunders looked at herself in the mirror and discovered that she was bald. She was fine with it.
The wig, now walking on its wiry locks like an octopus, had one tendril wrapped around an edge of the stubble. They made their way out the open door, apparently unconcerned by the carnage they were leaving behind.
Dylan McDermott finished his bag of potato chips. “Oh, Duncan. It’s not so bad. After all, without the stubble, you look more like yourself. Which—who are you, anyway?”
Duncan Carlisle, a fictional character, slowly dropped his hands. And there, in the shaven, hairless light of day, his visage revealed—
Stalker: Dylan McDermott said, “Wait, who the fuck is Kevin Williamson?”
Kevin Williamson looked a little affronted. “I CREATED AND CAST YOU IN THE SHOW STALKER.”
“That was you?!” And with the McDermott clan battle cry (“Honor and approved valor!”) Dylan McDermott attacked a man who looked a great deal like Dylan McDermott, and as they struggled not to kiss, Ellen Saunders sat down on the couch and opened another bag of potato chips. I wonder, she thought to herself, grabbing the remote, if there’s anything good on TV tonight.