Wow, really slow week this week, although this is certainly what I expected. Everyone is off for the holidays and it’s really not fair to do a best or worst of the week this week, based on the tiny number of shows that aired. However, because there was so little on, I had to watch something and this week, I finished the Japanese drama called Ataru, an 11-episode series I had been wanting to see.
Burn Notice #6×17-6×18 – “You Can Run/Game Change” – In this 2-part season finale, we finally conclude the Olivia Riley storyline and, unlike seasons past, don’t leave a ton of plot threads hanging for next season. I don’t know that I can say it’s particularly satisfying though, as much as I wanted it to be. As much as I like this series, I’ve been a big fan since it started and am a real fan of Jeffrey Donovan, but I think that once the whole “burn notice” thing went away, the show has floundered a little. I’ve mentioned before that the name of the show and the opening credits really don’t apply to what’s going on and that’s a problem. Michael was a full-blown agent again, the people who had burned him were gone and, as much as it pains me to say, they probably should have wrapped the series right there. No more burn notice = no more reason for a show. But in Hollywoodland, things don’t wrap up because it makes sense, they keep them around until nobody watches them and Donovan does a fantastic job as Michael Westen, burn notice or no. I just think the show has started to run out of logical steam and this season suffers because of it. Olivia Riley just wasn’t a good villain this season, there wasn’t any reason to hate her, she was just doing her job, and by the time we found out she was a lunatic, it didn’t matter, the season was over. By the end, you went from the hyper-competent CIA agent who foresaw most things Michael tried to a pretty easily defeated agent in a matter of minutes. In retrospect, most of the season was pretty pointless because she ended up convinced that she could never capture the Westen clan with official resources, but could throw in with the drug cartels, who have less resources, and gain a victory, especially when the cartels show up in the end without any foreshadowing. Suddenly, there they are! The first episode was best IMO, it introduced some interesting elements. Jesse is captured, albeit stupidly, and tortured by Riley’s crew. Sam is shot, again stupidly, and almost dies a couple of times. My problem with the Jesse sub-plot, frankly, is that I don’t think his mother’s murder has ever been mentioned before, it was totally out of the blue. Further, when Jesse was an agent in good standing, he could have done the same thing that Riley did to get the file, he made 37 attempts, there’s no indication that the sheriff had any reason to withhold the file, so why didn’t he do that? Makes no sense. Sam’s shooting was a bit silly, he kept trying to be stoic but as a seasoned agent, he ought to have known that the gunshot was serious. Why did it take Fiona so long to remember she knew of a disbarred doctor just 20 minutes away? That should have been the first course of action, not an “oh yeah” moment. Dumb. It just went downhill in the second hour, when, conveniently, the only guy who could get Michael out of this mess, along with all of the evidence of Riley’s guilt, gets blown up because Bly can’t undo his seatbelt. I really hate convenient events, it makes no sense that the one particular solution just vanishes in a puff of illogic in order to keep the story going. So, Michael jumps on the drug kingpin’s boat and takes it, and Riley, out to see. He conveniently called the Coast Guard, not sure how because his cell phone would have been waterlogged, but let’s believe he did. As they’re racing out to sea, pursued by Coast Guard gunships firing across their bow, suddenly Riley goes from the unstoppable force for justice to a kitten. Getting caught means the end of her career and probably the rest of her life in a deep hole, she just takes it without a fight. Then you get the end where Michael cuts a deal to get his family released but we never find out what that deal is. Is he going to be dropped into a dungeon forever? Is he being forgiven and put back into the field? What’s this deal? I guess we have to wait until summer to find out. It really felt like, at the end, they needed some way to resolve all of the dangly bits but they really had no idea how to do it. It should have been better, they should have had a season resolution thought up from the beginning. It just doesn’t feel like they did.
Dr. Who Christmas Special – “The Snowmen” – To be honest, this is an important Christmas special because it is the first introduction of the new companion. Well, not really, since we saw her in the first episode of the previous series, in the episode called “Asylum of the Daleks“. I didn’t especially care for it, to be honest, but the character could be interesting. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t wowed by this special. It came off as a rather silly story with stupid monsters (psychic snow?) and was just a vehicle to get the Doctor and Clara together. Besides, as long-time fans of Who know, the whole Snowman thing, and especially the Great Intelligence card, is a dead giveaway, they appeared in the episodes The Abominable Snowman and The Web Of Fear back in the Patrick Troughton days, essentially doing the same thing, trying to find a physical form. Yes, it’s been a long time since then, but the story is very much just marching out an old plot. The Doctor is being his angsty, obnoxious self after the death of the Ponds, something I called within moments of the beginning of the episode. Grow the hell up already. How many companions have you lost over the centuries? Stop acting like a baby! We also see a return of Madame Vastra the Silurian and Strax the Sontaran. Vastra and her wife Jenny are playing detective in 19th century England, supposedly the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Strax is playing servant to the Doctor, suffering from mental problems after his resurrection from the dead and acting as comedy relief. The three of them need a series of their own, they are wonderful together. We got Torchwood, we got the Sarah Jane Adventures, we got that hideous K9 series, please can we have those three characters on their own? Please! The Snowmen, although they had their moments, were really sort of silly and the resolution was utterly disappointing. They were never a threat, it was just psychic snow that formed to the thoughts and fears of the people around them. It was just people being bad, when the people learned to stop being bad, the snow just went back to being snow. Big deal! The real point, though, was getting the Doctor and his new companion together and I will say, I am relatively uneasy about it. I’ve gone on record hating the whole Rose nonsense, I absolutely, positively detest any idea that the Doctor ought to be romantically involved with any human. The Doctor isn’t human. He might look like one but he isn’t. Therefore, any emotional attachment and certainly any physical relationship is like you screwing your dog. It’s disgusting. However, this time it isn’t really the Doctor chasing a companion, it’s a woman chasing the Doctor, quite openly in fact, and him responding positively to it. You’d think that after the heartbreak of leaving Rose in an alternate dimension forever, he’d be adamant against ever having a romantic relationship again, but seemingly that’s not the case. She gives him a big kiss and he’s acting like a lovesick puppydog. The scene where he shows her the new and improved Tardis was great, but he was begging her to move in, stuffing a Tardis key into her hand, it was just absurd. I think that the saving grace, where the Doctor realizes that Clara isn’t just an ancestor to the Oswin character in Asylum of the Daleks, but that somehow, she’s the same person, many thousands of years earlier, who managed to die in both episodes yet still lives, could be very interesting. It would be fantastic if Clara turned out to be a Timelord, I’d immediately change my tune about the romantic overtones, but that’s the only way I would. It was a good episode, better than last year’s “The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe“, but I wanted more. I guess time will see next year if I’ll love or hate the upcoming series of Dr. Who.
Fringe #5×10 – “Anomaly XB-6783746” – And the boredom continues. This time, frustrated with their inability to figure out what to do with Michael, the little Observer, they reach out to Nina Sharp who has been sympathetic to the resistance. Massive Dynamics has been funding black labs aimed at figuring out the Observers, to the point of dissecting them. They take Michael to a lab, but Michael doesn’t respond to the mind-link they put on his head. They need another device and reach out to another Massive Dynamics scientist, leaving Nina alone with the boy. However, Windmark is on to them and just a step behind. While they are at another warehouse getting another device, Windmark and his team show up to interrogate the scientist who helped them. They discover where Nina is and teleport away, leaving Peter, Olivia and Walter to chase after them. Nina hides the boy and resists the Observer mind-probes as best she can before finally taking her own life. Upon their return, they mourn over Nina and discover the boy’s hiding place, but still can’t make contact even with two link devices. Finally, the boy walks over to Walter, gives him the Observer Mind Meld and transfers all of the information directly. When Walter opens his eyes, he reveals that he finally knows who Donald is, he’s actually September. Okay, I was wrong about Peter becoming September, although that would have been a better plot point IMO. Walter breaks down when he sees Nina’s body. I know they were good friends, but clearly he was more worried about whatever torture he thought the Observers were performing on the boy and considering Walter’s mental state lately, I can’t be sure he even cared that Nina was dead. Clearly the boy did, but everyone else was really only worried about the plan. Three more episodes. Just three. Thank goodness.
Ataru 1-11 – There aren’t that many really good J-dramas out there unfortunately, I only get to see a small handful per year. Out of each Japanese season, I might pull one series that looks decent and of those, quality varies. This one struck me because it jumped beyond the typical detective show and usually, it’s the shows that are a bit more oddball that turn out to be really clever. Ebina Maiko is a pretty young detective, in fact, she’s been the media face of the police for a while, there are posters of her all over the place, she appears on TV and is pretty well known. However, she’s not really happy with police work, especially with cases that are termed “trash heaps”. Those are cases where the police decide not to seriously investigate because they seem like suicides or accidents. Ebina takes an extended vacation to consider her continued work with the force, but while researching a case off-duty, she discovers a young man in the rubble of a fire. She initially thinks he’s dead but he turns out to have been only sleeping. There’s clearly something wrong with him, but he gives her a few clues for the case, he can put together details that she cannot, he’s a savant who tells her his name is Mr. Bugger. Unfortunately, no one knows where he lives so she takes him back to the apartment complex she lives in and co-owns and puts him up in an empty room. Over time and over cases, she learns how to deal with his eccentricities but is shocked to eventually learn that his name is actually Ataru and is part of an FBI program to harness the power of savants for criminal investigations. However, he’s stopped responding to his FBI handlers and has now imprinted on Ebina. They decide to allow them to keep working together, but she realizes she needs him to do her job and the load starts causing stress to Ataru, eventually driving him into a short-lived coma.
The acting is very good, I’m especially impressed with Nakai Masahiro who plays Ataru, it must have been difficult to stay consistently in character as a savant. Kuriyama Chiaki, as Ebina, was excellent as well, I thought I recognized her early on and when I looked at her body of work, she was in the original Ju-On and made her U.S. film debut in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 as the crazy schoolgirl killer Gogo. There are a lot of characters in Ataru who tend to wander in and out of episodes, most of them get only a very vague background, things happen to them but usually out of context. The chief medical examiner just pops up one day explaining that his wife is having child 6 and 7, but without any mention of children before that. Actually, it turns out to be 6, 7 and 8, but it doesn’t really matter. At one point in the series, there was some suggestion that Ebina’s partner, Shunichi Sawa, might end up in some kind of romantic relationship with her but that was dropped along the way. Too bad, I love the actor, Kitamura Kazuki, who has been in dramas like Galileo and Akihabara@Deep.
I do recommend the series, it was a fun watch, although I was a bit less than enthusiastic about the final case, where Ataru solves the 15-year old death of Ebina’s mother, that everyone thought was a suicide and which sent the entire family on their respective career paths. It was just too close to the case that came before and it was just too convenient in the end, it was almost a letdown that after building the entire series to that point, it was a pretty flat finale. I don’t know that I’d say there’s enough there to warrant a second series with the same characters, I feel like we told the story that needed telling, they certainly did it well, but there isn’t anywhere to go. Great show but it’s over, let it be over.