Life On Mars: "The Dark Side Of The Mook" 
B+

Life On Mars: "The Dark Side Of The Mook" 

So what the hell?
 
Despite being AWOL for last week (high five to Noel for covering), I did manage to watch “Take A Look At The Lawmen” before tonight, and—boy howdy, that wasn’t good at all, was it. We had the usual LOM vices, with hackneyed anachronistic nods and heavy-handed cop drama foolishness, without any of the cool stuff that “Man Who Sold The World” promised. It certainly wasn’t the worst the season has offered us so far, and the introduction of Maggie Siff was promising, but if that was the best the show was willing to do, I’d be hard pressed to find any real reason to keep watching. There are better wastes of my time. (Obsessing over the latest episode of Lost, for one.)
 
And then tonight—tonight it’s almost good again. In fact, I’d go so far as to say tonight was quite not bad. The characters were still corny, but for once that corniness had some actual depth; for once, they seemed to be living in an actual world, as opposed to a series of badly constructed stereotypes. Whereas “Lawmen” was a flash-forward from later in the season, “Dark Side Of The Mook” takes up right where “World” left off, and there’s a pleasant dose of surrealism for anyone whose stuck things out this far. I’m sure it’ll all far apart by the time next week roles around (and if it does, I may start angling to ditch this particular blog…), but it’s nice to see the show-runners capable of quality, even if they don’t always deliver it.
 
The framing device for “Mook” is that old classic, the post-event Q and A, with Sam, Gene, and Ray sitting down with an investigating officer to describe the events of the past few days. At first we’re a bit iffy on what, exactly, is being investigated, but it soon becomes clear that Ray’s no-good brother Eddie has disappeared, and there’s a suspicion that somebody at the 125 knows where he disappeared to. As mysteries go, this is more Encyclopedia than Sherlock; it’s not exactly a shock to find out that Eddie is innocent of the various murders we stumble across during the episode, nor is it unbelievably astonishing when Ray lets him go in the end. The actors make it work well enough, and it’s nice to have the main characters connect with the case in a way that actually resonates, but if you’re looking for twists, best look elsewhere.
 
In fact, why not head to the other side of the ep, in which we finally get to see what happened to Sam after he got the creepy-ass phone call in the Evil Dead cabin telling him to look in the basement. Turns out the basement (a blindingly “white room,” thank you music cue) isn’t his final destination; following the instructions of the Man Behind Ma Bell, Sam grabs a shovel and proceeds to dig up a headless corpse in the cabin’s front lawn. He then re-buries the corpse (the voice on the phone doesn’t want him to tell anyone what happened), but not before finding a phone number in the corpse’s front pocket. The phone number turns out to be Ray’s; and that’s how Sam starts to think Eddie might be involved, especially when corpse number two turns up.
 
I don’t know if it’s intentional or simple thick-headedness, but there’s something bizarrely appealing about the way LOM juxtaposes its outré elements with it’s more down-to-earth cop drama. We see Sam go in this eerie cabin in the middle of nowhere, and when he goes into the basement we’re blinded by the white sterility; yet a day or two later, cops are swarming over the place, and nobody’s made a mention of the downstairs. “Man Who Sold The World” had a certain Twin Peaks vibe by the end, and that might be something that the series is striving for in general; Peaks certainly had the mundane-to-madness ratio down cold. But whereas with Lynch, the contrast between the two ultimately served to point out there really was no contrast—that the insanities of Bob and the Black Lodge were no more unusual than Laura’s graceless descent—LOM hasn’t quite the same level of artistry. Here, when the weirdness mixes in with the bad jokes, it’s neat, but not particularly resonant. There were lots of times during “Mook” that I wanted to be more unnerved by what I was watching than I actually was; as though the show was willing to come right up to the brink of freaking you out, but wasn’t quite willing to go over the edge.
 
So Sam quickly figures out that Eddie has a connection to the two dead guys. He bails Eddie out of jail, and follows him back to his motel room; he then invites Ray down so they can have a confab about the sack of stolen loot under Eddie’s bed. Turns out Eddie, being somewhat of an idiot, joined up with the now headless other idiots to rob a dude named Donovan Stamp, the “Werewolf of Wall Street” who lives at the Monarch Hotel. The impression now is, Stamp was behind the murders as revenge for someone daring to swipe his doo-dads, and now Eddie’s only chance at not dying is to run as far and as fast as possible.
 
But you know Sam, with his edgy, modern-thinking ways; he turns the whole situation on its head and drags Eddie, Ray, and the loot to the Monarch to make nice with Stamp, so maybe he’ll call off his horseman. Stamp denies any involvement with the murders, but Sam still drags him down to the station; and this is when things get really weird, because while Gene, Ray, Sam, and Stamp are in the interrogation room, who should wander into the station house but El Diablo himself, a tall, bald due with pink skin, scars, and an emphatic way of speaking. He’s also got another head-in-a-box, as well as the blood clothes he was wearing while he committed both murders. When Gene asks him why he did it, Diablo says, “I was in a diner, eating soup. They insulted my scars.”
 
Now this is what I’m talking about with the whole juxtaposition thing. There’s something incredibly disturbing about the pink guy—there’s the butcher knife he’s got with him, for one, but just the way he carries himself. He doesn’t precisely belong in the room, if you get me. But the cops treat him like any other bad guy, so I’m not sure what to think. Is he coming back? I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more of Stamp down the road, at least; but the frustrating thing about this series is I can’t be sure it’ll deliver on the expectations it raises. Is Annie going to take a more aggressive role in helping Sam figure out his problems? What the hell is the Aries project, and what do they want with our boy? And am I going crazy, or was that Chris on the phone at the end, talking through a voice modulator?
 
Who knows. Next week looks like freaks and aliens. Oh boy.
 
Grade: B+
 
Stray Observations:
 
--Credit where it’s due; we had an actual funny future-joke this week. “D.N.A. Like the stuff babies are made of?”
 
--So, what do you all think? Is this going to get worse before it gets, um, worse?
Filed Under: TV, Life On Mars

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