Syfy’s ‘Caprica’ hits the film festival circuit

Caprica,” a new drama from Syfy, will make the film-festival rounds before it debuts on Jan. 22.

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The two-hour “Caprica” pilot, which was written by Ronald D. Moore and Remi Aubuchon and directed by “Friday Night Lights” veteran Jeffrey Reiner, will be screened at the San Diego Film Festival, the Woodstock Film Festival and the Austin Film Festival this fall.

Dates for the screenings are as follows:

  • San Diego Film Festival, Sept. 26
  • Woodstock Film Festival, Oct. 2 and Oct. 4
  • Austin Film Festival, Oct. 24 (there will be a screening as well
    as panel discussions from Reiner and star Esai Morales) 

“Caprica” is a prequel series that takes place five decades before the events of “Battlestar Galactica.” It follows two rival families, the Adamas and the Greystones, and no previous “Battlestar” knowledge is required to watch the new show. “This …standalone series will feature the passion, intrigue,
political backbiting, and family conflict in an omnipotent society that
is at the height of its blind power and glory…and, unknowingly, on the
brink of its fall,” according to a description from Syfy. 

My review of the “Caprica” pilot, which is already out on DVD, is here.

Moore talks a bit about the project, which also stars Paula Malcolmson, Eric Stoltz and Polly Walker as powerful members of Caprican society, in this video

Patton Oswalt, James Marsters and “FNL” alumni Scott Porter have all been cast in recurring guest roles on “Caprica,” which also has several “BSG” alumni on its writing and production staffs. (To see what various “Battlestar” alumni are up to — and some of them have written and directed “Caprica” episodes — look at this story.)

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‘Jon & Kate’ becomes ‘Kate Plus 8’

Now that the tabliods favorite couple, Jon and Kate Gosselin, has split up for good, TLC’s “Jon & Kate Plus 8” will become “Kate Plus 8” as of Nov. 2.

“Given the recent changes in the family dynamics, it only makes sense
for us to refresh and recalibrate the program to keep pace with the
family,” Eileen O’Neill, president of TLC said in a statement. “The family has evolved and we are attempting to evolve with
it; we feel that Kate’s journey really resonates with our viewers.”

O’Neill added that the network has another Kate Gosselin project in the works for 2010. I assume that various cable channels are pursuing Jon Gosselin for the envitable “Jon Without Kate Plus Dates” show.

Personally I plan on avoiding both Gosselin parents and their shows like the proverbial plague. They’ve had more than their 15 minutes of fame and I wouldn’t mind if I never saw them on TV or in magazines again.

What are your thoughts?

TLC’s “Kate Plus 8” release is below.

TLC To Introduce “KATE PLUS EIGHT” Starting November 2nd   

“JON & KATE PLUS EIGHT” SERIES TO EVOLVE WITH CHANGES IN THE GOSSELIN FAMLY
?TLC has announced that JON & KATE PLUS EIGHT will adapt to the changing Gosselin family and relaunch in November under the new title KATE PLUS EIGHT.

The program will continue to capture the incredible lives of the eight Gosselin children and their family but will now include a deeper focus on Kate’s role in the family and her journey as a single mother building the next chapter in her life.  TLC will continue its exclusive relationship with Jon Gosselin and he will continue to appear on the show, but on a less regular basis.

“Given the recent changes in the family dynamics, it only makes sense for us to refresh and recalibrate the program to keep pace with the family.   The family has evolved and we are attempting to evolve with it; we feel that Kate’s journey really resonates with our viewers.  Additionally the network is in development on a Kate project for 2010” states Eileen O’Neill, President and GM, TLC.

The series will continue to chronicle the Gosselin family as they go on outings and tackle daily challenges and adventures. It will also document Kate’s journey as a newly single mother raising 5 year-old sextuplets and 8 year-old twins.

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First pictures of Jim and Pam’s ‘Office’ wedding

Dwight

What are some of your favorite (or most memorable) Jim and Pam moments from “The Office”? For a charticle/timeline I may do next week, I’d love to get your input.

What prompted the idea is the couple’s impending nuptials on “The Office.”

Below are photos and an episode summary for “Niagara,” the Oct. 8 episode of the NBC comedy. Normally I try not to give too much information away about upcoming episodes of any show, but the promotional machine for this episode is (quite rightly) already in overdrive. The Jim and Pam wedding, which was shot on location at Niagara Falls, has been extensively covered online and is on the cover of the current issue of Entertainment Weekly. 

There’s a brief Jim/Pam first-kiss video here (remember that great moment from Season 2?).

Update: And here’s some behind-the-scenes footage from the wedding episode:

Don’t forget to share your memorable/favorite/least-favorite Jim-Pam moments in the comment area below, if you care to!

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In the photo from “Niagra” above: (back row) Leslie David Baker as Stanley Hudson, Angela Kinsey as Angela Martin,
Ellie Kemper as Kelly Erin Hannon, Creed Bratton as Creed, Phyllis
Smith as Phyllis Lapin, Bobby Ray Shafer as Bob Vance, Kate Flannery as
Meredith Palmer, Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly, John Krasinski as Jim
Halpert, Mindy Kaling as Kelly Kapoor, B.J. Novak as Ryan Howard;
(seated, l-r) Steve Carell as Michael Scott, Rainn Wilson as Dwight
Schrute, Brian Baumgartner as Kevin Malone, Ed Helms as Andy Bernard,
Oscar Nunez as Oscar Martinez.

Both

View more photos from Pam and Jim’s “Office” wedding.



NBC-provided episode summaries:

Oct. 1, “The Promotion”: “David Wallace (Andy Buckley) breaks the bad news that not everyone will
get a raise this year. Dwight (Rainn Wilson) reaches his breaking point
with Jim (John Krasinski) and looks to the rest of the office for
allies. Pam (Jenna Fischer) would like cash instead of wedding gifts.”

Oct. 8, “Niagara”: “‘The Office’ travels to Niagara Falls to celebrate Jim (John Krasinski)
and Pam’s (Jenna Fischer) wedding under strict orders not to mention
Pam’s pregnancy. Michael (Steve Carell), Dwight
(Rainn Wilson), and Andy (Ed Helms) all want to hook up with guests at
the wedding and Michael and Dwight meet twins.”



Oct. 15, “Mafia”: “Michael (Steve Carell) meets with an insurance
salesman that visits the office and is later convinced by Dwight (Rainn
Wilson) and Andy (Ed Helms) that he is part of the mafia. Erin (Ellie
Kemper) accidentally ruins Pam’s (Jenna Fischer) painting.”

Oct. 22, “The Lover”: “Michael (Golden Globe winner Steve Carell) shocks Jim (John Krasinski)
and Pam (Jenna Fischer) when he reveals the identity of the new woman
he has been dating. Dwight (Rainn Wilson) apologizes to Jim for years
of torment with a strange peace offering.”

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NBC unleashes more ‘Trauma’ on the viewing public

To say that “Trauma” (8 p.m. Central Monday, NBC; one and a half stars) is better than “Mercy,” NBC’s other new medical show, is not exactly an endorsement. After all, “Mercy” set the bar so low that many informercials could clear it.

“Trauma” is just standard-issue bad, not mind-blowing, please-make-it-stop bad. But this new show, which follows the lives and jobs of emergency medical technicians in San Francisco, has one thing in common with “Mercy”: It’s a collection of cliches in search of a plot.

At least “Trauma” has something of a plot. And it has explosions. So there’s that.

What “Trauma” doesn’t really have is a reason to ever tune in again. The good-looking EMTs on the show rescue people and they have emotional issues with the carnage they see on the job. Making the first part of that equation dramatic isn’t that hard, but how do you make the second — largely internal — part interesting to TV viewers every week? How do you dramatize the processing of stress and trauma?

If you’re one brazen EMT on this show, you act like a cocky idiot. I think he’s meant to be the Bad Boy You Love to Hate. If only. The guy is simply an obnoxious jerk. At least he stands out; however. The rest of the characters are merely there to service the plot and recite the expected dialogue (“I need a save today,” one EMT tells a co-worker).

The only upside I can see to the existence of “Mercy” and “Trauma” is that one of them is likely to recall a scene from the latter pilot and crash and burn this fall. And then we may (please!) get the third season of “Chuck” sooner than March.

I need a save.

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‘Mad Men’s’ ‘Seven Twenty Three’: Let’s talk about the episode

The following post discusses “Seven Twenty Three,” Sunday’s episode of “Mad Men.”

“You can’t go any further on your own.” –Bert Cooper

A lot seemed to happen in last week’s terrific episode, certainly to Guy and his late, lamented foot. But as several astute observers on other sites pointed out, after Guy’s injury, the reset button was hit and the status quo was more or less restored at Sterling Cooper by the end of the episode.

Sure, change was in the air and everyone had reason to be nervous about what the future would bring.

But real change happened in this episode. I would argue that “Seven Twenty Three” is one of the key episodes of the entire series.

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There were encounters and scenes in that were years in the making. After a lifetime of being the guy who always had his bags packed, metaphorically speaking, Don had to capitulate and sign a contract. His escape hatch slammed shut. It was a defining moment for him. 

There’s no denying the impact of several key scenes, especially Don’s devastating attack on Peggy and his final, quietly brutal showdown with the wily Bert Cooper. We’ve never seen Don that willfully cruel. Or that trapped.

When cornered, Don fights dirty. And yet he lost. We’re used to Don the alpha male somehow eking out a win. But he lost. Don was never going to sign a contract. But he signed.

What are the implications of all that? Is a housebroken Don Draper still Don Draper? It’s a fascinating question.

I wasn’t overly fond of the way the story was told, i.e., starting with three separate morning-after shots of Betty, Don and Peggy and then retracing the characters’ steps and showing us how they got there. As used here, the device was a little affected and it made for some disjointed storytelling.

The “X Hours Earlier” device is used so much on TV that it’s become something of a cliche (but this being the much more ambitious “Mad Men,” we weren’t even given a title card saying “X Hours Earlier” after those opening shots). Still, those opening images did create some suspense. How could you not want to know how Don ended up on the floor of a cheap hotel room (it was not a Hilton, that’s for sure). And Peggy ended up in bed at a much fancier establishment — with an unknown man.

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We learned that Don Draper had been backed into a corner. And as he always does when the pressure’s too much, he ran — to a bar, to a mistress, to Palm Springs, wherever.

But this was the most pressure Don had ever been under. Once and for all, he was being forced to choose, between being tied down and being (in his mind) free. For Don Draper — for Dick Whitman — his entire life has been about the acquisition and use of power. He’s kept everyone near him on their toes by never fully giving people what they want. It’s the source of his mystique and his self-created identity.

By now, though, Betty has his number; she knows that she doesn’t know even half of what she should about her husband (hell, she still can’t get into that locked drawer in his desk). He’s never given himself fully to her, and he can’t, because his name isn’t even his name.

At Sterling Cooper, Don is the golden boy because he’s the golden boy who could leave. Not having a contract helped him salvage the Duck disaster last season. Why on Earth would he sign one now?

But he’s faced with a dilemma: Sign a contract and stay at Sterling Cooper, or risk going out on his own and hope that Conrad Hilton follows. But he finds he doesn’t believe in himself enough to do the latter.

Don’s great at selling B.S., as his old man tells him in that pill-induced vision (and his unimpressed old man, after all, is the product of of Don/Dick’s own mind). Trouble is, Don doesn’t quite believe his own B.S., not to the point of leaving to establish his own shop.

He doesn’t have the guts for that (yet?) and he knows he no longer has what it takes to leave this life and start the whole process over again as someone else. He’s got to stick with what he has. And that knowledge terrifies him. 

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I think the key moment of the entire episode — right up there with the moment in which Don signed the contract — was when he looked into the mirror in that motel room and realized he’d been played. He’d been rolled by a couple of kids. And hell, maybe in his own self-destructive way, he’d realized from the start that was possible. But it almost didn’t matter. He just wanted out.

Where “out” led was to this: The hustler got hustled. Don/Dick had to be as shrewd and brutal as those kids in order to get where he’s gotten (and frankly he was lucky that the kids didn’t take his new Caddy). But as his old man (i.e., his subconscious) pointed out, he had grown soft. A life lived on his terms has made him, in some ways, weak and vulnerable. It turned him into the kind of suburbanite who gets preyed on by streetwise types.

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To have to admit defeat and sign that contract — what a devastating moment for this man. In conversation a couple of days ago, Alan Sepinwall said the moment that Don signed the contract in “Seven Twenty Three” — which was the date of the contract — was the moment Dick Whitman died. I’d have to agree.

Alan went on to write in his review: “And if that’s the case, good riddance to bad rubbish. Because most of Dick’s appearances in the first two seasons were in
situations where Jon Hamm got to play him as vulnerable, even tender
(think Don-as-Dick in Anna Draper’s house), it’s easy to forget just
what a b*****d he is.”

I’m not sure I completely agree that the death of Dick is an entirely good thing. Dick, when we saw him in flashbacks, had a more hopeful air about him, the sense that he was striving toward something good. I don’t see him as someone who wanted to cause pain, but would do so in his quest to construct a less painful, more powerful role in the world. And Don, after all, is a fictional construct — in some ways, more a Potemkin village than a real human being. Will it do Don more harm than good to be cut off from Dick’s yearnings forever? Then again, I do think there’s a lot of validity to an idea that Alan expanded on in his review — that leaving Dick behind may force Don to accept his lot, once and for all.

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Dick may have been more brutal when necessary, but Dick Whitman also had the drive to reinvent himself as Don Draper, and he had the street smarts and natural creative abilities to get this far. But to go further, alone? Without Sterling Cooper behind him? Without the armor and cushion — without the mask — the firm provided? He didn’t know if he could do it. And that knowledge filled him with rage and a desire to escape. But in the end, he drove back to Ossining and trudged up those stairs.

Poor Peggy: She had the unfortunate timing to walk into his office at just the wrong moment. The walls were closing in on Don, with Roger once again trying the charm offensive and turning petulant when that didn’t work. Don being Don, he pulled a total Draper and froze Roger out. Don knows Roger has no real power at the firm anymore. (And Roger is desperate to convince PPL — hell, anyone — that he’s still relevant, hence his somewhat pathetic calls to Don’s attorney and the Draper home).

But still, Peggy — eager, ambitious Peggy — was one more person rattling Don’s cage.

One thing that we’ve always known about Don is that he doesn’t wantonly abuse his power over those who have much lower status. With the other executives, there’s always a jockeying for position and some kind of veiled or overt office combat. But he’s not one to take advantage of or humiliate those further down the ladder.  

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So for him to open fire on Peggy — his protegee — with both barrels was a jaw-dropping moment. Part of it stemmed from her horrible timing, and part stemmed from the fact that he could unload on a copy writer in a way that he couldn’t unload on Roger or even Pete (who’d also asked to be put on the Hilton account, though, to be fair, that was before the worst of the pressure came down on Don). Don was also just frustrated with her request, but his rage about the vise he was in amped up what would have been normal irritation to a frightening level.

It was astonishing to see Don go after her, and he knew exactly what to say to devastate her. Not all of his tirade was invalid; she should have realized this wasn’t a good moment to hit Don up for an assignment (but lately Peggy is so out of the office gossip loop that she probably had no idea what was going on at the top levels of management — and maybe nobody did).

But to tell her that all of her work was work he could “live without”? That was a knife in the gut.

Elisabeth Moss played the scene beautifully, as always, and gave us a glimpse of the two very difficult emotions churning through Peggy: Raw pain and grief over the fact that her mentor had cast her aside. That “I’m sorry” could also be read as, “I’m sorry I’m going to leave, but I have no choice now.”

In a weird way, could Don have been trying to help Peggy? The way he went after her was unforgivable, no question, but was he attempting to teach her that it’s dog-eat-dog in the business world and he just can’t help her all the time? At that moment, he didn’t know if he’d be staying at the firm, if he’d be landing the Hilton account or even if he’d be able to prevent himself from fleeing entirely. Maybe in his mind, he had to cut her loose. Don didn’t need the baggage and Peggy needed to learn not to rely on him.

Still, no matter what, it was brutal to see him rip into Peggy that way. The brilliance of casting Jon Hamm in this role is that, even after Don does something awful like that, you still want to know what Don will do next. 

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In any case, Don drove Peggy, literally, into the arms of Duck Phillips. Who saw that coming? I didn’t. But as Duck told her exactly what he was going to do to her, you could see her realize: Here’s a real man, not some half-drunk college boy. This would be something far better than what she’d experienced in the past. Why not?

But would Peggy want to work with someone she’s slept with? She’s been down a similar road with Pete and you’d think she wouldn’t want to go that route again. Besides, Duck wasn’t even willing to promise her what she wanted at Gray. Just how empty are his promises? Let’s hope recent experience taught her to be a little more wary.

I wonder if Duck had always planned on seducing her, whether or not his bid to poach her from SC worked. Did he think she’d be more like to come work at Gray if he slept with her? Or did he just decide to go for it on the spur of the moment? Who knows. But I have to think there was an element of calculation in telling her to meet him late in the day at a hotel suite (and wasn’t his line about “what opportunity looks like” a repetition of something he’d said to Pete and Peggy in an earlier episode?).

So much for Peggy’s resolve not to have anything to do with Duck anymore. But that was a fiction Peggy created for herself — she protested far too much about Duck’s attention, which she of course craved.

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And Betty created a similar fiction for herself — she told herself she just wanted to lobby Henry Francis about that reservoir, not merely bask in his attention again. But really, she wanted him to look at her with those guarded yet hungry eyes again. (She does have a type, doesn’t she? Henry is a powerful-seeming man who’s somewhat older than her and has a smooth line of chat. Henry even admitted that he’d never planned to go to the reservoir with her the first place. Not that she minded; she wasn’t exactly dressed for a hike.)

An eclipse took place that weekend, and just as the moon blocked the sun, key characters were blocked in their attempts to obtain something. Or, it seems to me, they got only part of what they wanted. 

Peggy wanted a new career and a more responsible position. She wanted to be valued and taken seriously. But she got to sleep with Duck (and maybe she’ll get more money at Gray, if she leaves SC).

Betty wanted to get Henry to help her cause and she wanted to enjoy his attention again. She didn’t get what she wanted regarding the reservoir (maybe), but at least she got the couch, on which she could fantasize about what dream-Henry would do to her on it. (It’s interesting to note that at the moment of the eclipse, both Don and Betty were with attractive people of the opposite sex — sizing up what they did and didn’t want).

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And Don wanted to be the alpha male who brought in a big account and yet could keep wielding power on his own terms. He was told no, which is not something that frequently happens to him. Don was the star of Sterling Cooper, but he could no longer shine.

But nobody denies Connie
or Bert. Two sun kings who used their power and schooled Don about
who’s in control.

Words can’t describe how much I loved that final showdown between Don and Bert. Hamm is of course always terrific, and Robert Morse could not have played the scene better. Bert asserted himself by sitting in Don’s chair (and it’s interesting to note that three men sitting in chairs — Bert, Connie and Don’s father [i.e. Don’s subconscious] — asserted their dominance over Don or confronted him directly about various issues he wanted to evade).

Bert even barked, “Sit down.” What? Nobody tells Don Draper what to do, in his own office, no less. But Bert was the second person to take Don’s seat in a few short days. And he pretty much told Don that if he didn’t sign, Bert would out him as Dick Whitman. He’d ruin Don/Dick.

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Who knew Bert was willing to play that card? After he spoke that line about not knowing who was going to sign that contract, Bert dropped his genial expression and his face hardened. You saw how he built up this firm — by going for the jugular when he needed to. It took years for Bert to throw that knowledge in Don’s face, but when he needed to, he did. Wow.

Who is Don Draper now? I’m fascinated to see where this goes next. Because the Don Draper we’ve known until now could walk away any time. He may not have walked any time in the next three years. But he had to know he could. That’s over now. That’s got to have huge repercussions for him.

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Don was not only tamed by Bert, but Connie is very clearly used to having the upper hand. I don’t think we’ll see a Bible on Don’s desk any time soon, but seeing Don navigate these new power dynamics in which he has to answer to others and theoretically can’t just flee — that should be interesting.

Could we see a power play in which Don decides to stage a coup at SC and somehow finds the backers and money to oust the Brits and Cooper? And maybe he’d have to swallow his pride and keep Roger on in order to make that happen? That’s all just speculation, but I can’t think that Don’s going to be happy not only dancing to Connie’s tune but knowing that senior management is well aware that Don is handcuffed to the firm.

What a difference an eclipse makes, eh? After those first scenes of the morning-afters, the first image we saw in “Seven Twenty Three” was of Don getting ready for work. He came down the stairs of the Draper house looking as spiffy as it is possible for him to look.

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The final image was of a defeated Don trudging up the stairs, looking for all the world as if “16 Tons” of worries were on his back. Instead of the classic back-of-the-head shot of Don, we got stooped shoulders and a defeated posture.

“Don’t look at it,” Henry said to Betty during the eclipse. But Don was forced to look at the reality of his position. And even with his powers of denial and compartmentalization, that picture will be very hard to forget.

A few other observations:

  • Sorry, but my Dictionary of Symbolism is out of date. What did it mean that each character moved his or her right arm in those three opening scenes?
  • Will the fact the Connie thinks Don grew up on farms in Illinois and Pennsylvania ever come back to haunt Don? Let’s just say that Connie, over drinks with Don and others, refers to Don’s past growing up in in those places (facts he learned when Don and he met at the bar at Roger’s party). Would anyone think that was at odds with what was known about Don’s past? Or perhaps Don’s friends and business acquaintances don’t know anything of note about the real Don’s youth.
  • The scene with the teacher was, once again, a bit off. Is the character off or is there just something jarring about the way they write her scenes? First of all, it was July. Why was she in the park with the kids? Why were they all with their dads? The show can’t throw us one or two lines of exposition about what’s going on? As it was, the scene felt plunked down awkwardly in the middle of an episode that was already a little jagged-seeming.
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    And the teacher seemed, once again, much more forward than any teacher would be at that time. She instantly assumed Don was hitting on her and told him so. Even though she’d been the one to call the Drapers and talk flirtatiously to Don in an earlier episode. And by the way, she was the one who asked Don in that scene if he’d be around in August. Then when he said he would be, she shot back, “Well, now I know that,” as if he’d forced that information on her. She asked him!

  • Even Roger could not find a comeback when the eccentric Bert Cooper called Conrad Hilton an eccentric.
  • Roger’s best line was the one about Don maybe one day having his name on the firm. “After mine. And probably Cooper.”
  • I liked the fact that Betty held her own in the fight with Don. She is narcissistic, he’s right about that, but she stuck to her question, which was about him: Why wouldn’t he sign the contract? Everyone was putting pressure on Don; Bert, Roger, Peggy, the Brits, Conrad Hilton, now Betty. Perhaps if he hadn’t stopped for those hitchhikers, he would have been halfway to the Pacific by morning.
  • I’ll have to rely on readers who were adults during 1963 to tell me whether men of draft age were really worried about being sent to Vietnam in the middle of that year. Obviously the couple on the road were just selling Don a line (one he all to willingly bought), but would couples really have gotten married for that reason at that time?
  • So what occupied the “hearth” or heart of Betty and Don’s home, in the end? A fainting couch, from which Betty could recover from the constrictions of her life and fantasize about the strong, powerful men who (in her mind) would rescue her. The “soul of the home” became a place for immature, self-absorbed daydreams, which is somehow appropriate for the Draper household.
  • Allison, Don’s new-ish secretary, seems like she’s up to the job, no? The look she gave Don when he told her to hold his calls was hilarious.
  • Is this the first time we’ve seen Pryce willingly and happily take a drink? In the past he’s taken a token sip of Don’s whiskey, but landing the Hilton hotels had him practically giddy and quite willing to participate in the Sterling Cooper drink-a-thon. 
  • It was such a “Mad Men” moment when Don and Peggy ran into each other after their big nights out –and both were still wearing the same clothes. They ignored that, just as they ignored their fight.
  • Given all that’s happened, won’t it be unrealistic if there aren’t staff changes at Sterling Cooper before Season 3 ends? Not that I want any of those actors to leave the show, but wouldn’t it be realistic that there would be some turnover by the start of Season 4, whether via job hopping to other firms or further conflict pushing out various employees? Or who knows, maybe Don will eventually open his own shop (that’s still a distinct possibility at some point, I think; either that or him reshaping SC to be “his” shop).
  • In any case, as much as I love the character of Roger, it’s hard to see how much relevance he would have in a fourth season. I get the sense that Bert is fine with Roger hanging around but wouldn’t fight to keep him if the Brits or even Don wanted to jettison him. (But again, I love John Slattery’s performance and would love it if a plausible way was found for Roger to stick around. Oh, and I want Joan back very soon.)
  • Don at least got one concession out of Bert: “I don’t want any more contact with Roger Sterling.” Snap.

Sponsored Link: Amazon’s Mad Men Store

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‘Lie to Me’s’ makeover: The truth from Tim Roth and Shawn Ryan

What is that elusive quality that makes a TV show unmissable?

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"Lie To Me" (8 p.m. Monday, WFLD-Ch. 32; three and a half stars), a Fox show entering its second season with a new head writer, is trying to find out.

"Lie To Me," which debuted in January and stars Tim Roth as an expert on the nonverbal clues that signal deception, got middling-to-pretty-good reviews and respectable ratings (which declined during the first season's 13 episodes, but that's normal for many new shows).

In Season 1, the methods of spotting involuntary clues to lies, derived from the scholarly work and nonfiction books of Paul Ekman, were intriguing. Roth, a charismatic performer, was good in the lead role. But his character, Cal Lightman, was a somewhat standard-issue rule-breaking genius in the "House" mold, and the characters around him in his successful consulting practice, the Lightman Group, weren't all that well-defined or interesting.

"I think there was a feeling that after about the fourth or fifth episode, 'OK, these people can tell when people are lying. I get it,' " said Shawn Ryan, the Rockford native who took over as executive producer and head writer for "Lie To Me's" second season.

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Ryan and a writing duo he's worked with in the past, Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, actually came on board toward the end of the first season. The show had fallen behind on some deadlines, and Ryan thought they would be helping out temporarily.

But then his CBS show, "The Unit," was canceled (his acclaimed FX drama, "The Shield," ended in 2008). And "Lie To Me" creator Samuel Baum asked Ryan to stick around and take over the administrative and production duties that Baum had found he didn't enjoy.

Though he was initially wary of taking over someone else's show, "I kind of view myself as a worker bee, and I wanted to do the work," Ryan said. And though he saw room for improvement, it's not as if "Lie To Me" was in terrible shape.

"It was an enjoyable show that a lot of people really liked, and one thing that was attractive was it didn't have to be built from the ground up," Ryan said in an August interview at his office on the Fox lot in Los Angeles.

Roth had his own struggles in the first season, he said in a recent conference call with reporters. The workload of being the lead in a weekly series was a big adjustment for the actor, who comes from the more deliberately paced film world. And he said the crime-solving aspects of the show were starting to wear him down a bit.

"I was desperate to get some character stuff to play and some drama to play and not just be doing procedural work," Roth said.

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When he read Craft and Fain's excellent script for Season 1's "Blinded," which had the deception expert facing off with a serial rapist who's every bit as good at detecting lies as Lightman, the actor said he thought, "You can have the character-driven stuff and you can have a good [stories] to tell. … That’s been the starting point this season."

In the Season 2 premiere (another Craft and Fain script), Lightman squares off with a character played by Erika Christensen ("Traffic"), who claims to have witnessed a murder she can't possibly have seen. But Lightman thinks she's telling the truth.

To give away more would ruin the season premiere, but suffice it to say that lie-busting is only half the fun, and Lightman's methods are as surprising as they were in "Blinded." One of the real pleasures of the episode is that the secondary "B story," which involves another Lightman Group staffer vetting a Supreme Court nominee, is rewarding as well.

Referring to a B story in the second episode of Season 2, in which Gillian Foster (Kelli Wiliams) and Eli Loker (Brendan Hines) investigate a religious compound, "I think last year, (the show) would have been more likely to deal with that case as a little bit of an Agatha Christie murder mystery," Ryan said. But Foster and Loker's views are challenged by what they find at the compound, and that leads to a debate about religion and belief.

"This year, we're really going to have these cases rebound back at our characters," Ryan said.

We'll also see more of Lightman's personal life: He's got a teenage daughter, Emily (Hayley McFarland), and his ex-wife, Zoe Landau (Jennifer Beals), is around for the first four episodes of the season. Ryan said the show will explore the attraction between Foster and Lightman, and, in a coming episode, he'll have to deal with an old friend (played by Lennie James) who ran scams with Lightman a couple of decades ago in London.

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"We'll learn what Lightman was like before he became a respectable scientist," Ryan said.

But we'll also learn what it's like to have a gift that is a burden at times. In a recent conference call with Ekman, Ryan said, the writers asked the scientist about the following hypothetical: You're out to dinner with a friend and his wife, and the friend says how happy their marriage is.

"You sense some reaction from her that she doesn’t agree with that," Ryan recalled. "Is that something you share with your best friend or not?  Some of the bigger sort of [themes of the show] are about Lightman's gift, which is incredibly valuable and serves a lot of people, and yet I think it haunts him in many ways."

Lightman still gets to play the scamp, however. The season premiere contains several amusing lines (he observes that, at his book signings, no one ever looks him in the eye).

For all that, however, taking the characters' emotional lives seriously is the key to the writers' approach this season, Ryan said.

"You look at shows like 'House' — how much of that show is truly about solving a disease (mystery)?" he said. "You don't have much doubt that House is going to figure out what's wrong with a patient that week. What makes that show work is the relationships with the people that he works with."

On the visit to the "Lie to Me" offices, I got to sit in on a meeting in which Craft and Fain, who were writing Season 2's sixth episode, and the rest of the show's writers tried to hammer out the structure of that outing, which is set in Las Vegas.

Baum, who still is on the show's writing staff, asked Ryan, a longtime poker player, what a tournament poker player's "worst nightmare" would be.

Ryan told poker stories that touched on everything from the movie "Rounders" to the World Series of Poker, and the topics at the hourlong meeting ranged from how involved the casino owner would be in the plot to the budget for the episode.

Unobtrusively, Ryan frequently guided the discussion back to the idea of clarity; if something seemed convoluted, he wanted to know why. Though there was a constant search for moments with "adrenaline" to them, coincidences and character story lines were analyzed by all the writers — some of whom are veterans who've run their own shows — to find more than just good "lie-busting" moments and dramatic payoffs.  

"What is the emotional hook for Lightman and our characters?" Ryan asked at one point. 

"Last year, a lot of episodes started with 'What’s the cool science?' and worked the episodes around that," Ryan said later in his office. "This year, I think the approach is, 'What is the great character story we can tell in this episode — the mystery — and we will figure out the science at the end.'"

What follows is specific information, from Fox, Ryan and Roth, about upcoming episodes of "Lie to Me." Spoilers ahoy.

Episode 1: "The Core of It"

The Lightman Group investigates a murder case where a woman with multiple personalities (Erika Christensen) may either be a witness or the killer. Meanwhile, the president of the United States hires the firm to interrogate a potential Supreme Court nominee.

Episode 2: "Truth or Consequences"

Zoe enlists the Lightman Group to defend a star college football player accused of statutory rape. Meanwhile, Foster and Loker travel to a religious compound to find out whether it's actually a nefarious cult.
 
Guest Cast: Jennifer Beals as Zoe Landau, John Pyper-Ferguson as Jamie Cowley, Chadwick Boseman as Cabe McNeil, John Carroll Lynch as Mr. Reed, James Marsters as Pollack, Gretchen Egolf as Catherine, Colton Shires as Zack, Allie Gonino as Susan, Monique Edwards as Mrs. McNeil, Mark Berry as Mr. McNeil, Grant Alan as Wayne, Crystal Young as Kate, Chaz Wood as Horny Guy, Valerie Rose Curiel as Dori, Michole Briana White as Merrick, Alesa B. Gantz as Agent Ferro, Carlos McCullers II as Kid, Dennis Hill as Frat Boy and Paul Sanchez as Guard.

Shawn Ryan with a bit more on "Truth or Consequences": "It’s not even a main story, but we have what I think is a really fun B story [this episode]. They’ve been hired by the IRS to help them investigate this religious compound.  Every homeowner there is claiming that their house is a church for tax purposes, which is something that’s really happening in this country, which is technically acceptable if your religious beliefs are 100 percent pure, and you’re not doing this for financial motivation.  Accountants can’t determine that, but our crew can.  What it leads to, because it’s Foster and Loker who are on that case –  it leads to a little introspection about religion between these two characters who have very different views. Foster’s trying to, in the wake of her divorce, still go through the adoption process that she and her husband had started when they were a couple, but that she’s having difficulty with.  And it leads to a little bit of a, you know, religious and emotional crisis for her."

Episode 3:

Garret Dillahunt guest stars.

Episode 5:

Lennie James and Marc Blucas guest star.

Description of James' character, Lightman's old friend from London: "British, charming, but rough around the edges, he goes way back with Lightman and is currently on the FBI and Scotland Yard watch lists. Growing up in London together, Ray and Lightman were best mates and partners in crime, running scams and getting into all kinds of trouble. Ray once took the fall for Lightman and spent time in in prison as a result. They haven't seen each other in two decades, so Ray's sudden appearance in Lightman's life is cause for both celebration and suspicion. It seems that Ray's had a lot of time to reflect on the past and has come to collect what he believes he's owed."

Marc Blucas is "Jack Rader, a slick deception expert who is a smooth combination of looks, brains and charisma. Lightman was once his mentor, until some unexplained issue caused a bitter rift in their relationship.  With Lightman on vacation, Rader is called in to assist on a case… he might just have an eye on Foster, and he might just try to poach some of Lightman's staff."

Tim Roth: "There’s one we just completed shooting on one, which was very good, a lot of fun about a guy who shows up from my past, 22 years ago, he rolls up in my office and a lot of trouble ensues.  And that was very, very well written and cast."

After Episode 5, there is a two-week baseball hiatus.

Episode 6 is titled "Fold Equity" and takes place in Las Vegas (the show shot scenes at a casino in Cabazon, Calif., for two days). Lightman takes on eight of the best poker players — and liars — in the world, after he is hired to find a missing tournament poker player. Foster and Reynolds (Mekhi Phifer) acoompany Lightman to Vegas, and Foster is afraid Lightman's old habits will get him into trouble. It's a big episode for Phifer.

Magician/performer Ricky Jay and Abby Brammell from "The Unit" guest star.

Tim Roth: In the past, "my character has been banned from every casino in Vegas."

Photos: Tim Roth and Kelli Williams; Erika Christensen; Jennifer Beals and James Marsters.

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‘Dollhouse’ poised to go promising places, but ‘Dexter’ disappoints

Every television show is a journey of discovery, and some of the most interesting ones center on questions of identity and memory.

Will Echo (Eliza Dushku) on “Dollhouse” (8 p.m. Central Friday, Fox; three and a half stars), who becomes a different person every few days, be able to discover and hold onto her true identity — whatever that is?

Will Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) of “Dexter” (8 p.m. Central Sunday, Showtime; two stars) be able to simulate human behavior so well that he becomes a genuine human being capable of real emotion? Will the serial killer’s pose of normality become his true identity?

The latter journey sounds interesting — and it was, in the first two seasons of the Showtime drama. But “Dexter” has grown tiresome.

In Season 4, Dexter’s life as a suburban dad feels claustrophobic, and the show has become repetitive and predictable. Despite Hall’s undeniable talent and a brilliant performance by John Lithgow as the “Trinity Killer,” this is one journey that feels as though it has dragged on too long.

On the other hand, it looks as though “Dollhouse” still has a lot of interesting places to go.

“Dollhouse” got much better in the second half of its first season, once it began exploring in depth its central themes, which center on the lies that “good” people tell themselves and Echo’s increasingly dangerous search for her true self — a college student named Caroline who went to work for the mysterious Dollhouse several years ago and who has been mostly submerged since then.

In the Dollhouse’s lush, underground compound, attractive young men and women are “imprinted” with various personalities to carry out missions for well-heeled clients. Those assignments can involve everything from espionage to adventure to romance, and between missions, “dolls” have childlike, blank personalities. At least they’re supposed to.

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Early in the Season 2 premiere, Echo marries a successful businessman played by Jamie Bamber (“Battlestar Galactica’s” Lee Adama), but that event isn’t what it first appears to be. Little on this show is, and that’s a good thing.

Friday’s episode of “Dollhouse” has to reintroduce the show’s core concepts regarding imprinting and the sketchy Rossum Corp., which is somehow pulling the dolls’ strings via steely manager Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams). As such, the episode works just fine, but I can’t wait for things to get even more strange and exciting. (For three clips from the Season 2 premiere, go here. For all my previous stories on the show, go here.)

One of the great things about creator Joss Whedon’s shows is that they’re never strange for the sake of strangeness. There’s a point to be made or a thorny issue to be explored, but those philosophical issues are threaded through enjoyably plotted, well-crafted hours of television.

I’ve seen episode summaries for the next few outings, and they not only sound interesting, they feature guest actors such as Ray Wise (“Reaper”), Summer Glau (“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”), Alexis Denisof (“Angel”) and Michael Hogan (“Battlestar Galactica”) and Keith Carradine. All of which is icing on the cake of “Dollhouse’s” unexpected second-season renewal. (The only downside is the fact that Amy Acker, who is a series regular on another show, won’t be in every episode of “Dollhouse.” She’s the best thing about the season premiere.)

Carradine also guests on the fourth season of “Dexter,” a show that, like “Dollhouse,” wrestles with the price of deception.

Dexter

Dexter Morgan is a skilled liar — perhaps too skilled. The first two seasons of this show were compelling explorations of this lonely man’s desire for connection and his quest to become, as he put it, “a real boy” instead of a puppet pulling his own strings in a quest to seem human.

Crime-lab technician Dexter Morgan, you see, has a “dark passenger” — an impulse to kill (albeit by a strict code that ensures that only the worst criminals die by his hand). But that dark passenger has a lot of company in Season 4 — a wife, three kids, a pack of nosy neighbors, a bunch of testy colleagues and, to top it off, retired FBI agent Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine), who’s investigating the mysterious Trinity Killer (and that’s the most promising story line of the otherwise mediocre new season).

The scenes of Dexter trying to fight the exhaustion brought on by family life start to become tiring themselves. Dexter’s life with Rita (Julie Benz) was never the most interesting part of the show, but now there’s lots more of that sort of thing. Jokes about Dexter trying to fit in at social occasions were mildly amusing three seasons ago, now they’re just predictable.

Will Dexter snap under the pressure of his busy new life? Possibly, but by now, we know the writers will keep on finding ways for Dexter to wriggle out from under any suspicion about his bloody activities. After four seasons of Dexter getting away with murder, more of the same isn’t such a good thing.

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‘Supernatural’s ‘Free to Be You and Me’: Giving the Devil his due?

The post below discusses "Free to Be You and Me," the third episode of "Supernatural's" fifth season.

UPDATE: At the end of this post, there are now three video clips from the Oct. 1 episode of "Supernatural," "The End."

Our father, who art in heaven…

Or maybe not.

There's a possibility that God is kicking back at the divine version of Club Med, enjoying some celestial mai tais, leaving a huge mess for the angels to sort out.

As Dean pointed out to Castiel, the Winchesters have some experience in the absent-father department. And let's face it, if John Winchester hadn't been absent, if he hadn't died, in fact, Sam and Dean wouldn't have started down the road they're on. They wouldn't have been started the process of changing from boys to men. That process is far from over — in some ways, it's just getting started — but at least they've begun that journey.

Maybe that's the message for the angels this season. Dad's gone, wah wah wah — sorry, but the pity party needs to end. Man up, angels (though hey, are we ever going to meet some female angels?). Whatever their gender, the angels just need to get over the fact that Dad left town and only left them $20 for pizza and not a whole lot else in the way of guidance.

And honestly, Lucifer needs to get over the fact that he and his dad had a disagreement. All the stuff that Lucifer told Nick, that Lucifer-as-Jessica told Sam — it's all based on resentment. People can't change, it's all God's fault, let's go kick around whoever hurt you, let's let the dark side win.

Of course it sounds good — Lucifer has that calm way of talking, that soothing line of B.S.

But really, Lucifer and Rafael are in the same boat — they're just angry children. Angry, very powerful children who want someone to pay for everything that's gone wrong.

And of course it'll be the Winchesters who have to knock some sense into these chuckleheads — while the brothers are fighting their own internal demons and figuring out how to relate to each other in a way that doesn't leave them angry or mentally exhausted.

"Free to Be You and Me" was another solid episode, although I'm a little afraid it'll set the message boards on fire (though again, I've been really impressed with the level of commenting here. Thank you, "Supernatural" fans, for not engaging in old fandom wars and grudges here — let's keep it that way).

That final revelation — that Sam is supposed to be Lucifer's true vessel — I think it is verrrry interesting. Though there was some divine comedy in this episode (more on that in a bit), as well as some heavy-duty drama, I have to say that this episode left me with a lot of questions, which I think was partly the point. I think we'll see these questions answered as the season progresses (or at least, I hope we do).

When Raphael said "We're tired. We just want it to be over," was he saying he doesn't much care which side wins? That he just wants this whole experiment with humans/earth/etc to be over? Then again, he was seen skirmishing with demons, so presumably the angel want his side to win (sidebar: Could "winning" still mean that much or all of humanity dies? Are the angels troubled by that though? I'm guessing no.) Zach said the point of starting the Apocalypse was to be able to slay Lucifer so I'm assuming that's Raphael's overall goal too, though he's not the most motivated employee, is he?

One of the biggest mythology questions right now: Why are the Winchesters so vessel-icious? What is it about that clan that makes them so attractive to angels? In last week's comment area, many mentioned the necklace that Cas took from Dean — a necklace that originally was in the possession of Bobby, then it was given by Bobby to Sam, and Sam intended to give the amulet to John. Perhaps that ties into the fact that John was, according to Alastair, meant to be the person who broke the first seal in Hell, but Dean did that instead, just as Dean was given the amulet by Sam as a Christmas present when the boys were children (the SuperWiki has more on the amulet here).

Are we going to find out what exactly has made the Winchester clan so important to all these powerful entities? Are we going to get more of a backstory on how John and the amulet play into that whole story line? Hope so.

One question the episode didn't answer — and this was a bit of a dodge, though not an unforgivable one — was this: OK, let's assume for the sake of argument that Cas was brought back from the dead by Lucifer (I don't necessarily believe that, but let's just say, hypothetically, it's true). That still doesn't explain why Sam and Dean ended up on a plane, relatively far away from the convent where Lucifer emerged. Why would Lucifer bring Sam, his vessel, to that location then send him away? It's fairly convenient that Sam didn't ask Lucifer that question, eh? Dean didn't lay that fact on Raphael either.

I think "Free to Be You and Me" was trying to explore this idea of what the kids do when the parents are away, so it wanted to drive home the idea that maybe God really is dead. But the whole plane incident could have come about because God wanted to save the brothers. I hope the question of who did that gets answered too.

In any case, there's an interesting idea at work here about whether we have free will or whether our lives are fated to go in certain directions, about whether we need to rely on the guidance of authority figures, parents or even siblings, or whether we can make choices on our own.

It's funny how Sam almost literally experienced the classic "angel on one shoulder and devil on the other" situation — Lindsay was telling him he could change and "Jess" was telling him changing one's basic nature wasn't an option. But by not killing that hunter and spitting out the blood, he's taken an important step — it doesn't matter what others (i.e. Dean) think, he's started to convince himself that he can make his own choices. And I don't think he could have done that had he been with Dean at that point in time.

I think the episode balanced the comedy and the drama pretty well. Though they were action-packed and witty, the first two episodes of the season were also pretty dark. You can only make the Funpocalypse so fun, and then it reverts to being kind of terrifying.

I think "Free" was a chance for the writers to examine Sam's guilt, start his transformation  into a full adult who can forgive himself, and set up an interesting endgame for Sam and Dean — possibly as competing vessels. Full kudos to Jared Padalecki, who's always done such a great job of showing Sam's pain and guilt. Sam's one of those characters who beats up on himself so much that you want the world — the universe, God, Satan, whoever — to give the guy a break.

Another question: Are we heading toward a situation where brother vs brother meatsuits — one containing Lucifer, one containing Michael — have an epic showdown? Interesting idea but to look at Raphael's meatsuit, the post-vessel lifestyle is no party.

But the show is clearly continuing to pursue themes that have been consistently pretty interesting — free will, determinism, addiction, self-esteem, redemption, isolation vs connection, etc. All that plus Dean-Cas comedy! Which was pretty great.

There were a lot of funny lines in the episode ("It was his idea." "And you're not that much fun." "Personal space!" "I just thought I'd sit here quietly." Cas, with a look: "St. Pete's.")  And they mined the Dean-Cas comedy just about as well as they could have. I think the scenes in the police HQ were my favorites one in the whole episode. Jensen Ackles and Misha Collins don't just have great dramatic chemistry, they are a great comedy duo as well. (Sidebar: Bert and Ernie are no gayer than Dean and Cas. I'm just sayin'.)

But two thoughts: Really? Dean knows where a whorehouse is in Maine, and gets Cas there at a moment's notice? Um, sure. But the whole idea of Cas being terrified of the place and the women and the very idea of sex was so funny that I didn't mind that it was the most conveniently located brothel in TV history.

Second thought: I do love the Cas comedy, but I think the show needs to dole it out sparingly. The lines about flatbread and so forth are so funny because they're so not what Cas is usually like. So far I have no complaints about Cas this season, but it's worth recalling that he wasn't in every episode of Season 4 — and I would hate to start thinking he was being overused this season.

But there are interesting things to be dramatized there, I fully realize that. Just as Dean is testing out life on his own and Sam is examining his next step, Castiel himself is on a journey of self-discovery. Did he want to find Raphael in order to kick his angelic butt or in order to find God? One of the most subtly effective parts of the episode was Dean's slow realization that maybe this angel was driven by a very human desire to get revenge. Maybe Cas is actually angry. He complained about always being worried about Dean, but perhaps he'll have cause to worry about Cas.

That's part of what love is: Worrying about people. But perhaps being apart from Sam will make Dean back off on his big-brother, "I have to protect Sammy" trip. Perhaps absence will make the heart grow fonder, and he'll start to respect Sam as an adult with his own beliefs, worldview and choices and not always assume that he (Dean) knows better. Part of the reason their relationship wasn't working, I think, was Dean's constant need to be Sam's father and mother and protector. Personal space, Dean!

If I have one complaint about "Free" (aside from the instances of, shall we say, "convenience" mentioned above) it's that the soundtrack was obtrusive in some places, and the storm sound effects in the Raphael scene seemed a bit overdone. He's a powerful angelic dude, I get it. Not sure I needed the stormy storminess set to 11.

All in all, "Free" was a another good episode, and like "Good God, Y'all," told a solid story while setting up some interesting things for later in the season. I'm especially jazzed about next week's episode. Not only is it a Ben Edlund script, the pictures from the episode, which are below along with an episode summary, just rock. (Any "Battlestar Galactica" fans in the house? Is it me or do two of these pictures have a "Baltar's harem" vibe?)

Is it next Thursday yet?

This next part has been updated as of the evening of Sept. 25 updated again Sept. 29:

Here's what's on the last part of this post. This next section contains spoilers. Stop reading now if you don't want to be aware of spoilers.

1. First is the episode summary from the CW for "The End," the Oct. 1 episode of "Supernatural."

2. Next up are three clips from "The End."

3. Next are photos from "The End."

4. Below the photos from "The End," there's a summary for "Fallen Idol," the Oct. 8 episode, which has a guest appearance by Paris Hilton.

5. Update as of Sept. 29: The final thing on this post is a summary of "I Believe the Children Are Our Future," the Oct. 15 episode of "Supernatural."

"The End": "Sam (Jared Padalecki) tells Dean (Jensen Ackles) he wants to rejoin
Dean in the battle of the Apocalypse, but Dean tells Sam that they are
better off apart. Later, Dean awakens five years in the future in an
abandoned city and is attacked by humans who have been infected with a
demonic virus that turns humans into Zombies. Zachariah (guest star
Kurt Fuller) appears to Dean and explains that this is the world that
exists as a result of Dean saying no to helping the angels fight
Lucifer. Dean meets up with Future Dean, who tells him that the virus
is the Devil's endgame for destroying mankind. Misha Collins also
stars. Steve Boyum directed the episode written by Ben Edlund."

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"Fallen Idol" summary from the CW: "Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) decide to start hunting together again and their first case leads them to a small town whose inhabitants are being killed by famous dead icons like Abraham Lincoln and James Dean's car. However, after two teenage girls come forward and claim their friend was kidnapped by Paris Hilton (in a cameo role as herself), the brothers aren't sure what they are hunting anymore. Jim Conway directed the episode written by Julie Siege."

"I Believe the Children Are Our Future" summary from the CW: "Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) investigate a series of odd murders that strangely resemble fairytales and urban legends.  The brothers track down an 11-year-old boy named Jesse (guest star Gattlin Griffith) and realize that whatever Jesse believes is coming true.  Castiel (Misha Collins) tells Sam and Dean that Jesse is a serious threat and needs to be eliminated.  Charles Beeson directed the episode written by Andrew Dabb
& Daniel Loflin

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