For a show that handled cliches and homages well in its pilot episode, ABC’s 666 Park Avenue might have overdone it with its second episode, ‘Murmurations.’
The episode opens with a cute wink at the audience, as resident devil-in-charge Gavin Doran (Terry O’Quinn) surveys the foyer of his apartment building and all of its lost souls while You Belong to Me plays in the background. It was cute but almost too cute. This show walks a fine line between creepy and campy and should avoid leading with the latter.
From campy to boring, the catalyst for this episode is Jane (Rachael Taylor) packing up Mr. Barlow’s belongings. In case you’ve forgotten, Barlow was eaten by his wallpaper last week. As far as Jane knows Barlow skipped out for Vegas and left all of his items behind. Here is where the show delivers what should be its big scare: Jane hears murmuring behind the wall and when she goes to investigate she is attacked by a Hitchcockian swarm of birds that break through the wall and barrel through a glass window only to fly right past Gavin Doran’s office.
The show overshoots again with the birds, worse than it did with the opening sequence. One bird would have been creepy but the onslaught of starlings, or murmuration of starlings to be precise, was too much. Just as this show needs to tread lightly with the camp, it needs to remember that subtlety is horror’s best friend.
The murmuration of starlings promises to be more than just a one off scare tactic. Delivering the only eerie line of the night, resident clairvoyant kleptomaniac Nona tells Jane, “Don’t mess with the birds. They’re part of the Drake.” So what are they? Devil’s minions? Lost souls of the damned? Whatever they are, let’s hope the writers have a solid plan. Well woven mythology could be this show’s saving grace.
With an episode title ‘Murmurations,’ one would expect subtlety, not over the top scares. The title is a nod to the name for a flock of starlings but metaphorically it is meant to refer to the Drake’s dark past whispering to Jane in the middle of the night and continually haunting the Soul of the Week, Danielle. Jane’s dreams about a murder that occurred in the 1950s ties her character together with Danielle, a long time resident of the Drake whose only desire is to be loved. The resolution of Danielle’s story was solid and heartbreaking. Without giving away too much, her story paints Gavin as less of the slick Dealer of Souls we saw in the pilot and as more of a Steward of the Damned.
In fact, Gavin is much more layered than he originally seemed. His interactions with Henry (David Annable) initially seem geared toward corrupting the young lawyer but as it turns out, that was all a ruse. What Gavin really wants is not for Henry to become damned but for Henry to become a hero. A hero for what we don’t yet know. It’s no doubt a battle between good and evil, possibly of apocalyptic proportions. It would be interesting if 666 Park Avenue played with those concepts a bit and revealed the Dorans to be on the side of good, rather than the standard demonic fare we believe them to be.
What would be really nice is if Henry could be a hero and save us from his dreadfully boring wife Jane. Her bland characterization is obviously intentional but it does not play well on screen. There is a way to play a compelling everywoman and Rachael Taylor doesn’t know how to do it. Jane’s character needs an actress who can convey nuanced emotions without a word and not someone who went to the Kristen Stewart school of lip-biting-to-show-every-emotion-ever. When this show gets canned it won’t be because the story failed to captivate, it will be because Taylor failed to captivate.
Maybe she’ll get eaten by wallpaper. That would be interesting.
For now, we seem to be stuck with her. Let’s just hope next week’s story picks up the pace, backs off from the cheap shocks and has more of the Drake and less Jane.