Sunday, November 8, 2009

Classics: Early Edition 1:2 – The Choice

Plot Synopsis:

“She gets sideswiped by a car, a hit and run.”
“Does it say what time?”
“Around 1:00. Someone calls 911, but the ambulance gets tied up in the traffic. They radio back, but the call gets lost in the shuffle.”
“Right through the cracks.”
“So before anyone realizes it, it’s too late. She dies at Columbia General Hospital of internal injuries. Amanda Bailey, age six.”

“Global Airlines flight 29 bound for Miami went down in flames yesterday afternoon shortly after take off from Chicago. The plane, filled with tourist on their way to the Florida sun, disappeared from radar screens at exactly 2:00, just seconds after lifting from the runway. The passenger list included prominent business men, ordinary families, and at least one child traveling alone, plus a flight crew of 12. Airline officials suspect a flock of birds in the area may have fouled the engines, causing the jet to plunge from the sky. By late afternoon, rescue workers were still combing the wreckage, desperately searching for signs of life. But little hope was held out for any of the nearly 200 souls on board.”

Gary is settling into his life with the paper, but he’s not smiling about it. He’s still smarting over his impending divorce – a feeling Marcia exacerbates when she drops by the Blackstone to hand Gary a copy of Lost Chicago she found in one of their bookcases (which Gary tries to throw out, only to have it bounce back to him at the end of the episode) – and he resents the amount of time the paper takes up – time that, in his estimation, he could be using to look for a job and restart his life. He wants the freedom to make his own choices, but he feels the paper is a crushing imperative.

So in this episode, the paper – or God, rather – gives Gary the opportunity to make a choice. It reports the two events described in the snippets above – and because both events are within an hour of each other – and because the traffic is an absolute mess – Gary has to decide which story he will prioritize.

At first, Gary decides to stop the plan crash, as its death toll is higher. Chuck attempts to grab him a cab, but an obnoxious surgeon snatches said cab right out from under him. Then Gary, Chuck, and Marissa try to alert the police, but Detective Crumb is still angry over the events of the pilot and refuses to listen. Then the three decide to take the El to the airport – but while they’re waiting on the platform for the next train to arrive, Gary gets a funny feeling. Looking down onto the street, he sees Amanda riding her bike. Making a split-second decision, he leaves his friends on the platform and tries to catch Amanda before she gets into her accident. But he is too late – Amanda is hit, and Gary must carry her to the hospital.

Marissa and Chuck attempt to continue on to the airport, arguing all the way over what they’re going to do when they get there. The question is moot, however, as the power on the train fails before they even reach their destination. Reluctantly, they evacuate the El and catch up with Gary, who has just been bodily thrown out of the hospital for demanding that the surgeon/cab stealer examine Amanda more closely. Marissa tells Gary that he needs to go to the airport, but Gary insists on staying, as Amanda is about to die unnecessarily from an undiagnosed epidural hematoma. Marissa and Chuck create a diversion so Gary can sneak back into the hospital and confront the surgeon.

Breaking into the OR, Gary forces the surgeon, at last, to take a second look at Amanda, and the surgeon realizes just in time that the little girl needs surgery. Afterwards, the surgeon, contrite, thanks Gary for saving him from a malpractice suit and congratulates him for saving not only Amanda’s life, but his own. Gary, however, is in no mood to accept the surgeon’s plaudits; he watched the clock tick down to 2:00 while Amanda was in surgery and is certain he has just let a plane full of people go down.

But things are not quite what they seem. While Marissa attempts to console Gary, a man in a pilot’s uniform runs in asking after his daughter. Astonished, Gary follows him to Amanda’s room and learns that Amanda’s father was supposed to be the pilot on the doomed plane. In saving Amanda, Gary has also averted the plane crash.

In the final scene, Gary discovers a picture of the paper’s cat in his apparently indestructible copy of Lost Chicago. The cat has been around for a very long time.

Overall: 8.7 – The Divine Presence makes himself even more explicitly known in this strong early showing; the writers here are clearly learning to balance comedy and drama and are right away exploring their interesting set-up.

Writing: 8.5

There’s a big jump here in the comedy quotient, as you can see in the highlights below. The writers are starting to get used to the humor inherent in Gary’s circumstances and are drawing it out for all it’s worth. What’s particularly entertaining here is watching Gary and his friends fumbling around trying to find the right solution to the problems the paper presents while simultaneously protecting their big secret, lying horrendously and basically coming across as wacky eccentrics to everyone around them. It’s a little sad when, in later episodes, this hilarious naiveté drops away – though, of course, such a change has to occur, as the characters have to be allowed to learn from experience.

The dilemma presented in this episode is not the toughest Gary will ever face, but it does demonstrate the writers’ early recognition of the potential of the premise. A cynic may say that said dilemma’s resolution is too pat, but I am not so wedded to relentless, black realism and actually like it when things occasionally turn out well. I suppose that right there highlights the difference between my Catholic-Christian worldview and that of the secular humanist. After all, as a Christian, I believe there is a plan at work – a plan with a happy ending!

Acting: 8.5

There is little change in the quality of the performances between the pilot and this episode, mainly because, as I noted in my first review, the regular cast started out perfectly matched to their roles. We do see a little more dramatic work from Kyle Chandler, however, and it is good work. I particularly love the scenes in which he confronts the self-centered surgeon, because in them, Kyle effectively brings out Gary’s masculine strength, thereby balancing the slapstick comedy and befuddlement of other scenes.

Message: 9

This episode subverts the usual utilitarian calculus, and for that, it deserves a great deal of credit. Utilitarianism has a powerful hold on today’s society. We see it in the way our society treats the defenseless unborn; we see it in the way we treat the handicapped and the old; and we see it in the way we wage war. Now, while it is true that circumstances often force governing bodies to make choices based on pure mathematics – that is the fallen world in which we live – we should never forget that people are not data points to be abandoned or manipulated at will. Each person is, in fact, of intrinsic, infinite value because he or she has been created by God with an eternal soul. Is it right to allow the death of a child to save a hundred – or a thousand – other people? A doctrinaire utilitarian would answer, without angst, in the affirmative. But God’s law – which has been written onto our hearts – pushes all of us – and Gary here – to reconsider.

The Benevolent Hand:

This episode is also an educational moment for Gary. God hears his chosen one complaining – chafing under his new responsibilities – and, through His manipulation of events, teaches Gary that yes, He does love him very much and knows him intimately – and that He will never give Gary a task he can’t handle using his natural talents and instincts. In a way, a subtle covenant is made here: it should be noted that at no point in the series is Gary charged to avert foreign wars, famines, or large-scale natural disasters. God knows one man can’t handle these things alone. The biggest tragedies Gary will ever be called to stop are those that are preventable through local, personal intervention – with, sometimes, a little of God’s assistance.

Highlights can be found below the cut.


Credit to Earlydues for the transcript segments!

CHUCK: “Besides, aren’t you the least bit curious where this thing comes from, huh? How it gets here?”
GARY: “Course I am.”
CHUCK: “So?”
(Gary goes out to get his shirts off his line.)
GARY: “When I find out, I’ll tell you.”
CHUCK: “Terrific. That’s perfect, you know that?” (He follows Gary outside.) “The greatest boon to mankind since non-taxable income, and who does it come to? A guy who buys lottery tickets and doesn’t cheat; a guy who still washes his own shirts.”
GARY: “What’s wrong with that?” – I love that Gary just takes it as a matter of course that an adult should wash his own shirts.

MARCIA: “So how are you?”
GARY: “Oh, well you know, getting a divorce, but I think you knew that.”
MARCIA: “Anyway, I was, um, cleaning out the house… I’m, I’m moving you know, it’s a little big now and, anyway I just found something of yours.”
GARY: “Something you didn’t throw out of the window?” – Ouch. Awkward.

(After Gary reads the story about Amanda.)
MARISSA: “So, what are you going to do?”
GARY: “Do I have a choice?”
MARISSA: “Well, let’s see: you could go to the movies instead, or buy some popcorn and feed the pigeons.”
GARY: “You get a real kick out of this, don’t you?”
MARISSA: “Kind of. Don’t you?”
GARY: “No, I don’t.”
MARISSA: “What would you rather be doing?”
GARY: “Have a life, a real life…”
MARISSA: “Boring!”
GARY: “…and a job.”
MARISSA: “So get one.”
GARY: “Oh, sure, I’ll do that this afternoon when I have some free time.” – Often, especially early on, Gary experiences the promptings of his own conscience as unavoidable divine commands. But of course, as Marissa points out, he still has his free will.

MAN: “What’s your problem?”
CHUCK: “What’s my problem?! This is my cab!”
MAN: “I don’t think so; I think it’s his.” (The man gestures to the cabbie.)
CHUCK: “Ah, ha, ha. I see – a comedian.”
MAN: “No, surgeon.”
CHUCK: “Oh, yeah? Well, I wouldn’t let you operate on my coccyx! Now get out. I had it first!”
SURGEON: “Congratulations. What are you, a doorman?”
CHUCK: “Alright, look, guy, truth is, it’s not for me, ok? It’s for her.” (Chuck gestures to Marissa.) “And she’s …”
SURGEON: (unimpressed) “Blind?”
CHUCK: “Bunions. A severe case.” – LOL! As you’ll see, our heroes haven’t mastered the art of lying at this point.

DESK SERGEANT: “You there - you want to lodge a complaint?”
GARY: “Uh...”
MARISSA: “Yes, we are.”
DESK SERGEANT: “Who are you filing against?”
MARISSA: “Global Airlines. They stole our luggage.”
DESK SERGEANT: “You mean they lost it.”
MARISSA: “No, they stole it. Grand theft luggage.” – See what I mean?

DESK SERGEANT: “Ahem, Detective Crumb?”
CRUMB: “What?”
DESK SERGEANT: “There’s someone here to see you.”
(Crumb sees Gary in his shaving mirror.)
CRUMB: “You! What the hell is he doing here?” (He sits up and swings around in his chair.)
DESK SERGEANT: “He has a problem.”
CRUMB: “What kind of problem?”
DESK SERGEANT: “There’s a plane full of luggage.”
CRUMB: “Luggage?”
GARY: “It’s gonna crash.”
CRUMB: “When?”
GARY: “2:00.”
CRUB: “Well, that would be 2:00 when? Today? Tomorrow? A year from now?”
GARY: “Look, Detective, I…”
CRUMB: “No, you look! You see this grey hair? This is you! Thanks to your little stunt last week, half my staff is gone.” (The officer shaving him goes to wipe his face.) “Not now!” (Back to Gary.) “And now you want me to swallow some half-ass, crack-brain story about a plane full of luggage?”
GARY: “Yes…except there is no luggage.”
DESK SERGEANT: “So, what do you want me to do?”
CRUMB: “Take him out back and shoot him.” (To officer shaving him.) “Proceed.”
(Later, on the stairwell at the police station:)
GARY: “I hope he cuts himself shaving; nice long deep cut, ear to ear.” – LOL!

MARISSA: “Maybe it’s trying to tell you something.”
GARY: “It?”
MARISSA: “The paper.”
GARY: “Like what?”
CHUCK: “Like ‘buy a helicopter.’ My feet are killing me.” – Hee!

(After Gary leaves Chuck and Marissa to save Amanda.)
MARISSA: “What time is it now?”
CHUCK: “You just asked me that.”
MARISSA: “I know, you’re right. Now I’m asking again.”
CHUCK: “Eleven after one.”
MARISSA: “Good, we can still make it to the airport.”
CHUCK: “Yeah, and then what?”
MARISSA: “And then we stop the plane.”
CHUK: “Uh huh - how we gonna do that?”
MARISSA: “I don’t know, but we’re gonna.”
CHUCK: That’s it? That’s your plan? I don’t know, but we’re gonna? Great.” – As soon as Gary leaves them, it’s bicker, bicker, bicker.

MARISSA: “Just say there’s a bomb!”
CHUCK: “What?”
MARISSA: “That way they’ll delay the flight for the time that it takes …”
CHUCK: “Let me just stop you there, ok? You’re out of your mind.”
CHUCK: “Why? Newsflash: there is only one reason to give an airline a bomb threat. That is when there is an actual bomb on the plane. Otherwise, they tend to overreact. Like put you in prison. Like, forever.” – Chuck is not the sharpest crayon in the box, but sometimes his practicality is helpful.

(At the hospital, meanwhile:)
GARY: “Look, I’m sorry about the cab this morning, but I need your help. You got a little girl here who’s not getting the right treatment.”
NURSE: “She’s been examined.”
SURGEON: “Then everything’s been taken care of.” (He turns and walks away.)
GARY: (following him up the hall) “No, everything hasn’t been taken care of. They looked at her arm. They missed what was wrong.”
SURGEON: “And your medical training would be?”
GARY: “None. And that’s why you’re going to find her.”
SURGEON: “Sorry, that’s not my job.”
GARY: “You’re a doctor.”
SURGEON: “Wrong. I’m a surgeon - not a detective and not a short-order cook. If you need an appointment, please call my office. Otherwise, I’m due in surgery.” (He turns to walk away again.)
GARY: (grabs him by the arm, firm) “This is my appointment. Something needs to be done, and you’re gonna do it.” – And in this moment, all of Gary’s awkwardness disappears. It’s very cool.

(After Gary is kicked out, Marissa and Chuck find him.)
MARISSA: “We couldn’t get there. Maybe we’re not supposed to, but you can.”
GARY: “No, I gotta get back in there.”
MARISSA: “Look, Gary, there’s 190…”
GARY: “No, I gotta get back in there. There’s a little girl in there that trusts me, and I made her a promise!” – Aw.

CHUCK: (moaning) “Ohhh noooo! I’m sick!”
MARISSA: “Help! Help!”
SECURITY GUARD: “What the hell is going on here?”
MARISSA: “My husband, he’s sick.”
CHUCK: (as if to emphasize the point) “Ohhhhhh, I’m sick!”
MARISSA: “Very.”
CHUCK: “I’m dying, ohhhh!”
MARISSA: (to Chuck) “Don’t push it.”
NURSE: “What’s going on here?”
MARISSA: “It’s …his stomach”
CHUCK: “My head!”
(Gary is sneaking in through the ER doors past the security guard, who is distracted by Chuck and Marissa.)
MARISSA: “….his head.”
CHUCK: “…stomach. Hurts all over.”
(He sees Gary and makes his groaning louder to keep attention away from Gary. The security guard starts to turn towards entrance Gary is walking into. Chuck grabs his arm.)
CHUCK: “It’s a virus; did you see the movie “Outbreak”? My face is going to turn into putty.”
NURSE: “Get him out of here before he starts a riot.”
CHUCK: “Thank you.”
(The security guard starts to push Chuck down the hall.”
SECURITY GUARD: “Nurse, where do you want me to take him?”
NURSE: “Tell someone to order him an upper and lower GI. And give him a rectal.”
(Chuck’s eyes bug out, and he sits straight up on the gurney.)

(Gary is putting on scrubs from some doctor’s locker.)
DOCTOR: “Excuse me, that’s Dr. Connelly’s locker.”
GARY: “Oh yeah, I know. He asked me to find something for him.”
DOCTOR: “And what would that be?”
GARY: “His glass eye.” – Muah!

(Gary is wheeling Amanda down the hall.)
ORDERLY #1: “Doctor, you need some help with that?”
GARY: “No thanks.”
ORDERLY #1: “Why don’t you let us do that for you?”
GARY: “Can’t. Incarcerated petunia.”
ORDERLY #2: “What did he say?” – LOL!

(In the OR.)
GARY: “Okay, let’s talk.”
OR STAFF #1: “Listen Mister, you gotta get out of here right now!”
GARY: “No, I said we’re gonna talk! This little girl’s name is Amanda Bailey. She’s six years old. She doesn’t like orange juice, but she’ll drink it. She can curl her tongue up and fit between her two front teeth. Her favorite teacher is Miss Pideli, who teaches pottery at school; she likes to get the clay on her fingertips. You’ve got two options: you can pretend this girl is just another name, or you can save her life. What’s your choice?
SURGEON: “You’re a very persistent man, Mr. Life and Death.”
GARY: “Yes, I am.”
SURGEON: “You could go to jail for this.”
GARY: “Just look at the girl.”
(The surgeon picks up the chart, and Gary grabs it away.)
GARY: “Not the chart! Look at the girl!” – Awesome!

SURGEON: “Piece of cake. Pretty close thing, though. A few more minutes and we’d have had some explaining to do.” (A beat.) “I sound like a bureaucrat, don’t I? Look, um…I won’t pretend that I understand what is going on with you. Something tells me I don’t even want to know. But I get the feeling we’re both in the same kind of business….saving lives. Thing is, one of us hasn’t been doing his job. Not that I’m very good at saying thanks….but, there it is. You saved more than one life today.”
GARY: (thinking about the plane crash) “No. No, I didn’t.”
MARISSA: (walking up hall towards Gary) “But you tried.”
(The surgeon taps Gary on the shoulder and leaves.)
GARY: “And I failed.”
MARISSA: “Maybe, maybe not. It’s what you said: this is what you had to do.”
GARY: “And that makes it alright?”
MARISSA: “You’re only one guy Gary.”
GARY: “Marissa, that plane went down today, and I should have been there. Me. Not anyone else but me!”
MARISSA: “No, you shouldn’t.”
GARY: “Why?”
MARISSA: “Cause you couldn’t. You can’t do it all Gary; the world doesn’t turn that way.” – And indeed, God makes it clear that he only expects Gary to do what he is capable of doing.

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