Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Strike Survival TV Club: Cupid, "Heart of the Matter"

Spoilers for "Heart of the Matter," episode 8 of "Cupid," coming up just as soon as I find a tissue...

He's a god. The man is a god. Plain and simple.

How else do you explain the miracle at the heart of "Heart of the Matter"? How could anyone but the God of Love find the one person in a big city like Chicago who would be a perfect match for Susan's heart? Who but Eros could have allowed Susan to have one perfect night with her savior before he died?

In a little while, Rob Thomas is going to talk about how, much as he likes the episode, it probably goes too far in answering the series' central mystery of "deity or delusional?" And coming immediately after an episode like "Pick-Up Schticks," which made a very plausible, haunting argument for "delusional," I can see how giving away the gag in only the eighth episode may not have been the wisest choice for whatever long-term future the series might have had with a different network/timeslot.

But there's a reason "Heart of the Matter" is the episode of "Cupid" I've watched the most, a reason it's the one I cite whenever discussing the show's greatness: because every single time I watch it, even though I know what's coming, even though with 20-20 hindsight the heart transplant thing seems screamingly obvious, when Susan starts thanking Trevor for introducing her to Dan, my eyes get as moist as Susan's. Every damn time.

There's something about heart transplants that make them an ideal subject for these kind of grand melodramatic moments. We think of the heart not only as the organ that keeps all the other organs working, but as the center of our romantic lives, and in turn of our souls. When someone receives someone else's heart, it inherently feels more profound than if they got a kidney or a liver or whatever. The greatest moment in "St. Elsewhere" -- one of the greatest moments in any TV drama, ever -- is the one where David Morse's character, newly and shockingly widowed, enters the room of the woman who received his wife's heart and finds comfort in taking out his stethoscope and simply listening to that heart beat. (It's such a brilliant idea that one of the "St. Elsewhere" writers couldn't help but copy it a decade later on a "Chicago Hope" episode.) I'm not saying that the Susan scene here is quite as amazing, but it's in the ballpark.

Or maybe I'm just a sap, I don't know.

It helped that the script did such a good job of establishing Dan as a likable, funny guy who could banter with a master like Trevor. Trevor's line about feeling like he lost a friend was right on. Matt Roth and Piven dropped into an immediate simpatico, and in a less tragic context you could imagine him usurping Champ's role as Trevor's sidekick.

It also helped that, as Rob notes below, Katy Selverstone is so committed and fierce as Susan. There was a period in the mid-'90s where it looked like she was going to break out -- she was doing those MCI ads for a long time, then did a "Seinfeld" guest spot at a time when every girl who dated Jerry or George was getting their own show, then did an extended run on "The Drew Carey Show" as the first of Drew's improbably pretty girlfriends -- but things never quite materialized for her. She still works, though, and performances like this one help explain why.

The B-story continues the ongoing tension between Trevor and Alex, and now expands it so that things are getting awkward between Alex and Claire. The sidewalk argument between Trevor and Claire where each begins arguing the other's viewpoint on commonality vs. chemistry was funny and extremely quotable. (My two favorites: "I'd rather be a slow-baked ham than niblit grizzle" and ""Hope someone got that on film, because that's the last time that'll ever happen," the latter of which set up Trevor's joke to Dan about them becoming romantically involved.) I also love that Claire sent her Dear John note via fax (though given the period, is it any worse than break-up by e-mail today?), and that any enjoyment she could take from Alex kinda sorta proclaiming his love was immediately dashed by the realization that Trevor lied to her. If it had already become clear that Trevor was in love with Claire, this is the first episode to really suggest she might subconsciously feel the same way; no one makes you crazier than the person you love the most, right?

And now it's time for Rob Remembers, where "Cupid" creator (past and, hopefully, future) Rob Thomas offers some behind the scenes insight into each episode:


I actually needed to rewatch the episode. This is one that Reno and Osborn shepherded and did significant script work on. I had almost nothing to do with it. I remember having a couple reservations about it. It did seems to really swing us into the "Trevor really is a god" side of the equation. Additionally, in the script stage, I had a problem with the buy at the end of the episode. It seemed like it was a bit far-fetched, but when I saw it on screen, I was won over.

I had forgotten how much I like the performance by Katy Selverstone. She has a kind of Jodie Foster vibe to her.

I remember we had a battle over a scene in which Trevor reacts to the news of Dan's death by smashing up a bunch of discarded furniture in an alley in a bit of a frenzy. Again the network was concerned that it made Trevor seem too real, too disturbed. I think I was in the minority in wanting to keep this possibility alive. The audience wants to believe Trevor possesses some real magic. I always felt like, if we gave them that, they wouldn't respect us in the morning. In any case, the scene of Trevor smashing things ended up cut from the final version, perhaps largely because we were out of time.

The original draft of the script was written by Karen Hall who Reno and Osborn had worked with on Moonlighting, I believe. Karen's sister Barbara is the creator/EP of Joan of Arcadia and Judging Amy.
Some other thoughts on "Heart of the Matter":

-One of the running elements of the series, but especially apparent here, is how easily Trevor's able to talk to strangers about their love lives and make it absolutely clear that he's not hitting on them. I know the script throws in a line where he tells Susan he's just trying to get a bonus for bringing as many people to the bar as possible, but there's just something in the way Piven carries himself that makes it clear that he's not looking to get laid, and I still can't put my finger on what he's doing.

-Along similar lines, as Trevor and Dan were bantering at the video store about the oddness of two unfamiliar men talking about relationships, my wife wondered aloud how the hypothetical "Cupid" remake might deal with same sex couples. In 1998, this wasn't really a possibility ("Will & Grace" had just come on the air, but it would be years before it was allowed to show two men kissing), but standards have changed somewhat. The gods themselves -- and the Greeks and Romans who worshipped them -- seemed open to various romantic and sexual combinations, so I would think Trevor gets credit for pairing off two men or two women.

-A far more minor clue than Trevor's recognition of Dan being Susan's perfect match: when Dan asks how he got into the Blackhawks practice, Trevor says, "I can get in anywhere. I'm Cupid, remember?" Throughout the series, we've seen Trevor talk his way into situations and places where he should be denied entry, but I keep thinking back to that shot of him on top of the building in "Heaven... He's In Heaven" and asking myself, "How the hell did he get up there?"

-When Dan begins describing the kind of skeeball he used to play (which we then see him play with Susan), it sounded (and looked) like every skeeball arcade I've ever seen in my life. Is anyone familiar with another look for the game that I'm not aware of?

-Just wanted to mention "Glass Blowing: Craft or Fetish." I'm almost afraid to Google it.

Up next: "End of an Eros," featuring Trevor and Claire's first outright team-up and some hilarious camerawork, which (if you haven't already gone BitTorrenting like some other readers) you can find here, here, here, here and here.

What did everybody else think?

24 comments:

ratphooey said...

Ye olde Skeeball:
http://www.holidayworld.com/holiblog/oldSkeeball.jpg

Newfangled Skeeball:
http://www.bhmvending.com/Amusements/Skeeball/skeeball_lightning_machine.gif

Nicole said...

This was my favourite of the series. On my rewatch, I knew that Dan would die but had forgotten the heart transplant aspect so that hit me hard... again. It's hard not to cry when watching that scene.

This didn't necessarily confirm that he was a god for me, because extreme coincidences can happen or maybe I am thinking of the Cusak film Serendipity, but in any case, it didn't tip a balance because I was thinking more about the couple than Trevor. Had there been the furniture destroying scene, I would have probably leaned toward crazy.

As for a present day Cupid, I think that including same-sex couples is a must. It might offend the religious right, but isn't Hollywood full of heathens anyway?

Theresa said...

While watching the episode, I jotted down a few of my favorite lines:

-Trevor's "So you've been here just the right amount of time to leave no opening for conversation whatsoever." when Susan clearly does not want to speak with him.
-The Trevor/Dan exchange, "And they say *I'm* delusional." "They do?"

Really sad episode. I really thought it was going to end up that Susan was actually in the witness protection program, so her whole "I'm dying" thing really threw me off. Other than that, though, I liked it. It's sad to start really getting invested in these characters, though, because I know it's going to end soon.

tc said...

"He's a god. The man is a god. Plain and simple."

As I was reading Alan's thoughts on the god/delusional thing from this episode and the last (Pick up Schticks), I thought that maybe this is what happens to a god when he comes to earth--the descent into form brings out some crazy shamanic qualities that don't manifest on Mount Olympus.

Yep, I think he's a god--a delusional, homesick god.

Dan Coyle said...

One of the things I loved most about the episode is despite the sentimental, happy ending, Trevor isn't comforted by it. Dan is still dead. As he tells Claire, "I'm not taking credit for this one." And the final shot is a dejected, emotionless Trevor passively watching Three Stooges videos in an attempt to cheer himself up.

Jennifer said...

Great episode, I've been waiting to talk about this one. Yeah, this did not 100% confirm for me that Trevor was a god, either (even though I am biased towards that as what the truth is). Good twist there.

The ending scene, with Trevor watching the Stooges and not laughing, is lovely, as was Trevor's remark about losing a friend. I liked seeing that depth in him.

This makes me wonder: would the powers that be count this couple as a match, or not? Any thoughts?

I'd like to mention that there was a Tru Calling episode that reminds me of this- in that case, Tru keeps trying to save the life of a guy, but he dies every time. Turns out he's supposed to die so that his dying kid can get his heart, and Tru's real goal is to manipulate the situation so that can happen.

I thought the Alex/Claire dynamic in this was interesting. I've gotten that sort of treatment from guys before, and it ALWAYS meant that they were going to dump my ass within (at longest) two weeks. However, having Alex's cold behavior translate into "I love you" sounded...well, totally fake given my experience. Can any guys reading this give their thoughts on that? Would any male actually act like that?

Jenn. said...

I haven't had a chance to review the episodes with you, Alan, but this is definitely the episode that I remember most strongly from its run on TV. I definitely thought at the time that the upshot of it was that he was a god---he matched the woman with a broken heart with her true match.

And that closing scene where Trevor is so silently distraught has always stayed with me.

olucy said...

This makes me wonder: would the powers that be count this couple as a match, or not? Any thoughts?

Yes, it counts. Cupid's job is to unite people in love for as long as they both should live. Since he did just that, he should get credit for it.

Signed,
Cupid's Lawyer

on the dole said...

The heart transplant scene choked me up too, and I'd like to believe I'm not a sap either...

I do think Rob Thomas' instinct was right about the furniture destroying scene. If Trevor really is Cupid, this would be the first time he truly learned what being mortal meant, and realized that "losing a friend" was permanent and eternal. And if he's delusional, it hints that his Sleeping Beauty story from the pilot may have been true, and he's clearly not a guy who deals well with death. I would've much preferred that scene to the one where he tries to console Susan at the laundromat.

Mike Mac said...

Brand new to the show, and just caught up with the posts over the weekend (suffice to say I'm totally hooke now).

Agree with everyone's comments here in what a great, sad, and fun episode this was and I think it was a brilliant partner to the episode prior (having watched them back to back).

A great moment that seemed to get buried by all of the later events, which you alluded to, Alan, is the introduction to Dan in the video store. As he and Piven begin ranting back and forth about their philosophies on life and love... just as it verged on 'this would only happen on a TV series' moment... Piven (and the writers) points out how odd the context of the conversation is, with Dan jokingly citing his security in his sexuality as his reason for being ok with talking to some random dude about love in a video store. From that point on, their friendship and kinship is totally believable (in the context of a series about a guy who may or may not be a god) and I'm along for the ride for the rest of the episode.

Can't wait for Lost on Thursday, and the Wire is totally keeping me going these days (I vote yea for the On-Demand blogs instead of waiting a week, btw) but I can't say I'm missing much of the rest of the network garbage thanks to gems like this stoking the fire.

mjryan said...

Count me among the saps. This episode choked me up quite a few times.

Am I the only one that doesn't like it when the episode's opening scene doesn't include Trevor and Claire? Last week we had Claire and Alex in bed, this week we have Trevor and Dan in the video store. While I loved the banter between Trevor and Dan, I think that this shows greatest strength is the interaction between Claire and Trevor. As good as these episodes are, the beginnings always startle me a bit.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I think if every episode opened with the two of them bickering, it would get tired after a while. But if it's Claire/Trevor banter, ye seek, then get thee to a YouTube browser for the next episode, which has the longest (and one of the funniest) of those scenes to date.

Mike Mac said...

I think if every episode opened with the two of them bickering, it would get tired after a while. But if it's Claire/Trevor banter, ye seek, then get thee to a YouTube browser for the next episode, which has the longest (and one of the funniest) of those scenes to date.

Not to mention one of the best visceral renditions of a hangover ever put to film.

Byron said...

Along similar lines, as Trevor and Dan were bantering at the video store about the oddness of two unfamiliar men talking about relationships, my wife wondered aloud how the hypothetical "Cupid" remake might deal with same sex couples. In 1998, this wasn't really a possibility ("Will & Grace" had just come on the air, but it would be years before it was allowed to show two men kissing), but standards have changed somewhat. The gods themselves -- and the Greeks and Romans who worshipped them -- seemed open to various romantic and sexual combinations, so I would think Trevor gets credit for pairing off two men or two women.

In another episode, earlier or later (I cheated), Trevor is talking to Claire's assistant, and they refer to a gay couple he set up. Their dog-ownership was his clue. Anyone want to point out the specific episode? It might even be the pilot.

filmcricket said...

Anyone want to point out the specific episode? It might even be the pilot.

No, it's definitely later - although I can't remember which one it is - but I noticed it too, because I'd been wondering when same-sex couples were going to show up.

This one didn't blow me away as much as it seems to have done for other people, I think because aside from the Dancing Bennetts I haven't had much invested in the couple of the week. What I remember most is the look on Trevor's face when Alex tells him he (Alex) is in love with Claire. Piven continues to astound me with his range. It's funny to see that Rob Thomas thought Katy Selverstone had a Jodie Foster vibe because that's exactly what I thought too. Can Selverstone speak perfect French, though?

Speaking of the Piven, there's a suggestion for you Alan, should you ever find yourself lacking in stuff to blog about (ha!): what about S1 of Larry Sanders?

Smiley Lee said...

Wow!

Just wow.

Okay, more than just wow...

I kind of remember this episode from when it originally aired, and knew where it was going. But that didn't diminish its power - what a moving piece of television. Although things tied together almost too nicely, it was well written, really well acted, and yes.. it made me cry.

I loved Trevor's inconsolability at Dan's loss, and the fact that he was trying to work through it by watching comedy films - that was a nice end to the episode.

And Claire's reactions this episode sort of redeemed her manipulativeness in the last episode - she was back to being a regular flawed human, instead of a deranged person.

And the guest cast did a great job: Dan & Susan really pulled me in and felt like whole human beings, not just walk through guest stars.

Bobman said...

Well I know I'm a sap for that kinda stuff, so it's always good to know that people who DON'T consider themselves saps also feel something :)

Fantastic episode, and I totally didn't see the end coming.

And Jeremy Piven really is my hero. The guy really deserves more fame than he has (although Entourage has shot him up a bit, still).

And I know it's a minor thing, but this show is just old enough that I still get surprised by some things that have changed in less than ten years. Trevor renting a stack of video tapes was one of those moments. Most places by me don't even stock ANY anymore.

Anthony Foglia said...

This is the other episode I remember from the original run. I'm conflicted. At the original time, I think I liked the big transplant twist--it was well done--but as the years went on I realized how corny it was, and it still came off that way. It wasn't fantastical unbelievable like the dancing in "Heaven..." but more poorly contrived unbelievable.

But Selverstone and Piven did a great job.

Add me to the camp you don't view the coincidence as strong proof the Trevor is Cupid. Partly because it seemed contrived by writer fiat, but also because he not only doesn't take credit, but can't quite believe it himself.

My only other complaint is that there was no scene of Claire's reaction when she learned Trevor didn't lose his godhood in the previous episode.

jennifer wrote, "Can any guys reading this give their thoughts on that? Would any male actually act like that?"

I don't know, but it feels true. I'm feel like it's something I would do. (I also feel the breakdown Trevor had at the end of last week's episode and the cut violent tantrum are things I would do too. :-) )

R.A. Porter said...

Busy, busy week for me, so I watched this episode at the office this morning (I got in a little early) and didn't watch this week's Breaking Bad until this evening. I include this seemingly random tidbits to say the following:

1. In my soon-to-be-posted comments on Breaking Bad my extreme practicality and mild psychopathy will be on display. I had to ask the wife how "normal" people would have reacted to something that occurred there because that's not what I would have done.

2. That said, I was crying quite a bit - after people had arrived at work, no less - watching the hospital scene. It's definitely not just you, Alan. This one's a heart wrenching episode. It doesn't grieve me as much as Trevor's bedroom breakdown from last week, but it's absolutely more bittersweet.

Last week might have had Claire pushing at the outside of the ick envelope, using SureScore on Alex, but I think this week might be even worse. We can see just how clingy, needy, and co-dependent she becomes in a relationship. He's a little distant because he's got work? This from a woman who is chronically overbooked and overtaxed. I'm frankly surprised she could tell Alex wasn't around; maybe she's dropped all her outstanding projects to focus on Alex and that's why. An amazing job, as always, from Paula Marshall to make me believe - and still empathize a bit - in Claire.

As for good lines and exchanges, there were plenty, considering the sad ending of the episode. Dan was a great sparring partner for Trevor, and the two of them went at it at least as much as Trevor and Claire. Here were a few that struck me:
Trevor There I was, minding my own business.
Claire Already I don't believe it.

Trevor Where there's a will--
Claire There's someone there to contest it.

Dan A little wordplay
Trevor Yeah, if you catch it in the right light.

Tracey said...

I knew the ending of this one as I watched it this time, and I admit it freely: I cried like a baby the whole way through! As we got to know Dan, such a nice guy, and knowing he was going to die too young before the end of the episode... as we saw Susan and Dan hitting it off, so perfect for each other, but knowing that they would never have that second date he promised... when we get the news that he died... and when we find out in the hospital that Susan will live because of his heart... cried like a baby all the way through. Admittedly, I've always been a bit of a soft touch for that sort of thing, but usually such blatant heartstring-tugging annoys me even while it makes me cry. This one didn't annoy me in the least; I think it was beautifully done.

Yes, this one leaned in favor of Trevor-is-Cupid, but not so far that it forces the issue. It is still quite possible to believe it was merely a coincidence: wild coincidences do happen in real life, and certainly this outcome wasn't what Trevor had in mind when he hooked them up! But if you're the sort of person who favors the Trevor-is-Cupid theory, this would be the first episode you would point to.

I think the strength of this series lies in the way it bounced back and forth between the two possibilities, never fully committing to one possibility or the other, and occasionally giving strong evidence one way or the other. From reading Rob's comments here and elsewhere (http://www.slaverats.com/), my impression is that this was the result of tension between what he wanted (crazy) and what the network wanted (Cupid): he tried to write it crazy, but had to leave enough wiggle room to make the network happy. It gave an intriguing balance to the series that was a large part of the fun for me. I don't particularly want to know the answer; the fun is in the tension. Look at the Fantasy Island remake that aired right before Cupid when it was on: they firmly decided that Mr. Rourke was magic, and it sapped a lot of the fun out of the series.

I love the idea I've seen some express: that Trevor's 100th couple would be himself and Claire, rendering him mortal, which would allow the series to end without ever answering the Cupid-or-crazy question, yet still end in a satisfying way.

Anthony Foglia said...

tracey wrote, "From reading Rob's comments here and elsewhere (http://www.slaverats.com/), my impression is that this was the result of tension between what he wanted (crazy) and what the network wanted (Cupid): he tried to write it crazy, but had to leave enough wiggle room to make the network happy. It gave an intriguing balance to the series that was a large part of the fun for me."

I think you're wrong. Thomas almost certainly wanted the balance and doubt, where neither case was proven. For if Trevor was undoubtedly crazy, that would ruin the mystery as much as if he was undoubtedly a god.

As for the planned series end, Wikipedia refers to an interview Rob Thomas gave wherein he says what he had in mind. I won't ruin it for others.

M.A.Peel said...

(Catching up a bit, since a cold-induced blog reading slowdown.)

I thought the final, final moment was going to be that Susan doesn't survive the surgery, and Trevor sees Dan and her ghosts playing skeeball, a la Wuthering Heights.

I just hate when people are separated.

Devin McCullen said...

I am still way behind, but 2 thoughts I did want to add.

1) Hey, Lucinda Williams music! Nice.

2) I tend to be easy to fool, so I didn't see the end coming. But one of the really good things about it was that they didn't kill us with the foreshadowing. Yes, the heart problem was clearly established, but there was no mention of a possible transplant. Most shows wouldn't have done that.

Karen said...

I wrote "Heart of the Matter" and I stumbled on this page while trying to update my resume. (I couldn't remember what year Cupid was.) Thanks so much for all the kind words. I really enjoyed writing it, and had much help not only from Ron and Jeff (we had worked together on Moonlighting) but also from Hart Hanson -- whom I didn't know at the time, but we went on to work together for years on Judging Amy.

Thanks again!