Monday, June 22, 2009

In Plain Sight, "Who's Bugging Mary?": Family affairs

Some quick thoughts on last night's "In Plain Sight" coming up just as soon as I accuse a widow of inventing her dead husband...

"In Plain Sight" isn't a "mythology" show in the sense we think of, ala "The X-Files" or "Fringe," but there tends to be the same kind of breakdown of episodes, where some are purely self-contained work plots, and others are about the larger backstory driving the series. It's just that this time the mythology is about a dysfunctional family, and about a magic suitcase of crystal meth.

And where the mythology episodes are often the ones to be looked forward to the most on those other series, they tend to be the weakest parts of "In Plain Sight." I would, frankly, take a dozen stories about murdered witnesses before we got another episode dealing with Jinx and/or the magic suitcase, the latter of which I thought we were finally rid of at the end of last season.

I recognize that David Maples and company are trying to tell a story about a character as much as about her work, and Mary's family is a fundamental part of her character. She wouldn't be the hard-ass she is if her dad hadn't run out on her, and if she hadn't been stuck taking care of her idiot mother and her flaky sister. But I understand that by now, and I still find her family to be abrasive, annoying and a large distraction from the chief appeal of the show, which is the interplay between Mary, Marshall and the witnesses. And the FBI agent is almost as irritating a character as Jinx, even if they explained his motivation for being so irritating at the end of "Who's Bugging Mary?"

(Speaking of which, the Mary who has held grudges for decades against mom and sis, and the Mary who can't stop being nasty to Eleanor for the sin of moving Mary's desk, does not seem like the kind of person who would be all "I look forward to working with you" to the FBI guy after he tried to destroy her life twice, and has still left her house looking like a complete wreck.)

When the episode opened with Mary dreaming that Brandi was going into WitSec, all I could think was, "Why can't this be real? And why can't she take Jinx with her?"

What did everybody else think?

33 comments:

floretbroccoli said...

Why, when Mary was convinced that Laura Prepon's character was FBI, did she have her investigated only by the first name she had given? Did it not occur to her that the name could have been a lie, along with the rest of her story?

Shopshopshop said...

She had no other name to go by, as far as I remember. Presumably she knew it could be a fake, but it would at least provide better information than just saying she was a blond girl who looks similar to Mary and can palm a basketball.

BigTed said...

What bothers me about this whole story line is that Brandi is actually guilty -- she took a big ol' suitcase full of drugs and hid it at Mary's house. People have been jailed for a whole lot less. Making the FBI agent trying to convict her some sort of Javert with a grudge just muddies the moral waters, in which we're supposed to see Brandi as troubled but essentially good, and not deserving of what the nasty Fibbies are putting her through.

As someone who also doesn't care that much about all the family business on this show, I'm starting to wonder if Mary's disappeared father is actually a protected withess -- and WitSec is hiding that fact from Mary. At least it would give her something new to rail about for the next few episodes.

Mac said...

I don't care about Brandi and actively dislike Jinx as much as any fictional character I can recall. However, the real problem with these episodes is that the show drags when neither Mary nor Marshall is on the screen, and that wasn't so much of a problem last night. I only had to fast-forward through one Jinx scene.

Kara said...

Strangely, this is the first episode where I actually didn't want to smack Jinx. Brandi has grown on me a bit, but I've never been able to tolerate Jinx.

I agree that it was wrapped up a little too neatly considering Brandi wasn't exactly completely innocent, but I'm glad that they did wrap it up and we can move away from it and Agent O'Connor. I know he's played by McCormack's brother and therefore probably has an open invitation to come back, but I hope he doesn't. He IS irritating.

I agree that the family is a drag on the show and the show suffers when Mary and/or Marshall aren't on the screen, but I am interested in the storyline about Mary's father. They made it seem like he could be in witness protection, but that seems too nice and neat to have him basically under Mary's nose the whole time.

amysa said...

Last season I pretty much hated her family and everything about them. This season I still find the Jinx storyline to be a bore and would prefer that the only time we ever deal with the family when Mary isn't around is if Josh Malina is in some way involved, but I didn't hate last night's. I'm glad it's over and I'm glad that we've finally gotten rid of smug FBI guy, but on the whole I liked it. If nothing else, Marshall's "we'd invite you to lunch, but..." moment made it worth sitting through.

Anonymous said...

I assume her Dad is in WitSec too, but it does raise the issue of why he didn't bring his family with him.

Strangely enough, I don't mind the storyline (Mary's missing dad, that is, not the laughable drug suitcase storyline), but I wish it was handled through the office setting. How does Marshall corral Mary when she's off the rails? How far is Stan willing to go to protect her, particularly when she lashes out at Eleanor? If Mary's dad has been in witsec and Stan's known the whole time, it would go a long way towards explaining his patience with her. It might also lead to a Paul Ben-Victor-centric episode that didn't require him to wear a wig.

maura said...

BigTed, I agree with you re: Brandi's guilt and how the FBI agent was portrayed. He was right about everything he suspected her of doing, and it's really bugging me that 1) the writers turned him into a villain with an ulterior motive, and 2) Brandi got off scott free. No, the guilt and shame of what she did is not enough punishment for Brandi. She's not a 10 year old stole a candy bar. Top that with her continual whining about Mary not being there, while Mary was desperately trying to keep her out of jail.

Marshall was right when he said (paraphrasing here) that she gets up every morning and sheds her bad behavior like an old coat.

I liked that Jinx finally decided to act like a mother. She made a good decision by calling Peter. She was still a little annoying, but in a normal, upset mother kind of way, instead of an "unable to see anything not currently going on in my own head" kind of way.

Anonymous said...

Mary's behavior was so abrasive and unnecessarily cruel I found it hard to watch and even harder to care about, even when she had a breakdown. I guess I don't understand why we're supposed to find her appealing at all, b/c while she's good at her job it doesn't strike me emotionally like, say BSG's Starbuck did. You have this kick-ass trainwreck of a person who still manages to be vulnerable and the kind of person you'd root for. Mostly I want Marshal to smack her.

RSG

Anonymous said...

I know everyone seems to dislike Mary's family but the show is about Mary and you can't have a show about her without including her family. She is the way she is because of her family situation. If we didn't know how dysfunctional her family is and how much trauma she's been through because of them we wouldn't care about her as a character. Mary's behavior last night was appalling -her treatment of Eleanor was almost unforgiveable. The only way to forgive it is to understand her family and her life. Plus you have to give Brandi and Jinx a little credit. Jinx is trying to make things better by going through rehab and staying sober. Brandi is in school and trying to make something of herself. She was willing to go to jail for 25 years to protect Mary from being prosecuted.

Eldritch said...

For what it's worth, I'm finding Mary's family the most interesting part of the show.

However, in fairness, I only came to the show in time to see the last three or four episodes of season 1. I found Jinx and Brandi pretty annoying then. But I didn't have an entire season of history with them.

And this season, I've found Brandi's relationship with her boyfriend and the recent business about her father and step-family the most interesting. I guess I haven't warmed up much to Jinx yet, though she did seem more supportive in this episode through the tears.

Lauren seems like the most likely candidate to have planted the bug at this point. Not quite what you'd expect from the usual estranged step-sister getting in contact for the first time. I guess there will be a twisted plot thread there.

amysa said...

wrt Brandi's guilt, she *was* guilty of a lot, but that ship sailed several times, the most important of which was Raph lining the practice field with meth. Smug FBI agent wasn't motivated to try to prosecute on what she was guilty of, he was motivated by guilt and vendetta and trumped things up to the point of lie. Brandi certainly shouldn't have gotten off as easy as she did, but I'm happier with someone who was adjacent to very bad things and seems to be making an attempt at being a productive member of society than a dirty cop.

Anonymous said...

While I haven't disliked the family as much as you this season, I am starting to reconsider and thinking about accepting your POV. This was clearly the worst episode of the entire series. I was grating my teeth; it was just awful.

jcpbmg said...

I too dislike the family-heavy episodes. I get that USA is supposed to be the "quirky-character network" however the Jinx/Brandi combo can just be unbearable at times

Also does anyone else know if Brandi's lawyer was Edie from West Wing (aka Diana-Maria Riva)-- it's not up on IMDB yet and it's really bugging me

Eldritch said...

...she *was* guilty of a lot, but that ship sailed several times, ... Smug FBI agent wasn't motivated to try to prosecute on what she was guilty of, ... but I'm happier with someone who was adjacent to very bad things and seems to be making an attempt at being a productive member of society than a dirty cop.

Calling a cop "Dirty" usually means he's committed crimes or taken bribes. This FBI may be a jerk, but he's not dirty. Brandi wasn't just adjacent to bad things, she knowingly, criminally transported pounds of meth in a suitcase across state lines. And she did it recently. That's what he was attempting to prosecute her for. How can that be inappropriate?

What's really going on here is the power of story telling. We root for Brandi and against the agent because the story puts her in a good light and him in a bad one.

How many of us root for Walt in "Breaking Away," despite knowing the meth he cooks will destroy lives. What he's doing is despicable, yet we root for him and hope something good will work. If Walt's story were told on "Law and Order" or "CSI," he'd be the villain and we'd hate him, because the story would be told differently.

Brandi was old enough to realize what she was doing. Saying you're sorry isn't always enough in real life. But this is just a story.

amysa said...

Maybe he's not dirty, but being willing to push a dead case past any merit because you feel guilt for banging a dead FBI agent's wife and you have an additional personal grudge against the family of the accused doesn't make you a good guy, it makes you a guy people should be concerned about. I'm thinking his word doesn't mean much to the AUSA right now either.

And I didn't say Brandi didn't do bad things, I said she was adjacent to *very* bad things. Brandi didn't kill anybody and she didn't kidnap anybody, Brandi's a dumbass who transported drugs for her criminal boyfriend and was too stupid to figure out how to get out of it before the shit hit the fan. Not innocent and certainly guilty of a crime, but certainly not guilty of the laundry list of other crimes. I didn't get the impression that he cared much about facts, he just wanted the only living person he could connect to the case to go to jail at any cost, not because of what they did but because of what he did.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous@12:36 PM

I think you could get the same story about why Mary is the way she is with a few _guest_ appearances by the family. There's also the argument Alan makes that we've already learned as much as we need to to understand Mary's prickliness. What did this week's episode tell us that we didn't already know?

Toby O'B said...

Agent O'Connor didn't just want to put Brandi into jail in order to assuage his own sense of guilt over Harrison's death; he wanted to see her get lethal injection. So he's not dirty, but he's certainly not someone I'd want to see again on the show, and I also couldn't believe someone like Mary say she looked forward to working with him again out of pity. Unless of course, she has some nasty payback in mind.

And Marshall's shiver at the thought of having lunch with O'Connor was the funniest moment on TV this year! (I plan to steal it and use it myself...)

Kara said...

I certainly understand the need for Mary's family and the part that they play, but I don't see why they need their own B plots nearly every episode. I thought they were fine in this episode because their storylines were directly related to what Mary was doing, and that's the way I think they should be showcased. I don't see why those characters deserve their own subplots when we've got far more likable and interesting characters like Marshall, Stan, Eleanor, and even Raph (who bores me, to be honest, but he's not irritating) hardly ever get them. I don't object to the family stuff because I enjoy the character development and I am actually interested in what's going on with Mary's father, but I think they need to shift the balance a bit.

Michael of "Burn Notice" is the way he is because of a family very similar to Mary's - absent father who wasn't that great when he was around, dysfunctional mother, flaky younger sibling (the only difference seems to be that Michael resents his father for his actions and Mary has somehow built her father up in her mind as some sort of hero). Yet BN is able to convey that they are why Michael is the way he is with far less screen time. I think IPS should adopt a similar approach.

Eldritch said...

@Toby O'B said...
I also couldn't believe someone like Mary say she looked forward to working with him again out of pity. Unless of course, she has some nasty payback in mind
.

Neither could I. I thought I caught the odor of sarcasm when she said that. That seemed to promise revenge on him.

If not, then the comment seemed out of character for her. Not only is she snippy on a good day, she has suffered too many personal hurts from this creep to exchange polite pleasantries.

Kathie said...

I liked this episode, it was different and Mary's family is growing on me.
I thought it was very strange that the widow would break down and confess to a total stranger (maybe the beautiful flowers got to her)that she was sleeping with the FBI agent the day her husband died. I think I would take that confession to my grave!
I agree that if Laura Prepon's character was lying about being the missing sister she could easily lie about her name too.
Love Eleanor's character, she is a great addition to the cast. Mary is so nasty to her, yet she stands up to her and even helps her.
This is my favorite summer show.

Susan said...

Mary seems to have the ability to show kindness to people when they're at their worst - like the witness who couldn't testify unless he were high, for example. So I thought her kindness to the FBI agent at the end was genuine. She realized that not only had he just lost his professional reputation, but she understood the kind of pain he was carrying around, and emphathized.

I also got the idea that Mary's dad is in Witsec. If so, it could be either really cheesy or really interesting, we'll see.

I find Brandi more interesting now that she's trying to get her life together. For example, I'm really curious to see Peter's reaction to being called to get his girlfriend a lawyer for drug-and-murder crimes. But Jinx I just can't stand. She's either nasty, crying, drunk, or falling apart, and I hate every moment she's on screen.

Zach said...

Mary seems to have the ability to show kindness to people when they're at their worst - like the witness who couldn't testify unless he were high, for example. So I thought her kindness to the FBI agent at the end was genuine. She realized that not only had he just lost his professional reputation, but she understood the kind of pain he was carrying around, and emphathized.

Sums it up just perfectly. I loved this episode and I am really enjoying the family aspect as preferred over the procedurals at the office. TV is up to its t*ts in workplace relationships, bla bla bla, however fond I may personally be of Stan Marshall and Ellie.

Like BSG, IPS is fundamentally a show about humanity, and in real human life one's work-life and friends mitigate against and inform the damage you carry from your family, not the other way around, however much less disturbing to an outsider a workplace-centric story may be. I think the level of irritation this thread evidences against the family means IPS is doing its job very well: the core of humanity is always our frailty and nothing demonstrates that better than the helplessness you have with damage to, from, and involving your blood family. That is extremely boring and uncomfortable to witness, and I believe IPS’ point is that yes that’s right, its intended to be. Families are tedious, awful, selfish, impossible places and I for one am delighted to see that spelled out. It makes Marys accomplishments as a person that much more interesting. It also serves to give deeper ground to Marshall and Stan’s and even Elanor’s affection for and protection of Mary, because that is the best human response to an injured friend – so much better than the we-love-her-because-she’s-a-hot-blond-with-a-temper-and-a-sidearm schtick this show could have fallen into.


(Speaking of which, the Mary who has held grudges for decades against mom and sis, and the Mary who can't stop being nasty to Eleanor for the sin of moving Mary's desk, does not seem like the kind of person who would be all "I look forward to working with you" to the FBI guy after he tried to destroy her life twice, and has still left her house looking like a complete wreck.)

Again Alan I think you are missing the key element here. Of *course* Mary lashes out at Elanor: she lets her pettiness and rage out cruelly towards a safe unrelated mother figure because her actual mother has clearly threatened to shatter and die every day of her life, and that’s what people *do*. Its how people act, its how real pain really comes out. Its stupid its ugly its unfair.. its accurate. Mary redeems her life as best she can by developing superhero-like skills at sheltering people when they are at the very end of all resources, precisely because no amount of tireless vigilance or hard work has ever been able to keep her own mother safe or sober, her own sister un-self-destructed, or erase her parents’ neglect and abandonment. She has made her professional life's work out of a profound empathy for a person suffering emotional bankruptcy, and I thought her response to Agent O'Connor was pitch perfect.

Tosy And Cosh said...

Were I not lazy, I'd calculate what percentage of Leslie Ann Warren's screen time is spent crying, or near-crying. I feel bad for her; that's got to be tough to cry that much.

zoz said...

jcpbmg, yes, that was Diana-Maria Riva as Brandi's attorney. I'm completely blanking on who Edie was on The West Wing, even though I've seen every episode more than once. I always remember her as Patricia on "Philly".

Eldritch said...

Kathie said...
I thought it was very strange that the widow would break down and confess to a total stranger ...

I agree that if Laura Prepon's character was lying about being the missing sister she could easily lie about her name too...
.

I'm enjoying the show a lot. Even still, I often get the feeling episodes are forced because of plot developments like the above.

Perhaps Marshall Marshall is that good an interviewer. If so, it would be good to see him in action. Otherwise, this reveal seems a bit too convenient. As do ignoring the false name issue and other things.

PeteH said...

Does anyone know the name of the singer and the song that was heard during the last scene when Mary was "cutting ties" with her father?

maura said...

Zach, that's a remarkable analysis, and I'm willing to buy it in regards to Mary, because the writers have given us a character who's nicely fleshed out, and McCormack is very good in the role. I can't say the same for Brandi and Jinx though. They haven't been given any redeeming value up to now. They're not well-drawn characters and neither actress seems capable of making them more than they are on paper.

I mean, yes, families are messy and difficult, and some of our relatives are full-on jackasses. I can accept an unlikable character. I love every single character on Deadwood. But there has to be something there other than selfish, stupid, whiny, drunk, lazy and clueless - an inner life, a soft spot, innate intelligence, something that can make me care about them. I'm just not seeing it in either Brandi or Jinx.

The way the writers handled Brandi's predicament didn't help. Instead of making O'Connor a competent agent with a legitimate reason to go after Brandi, the writers came up with a contrived story line so we would think that Brandi was a poor, put-upon victim. It was dishonest and cheap, and it made me dislike her even more.

Lionheart said...

PeteH: "Closer and Closer Apart" by Mary Chapin Carpenter according to folks at http://heardontv.com/

SAL said...

@Zach--I LOVED this:
***She has made her professional life's work out of a profound empathy for a person suffering emotional bankruptcy, and I thought her response to Agent O'Connor was pitch perfect.***
YES. I totally agree.

And I knew that had to be Mary-Chapin Carpenter, it sounded just like her, haven't heard her in years.

Anonymous said...

I think Mary's words to O'Connor at the end were a sort of Olive branch. She's telling him "I'm going to let this go, and if we meet again, it'll be a clean slate."

Agent O'Connor has clearly demonstrated the cost of holding a grudge against someone.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the name of the artist and the song that was playing the last 5 minutes of the Who's Bugging Mary episode?

Karen said...

The song was "Closer and Closer Apart" by Mary Chapin Carpenter