Monday, October 20, 2008

My Own Worst Enemy a Keeper

"Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I am a split personality
And so am I."

So recites Henry Spivey when he discovers that he is, in fact, the dormant part of the brain of Edward, a super-spy. Both are played by Christian Slater in NBC's intriguing new show, "My Own Worst Enemy." I checked this one out on a short break I took from writing this week because it had Slater in it, a mainstay of some of my favourite 80s films. People were surprised he was moving to television, despite the fact he hasn't had a juicy movie role in a dog's age. But Slater has proved he's still got it: The entire show hinges on his performance, and he pulls it off brilliantly.

The second episode airs tonight, and I urge you to watch it just to take in what a fine actor he is in a very challenging role. The first episode opened with Edward, super-spy, jetting around the world with his stash of Uzis and taking out the bad guys like an American James Bond. He's got the trademark Slater sneer that comes off as a sleazy Jack Nicholson. He's a womanizer and a cad, and he gets the job done without any emotional ties. He returns to his home base where he steps into an elevator, goes over his "story" with his boss (that he was actually at a sales conference in Omaha) and they effectively put the Edward side of his brain to sleep and awaken Henry Spivey, office drone who has a happy life with a wife and two kids. The problem is, Henry is starting to feel funny and is seeing what Edward is doing as a dream. He's seeing a therapist and telling her he had a dream he was in France, and lo and behold woke up and there was a matchbook of French matches from the hotel in his pocket.

Things get worse when Edward is on the job, pointing a gun at the bad guys when poof, he turns off and Henry comes on, unaware of where he is, holding a gun, and freaking out. He runs, but is caught by the guys who have known Edward for years and see him as an evil badass with no weaknesses. Henry insists he's Henry and doesn't know who they are when suddenly a man runs in, extracts Henry, and takes the briefcase with him. In the car the man removes his mask and Henry recognizes him as Tom, fellow office drone. But he's not: he's Raymond, one of Edward's co-workers and clearly also someone with a split personality. Back at the headquarters, Mavis (played by the stunning Alfre Woodard: I LOVE HER) explains that despite what we at home might think, Edward is actually the real person, and he decided years ago to have Henry inserted into his brain, under the auspices of, "The only way I can prove I have free will is if someone takes it away," which is weird, and actually the only downside to the premiere. Who would actively do this to themselves? In other words, Henry was created and doesn't have the life he thought he did.

She puts Henry into Edward's personal apartment, which is decked out and fancy and has a wicked Ford Mustang (product placement!) in the garage below, and Henry wanders around, completely freaked out. Henry discovers in Edward's personal effects that he was in the army and was awarded medals of high honor, that his parents died when he was very young, and baby pictures of Edward. He decides to go on a joyride in Edward's car, but halfway through his ride he turns back into Edward. He decides to go to Henry's house and sleep with "his" wife, but wakes up the next morning as Henry (who is FURIOUS when he realizes the other guy -- who is in fact still him -- slept with his wife). He goes back to the office, things switch around on him again, and Mavis and her gang brainwash him to remove all memories of what has happened and return the two men to their separate lives.

Henry goes back to his house, gets a phone call, tells his wife he can't make it to soccer practice that night, and the doorbell rings. It's the two baddies from the Russian job gone wrong, and they beat him and he says he's not Edward, he's Henry, and they say but you don't know us? He says no, but of course, Henry met them a few days earlier. They say they want to know where Edward hid their briefcase and if he doesn't find it quickly, they'll kill his family. Henry goes out to the SUV, finds a GPS with a previous location on it, and heads out to the desert. He uncovers the briefcase and says Edward must have used that GPS, and it's got what they want in it. They hold up a gun to kill Henry, who pulls the GPS out of his back pocket and hits a button, detonating the case and killing them. HUH?

Turns out, he really was Henry, but when he'd been brainwashed he turned back into Edward, and the brainwashing hadn't worked. He had retained the memories, and sent a DVD to Henry telling him about the GPS and what he needed to do, and Henry carried out the mission. Henry gets home and records his own message for Edward, telling him he can't believe he's talking to himself, and feels weird he'll never get to meet him.

The best part of this episode is at the end, where we see Christian Slater as Edward watching Christian Slater as Henry. Henry is jittery and talks fast and is unsure of himself, and Edward is suave and cool. Slater exudes that with Edward, yet all he does is stand there watching the video, and it's only in his eyes that we know it's absolutely Edward. Slater manages to pull off this character by separating the two distinctly enough -- yet subtly, because neither one is over the top -- that we always know who is who.

I can't wait for this week's episode. Check it out!


Anonymous said...

Sounds almost like Dollhouse?

Anonymous said...

Sounds a lot like Stephen Moffat's Jekyll.

Nikki Stafford said...

Adela: The difference would be, from what I understand about Dollhouse, is that they have two personalities and when one lies dormant the other one awakes. But Edward never has his memory wiped, and he remembers the last mission he had. He just doesn't remember doing anything as Henry.

redeem: It's meant to be a Jekyll and Hyde metaphor; in face, I believe Dr. Jekyll's name was Henry and Hyde's name was Edward?

Unknown said...

do you watch heroes anymore? I haven't seen any reviews from you this season and in my opinion this season is the best yet. any chance you will post your opinion on the episodes so far?

Nikki Stafford said...

doyousmellcarrots: I'm intrigued! I have the last 3 (maybe 4?) episodes on my PVR and I've been working on my Lost book all day and from 8-11:30 each night, so I've been foregoing most shows. I'm looking forward to getting back into it. The first episode wasn't bad. Wasn't season 1 quality either, though. But it definitely had potential! My review on it is here:

Unknown said...

thanks for replying I appreciate your candor and I hope you start liking heroes again. I agree tim kring made a lot of mistakes in season two but this season has a lot of cool twists that have helped me get past some other not so great plot devices.

If you are on the fence about watching the rest you should know they finally make niki/jessica less confusing and they explain how sylars' power works the only thing that I don't like is suresh's story.

also you should know that maya's brother was killed by sylar while sylar lost his abilities. adam monroe was buried alive by hiro.

I honestly prefer lost 100% but as we know there is still four months to go before we get that again.

one more thing I was wondering if you will release a full series guide to lost once the show is done or will we have to collect the whole series of your lost books in order to get all your input?

ps:do you get the reference behind my screenname?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Nikki. Obviously the show is based on Stephenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, including the names.

I was referring to Moffat's modern day adaptation for British television. This seems like a Life on Marsing of it.

Nikki Stafford said...

carrots: Oh, I'm definitely not on the fence for Heroes. I have every intention of following this series no matter what happens to it, and the pilot definitely intrigued me for the rest of the season. :) There's a book coming out through the University of Kentucky Press (I have no idea when) called "The Essential Cult TV Reader" and I wrote the chapter on Heroes. So I'm a huge fan, no matter what.

I don't think there would be a compilation: by the time this show finishes, a book that contained all of my other books would probably be 1500 pages long. I don't think anyone wants to lug something like that around with them. Haha! :)

And as for your name... what did one snowman say to the other snowman? ;)

Austin Gorton said...

This definitely is an interesting show, absolutely carried by Slater's excellent performance.

I'm curious if they'll ever address my main issue with the premise, which you mentioned in your review: what's the point (within the context of the story) of the "dormant" personality?

Usually, when super spies in this sort of thing do the whole "pretend to have a dull job" routine (a la True Lies) it's because they want to experience some normalcy (wife, kids, etc). In this case, Edward seems disdainful of such a life, and doesn't experience it anyway: he's asleep when Henry's doing the drone. And the line about his desire to test free will seems too casually-tossed out to be a real motivation, for me at least.

And of course, there's the question of why this secret organization even wants their agents to have dormant "normal" personalities. What benefit does it serve? It doesn't ground the agents in reality, since they don't experience the other life, and it doesn't really hide them (as we saw in the premiere, the Russians had no problem finding Henry); if anything it would make their agents MORE vulnerable.

Sorry for the ramble. I enjoyed the first episode and think this show has potential; I just hope along the way they delve into some of the motivations (both for Edward and his agency) behind the premise.

Nikki Stafford said...

Teebore: I completely agree with you. While I thought it was a cool twist that Edward was the real person and Henry the construct, both my husband and I were discussing it afterwards and agreed that it didn't make a lot of sense. Why make a part of yourself that boring? Why put yourself in peril if you get caught and Henry emerges? It's one thing to say, "OK, my life is too crazy and I want some normalcy," but Edward doesn't actually experience it, so what's the point?

The Chapati Kid said...

It's The Prisoner meets Dollhouse meets James Bond meets Sybil.

YolandaAsh said...

teebore and nikki, I think the premise of the organization that they have no mistakes... like the computer guy said they don't have a protocol for if one personality wakes up because it doesn't happen. The idea being the bad guys would never find out about Henry from Edward and therefore neverlook for Edward in Suburia and if they did run across Henry, I mean everyone has a double right??? (my logical leaps there not the shows)

Also there must be something "special" about Edward b/c they seem to give him a lot more latitude than protocol would allow, I believe anyone else in his shoes would be dead by now. I am sure that will be revealed later.

The Chapati Kid said...

I saw the third episode tonight, and I really enjoyed it. Just wanted to tell you. It's on my weekly watch schedule now.