I had initially been exhilarated by the possibilities inherent in 666 Park Avenue after the premiere, which gave the impression of a show that could in any number of directions and become any one of a number of different genre shows. “Murmurations,” however, doesn’t really carry over much of that potential from the pilot, and so we’re left with a show that continues to spread all over the board, in a way that makes the episode exceedingly hard to follow. Last week, we met Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor) and Henry Martin (David Annable), the new building managers of The Drake, a glitzy apartment complex with a mysterious past. The building’s owners, Gavin Doran (Terry O’Quinn) and his wife, Olivia (Vanessa L. Williams), continue to be vague, shadowy figures (not that they shouldn’t be, at this juncture) whose motives aren’t entirely clear. The episode is compelling enough in its own way, with its “weekly deal with the devil” concerning a black widow of sorts, who’s been routinely murdering her lovers after they betray her, while having her memory wiped and her youth extended by Gavin in order to unknowingly repeat the cycle in perpetuity, a private hell of a madman’s making. It’s interesting genre fare, if occasionally over-the-top campy. The problem, however, is in the fact that almost all of the menace of the pilot is absent here. Gavin is still imposing, in his own right, but at no point does he approach being as downright threatening as he was in last week’s premiere.
But there are other problems, to boot. The sense of atmosphere has been eroded from last week, as The Drake no longer really gives off the impression of being an entity unto itself. Here, we have Jane discovering an entire flock of birds behind the wall that last week’s victim was sucked into at the end of the episode. It’s a nice visual, but it feels awfully derivative, with Jane even name-dropping The Birds actress Tippi Hedren. Instead of a uniquely Gothic horror space, The Drake feels like just another haunted house, and I can’t escape the sense that we’re supposed to feel greater dread at the discontinuity between the exterior appearance of The Drake, and the darkly atmospheric trappings of the interior. Jane, for her part, continues to have the creepy dreams that almost always involve her getting up and wandering around The Drake in the middle of the night. She has an almost Taylor Swift-like opposition to the wearing of shoes, and as she wanders around, she stumbles upon a phantom victim of our black widow. It’s a look into the past, not terribly unlike the ability of petty thief Nona to look into the future.
Nona (Samantha Logan) is overtly supernatural in much the same way Gavin is, and though Gavin gives Jane warnings to the effect of staying on task, it’s Nona who gives Jane a more specific warning not to mess with the birds. Upon touching the lucky rabbit’s foot of the building’s exterminator, Nona sees the man being accosted by the birds and winding up dead, as a result. In keeping with her prognosticating abilities, the vision comes to pass, with the exterminator being attacked by the birds while walking down the street, leading to his being struck by an oncoming vehicle. What this means, going forward, is hard to tell, but I’m open to hearing any predictions. We already know she’s seen a vision of Jane’s future from touching her grandmother’s necklace which seems to foretell a gruesome death. Time will tell whether or not the vision comes to pass.
Meanwhile, Henry is having a crisis of conscience concerning whether or not he should reveal to Gavin some inside information he’s learned from his firm. That he holds fast to his morals is commended by Gavin, but there’s a deeper play at work here, as Gavin and Olivia continue to discuss the vague plans they have for Henry. Whatever the plans might be, Jane doesn’t figure into them as anything more than the mechanism by which they get Henry to turn to their side. As it stands now, that’s probably the most interesting aspect of the show, since Henry and Jane’s chemistry is so natural and organic to their characters that I imagine it’ll be pretty compelling to watch their relationship descend into personal warfare. This is what Gavin Doran does, after all, and just this knowledge alone should get the minds racing as to what Gavin’s grand scheme would be, if Henry is really the linchpin to its success.
In other developments, Brian (Robert Buckley) continues to be tempted by Alexis (Helena Mattson), with the latter going so far as to accost him in his bathroom, after a show, to ask him why he closed the curtains on her. The seduction works exactly as well as you’d expect, though Alexis is something of a blank slate at this juncture. Of course, I hardly think Alexis was designed to be compelling in her own right. She’s only interesting relation to the effect she’ll have on Brian and Louise’s relationship. Louise (Mercedes Masohn) is still recovering from the elevator attack and has missed out on applying for jobs, and she’s even lost one of her valuable photography gigs. All this hardship leads her to consider suing Gavin. However, upon being released from the hospital, she finds a check from Gavin for $300,000. It’s a pretty penny, as far as hush money goes, but I find it hard to believe that Gavin couldn’t do better (smartly enough, it’s probably just enough money so that they can afford to continue living in The Drake, but not so much that they would decide to take their newfound riches and leave). Alexis still lingers in the distance, and why this is a continuing arc when either of the two “cases of the week” we’ve seen so far have been undoubtedly more interesting and thematically rich is beyond me.
Ultimately, 666 Park Avenue will either succeed or fail based on how seriously it takes itself. I mentioned True Blood, last week, as a point of comparison, and I still feel the comparison is apt, if for no other reason than it’s a show that followed a sexy/supernatural trajectory and succeeded by embracing its camp value. I don’t know that there’s enough dramatic material here to sustain this show as anything other than the most rudimentary genre fare. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, believe me. Genre shows are frequently among TV’s most compelling, having the ability to do what straight drama can’t by embracing the uncanny, the supernatural, the mystical, even the interstellar. But I’m not sure that’s what this show wants to be, and so I guess it won’t be long before we see whether the series succeeds by taking a more direct horror approach, or adapts to a more fluid, malleable style in the future. I still think the series has loads of potential, but plodding episodes like “Murmurations” do the series no favors.