The premiere episode is usually about making a big show and catching up so that the story is back to (or into a new) status quo. Story arcs are set up, characters are introduced and reintroduced, and we are given a taste of a new setting or reacquainted with the current one.
The second episode is harder to write. Now what?
Take that status quo and move it further. Time for a road trip!
Season 3, Episode 2 (Lost Girl)
By definition, this whole season (or at least the first half of it) is a very long road trip to Neverland. The main characters are trekking through the jungle on a quest to recover Henry. Whereas the first episode had them stuck on a ship, this episode has them muddling through, all out of their comfort zone, as they figure out what Peter Pan has in store for them.
We met Peter Pan in the premiere, but now the heroes have met him. He has pitted himself against Emma, threatened to turn Henry against her, and seemingly could not care less about the rest of the characters. Pan has singled out Emma as his target and the others are merely obstacles. He has threatened to kill Snow and Charming, since they support Emma, but he is a sadistic teenager and thus Hook and even Rumplestiltskin are still nothing he hasn’t dealt with before. Clearly, he has beaten (or come close to beating) both of them. No word yet on what he thinks of Regina, other than he seems to think she is a cheater at his game – so he probably doesn’t think very highly of her.
In the past, the story revisits the Snow White plotline and we are treated to the first meeting of the Queen and Snow after Charming broke the sleeping curse. No dancing until she died, no splitting in two, and no falling off of a cliff. Instead, the Queen seemed almost intent on letting her stepdaughter go, provided that she leave the kingdom and rescind her right to the throne. Whether she would have let her go quietly into exile remains unknown.
This episode was a character study of Emma, paralleled by Snow White in the backstory, and how she still sees herself as an abandoned orphan who thought she would never matter to anyone or amount to anything. No matter how many times her parents try to explain or apologise, no matter how many times Henry calls her “Mom”, no matter how many people respect her as the Sheriff of Storybrooke, no matter how much Captain Hook flirts with her, Emma still feels fundamentally alone and worthless. This is understandable, since she spent nearly three decades feeling that way. A year or two makes a difference, but not a complete turnaround. So often, we think the damage that people feel can be easily fixed. It can’t. We may feel better after a hug, but not cured. Damage has to be repaired slowly.
Likewise, Snow White has always been a princess. But for a shadow of self-doubt in this episode, she has always believed herself to be a princess – not necessarily better than anyone else, but certainly special. Everyone treated her kindly and adored her. The only person who didn’t was the Queen. Snow has always been right, always been a hero, and always been so beloved that an entire village was willing to die for her. Unlike her daughter, she never had to build emotional walls to protect herself. She was never alone. She was never lost.
This upcoming episode, apparently we delve back into Regina’s past. Unlike Emma, she was never “lost,” but unlike Snow White, she was not healthily loved. Now that she is no longer a pawn, she might indeed be a little on the lost side.
Season 6, Episode 3 (Need to Know)
Cheating a little in that the action is back in New York, but since Beckett is working out of Washington, D.C., her being back in New York qualifies as a “road trip” of sorts. If anything, this road trip serves to finish resetting the story back to the status quo of Castle, as we get the familiar precinct, the familiar banter of Castle, Ryan, and Esposito, and the familiar face of Captain Gates (but not Lanie yet!) to add to our story. Unfortunately, Beckett and her D.C. partner are there as outsiders and cast a shadow over our otherwise happy, cozy reunion.
The case starts out as a wacky, but routine, murder until the government and the CIA end up on it and start trying to muzzle the NYPD’s investigation. Castle finds himself forced to take sides, while Beckett finds herself against her former colleagues and against her instincts to do the right thing and defend the people. Instead of being the star, she is the enemy.
The episode ends on a sweet and sour note. Castle and Beckett finally get some alone time – which they hardly have all season far – and it is interrupted by bad news delivered in a highly unprofessional manner.
I understand that law enforcement is a serious business, but I fail to see how it would be good policy to let someone go while they are on a business trip. Even if this “business trip” is to the employee’s hometown, it does not make sense to abandon them. Either you pay for them to come back, face the music, and then they can buy their own ticket back to their hometown if they choose to go back (but after they have packed their things), or you pay for a ticket for them to come back because they were there on your business. Depending on what your just cause for letting them go is, leaving your former employee in whatever city the trip was to fend for themself could be a legal nightmare. Any human resources department would be pulling their hair out.
Season 7, Episode 2 (Tour de Murdoch)
All right, I admit that I am stretching the definition of “road trip” quite far when I include the fact that a bicycle race is central to this week’s plot as a road trip. However, since this show is set in an era when the bicycle was the vehicle of choice for an urban chase scene, it qualifies in than it gives the episode momentum. It is a change of pace from the usual walking and running with a side dish of carriage-rides.
This episode was undoubtedly inspired by the latest round of doping scandals in sports, but it is based on the fact that cheating in sport is nothing new. Since the ancient times, people have tried all kinds of ways to make athletes perform better – everything from diets to outright cheating with performance-enhancing drugs and potions.
I enjoy how the writers poke fun at modern science and how they manage to have Murdoch and his cohorts make scientific discoveries while still maintaining an air of authenticity. In this episode, Dr. Grace makes an important discovery about human blood, and yet it is perfectly believable that she is not credited with this theory because she did not end up publishing it and because she is a woman. Murdoch and Crabtree also make fun of her terminology – which, while impractical, is in fact the way that science has recorded it. Clearly, scientists and doctors don’t think like police officers.
Season 5, Episode 2 (The Overpass)
Finally, we have a semi-classic road trip episode. Jake is the only one of the main cast who is doing the actual travelling, but he is also the main focus of the story. He is transporting a wanted criminal back from Cornerbrook to St. John’s for a finder’s fee. The criminal proves to be even more annoying than Malachy and useless than first-season Des, so Jake is practically babysitting a man old enough to be his father. Meanwhile, gangsters are pursuing them to prevent them from getting back to the police, while a sheriff with a bad history with Jake is trying to get them to turn around and go back to Cornerbrook. This is a ten-hour drive, so I doubt Jake would want to do that unless he was getting double the finder’s fee, but I digress.
While this is going on, the rest of the main cast is waiting in St. John’s. Malachy and Rose are stuck at the police station while a prosecutor from Cornerbrook tries to get them to force Jake to turn around – even going so far as to arrest them. Des and Tinny are teamed up to track down information on the various criminals involved, and for the first time, Tinny sees Des as someone she actually admires and likes. (Her relationship with her current boyfriend looks to be on the rocks.) The unresolved sexual tension certainly does not help the investigation any. Leslie is constantly trying to phone Jake, who for various reasons either hangs up on her or loses control of his phone while she is on the other end.
Like most road trip episodes, in between the chases and yelling, there is a lot of character study. The criminal keeps asking questions about Jake – about his family, his girlfriend, and his hopes for the future. For the umpteenth time, Jake gets asked if he sees marrying and having children with Leslie. Jake and Leslie are getting to the point in their relationship where such could be a feasible possibility, but they still have a lot to work on. Communication, for one – about which Leslie reminds Jake when everything else is resolved. While not all of the dropped calls were Jake’s fault, he still keeps shutting Leslie out while he takes care of things. Furthermore, he still thinks all will be forgiven if he kisses her a lot. That is certainly not how an adult romantic relationship works, and even less how a partnership works. Perhaps they will explore this further over the season. In many ways, Jake has grown up significantly in five seasons, and while we love him being a loveable rogue, his current family needs him…especially if he is going to give Tinny little lovable rogue cousins someday.