Rick and I were discussing my favorite kinds of shows as I was whining about Fairly Legal being canceled. He pointed out I liked smart shows with good dialogue, complicated plots, and layers to them — and that most people simply couldn’t relate to them. I also really like a good sense of humor in a dramatic piece, but it’s not something that’s absolutely necessary for me.
My three favorite movies, in order, are: The Player, Duplicity, and Inception: all but the last have a great sense of humor; Inception probably would be my favorite movie if it were warmer and funnier.
So let’s go over those doomed series. This will be the first of a one-post-per-show format.
For this show, I really loved the writing. There were lots of places where things were left far more open than in a typical series, and I just love that kind of pointilist dialogue.
There were, unfortunately, a lot of fans of the soon-to-be-ex-husband on the show, aka #TeamJustin. Having built that up for a year, introducing Ben was bound to cause some of the fans to become disaffected, though many of us who liked Justin in the first season switched to #TeamBen. For me, I liked Ben from his first episode, though I saw his flaws, but for others, it didn’t happen until around episode 8 (“Ripple of Hope”) of 13 episodes, which was, imho, way too late to get people on board. Some people stopped caring about the show as a consequence. Side note: iTunes claims I’ve watched Ripple of Hope 192 times. Ahem.
The other aspect is that Justin comes off as a stronger male character (in the classic romance novel sense) than Ben does. For me, Ben comes off as a more modern character: he makes the fundamental assumption that women know what they want and are generally able to communicate it. There are a lot of layers in the dialogue, such as this opening scene where Kate and Ben meet.
K: (plays with rim of glass)
B: Plymouth and tonic.
K; Check, please.
B: Do you always come in the door leaving?
K: Umm, it is Not My Scene.
B: But, here you are, so you were either born on that bar stool or you came in here disguised as a woman who wants attention.
K: And you’re wearing a $3000 suit with a pocket square.
B: I believe my motives are clear.
K: Sorry. It has been a while since anyone’s offered to buy me a drink.
B: Really? Did the world go blind?
K: (Laughs) I’m married. Was married. Now I’m not. Anyway, the ex is on his way to sign the (waves hand) whatever, but it looks like he has blown me off.
B: Well, it’s just as well, or he would have changed his mind.
K: (Laughs) Nice try. Maybe it’ll feel normal some day.
B: Do you believe in fate?
K: Wow, was that a line?
B: It’s a question. Takes the edge off picking up strangers in bars.
K: I’m 29. I’m, uh, nearly divorced, recently orphaned, more recently out of a job. My life is kind of at this unexpected turning point, so yeah. I do believe in fate. And I believe she is a fickle, fickle bitch. [nice recap for people who didn’t watch Season 1]
B: You seem broken.
B: I like that.
K: And you’re a fixer.
B: No, I tend to make things much worse, and then I disappear.
K: Well, at least you’re decent enough to be honest about it, you don’t see that much.
B: Oh, you must be a lawyer.
K: (lying) Schoolteacher.
B: Right. You’re a schoolteacher and I’m a decent guy, so (raises glass) cheers to honesty.
K: Hey, cheers. Yeah. (laughs) And good night. (gets up, starts leaving)
B: Is truth the way to your heart?
B: Withdrawn, counselor, I misspoke. We have not yet established that you have a heart.
K: The way to my heart would be to do everything and to say nothing. No negotiation, no foreplay, no strategy. Just be who you are and take me.
K: (whispers) Too late.
B: (stares after her as she leaves)
Justin winds up telling Kate what she wants (and is wrong) and keeps trying to assert his dominance, like in this scene from the Finale.
K: Oh, Justin.
J: Here we go.
K: Oh, God, what?
J: Nothing. I just know you, that’s all.
K: Look, this is the, uh … , right needle, wrong haystack. I’ve been fighting this feeling–
J: Oh, my, Kate–
K: …and I keep hoping–
J: Don’t do this!
K: …that this is going to feel right–
J: It does feel right. We’re not who we used to be, don’t do this.
K: I know you think that I’m running away.
J: Yeah, because you are. I knew you were gonna get scared.
K: I’m not scared.
J: (nods his head)
It also doesn’t help that Kate is the patron saint of lost causes, and while Justin has given up on her, she hasn’t given up on him. Then, to make matters worse, when she starts getting scared at Ben’s advances, she runs back to Justin, who then becomes fully engaged again. That all works as far as the plot goes, but some of the ways it plays out make Kate less sympathetic and Ben seem less strong a character as far as many women might see him, and that loses audience.
Justin tries to manipulate Kate directly, but he’s bad at it. Ben’s a far better manipulator, but he’s discovered that manipulating people doesn’t make for good long-term relationships, so he’s the kind of guy who manipulates the underlying situation and let the people cards fall where they will. As an example: knowing it’s complicated and it’ll take her days to decide, they fly to Lake Tahoe “for the day” for a case for which he’s gotten her appointed as a Special Magistrate. Naturally, with Kate, it becomes a multi-day affair, with the two of them spending two nights in Tahoe. The second night, there’s a hot tub scene where Ben’s out there and Kate comes to give him some news about the case, then a different conversation follows. I see Ben’s strategy: he’s made an advance, she’s run to someone else, and if Ben makes the next move and closes the gap between them, he will never know if he manipulated her into it or if she truly picked him. On the other hand, if he gets her close by, within inches, and she closes that last mile, that’s something else. Thus, the hot tub scene, which parallels the season’s opening scene.
K: What’s that?
B: It’s a rock. Found it up there today, it’s sort of shaped like a heart.
K: Do you think it’s ever possible to feel that way again?
B: Like what?
K: The way it feels when you fall in love for the first time. Do you remember that? It just feels like this wave just washes over you, but you’re not afraid to drown. Wow. It’s just so easy the first time.
B: Love is never easy. You don’t have to be 17, you just have to be brave. I knew you couldn’t just pick a side and then fly home. I wanted to stay the night, because I do care that much.
K: (looks up at him)
B: So do you. (crosses over to her) That’s why you went back to Justin, because he’s safe. And this you can’t control and it scares the hell out of you. You want that wave. (reaches for her hand and pulls her into the water) No strategy. No foreplay. No negotiation. You just have to have the guts to dive in. (beat) Do you?
B: Too late. (walks off)
One of my other favorite bits is when Ben’s ex Lydia is the opposing counsel in episode Shine a Light.
B: She’ll have another Tanqueray and tonic.
L: You trying to get me drunk, Ben?
B: Don’t need to get women drunk.
L: Ah, so they just fall at your feet without lubrication.
B: My cross to bear.
L: He’ll have a Plymouth and tonic.
B: You remember. I’m touched.
L: I didn’t need any help, either.
B: Except for that one time in Sausalito.
L: We were both pretty sauced up then.
B: And Alcatraz.
L: That was work related.
B: Oh. (incredulous) That was work.
(Ben crosses behind Lydia as she’s laughing)
B. I thought about your offer.
L: The $125,000?
B: Yeah, it doesn’t really work for me.
L: I could knock it down to 75 if you’d like.
B: How about a million. See, here’s the thing. Karl was so peeved about that settlement that I failed to bring him that I started to wonder: who did tell him about it? Do you know?
L: Search me.
B: It’s perplexing, isn’t it? Because whoever did would have communicated with my client without me being there — which is an even bigger ethics violation than failing to mention a settlement agreement in the first place.
L: (says nothing)
B: You spoke to my client without me being there. The bar association will be so crushed. See, it’s not fair that you’re the only one who gets to be satisfied here, Lydia. Do you know what I mean?
B: Exactly. (Pause) So. Bring me a cashier’s check for a million dollars by the end of the day and I’ll see if he’ll bite.
L: You’re bluffing. And I should have left you handcuffed to that cell.
B: Is that a yes or a no?
L: (turns and leaves)
They know each other well enough to have secret metaphors that are never explained, but you can almost read between the lines.