Dirk Gently Demanding Answers
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency's second episode showers us with more questions, but are they the ones we're supposed to ask?
BBC America's version of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is an inherently frustrating enterprise on levels too numerous to get into here. As a surrealist mystery (or "surrealystery," if you will, not that I'd blame you if you won't), there are certain requirements of the sub-genre that need to be met. Is it meeting all of those requirements? I think not.
The most important requirement is how the story raises, develops, and answers its internal questions. For a serialized show that focuses primarily on one case, the pacing of these questions and their resolution is key. For instance, you can't bring up a question like "How does Todd's landlord Dorian know Dirk?" and then answer it almost immediately with "Dirk talked to Dorian about Todd earlier today." That's no fun at all, as I have already demonstrated in the opening paragraph of this piece.
Worse, the show isn't even trusting us to keep track of our questions for ourselves. The centerpiece (and most frustrating aspect) of the second episode is the hostage standoff on the bridge between Dirk and Todd, in possession of the Welsh corgi Rapunzel; and the dog's custodian Gordon Rimmer, threatening Farah Black in a situation for which Todd is partially, secretly, responsible. Both parties end up firing questions across the bridge at each other, but most of them are questions that (a) we don't care about, (b) we already know the answer to, (c) don't make any sense yet, or (d) some combination of the above. The two FBI agents eavesdropping with a parabolic microphone wonder what's going on, but their real purpose in the scene is to be the confused witnesses that serve to make strange behavior seem more bizarre. This is a venerable comedic technique to amp up a humorous situation, but it requires the scene to be funny in the first place.
It's obvious what we're supposed to be wondering at this point. Like, who or what killed Patrick Spring, and what does the black kitten have to do with it, and to what extent will those questions answer each other? Where did Dirk come from (aside from simply "England") and why is Bart determined to kill him? What are Gordon Rimmer and his off-brand Observers up to? How and why did Lydia Spring swap bodies with Rapunzel? What powers do the Rowdy 3 have, and did they exchange them for their ability to count?
Unfortunately, these pertinent questions have been overshadowed, at least for me, by rather more impertinent ones. For this, I blame the slipshod execution of the show thus far. If things were being executed correctly on the screen, I wouldn't be distracted by extraneous considerations like the following:
Is Dirk a figment of Todd's imagination?
Dirk is such an odd individual that he doesn't seem real to begin with. Factor in Todd's history with the hallucinogenic (and entirely fictional) neurological disorder known as pararibulitis, and it's easy to imagine Dirk as a manifestation of some kind of relapse Todd is having. However, this seems unlikely. First, from what we've seen of Amanda's pararibulitic episodes, they appear to be much more traumatic and much less long-form narrative. And secondly, there have been numerous scenes in which Dirk is present and Todd is not. Like the one where Dirk drops his bag -- and the aforementioned kitten -- off in his apartment. So I guess the real question is, why did Dirk announce he was moving in with Todd when he already had a place to stay?
When and why did the bald henchmen get so much less terrifying?
The hulking, glowering beast looming over Ken the hacker in the pilot was an imposing figure right up until the moment Bart walked up and julienned him. But he's survived by severely downgraded versions of himself who prefer to grin like idiots and refer to death as a release of consciousness. The cranial tattoos were scary at first, but now they just look Gallifreyan. Which is probably due to the fact that those sporting them have abruptly transitioned from goon to merely goony. It's hard to be intimidated by a gang that acts like it wandered off the set of Galaxy Quest right before getting fitted for Thermian wigs.
Could we just hurry up and get to the part with the time machine?
His initial run-in with Dorian notwithstanding, Todd's life didn't get truly weird until he spotted a slightly older version of himself yelling at some unseen person about a time machine. Obviously that person was almost certainly Dirk, and presumably he and Todd used the device to try to return not only to the scene of the original crime, but the time as well. I wish we could skip ahead and see how that plays out, but for that we would need a time machine. Ironic.
Since when are the numbers for five-figure lottery payouts announced on live TV?
You didn't have to be a student of Anton Chekhov to know that lottery ticket Todd found was going to be a winner from the moment he found it. And while I can't argue with the structural decision to have him discover that right at the end of the pilot, when his life is at its lowest ebb, it seems a little weird that after all the buildup from the TV host, the amount turned out to be for a mere ten grand. You know how sometimes a TV pilot is completed before anyone knows whether there will be a full series order, and then some of the characters have, like, different hair in the second episode? This strikes me as the same kind of thing, except writing inconsistencies are harder to play off than aesthetic ones.
Why don't Todd and Amanda just get rich and solve all their problems by forming a White Stripes tribute band?
A ratty-looking guitarist and a withdrawn drummer who hides behind her bangs? I mean, this seems like a no-brainer.
Will longtime Douglas Adams fans ever get over the cognitive dissonance of hearing actors from The West Wing utter the name "Dirk Gently"?