Aquaman “Pilot” (part 5 of 11)

Next we’re in town, and it’s a bit later in the morning. We scoot past a placard for the town of Tempest Key (which proclaims, “Sunsets were invented here!” And we’re totally getting gypped out of the royalties!) and see a lot of male and female beach bunnies. One is wearing a lei… in Florida?

Finally, we pick up A.C. and Lou Diamond Dad coming out of the police station. Their conversation involves A.C. promising to pay Dad back for the bail money, and Dad grousing that this was the third time this year. Sounds like he’s going professional. I hope somebody tells him that dolphin liberation is not a career choice.

A.C. snarkily, and very quickly, says Dad must be regretting signing the adoption papers (get that exposition in! c’mon, faster!). Dad stops him, calling him “kiddo” just like he did in the radio scenes when the boy was ten. Does anyone really call their son “kiddo”?

We get a close look at Lou Diamond Dad here, and it appears they didn’t even bother trying to make him look ten years older. Maybe with Lou’s magic cheekbones, they thought they could get away with it, but it really undermines the drama. It’s as if Dad just stood still on stage while Graham Bentz (who played the Cousin Oliver version) was pulled off, and Justin Hartley was brought on in his place.

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“No matter how many times you screw up—and you’re definitely going for the record here,” Dad growls menacingly, “you’ll always be my son.” Yikes! Being his son sounds like the punishment when he says it like that. You almost expect A.C. to ask, Can I just go back to jail?

Caption contributed by Mark

“Yeah, you’ll always be my son! How do you like them apples, huh? Bwahahaha!

Having imparted this touching affirmation of paternal commitment, Lou immediately turns his back on A.C. and starts walking away, tossing an “I have to get back to work” over his shoulder. Yup, he’s a dad, alright.

A.C. calls after him, reminding him that today is the ten-year anniversary of his mom’s disappearance. Dad knows what’s coming, because his response is, “A.C., please, don’t. Don’t do this to yourself.” Or the audience.

A.C. starts to rehash the mysteries of the accident. “We were flying over the Bermuda Triangle! She called me Orin! She said she had so much to tell me!” She did? I think I missed that part.

Dad says, kinda snidely, “Didn’t she also say, ‘Do good with your life’?” Ouch! Nothing like a loving, supportive dad, is there? He berates his son for not being at Stanford, instead of standing here, worried about being incarcerated. Hmm, Stanford? Really? I don’t know about that. Unless there a Stanford Community College somewhere.

A.C. vows not to leave Tempest Key until he finds out what happened to Mom, but Dad tells him he’s not a teenager anymore and he’s wasting his potential. Lou and Justin both say these lines like they’ve had this conversation a million times before, which is either inspired acting, or a sign that they’re just as bored with this boilerplate dialogue as we are.

The essence of their relationship is summed up in this exchange:

A.C.: Look, I messed up. I’m sorry.
Dad: If you’re really sorry… pull your life together, kiddo!

Yeesh. These two have so little onscreen chemistry that these lines might as well have been filmed on different days, in different studios. For two different movies.

Dad drives off, leaving Justin to turn and stare pensively at the ocean in Extreeeeme Close-Up. Now, I know Smallville did a lot of neat stuff with the super-ECU, but it doesn’t seem to work as well in bright Califlorida sunlight as it does in the carefully controlled lighting they have up on the Smallville sets in Vancouver. Or maybe it doesn’t work as well with Justin Hartley, standing around with his mouth hanging open.

They didn’t even try it with Lou (those super-ECUs are only for the young and beautiful!), which creates some very disorienting intercuts between medium close-ups of Lou, and super-ECUs of Justin. The effect, apparently, was to make A.C.’s head seem at least twice the size of his dad’s. Given the ego we’re going to see displayed throughout this episode, I’d say that’s about right.

Cut to a woman nailing a “For Sale – Inquire at Bait Shop” sign on The Quint‘s cabin door. A.C., looking on from the nearby dock, bitches that his day is “sucking more and more by the second.” Or is he talking about this show?

This is Eva (Amber McDonald), who reminds A.C. that she owns the boat, and says she’s decided to cut her losses. Eva’s outfit, which consists of the world’s tiniest bikini and a constant smile that has no connection to the content of her dialogue, should tell you all you need to know about her character for now.

It’s ironic, she tells him, to watch five cardiologists have a heart attack when they’re told their diving instructor is in jail. Okay, so he only teaches diving to cardiologists? No wonder business is scarce, if they keep things that exclusive. But you know what’s even more ironic? Your business partner being stupid enough to tell your clients that you’re in jail in the first place. Ironic in that Alanis Morissette, really-means-depressing-and-stupid sort of way, of course.

As she goes behind the counter at the dive shop’s cafe/luncheonette/bar/whatever, there’s more chat about A.C.’s previous exploit. Apparently, he swam aboard a cruise ship and ran up a huge bar tab at a shipboard wedding, buying everyone rounds of drinks and making a toast the bridesmaids all thought was “the most romantic.” (Translation: he got laid. Probably en masse.) And poor Eva had to wire the money to cover the bill. So young, and already acting like a superhero. One day they’re crashing weddings in the middle of the ocean, the next they’re Drunk Superman.

Eva complains that they’re supposed to be business partners, but instead he decided to “go Greenpeace” on her last night. She seems a little hurt. This sounds like a set-up for a superpower revelation, so it’s not surprising when we go back to super-ECU on A.C. (while staying, once again, with a disorienting medium close-up on Eva). He confides that the real reason he freed the dolphins was that he felt like they were calling to him. Sorry, hombre, but only time-traveling Vulcans can get away with that excuse.

Eva’s reaction to this is actually interesting, because instead of being dismissive, or unconditionally accepting, it’s cautiously neutral. Her glib “So what are you saying, you can talk to fish now?” is clearly tossed off to lighten a more complex response. (I’m spending a moment to praise this reaction, because it’s so infinitely superior to the corresponding moment in Eddie and the Cruisers II, where Michael Paré reveals he’s a dead genius rock star, and Marina Orsini responds with a panoply of movie-ruining acting choices.)

Caption contributed by Mark

“So does this mean you can get me a deal on sashimi? I love sashimi.”

A.C. looks down and responds haltingly that it was more of a “weird empathy”, then flicks his eyes up to Eva, nervous and hopeful at the same time. These two beats out of the whole show work, because they feel honest and natural. And for these few seconds, Justin Hartley actually sets aside the brash surferboy character he’s been lazing away with so far.

Eva absorbs his explanation and then starts talking about a legal defense fund for the dolphin charges, and the moment is over. (And the dolphin bust-out is never mentioned again. Money makes any problem go away, I guess. It’s like that old song goes, “All You Need Is Cash”.) She tells him to get to work and disappears upstairs, leaving A.C. to head behind the bar, back to his old grinning, cocksure self.

And now it’s time for another seasoned pro to join the cast. Already planted at the bar, waiting impatiently for someone to pour him a drink, is Ving Rhames. Mr. Rhames is always hired for his Presence. Normally, he plays very laconic roles, because his usual line delivery is intense, slow, and deliberate—the way you’d talk if your tongue weighed twenty-five pounds. This is perfect for characters like Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction, or Luther in Mission: Impossible, neither of whom you’d expect to say much. But in this show, they handed Ving a big steaming pile of exposition, and boy does he slow. Things. Down.

Ving says he runs the lighthouse at Anchor Point, which means he sees most of what goes on in the waters around him. He’s seen A.C. and knows he’s “Tom Curry’s boy” (not “son”, if you’ll notice). He adds significantly that he also remembers the day A.C.’s mother’s plane went down—on a cloudless afternoon. That gets A.C.’s attention.

“Then out of nowhere,” Ving says, “came the storm.” Well, it wasn’t a storm, really. So either Ving didn’t see it, or he’s choosing his words very deliberately. Or he’s pulling stuff out of his ass.

A.C. steps right up into an ECU to ask who he is, and for once Ving gets a tight close-up himself. “Name’s McCaffery,” he says briefly, like his mouth charges him for speech by the word. Ving gets up, telling A.C. to keep the change. But as A.C. reaches for the crumpled single, Ving grabs his hand and intones:

Ving: Arthur, if you look hard and long enough into the deep, something’s going to start looking back. [Scared reaction shot from A.C.] Watch yourself.

Well, that was cryptic. Given that Ving knows just about everything (as we’ll discover in the second half), I have no idea why he has to be all obscure and mysterious about things. Couldn’t he just take A.C. aside and tell him something concrete and useful, instead of trying to sound like a fortune cookie?

Caption contributed by Mark

“I knew I should’ve told my agent to call back when I was sober.”

Mark "Scooter" Wilson

Mark is a history guy, a graphics guy, a guy for whom wryly cynical assessments of popular culture are the scallion cream cheese on the toasted everything bagel of life. He spends his time teaching modern history at Brooklyn College, pondering the ancient Romans at the CUNY Graduate Center, and conjuring maps and illustrations for ungrateful bankers at various Manhattan monoliths. Readers are welcome to guess at reasons why he's nicknamed Scooter, with the proviso that all such submissions are guaranteed to be rather more interesting than the truth. Mark lives in the Midwood section of Brooklyn with a happy-go-lucky, flop-eared dog named Chiyo who is probably, at this very moment, waiting patiently for her walkies.

Multi-Part Article: Aquaman "Pilot"

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