After a strong pilot and a fan-friendly second episode, Wonderfalls put some red lace over the lamps and let the wind whistle through the windows in Episodes 3 and 4, "Karma Kameleon" and "Wound-Up Penguin." This pair of of episodes revealed a darker tone for the series than the one we saw in the first two episodes, something that sucked me into the series but probably pushed others away.
In fact, the show would have stood a much better chance of surviving had Fox shown the episodes in the order they were intended. After the pilot, Fox aired "Karma Kameleon" and "Wound-Up Penguin," when "Pink Flamingos" should have aired second. Wonderfalls isn't the easiest of shows to get into for what I deem "normal" people, and viewers were no doubt unprepared for the Single White Female storyline that popped up unexpectedly in "Karma Kameleon" or the near-exorcism in "Wound-Up Penguin." However, we had the benefit of DVDs and easing into things with the much more benign "Pink Flamingos" as a bridge. I can't help but think that if the follow-up episode to the pilot featured Jaye helping out her old high school nemesis and an overall lighter tone instead of the frightening tale of Binky and her freaky obsession with Jaye, more viewers would have stuck around. Well, that and the whole unannounced schedule move from Fridays to Thursdays. There's no doubt that Fox bungled this one real good.
These two episodes represented a tonal shift for the series that made it a hard sell to grandmothers and housewives, because Wonderfalls is a weird show first and foremost. These glimpses into darkness were always followed by sugar-sweet endings and strong messages, endings and messages that were never received by those that changed channels when things got a little goth. But Wonderfalls was always great about going to those dark places to make the sunshine at the end that much brighter.
"Karma Kameleon," probably my favorite of the first four episodes (let's put it in a tie with "Wax Lion"), was written by the great Tim Minear, known among the Whedonverse as a writer for Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, and later penning episodes of Terriers, American Horror Story, and The Chicago Code. The episode was all about identity–and stealing it–and being comfortable in your own skin. It was a great way to get to know Jaye better, but more importantly, it was also a great way for Jaye to get to know herself better. Like most 20-somethings post-college, she was in a state of transition and overshadowed by her more successful and established older siblings. And given the fact that plastic animals had been talking to her and telling her to destroy people, it was probably a good time for Jaye to sort out some issues by taking a look at herself.
This was also the first episode (I think) that used the great device of having the animals give Jaye a cryptic message (in this case, "Get her words out!") that wasn't always what it seemed to be at first. And that would be essential when the stuttering Bianca showed up at Wonderfalls aimless and lost and Jaye played the game of guessing which words Bianca was stumbling over. "I couldn't get a job because I have a st- a st-st-st...," Bianca says. "An STD?" guessed Jaye. Good one, Mr. Minear.
Turns out Bianca was writing a story about America's disaffected youth, and in a misplaced attempt to understand her better, stalked Jaye and became the Jennifer Jason Leigh to her Bridget Fonda. A scuffle in the van later and an understanding that if Jaye could help her write her story by giving tips on how to slack that Bianca would be on her merry way, Jaye spills the secrets to her stress-free lifestyle. But instead of putting pen to paper, Bianca applied Jaye's living tips to herself and decided it was the life. Jaye had created a monster, a Jaye-shaped monster that wants to live in a "pressure-less expectation-free zone." That's Jaye's zone, bitch! Poor Jaye, she helps and helps and helps, and all it does is make things more difficult for her.
Jaye, reluctant philanthropist she is, realized that she needed to get out of her zone to solve Bianca's problem and got to work. She hit the laptop to write Bianca's story for her, mail it to her editor, get her published, and send her along her path. Jaye got her words out and protected her sphere of slackdom by ironically getting her shit together and working hard. Jaye got her job back, found her place in the family, and most importantly, realized that she belonged in Niagara Falls. Jaye claims that she's lazy and disinterested in others, but she's working harder than anyone in the state to make life better for those who are destined to cross her path.
As it is with many episodes of Wonderfalls, fate was the core of "Wound-Up Penguin," an uneven episode that was mostly saved by all the pieces coming together at the end. It examined religion and faith from all angles, bouncing around from spiritual Atheism to the more direct route of threats of hellfire and brimstone.
True Blood's Carrie Preston guest-starred as a nun named Katrina who had lost her faith and was living in a giant fake barrel in the middle of the bar The Barrel. A priest was in hot pursuit trying to get Katrina to return to the convent, but Katrina had been filled with doubt after not getting enough signs from the Big Man upstairs that he was real. There was a circus of misguided circumstances–the most bizarre of which was Katrina knocking Jaye out with chloroform and tying her to the bed to perform an exorcism with a knife–for most of the episode, with the common thread being people not knowing what they were looking for. Oddly enough, that's what often drives people to religion in the first place.
In the end it wasn't Jaye who directly intervened and set things on its path (the breaking of the taillight was unintentional), it was some form of fate (or divine intervention?) that cleaned up. The broken taillight on the priest's car wasn't a result of Jaye's direct doing, she didn't intend to break it even though the wax ion told her to. But it was the key the set everything in motion: the priest found the daughter he never knew he had, Katrina deemed that a miracle and regained her faith. And that's what made "Wound-Up Penguin" slightly off from the rest of Wonderfalls.
We like to see Jaye purposefully course correct fate and destiny rather than just be a part of it. Jaye arranged the dinner between the EPS delivery man and Sharon. Jaye threw the drink on Gretchen's dress. Jaye wrote the article for Bianca. It doesn't matter if she doesn't know why she's doing what she's doing, it just matters that she knows that she's doing it. Compare that to Jaye slamming the car door which unintentionally sent her ride rolling to the Priest's taillight, and you'll see the difference. I like Jaye to be pro-active in her saviorship, and while she was VERY pro-active in "Wound-Up Penguin," the inciting incident that set everyone along their happy ways at the end was a passive result of Jaye's actions. It does work, but it also makes Jaye less of a hero and more of a tool for something bigger.
Elsewhere, Jaye and Eric got a little closer, but what's so refreshing about this is that even though the writing is on the wall that these two will hook up, we're reading it very, very slowly. It's four episodes in and even though Eric had Jaye in his ramshackle bedroom in the backroom of the bar after hours, the two did not get frisky. Thanks god. Let's take this slow, guys. It feels like a real courtship rather than an accelerated TV relationship that ends up feeling hollow.
Bonus Viewfinder Slides
– This picture of Neil Grayson's hair makes him look like a real dickhead.
– And how is it that Jaye can pull off this outfit? I don't know how she does it, but she does. It's like someone bought enough material for one-and-a-half sweaters and didn't want to waste the material. And of course that perfectly pairs with a short camouflage skirt. Would you wear that?
– Do you like the pace at which Eric and Jaye are getting closer?
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom