The Listener: “One Way or Another”

High School Confidential

The Listener
“One Way or Another”
Thursdays, NBC, 10 PM
Written by Dennis Heaton
Directed by Stephen Surjik

Oz: It must be like walking through somebody’s nightmare.

Toby: Yeah, sometimes it can be like that.

Conversations like this raise the question—why would a telepath want to be a paramedic? Or involved in any way with traumatized, injured people who are probably “broadcasting” fear and pain loud and clear on the Psychic Channel. If I could not avoid overhearing the thoughts of others, I’d get a job as a lighthouse keeper, as far from others as possible. This episode, Toby doesn’t even want to be in the head of rape victim Anna (Tatiana Maslany, Heartland). He flinches when she relives the attack, turns his head from her memories, and when she finally allows herself to remember all of it, nearly vomits. Clearly, he is not enjoying or wanting this experience.

Which is why it is annoying to have everyone around him comparing his “gift” to rape. Detective Marks snaps at him that what he’s doing in listening in on her is just as much a violation as rape. Ray Mercer, his mentor/father figure, lifts an eyebrow and says she may have a point. Even Oz doesn’t take his defense seriously. But it’s really an unfair comparison. Whereas rape is a violent act of deliberate aggression, intended to dominate and humiliate a victim by force, what Toby is doing is… listening. It’s clear that this is an entirely passive act; he stresses that he is hearing Anna because she is “broadcasting” her emotions so loudly. So to compare his telepathy to rape is like condemning someone for eavesdropping on a person shouting at the top of her voice. It’s ludicrous. But wait, this is TV, where hyperbole is the order of the day, and metaphors mean nothing unless they are beaten into our foreheads.

However, that’s really the only caveat I had with this episode. This was the best story yet. Toby and Oz are called to the scene of a rape and Toby gets a glimpse of the masked rapist in her thoughts. In the hospital emergency room, as Dr. Olivia cares for Anna, Toby hangs with Detective Marks. Ever since she learned of his ability two episodes ago, Detective Marks is a different character—thank God. Now she’s the cop I’ve been wanting to see—efficient, smart, dedicated. Her passion for her work sometimes comes across as pushy and arrogant, but she’s more human, more kind, more believable. Now that she is treating Toby like a human being, now that she is dressing less like a hooker and more like a working woman, and now that she’s being given something to do other than sneer at Toby, Detective Marks is emerging as a potential crime-busting partner for Toby. They could make an interesting team, and in this episode, especially at the end, they do.

Marks is convinced that Anna was attacked by Brian Litvack (Adam Kenneth Wilson, Flashpoint), a serial rapist she tried to convict, who was released because the courts believed she planted evidence. The trouble with that little plot detail is that planting evidence is a heavy charge against a cop—if the courts believed it enough to let Litvack go, Marks would have been prosecuted and/or fired. But why let reality and common sense get in the way of a good story? Marks is given the usual role of fired-up crusader with a backstory—she was raped in high school—to make her more sympathetic. Alas, the writers go too far in this direction and turn her into a weepy mess. It turns out that Litvack is being framed by a copycat killer, and Toby finds this out just as Marks discovers Litvack dying in his apartment. The copycat, Litvack’s building super, kidnaps Marks. In a few minutes, she’s tied up, he’s taunting her, and she’s crying and screaming. This is so out of character for Charlie Marks it’s silly. Perhaps it was intended as a foil to make Toby’s single-handed rescue of her more heroic, especially since he does not use violence to rescue her. If so, it was a poor choice and totally unnecessary—Charlie Marks was in enough trouble without making her a weepy victim. I am actually starting to feel sorry for actress Lisa Marcos, who is surely struggling every week to make a believable role out of a character who swings like a pendulum every week between hard-nosed bitch and clinging vine.

She got luckier this week than most, as her scenes with anyone other than Toby were first-rate. The scenes between her and Dr. Olivia were excellent—crisp, well written, interesting. I do have to wonder at what point Marks is going to drop a hint to Olivia about Toby’s mind reading—she is surely aware that Olivia and Toby were once an item. She may assume Olivia knows all about Toby’s gift. But since she doesn’t, and Marks does, this is going to raise even more serious trust issues with Olivia, once she discovers that virtually everyone knows about it but her.

Olivia (Mylène Dinh-Robic, Stargate: Atlantis) has not had much chance to shine until now. Her story tonight was believable and well done—she has to treat a former teacher from high school who was hard on her. It’s a well worn but entirely serviceable theme—high school traumas stay with us for life, and can affect us long after graduation. The three-way scenes between her, Oz, and teacher Mrs. Naymark (Nola Augustson, Flashpoint) were small but well polished.

There was even a theme for this show. We started with Oz and Toby exchanging memories of high school, progressed to a storyline involving Charlie Marks’ sexual assault in high school, and rounded off with Olivia working through bad memories of her high school science teacher. There was humor and pathos, and a really dynamite rescue scene with Charlie fully exploiting Toby’s ability to hear her thoughts, and his quick and effective action to back her up. In a sense, Toby helps Charlie rescue herself, which relieves this story of the burden of the damsel-in-distress cliché. All in all, one of the best episodes of this series.

So. We got a totally revamped and much improved Charlie Marks. We got a new and promising dynamic between Toby and Charlie. Olivia got a chance to shine. Oz continues to be the best sidekick on NBC since Dwight Schrute. So naturally, now that the show is really starting to jell—NBC cancels it. According to Variety, repeat episodes of Law & Order will start showing next week in The Listener‘s time slot. Yet after last night’s episode, NBC showed a promo for another episode. We may or may not get one more look at The Listener before the show goes silent (at least in the US). I hope we get one more chance to, you should pardon the expression, tune in. This was starting to look good.