Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The House Between - Prelude to a Season Finale

A certain person (who shall remain nameless) has insisted that I need to do an introductory post for “The House Between,” the original sci-fi Internet show that I helped produce with John Kenneth Muir. This week, we air the final episode of the second season – the culmination of roughly 7 ½ hours of programming (that’s two and a half solid weeks of shooting and many, many months of editing). Since I have not written a detailed post about THB since the beginning of first season, I thought a little re-cap might be in order...

“The House Between” is the brainchild of John Muir, an avid pop culture enthusiast who one day decided to plop five unique characters into a mysterious house with no windows, no furniture and no exit. As perceptively noted by the series director of photography Rick Coulter, each of the characters reflects some particular concern of their creator. In the broadest terms, they embody Muir's thoughts on religion, science, capitalism, imagination, spirituality and war. But let's not sell the series short. By this point, each of these characters have evolved into very complex human beings - thanks to a very talented and dedicated cast - and it's their complexity that drives the show forward.

Warning: Here there be MAJOR spoilers for many episodes leading up to "Ruined" (episode 2.8)...

The series started with Astrid (Kim Breeding), the feisty musician haunted by a pseudo-Gothic past. In “Settled” (episode 1.2), we learned that she once tried to kill herself, after a failed reconciliation with her manipulative father. Her dysfunctional upbringing is at least one reason for her secretiveness, and it wasn’t until the end of the first season that we learned her true identity: Francis May Haven, a woman with startling psycho-kinetic abilities. Over the course of season two, she has largely repressed those abilities because of her strong religious beliefs, convinced that she deserves to suffer in purgatory rather than be saved.

Fans of the series commenting on SyFy Boards have recently referred to Astrid as a gateway character – she is the first person we see at the beginning of both seasons, as if Muir is trying to suggest that the significant events in the house somehow depend on her presence. That said, there’s absolutely no denying that it’s the alchemy of all the characters combined that makes things so interesting in the house.

Astrid finds herself drawn to to the character of Bill T. Clark (Tony Mercer), who sometimes goes to great lengths to make himself repellant. Bill is completely unwilling to accept the possibility of a new life in the house. From the beginning, it was clear that he knew more about the house than he was letting on. In “Trashed” (episode 1.6), he finally came clean. After a violent telepath named Sange (Florent Christol) infiltrated the house and tried to murder him (Terminator-style), Bill confessed to his housemates that he himself had designed the house, as part of a top-secret government experiment called Project Habitat. The goal of the experiment was to use quantum physics to create a new reality for the human inhabitants of Earth – providing an alternative to an impending global Holocaust. At the end of the first season, however, he learned that his experiment had actually precipitated the Holocaust. If that doesn’t make a guy feel guilty, nothing will.

Needless to say, Bill entered season two with a bit of extra emotional baggage. Instead of getting out of the smart house he designed, his goal was to “unmake" it. Good intentions or no, Bill undertook his mission in a rather bull-headed fashion, aided by his meglo-maniacal brother Sam Clark (John Muir) and his foot soldier Sgt. Dexter Brick (Craig Eckrich). At the end of “Caged” (episode 2.7), Bill finally admitted that he couldn’t control his creation, and succumbed to the will of the group. (Brick, apparently not one to question authority, followed suit…)

Stuck in the middle of Bill and Astrid’s would-be affair is Travis Crabtree (Lee Hansen), a wise-cracking lawyer with a definite dark side. Through season one, he was the least empathetic inhabitant of the house – always trying to exert his authority over the others. In “Positioned” (episode 1.3), he even took over the kitchen by force and threatened to kill the others unless the women performed certain... favors... for him. Because he’s consistently the rogue, one fan recently compared him to Sawyer on the series “Lost.” And like Sawyer, Travis has proven to be multi-layered. At the end of the first season, we learned that he was the only character who remembered having been in the house before. In fact, he remembered being there dozens of times before – living the same situation over and over again, like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.” He confessed to the others that he'd lied, cheated, and even murdered his way through every imaginable scenario. In the process, he fell in love with Astrid.

Over the course of the series, we’ve gradually been introduced to a softer side of Travis. He’s certainly never lost his biting sense of humor, but he’s come through for his new “family” on several occasions. In episode 1.4 (“Visited”), he saved Bill’s life. In episode 2.2. (“Separated”), he rescued Arlo from a quantum limbo. In episode 2.5 (“Populated”), he sacrificed a luxurious fantasy-life to stabilize the smart house. By this point, Travis’s sarcasm had become a thin facade. It's clear that he truly cares about the other denizens of the house – enough to entirely dismiss the possibility of returning home or reconciling with his own friends and family (as seen in "Populated" and "Distressed").

At the beginning of the series, Travis found himself most at odds with Arlo (Jim Blanton), whose youthful innocence and general unpredictability irked him to no end. At the conclusion of “Positioned” (episode 1.3), it seemed that their antagonism had reached crisis point, with Arlo advancing on Travis with a knife. The eruption of violence took an unexpected turn and the two men – faced with the harsh reality of death and the uncertainty of what lies beyond – managed to overcome their differences. For the most part. Arlo was content so long as the others respected his claim to the kitchen and its assortment of tin cans. Despite being largely dismissed by the others as crazy, the ever-imaginative Arlo eventually managed to use those same cans to reveal a secret control panel and awaken Vitality, the spirit of the house. It was only right that he should be the one to do so, since the house was created from Arlo’s own memories of his childhood home, which was mysteriously destroyed by a tornado.

In season two, Arlo has been just as instrumental in unlocking the secrets of the house. Eager to help Bill “unmake” the smart house and thereby prevent the destruction of his own childhood home, Arlo used newfound powers to change the physical constitution of the smart house. So far, he is the only character to actually “escape” the house – though where he ended up in episode 2.2 (“Separated”) isn’t likely to be on anyone’s vacation wish list. Since then, his physical powers have continued to grow – prompting a visit from a mysterious sage-like character named Thomas (Craig T. Adams) in “Populated” (episode 2.5) – and his confidence has allowed him to forge a strong bond with the house’s fifth denizen.

Theresa Melita (Alicia A. Wood), a “psychic astronaut,” was the last member of this wildly dysfunctional crew to arrive in the house between… and the only one to arrive by choice. In “Departed?” (episode 1.7), Travis explained that she was not part of previous “versions” of the house, which may account for some of the differences in the version we've witnessed – first and foremost, Bill’s survival during the attack of the invading Outdwellers in episode 1.4 (“Visited”). Certainly, Theresa brings a sense of calm and spiritual wisdom to the group that would be otherwise lacking. At the end of the first season, it is she who communes with Vitality, opening the door to another world.

At the beginning of season two, Theresa is the one who initiates an investigation into where the group went when they left the house… and why they have come back. In “Estranged” (episode 2.4), while fending off a much larger-scale invasion of Outdwellers, she psychically probes Astrid’s suppressed memories and learns that the quintet were intentionally brought back to the house as part of a second secret experiment. The second experiment, masterminded by Sam Clark, has proven more disastrous than the first. Repeated assaults on the smart house’s structural integrity have left Vitality in a weakened state – vulnerable to the incursion of destructive “dark matter,” and struggling (just like her inhabitants) to survive. In “Caged” (2.7), Theresa proposes to strengthen the house and save her friends by symbiotically joining with Vitality. But, when the moment of truth arrives, Vitality rejects her… choosing Astrid instead.

On the cusp of the final episode of the second season, dark matter has begun to infiltrate the house – threatening to consume all of the energy in the house, and then all of the energy in the bodies of the inhabitants. Astrid now has all the powers of the smart house at her disposal. The question is what she’ll do with that power…

Episode 2.8 – “Ruined” – premieres online this Friday 3/21/08 at www.thehousebetween.com

After that, John will finally be able to take a much-deserved nap… And start dreaming up season three.

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