Monday, March 6, 2006

Reheated Recap: Numb3rs: Protest (Eppesode 216)

Saturday Night I was downtown
Looking for the FBI
Sitting in a nest of fangirls
Expectations riding high
Fangirls here on the west coast
Just about to cat call the Fed Man
When I was a woman writing this song
A pair of 45’s made me open my eyes
My temperature started to rise
He was a long cool agent in a black vest
Just a 5’10 beautiful tall
With just one look we were a right mess
Cause that long cool agent had it all.

Overall, this episode of Numb3rs is a fable. The most important part of the fable is the moral, which here is, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Also, history has a 35 year time limit before coming back and biting you in the ass.

Opening Grid: 5 000 000 Vietnamese killed, 58 226 U.S. Troops K.I.A., 3000 bombs, 0 arrests 4 dead in Ohio

We begin with a parallel of the past and the present and the answers to all the mysteries in this episode. How is this possible? The soundtrack is playing the song “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” by The Hollies. Read the lyrics and you’ll understand.

The Past Montage: Vietnam protests: burning the draft card, officials beating protesters, arrests, deploying the army on U.S. Soil; all we need now is some Kent State footage and we have the biggest moments on the home front.

The Present Montage: A pair of gloved hands mixes something using glycerin and baking soda. The camera pans past an old book, Essays on Revolution. Oh yes, and hee on the book's author. Cut to the gloved hands completing whatever it is they’re making, and placing it in a paper bag. It’s pretty safe to assume it’s an explosive, either that, or the worst brown bag lunch ever.

Bad Moon Rising: It’s night outside an Army recruitment centre where an average baby boomer couple is wandering around late at night, looking for an ATM. The couple passes a parked SUV and the camera turns from the couple to the aforementioned brown bag lunch. What’s it doing under the SUV? Well, the answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.

Wait! That’s not the answer, that’s pieces of the SUV, the Army Recruitment office and the male half of the boomer couple. Maybe baby boomer wasn’t the most tactful nickname to pick.

The Feds arrive at the aftermath and between David and Colby, we get exposition that boomer guy is dead, but boomer gal is stable. Megan figures that the attacker wanted his act to be noticed, but without much chance of taking lives. Guess this isn't the bomber’s lucky day?

IHOF: Don’s hunch that someone will claim responsibility for the bombing is affirmed the next morning when a group called the Weather Underground sent their e-mail. In another moment of balance between past and present, the present, represented by Don, describes the Weather Underground as a “protest group from the 1970’s and the past, represented by retired Fed Thomas Lawson, who has just arrived, calls them, “ radicals, disguised as patriots.”

The reason for Lawson’s unexpected presence is that the bombing of the Army Recruitment office mimics a 35 year-old case. An ROTC bombing that, Lawson assures the Feds, was committed by Matthew Stirling, who bombed a grand total of three places before going underground 1971. The bombing told Lawson that Stirling was back in town.


IHOF: Lawson is comparing the letter claiming responsibility for a bombing in 1971, to an e-mail from the bombing the previous night. The letter writer just exchanged the Vietnam War with the Iraq War. The placement of the bomb and the chemical compositionis the same as 1971, just that domestic protest has now moved into the electronic age. Since the crimes weren’t solved in 1971 – how will the Feds ever solve it this time? Of course, with their super secret weapon, Charlie, who’ll run a statistical analysis of the crimes.

Charlie talks about how difficult the problem will be but Lawson, so fixated on the original suspect, dismisses Charlie as a time waster. When will guest stars ever learn that one does not disagree with Charlie? If that happens, said guest star's karma is totally screwed! Yes, so Lawson tries to make the audience feel the same way towards Stirling as he does. First, Stirling abandoned his wife and baby. Next, the original bomb killed two teenagers but one has to think, the Vietnam War probably killed a few more than two teenagers, so the likelihood is that the bomber balanced the good of the many versus the good of a few. Despite Don’s disgust at the deaths of the young men, we know he’s not going to doubt the power of Charlie – no matter what Lawson says. Another moment of parallelism between the past and the present: Lawson had to inform the victims’ families in 1971, now it is Don’s turn.

People Got to Be Free(dom Now): Colby and David are interviewing a protest group. They actually aren’t given a name, but the poster on the wall says “Freedom Now” so either that’s their name or their slogan, but really, does it matter? The head Peacenik isn’t torn up over the destruction of the recruitment office and tries to pawn the blame off on the parents over at the local high school. Apparently, the army has tried recruiting right out of fifth period biology. Best tactic really, as there are a lot of students who would do just about anything to get out of fifth period biology.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern demand a list of activists from the group, and when Peacenik demands a warrant, Colby starts going through the files. Don’t worry Peacenik, he wouldn’t take anything; he’s an upstanding agent. Ignore the fact that Colby’s willing to steal from an environmental protection group, he’ll be more than willing to steal from those against his former profession.
La Maison d'Eppes: Charlie is admiring some new shelves in the living room. Alan tries to justify their existence by claiming he found evidence of them in the original house plans.
I suspect it’s a way to fortify the Living Room from any guerrilla attacks in the ongoing House War this season. When Charlie asks why they were torn out in the first place, Don muses symbolically “People did a lot of stupid things in the 70s.”
Alan recognizes that Don isn’t talking about cabinetry and Alan reveals that, years previously, he knew the prime suspect, Stirling. Alan dusts off his old hippie persona and muses about his time working with “Californians for Peace.” The first ripple conflict appears when Alan is upset at Don’s implicating Stirling in the bombings. Alan, you can’t be that angry with Don. He’s out of sorts, having just imagined his father with long hair, bell bottoms and a “peace pipe.” During the spat between “evidence” versus personal knowledge, Charlie is reacting in his usual manner – awkwardly remaining silent until it’s over.

Math Garage: Don has taken over Charlie’s usual refuge – which now has a couch I’m sure was a prisoner of war in the great second floor den battle. The brothers talk about their father’s sordid past and two important things are revealed. The first is that Alan was arrested twice for sit-ins to which Alan and Margaret used to take little Don. One has to ponder, was little Don taken away in tiny handcuffs? Any other connotation of “Little Don” and handcuffs is entirely in your own mind. Charlie knew nothing of his father’s past. Like the opposing images of past and present in this episode, Don and Charlie are contrasted. Don remembers his father’s activist past, and it even came up in his background check with the FBI; Charlie, as usual, is completely oblivious to anything outside the world of academia. It’s a nice little nod to continuity, that Don hadn’t previously told Charlie about the file, as it was a time in the brothers’ lives when they weren’t that close.

Back to the case, Charlie theorizes that using social network analysis, to find Stirling’s associates and who the copycat, if there is one, might be. While this is all fine and good math-wise, wouldn’t social networking really be Megan’s job? I’m just saying…

IHOF: Once again, Colby is picking on innocent protest groups without cause, as none have any connection with the bombing. The Feds are now down to two theories; it’s either Stirling or a really talented copycat. Turns out serial bombers are like serial killers, they can become active after years of being dormant but if it is Stirling, he’d probably come up for air long enough to contact past associates.

If I Had a Hammer: David is talking to Building Contractor Jack Bennett a reformed protester who expresses he was “born made to wave the flag, ooh, he’s red, white and blue.” We are introduced to Jack’s son, Adam, who Jack admires because, he ain’t no fortunate one, and went and got a business degree unlike Jack’s own worthless degree in sociology. He certainly did teach his children well.
IHOF: Larson slides Alan's file over to Don and implies he might not be the best person to head up the investigation since his father is on the periphery. Lawson’s trying to make Alan sound like a bad guy, and through this we get the Numb3rs painfully awkward line(TM) “Your father was a leader, Eppes. He organized radical activities and he knew Matt Stirling. I just want to be sure we’re all on the same team.” Why does this line win when it’s essentially well written and well delivered? Let’s run an informal poll. Who for a second believes that Alan Eppes, our beloved font of wisdom, would ever be involved with anything that might potentially harm another human being? Raise your hands. Not seeing anyone? Didn’t think so.

While Don is trying not to beat Lawson to death with Alan’s file, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive. The tension is so thick that even Colby shows a moment of recognition before they tell us all about the bomb’s chemical makeup. The important part here is that baking soda was found in the bomb, just like in 1971. Puts that whole baking soda in a bottle of vinegar experiment we all did as little kids, seem much more ominous.
Go Ask Alice: Actually, in this case, it’s Dr. Sarah Kemple, a former associate of Stirling that Megan is interviewing. It’s the battle of strong willed women, where Kemple spouts off political rhetoric and Megan tries to get some information about Stirling. Both are left not getting what they want. I’m left wondering when the mother from Providence, became so radical? Kemple does give us a neat and tidy theme statement for this episode, “The more things change, the more things stay the same.”
American Women: Lawson and Stirling have gone to interview Stirling’s wife, Hester and daughter, Laura. The daughter is willing to cooperate, but the mother is still upset over the strong-arm tactics from 1971. The runner up for the NPALTM of the week is Lawson’s justification, “The effort, as you call it, was riddled with terrorists, people who hated this country.” Why? It is illogical. I’m not overly keen on citizens of my country getting killed in an illegal war either, so I guess that means I hate Canada? WTF?
While Don is actually trying to get useful information about the most recent bombing, Lawson tries to prove he is the world's biggest asshole, by torturing the woman with ideas that Stirling’s probably living some cozy suburban life. Laura informs us that her mother had actually filed a missing person’s report, but since everyone assumed he was a fugitive, they didn’t bother looking for him. (See the logic there? I don’t.) Hester kicks them out.
Everyday People: At a pub? Restaurant? Secret Fed clubhouse? I’m not entirely sure where, Charlie, looking for Don, comes across Lawson. Lawson tries to argue that Don is pissed at him due to a difference in investigation tactics. If the idea of asking questions versus completely offensive pigheadedness can be called "different investigation tactics." Lawson reminisces about the days where he could beat suspects with a rubber hose didn’t have to coddle witnesses and Charlie clearly isn’t recognizing the connotation because he doesn’t think Don coddles witnesses either. Charlie, you innocent!

Charlie changes the topic back to his Linus’ math blanket, and explains social network analysis. While the explanation is cool, (it’s all about leadership and clubs) I still don’t see how it still isn’t Megan’s job. Lawson expresses distrust over working with a professor because, in his day, they didn’t trust them. Yes, how dare you teach your children well, because that might make them think. We can’t have that! Imagine the pandemonium that would occur. Quick! Distract them with X-box and MTV.

Charlie beats back the distrust by being all “I have national security clearance.” Feel the moment of pride as Charlie stands up for himself with someone outside the world of academia!

Cal Sci: Larry and Amita finally appear in this episode by helping Charlie with the social networking. We get information right out of the exposition toy box about how Cal Sci was a hotbed of protest activity because it had defense contracts. Analysis indicates that attacks on the campus might occur again, including the burning of a anvil sculpture right outside Charlie’s office. Larry gives us some historical background on era with the Pentagon Papers, My Lai Massacre and Manson murders. While Alan is the font of wisdom in this show, Larry is the also important font of trivia.

Charlie is upset over the fact he needs more data, which, in really explosive terms means real explosives. While pondering that conundrum the fire alarm goes off, and people run outside. Remember that anvil sculpture? It’s burning. Although, why, when the fire is outside, does the alarm go off making everybody go outside, nearer the fire? To everything, burn, burn, burn.
IHOF: We’re told that the Cal Sci fire is again a match with another crime linked to Stirling. Lawson and Don have their Stirling versus copycat debate again. While the Feds go to investigate the purchase of arson materials, a broken record of the last thirty seconds replays. Fortunately, since Don is the lead agent, the team gets to do things his way.

Once Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are out of earshot, Lawson puts Don’s desire to actually investigate down to the loyalty he feels for his father. “Subject is active in groups associated with the overthrow of the U.S. government, yada, yada, yada,” Lawson reads from the file. Don shoves the file down Lawson’s throat while Megan, Colby and David applaud. Sorry, my fantasy as what I wanted to happen got in the way of reality. Instead, Don confronts Lawson with the idea that his father was involved. Unfortunately for my fantasy, Lawson has a point that Don should be using Alan as a resource.

Cal Sci: Laura Stirling arrives at Charlie’s office. Despite frequent instance on Charlie’s part that she needs to talk to the FBI, she persists in talking to him because sometimes she feels like a fatherless child. She provides Charlie with a hairbrush of her father’s. There’s some flimsy excuse about exonerating her father so he can come home. While it’s highly unlikely that something not kept in proper storage for 35 years will have viable DNA samples on it, I believe that it’s just her way of being able to talk to the lovely math professor. Can you blame her? Turn your dad in for murder / stare at Charlie. It all works out in the end. Besides, dad never sent a present on her birthday.
La Maison d'Eppes: Don interviews Alan about Stirling. Alan makes Stirling sound a step above Gandhi and a step below Mother Teresa before realizing it’s just easier to share the 8039235723 (actual number) files Margaret kept from their protesting days. Alan pulls out a phone tree, but for clarity’s sake, let’s just call it a social networking analysis. Megan’s and Charlie’s job can, in this case, be done by anyone – friends, protesters, or even the local PTA.

Don and Alan argue about the FBI and the way they conduct investigations. Don sees nothing wrong with the FBI, Alan sees plenty and fans everywhere see angst. At least some people are happy.

IHOF: The 8039235723 files are laid out for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who’ve brought along Megan for the fun. Beside those files, are the files of chemical companies, to see if patterns are evident. They’re looking for matches and patterns? Now who is doing whose job? None of the files yield any information so Colby starts telling a story about his frat brothers and their desire for alcohol. They’d get a med student to swipe lab alcohol for punch. I think that explains everything we ever needed to know to truly understand Colby.

Despite the past story about Colby’s not so present intelligence, this does yield a suspect, former med student, Dr. Sarah Kemple. Not only do med students have access at alcohol, but at all the ingredients, and brains, necessary to make a bomb. Megan beats us over the head with the irony that the solution to the 1971 bombing was simple, if the FBI had decided to use the “I” part of the acronym.

And One Pill Makes You Small: Don and Megan confront Kemple, and take her into custody.

IHOF: Kemple confesses to making the bomb, thus exonerating Stirling from any wrongdoing. Kemple denies any involvement in the recent bomb and implicates a new person in the planning in 1971, a man named Cisco. This shady character was both charming and passionate but the important item here is that she never met the man, only read his writings and teaching. Wow. With that level of power, he should found a new religion. She points out that Stirling was Cisco’s number one disciple.

Outside IHOF: Lawson's a broken record, by insisting that Kemple is covering for Stirling. Certain that the feeling in his gut is correct, he tells Don that Stirling had to be responsible. Note to Lawson: do not let indigestion rule your hunches.

When Don asks about Cisco, Lawson dismisses his involvement. Lawson stays suspiciously silent.

Cal Sci: As much as I enjoy any scene with Charlie in it, we begin with a superfluous explanation about social networking, although, it is a little disconcerting that Charlie thinks all human relationship are measurable through some form of math. To sum up – the connection with the protesters isn’t truly with Matt Stirling, it’s the FBI. The FBI had infiltrated the Weather Underground.

American Woman: Don has gone to make up with Hester by telling her about Kemple’s confession. When questioned about Cisco, Hester relates Stirling’s concerns about how far he might go but she is not overly cooperative. Even Don’s charm can’t make up for 35 years of being told your husband is a fugitive and a killer.

Outside IHOF: Charlie gives his findings about the FBI to Megan and Don. Either the FBI had Allison Du Bois on staff, or they knew about the protest group’s actions well in advance.

America: Don confronts Lawson about Cisco and he is defensive about having any of Cisco’s files released publicly. Don lays the inspiration of the bombings clearly at Cisco’s feet but Lawson rebuts with the fact that Kemple never spoke to Cisco. Turns out, Lawson would know, he’s Cisco. So the man in the gabardine suit was a spy. Be careful Don, his bowtie is really a camera.

IHOF: In Lawson’s interview, he pulls out the Nuremberg defense, that he was under orders. When will people learn that doesn’t work? I’m a little unclear as to what kind of role Lawson/Cisco played, because it appears that his entire purpose in the group was to teach them what materials and processes were needed to make a bomb. Teach the guys you perceive as terrorists to make explosives? Who came up with that plan, Colby?

Lawson lays his failure to catch Stirling in the act on the press, as they leaked his involvement with the protest groups. This is also confusing because is he saying that, once upon a time, journalists investigated things? This actually happened? Not like The Colbert Report style of investigation? Of course, the other reason Lawson couldn’t catch Stirling was the whole David Kimble routine.

At one point, Lawson says, “A person doesn’t become violent because you talk to them Eppes. You’re either a terrorist, or your not.” With this statement, Lawson is the symbolic representation for the moral of this fable.

Colby makes the discovery that Kemple stole enough materials to make three bombs. He wonders what happened to the rest of it. Did I just use the words Colby and wondered in the same sentence?

Shake Your Windows and Rattle Your Walls: Either another bomb, or another awful brown bag lunch is dropped in a garbage can outside a major petrol company. It explodes taking out a window. Just another parallel, if it’s an exploding garbage can in front of a petrol company, it’s terrorism. Exploding garbage can outside the student union at my university is a prank.

While no one was injured, this bomb just proves that the chemical composition is identical to the 1971 bomb – there must be another connection that the FBI has overlooked.

IHOF: Megan elicits further information about bomb creation from Kemple. Despite her initial skepticism, Kemple reveals that the formula came from the book Essays on Revolution, the same book we saw in the opening montage – as it was written on the flyleaf. The problem is, Kemple hasn’t known the book’s whereabouts for 35 years. Also, she hasn’t known the whereabouts of the rest of the chemicals for 35 years either. She left them at her parent’s weekend place and they went missing. How does one search for that? It’s not like one can put up lost posters. The only one that knew where the materials are, was Stirling.
American Woman: Back at the Stirling household, Hester swears that she never owned a book with a bomb recipe in it. Souffl├ęs, yes; bombs, no. As for her husband’s books, she gave those away years before. While the team realizes that the reason Stirling gave for leaving the night he left, to prevent a terrible mistake, may be the cause of his disappearance. The Feds theorize that perhaps moving nitroglycerin, to prevent Kemple from making a mistake, perhaps means Stirling didn’t actually leave L.A., physically.

Cal Sci: Charlie and Larry are pouring over old maps of LA. While the brain power of that pair is worth about 10 average people – but why not ask Alan, the city planner? Amita joins the pair and they are looking for the route where a person, or the remains of a person, are hiding, in plain sight.
Where Have All the Flower (Children) Gone?: On the side of a road, Colby is identifying what appears to be Stirling’s vehicle, a yellow station wagon. Don opens the door and Stirling’s skull is found. The nitro he was taking away from Kemple, exploded, killing him, but leaving remarkably little damage on the car. One would think that if nitro can take out an ROTC and an Army recruitment centre, there’d be one hell of a pothole. This surely must clear Stirling now, but I’m sure Lawson will start arguing his soul possessed someone for vengeance because that man just doesn’t know when to quit.

IHOF: Now that they know the theory Don always touted (copycat) was true, the search for Essays on Revolution begins. It’s not at Hester’s house or Kemple’s office. Colby arrives with the important information that Jack Bennett – remember the construction guy from earlier? Jack Bennett was giving money to the anti-war effort.

If I Had a Hammer: Jack Bennett firmly denies any involvement in giving money. He’s a card carrying, right wing, red-blooded, meat-eating, Middle American values, GOP member. Plus, he didn’t sign the cheque, but, of course, Republican was enough, right?

IHOF: Even though Bennett is their best lead, he does not appear to be a likely suspect. Colby finds a chemical order amongst Bennett’s records and discovers the cheques really were forged. Despite this, the link isn’t clear until Charlie, with a Rubik’s Cube, points out that time creates new connections. While I understand the analogy, the scene is completely unbelievable. Why? Who could possibly believe that Charlie, our super genius would have an unsolved Rubik’s Cube? Seriously? Who is ever going to believe that? Don doesn’t find this as disturbing as I do and realizes that they are looking at the wrong generation of Bennett. Like The Usual Suspects, I totally suspected this guy at the beginning then talked myself out of it because it didn’t seem plausible. Made it that much more sweet to be right and surprised, at the same time.
Eve of Construction: Don and Megan are confronted by Bennett, who does not want to believe his son is involved. Bennett Junior emerges with nitroglycerin blasting gels and while I’ve never heard of them these probably aren’t the best things for the health of our Feds. Junior spouts of about his father’s voting records and disappointments. While I’m all for legitimate protest against what one believes is ethically wrong, this guy just comes off as a whiny rich kid who wants to rebel against Daddy. Just get a tattoo, wear black and listen to Simple Plan moron and quit blowing shit up.
OMGWTF: Out of NOWHERE Colby tackles Junior. Who let Colby have an idea? I’m screaming at the television that all my favourite Feds are about to bite it, as the nitro, in slow motion, interspersed with images of riots (and we all know how well they worked out) bounces on the ground. Even Don looks like he needs a change of pants.

Of course, Rosencrantz recognized that Guildenstern would know all about explosives and it is explained that nitro gel is more stable than dynamite. I don’t know that much about explosives but it’s not reassuring me as the idea of Colby knowing anything is doubtful! Not reassured at all...still…having…heart…attack.
IHOF: Megan is interviewing Junior, who has the infamous bomb book. Junior is all proud that it once belonged to his father, when he was an activist. Megan bursts that bubble by informing him it wasn’t Daddy’s in the first place. See, should have gone with Simple Plan. They’re whiny but less likely to cause real violence – unless you play it in front of me.

Everyday People: Back at the secret Fed clubhouse, Lawson and Don are sharing a drink. Don is trying to explain that Lawson’s little “I wish I was Serpico” act is the underlying cause of all these tragedies. While it is never explicitly stated, we’re left knowing that Lawson actually wrote the formula in the book and all the justifications that he was doing what he believed was right, don’t take away any of his responsibility.

Age of Academics: Charlie is talking to Laura Stirling and reassuring her that her father was a good man. Laura is the example of how people can remain in the past, and Charlie is ever moving forward – it’s a nice contrast. Laura invites Alan and Charlie to the memorial service and did she just pick up a date to her father’s funeral? That’s just tacky!

La Maison d'Eppes: The temperature in La Maison d'Eppes is about the same as a Toronto Winter when Don arrives. Alan’s cold greeting definitely had a wind chill factor of -10 (Celsius). Don tries to explain the past indiscretions of the Bureau but Alan is having none of it. He’s still the man he was in 1971, with his innate moral compass. While the awkward discussion progresses, Charlie sits adorablely quietly at the top of the stairs to listen. The stealth he uses is so well honed, you can’t help but know he’s sat there for plenty of family arguments.
Alan opens up a little and asks Don if he knows what was the first thing Alan thought when Don joined the Feds. Don quips back “Where did I go wrong?” And clearly wasn’t expecting it to be the truth. Alan must’ve felt the same way Bennett must’ve felt – his son was rebelling against him and his belief system. Don claims it was because he’d be a good Fed, and while there is some truth in that statement, there was a little rebellion in there, somewhere. Alan admits he is proud of Don and his achievements. Don reciprocates by admitting he’s proud of whatever his parents did in the past. The conversation ends with the following exchange:

Don: Commie
Alan: G-Man. All right big shot, where you going to take me to dinner?
Don: Well, there’s a new Italian place that’s supposed to have a great steak pizziola...

And now Charlie wants food because all is now right in his world.

Please note: This recap was originally posted at the now defunct Fandom Talk, six days after the original airing of this eppesode. I was just a baby recapper then. *sighs in nostalgia*