Season 1, Episode 2
Date of airing: October 5, 1996 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 17.6 million viewers, 11.9/22 in Households
When is there ever a post-pilot episode, which happens to be better than the actual pilot? EARLY EDITION definitely goes down that route, making this hour of television one of the unexpectedly greatest episodes, and not just because you now tend to remember EARLY EDITION as one of the shows with a better episode following the pilot than the pilot, and that isn’t at all the case on a regular basis. It also shows that the writers weren’t just working on EARLY EDITION to cut their check and go home to their families and enjoy dinner. This was a show – at least after two episodes – that tried to be something else, that wanted to be more than just mediocre and solid Saturday primetime entertainment, that wanted to deliver more than the general premise of Gary Hobson saving lives in each episode, while character development is the show’s second language. Maybe the writers wanted to redefine what it’s like to watch a show on Saturday nights, and maybe the writers wanted to prove that there can be more to a proceduralized show than stand-alone stories each week, during which you only have to follow what the characters are saying. Maybe you are supposed to question Gary’s choices and moves, while also thinking about how much the future can change, even though you only had the slightest of impact on it.
Because what are you supposed to think about the fact that the title page headline changed after Gary had already read the traffic jam headline? What happened for the headline to change and for a plane crash to lead tomorrow’s edition of the Chicago Sun-Times. When you look at time and time travel, it almost seems obvious that when Gary received the paper, the plane crash wasn’t supposed to happen. And later, when he had breakfast with Chuck and Marissa, it was supposed to happen, which means something in the timeline changed, and the only two things that could have created this outcome was Gary’s decision not to do anything, not to help the 6-year-old girl, as he continued to bitch and moan about the paper taking his life away, as well as the bumping into the arrogant surgeon in front of the hotel. The former could have somehow led to the plane crash, when you were really trying to stretch the logic of it all, but the latter…
Still, this episode was great because of the choice that Gary had to make, and the choice he eventually made on the tracks, even if his ability to hear a girl bike away from a distance seemed kind of ridiculous at first, but in hindsight it could have been just part of the choice Gary was making, for the universe to lead Gary to Amanda, as the universe knows, when Gary sticks with Amanda, 190 more lives will be saved an hour later. Besides that, Gary noticing the girl on the bike and making that decision to go after her was by itself a very strong scene, and shows aren’t generally known to deliver strong and memorable scenes one episode after the pilot. That scene established Gary as the hero, albeit a conflicted one – making one decision over another, and potentially having to live with the consequences. Isn’t that what a great hero is all about?
Although there were a few elements in this episode that made me shake my head just a little bit. Gary seems to believe he is always alone in his deed to save the people, but he has two friends who could assist him if he is just pressuring them enough. Marissa is obviously eager to help out Gary, and Chuck could be convinced to help, as each time Gary is successful convincing him, some piece of Chuck’s heart is discovered, and it makes him a more likable character. And it’s not like Chuck was completely adamant in not helping Gary to prevent the plane from crashing in this episode, so there is that. Gary’s apparent distrust in his two friends might have been a nice plot device to further the episode’s plot of him having to make the choice though. On the other side of the medallion, maybe Gary starts to trust his friends a little more, and they will become more involved in the more “bigger cases” Gary will have to deal with in the future. But what can be bigger than a plane crash? In 21st century terms, it’s a terrorist attack, but not having watched a lot of pre-2000 shows, I don’t even know how many terrorist attacks were depicted in non-genre and non-action shows.
And finally, a few quick words about the overall mythology of the show. Gary was thrown into making his choice and he didn’t know he was forced to do so at first. And now, Gary was thrown into the mystery of it all, without even wanting to know anything about where the paper is coming from. The universe seems to be directing this young man from Chicago to not only do the deeds he was “hired” to do, but to also find out more about the past of the paper, as well as the cat. The notion of Gary finding a picture of the cat seems a bit silly in hindsight, but it kickstarts a potentially great story the writers could go back to, whenever they were in the mood to write a bit more about the mythology of the show, instead of trying to put Gary into lifesaving mission over and over. Besides that, the universe really wants Gary to look into the past of the paper. There is a reason the book found its way back to his hotel room. There is also a reason Gary was initially not interested in solving the mystery, even if he was interested in knowing where the paper comes from. It’s as equally a conflicted arc as Gary’s decision-making was throughout this episode.
Best part of the episode: He gets the paper for only a week, but Gary is already able to go the extra mile by dressing up as a doctor and making his way through everyone who side-eyed him, from the people at the admin desk, to the two doctors in the locker room. If Gary doesn’t shy away from potentially breaking a few rules and laws, then the man really is the hero we don’t deserve. Would Gary Hobson be a great Captain America? Would Kyle Chandler had been a great Captain America, if he had been cast for the role in 2010?
Worst part of the episode: Surgeons are dicks, we know it. This episode’s surgeon didn’t make it easier, and the awkward part is that the Fall of 1996 had a few dick-ish surgeons on broadcast television. Peter Benton was cocky on ER at the same time the surgeon in this episode decided to be a human asshole. And I can’t remember CHICAGO HOPE anymore, but since surgeon are dicks, they were dicks on that show as well, right?
Weirdest part of the episode: Staying with CHICAGO HOPE and the mention of the show at the accident site. It’s a prime example of CBS synergy, or general broadcast network synergy, and sometimes it just makes me squirm.
Player of the episode: All the people on the train who didn’t overhear what Marissa and Chuck were arguing about when they mentioned bomb on planes. In a post-9/11 world, those two would have been arrested at the next stop, but in 1996, they can discuss loudly about that topic, and everyone standing around them don’t care one bit. Congratulations, Chicago, for essentially letting two terrorists do their work uninterrupted and care-free. I’m proud of you!