I’m cross-posting this little piece I put up on the TV recap blog that my friend Jen and I run.
If you watch a lot of TV like I do, you’ll start to pick up on the way shows are filmed and structured. Thanks to a rather informative DVD commentary on Leverage season 2, I learned that most shows will likely have what’s called a “bottle” episode during their run. In short, a bottle episode is a story told on a fairly self-contained shooting location such as a pre-existing set. This means you don’t have to spend money on scouting locations or paying to film at actual places. It’s the big money saver for a show inching too close to being over-budget. More often than not, the shows that tend to do bottle episodes are ones that have bigger need for special effects like genre shows. Sometimes, too, it’s because the show has spent too much money on other locations or guest casting. Since these types of episodes can be good for character studies, I thought I would discuss a few episodes from brand new shows and the one that started it all.
“Stitchers” is one of ABC Family’s new shows and has become one of my favorite summer shows this year. It centers on a young woman, Kirsten, who has a rather unique medical condition which makes her have no sense of time or emotion. This allows her to be able to insert her consciousness into the recently dead to try and solve cases. If you haven’t already guessed it is a procedural with a genre twist which is something I really enjoy. The episode in question finds Kirsten and the team quarantined in the lab after a scientist who had been testing a deadly disease on herself gets loose.
This episode really screamed “bottle” to me. Even from the trailers I could see that it was going to be in one location and give the characters a chance to really dive deep into their relationships. We see Cameron come clean to Kirsten about his past (including that he had heart surgery and his parents always worried about him). We see Linus (one of the other tech guys) try to keep calm while saying goodbye to his parents. And we see Kirsten, who has recently been proposed to, make the choice not to call her possible fiancé amidst the crisis. This episode definitely felt the most character-driven of the season and while it didn’t push the overall plot forward in the same way that the finale did, it gave us more insight into the people we see each week.
“Killjoys” is another new summer show that I’ve really come to enjoy. Set in the future, it follows bounty hunters as they work their warrants and deal with their pasts catching up to them. This is pure science fiction and it makes me long for the days of “Firefly”. Although, to be honest I think I enjoy this more than “Firefly” some days. This show’s bottle episode I think was the strongest of them all. It leads directly from the prior episode and does a lot to fill in some blanks and set up the overall plot that’s been slowly looming over our characters’ heads since the start of the show. After one of the team, D’Avin, gets activated as a sleeper soldier and hurts his team, he and Dutch (the leader of the team) get stuck on their ship while Johnny is down on one of the planets holed up as a violent storm passes through.
Not only do we get more backstory on our characters but they are also forced to confront the drama going on at present. Thanks to Dutch and D’Avin sleeping together, things are not working with the trio and Johnny sets out to fix it. But along the way, as he deals with a crisis of his own, he realizes he needs to stop fixing things for other people. They need to take responsibility for themselves. Another aspect of this episode I felt was strong was how it relied on several supporting characters to move the action forward. And they were all characters we met in the pilot. We even got a little backstory on a couple of these lesser players which should prove to come back into play later on in the series. The producers and writers of this episode really used the fact that they didn’t need to use new sets to dig into the meat of our characters.
Season 2’s “The Bottle Job” is what started it all for me. It’s set in primarily one locations (McRory’s Bar) during an Irish wake at which the team has to run at least 3 cons in the span of the episode. The team manages to run the Wire compressed into a couple of hours as well as conning the mark into staying put thanks to snow. Finally, the gang ends up conning the mark out of all his money and making him confess to several crimes to the local law enforcement frequenting the bar in a card game.
Much like other bottle episodes, we get some new pieces of information about characters and plot that set up the back half of the season very nicely. This episode shows us the beginning of Nate’s downward spiral into alcoholism which ultimately leads to a rather nasty result come season’s end. It was also fun to see the team work in such a confined space. They had to make sure they didn’t blow their covers since they were in such close proximity to the mark. And I loved how we got to see the team integrate people we hadn’t necessarily seen before within the cons themselves such as the local cops involved in the card game.
For me, at least, having a little bit more insight into how a show is put together and structured makes it more enjoyable. Sure it means that the show in question has to pinch pennies but it often times results in a lot of fun and some very nice character beats that you wouldn’t otherwise see. So next time you’re watching one of your favorites, pay a little bit closer attention and you might just spot the bottle episode amongst the run-of-the-mill.