Category: Television


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(A quick aside before I begin this review proper. I know that I haven’t reviewed TV since August of last year and this isn’t a sign that TV reviews will become a thing again on this blog. But, after finally catching up on Glee, I felt the undeniable need to write about my experience watching its Cory Monteith tribute episode. And, so this write-up is dedicated not only to the memory of Cory but also to his friends, family, and colleagues who have this massive hole in their lives.)

When Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired “The Body” over ten years ago now, it created waves in the TV industry. Not only did the series kill off a beloved supporting character (an act that would become something of a Joss Whedon staple), it did it in the least dramatic way possible via a brain aneurysm off-screen. Moving beyond the fact that the show had the restraint to have Buffy’s mother die of natural causes (rather than falling victim to the Season’s “Big Bad,” Glory), “The Body” became an artistic milestone because of the way it dealt with the act of death itself.

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On most television programs, the death of a major character is usually telegraphed weeks in advance and the advertising lead-up of said death primes the audience to understand that by the end of said episode, someone it loves is gone. Death episodes are a chance for writers to tie up any loose ends a character may have and it’s the last opportunity for an actor to throw one last bravura dramatic performance that will certainly wind up being their Emmy submission tape. Instead, Buffy used the sudden and earth-shattering death of Joyce Summers to explore the way we respond to the tragedy of an unexpected and shocking death of someone we love. And it became not just one of the best episodes of Buffy but one of the most emotionally raw and well-written episodes of television ever.

Whether it was the gut-wrenching direction during the sequence where Buffy comes home to find her mother’s corpse on the couch or the powerhouse acting moments later from Alyson Hannigan and Emma Caulfield where Willow and Anya each experience their own emotional breakdowns and confrontations with mortality before Joyce’s funeral, “The Body” abandoned the supernatural action that defined the series for a brutally honest meditation on grief and loss. After the tragic drug-overdose death of star Cory Monteith, Glee was forced to deal with the tough question of how to handle the loss of both the actor Cory and his character Finn. And with the exception of “The Body” and the closing montage from the series finale of Six Feet Under, I don’t know if an episode of TV has ever wrecked me so completely as “The Quarterback.”

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Glee is a clusterfuck of a television program if there’s ever been one. I’ve stuck with the program through its highs and lows because no matter how mind-bogglingly stupid the show can become, its highs have always more than made up for it to me. Whether its the continued maturation of Chris Colfer as a performer and the depth of his character Kurt or just the chance to hear Lea Michele sing again and again, Glee strays but thanks to those aforementioned moments, it keeps me coming back for more. And one of the thing the show has always done well (though its genuine thematic ADD means it can’t stay there for too long) is tapping into pure, primal emotions and the overwhelming despair of being young. And (thanks to the omnipresent reality subtext of the episode), “The Quarterback” does that more intensely than any episode of TV in recent memory.

From the beginning performance of “Seasons of Love” at Finn’s funeral to the final moments where Matthew Morrison’s Mr. Schuester finally experiences his emotional breakdown, every second of “The Quarterback” runs not on the sadness and loss of the characters of the show itself but on the despair and heartbreak of the actors playing those characters who had had four years to get to know Cory Monteith, who despite his drug problem had a reputation as being an exceptionally genuine and kind man. I’ll get into how the characters’ plights moved me but more than anything else, this episode was a chance for the cast to say their final goodbyes to a close friend and if there’s ever been a more honest portrayal of grief in a fictional TV program, I don’t know if it exists.

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The songs of the episode were framed around Mr. Schuester giving the New Directions (past and present) the assignment to say their goodbyes to Finn. And (with the exception of Chord Overstreet whose Sam sang “Fire and Rain” with Artie), those duties mostly went to the members of the cast who had been there since Season 1. And, those performances were haunting to watch. There are good actors in the Glee cast (Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Blake Jenner), but none of them are this good, and my heart broke all over again watching these actors baring their souls about a lost friend with such naked vulnerability. I read that they did most of the takes for this episode in a single try because everyone’s emotions were already so out front and on the surface that people would leave the room after each shot sobbing. It’s clear from every second of this episode how true that is.

Of course, the reality subtext of the show was never more painful and more clear than it was with Lea Michele. Rachel and Finn have been an on-again/off-again couple since the inception of the series, and for the last year or so, they had been dating in real life as well (they were even rumors that they were soon to be engaged right before Monteith’s passing). Wisely, the show delays Rachel’s arrival until three-quarters of the way through (presumably because she has rehearsals for Funny Girl in character) because if I had been forced to deal with the anguish of Lea Michele for a whole hour, I don’t think I could have taken it. When Lea Michele performed “Make You Feel My Love” by Adele and then had her conversation with Mr. Schuester about how Finn’s death had ruined all of her life plans, it was just too real to bear, and major kudos must be given to Lea Michele for refusing to add any sense of theatricality to the performance. It was “true” and that was the best tribute Cory Monteith could have been given.

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As to the actual story of the episode, it takes place three weeks after Finn’s funeral. The episode goes out of its way to not discuss the circumstances surrounding Finn’s death. In fact, during Kurt’s opening narration, it lampshades this with him saying how everyone wants to talk about how Finn died, but Kurt would rather remember how Finn lived. And so, everyone returns to Lima (except for Quinn and Brittany) to say one last goodbye to Finn with a memorial planned by Mr. Schue. Mr. Schue has forced himself to be the rock that the other people in his life need to rely on for emotional support and hasn’t allowed himself to really grieve himself. Kurt, Burt, and Carol are trying to figure out what to with Finn’s belongings as Carol also deals with the loss of her child. Puck starts to backslide into his old ways now that Finn isn’t around to keep him on the right path. Santana and Sue both loathe themselves for how terribly they treated Finn in the past without ever having a chance to tell them how they really felt.

I don’t want to turn this into a total recap in the vein of my past TV reviews/recaps, but there were moments beyond the terrible realness of the performances and subtext of the episode that did the things Glee can do so well (when it tries to be genuine programming). Mike O’Malley has long been one of the show’s unsung heroes as Burt and when he breaks down over having not given Finn enough hugs and how he wished he had handled Finn’s “faggy” comments about Kurt’s lamp differently, it was emotionally wrecking and then Carol talks about how she always wondered how other parents moved on after losing a child and how she’s now totally lost. It was like being punched in the stomach. Puck and Bieste have always had great moments together and this episode was no different when they mourned the loss of Finn together. And, Jane Lynch, who consistently has some of the funniest moments on the show and the most tear-jerking, has a talk with Santana later on about how she might have hated people, but she loved Finn and the senseless tragedy and wasted potential of his death

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But, the two moments that of course brutalized me the worst were at the very end with Rachel and Mr. Schuester. First, Rachel has her conversation with Mr. Schue about how all of her life plans have been devastated and her dreams of growing old with Finn will never happen and that she’s scared that one day she’ll forget his voice. The only time in my entire life that I cried that intensely was when I read the eulogy at my grandfather’s funeral that my dad had written but couldn’t read himself. The salt in my tears was burning my eyes and the side of my face had gone completely numb. I was sad when Cory Monteith died but watching Lea Michele’s genuine despair was literally more than I could even begin to handle. I was in the midst of deep, full-body sobs to the point that I could barely breathe during every second she was on screen.

And, then in the final moments of the episode where Matt Morrison finally had a chance to show how much he was hurting hit me. That hit me mostly on a story level though because of a subplot involving Finn’s letterman jacket that Kurt kept and gave to Santana but was stolen from her. You thought it was maybe Puck but it turned out it was Mr. Schuester who needed one last reminder of the student who gave his career and life a new direction. And Mr. Schuester who’s become something of a running joke in the fandom (because he has no adult friends outside of Emma and Bieste) reminds us why he was the glue that held the series together in the beginning and how losing Finn was like losing a child to him. In an episode of heartbreak, it was a beautiful and wrenching topper.

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This episode wasn’t as “good” as “The Body” from Buffy if for no other reason than that Glee is seemingly incapable of keeping up a serious mood for more than an hour. While some of the darker humor of the episode hit the right notes (particularly, all things Jane Lynch per usual), some moments felt like inappropriate padded material like Tina going into Emma’s office for grief counseling only to start talking about her clothes and Emma handing her a pamphlets that say “Am I Callous” and “It’s Not All About You.” I get, in retrospect, that was probably something about Tina being in denial but it just felt awkward and out of a place in an otherwise terribly real episode.

Cory Monteith’s death was a tragedy. He was at the start of a fruitful career and had his whole life ahead of him, and he threw that away through drug abuse and addiction. But, as Kurt said, I don’t want to remember Cory Monteith by how he died. I want to remember him for how he lived. He was the relatable, every-man presence that was the necessary cornerstone in what made Glee work for so long. You might not understand the sexual identity issues of Kurt or the all-consuming ambition of Rachel but how could you not understand the fears and hopes and dreams of Finn who was just trying to find his place in a world where he wasn’t always sure if he was talented or smart enough to get by. Cory’s charisma and boyish charm were an under-appreciated aspect of what keeps Gleeks returning week after week, and he will sorely be missed.

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“The show must go… all over the place or something.” ~ Finn Hudson

In memory of Cory Monteith (1982-2013)

 

I really hate that I’ve stopped reviewing TV shows for this blog like I did in the past. There was a time where 2/3 of my post on any given week were for the various TV programs I was watching. However, with work and school (and the fact that I just started writing a screenplay), I just don’t have the time anymore. I barely have the time to do my Song of the Days, movies, and the occasional video game. But the reason why I’m sad I stopped doing my TV reviews is that so far, this fall’s line-up of TV has been pretty great. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed Glee this consistently, and Dexter‘s the best it’s been since Season 4. Throw in a phenomenal season premiere for The Walking Dead last night, and now is as good a time as ever to be writing about television. Seriously, the premiere for The Walking Dead was excellent and it gives me hope that this season will learn from the mistakes of last year.

This, of course, segways into the fact that I played Episode 2, “Starved for Help,” of The Walking Dead video game. It was only yesterday that I put up a post for A New Day so it should be no surprise that I’ve been really enjoying the series if I’ve already played a second episode (of the four that are currently out before episode five closes out the initial season). If you want an overview of how the series plays out, check out my initial review here, and if you haven’t played Episode 1 yet, avoid this post because there will be some minor spoilers. Although Starved for Help gets off to a slower start than its predecessor (which began in fairly explosive fashion), Episode 2 proves to be a classic horror thriller which continues the franchise’s trend of forcing the player to make seemingly impossible decisions even if the game play itself remains as simple as before.

After Lee, Clementine, and your fellow survivors escaped the drug store at the end of A New Day, they found a motel which they turned into temporary shelter. Three months have passed since the end of Episode 1, and tensions are starting to flare again as the group’s food supply has finally run out. Earlier, the group picked up a new survivor, Mark, who had food but it’s now a week away from being gone. The vitriol between Lily,  the group’s de facto leader, and Kenny, a father with his son and wife, is at a boiling point over whether it’s time to move on. When the group stumbles upon a high school teacher caught in a bear trap (while two of his students panic), they have even more mouths to feed and things only get more complicated when two brothers from a local dairy farm show up at the motel offering food in exchange for gasoline.

The series continues to force the players to make excruciatingly difficult decisions, and between Episode 1 and Episode 2 now, Lee will become even more of an imprint of the player’s personality. Although certain outcomes turn out to apparently be inevitable, I’ve never once felt forced to have Lee take an action that I didn’t want over the course of the story. Well, that’s not entirely true. I think perhaps Lee and crew were a little slow on the uptake over the course of certain scenes but maybe I just made the wrong decisions for them to be more suspicious early on. One early (non-spoilery) moment has Lily getting angry with Lee and forcing him to ration the food for the day when there’s only four pieces of available food and ten mouths to feed. If that doesn’t make you feel like comic book Rick Grimes, I don’t know what will. And later on, I was presented with one of the most difficult moral decisions of the series so far and made the decision that I thought would keep myself and my group alive (even if it might have been morally wrong).

 

The episode begins by continuing to explore the group dynamics of our often incompatible and volatile groups of survivors. Larry’s still sort of an asshole (with a point). Lily has control issues. Kenny can be a selfish prick (though to protect his wife and kid). And Lee becomes more of the man that you want him to be. And the series really plays with how you perceive these characters as people you may have liked and sided with in Episode 1 suddenly start acting in less than heroic ways. After these initial development scenes though, Starved for Help slowly ramps up the tension and horror until Episode 2 becomes more scary and disturbing than anything you saw in the first episode. This one goes to a really dark place, and it catches on the theme from the TV series that our fellow man is more dangerous to our survivors than the Walkers ever could be, and sometimes, these threats come from within the group.

The episode isn’t perfect and the game play is still frustratingly simple (and one puzzle only stumped me for a minute or two because I wasn’t thinking of the game in typical point and click adventure game terms), but Starved for Help continues the strong blend of storytelling that has become this franchise’s trademark. Yeah, I think our group was sort of dumb about trusting certain people and not picking up on some weird vibes that were pretty noticeable, but it wouldn’t be horror if people didn’t realize a threat until it’s too late. And what a horror it is. If it weren’t for the fact that I work tomorrow evening, I would probably dive straight into Episode 3. As it is, I may have to wait a day or two. That’s okay though. I think I could use the chance to mull over my decisions a little bit and think about what the consequences are going to be for every tough choice I made. Few games have ever made me do this.

Final Score: B+

My mind is still a mess right now of different stories and random observations. I’ve watched another episode of the disc of Angel that I’ll be reviewing next and I’ve got not one but two movies left to review. I got my power back in 24 hours so I can’t complain too much about the massive power outages on the East Coast (600,000 West Virginians were without power)), but I’m not going to lie. It’s still putting a cramp in my writing. I’m going to be so happy when I finally get the rest of this out of the way. Sunday brought us back to Bon Temps and while I just read a recap of the episode, the details are still a little fuzzy in my mind. One thought from Sunday evening has managed to stick with me though. This is going to prove to be a very divisive season. Based on my sister’s reaction to the whole Authority story line alone (as well as general buzz across the blogosphere), it is proving to be rather unpopular among the fandom. The introduction of vampiric religion and the Sanguinista fundamentalist cult is causing some vexation. I enjoy it (infinitely more than last season’s witch yawn-inducers), but I can see how the slower pace and universe building is going to be a turn off to people who simply turn into True Blood for the sex and violence.

Sookie didn’t have a lot to do this week (although she potentially added someone else to do at the end of the episode…), but let’s face it, when was the last time Sookie was a worthwhile character. She is overwhelmed with guilt about killing Debbie Pelt and having Tara turned into a vampire. After admitting to Alcide that she killed Debbie, she only wants to continue doing the right thing to get herself out of the hole she’s in. She admits her crime to Jason (and Jessica) but he refuses to turn her in. Sookie and Lafayette finally fight about what they’ve done and he goes all evil witch on her car (unknowingly to normal Lafayette) and she nearly dies when her car careens out of control. Sookie decides to get absolutely wasted at her house to ease the pain of what she believes will be her impending trip to prison when Alcide shows up. He lied to Debbie’s parents and told them that Marcus killed Debbie (and that he killed Marcus for doing it). After the two bond over some booze, they start making out (as Bill and Eric watch). Speaking of the thorns in the Authority’s side, Bill and Eric are finally released from the Authority’s custody (but they still have their iStakes attached) to find the AWOL and dangerous Russell Edginton. Since only two other people knew about Russell’s fate (and Alcide was the one that tipped them off to what happened), they believe that Pam might have been the one to free Russell. Obviously, she would never betray Eric and is deeply hurt that she would accuse him in the first place. By the end of the episode, Eric has released Pam from his command in order to protect her.

As for everyone else, things are hit or miss in the eventful department. Pam saves Tara from her suicide attempt via tanning bed by using her maker “command” powers and later forces her to feed from a “willing” human (she could have been glamored). That’s basically it. Andy wants to continue the investigation into Debbie Pelt’s disappearance (even though her parents have dropped it and left town) but Jessica glamors him into believing that the investigation is finally over. Andy and Jason are invited to a fairy brothel (no I’m not making that shit up) by the local judge whose son Andy helped get out of a ticket. When they arrive, Jason discovers that vampires killed his parents (and that Hadley, his cousin, is staying there to protect herself and her child from the vampires). When he tries to get more information about what happened, he and Andy get kicked out of the brothel (after Andy has already cheated on Holly with the fairy he had sex with last season) and are being zapped by the fairies when the episode ends. Terry and Patrick are investigating their former comrade from Iraq when we get flashbacks to what actually happened. Apparently, in a drug-fueled haze, Terry’s squad massacred a family of Iraqis (although there’s an implication that the hostiles they were fighting were hallucinations and it’s possibly supernatural related). Finally, Sam gets a visit at the bar from some shifter friends that he agrees to run around with but by the time he gets home, someone has shot them in the head.

I’ll try to keep this short since I still have my two other movie reviews to do. I thought that the way that Roman (Christopher Meloni) killed the child vampire for being the mole inside the Authority to the Sanguinista movement was pretty great and deliciously violent. I knew he was the mole early on because I knew that killing a kid would make for the highest possible shock value on the show, and True Blood definitely delivered. However, I’m still convinced that they are adherents to the vampire religion as well in some form or another. There’s just too much religious-esque ritual to their actions for them not to be associated with the cult of Lilith. I also still think that Salome has something to do with the Sanguinistas as well and that Nora is still protecting her (and it’s the only reason Nora hasn’t been staked yet). I’m excited to see that Alcide and Sookie may be finally hooking up. I think Alcide is a great character (even if he hasn’t had a lot to work with this season), and the whole vampire romance storyline with her and Bill is dried up. Joe Manganiello and Anna Paquin have some serious sexual chemistry (which is really awkward since she’s married in real life to Stephen Moyer) so that could be fun. I almost feel bad for Stephen Moyer. For the last two seasons, his wife has been shipped with every man on the show but him. Also with Stephen Moyer, I wish Bill had more to do this season. He’s always been one of the better characters on the program and I don’t feel like he’s developed any with this Authority stuff (even though I really like how that storyline has deepened the series’ mythology).

After the campish absurdity of last season, True Blood needed to take an opportunity to slow things down and try and work its way back to its roots (without unnecessarily retreading over old stories). So far, I think the show’s succeeded. It’s dark, comic, sexy, and violent as hell. It’s not art house television but it’s never made any pretensions of being that. Not all of the stories are working. I’m done caring about Terry’s Iraq issues, and I still think that fairies were the moment when True Blood jumped the shark. However, the Authority has breathed new life into the program (so to speak) and the shockwaves that Sam and Alcide made in the were and shifter community still have the potential to resonate. However, we’re nearing the halfway mark of the season. That means that it’s time for True Blood to take the brakes off and finally add some momentum to the season’s events. The show has managed to reinvest me in these characters. Now, it’s time to find something for them to really do.

Final Score: B

I’m not going to lie. This review is probably going to be a little short and a little hazy. This was the post that I was working on Friday when the power went out, and it’s been three days since I’ve watched any Angel, and I’ve seen one episode of a TV show I’m going to be reviewing (True Blood), a movie (you’ll see later), read a whole book (Catching Fire), and read a quarter of another (Mockingjay) since then. Obviously, there’s a lot of shit bouncing around in my head right now, and some things are going to get lost in the mix-up. I should have followed my gut-instincts about just writing the reviews in Microsoft Word and then copy & pasting them on to here, but I didn’t expect the electricity to be out the entire weekend. It was a bad gamble on my part. And now there are just a million stories, thoughts, critiques, and non-sequiturs just floating around my skull. We’ll see if I can’t get anything meaningful out of it. I tried to play the PSX Resident Evil today (and yesterday. I own a lot of PS 1 games on my PS3), and I discovered it to be nearly non-playable. If Chris Redfield is supposed to be an elite special forces soldier, why does he control like he took all of the world’s barbiturates at once? I don’t know what that has to do with Angel, but like I said, non-sequiturs.

This disc was very Darla-centric (except for the last episode and even then her presence weighed heavily on the proceedings). We finally discover what the plan with Wolfram & Hart concerning Darla and Angel ultimately was (I think because Holland Manners sort of implies later on that their plans are a little bigger than that). When they brought Darla back, she was brought back as a human. She’s no longer a vampire, and now she has a soul. Although you’d think that would mean she’d suddenly begin to feel guilty about the atrocities she committed as a vampire, it takes a while for any of that to set in, and initially, she’s still evil. Wolfram & Hart’s plan is to use Darla to give Angel “true happiness” and thus make him Angelus and use him as a force of darkness instead of a soldier for the Powers that Be. When Angel first sees Darla outside of his dreams, she pretends to be someone else to make Angel (and Cordy and Wesley) think he’s going insane. She even sets a trap to frame Angel for murder and further destroy his relationship with Kate Lockley (who finally returns to the series’ fold). However, by the end of the first episode, Darla is showing some stirrings of remorse and it’s clear that her conscience is returning. In the second episode, Angel takes a backseat (though still has plenty of screen time) as Wesley pretends to be Angel (to save Cordelia’s life) and agrees (at gunpoint) to protect the daughter of a wealthy magician/businessman. Meanwhile, Angel tries to get advice from a swami after he is unable to stop obsessing over the return of Darla and how to help her now that she has a soul (if she’s willing to be helped).

The third episode, entitled “Darla,” was the best episode of Angel yet (more on that later) and finally provided some much needed backstory for Angel’s sire (and I’m sure there’s more to come). Darla is beginning to snap under the weight of the guilt for the probably hundreds of murders she committed when she was a vampire. With the help of Lindsay (who continues to show signs that despite choosing Wolfram & Hart over the path of good, he’s not completely evil), she escapes Wolfram & Hart’s clutches and hooks back up with Angel. While Angel tries to help her come to terms with what she’s done over the years (and that the only way to deal with it is to accept what you’ve done and try to atone for your past sins), we get a series of flashbacks that chronicles Darla’s life before being turned (she was a prostitute dying of some terrible disease in the 1600s when she was turned by the Master), her early years gallivanting with Angel, Spike, and Dru, and her sense of betrayal when Angel was finally re-ensouled. However, by the end of the episode, Darla doesn’t choose redemption. She wants an easier path. She wants Angel to turn her back into a vampire which he refuses and she runs away. In the final episode, Angel’s obsession with what’s happened with Darla is stopping Angel Investigations from doing any business so Cordy and Wesley help Angel get what they think is an easy case: stopping a group of demons from robbing a mystic shroud from a museum. However, the mystic shroud is indeed mystic and its power drives anyone who comes near it crazy. When Kate gets on the case and thinks Angel is finally a criminal, she nearly gets what she wants when a crazy Angel (though he was actually faking it to save her life) feeds on her.

Like I said, I’ll try to keep this short because it’s been so long since I’ve really watched this. “Dear Boy” was probably the weakest episode of the disc but at a solid “B+” that’s okay. Julie Benz has been fantastic this season as Darla. Honestly, I might have said this in my last Angel review but I don’t remember so I’ll (possibly) say it again. She is infinitely more interesting and dynamic as the morally complex and dark Darla than she ever was as the very bland Rita onDexter. Having Trinity kill her off remains one of the ballsiest things that show ever did. I still haven’t really warmed up to Gunn on this show yet. He needs more backstory or something. “Guise Will Be Guise” was great because it was the episode where Wesley officially stopped being a putz (or at least a total putz) and became more of a bad-ass. Wesley has probably become my favorite character on the show so far. Which is so weird. Alexis Denisof has just really made the role his own and the writing of the character has become exceptionally sharp. Had it now been for the power outage, I probably could have written a whole paragraph about “Darla” but I’ll do my best. It was Tim Minear’s first directed episode, and it was a grand slam home run. The way that we saw both Angel and Darla (Angel in flashbacks) struggling with what it means to have a soul and ultimately taking different paths at the end of the day was very compelling. Also, we learned that Angel wasn’t instantly a paragon of good after getting his soul and in fact fed on humans to try and re-earn the trust of Darla for a bit after he got his soul back. “The Shroud of Rahmon” was myth-arc lite but it was cool to A) see a play on the heist film and also B ), you saw another of the many, many teases this season that Angelus could be returning any minute now. I would love to see that happen because David Boreanaz is always at his A-game when he’s playing Angelus.

Like I promised, this will be short (if you call 1300 words short). I still have three other posts to put up, and I’d like my movie review to be fairly in-depth because I think it’s going to shock people that I think so highly of the film. I want to save my energy for it so to speak. Anyways, after a rock start to this season of Angel, I actually thought the show really picked things up in this disc by providing the best episode of the series so far (even managing to edge out the excellent “I Will Remember You”) and two other great episodes (and one good ep). I’m really curious where this whole Darla story is going, and I’m wondering if Joss Whedon is just teasing us with all of these flashes of Angelus. He’d better not because that would be an abuse of his foreshadowing privileges otherwise. Next disc will finish us up with the home half of season 2 of Angel, and I’m feeling really good about where this season is going.

Final Score: A-

You know what’s the key to enjoying True Blood these days? Tempered expectations. It means coming to terms with the fact that “guilty pleasure television” always means you’re going to feel a little guilty about watching it (the sad fact is that there’s people out there who thinks this program still has any intention of being legitimate, significant television). Although this season has managed to be less on the side of poorly written fan faction (what with the show’s never ending preoccupation with who’s fucking who), it’s not exactly high brow. It doesn’t even have the allegorical or character driven strength of other popcorn programs like Angel or Doctor Who. The show used to have something so unique that it made it stand out from the rest of the crowd. It began more as a pitch-black comedy with a healthy dose of fantasy and romance. That got lost somewhere over the years. It still has some unique appeal that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s the something that brings me back against my better judgment (and keeps me writing about the show). Part of its the cast. I’ve become so invested in the residents of Bon Temps over the year that barring a complete implosion of quality (which nearly happened last season), I have to see the show through to the end. Also, I hate to admit that for someone who goes long stretches without a girlfriend (I’ve been single for two months now and was single three years preceding my last relationship), the pure, undeniable sexiness of the program keeps me coming back. I hate that about myself.

Continuing my pattern established with the season’s first two reviews, paragraph one is Sookie, Bill, and Eric. Paragraph two is everyone else. Sookie and Lafayette continue their search for Tara. However, she’s ran off to Sam at Merlotte’s after she nearly fed on a strange woman on the streets (she stopped herself at the last second). Sam has to lock Tara up in the freezer for the day and it doesn’t take long for psychic Sookie to figure out where Tara is. Sookie’s life continues to be complicated when Andy Bellefleur asks her about the disappearance of Debbie Pelt (though he doesn’t particularly suspect Sookie) and Alcide comes sniffing around as well. When Tara wakes up at night (and reveals to the chatty Arlene that she’s a vampire), Sookie’s life gets even worse when Tara reveals to Alcide that Sookie is hiding something and Sookie has to admit to a distraught Alcide that she killed his ex-fiancee. In Bill and Eric-ville, they’ve been commissioned by the Authority to kill the not-dead Russell Edginton. However, they’ve also been equipped with chest harnesses known as iStakes which will kill them the second they try to flee or pull a fast one on the Authority. They are both seduced by the gorgeous Salome (who apparently played a part in the beheading of John the Baptist which means she’s even older than Eric). She was trying to determine for one last time where their loyalties live and whether they’re Sanguinistas (vampire fundamentalists intent on destroying the mainstreaming movement and subjugating humanity under the boot heel of vampires). They seemed to be clear although Eric’s sister, Nora, admits to being a Sanguinista although its unclear whether that’s true or she was giving  in to torture.

As for everyone else, Pam gets the award (again) for most interesting story of the week. After she and Sookie get into a fight at Fangtasia (and Sookie goes full on fairy light beam power on her), Pam has the chance to reminisce more on her initial meetings with Eric (when she was a 19th century madam at a bordello) as well as the first time Eric met Bill (because Bill and Lorena were the vampires draining her prostitutes). She wants Eric to turn her into a vampire because she doesn’t want to face the miserable life that all madams of that age faced when they got old. Eric doesn’t want to do that to her (this seems like a surprisingly kind and sensitive Eric compared to how he turned out before becoming an amnesiac) but when she slits her wrists and gives him the option to either turn her or watch her die, she has no choice. Tara’s story was also interesting and it was cool to see her being able to resist the temptations that none of the other vampires we’ve seen in the show could turn down. Also, the fact that she seemed to be about to commit suicide with a tanning bed at the end of the episode (with Pam realizing what’s happening) made for another interesting turn. I don’t know how things are going to go with Aclide, who was confronted by Debbie’s parents about her disappearance. He hasn’t been as interesting as past seasons (although to be fair, he hasn’t had much to do). Lafayette finally had a plot development that was about him and not his friendship with Sookie. Towards the end of the episode, he was re-possessed by the evil witch spirit and he poured bleach in the gumbo (and realized at the last second what he’d done and stopped himself). The Terry/Arlene story also didn’t really move forward much other than Terry and Arlene having a fight after Arlene pushed him to solve this mystery in the first place. The other big story was Jason meeting the teacher he may or may not have lost his virginity to in high school (I thought that was the implication) and realizing with the help of Jessica (who encountered a fairy) that he was using sex to fill the hole in his life and he wants to get his shit together.

My sister is decidedly against this whole “Sanguinista” storyline but I kind of like it. One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about True Blood is the way that it uses vampirism as a reflection of modern religious attitudes (particularly against homosexuals although the vampires as gays metaphor is sort of a broken Aesop since the vampires on this show are kind of inherently a little evil), and the whole Sanguinista movement seems like another fun way to poke fun at the religious right (now that the Fellowship of the Sun is apparently disbanded and Steve Newlin has become the new Nan Flanagan). Obviously, the Authority has its own serious, serious flaws so it’s once again kind of a broken Aesop, and I actually suspect that they have their own dastardly ulterior motives about humans. They’re just better at hiding it all so far. It’s the way that they use words like “apostate” and the highly ritualized nature of their actions that makes me suspicious. The stuff with Pam having flashbacks to her time with Eric before she turned (and I’m presuming now we’ll see what it was like when she first turned) has been the best thing the show’s done since Season 3. It’s very, very interesting and Pam is one of the better characters on the show. I’ve completely written Sookie off as the worst main character on TV right now. The only woman who’s become more boring and useless than Sookie is Betty Draper (and I don’t hate Sookie. I fucking loathe Betty). Jessica hasn’t had anything interesting to do yet this season either (although the arrival of fairies may change all of this) and her stories with Jason haven’t really connected with me like they did last season.

I’m about to eat lunch (my sleep schedule is a little off. I know this) so I’ll draw my ramblings about True Blood to a close. For what the series tries to be, which is a fantasy-driven romance (with elements of dark comedy and light political allegory), the season has been a success so far. It’s not great, but I’ve enjoyed it, and unlike previous seasons, there isn’t a single storyline that I actively despise and certain people are stealing the show (Steve Newlin has become a surprisingly hilarious/great character as has Christopher Meloni’s Roman). I’m ready to see more Russell. The show is taking its sweet time bringing him back into the fold. Hopefully, that means the pay off his reappearance will be worth the wait. Next week, we’ll be a quarter of the way through the season, and hopefully by the end of that episode, we’ll have a better idea about where the season is heading and since we’ve reached the fifth season of the program (HBO dramas traditionally rarely last more than six or seven seasons), maybe we’ll get hints of what the end game of this program is starting to look like. Dexter has already ran for far too long. I’d hate to see True Blood suffer the same problem.

Final Score: B

Well, after the misstep with the third season of Mad Men (where I only reviewed the entire season rather than each individual disc of the series), we’re back in Los Angeles for the second season of Angel. That’s my current TV on DVD set-up for the blog. I’m going back and forth between Angel and Mad Men (as a regular recurring break in between my movie reviews as well as the current season of True Blood). It feels like ages since I finished the last season of Angel though I know it’s only been about three weeks. I really enjoyed the first season. While it was certainly better than the first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I still didn’t feel like I was more invested in Angel by the end of that season than I was in Buffy. It’s probably an unfair comparison to make because I had seven season of Buffy to fall in love with the Scooby gang. Wesley has only been around half a season by the end of season 1 and Gunn was there for four episodes. So, what I’m hoping happens this season is that I form a deeper emotional connection to these characters. That’s the primary benefit of TV (as I’ve harped on again and again on here). I finished the first disc last night before I went to bed (my current nighttime reading material is the newest Dark Tower book, The Wind Through the Keyhole. Expect a review soon), and while I wasn’t wowed by any of the individual stories on display, there is definitely a sense that the show is in complete control of what sort of program it wants to be and how these particular characters fit together.

I should have mentioned this in my review of Salvador but now is as good a time as any to bring it up. Long time readers may have noticed a subtle change to the format of this blog. The pictures in the post are bigger instead of being smaller versions of larger photos. I just didn’t like how small and unclear the pictures looked (unless you clicked on them to make them bigger). I think this set-up may be more engaging to the eyes. Feel free to let me know how you feel about the change. Anyways back to Angel. In the first episode, the gang has had to relocate their offices temporarily to Cordelia’s (and Dennis the ghost’s) apartment. After failing to stop Wolfram & Hart from resurrecting Darla (though Angel still doesn’t know Darla’s what was resurrected), Angel has gone on a crusade to stop all of the evil in L.A. that he can. However, when one of Cordelia’s visions sends him to confront a demon, he kills the demon only to discover that it was good like him and protecting a pregnant woman (whose unborn daughter will grow up to be an important soldier in the fight against the darkness). Angel then has to take up the mantle of her new protector until she can find sanctuary. During all four of these episodes, Angel is having very sexual dreams about Darla and we discover in the fourth episode that Darla is using some special magical herb to control Angel in his sleep (at the orders of Lindsay from Wolfram & Hart). In the second episode, Angel Investigations investigates a 1950s hotel with a history of murder and the supernatural (and a connection to Angel’s past). When they finally defeat the demon that has haunted the hotel for 50 years, Angel decides to make the Hyperion Hotel the new headquarters for Angel Investigations.

In the third episode, Cordelia’s visions are again unclear enough to ultimately cause problems for everyone. She has a vision of Gunn fighting for his life. Because Angel is under the dream influence of Darla and Wesley is simply AWOL, Cordelia goes to investigate on her own and accidentally attacks (but doesn’t really injure) one of Gunn’s men who he was sparring with. However, Cordy knows that she was sent to Gunn for a reason and vows to stay with him until whatever threat to his life appears. As they search together for Angel’s stolen car (which was taken when Cordy went to save Gunn), we get a deeper look into why Gunn does what he does as well as his own death-seeking heroism. When they vanquish a demon that Gunn had been hunting at the episode’s end (with the intervention of Angel and Wesley), Cordelia reveals to Gunn that the demon wasn’t his threat. He’s his own worst enemy and he has to learn to control his temper and his desire to be exposed to danger if he wants to stay alive. In the final episode, we meet a young psychic named Bethany who (unbeknownst to her) has been targeted by Wolfram & Hart as a potential psychic assassin. One of Cordy’s visions send Angel to rescue her but her uncontrolled psychic powers make her kill the would-be rapists (actually sent by Wolfram & Hart to test what would happen to Bethany under stress). As Angel tries to help her control her powers and come to deal with the personal demons (the metaphorical variety) that caused her powers to manifest, he has to deal with the scheming of Wolfram & Hart as well as the continuing thrall that Darla has placed him under.

In all of that recapping, I forgot to mention my potentially new favorite character on the show. He’s some type of benevolent demon known as the Host (also known as Lorne) that runs a karaoke bar because if people sing in public, it allows him to see into their future (at will unlike Cordelia’s uncontrollable visions). He is fairly flamboyantly gay and absolutely fabulous. He adds some much needed levity to the program (and has provided some of the season’s most memorable moments so far but more on that shortly). Joss Whedon works so well (compared to other popcorn supernatural programs) because of the pop literacy of his writing (and his team’s writing) as well as that of his characters. Cordelia had been the only one providing that sort of awareness because Angel is nearly completely pop culture illiterate and Wesley has more of a British leaning (obviously). Lorne brings some of that pop culture joie de vivre to the proceedings and I just think his character is a fun new addition to the cast. He’s far more interesting right now than Gunn. Side note on Gunn, no one on this cast knows how to write an African American character (not that they have to be written a specific way but what I’m saying will make sense in a second). They try really hard to make him sound “black” and “street” and wow do they not do it well. It seems pretty forced and artificial when he talks, and that’s almost never the case for the dialogue on a Joss Whedon project.

As for the individual episodes, they were consistently good even if none of them (except for perhaps the last one, of course directed by Joss Whedon himself) were actually great. The season premiere, “Judgment,” was good in the way that we saw a moment where Angel wasn’t doing good for good’s sake but because he was angry. He was “keeping score” and it cost him when he didn’t think before acting. Also, it sort of grounds us in the fact that it’s going to be a long time before the Shanshu prophecy (where Angel’s good deeds will eventually make him human) can ever come true. The second episode, “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been,” is a fan favorite (although I’m not sure why). The parallels with the McCarthy hearing were pretty cool, and the moment where an ensouled Angel leaves a group of humans to be murdered and tortured by the demon controlling the hotel (in the 1950s after they tried to lynch him for a murder) was really interesting. I just don’t think the rest of the episode held up that well. “First  Impressions” gave us plenty of Cordelia. She’s become far more serious and likeable of a character this season (though still occasionally having the more traditional “Cordelia” moments) and I’ve enjoyed watching her grow. Unlike with Spike, watching her become more sympathetic hasn’t robber her character of any of its strength. Same with Wesley. He’s now fare more of an interesting character now that he isn’t an incompetent twat. However, that episode also gave us a lot of Gunn and so far he isn’t clicking with me. The final episode “Untouched” was the best.Angel is all about redemption and coming to terms with our dark sides, and that episode added a layer of dark sexuality to the whole proceedings. Also, I’m really interested to try to figure out what Wolfram & Hart’s whole plan with Darla is. They’ve been teasing that out very slowly and I’m ready for some more information.

Well, I still need to review last night’s episode of True Blood (this season has been fairly uneventful but at least it hasn’t been outright bad like last season) so I’ll draw this to a close. After a semi-disappointing third season of Mad Men, I’m really hoping that this season of Angel can still deliver the goods that last season sent my way. Otherwise, I’ll be in for a slump of TV. The season’s not off to an amazing start, but it’s been good, and I can see how the season is laying the pieces for things to get better. Once again, I’d love some feedback about using these larger pictures instead of the smaller 300 X 200 pics that I was using before. Feel free to check out my Anchorman review to see an example of the posts with smaller pics. It’s a change. Angel was a bad post to use an example of for these because there are very few decent quality pictures of this show on the internet for whatever reason (I had a similar problem with Buffy).

Final Score: B+

Mad Men: Season 3

So, this is out of the ordinary. Long time readers know that when I review seasons of television programs after they’ve stopped airing, I generally review them on a disc-by-disc basis (or I guess if the DVD isn’t actually out yet based on previous seasons). No one would want to read me do an episode-by-episode breakdown of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Doctor Who (actually, those are the two older shows I watch that people would have enjoyed that because the fandoms are so nerdy). I choose disc by disc reviews because some stretches of a season are good and some aren’t. For example, during the first season of Mad Men, it took me to the final disc of the show to finally understand what Matthew Wiener was trying to accomplish with this program. Similarly, I mostly enjoyed the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the first couple of episodes where the Potentials showed up were nearly unwatchable. I like to capture the ebb and flow of a season of television if at all possible. However, for multiple reasons with the third season of Mad Men (mostly that I watched all but one of the five episodes of the first disc before I went to Bonnaroo and then I watched the other episode when I got back and much of the action had became hazy in my head, plus I had written 4000 words for two articles for work and I was just feeling lazy), I decided to simply review the entire season at once. Even though this was the weakest season of Mad Men (two is my favorite), I regret that decision because Mad Men remains one of the most thematically complex programs on American television.

One of the reasons that I like to review a disc at a time is that my natural inclination to go on at length about the plots of TV shows (because of subconscious training I’ve received by reading Entertainment Weekly review/recaps) is restrained if there are only three or four episodes. Trying to cram a season’s worth of plot for Mad Men into one or two paragraphs will be interesting. Essentially, the season begins by focusing on the fall-out of Sterling Cooper’s sale to a British advertising agency and the new leadership of their British overseer Lane Pryce (Jared Harris). Although Don and Betty seem to have put their near marriage meltdown behind them from last season, it’s not long between Don’s infidelity and Betty’s general bitchiness start to tear their marriage apart. Don has remained rakish throughout and begins an affair with Sally’s teacher, Suzanne (Abigail Spencer), while Betty begins a romantic involvement with an adviser to Governor Rockefeller (soon to be Vice President Rockefeller), Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley). When Betty discovers the truth of Don’s past as Dick Whitman, she finally decides to end the marriage and to be with Henry. Sterling Cooper is sold again. This time’s it’s by the British company. Because Don, Roger, and Bert Cooper don’t want to work for the agency that they’ve been sold to (and Bert knows that his old age means his career is over with a new company), they decide to pull a fast one under the Brits by having Lane fire them, poach as many of the accounts as they possibly could, and start their own new agency. Except now, Don’s name is on the metaphorical door of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

I left out leagues and leagues of subplots there but that’s what happens when I don’t review a show in a more serialized format. TV isn’t movies and it doesn’t lend itself easily to highly condensed reviews. Honestly though, I just wasn’t crazy about this season.  It’s still great TV, and intellectually, it’s leagues beyond everything else on TV. However, Mad Men always moves at its own, very deliberate pace. That’s fine. It gives stories a chance to truly develop at a natural pace rather than occurring at TV time. However, season 3 took the deliberate pace and turned it into a glacial pace. It took nearly seven episodes before I felt anything especially significant started to happen and it wasn’t until the final two/three episodes that major changes began to finally occur. And honestly, so many of these events carried such a weight of inevitability (Don and Betty’s divorce primarily) that it seemed like they were dragging things out for dramatic reasons. On other programs, that wouldn’t be so bad, but on Mad Men, much of its appeal comes from the way that things seem to happen so realistically. There were moments this season where I felt like I was being reminded I was watching a scripted TV program and it robbed the show of some of its magic. Also, the general lack of engaging dynamic character development (particularly on the Peggy Olson front til the final two episodes) lessened the impact of what is generally the greatest part of the show, its characters.

Thankfully, the acting was as top notch as always (except for January Jones anyways. She, and by proxy Betty, is the weak link in this program). Jon Hamm remains the second best leading man on television (behind Bryan Cranston). And I honestly think that Don Draper is a far more engaging character than Walter White. I just think Bryan Cranston is the best leading man in the history of the television medium (I can’t wait for Breaking Bad to come back). His performance as Don Draper this season was potentially his best yet as we finally saw Don at his breaking point. He’s often the definition of cool composure, but we saw his carefully maintained facade crack several times this season and it was wonderful. John Slattery continues to be the scene stealing ensemble dark horse of the program as Roger Sterling, and he had a lot of great scenes with Christina Hendricks towards the end of the season. Bryan  Batt left the program this season (a mistake on the part of the show’s writers I believe unless he wanted out), but Sal also had a lot of great moments where he finally came to terms with his homosexuality only to be fired after someone from Lucky Strikes made a pass at him that he rejected. Elisabeth Moss kept her place as my favorite cast member even if she didn’t get to do a whole lot this season. Though the moments where she finally stood up to Don were some of the most engaging of the season. However, January Jones remains the worst leading lady on serious television so she weighs down the otherwise fantastic acting of the program considerably.

I’ll draw this review to a close because it’s much more difficult for me to write in-depth about 13 episodes of TV at once than it is for me to gleam insights from a single episode at a time. I still don’t quite understand why except for the fact that when you watch that much TV in a row, it all starts to blur together. I’m finally finished with this season of Mad Men though which means it’s time for me to return to the land of Joss Whedon and Angel. I actually watched the season premiere last night with my dad. There was a new character introduced who has the opportunity to be my new favorite character on the show. We shall see. So, we’re going to take a 22 episode break from Mad Men and then return for Season 4 after I finish the second season of Angel. A lot of changes did finally occur at the end of Season 3 of Mad Men so I’m excited to see what all of the fall out from these decisions will be. Also, among my friends who are fans of the show, there’s a general consensus that the fourth season is the best so that’s as good a sign as any. So, let’s say goodbye to Sterling Cooper (or should I say Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce) and say hello again to Angel Investigations.

Final Score: B+

True Blood is chugging right along (although at a slower pace than usual but that’s okay because the stories are more interesting so far than last year) and all I can think about this season is what a misstep last season was. I went on a big rant about all of last season’s flaws in my review for last week’s season premiere, so I’ll spare you anymore ravings in that direction except for this. Simply put, True Blood abandoned its campy, fun side in an attempt to be more serious and more traditionally “dark” (as opposed to darkly comic). I think after two episodes this season, we’re seeing a slow return to the more fun side of the series and perhaps the departure of Alan Ball won’t negatively affect the series nearly as much as I thought. I’m pretty sure he left the show before this season began. Some people are frustrated with the show moving at a slower pace but I actually like it. I feel like stories are actually being given a chance to develop, but they aren’t quite moving at the tepid pace of the second season of The Walking Dead (I’m looking at you “lost Sophia” story line). It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make so far as long as the pay-off down the road is good. Also, this week saw the first appearance of Christopher Meloni in the cast and as a long time fan of Oz, I’m excited to see what he brings to the table.

There are two main stories this week and then the various smaller stories so let’s start with Sookie work our way to Bill and Eric and then see where everybody else fit into the week’s festivities. After waking up as a vampire, Tara is not taking it very well. That makes sense since she pretty much hates vampires and they’ve caused her nothing but misery for the last several years. She nearly kills Sookie before Pam orders her not to bite Lafayette or Sook. Pam leaves (to manage things at Fangtasia as well as to give us some flashbacks but more on that later) and Sookie and Lafayette are left caring for a newborn vampire who despises her own existence. Tara completely wrecks Sookie’s house, and it takes Lafayette cutting open his arm for Tara to feed as a trap for Sookie to wrap her in silver for them to get Tara in Eric’s cupboard before sunrise. Lafayette nearly stakes Tara in her sleep because he realizes what he did was a mistake. Sookie convinces him not to and that Tara will eventually adjust. However, when Tara wakes the next evening, she tells Lafayette and Sookie that she’ll never forgive them and runs away. In Bill and Eric town, they’ve been captured by the Authority. After enduring torture-fueled interrogations where they want to know what they’re protecting (I’m assuming this is all about Sookie and her fairy powers/blood), we meet Roman (Christopher Meloni), the head of the Authority. Apparently, there’s a fundamentalist vampire cult intent on subjugating humanity for vampires and destroying the mainstreaming agenda. They think Bill and Eric are part of this cult. Just as Roman is about to stake the pair, Eric and Bill pull out their trump card which is that Russell Edginton is alive and they’ll pay off their debt to the authority by killing him once and for all.

As to the other people in town, things took a slight backseat (except for Alcide/Sam/Luna). Jessica is confronted by Steve Newlin who is now becoming a prominent spokesman for the vampire community as someone who has changed his opinion after being a rabid anti-vampire fundamentalist. He wants to buy Jason Stackhouse from her. She teases him but then fights him and kicks him out of the house for making such an offensive offer for someone she still cares about (even if their relationship is pretty much done). Jason is really beginning to feel guilty about all of the women he’s slept with and kicked to the curb over the years especially after a teenage son comes to the police station to pick a fight with him when Jason’s rakish ways caused his family to get divorced. Alcide refuses his place as the new packmaster of the werewolf pack even though he killed Marcus which by werewolf tradition makes him the new packmaster. He wants no part of it though and doesn’t even rise to the bait of one of the other werewolves calling him a coward and insulting him. Sam is allowed to leave when it’s discovered that he didn’t kill Marcus although after Marcus’ mother (Dale Dickey) visits Luna to see Emma, her granddaughter, Sam and Luna have a fight over what would be best for Emma in the off-chance she becomes a werewolf instead of a shifter. By the episodes end, we see Emma in her room and she’s transformed into the most adorable wolf ever. Terry is having more flashbacks and sleepwalking problems than usual and so Arlene gives in (after Terry freaks out on her at Merlotte’s) and recruits Patrick for help. It turns out that Terry knows that the guy Patrick was asking about last week is still alive and where he is so they decide to visit him.

I’m really excited to see where this whole Tara storyline goes. While Bill suffers through some angst about his being a vampire and we saw some flashbacks where it was miserable for him, we haven’t really had a character yet who exists to show how terrible it would be to become a vampire if you absolutely loathed vampires. Jessica took to vampirism pretty enthusiastically and Steve Newlin seems to be adjusting pretty normally as well. Tara on the other hand hasn’t had a single good experience with vampires and is now one of their numbers. Perhaps, for the first time in the series, she will finally have something interesting to do. We shall see. Sookie hasn’t really had much to do this season but let’s face it. She hasn’t been a compelling character since Season 1. Ever since then, she has done more reacting to the world around her than any actual constructive activity. She’s a pretty flat character and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. She’s meant to the be the audience avatar though so it’s understandable if not actually forgivable. Lafayette has historically been my favorite character on the show and I’m afraid that this season is going to see a return to the broken, shell Lafayette of Season 2 because of his losing his boyfriend and his cousin becoming a vampire. He operates at his best as the morally ambiguous joie de vivre of the series. I also want to know where this whole story with Alcide is going. He’s become an interesting character in his own right and if he does end up being the new packmaster, it should layer some new complexities on his persona other than just being the sensitive giant.

I have to review the Thomas Pynchon novel V. today (and I’m heading to Morgantown to play Dungeons and Dragons with my cousin shortly) so I’m going to have to bring this all to an early close. Here are some last thoughts. Sam hasn’t had a lot to do yet this season. He’s the second best character behind Lafayette (and in the last two seasons, he’s probably been the best character), and I’d like to continue see his character develop and grow. Similarly, Jessica hasn’t had a whole lot to do so far either besides party away. I’d like some more from her that is something beyond just relationship angst. This show puts far too high a premium on the concept of “shipping” and it needs new ideas. It’s too early to tell where the Terry Bellefleur storyline is going but I’m intrigued. All in all, we’re two episodes into the season and while I’m not blown away by any means (Game of Thrones this is not), I’ve enjoyed it so far and that’s a lot more than I could say about last season. Of course, last season actually started with my expectations being high because of the well-implemented time-shift. So, perhaps True Blood could be setting me up for disappointment again.

Final Score: B

Well, after some pondering, I have decided to actually attempt to review this season of True Blood. Much like the second season of The Walking Dead, the fourth season of True Blood was a bit of a disaster (though it had none of the glorious highs of season 2 of TWD to make up for its low moments). The main villain, Marnie (The Butcher Boy‘s Fiona Shaw), was the worst in series history and the show abandoned much of the humor and fun that had made True Blood such a guilty pleasure delight the previous three seasons and instead decided to focus on a love triangle that while interesting the source material books, threatened to derail the entire program into a more generic and bland soap opera. Similarly, the show accumulated show many competing storylines that it became impossible for the show to devote any real time to any of them, and at the end of the day, none of them were particularly interesting except for those involving Sam and Jessica. I was ready to give up on the series until the finale which seemingly (though apparently not god damnit) killed off my least favorite character (Rutina Wesley’s Tara) and resurrected my favorite character, Russell Edginton. It’s to be seen if the latter is true but sadly the former isn’t though the season premiere of True Blood managed to be enjoyable nonetheless as the show managed to recapture a little bit of the humor I love so much.

I had honestly forgotten nearly everything that happened last season (mostly as an attempt to repress the memories of how awful the show had become) except for Debbie Pelt shooting Tara in the head and Lafayette murdering Jesus when he was possessed by Marnie. So, I had forgotten many of the cliffhangers of the season including Sam being surrounded by a pack of werewolves (after killing their old packmaster with Alcide in order to protect Luna and her daughter), a vampiric Steve Noonan showing up at Jason Stackhouse’s home, as well as Terry Bellefleur’s old army buddy showing up in Bon Temps and stirring up shit. I also forgot that Eric and Bill had killed Nan Flanagan and would now be wanted by the Authority. That’s how bad last season was. I literally did my damnedest to forget it had happened. Still, tonight tried its hardest to make these stories compelling and it mostly succeeded. Immediately after killing Nan Flanagan, Eric and Bill are captured by the Authority. Though they manage to escape the Authority’s clutches with the help of Eric’s “sister” (who was also made by Godric. He calls her sister but they fuck. It’s weird and apparently True Blood is embracing the Game of Thrones incest thing), they are captured shortly thereafter as they’re trying to flee the country under assumed aliases (and all of the vampires around them are given explosive renditions of the true death). In Sookie-ville (traditionally the least exciting place in True Blood), she and Lafayette enlist the help of Pam to turn Tara into a vampire rather than let her die (despite Tara’s complete hatred of vampires). Pam agrees to “make” Tara in return for Sookie patching up her relations with Eric as well as another, unnamed favor in the future. Sookie lies to Alcide about killing Debbie (well, she’s stopped by Lafayette before she can admit to it), and the episode ends with Tara being resurrected as a vampire.

Maybe part of the reason why this episode was able to succeed was that it didn’t try to tell a million stories at once. There were only a handful of other stories and they were mostly compelling (Andy Bellefleur and Holly’s budding romance being the less interesting exception). Steve Noon showed up at Jason’s house and confessed his love to Jason cause apparently he was a closeted homosexual when he was a person. He professes his love for Jason but when Jason rejects him, it takes Jessica’s intervention to save him but those two don’t wind up a couple again. In a moment of surprising maturity from Jason, he actually turns down guaranteed sex with a young co-ed because he knows it wouldn’t mean anything. Sam agrees to be taken in by Alcide’s old pack in order to take the blame for killing the packmaster. He’s nearly killed by the new pack before Alcide shows up to take responsibility for what happened (Sam was covering for him as payment for helping Sam out in protecting Sam’s brother). By pack laws, Alcide killing the old packmaster means he’s the de facto new packmaster, but there’s obviously some dissension in the ranks, most clearly from Marcus’ mother (Winter’s Bone‘s Dale Dickey). Terry Bellefleur’s friend from Iraq brings news that the houses of several people in his platoon from Iraq have caught on fire and there’s some vague illusions to some dangerous incident from Iraq that Terry doesn’t want to talk about (and would explain his PTSD). We finally see a violent side of the otherwise loveable Terry which means whatever he’s blocking about Iraq must be pretty awful.

Like I said last paragraph, part of how this episode succeeded was that it scaled back the storytelling to a more manageable level. There were around ten independent storylines last season, and honestly, only two of them were compelling because none of them had a chance to develop and mature into something. Let’s not even start about how all of these poorly written romantic subplots threatened to derail all of the great characters on the show like Eric and Bill (and even Lafayette seemed depressingly domesticized). Several of the characters who were forming all of their own different stories last time around seem to be hanging out together (i.e. Bill and Eric, or Sookie, Lafayette, Tara, and Pam). True Blood just became far too unfocused last time around, and if this episode is a sign that the show is narrowing its focus again, that’s for the best. True Blood has always been a show I’ve wanted to love, and in seasons 2 and 3, I honestly did. However, it doesn’t know when to draw things back, and these seasons have really upped the ridiculous quality (I’d still like to pretend Sookie isn’t a fucking fairy). I’d like to see the show return to its roots a little bit. Another thing this episode did well was allow for some great, little humorous moments. They mostly involved Pam, and if her joke about wearing a Wal-Mart shirt and being a team player wasn’t one of her comedic highlights of the whole series, I don’t know what is.

I want to write a little bit more about this episode but I’m still buzzed as hell on allergy medicine like I’ve been all day. It’s a miracle that I’ve been able to get any writing done today. Plus, it’s nearly 2:30 in the morning and I want to do a little bit of reading and go to bed. I’m almost finished with Thomas Pynchon’s V., and I’d kind of like to finish it tonight. I don’t know if that will actually happen, but I’m going to try. So, despite my better judgment, I’m going to give True Blood another try and see how this whole season works out. I actually up to like the 7th book in the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mystery novels, so I think I know about some of the potential storylines, but honestly, True Blood has parted so significantly with the books that I wouldn’t be shocked if zero things from the books ever happened again. Also, I read those like three or four years ago so my memory is spotty at best. I just have two requests for this season. Plenty of Sam and Jessica (and maybe Alcide). They’re the best characters on the show and the only ones who have remained consistently compelling.

Final Score: B

It is almost beyond comprehension that the second season of Game of Thrones is already older. I know that I was still in NY when the season began (and I’ve been back home for a couple weeks now), but honestly, I can’t remember the last time a season of television seemed to fly by more quickly. Perhaps, the final season of Lost because although it was only about 16 or so episodes long, I was so excited to see the conclusion of what was arguably my favorite (if not quite what I considered the best) television program of all time. Still, the wait between episodes that season seemed excruciatingly long. So, I’m going to stand by my assertion that no season of TV has ever just seemed to happen as quickly as Game of Thrones season 2. That’s what happens when you HBO delivers week after week of truly exceptional and character-driven storytelling. While I might posit that I enjoyed A Game of Thrones more than A Clash of Kings (the individual books that Seasons 1 and 2 were based off of respectively), I think it’s safe to say that this season of Game of Thrones was an improvement over the original season (I’m probably letting the immense accomplishment that was “Blackwater” carry too much weight in that decision). HBO took a serious risk when they chose to adapt George R .R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and fans of the books knew that Season 2 was when Martin’s infamous labyrinthine complexity could become an issue. Yet, despite making some changes here and there (some minor, some pretty massive), Game of Thrones has maintained the breadth of character and literary ambition at the key of the novels, and I know that it’s going to feel like a Westeros summer as I wait for the next season to arrive.

The episode was 70 minutes long and had a significant amount of plot territory to cover (to draw all of the season’s various stories to a close) so I apologize in advance for how lengthy the recap section of this post will be. Speaking of Lost earlier in this post, the episode started out by taking a page straight from the Lost playbook. We begin the episode with a close-up shot of Tyrion’s eye (don’t worry non-book readers. He survived that wound last week) as he wakes up in a cramped room in King’s Landing with an obviously scheming Maester Pycelle standing over his bed. Covered in bandages, he looks a little bit like an extra from The English Patient. Pycelle informs Tyrion that after the arrival of Tywin Lannister (with the help of the Tyrell forces), Tyrion will no longer be the Hand of the King. Instead that office is held by Tywin himelf. After briefly ensuring that Pod finds Brom and Varys (and lets them know Tyrion’s alive so that no one tries to make it look like he died from his wounds), we transition to the throne room where a royal procession has begun with Joffrey naming Lord Tywin the new Hand of the King (and we get one of the many shocks of the finale). I could have probably done without the graphic shot of Tywin’s horse shitting though. Joffrey also bestows other honors by promoting Littlefinger to Lordship and granting him the castle of Harrenhal as his new home (as in the shithole where Arya has been staying half the season). He also grants Ser Loras any one wish his family desires as recompense for helping to defeat Stannis’ troops. As part of an obviously pre-arranged scene full of overly dramatic (intentionally and in-universe) theatrics, Margaery declares her love for Joffrey and her desire to be his Queen. After some false speechifying about honoring his engagement with Sansa, Joffrey announces his betrothal to Margaery. Sansa thinks she’s finally free of Joffrey’s evil grasp but Littlefinger is quick to remind her that she’s still a hostage in this castle.

This extended stay with the King’s Landing nobility is followed by two short though ultimately important scenes (well the latter anyways). Varys visits Ros in her room at Littlefinger’s brothel. We haven’t seen her since Cersei threatened to kill her (and is it an episode of Game of Thrones if Ros doesn’t take her top off at least once?) and begins to recruit her to be one of his spies. Next, we find ourselves somewhere in the middle of Westeros as Brienne and Jaime continue their journey to King’s Landing to negotiate for Arya and Sansa’s freedom. They come across three women hanging from a tree with the sign “slept with lions” hanging around them. The Starks troops murdered them for sleeping with Lannister soldiers (which is all about obliterating the black and white moral lines between the Lannisters and Starks). As Jaime is hectoring her and Brienne is stopping to give the women a proper burial, three Stark soldiers arrive and quickly suss out that Jaime is in fact the Kingslayer. Brienne kills them with brutal efficiency (and makes the last one really pay for it for hinting that he raped one of the women first). At the Stark camp though, Robb is informing his mother of his plans to not marry Lord Frey’s daughter because he’s in love with Lady Talisa. She tries to tell him how reckless his decision is which gives him the opportunity to immediately throw back her own poor decision making skills in her face concerning freeing Jaime. At Dragonstone, we see that Stannis was able to escape his failed siege of King’s Landing. After berating Mellisandre for her prophecies turning out to be false, he starts choking her in a murderous rage asking where her god is. After she says it’s inside of him, he releases her, and Mellisandre shows Stannis a vision in the flames (which we don’t get to see) that convinces him of the actuality of her powers.

At Winterfell, Roose Bolton’s son, Ramsay Snow (even if we never actually see him in person), has finally arrived with his troops and has surrounded Winterfell in a siege. After finally realizing that he’s been what can only be described as a massive douche this season (but knowing it’s too late to make up for it), Theon ignores Maester Luwin’s counsel to flee Winterfell and take the black at the Wall. Instead, he rallies his men the next day to go out in an honorable blaze of glory. But in the middle of his fiery speech (one of Alfie Allen’s best scenes of the season), his men turn on him and knock him out and throw him in a bag (presumably to turn over to Ramsay Snow to secure their own safe passage out of Winterfell and back home). When Luwin tries to protect Theon, he gets a spear in his belly for his trouble. We return to King’s Landing where Tyrion is about to get some really bad news. Varys lets him know what everyone watching the show already suspected. The knight that tried to kill him last week was acting under the orders of his sister. Plus, Tywin has fired Brom as the head of the Gold Cloaks, and all of his Hill People have left King’s Landing after Tywin finally payed them. Tywin went from one of the most powerful and dangerous people in the capital to now being one of the most vulnerable and hunted. Varys lets Tyrion know that their friendship is over for now (because Tyrion has too big of a target on his back). We think Shae is going to abandon him too (especially after we see the massive Omar Little-style scar that Tyrion has running across his face) but she nearly strikes Tyrion for assuming she’s only stayed with him for the money and she offers to run away with him. Tyrion stays though because this political scheming is all he knows even if it will be the death of him.

Back at Robb Stark’s camp, he marries Lady Talisa. Yeah, that’s not going to cause any huge problems later in the series. We briefly return to Qarth where Dany and Ser Jorah arrive at the House of the Undying. There are no doors into the tower but as Dany and Jorah walk around the building, Dany disappears into the building and continues her quest to find her dragons. We move to the wilderness around Harrenhal. Arya spies Jaqen H’gar on a cliff top and before you can say “disapparate” (I’m mixing my fantasy metaphors here), he appears behind her. Arya wants to learn the secret to Jaqen’s assassination skills, and he offers to take her with him to Braavos to be a “Faceless Man.” She wants to but declines in order to become reunited with her family. Still, Jaqen gives her a coin and tells her that if she ever decides to join him, to give that coin to any man from Braavos and say the words “Valar Morghulis” (my inner book nerd squealed when I heard those words said out loud). He seemingly magically changes his appearance and bids his farewell to Arya. Back at Winterfell, Bran, Rickon, Osha, and Hodor emerge from the catacombs to find the castle burnt to the ground. At the Godswood tree, they find Maester Luwin, dying, and they bid farewell (and he has Osha give him a quick and clean death). Luwin’s last advice to his young charges is to head north because there’s no way they’ll survive a journey to get together with Robb again. In Qarth, Dany explores the decrepit halls of the House of Undying. She opens a door and finds herself in the snow-filled, destroyed ruins of the King’s Landing throne room. After being tempted with the Iron Throne, she hears her baby’s crying and continues on. She leaves this room only to find herself North of the Wall in the snow-filled wastelands. She finds a tent beyond the wall, and when she enters that room, she finds Khal Drogo and her son that was never born. After being tempted again with another of her greatest desires, she leaves once more to the sound of her dragons’ cries. This brings her to the center of the Tower where her dragons are chained. The warlocks torment her with being their prisoner forever and wraps Dany in her own chains. However, she gives her dragons the order that she has trained them with to burn things, and they set the warlock on fire in an impressive display of pyrotechnics (and these dragons are tiny. Imagine what they’ll be able to do when they’re fully grown).

And of course the season finale would create the longest section of recaps yet. Five paragraphs. Sweet Jesus. We’re almost there though. I promise. North of the Wall, Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand are being led in chains by the wildlings (including the fiery Ygritte) to be presented in front of the King-Beyond-The-Wall, Mance Rayder (and if the casting rumors are true, he’ll be played by Rome‘s James Purefoy next season). The Halfhand finally decides it’s time to implement his time to get Jon accepted into the Wildlings group (even if Jon doesn’t really know what’s happening). He picks another fight with Jon and steals one of the wildlings swords. The Lord of Bones decides to let the two fight to the death, and after Qhorin makes one too many cracks about Jon being a bastard, Jon finally kills him (and I believe he tells Jon that he’s now the Night’s Watch’s last chance). The Lord of Bones cuts the ropes binding Jon and declares him the man that killed the Halfhand (something no Wildling had ever accomplished [obviously I guess]). We return to Qarth where Dany storms into Xaro Xhoan Daxos’ quarters (where Dany’s servant Doreah has already started banging him). They drag Xaro to his supposed treasure room which we finally see opened and discover that there’s nothing in it. The vengeful Mother of Dragons locks Xaro and Doreah in the vault alive as punishment for their betrayal. They ransack Xaro’s home with the hopes of getting at least enough money to buy a ship so they can return home. Finally, to close out the second season, we get the BIG twist of the finale. Sam and other members of the Night’s Watch are digging latrines Beyond the Wall when they hear the horn blow once. This means rangers are returning home. Then, it blows a second time. This means wildlings. Then, it blows a third time. The horn never blows three times. That means White Walkers. Sam’s brothers flee as any one with common sense would. Sam doesn’t have that kind of energy and he collapses in tears. Suddenly, we get our first real look at the White Walkers who are in a full blown zombie army mode. One of them, a blue-skinned demon looking thing (cause there are different types of White Walkers), stares at Sam and gives the command for his army of Westerosi zombies to march, and there are a fuck ton of them.

(Was there any way I wasn’t going to use that amazing CGI shot of a White Walker in this episode?) So, we’re already at 2200 words and I’ve hardly done any actual critiquing of this episode. No one is actually going to read all of this. Yet, I must persevere. First things first, while I still believe that Peter Dinklage is the best person in the cast and he’s likely going to win an Emmy every year that this show is on, if anyone else is going to get an Emmy nomination this season, I really hope it’s Alfie Allen. He had the most morally complex role of the series, and in one single episode, we saw virtually every single side of his character. The show even took the opportunity to have Theon deliver a William Wallace style inspiring speech (except here Theon knows he’s going to die) only to have the show brutally subvert the blaze of glory Theon thinks he’s going to receive. Theon is only eclipsed in assholery by Joffrey, but Alfie Allen makes every second he’s on screen an interesting study in what it means to be torn between loyalties (as well as turning Theon into a poster child for daddy issues). The scene where Peter Dinklage breaks down in the arms of Shae as he realizes just how far he’s fallen (and how she’s the only good thing left in his life [a whore that he has to pay]) was seriously excellent, but for the second week in a row (last week it was Lena Headey’s drunken confessions to Sansa as Cersei), he’s been outshined by this show’s truly excellent cast that is honestly only rivaled in consistency by The Wire and Oz. It has the best ensemble cast currently on television, and this was the season that confirmed it.

I’m not generally one of the people that takes every opportunity to nit pick all of the changes the show made from the books (this season made a lot of changes), but there was one aspect of this episode that I was really frustrated by. One of the turning points of the entire series and arguably the most important scene in all of A Clash of Kings (besides the Battle of Blackwater) was Dany’s trip to the House of the Undying and the various prophecies that she received while she was there. There’s a valid point to be made that they were just temptations given to her by the Warlocks, but considering that everything she saw in that house decided virtually every action Dany takes over the course of the next three books (which equates to the next four seasons of the show since Book 3 will be two seasons), it’s fair to argue that they’re central to her entire character arc for the rest of the show. So, when the series drastically changed the visions she had (and completely removed any mention of the three-headed dragon), it’s marked one of the biggest and most potentially drastic deviations from the source material yet. The visions she had were cool (especially the one with Khal Drago), but it’s going to have to wait to see whether or not this doesn’t cause massive discontinuity with the canon of the A Song of Ice and Fire books down the road once George Martin finally gets down to publishing Books 6 & 7. Also, Xaro is in Book 5 (sorry spoilers I guess). Unless, he escapes that vault, the series also just removed another potentially massively important part of another book. We’ll see how it works out.

Is it weird that the scenes between Brienne and Jaime were some of my favorite of the episode? Probably not since Jaime becoming a point of view character in A Storm of Swords was one of the best decisions that George R. R. Martin made in the series. Still, their playful antagonism matching up Brienne’s almost comical stoicism and seriousness against the roguishness and at this point, nihilism, of Jaime Lannister makes for the best “odd couple” in the franchise. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of Brienne and Jaime next season, and it’s good to have this early bit of proof that Gwendoline Christie and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau have great on-screen chemistry. I was also really impressed by the way that the show finally took the chance to show that the noble Starks aren’t all perfectly clean. Yes, every Stark we’ve ever met is a good person (even if Arya is on track to crazy town and being a teenage assassin), but they’ve sided themselves with some very questionable people. And one of the major themes of the books is the price that the common people of Westeros have to pay for the ultimately petty squabbles between the noble lords, and we got our first taste of that this episode. When Beric Dondarrion and the other outlaws who are fighting for the people begin to show up next season (assuming they do), we’ll get an even better picture of the sort of hell that Westeros is becoming all so that rich noblemen can fight for honor and their own power.

Okay, I’ve reached three thousand words about this episode. I think that’s probably a record for the longest post I’ve ever written for this site. I won’t punish my readers anymore (presuming any of you even made it this far). At the end of the day, it was an excellent episode even if I was disappointed with aspects of it because they didn’t leave up to the dream standards I had set in my head for the way the show would handle the House of the Undying. It managed to provide plenty of resolution to many of the show’s storylines while simultaneously putting the pieces in place for where the show is going to go in its third season (A Storm of Swords is my favorite book in the series by far and I’m incredibly excited for its prospects of being adapted to TV). Game of Thrones is going to be gone for a while. Winter will come and go. We will have a dream of spring before it returns (that was a play on the anticipated title of the seventh and final book). I doubt Martin will finish any of the other books before the next season begins. Yet, the excellence of this season and the strength of HBO’s vision in bringing Martin’s work to life means that the wait will be well worth the wait. I’m going to miss delving into the dirty world of Westerosi politics, but give it time. We will return.

Valar Morghulis.

 

Final Score: A-