Tag Archive: Television


“Potage:” Bambi’s Mom

“Potage” begins with Abigail Hobbs killing a deer.

Abigail’s father — Garret Jacob Hobbs, trophy hunter and infamous serial killer — has taken his teenage daughter hunting for the first time. Abigail bags her prey, and when she and her father take the deer back to her father’s cabin to be cleaned, Abigail is already regretting her actions. She discusses the emotional complexity and intelligence of deer with her father. She compares their capacity for personality to that of a four year old and appreciates the tender care they show for their environments.

Garret Jacob Hobbs, the Minnesota Shrike, proclaims his almost religious reverence for the sentience of these animals he hunts. He rationalizes their slaughter by telling Abigail that the ways they will use these animals in death honors their “sacrifice.” They will eat the meat. They will turn the bones into knives. The pelts can be used for clothes and pillows. Garret Jacob Hobbs knows that these beings have feelings, that they have an element of self-awareness, and that they can feel pain. He tells Abigail that hunting them would be murder if every element of the deer weren’t utilized after their deaths.

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“Amuse-Bouche” features one of Hannibal‘s less memorable one-shot villains while also crafting one of the series’ most concise arguments for its own existence.

Eldon Stammets is a pharmacist with a penchant for inducing diabetic comas in his customers/victims. Stammets uses his victims’ still living bodies as fertilizer for a mushroom garden, deep in a Maryland forest. Like the Minnesota Shrike, Eldon sees a grand design in his crimes.

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“This is my design.”

Will Graham is overwhelmed by intention. In Hannibal‘s pilot, Will tells his boss, Jack Crawford, that evidence can explain Will’s capacity to solve crimes and catch criminals. Evidence can explain Will’s inductive observations. Will doesn’t have magic powers. He isn’t seeing into the past when he reconstructs a crime scene. However, Will is not Gil Grissom. He is not a forensic crime scene investigator. Will uses the carnage of brutal crimes as a canvas for exploring purpose and intent. The crimes he investigates were committed by someone who made a choice; Will’s gift is opening himself up to the feelings that allow someone to make those choices.

Of course, Hannibal would be a lesser show if Will’s talents were so simple. One of the most horrifying symptoms of the identity disorder that haunts Will and makes him such a potent profiler is the way in which the lines between Will and the murderers whose psyches he inhabits can fade away.

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“Tramps Like Us”

I spent my Christmas binging Lost.

I thought I had lost my capacity to binge. I’m lucky when I can give my full attention to a single episode of television, let alone three or four in one sitting. I can’t keep it together that long for anything except my day job, and it’s a minor miracle that I can handle its endless and traumatic emotional labor.

Yet, somehow, I’m a month and a half into the first sustained period in which I’ve felt functional as a writer in six months and the first sustained period ever that I’ve felt comfortable talking honestly about trans stuff and depression stuff (and how addiction stuff intersects with the trans stuff and the depression stuff), and I’ve decided to spend Christmas and Christmas Eve binge-watching the first season of Lost. I can’t tell if the mere fact that I’m capable of watching this much television in such a short time-frame means that I’m getting better or regressing. My decision to return to Lost only muddles the matter further.

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“Oh My God, Do I Pray”

(Lyrics credit to 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” for the headline of this essay.)

Kristy messaged me out of the blue yesterday. We hadn’t spoken in three or four months. The last conversation had orbited the mental health of a shared, quasi friend. The talks were earnest but oblique. We both knew how bad our friend’s situation had gotten, but we also knew how little we could do for her. That brief, angry sigh and then months of silence.

Kristy’s most recent message was about the music video for “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” by Run the Jewels. I had shown her the music video once. It’s a powerful video about police brutality (although here my friend and valued peer, Isaiah Taylor, makes a persuasive argument about its misguided shortcomings). I used to write about music videos every day for a paycheck. I was giving Kristy the rundown of my essential music videos of the 2010s. “Alright.” “Hood.” “Desire.” “Oblivion.” “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings.” We were cosmically stoned.

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As my mother and I work our way through Hannibal, the most common query I hear is “I wonder if Jack’s wife will be in this episode.”

Gina Torres plays Bella Crawford, the wife of Jack Crawford (head of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit). Bella has terminal lung cancer, and her arc in the series initially involves the question of whether she should tell her husband that she’s dying and, later, whether she should kill herself because her suffering is so total. Bella is an intelligent and proud woman. She didn’t choose to die, but she can choose how to die. She doesn’t want to burden her overworked husband with her impending death, and when he does find out, she doesn’t want to burden him with how awful that death will be. She wants to control those final moments.

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A month or so ago, my dad and I watched The Matrix. I hadn’t seen it since since I was in college and lived in the dorms. That was 2010. I remembered not caring for the film anymore the last time I sat through it. The Matrix (and, to a lesser extent, its sequels) had defined action filmmaking in my early teens and preteen years. Then, I watched it with some friends my sophomore year of college and found it unwatchable. It turned out my childhood instincts were right… sort of.

The Matrix is a deeply problematic allegory about being white and realizing that you’re both trans and that your politics sit somewhere on the spectrum of revolutionary socialism. Mr. Anderson is Neo’s dead name. It’s the one he has to adopt to survive in the corporate blue collar cishet world he inhabits by day. At night, he escapes to a world of genderqueer ravers and hackers seeking valuable corporate data. But, by day, Neo wears the mask of a person who is forced to exist past their death. Keanu Reeves plays Neo with a soft, feminine sincerity and warmth. It’s what he brings to many of his best roles. He falls in love with the masc Trinity, embodied by Carrie Ann Moss’ lean vulnerability and strength. The sapphic undertones of The Matrix are only slightly less apparent than the Wachowski sisters’ crime drama, Bound.

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In an early episode of Hannibal, FBI profiler Will Graham describes Stockholm Syndrome as an evolutionary defense mechanism. His point was that if you can learn to empathize with and gain the affection of your captor, then you’re more likely to survive. If you antagonize someone who has total, lethal control over you, you’re more likely to be killed. There are few things more hardwired into people than their survival instinct, and so the drive to do what your oppressor asks of you is natural because the alternative is death.

Will is portrayed as a prodigy at psychological profiling. Will has high-functioning autism, and unlike the majority of folks portrayed as being on the autism/Asperger’s spectrum in popular culture, Will isn’t a mathematical or scientific savant. Will is a vessel for overpowering, disorienting empathy. Will can figure out how the show’s serial killers think because Will has a singular ability to place himself in another person’s mind. To feel how they feel. To see the world the way they do. To interpret their motivations and fears and desires.

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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)

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