At times it can be difficult to get on the exact emotional wavelength of some of these characters, because they inhabit a world with one major difference from our own: the Sudden Departure, and the indisputably supernatural event it represents. This doesn’t necessarily mean the involvement of God, or any kind of deity or demon or magic or religion whatsoever, mind you—a physical phenomenon beyond the reach of current science serves just as well. Whatever it was, it happened, and it’s been impossible to explain nonetheless. This can make the unyielding skepticism of characters like John, who insists there are no miracles in Miracle, difficult to swallow. (Nora, at least, has a self-evident psychological need to see the Departure as both random and one-time-only; perhaps we’ll eventually get a similarly illuminating backstory for her vigilante neighbor.)
But an episode like this helps illustrate the continuity between skeptics and believers, between those who think they may have played a role in sparing people from it Departure and those who fear they’re to blame for it: Each approach offers its proponents a sense of control amid the chaos. Nora rejects the concept of lensing or the possibility of further Departures to stave off guilt and fear, the only way she can keep going. Perhaps for John, fighting for a world without miracles is a small price to pay for a world without curses as well.
Yet a sense of safety is also why the townsfolk have embraced the eccentrics who slaughter goats or wear bridal gowns every day simply because that’s what they did on the day Jarden was spared, or why people are paying $500 per milliliter for the town’s water: Belief offers them emotional protection against the terror that it could happen again. On the flipside, Erika blames herself for her daughter’s disappearance for basically the same reason the town gives Jerry the goatslayer credit for preventing the disappearances: Knowing the cause makes the effect less frightening, whether that effect is good or bad. You don’t need to have experienced the Sudden Departure to recognize the universal tendency of human beings to look for heroes and villains, and, if no one else fits the bill, to self-destructively settle on themselves.
Is it premature to declare the birth of a whole new TV-show genre? Tonight’s Ash vs. Evil Dead episode — “Bait” — boasts more gore-soaked scenes than half a True Blood season and better gags than the bulk of the broadcast networks’ fall comedy line-up. What do you call the result? Action, drama, sitcom, horror — none of these feel quite right. It’s some high-octane hybrid of all of them, and it pursues a single purpose with all the relentlessness of the reanimated dead: to entertain the living shit out of you.
Many of my peers, mostly the full-time staff-writer critics, jokingly complain about this idea of #peakTV, that there are simply too many good shows for anyone to watch and that this is a problem because it’s spreading advertising and attention too thin and stuff is slipping through the cracks. First of all I disagree with the conclusion, since basically nothing good gets cancelled anymore. But beyond that–
The nominees for the Best Drama Emmy award this year were as follows:
Better Call Saul
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Orange Is the New Black
I realized that you could EASILY put together a second slate of shows with absolutely no overlap and have it be just as respectable, if not better. Certainly you could come up with three shows that were better than Homeland, House of Cards, and the last season of Downton Abbey, a show I love but which was kind of aimless last year, plotwise. To wit:
The Good Wife
Halt and Catch Fire
That’s without counting anthologies, dramedies (except for Orange Is the New Black, which changed categories from Comedy to Drama a while back), and shows that aired after the eligibility period. Throw those into the mix and you’ve got…
That’s an insaaaaaane number of high-quality contenders. You don’t even need to like all of them, that’s not the point, I’m just saying that based on the standards you can deduce from the actual nominees, any and all of the above shows could have been given a shot and a slot. If you like longform, serial narrative this is fucking hog heaven. #PeakTV is an embarrassment of riches. We’re very fortunate to live at such a time!
If you’re still tempted to complain, just compare it to the nominees for the Best Drama Emmy in the ‘70s, pictured above. That’s what an art form with problems looks like.
When was the last time the end of an episode of a television show made you laugh with delight? If you’re an Empire viewer, chances are good this is a regular occurrence. And if you watched tonight’s installment, it probably happened to you about five minutes ago. Cookie Lyons shows up at the house of her hot new security chief Delgado to finally set their slow-burn sexual tension alight; the guy takes off his shirt to reveal the longhorn-cattle brand that marked her son Hakeem’s kidnappers. And boom! A sex scene turns into a plot twist without missing a beat, or a thrust. It’s yet another “oh, shit!” moment of the sort that’s made the Fox soap so damn entertaining, week after week after week.
I reviewed tonight’s episode of Empire for Rolling Stone. This show is such a blast.
There are better shows than Fargo on TV right now, but I’m so anxious to watch each new hour of Minnesota noir every week that I almost forget what they are. Nearly halfway through its second season, it’s clear that showrunner Noah Hawley has once again put together a preposterously compelling crime series, one that leaves you fiending for the next episode the way Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, True Detective, and Game of Thrones have at their peaks. Simply put: Fargo is fucking riveting.
The Leftovers gives you a lot to chew on with no guarantee you’ll like the taste, and “No Room at the Inn,” last night’s episode, was even more of a mouthful than most. It focused on Rev. Matt Jamison (Christopher Eccleston), who last season was the star of what was, for my money, one of the worst episodes of prestige television ever aired. This new spotlight ep strings together a series of trials and tribulations in which Matt drops his phone in a toilet, learns his brain-dead wife is pregnant with a baby whose conception no one will believe she consented to, gets his head bashed in and his hand stomped on by a mugger who steals his ID bracelet and sabotages his car, pushes a wheelchair for over five miles in the Texas sun, loses a fight with a man in a wedding tuxedo, gets detained, gets thrown out of town, is forced to knock a stranger unconscious with an oar for cash, nearly drowns in a flash flood, loses his wife’s wheelchair, gets smuggled back into town in the trunk of a car, gives up his recovered bracelet to the son of the guy who mugged him after the guy dies in a car wreck the kid somehow survives, and voluntarily has himself locked up full-frontally nude in a pillory—and just in case you didn’t get what’s going on, says his favorite book in the Bible is Job. By rights this shouldn’t be any more successful than the first go-round. Instead it winds up being one of the series’ finest hours to date.
“People don’t see me, Cole. They don’t. They just wanna fuck me, or they don’t…see me. They don’t care. Sometimes I worry at night that I’m not a real person, that I’m just a figment of other people’s imaginations.” In this week’s episode of The Affair, Alison (Ruth Wilson) self-diagnosed her core self-esteem issue with a level of insight you’d usually get charged by the hour for. That she offers this analysis not in her own POV segment, but in her estranged husband Cole’s, is largely immaterial. Okay, maybe it’s proof that Cole knows her better than just about anyone, since this entirely accurate appraisal is his memory’s construction of their conversation. But it also demonstrates that Cole sees her as a woman in need of rescue…which is her point exactly. She’s always a character in someone else’s story, while her own gets pushed to the wayside.
But the show’s biggest selling point is neither a dick joke nor a Deadite — it’s the director. As a filmmaker, Sam Raimi brings every weapon in his arsenal to shooting this thing: kinetic but clear action-sequence editing, off-kilter angles, whiplash-inducing camera movements, and that signature evil’s-eye-view high-speed tracking shot. He has one of the few directorial styles that really does merit the ubiquitous comparison to a rollercoaster, although in this case you’ve gotta move down the midway to another attraction: the haunted house ride. The episode lurches and careens, stops short and speeds up, and always seems to have another jump-scare just around the corner. It’s all so gleefully gonzo that you forget this gentleman has helmed some of the biggest mainstream blockbusters of all time. Watching Raimi work his magic on the small screen isn’t just entertaining, it’s inspiring — a sign that TV really can do whatever it wants, and that the only obstacle is that no one bothered to try before.
I’m covering Ash vs. Evil Dead for Rolling Stone this season, starting with last night’s premiere—a mixed bag, especially the writing, but with much to recommend it.
#TVCriticProblems: Quite often a network will send reviewers multiple episodes of a show’s new season in advance. The temptation to binge—especially if the show is good, and Fargo is very, very good—is overwhelming. But I’ve always thought it does a disservice to readers to write about a given week’s episode with knowledge of what’s to come fresh in my brain. Much as it pains me, I almost always* hold off and pace myself, mirroring the average audience member’s experience by watching and writing about one ep at a time.
But here’s how absorbing Fargo is: The moment I finished writing up last week’s episode, I popped this one, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” in the DVD player. What’s the harm, I figured—I’ll just file my review early. But time passed, life and other assignments intervened, and before I knew it another week was upon me. And what does another week mean but another episode of Fargo? So I watched the fourth installment, wrote my review, sent it to my editor…and only then did I realize I’d missed a step. I’m so into this show that I forgot to write about this week’s ep, because all I could think about when the time came was watching next week’s. Fargo is so good it will make you forget your place in the spacetime continuum. How’s that for a pull quote?
Exciting news from the world of ASoIaF podcasts: Stefan and I are the special guests on this week’s edition of A Podcast of Ice and Fire. Join us and host Amin Javadi as we celebrate the 100th installment of Stefan & Amin’s Supreme Court of Westeros Q&A feature (which I all too infrequently remember to post here at boiledleather.com) by tackling a host of reader-generated questions about the series’ biggest mysteries, theories, and themes. Consider it the Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 42.5!
I’m the guest on this week’s episode of Chase Thomas’s Cut to the Chase podcast on writers and critics! Chase and I discuss my origin story as a writer, Game of Thrones, Lost, The Affair, Empire, True Detective, Gotham, Daredevil, cartoons, comics, and much more. I hope you enjoy!
3. Hannibal (2013-2015)
How the hell did a show as visually audacious, narratively perverse, and mind-bogglingly gory as Hannibal wind up on the Peacock Network? Before its unceremonious and unfortunate third-season cancellation, Bryan Fuller’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’s series of serial-killer novels — starring cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter and his arch-frienemy, FBI profiler Will Graham — was nothing short of a horror lover’s fever dream. It treated murder as performance art, peeling away the flesh and gristle of the human body in sensuous, spectacular slow motion to expose the heart of darkness within. In the process it made pretty much every other Prestige Drama look like a student film. As the Phantom of the Opera once said: Feast your eyes, glut your soul.
I counted down the Top 25 horror tv shows of all time for Rolling Stone. Who’s number one?
At the end of the episode, Nora handcuffs herself to Kevin. It’s her attempt to provide security for his sleepwalking, and to ensure that she never wakes up to an empty bed again. But given what we’ve learned of their quiet desperation, it reads like the jail sentence it probably is. Thus The Leftovers reduces another moment of human connection to illusion and panic. This kind of thing makes it a hard show to watch, and a harder show to turn away from.
If you had to sum up the Tao of The Affair—what it is, what it does, how it does it—in two lines of dialogue, this week’s beautiful car wreck of an episode has you covered with Helen (Maura Tierney) alone. In her half of the episode, which leads the hour, she puts a punctuation mark at the end of her humiliating arrest for DWI and marijuana possession by asking Noah (Dominic West), the man she feels drove her to this point, “Why are you doing this to us?” At the same point in Noah’s side of the story, she instead says “Why do you get to fuck up and I don’t?” Right there you have the yin and yang, the presence and absence, of Helen’s dilemma. Noah’s infidelity and their subsequent divorce have devastated her by forcing her and her children to suffer the consequences of someone else’s actions, yes; that’s the explanation she allows herself to articulate. But they’ve also hurt her by forcing her to confront how much she wishes she could get away with that kind of tomfoolery, too. Showing us every side of the gender-specific resentments and self-perceived virtues of men and women, fathers and mothers, husbands and wives—even the sides the people in question don’t wish to show, or can’t see themselves—is The Affair’s specialty and strength.
Meghan O’Keefe and I reviewed this week’s The Affair for Decider. I think this show is excellent, and I’ll level with you: I think the writing we’re doing on it is second to none.
What’s an empire without a few martyrs? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Andre Lyon’s born-again Christianity hasn’t cost him anything more than a few tense moments with his family — yet. But when tonight’s episode — “Be True” (as in the Shakesperean “To thine own self…”) — dunked the eldest of Emperor Lucious the First’s three sons in the baptismal font, it also put him in the hot seat.
I forgot to link to it the other day, but I reviewed last week’s transitional episode of Empire for Rolling Stone.
We’re traveling from Westeros to Nazi Germany in this unusual—and, to us, urgent—episode of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. Why are we venturing so far afield from our usual topics of discussion and debate? Because we’ve always believed that A Song of Ice and Fire, like life itself, is best viewed through an unsparing ethical and historical lens. Lately, however, that lens has been clouded. In recent weeks, numerous right-wing politicians—most notably Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson and his supporters in the United States—have distorted and repurposed the rise of Adolf Hitler and the roots of the Holocaust to suit their preexisting positions. Astonishingly, in the day since this podcast was recorded, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit. We believe this to be an act of tremendous disrespect for the dead, one that also does a grave disservice to the living. Given our personal and professional interests in this pivotal epoch in history, which have shaped our interaction with ASoIaF in ways large and small, we decided to explore the era’s real lessons as best we could.
What role did privately held weaponry and paramilitary organizations actually play both in the Nazi Party’s ascent to power and the resistance against it? How should we view Europe’s failure to act in the face of Hitler’s belligerence, and Germany’s failure to capitulate in the face of certain defeat? What parallels can be drawn between the forces that fueled the war Hitler ignited and those at play in Westeros and Essos? What makes World War II different enough from other conflicts for the likes of Vietnam-era conscientious objector George R.R. Martin to say it was worth fighting? Is there such a thing as a “good war” at all? In this experiment of an episode, we try to answer those questions.
Two notes before we proceed:
2) On a much lighter note, this episode (hopefully—with iTunes, god only knows) marks the debut of our brand new logo, created by Sean’s partner, Julia Gfrörer. We are in her debt.
In the mood for grim pronouncements about the nature of power, the legacy of family, and the fate of empires? Chances are Fargo is not where you’d normally look. Sure, Lorne Malvo had some heavy shit, man to say about living life in predator mode, but his deranged outlook was a sort of solo semi-fascism, a view in which life is nothing but struggle between the weak and the strong and no alliance has value beyond temporary exploitation. Beyond that, the show’s take on morality has been pointedly small-bore, demonstrated through the selfless or squalid behavior of individuals. In that respect, showrunner Noah Hawley has much in common with his inspirations, Joel and Ethan Coen, or with the more surreal and supernatural work of their spiritual cousin David Lynch, who like them tends to split his narrative time between Small Town U.S.A. and the City of Angels. They examine violence for its place in human nature, not its potential as a force of nature.
But the stuff we heard from Floyd Gerhardt, the matriarch of this season’s German-American gangster heavies, in “Before the Law,” this week’s episode? You could just as easily have heard it in Tywin Lannister’s Red Keep, Lucious Lyon’s boardroom, or Frank Semyon’s Vinci casino, if not for the Minnesota accents.
It’s episodes like this that make The Affair the smartest show about relationships on television. Nothing is as explicit or unflinching about the ways grief and memory can remain so present they’re practically a third partner. Nothing is as honest about the power and the limitations of sexual connection. Nothing is as observant about how we identify the comforting, satisfying elements of love, then lie and hide and self-censor to preserve them, all but guaranteeing their eventual loss.
Meghan O’Keefe and I reviewed last night’s The Affair for Decider. This is an excellent show.
The persecution of cults by the government has stealthily become the series’ most disturbing theme: Seen both as dangerous and, just as importantly,repulsive, these fringe movements are treated like free targets for government agents and pissed-off citizens alike. The thing is, though, that they are both dangerous and repulsive. Holy Wayne was a creep and a kook, irrespective of the inexplicable coincidences surrounding him. The Guilty Remnant are unforgivably cruel to the grieving and physically abusive to their own members. Laurie and Tommy are now peddling pure snake oil. The Leftovers doesn’t give them a pass, or act like their crimes are mere doctrinal disputes. It does, however, force us to examine who we consider a part of our tribe, the tribe of American society, and what we consider acceptable losses among those we cast out. That’s gutsy, and I’m grateful, because hey, someone’s gotta do it.