Posts Tagged ‘decider’
We live in a world run by racist monsters who would gladly murder your children in front of you if it meant an extra zero for their net worth, so you have to take your pleasure where you can get it, and I get it from Shea Whigham. Best known to fans of excellent crime dramas for his role as Eli Thompson on Boardwalk Empire — the Ray Stussy to Steve Buscemi’s Emmit-like Nucky Thompson, basically — he slowly but surely became one of my favorite things about that show: a character so consumed by his own failures that you could hear it in his voice like a speech impediment and watch it seep out of his face like five o’clock shadow. He’s only in “The Principle of Restricted Choice,” this week’s episode of Fargo, briefly. And he’s delivering the sort of angry-police-chief comic relief familiar to anyone who’s ever watched a cop show, chewing out recently demoted Gloria Burgle and her deputy for operating their podunk department (now absorbed into the county’s police force) from a meeting room in the public library, using a storeroom for a prison cell and eschewing computers entirely. We live in the future, he insists, and she’d better get with the program. If the future includes more of this gravelly voiced actor with a face like a stern Renaissance aristocrat, I’m fucking in.
Don’t believe the anti-prestige-TV hype part 3: I reviewed this week’s marvelous Fargo for Decider.
Fargo Season Three has arrived, and Noah Hawley is back on his bullshit.
After the weightless sci-fi psychedelia of Legion — a seemingly sincere but ultimately empty exercise in the superhero genre — the writer/director/showrunner has returned to the moral snowdrifts of the Upper Midwest for the third season of Fargo. The sudden chill has done him good. Legion did all sorts of rad tricks with lighting, editing, cinematography, narrative structure, and found-music pop-rock soundtracking, but for all its freneticism the end result was inert; tied to a hoary X-Men x-tended-universe story about a crazy telepathic mutant and his not-as-creepy-as-it-could-have-been psychic parasite, it felt like stagecraft rather than communication.
But as an East German interrogator puts it in the flashback (?) prologue to “The Law of Vacant Places,” Fargo S3’s season premiere, “We are not here to tell stories. We are here to tell the truth. Understand?” This is followed by the show’s usual “THIS IS A TRUE STORY” chyron — but Hawley, directing from his own script, then fades out the word “TRUE,” and eventually leaves nothing behind but “STORY.” This is already a far more effective disquisition on the difference between “true” and “real” than a season’s worth of Legion astral-plane hallucinations, because it’s rooted (literally — the words are overlaid across a shot of bare winter trees) in places and people rather than in an ersatz examination of The Mind or what have you. No matter how much Fargo owes to the Coen Brothers’ quirk-noir classic and the rest of their black-comedy crime films (some more black than comedy, some more comedy than black), it comes down to murder — the story of human bodies and what they’re capable of doing to one another. Here, heads are far more likely to get smashed by a falling air conditioner than explored like a memory palace.
I reviewed the season premiere of Fargo, which I enjoyed a great deal, for Decider. I’ll be covering the show there all season. Please do not believe a word of the backlash you may have seen to the show this season, which when compared to the freakout for Legion provides the clearest illustration I’ve ever seen of how TV critics overreact to novelty over quality. The stars of Trainspotting, Naked, A Serious Man, and The Leftovers are now all on the same show. If you suspect it’ll be good, congrats, you win.
Eddie Lane has been anointed the Guardian of the Light, but the burden sits uneasily on his shoulders. Cal Roberts remains in charge of the Meyerist movement, but his emotional instability ensures that his grasp on power is a shaky one. Sarah Lane’s feelings toward both men exist are a paralyzing maelstrom of love, loyalty, and loathing. Her family, themselves members of the Meyerist inner circle, send her conflicting messages about where their own loyalties lie. The other major players in the movement have been momentarily marginalized, yet still seem capable of shifting their support from one leadership candidate to another should circumstances warrant. Eddie and Sarah’s children Hawk and Summer, the former in particular, are caught in the emotional and ideological crossfire. FBI Agent Abe Gaines is a man without a country as his undercover investigation into the movement causes him to question his personal and professional priorities. And the fate of a small town called Clarksville, its water supply poisoned by a corporate polluter, hangs in the balance as the Meyerists hash out their legal, political, and financial future. Yes, the Season Two premiere of The Path has — I’m sorry, I’m <puts finger on earpiece> I’m now being told that this was the Season Two finale of The Path? Did I get my notes mixed up or something?
Upon further review, the answer, unfortunately, is no. “Mercy,” the final episode of The Path’s maddeningly meandering second season, returns us pretty much exactly to where it started. Sure, the show may have added a dozen or so Deniers, now that Eddie has kinda-sorta accepted his role as a potential leader for a Meyerist reform movement, and subtracted one Richard, who lit himself on fire in what turned out to be an entirely unsuccessful attempt to shake the corrupted faith to its foundations. Other than that, though? It’s like the intervening twelve episodes never happened. All those changes of heart and reversals, all that business about blackmail and Clarksville, the very existence of Kodiak and Chloe (remember them?), the constant stream of Seinfeld pop-ins (for god’s sake, Abe pops in on Eddie and Sarah while they’re fugitives from the law in Canada in this episode) — none of it wound up mattering at all. Cal is twitchy, Sarah is torn, Eddie is facing the world with a grimace, and for all its up-with-people rhetoric Meyerism is a psychological disaster area. Situation normal, all fucked up.
“I’m lost, man,” disgruntled undercover FBI agent Abe Gaines tells disgruntled ex-Meyerist/messiah Eddie Lane at the beginning of this week’s episode of The Path. “I’m in someone else’s story.” He’s not the only one. I have one question for The Path at this point: Why isn’t — excuse me, why wasn’t — Richard the main character?
But all the business-y bullshit that everyone has to go through to get to any of these points — all the car rides and hallway lurkings and door knockings and arguments on the threshold — it’s just pure wasted space. As a practical matter it makes next to no sense in a world where phones exist. But more importantly, it posits a world in which human beings only interact with one each other for reasons of righteous indignation or naked duplicity. You go to someone’s house, you bully them or bullshit them, and you leave. It’s a lot like Eddie’s silly blindfolded needle-threading exercise — the focus is on getting everything where the story needs it to be rather than asking why it’s going there in the first place. For a show that’s ostensibly about the deep truths of human existence…well, I kinda want to pop into the writers’ room and tell them what’s going wrong.
I counted damn near a dozen Seinfeld-style “pop-ins” used to advance the plot of this week’s episode of The Path, which I reviewed for Decider. This is no way to write a show, man.
This week on The Path, it’s Meyerist Yom Kippur. After meditating on their transgressions over the past year, the members of Doc’s movement write those they wish to relinquish down on a piece of paper and place in in a tiny wooden coffin they build and decorate for the occasion. They then take these coffins to the edge of an unnamed body of water and toss them in, as if consigning their sins to the depths.
Unfortunately, if you toss tiny floating wooden boxes into the shallow water of a lakeside beach, you’re not really gonna get rid of anything. So after the bulk of the group departs, a handful of Meyerists stay behind to—god, I feel stupider just typing this out—to fish the little coffins back out of the water and set them on fire. Which, again, is not a form of destruction to which they’d be amenable, since they’re made of wood that’s been soaking in a lake for a few hours.
Be that as it may! The real purpose of the sequence, and presumably the reason writer-creator Jessica Goldberg concocted the cockamamie “We cleanse our transgress so we can burn the sins of last year” two-phase ritual in the first place, is so Richard can get his hands on Sarah’s little coffin, open it, and uncover her transgression to use against her—which he does by providing it to Eddie, so he can learn she’s trying to stop feeling guilty for getting together with his rival Cal.
Again, I’d imagine that tiny pieces of paper folded up and placed inside a non-waterproof wooden container before getting chucked into the fishpond or whatever are not the most reliable sources of intel. But Eddie had to find out about Cal and Sarah somehow, so by god, the ritual is going to involve throwing dark secrets into the water and then retrieving them just to destroy them—except, in this particular case, just to save them instead.
Every so often a show provides you with a perfect encapsulation of all its strengths or all its faults; this needlessly convoluted and rickety ritual is The Path writ small. Like those little coffins, the show’s characters get tossed in one direction before getting yanked back in the other, then get pried open for big emotional revelations that make little sense.
I reviewed this week’s episode of The Path for Decider. This show, man.
Now we’re talkin’! “Oz,” this week’s episode of The Path, is named for L. Frank Baum’s book — its use of the fraudulent “man behind the curtain” serving as a neat metaphor for cult life according to the deprogrammer who has her sights set on poor pregnant Mary and her husband Sean. But there’s some real wizardry involved in this episode, and I’m not just talking about Eddie’s mystical visions and paranormal bleeding. In the space of an hour, Eddie accepts his commission as the the true Guardian of the Light, joins forces with old-school Meyerists Richard and Felicia, resumes his ascent up Doc Meyer’s Ladder, and announces his intention to depose Cal and take over the movement. His estranged wife Sarah blackmails her more wayward followers into coughing up enough cash to save the movement, then helps both herself and Cal shake off their pain, guilt, and failures by embracing one another, figuratively and literally. His investigation momentarily stymied by the Meyerists’ new cash infusion, Abe quickly uncovers the extortion that made it possible. And the divided loyalties of Sarah’s family members—father Hank, mother Gab, sister-in-law Nicole, and son Hawk—seem ready to pay dividends like never before. I dunno about the Garden, but for this show, we’re in a whole new world for sure.
I reviewed this week’s pretty darn good episode of The Path for Decider. As I explain in the review, a lot of the strong plot elements listed above would have packed a more powerful punch had the writing for this season been more consistent and concise, but still.
The truly frustrating thing — okay, one of the truly frustrating things — about the episode, the season’s eighth, is that nothing happens in it that couldn’t have happened in episode two. Sarah’s exposure to the dark side, Cal’s piss-poor leadership, Eddie’s messianic secret, Kodiak and Richard’s suspicions of Cal and Eddie alike, the movement’s financial woes, even Hawk’s emergence as a natural leader in his own right: It was all right there already. The Path does not need to be such a long and winding road if it’s just going to wind up a few steps from where it started.
The circumstances of the kidnapping itself are straight-up frightening: the deja vu of the Beach Boys song and the dead tree, a black van parked by the side of the road, the “uh-oh” moment when Eddie looks inside and sees Richard waiting for him, the sudden appearance of Kodiak behind Eddie as he knocks him unconscious, the sleeping child left to fend for himself in a locked car in the middle of nowhere. It’s the first time where The Path’s nightmare imagery has actually felt nightmarish.
It’s good to be the Son. Life has been tough for Eddie Lane since he surreptitiously flew to Peru to find out the truth about Dr. Steve Meyer, the cancer-stricken founder of the Meyerist cult. For one thing, he got struck by lightning and the Doc died. But before that happened, Meyer pronounced Eddie the heir to the movement, casting the leadership of rageaholic Cal Roberts (and Eddie’s own ex-wife Sarah, dragged along into power by Cal) into question. Rather than deal with that, Eddie cut the cult loose and has struggled to maintain contact with his kids, particularly his increasingly devout son Hawk. But as we learn in this week’s episode (“For Our Safety”), it hasn’t kept him from increasingly passionate bouts of down-low sex with Sarah, before and after which he maintains his relationship with his doting and gorgeous girlfriend Chloe. Some guys have all the luck! Aside from the whole getting struck by lightning thing, I mean.
I kid, but there is an element of good fortune in Eddie’s two-timing storyline. Eddie’s conduct toward Chloe may be deeply shitty, but it’s also one of the most down-to-earth and understandable sins anyone on the show has yet committed. Whether as a result of inconsistent writing or a reasonably well-drawn depiction of people who are practiced at lying to themselves, it can be difficult to get a grasp on what The Path’s characters want out of life, out of the cult, out of each other. But skipping out on a backyard barbecue with your current significant other for an illicit booty call with your ex? Whether or not that’s something you’ve done yourself (hey, we don’t judge), this at least speaks to issues of lust and loyalty anyone who’s been in a relationship can relate to on some level. It feels real in a way that the endless shouting matches about The Light simply can’t. (The idea of this more or less personality-free dingus bouncing back and forth between two of the most beautiful women he’s ever likely to see in his life is somewhat less plausible, but what can you do.)
STEP ONE: GIVE US A VILLAIN
It’s well past time for The Path to give up all this vacillating back-and-forth with jittery cult leader Cal Roberts and have him commit to being the Meyerists’ David Miscavige. His slow, two-steps-forward one-step-back zig-zag approach to that point has not been half as interesting as the writers likely hoped; just end it and make him the crimelord already. Don’t worry, you can still show his inner conflict without jerking him all over the map. Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and endless other shows with (to put it mildly) deeply flawed men in positions of leadership.
STEP TWO: GIVE HIM A FOIL
In theory, Cal already has this in the form of Sarah, his co-leader. But his herky-jerky character arc has brought her along for the ride, making either his conscience or an even more cut-throat customer depending on the needs of the moment. If you slide Cal comfortably into the no-one-man-should-have-all-that-power slot, you can locate the true moral dilemma in Sarah rather than in him. To put it in terms fans of this show will likely appreciate, you can make her the Jesse to his Walt, in other words.
A charming, charismatic, incredibly handsome, young fundamentalist takes control of his religious denomination and makes a series of personal, professional, and philosophical decisions that imperil everything he cares about. Not a bad idea for a show, huh? Well, sure, if you’re The Young Pope. The Path, on the other hand…well, let’s just say that when Cardinal Spencer told Pius XIII, “You’ll be a terrible pope! The worst!”, he’d clearly never met Cal Roberts (Hugh Dancy). The pontiff of the Meyerist movement can’t go five minutes without doing precisely the worst possible thing he could do. And unfortunately for the show, his never-ending screw-ups have yet to yield the dramatic dividends his counterpart over in Vatican City enjoyed.
I reviewed this week’s The Path for Decider. A few steps in the right direction, but not enough.
“Making sense” appears to be low on the show’s list of priorities at the moment. Take Eddie’s storyline, which finds him in the hospital recuperating from…well, it’s not entirely clear what. Alcohol poisoning? Alcohol allergies? Getting coldcocked? Having some kind of PTSD episode? All of the above? Whatever’s ailing him, it somehow nets him a room of his own and an overnight stay instead of a few hours of tedium and half-assed care behind a curtain in an overcrowded ER. It also lands him a hospital doctor who takes off his restraints the moment she’s asked — I guess no one’s pressing charges over the fight he instigated with casino security? — and who has plenty of time to spare talking Eddie through the reentry process after leaving a cult. She also rains prescriptions down on him like she’s Drake throwing money on stage at King of Diamonds, which makes it official: It’s easier for an ex-cult victim hospitalized for drunken violence to get an Ambien scrip than it is for me, dammit.
What’s more, he has the doting attention of not one but two comically beautiful women who literally leave their children someplace to take care of him instead: Sarah, his ex, and Chloe, his current girlfriend. Sarah begs Eddie to return to Meyerism to be with his family and get the only treatment she feels can help him. Chloe stays at his bedside and then takes him home, instructing him on how to take his pills like she’s his mom. All this despite the fact that Eddie’s vocabulary has basically been reduced to variations on “Yeah, I, uh, um, I just don’t/can’t…” Eddie theorizes that Chloe is trying to save him because she couldn’t save his brother, which is as good an explanation for her devotion as any; god knows she’s not getting any romance or affection in return, any more than Sarah’s getting a decent partner and father.
The Path is in serious trouble. I reviewed this week’s episode for Decider.
The Light may or may not be real, Doc Meyers may or may not be a fraud, the Meyerist Movement may or may not be a gigantic scam, but one thing’s for sure: Eddie Lane’s life would be a lot easier if he could control THE VOLUME OF HIS VOICE! The third episode of The Path’s second season (“The Father and the Son”) is like an object lesson in the the evils of shouting. Eddie shouts at his son Hawk. Eddie shouts at his ex-wife Sarah. Eddie shouts at his rival Cal. Eddie shouts at his new girlfriend Chloe about the man who’s stalking him. Eddie shouts at the man who’s stalking him. Apparently, none of the Ladder’s 13 Rungs teach that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, because Eddie’s ladling that shit out by the spoonful, and no one’s swallowing it.
As such, his behavior in this episode — culminating in a fistfight, a forcible ejection from a casino pool, and an allergic reaction to booze — is a solid demonstration of what the show is doing wrong at this point. Like Sarah nonsensically barking at Cal to dig up the body of the man he murdered in the premiere even though she’d long suspected him of the crime, and like Cal picking a fight with all his rich potential donors before slugging one of them in the stomach during the second episode, Eddie spends this hour needlessly ratcheting up the conflict in his life, to diminishing returns with each subsequent confrontation. The Path is hardly the first prestige-TV project to mistake raw hostility for drama — Halt and Catch Fire Season One springs to mind, as do the later seasons of Masters of Sex — but the sheer repetitiveness of Eddie’s fights with other characters in this installment makes this mistake stand out all the more. Forget the Light and the Ladder and all that shit — my dude needs good old-fashioned anger management.
Thinking back, all four main characters’ stories end in a place of relative equilibrium, so much so that it seems likely this episode was set up to serve as a series finale if need be. Noah has found peace, if not a purpose. Helen has come clean and her family has remained intact despite it all. Cole has decided to remain unhappily married to Luisa. Alison has her daughter and a new career and the self-knowledge, if not necessarily the desire or ability, to make a fresh go of things. The murder mystery and the attempted murder mystery have both been wrapped up. “Where we goin’, buddy?” I don’t know, but I’ll be there next season to find out.
It may be about a religion, but The Path has become business-y. I don’t mean that in the sense of Cal, Sarah, and company pursuing the financial expansion of the Meyerist movement. I mean the business each character is required to go through to fill up an episode. Think of it this way: You’ve got X number of storylines, and Y number of characters, and you need to do something with all of them, right? A good show makes this look easy and effortless even when the painstaking care involved is readily apparent. The characters’ interests, hopes, drives, and fears feel like they emerged from within a recognizable and cohesive personality. Their interactions have a continuity with previous interactions. They do things because they need to do them, not because the show needs them to do them to run out the clock. When those elements erode, you wind up with a show that feels like everyone’s doing busywork — moving from place to place and person to person, picking fights and patching things up, changing and re-changing their minds about important topics just to have something to do. It gets business-y. And that’s where The Path has led.
If you’re in the business of grading TV shows, The Path is the very definition of a solid B. Created by Jessica Goldberg, Hulu’s original drama about a small Scientology-style cult and its increasingly fractured membership takes its intriguing premise and does exactly what’s needed to get it across, no more and no less. Led by Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, who’s a producer on the show as well, the cast is a who’s who of actors from other, mostly (but not always) better, prestige-TV projects. Michelle Monaghan (True Detective) and Hugh Dancy (Hannibal), Paul’s co-leads, are the most prominent of course; to them you can add Emma Greenwell (Shameless), Brian Stokes Mitchell (Mr. Robot), Rockmond Dunbar (Sons of Anarchy), Peter Friedman and Deirdre O’Connell (The Affair), Ali Ahn (Billions, a show that took a similar Peak TV Grab Bag approach to casting), and so on. All of them do good work; none of them do their best work. When you’re coming off all-time great shows like Paul and Dancy are, the difference is hard to ignore.
The scripts split their time fairly evenly between the plot, broadly involving the power struggles and loss of faith that stem from the cult’s L. Ron Hubbard-esque leader’s hushed-up illness and death, and intense but uncomplicated exploration of the characters’ conflicted feelings about their faith and their families. The story is involving, the writing adequate and rarely memorable as writing. The filmmaking is as neutral a view on the action as a seat in the mezzanine looking at a proscenium stage; its attempts at surrealism, whether in dream sequences or psychedelic-drug hallucinations, don’t linger or haunt. (This is especially glaring when Dancy is involved; every time he comes across some bog-standard symbolism, like an owl watching him in the woods, I can’t help but wonder if he recalls his time on Hannibal and thinks “that thing should be made of human tendons and its beak should gush blood.”) Its sole genuine innovation is an animated opening-credits sequence that entirely eschews the stately dark montage approach of pretty much every other prestige show on television — which is not to say it’s good, it looks like a commercial for a fibromyalgia medication, but at least it’s different. All told, The Path is an engaging way to spend your spare time, but you’re not likely to make like the cult members and reorganize your life around it.
Hey, remember when The Affair wasn’t The Noah Solloway Show? Believe it or not, there was such a time not so long ago. Noah’s story — his stint in prison, his torment at the hands of sadistic guard John Gunther, his post-release trysts with Alison and Helen and (sorta) his new romantic interest Irène, his attempted murder, his infection and addiction, his hallucinations, his secret origin as his mother’s euthanasia provider — have come to dominate the show so totally that I’d all but forgotten what it was like to truly see things through other eyes. Not just his own, I mean, but those people who have something other than Noah Solloway on their minds.
This week, that’s what we got. If episode seven was a return to The Affair’s old format — two tightly overlapping points of view on the same events — episode eight is a return to The Affair’s old setting, both physically and psychologically. Taking place almost entirely in Montauk, as beautifully shot as ever, this Alison/Cole installment focuses squarely on the issues that drove their stories since the show’s inception: grief, loss, infidelity, and the sense of being connected by something deeper than love — tragedy.
“I think people see what they want to see in other people:” I reviewed last night’s episode of The Affair for Decider.
On this week’s episode of The Affair, disaster struck. It’s just not clear who, or how hard, it hit.