Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Sixteen

August 28, 2017

With only one week and two hours remaining, this season/series revival had spent nearly its entire running time chronicling the (mis)adventures of a Coop far from the one we knew and loved all those years ago – and that’s not even counting the evil doppelganger who escaped the Black Lodge into our world. Our beloved federal agent may have finally escaped that zig-zagged hellscape, but he wound up trapped in the life of a Las Vegas insurance agent named Dougie Jones. Episode after episode, “Dougie” was unable to remember not just his past but, like, how to speak in complete sentences. Somehow, this didn’t prevent our hapless hero from surviving multiple assassination attempts, winning both the local mob bosses’ favor and thousands of dollars at the slots (“Hell-oooooooo!”), making sweet love to Naomi Watts and consuming his fair share of damn good coffee and cherry pie. It was as if his innate Coop-ness was still shining through, guiding him through life’s dangers even if he was incapable of figuring out how a door works.

Then, last week, something changed. Hearing the name of his old mentor Gordon Cole in the movie Sunset Boulevard, “Dougie” was somehow triggered into jabbing a fork into an electrical outlet, sending him into a coma. What emerges on the other side in this episode is wonderful even beyond the imagining of people who’ve waited for this moment for two decades and counting.

“You are awake,” says the one-armed man Philip Gerard in a vision.

“One-hundred percent,” says Dale – the real Dale – in response.

Welcome back, Cooper — the do-gooder, go-getter and wrong-righter whose decency shone like a beacon through all of the darkness all those years ago. The music that accompanies his awakening is the Twin Peaks theme itself. He even still loves and cares for Janey-E and Sonny Jim, the family you might have expected him to simply abandon. By the time his insurance-agency boss Battlin’ Bud Bushnell warns him the FBI is looking for him and he turns to the camera and says, “I am the FBI,” it’s hard to believe there was a single Peaks freak on the planet who wasn’t either screaming for joy or a blubbering mess.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been as moved by an episode of television I was by last night’s Twin Peaks. Just openly sobbing with joy. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone.

Every “Game of Thrones” Episode, Ranked from Worst to Best

August 28, 2017

14. “The Dragon and the Wolf” (Season 7, Episode 7)
The giant-size finale of what was simultaneously the series’ shortest and most epic season played like a Game of Thrones superfan’s winning bingo card. Jon and Daenerys finally hooked up, even as we learned for certain that they’re related. Jaime and Cersei finally split up, as the Kingslayer realized his sister is beyond even his concepts of morality. The Stark siblings put an end to Littlefinger’s reign of error. Winter comes to King’s Landing as snow falls on the capital. And the Night King unleashed his zombie dragon’s blue fire to send the ice of the Wall plummeting to earth, allowing his undead army to pass through. The end is nigh, folks.

I revisited, revised, and fully updated my ranking of all 67 episodes of Game of Thrones thus far in ascending order of quality for Vulture.

“Game of Thrones” Season 7: Who Lived, Who Died, What We Learned

August 28, 2017

Call us crazy, but for a definitive visual for Game of Thrones Season Seven, we’d rewind a few minutes back from the fall of the Wall to Jaime’s departure from his life in King’s Landing. As he rides away from the city, snow begins to fall, soon covering the familiar red roofs and imposing towers of the capital. The weather has proven his wisdom. Jon and Dany, Sansa and Arya, Tyrion and his big brother, even the freaking Hound, who spent most of the entire season bumping into people who once tried to kill him – everyone put aside their differences for the greater good.

There’s no riding out the storm that’s on its way. If you care about your family, your friends, your people and your world, you have to ride right into that storm and face whatever you find there. Only one season and six episodes remain before we discover what’s left when the snow melts and the smoke clears.

I wrote an overview of what happened during Game of Thrones Season Seven and what it means for the story for Rolling Stone.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Seven: “The Dragon and the Wolf”

August 28, 2017

Game of Thrones’ penultimate season has rocketed along from place to place, person to person, long-awaited meeting to long-dreaded conflagration for all seven of its episodes. That pace has thrown some viewers off balance. But in these final moments, the purpose becomes clear: This story, this world, has been hurtling toward a point of no return. We’ve now reached that point. The lies, betrayals, power plays, and murders we’ve witnessed for seven years, and which still continue in this episode – they are all a distraction. We’re all in this together, and we’d better realize it ASAP. Is there a more urgent message for all of us to hear at this moment?

I reviewed the finale of Game of Thrones Season Seven, which I enjoyed a great deal, for Vulture.

The 10 Best “Game of Thrones” Battles, Ranked

August 24, 2017

2. Battle of the Bastards, “Battle of the Bastards” (Season 6, Episode 9)

Ramsay Bolton got his comeuppance, Rickon Stark’s short life came to an end, Wun Wun the giant went out in a blaze of glory, Sansa Stark pulled Jon’s ass from the fire, House Stark recaptured Winterfell after years in the wilderness: You know all the details about season six’s climactic confrontation. But it’s the visual component of the Battle of the Bastards that makes it so memorable. At one point, the fighting between Jon and Ramsay’s forces was so horrific that the dead bodies piled up into a literal pile — a physical obstacle that the fighters had to climb above or drown beneath. Every speech Jon or Davos ever made about the folly of fighting each other was made real in this moment, which turned the mass murder of warfare into an actual geographical feature of the battle. It was a moment of macabre beauty, power, and tragedy.

I ranked ten of the biggest battles in Game of Thrones history for Vulture. The Number One choice may surprise you!

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episodes One and Two: “So It Goes” and “Signal to Noise”

August 21, 2017

Many viewers may be too young to remember, but I’ve never seen a show capture the almost literally intoxicating nature of an hours-long phone call with a person you’re falling for the way this does. A staple of the personal and romantic lives of pretty much everyone who came of age in the ‘80s or ‘90s, it’s now been supplanted by texts and DMs, but good god do those memories remain. (Does it help that Lee Pace and Mackenzie Davis, like Kerry Bishé, have never looked more beautiful? Frankly, yes!)

So many shows coast on cheap nostalgia — some clothes, some music cues, some funny fonts, boom, collect your paycheck. Halt is certainly not above peppering these episodes with Clinton-era pop-culture ephemera: Zima, Mario Kart, the Blue Man Group, AOL floppy-disk promos, James’s “Laid.” But it’s incredibly satisfying, even moving, to see one attempt and succeed in recreating something you can’t simply ape from watching an I Love the ‘90s special. I never knew how much I missed falling into that lovestruck telephone k-hole until Halt reminded me. That’s the power of a show rooted so deeply in the truth of human interaction. It can remind you how it feels to be human.

I reviewed the fourth and final season premiere of Halt and Catch Fire for Decider, where I’ll be covering this marvelous show all season.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Fifteen

August 21, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

But the beating, breaking heart of the episode is undoubtedly the death of Margaret Lanterman, the prophetic Log Lady. During one of her regular phone calls to Deputy Hawk, she tells him, repeatedly, “I’m dying.” She seems to have as positive an outlook on it as possible, saying death is “just a change, not an end.” But this is all coming from the mouth of actor Catherine E. Coulson, who was herself actually dying when the scene was shot. “Hawk, my log is turning gold,” she says, her voice wavering. “The wind is moaning. I’m dying. Goodnight, Hawk.” “Goodnight, Margaret,” he says as they hang up. Then, after she’s gone, he mournfully repeats the phrase: “Goodbye, Margaret.” If you could make it past that point without bawling, you’re made of stronger stuff than most of us.

The Log Lady, Big Ed and Norma, Audrey, Steven and Gersten, the screaming woman at the Roadhouse: They’re all connected not just by geography, but by states of spiritual extremis. They experience enormous, nearly crippling feelings – all of which leave them questioning their place in life. Lynch and Frost still bring the bizarre in this hour. But they also carefully, respectfully depict deep, vulnerable emotional states and trust us to take them seriously. That makes all the difference.

I reviewed last night’s amazing Twin Peaks and wrote about David Lynch and Mark Frost’s abiding respect for people at their most defenseless for Rolling Stone. God did I cry.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Six: “Beyond the Wall”

August 20, 2017

Yet for all the majestic melancholy of watching that graceful, terrifying behemoth fall to earth, there was something strangely antiseptic about the battle between the living and the dead around which this episode centers. No one in their right mind would deny the power of watching Dany’s dragons torch zombies by the thousands. Or the visceral thrill of seeing seasoned warriors like JonTormundJorah and the Hound go toe to toe with the undead. Or the romance of watching the King in the North swallow his pride and swear allegiance to his new Queen, the Khaleesi. Or even the simple pleasures of hearing this makeshift Winterfell Magnificent Seven swap war stories.

But compared to all of Game of Thrones‘ set-piece battles before now, something was missing. Unlike past episodes featuring show-stopping showdowns and stand-offs – think “Blackwater,” “The Watchers on the Wall,” “The Battle of the Bastards” – this was not a demonstration of the gruesome futility of man’s inhumanity to man. And unlike the still-shocking best-of-show chapter “Hardhome,” there was no sense that this was a completely unexpected cataclysm in which life itself was under threat. This was just seven main characters and a bunch of redshirts against an improbably patient and inefficient swarm of zombies, who let nearly every one of our protagonists (Thoros of Myr and the aforementioned dragon excepted) escape with their lives. Even Snow himself dodged certain death when his undead Uncle Benjen appeared, just long enough to hold off the onslaught until his nephew could flee.

But perhaps there’s more to this battle than meets the eye. Sure, Jon and company survived seemingly impossible odds (how many days were they out there on that rock in the middle of the lake, anyway?). But maybe that’s the point. The closer we draw to the endgame, the more openly epic the story is going to get. This doesn’t just mean that the human-on-human battles that have dominated the series’ warfare will now give way to dragon-vs.-demon conflicts. It means that the same magic that fuels those winged creatures’ fire, keeps the walking dead moving and brought Lord Snow back from the Great Beyond will drive the narrative as well. The wheels of fate and the power of prophecy are becoming prime movers. In some cases, they may even supplant the show’s message about the folly and cruelty of war.

In that light, how the King in the North survived his dip into those icy, zombie-filled waters is less important than the simple fact that he survived. As his fellow resurrected warrior Beric Dondarrion put it, the Lord of Light didn’t bring them back to life “to watch us freeze to death.” The regent has a date with destiny. That time has not yet come.

Similar forces are at work in the budding romance between Jon and Daenerys. The two rulers – and the actors who play them – certainly have chemistry to burn. But love and lust share equal billing with pure providence. These two are meant to be together and they know it, however confusing it may be.

I reviewed tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones, where the drama rubber met the destiny road, for Rolling Stone. As you can see, I have mixed feelings about it, but I also think the Night King’s most sinister power is turning everyone who posts about this show online into TVTropes.

Dean Hurley – Anthology Resource Vol. 1 △△

August 19, 2017

You don’t have to pay attention to Anthology Resource Vol. 1 △△. In fact, I’d go so far as to make that an order: Do notpay attention to Anthology Resource. This album of ambient music and soundscapes from the astonishing third season of “Twin Peaks,” by the show’s music and sound supervisor Dean Hurley, will frustrate focused attempts at listening. Passages feel overlong and repetitive, despite 11 of the collection’s 18 compositions clocking in at two minutes or less. Moments of beauty and terror burst out of the murk, only to dissipate with aggravating speed. Hurley’s airy electronic tones conjure up a sense of space so distinct you can practically see it, as titles like “Weighted Room / Choral Swarm,” “Tube Wind Dream,” “Interior Home by the Sea,” and “Forest / Interior” make clear. Yet the effect of sitting and listening intently to song after song is like looking through a window at these strange new worlds, only for someone to abruptly close the blinds on you over and over.

Here’s the thing, though: So what?

I reviewed the first of this season’s Twin Peaks soundtrack/score albums, Dean Hurley’s Anthology Resource Vol. 1 △△, for Pitchfork. It’s a roundabout way for me to talk about Transcendental Meditation, too.

The Satisfying Smallness of “Halt and Catch Fire”

August 19, 2017

It all comes down to the alternately competing and converging needs and desires of the characters — and because they’re so consistently depicted, season after season, we know these needs and desires like we know our own, and empathize with every decision, good or bad. Every episode feels like Bronn facing down Daenerys’s dragon with that gigantic crossbow: Against all odds, you want everyone to succeed, you want every decision to be the right one, though you know it can’t be. Of course, no one’s going to be burned alive or shot down from the sky in this show, but that does nothing to lessen the sense of enormous personal stakes. Halt and Catch Fire‘s smaller playing field makes each move matter. It’s why I’m so excited to press play on the new season, and why I’ll be so sad nine weeks from now, when it’s Game Over.

Halt and Catch Fire returns to AMC for its fourth and final season tonight. It’s a chest of wonders. I wrote about why you should watch it for Decider. My personal recommendation: Start with Season Two. You’ll get up to speed rapidly enough. Once you’ve finished the season you can backfill with Season One, then move on to Season Three. Just one man’s opinion, but I think it’ll do you right.

Sword-and-Sorcery Into Plowshares: Game of Thrones’ Anti-War Message

August 14, 2017

The sprawl, the spectacle, the sex, the swords, the sorcery—if you’re looking for reasons why Game of Thrones has become the most popular show on TV, they’re easy to find. But the epic fantasy might also be pop culture’s most prominent anti-war satire since Dr. Strangelove. It’s one long shaggy dog joke at the expense of military conflict. For the bulk of its six-plus seasons, Game of Thrones has chronicled the bloody power struggles of various aristocrats and their hapless followers—while, unbeknownst to most, an army of demons and zombies in the icy northern wastes masses to swoop down and slaughter them all. The wars making up most of the series’ action are not only pointless, but self-defeating: The only enemy these characters need to be fighting is a supernatural one.

Somehow this lesson is often missed, both by moralists who find the series’ violence exploitative and “bad fans” (as The New Yorker’s  Emily Nussbaum calls them) in it for the beheadings. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the conceit that hides the anti-war message in plain sight. Or maybe it’s the show’s unflinching depiction of man’s inhumanity to man that enables viewers to confuse portraying violence with endorsing it.

Yet the show has been true to the approach of George R. R. Martin, author of the novels on which the show is based and a conscientious objector during America’s assault on Vietnam. As Martin said in a 2012 interview, he does not shy away from capturing the “emotional stirring we feel when we see the banner flying in the wind and we hear the bugles charge”—which, “those of us who are opposed to war … tend to forget.” However, he noted, “If you’re going to write about war and violence, show the cost. Show how ugly it is. Show both sides of it.”

I’m thrilled to make my debut at In These Times with an essay on the anti-war message of Game of Thrones.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Five: “Eastwatch”

August 14, 2017

But for all the awe-inspiring imagery and white-knuckle tension, this is still a show that allows its actors to do the storytelling. There were almost too many intimate moments to list, but seven hells, we’ll try: There’s the way Lord Randyll Tarly reached out to hold his son Dickon’s arm, one last act of fatherly love before their fiery execution. There’s the tears in Jon Snow’s eyes as he touched Dany’s dragon, moved by its power. There’s the more or less open attraction these two rulers now have for another, visible to everyone from Tyrion to Jorah Mormont whenever the regents exchange so much as a glance. There’s the eerie, dead-eyed look Cersei shoots Jaime when he tells her he met with their little brother, and their embrace when the Queen tells the Kinglsayer she’s pregnant. There’s the villainous smirk of Littlefinger as he makes his moves, contrasted against the bright-eyed self-confidence of Arya Stark as she works to uncover them. And there’s the mix of regret and rage on Samwell Tarly’s face as he departs the Citadel, sacrificing his dreams for the greater good.

(By the way, Sam: When Gilly tells you that a maester annulled the marriage of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen so he could marry someone else in a secret ceremony in the same kingdom where Jon was born [cough, cough], you might want to listen!)

If there’s a bridge to be found between the massive political forces at work and these smaller, more personal connections, it’s in the episode’s closing sequence. The assembly of Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, Tormund Giantsbane, Gendry, Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr and Sandor Clegane – and their transformation into the anti-zombie Magnificent Seven – is simply a smaller version of what the Mother of Dragons and the King in the North hope to do on a larger scale. Seeing this dream team of Westerosi tough guys walk off into the frozen no man’s land beyond the Wall is epic fantasy at its most heroic.

But it’s also more than that. The crimes and betrayals these men have committed don’t matter at all compared to the menace that is the army of the dead.The mystically minded Beric has it right when he says that no matter their beliefs or their reason for fighting, they’re all on the same side, for the same reason: the common struggle of humanity against the forces that would destroy us all. Solidarity forever – their union makes them strong.

I reviewed last night’s lovely episode of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Fourteen

August 14, 2017

The flipside to Andy’s stairway to heaven is Sarah Palmer’s ongoing descent into hell – a journey, it seems, that’s literal as well as psychological. When the matriarch is hit on by a barfly, it sounds as if she can barely get out the words to reject him: “Would you sit back where you were,” she she stammers. “Please.” He turns vulgar, and potentially violent, at which point actor Grace Zabriskie’s eyes go wide. Then Mrs. Palmer reaches up … and takes her own face off, revealing a void inhabited by snake-like tongue, a ghostly hand, and an enormous, terrible grin. “Do you really want to fuck with this?” growls her voice from within. She puts her face back on. And then she bites an enormous chunk out of her harasser’s neck. When the bartender comes over to see what happened, Sarah turns cold. “Sure is a mystery, huh?”

It’s a horrifying scene, and not just for the obvious reasons. The Black Lodge is not just a supernatural locus of darkness; it’s an opportunistic infection that enters our world where our boundaries are worn thin by all-too-human evil. A quarter of a century ago, Mrs. Palmer was helpless to stop her possessed husband from assaulting and killing her daughter Laura (and other young women too) before the entity inside him devoured the man in turn. How do you recover from that? The allegorical answer offered in this scene, and its vision of corruption beneath the surface, is that you don’t. The Lodge, which first used her as its mouthpiece during a scene you may have forgotten from the original series finale, has eaten her away from within. (And while it’s tempting to wish that Laura had her mother’s powers when facing any of the men who abused her, you should recall that the original series’ posthumous heroine chose death rather than allowing that kind of evil to inhabit her.)

I reviewed last night’s episode of Twin Peaks for Rolling Stone.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Ten: “The Toll”

August 14, 2017

Marty himself still feels odd. I think Jason Bateman (who directed the finale) has done fine work with the character, particularly during moments of rage; it’s hard to articulate, but Marty gets angry the way real people get angry, in concentrated but random bursts. Yet overall, Byrde reminds me of another business-whiz antihero whose show took a while to figure him out: Joe MacMillan, Lee Pace’s character from Halt and Catch Fire. During Halt‘s first season Joe felt more like a series of gestures in the direction of a person than an actual person. The comparison isn’t perfect — Joe was designed to be a larger-than-life, master-of-the-universe type whose secrets and foibles were just as grandiose as his ego and successes, and Marty is a much more low-key figure. On Halt, the supporting characters carried the weight until Joe could catch up, or more accurately until the writers figured him out. The powerful scenes in this episode involving Ruth and Wyatt dealing with Russ’s death, Charlotte and Jonah struggling with the idea of forming new lives under new identities without their father, and Agent Petty doing his best Michael Shannon in Boardwalk Empire as he explodes with rage after the failure to arrest Del, remind me of that dynamic.

I reviewed the season finale of Ozark, and wrote out some thoughts on the season as a whole, for Decider. In the end, despite problems like the one above, I found there was more to enjoy than not. I’m glad I watched it.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Nine: “Coffee, Black”

August 14, 2017

So I hope you’ll bear with me for a brief rant about Netflix and spoilers. I’ve never understood the contrarian contention that spoilers don’t matter at all. When I say spoilers matter, I’m not joining forces people who complain that the review they chose to read of a movie they haven’t watched yet contains some plot information. Nor am I basing the argument on stories that have nothing more going for them than some big twist, without which the drama is sucked out entirely. What I’m saying is that the rate and timing of plot information is an artistic decision, just like the casting or the editing or the soundtrack or the cinematography. Ideally, you’d learn what happens in the story when it happens in the story, as per the filmmakers’ design.

If you care about art in this way, Netflix’s “the whole season drops at once” model essentially mandates that you cram a show down your throat as fast as possible simply to avoid getting spoiled. As a business move, it’s very canny, since it creates the self-reinforcing impression that viewers can’t get enough of each show. And since most of their many, many, many original series arrive with no fanfare, by the time you hear enough about a new show to get interested, the people who happened to climb aboard right away are already talking about the finale. That spoilery video I mentioned above? It was uploaded just four days after the season debuted. Imagine watching a whole new season of Twin Peaks or Game of Thrones or The Leftovers that way. It’s insane!

I reviewed the penultimate episode of Ozark Season One — and also went off on a huge rant about spoilers and Netflix’s “whole season at once” compulsory-binge business model — for Decider. Don’t let that stop you from reading the thing, though — once again, the cast playing the Langmores do beautiful work here.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Eight: “Kaleidoscope”

August 14, 2017

Ozark depends on momentum. Not as much as our old breakneck-speed friend Breaking Bad did, of course. Nor even as much as the show it reminds me of the most, Mad Dogs — Shawn Ryan and Amazon’s one-season wonder about middle-aged city slickers who get hopelessly in over their heads with a Latin American drug cartel in a verdant coastal environment where none of them belong. But Ozark did establish its métier as early as the pilot: Marty’s going to keep escalating things, or other people will keep escalating things for him, to the point where the series will burn through more major antihero-drama plot points in an episode than other shows do all season.

So it’s a curious choice, after the emotional explosiveness of the previous episode, to do what Ozark does in its eighth installment, “Kaleidoscope.” Rather than continue the escalation in the present, the show flashes back ten years, revealing what happened to set Marty, Wendy, and (surprisingly) Agent Petty on their respective roads to psychological ruin.

I reviewed episode eight of Ozark for Decider. It’s a flashback episode that has its moments, but also enough missteps to make it a wash.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Seven: “Nest Box”

August 14, 2017

This is all prelude to the final sequence, which crosscuts between Marty and Wendy having a knock-down drag-out fight about their life together and Charlotte, exhausted after a long and arduous day during which she attempted to flee “home” to Chicago, nearly drowns in the dark lake. Marty is incensed to discover that Wendy has been making plans to return the kids to their hometown officially, which he reads as a run-up to her departure as well. In response, he blasts her with both barrels about her affair, rattling off all the moments she could have said “no” to her lover in a truly painful litany. Wendy tearfully responds that without any intimacy or affection from Marty, all of which dried up the moment they decided to launder drug money, there was no reason for her to say no. When he says that he’s only keeping her around out of “necessity, not desire,” she asks him why he didn’t simply let Del kill her when he had the chance, and Marty doesn’t even have an answer. All the while, Charlotte is struggling for air, and seemingly succumbs, only to regain her strength and launch herself back above the surface, the smile on her face indicating some sort of perverse exhilaration in this brush with death.

The sequence brings out the best in all three actors: Jason Bateman pushes his odd Type A energy into the red, Laura Linney gets to work with real desperation and trauma, and Sofia Hublitz continues to plumb the umpteenth sullen-teen-daughter character you’ve seen on prestige TV for new depths. No pun intended, honest — the fine work being done here is no joke.

I reviewed episode seven of Ozark for Decider. It really was the Langmores’ episode in many ways, as I describe for the bulk of the review, but this final sequence with Marty, Wendy, and Charlotte hit hard.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Six: “The Book of Ruth”

August 14, 2017

We’ll start with the title character, Ruth Langmore. After a visit to her imprisoned father, a true sociopath who literally tells her that murdering people feels good and that “a moron’s a different species than you and me—we got a right to take ‘em out,” she plans out an undetectable hit on Marty so that she and her family can finally loot what remains of his dwindling supply of as-yet-unlaundered cash. If you were expecting a change of heart or a face turn from this character, too bad: She one-hundred-percent goes through with the murder attempt, a dockside electrocution the authorities would likely blame on faulty wiring. Only the intervention of Agent Petty, who learns something’s up his boyfriend Russ Langmore, saves Byrde’s skin.

The result is a look on actor Julia Garner’s face that freezes the blood in your veins: Her wide eyes reflect shock, confusion, disappointment, regret, relief, and the nauseating feeling that she’ll have to go through with this all again, all at once. The follow-up to this failure — a fight she gets into about it with her uncles Russ and Boyd that leaves her with a black eye, which she shamefacedly allows an oblivious Wendy Byrde, herself a former abuse victim, to attend to the next day — hits hard too.

The other young pillar of the cast, Sofia Hublitz, has a powerful outing as Charlotte Byrde as well. I think it’s fair to criticize the the show’s juxtaposition of Wyatt Langmore, the gawky sensitive sci-fi outcast, against Zach, the much more conventionally attractive older guy Charlotte eventually goes for. It’s implicit dig at Charlotte’s judgement that doesn’t take into account the idea that being more attracted to a more attractive guy, one who’s never thrown you out of a moving boat for that matter, is a perfectly natural choice. Even so, the show’s handling of Charlotte’s first time with this Zach dude is impressively rooted in both the nervousness and the heat of the moment. When the pair retreat belowdecks on his boat, it’s clear to them both what’s about to happen. So she takes a bathroom break, and the camera shows each of them in turn, sighing and coming to grips with what’s about to happen. When they finally go for it, it’s a realistically intense and utilitarian process. (And if you’re gonna lose your virginity on some rich jock’s boat, “Black Beatles” isn’t the worst you can do for a soundtrack.)

And again, the follow-up is key. The dumbfounded look on Charlotte’s face, the childlike way in which she wordlessly shakes her head “no,” when she tracks Zach to the dry dock where Wyatt works and learns he left for the fall without telling her, is crushing in its vulnerability. So is the way she clings to Wendy afterwards, when her mom comes to comfort her without really knowing what it is she’s comforting her about.

I reviewed episode six of Ozark for Decider. Garner and Hublitz are very impressive actors.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Five: “Ruling Days”

August 8, 2017

My favorite thing about Ozark at this point are its little character-developing filigrees — offshoots from the main branch of the narrative in which the supporting players, or even the main ones, are given a chance to show new sides of themselves. Ruth, the show’s perpetual MVP, gets one of the best such mini-arcs in the episode. Given responsibility for the strip club during the Fourth of July holiday weekend by Marty, she immediately turns it into a money-making machine by bringing on new staff. When one of the previous strippers (Marty’s informant, in fact) complains and implies that Ruth was involved in Bobby Dean’s death because “we all know who your daddy is,” Ruth viciously beats her right in the middle of the club, then orders everyone else to get back to work because they’ve got money to make. When Marty sees how well she’s done with the place, he hands the day-to-day operations over to her entirely, and she quite uncharacteristically beams with pride. Yet she still tails him to the storage locker where he’s hiding the cash — but the look on her face indicates another uncharacteristic emotion, that of guilt. In a few short scenes we see the best and worst of this character, some manifestations of which we’ve never seen before at all. It’s deftly done.

I reviewed the fifth episode of the increasingly engaging Ozark for Decider.

“Ozark” thoughts, Season One, Episode Four: “Tonight We Improvise”

August 8, 2017

At this point, this willingness to let songs do the heavy lifting is an endemic problem for television. Westworld, Legion, Stranger Things, you name it: They can all take advantage of labels and artists who no longer have record sales to fall back on and must capitalize on any and all other available revenue streams by licensing pretty much any song they choose. I just want them to choose wisely.

I closed my review of Ozark’s fourth episode for Decider by ranting and raving about its lamely unimaginative use of the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” from Casino, but the rest of the episode was surprisingly good.