Posts Tagged ‘Rolling Stone’
11. The Prisoner (1967-1968)
When mercurial writer-actor-director Patrick McGoohan parlayed his experience playing a secret agent on the British show Danger Man to create an espionage thriller of his own, he unexpectedly created the prestige drama 30 years ahead of its time. The Prisoner is a frightening, funny, philosophical, absolutely mesmerizing allegory in which McGoohan’s nameless title character, a retired spy dubbed Number Six by his mysterious captors, is imprisoned in a bizarre place called the Village. While crafting an escape plan, he’s subjected to psychological experiments designed to break him by a series of interchangeable superiors all named Number Two. It’s one of the mot visually striking and bracingly bleak shows ever; everything from Lost and Twin Peaks to The Americans owes it a debt.
WHAT’S THE BIG PICTURE
In a word: Magic. Game of Thrones may have made its initial impression as an epic fantasy without much fantasy, saving its dragon hatchlings for the final shot of its first season. But it’s always been about both the public power plays and the game behind the Game — specifically, that all this scheming and warring is a tragic distraction from humanity’s real rip-it-up-and-start-again foe, the White Walkers. Jon Snow’s revival, Daenerys’s fireproof triumph, and Bran Stark’s increasingly powerful visions are a surefire sign that the endgame is approaching, and that certain characters may have a literally messianic role to play.
So it’s no coincidence at all that if and when the Walkers breach the Wall or Daenerys takes wing to Westeros, they’ll find conditions incredibly grim. Bloodthirsty killers control three of the Seven Kingdoms. Self-interested sociopath Littlefinger has command of the continent’s single largest intact army. The Riverlands appear poised for battle between the Red Wedding planners in House Frey and the Blackfish, saved from the massacre by a fortuitously timed bathroom break. King’s Landing is on the brink of full-scale civil war in the streets. Winter is coming, but good old-fashioned human cruelty and greed has set the thermostat close to zero already.
Yet the other big theme of the season so far has been reunions. Brienne and Sansa, Theon and Yara, Dany and Jorah, and especially Sansa and Jon: Each of these long awaited meetings sends the message to the audience that sometimes hope is rewarded, and good things happen to people who deserve them. Nowhere is this clearer than in its supernatural form: Bran’s visions may well get him the informational ammo he needs, particularly concerning Jon Snow’s true parents, to destroy the White Walkers for good. In other words, armies and dragons be damned: Human connections are humanity’s flame against the coming cold. Ice, meet fire.
We learned no less a secret than the origin of the White Walkers, but tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones had an even more gut-wrenching revelation in store. When Bran Stark discovers that the benevolent Children of the Forest created the army of ice demons as a doomsday weapon against the human beings who were slaughtering them in turn, it’s a first-hand lesson in blowback. Little does he know he’s capable of a similar moral blood-sacrifice: It’s his own psychic abilities that turned a towering teenager called Willas into the mentally disabled man he knows as Hodor. Mentally time-traveling to the past even as he and his companions flee the Night King and his undead army in the present, the boy burns the defensive command “Hold the door” so deep into his companion’s brain that a truncated version of the phrase becomes all he can say.
The message of tonight’s installment (“The Door”) is that this is the cost of war, even if it’s a battle against pure evil. Half a world away, Daenerys prepares to ride; Tyrion makes alliances with the Lord of Light’s High Priestess; and Euron Greyjoy preps the Ironborn to conquer the world by the Dragon Queen’s side. But even supernatural saviors leave broken bodies in their wake. Hodor’s crippling — along with the loss of the Three-Eyed Raven, the Children, and Hodor himself — shows that the ends may justify the means, but the means are all but unbearable.
Hakeem and Laura had the big wedding planned, and Lucious and Anika wound up tying the knot, but it was Boo Boo Kitty and Rhonda who really took the plunge. And as the pair took their battle over the edge, it wasn’t just Andre who looked on in dismay and disbelief — the audience did too. When the warring women fell off that balcony for Empire‘s season-ending cliffhanger, they took the show’s usually sure-footed storytelling instincts with it. Cutting to black before we could find out which character died was the culmination of a series of decisions that made the series’ final installment till next September — entitled “Past Is Prologue” — a reason to worry about the future.
To understand a show full of natural born killers, sometimes it pays to consult the original article — specifically, Oliver Stone’s hyperviolent, hyperstylized 1994 mass-murderer movie. There’s a very funny exchange between Robert Downey Jr.’s tabloid-TV sleazeball Wayne Gale and one of his show’s editors, played by a young, pre-Sex and the City Evan Handler. The exasperated staffer complains that they’ve shown the same over-the-top reenactment of one of superstar serial-killer couple Mickey & Mallory’s murders over and over again; Downey’s character barks back “Repetition works, David” — at which point Stone cuts backward in time, so the line “Repetition works, David” repeats all over again.
Much of what happened on tonight’s oddly off-kilter Game of Thrones episode — “The Book of the Stranger” — depends on whether you believe the point of the joke. Yes, repeating ideas and imagery can heighten their impact, reveal subtle variations, or emphasize the cyclical nature of events. But there’s also such a thing as diminishing returns; if you go to the same well too many times, eventually it’ll run dry.
I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone. I was of two minds about it, as you’ll see in the review. As I say later in the piece, “Whether these scenes worked is an ultimately open question, determined by the resolution of the storylines — one reason among many why it’s best to engage each episode as it comes, rather than attempt to predict the future or put your faith in fan theories.” I wanted to include “or saying ‘here’s what they should have done’” in that list of Don’ts, but it got cut.
When the time finally came for someone to take a shot at Lucious Lyon — not with a federal indictment or a backroom bargain, but a bullet — there was no way Empire would half-step it. It went down on an awards-ceremony red carpet in front of hundreds of cameras broadcasting live, shot in slo-mo, with a child of the intended target getting caught in the crossfire. If you could splice the DNA of the final scenes of New Jack City and The Godfather Part III, you’d get something like what last night’s high-octane episode (“Rise by Sin”) delivered.
Jon Snow returned not with a bang, but a whimper. Resurrected last week after his murder by mutinying members of the Night’s Watch — not to mention a year of furious speculation by the audience and half-hearted denials by the cast and crew — the Lord Commander reentered the land of the living less like a triumphant messiah and more like a guy who’d just come to after a horrendous car accident. His breath came in gasps. His eyes were wide with confusion and distress. When he stepped off the slab, he couldn’t even walk without an almost equally stunned Ser Davos holding him up. And what did he learn on the other side? As the saying goes, he knows nothing. His rebirth was basically one big supernatural panic attack.
I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone. One parallel that got cut from my review of last night’s episode is that in the show, Ned and Howland kill Arthur Dayne in much the same way that Jaime Lannister killed his boss, the Mad King; one was celebrated, the other reviled.
If you watched last night’s Empire, you got more than an excellent hour of the series — and a rebound from last week’s misfire. As a bonus, you also got pretty decent episodes of Better Call Saul and Hannibal in the bargain. The opening scene depicted Andre Lyon visiting his long-lost grandmother Leah, stashed away in a nursing home for decades by Luciousafter she abused him; the setting, the old-folks humor, the off-kilter camera angles, and the telltale bingo game were all reminiscent of similar sequences in which Bob Odenkirk’s shifty lawyer wooing elderly clients in the Breaking Bad prequel.
Meanwhile, the final minutes, featuring an awkward mother-and-child reunion in which the mentally ill old woman serves her frightened son dessert in the middle of the night (at knifepoint), had a febrile orchestral score and a tense dinner-table psychodrama vibe that evoked the tragically canceled saga of cannibalistic Dr. Lecter. Maybe co-creators/co-writers Lee Daniels & Danny Strong and director Millicent Shelton constructed these parallels deliberately; maybe they didn’t. But the episode — “The Lyon Who Cried Wolf” — proved that this show can do all kinds of things very, very well, even stuff other shows have done well themselves.
But what does Jon’s supernatural survival mean for the show itself? First and foremost, it means you are, indeed, watching a fantasy show. Melisandre’s shadow-demon babies, Arya’s shape-shifting assassins, that FrankenMountain monster, last week’s reveal of the Red Woman’s true form, the White Walkers and their undead army, Dany’s freaking dragons: The rules of reality have already been bent left, right, and center, up to and including several resurrections. Our boy in black’s big comeback makes perfect sense within the genre; the idea that this represents some unforgivable breach of audience trust has got to make you wonder what show people have been watching. On the flip side, the complaint that this was too easy to see coming is equally bogus: Isn’t that what foreshadowing is for? Fiction isn’t a magic trick designed to keep audiences in the dark until the big reveal; it works on levels of categorical conventions, theme, tone, character, and plot that can all trump the need for a perfect surprise.
A crippled boy walks again, a smile on his face as he walks around the place he once called home. A lonely girl sits isolated against a vast frozen field, mourning her brother and wondering if she has a purpose without him. A giant bursts through a gate, cowing a small army into submission. A drunk in the middle of pissing on the wall turns to face a masked killer, who crushes his skull and walks away without a word. A sullied knight and a man of god(s) face off in a holy place, the body of a princess in front of them, daylight shining through a seven-pointed window behind them. A dwarf ventures into the darkness to face dragons, illuminated only by the light of his torch and the fire in their mouths. A new mother clutches her baby as a madman releases his hounds to kill them. A broken man hugs the woman he rescued, and who rescued him, as they say goodbye. An aging king faces off against his own brother on a bridge above the ocean, blown back and forth by the storm.
And oh, yeah … Jon Snow comes back from the dead.
50. Arya Stark and the Hound, ‘Game of Thrones’
Sure, their partnership began with a kidnapping, ended with one of them leaving the other for dead, and only lasted for 10 episodes. So what? For the duration of Game of Thrones’ fourth season, the unlikely team-up of feral Arya Stark and her much older mentor in murder Sandor “The Hound” Clegane made them the Bonnie and Clyde of Westeros — both ultraviolently badass and a challenge to the very concept of ultraviolent badasses in the first place.
I wrote about the 50 Best TV Duos of All Time for Rolling Stone. I love pieces like this because I get to write a wide variety of things about a wide variety of work — seriously, this goes back to The Honeymooners and goes up to Broad City, hitting every conceivable kind of pairing and every genre of show (sitcoms, Britcoms, sketch comedy, prestige dramas, procedurals, kids’ shows, animation) along the way. Apples-to-oranges comparisons are good for the brain now and then.
If Lemonade exists in the Empire-verse, the Lyon family must be wondering what the fuss is about. An R&B record that uses extremely thinly veiled autobiographical tales of family turmoil as fodder for art? That’s pretty much every song Lucious, Jamal and Hakeem have ever made. Here in the real world, though…well, once you’ve heard Beyoncé’s latest, “Boom Boom Boom Boom” sounds a whole lot less impressive. Now her cathartic confessional album is threatening to do to this series musically what the presidential primary already kinda did to it politically: take a show that depends on feeling utterly of-the-moment and make it feel out of date. Like, can a coffee-house performance of a song called “Good Enough” really compete as a statement of personal freedom with, er, “Freedom”?
Maybe this is an undue burden to place on “More Than Kin,” this week’sEmpire episode. It could just as easily have been a comparison with fallen genius Prince, whom Jamal evokes with his live-band presentation, high falsetto, and “am I straight or gay” sexuality, and that wouldn’t have been fair either. As fun as the music on this show has been, it’s not really meant to go toe-to-toe with the titans of pop, Timbaland production notwithstanding. But – perhaps due to the season’s two-part structure and longer total running time than the short, surprise-hit Season One – the story is getting a bit soft, or more than a bit. That’s when you start noticing problems you might otherwise have overlooked, or never even thought of as a problem at all.
Say what you will about Lucious Lyon, but the man does not lack for chutzpah or cajones. Pushed to the margins of his company by his (seemingly) united family, lined firmly behind youngest son Hakeem, he takes a page from Karl Rove’s political playbook and attacks his kid’s perceived strengths. The fashion line that’s slated to open up a big new market for Empire? Send in a few goons with guns and trucks and make every item of clothing disappear. The Teyana/Laura tour that’s minted not one but two superstars for the Lyon Dynasty sub-imprint? Plant drugs on the tour buses, call the cops, and watch them haul away everything from the lighting rigs to the instruments. The music-streaming service that’s making the record label a major player as well? Sabotage it (with a little help from double-agent eldest son Andre, aiming for the throne himself) so it fails to launch on time. And the kicker? Show up at the big shareholders meeting and personally bring up all these problems. Voila: His son is deposed, leaving him the Emperor once more. That’s the kind of razor-sharp intrigue that made last night’s episode — “Time Shall Unfold” — the best since the show’s spring comeback.
I forgot to link to this in all the Game of Thrones chaos, but I reviewed last week’s Empire for Rolling Stone. The contrast in quality between that one and this week’s is striking.
If Game of Thrones were a Netflix show, there isn’t a man or woman in all Seven Kingdoms who wouldn’t have plowed right into episode two after watching tonight’s Season Six premiere. So many of the big storytelling beats went unresolved that the inability to binge-watch the next hour (or more) is an almost Ramsay Bolton–level torment.
We don’t get to witness the final showdown between Ser Davos and Ser Alliser. We don’t see the triumphant return of Dolorous Edd leading an army of wildlings (with or without a giant or two in tow) to his black brothers’ rescue. Neither of Cersei Lannister’s most loyal nights, her incestuous brotherJaime and her Frankensteinian bodyguard Ser Robert Strong (aka an undead Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane), face off against the fanatical forces of the High Sparrow. Tyrion Lannister and his buddy-comedy advisor Varys don’t free the dragons chained up in the basement of their Meereenese palace. Daenerys Targaryen’s dragon, the black beast called Drogon, doesn’t swoop in to save her from the clutches of Khal Moro and his Dothraki horde. Bran Stark, his wizardly mentor the Three-Eyed Raven, his M.I.A. kid brother Rickon, schemer par excellence Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish and the ne’er-do-well rulers of the Iron Islands from House Greyjoy don’t show up at all. Most importantly, to paraphrase Chevy Chase, Jon Snow is still dead—if his psychic baby bro, his telepathically connected direwolf Ghost or the apparently ancient sorceress Melisandre are going to bring him back from beyond, we’ll have to tune in next week, same Stark time, same Stark channel.
Shit, we might not even get to find out then.
So how come “The Red Woman,” tonight’s long-anticipated comeback ep, felt so satisfying regardless?
I reviewed the Season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone, where I’ll be covering the show weekly once again. Yay!
5. What’s going to happen in King’s Landing?
Seriously, is there any place here that isn’t a ticking time bomb going into Season Six?! Like Jon and Dany, Cersei Lannister started last season in charge and ended up in deep shit. After empowering the extremist religious leader known as the High Sparrow — in the hope that he’d take down her rivals — she wound up in the crosshairs as well. Now she’s endured a horrifying walk of shame but will still have to stand trial … and we’ve all seen how trials in King’s Landing go. Her brother Jaime’s back in town, bearing the bad news of their daughter Myrcella’s murder, and her undead bodyguard Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane is running around too. There could well be a three-way bloodbath in the streets between Lannister, Tyrell, and Faith Militant forces before it’s all said and done — four-way, since Dorne’s Prince Trystane is a newcomer to the city this season. It’s a recipe for disaster potent enough to make Meereen look like Des Moines.
The emotional climax of Vinyl‘s first season is the performance of a fake punk band fronted by the son of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall. Songs by the Stooges and the MC5 — bands that did the Nasty Bits’ pseudo-proto-punk better, and years before the fact, IRL — bookend it on the soundtrack. The New York Dolls watch from the side of the stage, beaming with approval even though their very real, and also superior, music kicked off the season by literally tearing the house down. The individual members of the Ramones are in the audience, apparently so impressed that they go out and form a band, the way the Sex Pistols’ 1976 gig in Manchester begat Joy Division, the Buzzcocks, the Fall, and the Smiths (and, uh, Simply Red). The concert ends when the police shut it down on obscenity charges, like a Jim Morrison reboot. It’s supposed to be the second coming of pure rock and roll and the salvation of American Century — excuse us, Alibi Records; instead, it comes off like a needle scratch.
In the immortal words of Drake, “this ain’t what she meant when she told you to open up more.” Throughout tonight’s episode of Empire (“The Tameness of a Wolf” — what is this, Game of Thrones?), Lucious Lyon has been prepping a music video that will tell his true life story, warts and all. This includes the childhood trauma he’s kept secret: the abuse he suffered at the hands of his bipolar mother, who shot herself in front of him over what she’d done. Proud of her ex’s honesty, Cookie screens a rough cut for her whole family at her birthday party. But instead of bonding them, it blows them apart. Andre explodes, lambasting his dad for hiding his grandmother’s illness — the knowledge of which could have helped him cope with his own. His father responds by calling both grandmother and son embarrassments. When it comes to being a bastard, psychiatry has yet to devise an effective treatment.
From the Nasty Bits’ lips (literally) to God and the writers’ ears: It’s always a great idea to place Jamie Vine at the center of the action. Juno Temple’s ambitious A&R up-and-comer is one of the series’ most vibrant players: living on the edge, ears and eyes open to new experiences but nostrils mostly closed to them. And since no good Vinyl character comes without a signature Seventies look, don’t forget her incredible hairstyle (her face seems to be poking through a blonde waterfall). She’s the “Rock and Roll Queen” that gave tonight’s episode its title, if the Mott the Hoople song that soundtracks her MMF threesome with Kip Stevens and his guitarist Alex is any indication. It’s her self-possession and confidence that turned what could have been a dreary “girl comes between the boys in the band” storyline—the exact one predicted by a furious Andrea Zito when she discovers both Jamie and CeCe are sleeping with American Century acts — into a surprising, spontaneous, sexy scene. Now that’s what I call conflict resolution!
It’s musical, it’s political, it’s packed with enough soap-opera outrageousness to make The Young and the Restless look like a work of gritty realism — all of this is true about Empire. But don’t overlook the secret weapon in its entertainment arsenal: It’s funny as hell. Tonight’s episode — “A Rose by Any Other Name” — may be named after a line from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, but it’s more concerned with comedy than poetry, and all the better for it.
And as always, Cookie Lyon is the Empire’s First Lady of Shade, and this episode contains two of her Best. Insults. Ever. She calls her rival for the throne, Naomi Campbell’s scheming Camilla Marks-Whiteman, “Ol’ Resting Bitchface” — far be it from us to resting-bitchface-shame, but that’s pretty good. Later, when Jamal complains that estranged patriarch Lucious is spreading the word that he’d slept with a woman, costing him the support of the LGBTQ community, the Lyon Queen says “We all know your father is a tampon.” Problematic? Yeah. Hilarious? You bet your ass. When she tells lawyer Thirsty Rawlings, “Stop wearing your granddaddy’s suits,” he gets off relatively easy.