Posts Tagged ‘TV reviews’
My own wild speculation is that clue-hunting and twist-anticipating entered the hive mind via cinemas in 1999 with the one-two twist-ending punch of The Sixth Sense and Fight Club. Sure, The Crying Game was still a recent memory, but not for the fanboys who flocked to Shyamalan and Fincher’s films and whose tastes were about to become post-millennial mainstream culture’s bread and butter. On the small screen, the phenomenon had its precursors — “Who killed Laura Palmer?”, The X-Files’ sprawling and eventually suffocating mythology — but the blame-slash-credit must be laid at the four-toed feet of Lost. Fueled by decades of pulp-fiction tropes and pop-philosophy mindbenders, structured as a Russian nesting doll of mysteries within mysteries, and riddled with more Easter eggs than the White House lawn, ABC’s sci-fi smash knowingly worked fans into a frenzy of message-board theory-mongering. Turns out it was more or less a shaggy dog story the creators were making up as they went along, but this didn’t stop viewers from applying this mode of audience speculation-cum-participation to virtually every big series since.
Which is fair play, when the show in question invites it. For example, Lost’s big nerd-culture contemporary, the cult-classic critics’ darling Battlestar Galactica reboot, teased its big mysteries in the opening-credit text of every episode, and thus had nothing but itself to blame when viewers gave the whole series a thumbs-up or thumbs-down based on those mysteries’ solutions. But even relatively realistic shows, based not around unraveling enigmas but on studying the complexities of human relationships, are now treated like glorified Sudoku puzzles by vocal viewers. The Sopranos’ David Chase worked overtime to design a series finale that would actively defy this kind of clue-hunting closure, but that didn’t stop a host of amateur sleuths out to close the book on that infamously open ending. More recently, the ostensibly sophisticated audience of Mad Men treats everything from promo art to costume choices the way medieval soothsayers treated goat entrails. In this light, the decision of Game of Thrones to largely drop its epic-fantasy source material’s host of cryptic prophecies and hidden truths (google “R+L=J” if you want to see how deep the rabbit hole goes) in favor of character work and realpolitik seems like the smartest act of adaptation since Francis Ford Coppola dropped Johnny Fontane as a main character in The Godfather.
Over at Esquire, I wrote a piece on the fan fervor for theory-mongering that surrounds True Detective which wound up being kind of an historical overview of the practice’s slow takeover of pop culture. It was fun to do — and commissioned by a loyal All Leather Must Be Boiled reader! See kids, tumblr dreams come true!
* There’s something very odd about Downton‘s Christmas-special storytelling model of whisking us off to a different location and surrounding us with new characters who will be a big deal now but, as best I can tell, never again. They did it last year with Lord Shrimpy and the Highlands, and they did it this year with Prince Edward and London (and, I suppose, Harold Levinson). It felt weirder this year, though, because without the narrative atom bomb of the male lead’s death, there’s really nothing tying this episode back to the main narrative. There’s a caper that’s successful but which in historical terms is futile, there’s a trip to the beach, and there’s Paul Giamatti. The end!
* What’s more, there’s very little resolution in the offing for that main narrative. No indication of where Mary’s headed with her suitors. Nothing firm on Tom and his political teacher person. (And obviously not a scrap tossed to the Mary/Tom shippers.) No revelation regarding Thomas’s hold on Baxter. Nothing on the final fate of Michael Gregson, beyond the news that he was waylaid by Nazis (!). Bates skates on executing Green, apparently. Even the sudden, and frankly delightful, autumn-years shipping of Isobel & Lord Merton and Carson & Mrs. Hughes (!!!!!!! serving Roslin & Adama realness!) is more gestural than actual.
* It was nice to see the banker from Sexy Beast put the moves on Shirley MacLaine, though.
* Some conversation or other that Mary had with someone about how hard it can be to make relationships work even when everyone around you is pulling for them made me realize the elegance of having everyone try to get Mary and Matthew together all those years. They weren’t starcrossed at all, except perhaps at the very start. That’s a really unique and almost perverse way to construct an obstacle for your romantic pairing to overcome — it’s too perfect, everyone wants it, and the weight of that is crushing to you.
* “Your strength has made me strong.” “My what?” And so after much adversity, Molesley comes out on top, having survived his fall from the top while still being, I dunno, basically decent and trying to put one foot in front of the other. I suppose that would be inspiring to someone like Baxter, who finds herself in the thrall of creepazoid Thomas apparently because she gave up trying to take all those little steps and was content to just drift along behind him.
* That’s the most consistent ethos of this show, in the end, quite aside from however you feel about however Julian Fellowes feels about the aristocracy or the class system: It celebrates the performance of difficult emotional work. Listen to Mary talk to Tony about grieving and moving on: “A year ago, I thought I’d be alone for ever — that I would mourn Matthew to the end of my days. Now I know that isn’t true, that there will be a new life for me, one day. And even if I can’t decide yet what life that should be, isn’t it something for us to celebrate?” A lot of people, a lot of shows, would say no, slow your roll Lady Mary. Mad Men is the best show on television and it’s all about how people are goal-oriented, routinely crushed by their failure to meet those goals, and often induced into bad behavior to get there by any means necessary. There’s no room on that show for a young widow to take stock of her situation and say “I miss my husband, it’s hard being a parent without him, two dudes are into me and I don’t know how I feel about either of them, I’m presiding over the methodical rearrangement of my family’s entire way of life, I am in many ways way way out at sea, but I feel better than I did, I feel like there’s a future for me, I worked at getting here, and I’m going to enjoy that feeling.”
* “Work’s like old age, milady: the worst thing in the world, except for the alternative.” Farmer Drewe succumbs to Downton Abbey‘s epigram epidemic.
* “It’s only me.” “I always feel that greeting betrays such a lack of self worth.” Shipping the Dowager and Isobel so hard!
* Was it me or did the Dowager more or less flee the babies?
* Anna tells Lady Mary the secret. Jeez, Anna. Surely you know what will happen.
* I’ve never heard anyone compared to “a sloth underwater” before.
* “Blimey! He puts a lot in a latter, does Alfred.” Can he cram in an explanation of why there was a storyline about him?
* “They’re sweet on each other, but it’s not as simple as that, is it. Then there’s Mr. Blake…” “I thought she didn’t like him.” “She didn’t, at first.” Anna and Bates taking the temperature of the vagaries of the human heart.
* “What’s the matter?” “I was thinking about a couple of people who are in a situation which will cause trouble.” “Will it make them unhappy?” “It’s hard to say. It’ll make some people unhappy.” Isobel asks the right question, there, and an unusual one. That’s the virtue of this show.
* Molesley and Baxter, sittin’ in a tree.
* “Won’t you defend your principles?” “No, not now.” Discretion is the better part of Branson.
* “Why ask the question when the decision has been made?” Another good question, thanks, Rosamund!
* “Well, I heard you had an interesting day. Whether or not it was tiring, you’d know better than I.” Worldly, fuck-wise Lady Mary wonders who’s been watering Cousin Rose!
* “If she wishes to be understood by a foreigner, she shouts.” We all know that person.
* Actually this is a very strong Dowager episode. “If I told you the truth, Granny, you’d never speak to me again.” “Then you have told me the truth. But I’d like to hear it enunciated more clearly.” And then, “I’m a feeble substitute for the entire Crawley family.” “Mmm, yes. But you’re better than nothing.” Lady Violet’s increasingly a creature out of time, her clothing like a time capsule that emits disses at regular intervals.
* “I don’t believe in types. I believe in people.” Tom Branson gives voice to Downton Abbey‘s soul. The rejoinder — very convenient when you’re the people on top! — is obvious.
* “I probably should have stopped it sooner, but at any rate…I’m stopping it now.” The sigh thrown in there is the first moment that Jack Ross felt like a real person instead of some very weird, like, Disney World performer. So this is the out Downton gives itself for its “no way, not even on Downton” interracial relationship — Rose’s rebelliousness and Jack’s inherent decency. Yeah, alright, I guess. I can’t help but feel that if this is the best Fellowes could do, he shouldn’t have done it in the first place.
* Tony’s intransigence walks that fine line between clever and stupid, or as Mary puts it, “I find that both irritating and beguiling in equal measure.” His puppy-dog Byron looks become him, as does that unutterably romantic kiss earlier in the season, though Mary and Blake obviously have the Sam and Diane thing going. I take it this love triangle, the genteel past vs. the rough-edged future, is meant to be the equal of a potential Mary/Tom matchup? I’m a skeptic.
* I have no idea why Robert and Tom needed to go to America at all, really — shooting schedules for the actors — but at least we got a nice romantic kiss for Robert and Cora at the end. They don’t get enough of that.
* “My dear, all life is a series of problems which we must try and solve. First one, then the next, then the next, till at last we die. Why don’t you get us an ice cream?” Huh, maybe this is the soul of Downton.
* “He’s the most unconvincing fiancé I’ve ever come across.” That may have been Violet’s best line tonight, and that’s saying something.
* Green’s dead. Not a big surprise.
* “Friends forever.” Well, I didn’t think they’d do it, but the Daisy/Ivy/Alfred storyline has redeemed itself with this denouement, a detailed and touching argument in favor of treating people with whom you’ve had very high-stakes emotional struggles with decency and respect. How about that! “If you were my own daughter, I couldn’t be prouder than I am now.” Even a Mrs. Patmore beat gets thrown in for good measure! <3
* "What sort of menage has that turned into while I've been away?" And a line of ladies looks on. Maybe that’s the soul of Downton.
Couple weeks late on this. Apologies, my lord.
* I enjoy when Robert and Cora mildly disagree. “I suppose we’ve made our decision.” If the aristocracy has always been this genially ineffectual how does it even exist?
* “I know plenty of relatives of English earls who belong in gaol.” You becha, Bob!
* Mrs. Hughes asks her not to send Bates to America, and suddenly Lady Mary gets stroppy about the servants not serving enough! I guess not everyone‘s genially ineffectual.
* “All those handsome stewards strutting down the boat deck.” “Don’t be vulgar. What do you know of such matters?” “I’ve been married. I know everything.” Worldly, fuck-wise Lady Mary is the best Lady Mary.
* Uh-oh, the Dowager’s got a cough. Cue near-death storyline!
* Even though his potential face-turn was abandoned immediately upon the start of the season, Thomas still has his good points, and his friendship with Jimmy, odious though Jimmy himself may be, is one of them. Watching them pal around is…nice…I guess?
* Poor Evelyn Napier, always the suit, never the suitor.
* At least Anna’s realized there’s no such thing as a secret at Downton.
* The Dowager refers to Isobel’s verbosity by likening her to “a drunken vicar.” Her conversational anticlericalism is a hoot.
* “Vive le difference!” Oh brother. Cousin Rose…there’s just nothin’ there.
* “But first, kiss me. Or don’t you want to?” “Oh, I want to. Don’t you worry about that.” Now that’s what I’m talking about! Rose may be kind of a cipher and Jack Ross is one of the most weirdly acted characters on a big show ever, but that’s a fabulously romantic exchange. A few more of those and there may be something to this.
* “Have you met my niece and her charming bastard?” Edith has learned the limits of the gentility’s gentility.
* “I’m killing the wanted child of the man I’m in love with and you ask if I’ve thought about?” We can, and should, take issue with Downton‘s handling of reproductive rights, but this line is a headshot on the well-meaning paternalism of the anti-choice movement.
* Keep saying “the pigman,” Downton.
* Branson meets cute with a political woman. I’m starting to worry that the show placing the shipping of Tom and Mary at the center of its entire architecture is a fake-out!
* Oh shit, Lady Mary getting muddy, hair down, goodness gracious great balls of fire.
* Yeah, a pretty grim take on abortion indeed. Don’t be a crying lady! Keep that baby!
* “The tears and the heartbreaks that’ll flavor my puddings for weeks to come.” If it taste’s good then at least some good has come of the Ivy/Daisy/Jimmy/Alfred storyline!
* I ship Mrs. Crawley and the Dowager.
* “You’ll be rewarded in heaven.” “The sooner, the better.”
* Lady Mary’s suitor can’t stay away. “Sounds to me as if the needle’s got stuck.”
* Wow, that was some look Bates shot Mr. Green. There’s the menace everyone supposedly sees in Bates all the time.
I reviewed last weekend’s True Detective for Rolling Stone. I thought it was the best episode yet, comfortably so.
I reviewed this week’s episode of True Detective particularly that bravura closing sequence, for Rolling Stone. I still think this thing’s mad corny, but it’s certainly well made.
* The first “complicated feeling, elegantly expressed” of the evening comes in the exchange between Tom and Robert about pig farming on the estate: “I thought you were convinced.” “I am, but I’m allowed to be nervous.” Lotta shows out there with life-or-death stakes all the time that don’t have time for all the emotional work each of us does day in and day out.
* Edith’s storyline managed to be both supremely unsurprising — pregnancy as predicted! — and take a turn I didn’t see coming — Gregson’s not just avoiding her (from what I assumed were eventually going to prove to reasons that had nothing to do with “you put out so now I’m out of here”), he’s disappeared entirely and no one can find him. So it’s not that the show doesn’t do life-or-death stakes, or handle the latter well when it comes to that, just that it makes room for other things too. I thought Laura Carmichael handled it all very well fwiw, combining her usual “nobody loves me everybody hates me now I’m gonna eat some worms” demeanor and her recent coming-out-of-her-shell-somewhat demeanor and an “oh my god what the hell is happening” panic.
* Angry Isobel rules, basically. “I’m not your lady– oh, nevermind.” “Things! Things! Things!” It’s occasionally fun to see her come up short against the Dowager, who of course is right to say Isobel is fueled by indignation, but it’s more fun to see her as her own person, I think. Her sense of indignation coexists with her decency and kindness, and her awareness of how her own limitations impede other people. This episode showed her emerging from the mist, as Robert said, but that involved reaching out to Mary and Tom as much as it did whiteknighting for the gardener kid over the purloined letter-opener.
* “It’s a wonder you don’t burn the Abbey down and dance around it, painted with woad and howling.” Okay, that’s pretty great, I admit.
* “How you hate to be wrong.” “I wouldn’t know. I’m not familiar with the sensation.” That too, even though it’s easy and moreover a remix of something she said already a couple seasons ago.
* “You’re nervous because you’re intelligent, Alfred. Only stupid people are foolhardy.” This is a cool line and a solid aphorism and a nice defense of Alfred against dumb handsome Jimmy (even if Alfred’s a stiff and the servants’-quarters love quadrangle has been the show’s least interesting story for a full season now). But more than that, perhaps it’s also a window into Carson’s traditionalism. Change, modernity, the future, these things make him nervous because it would be stupid to be foolhardy about them, so he thinks. Right?
* Hahaha anyone who thinks Julian Fellowes is entirely forgiving of the aristocracy should note the obvious discomfort and condescension with which they greet Alfred’s unsolicited display of emotion about Carson. Like they just saw a dog they think is super-cute piddle in the corner.
* “Ooh I like that Valentino. He makes me shiver all over.” “What a very disturbing thought.” Only stupid people are foolhardy, Carson.
* Thomas and his spy Baxter — what to think, what to think. He obviously has something on her, or perhaps on a male relative. That’s the best I can come up with. This seems like Thomas’s undoing in the making at last, sad to say.
* “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” “That gives you a bit o’ leeway.” Mrs. Patmore with the layup.
* It’s very rare for Lady Cora to get a decent zinger — she is a very odd character in the context of this show in that way — but when she ostentatious meets’n'greets the Bateses at the restaurant, shaming the maitre d’ into seating them, she had a good one: “That seems to have made a difference. Thank God he’s a snob!”
* He’s also the wine merchant who tried to poison Daenerys Targaryen. A nogoodnik through and through!
* Also, was her joke about the maitre d’ killing himself a Python reference? She gets meta with a Ragtime reference later in the episode, so….
* “I’m not a victim. That’s not who I am. The worst part is that you see me as a victim.” No no, Bates assures her, he doesn’t see her as victim, instead he sees her as a helpless person he should have protected. The wages of the patriarchy is misery even for the loving and well-intentioned.
* Jimmy and Ivy…I don’t know. Not for the last time in this episode will a storyline be short-circuited to an extent because a female character with a botanical moniker has never really cohered into an actual person.
* Anyone else hoping for a Molesley/Carson fistfight when all is said and done?
* The Mary/Blake Sam/Diane thing… I don’t know about that, either. Won’t poor Evelyn Napier ever get his day in court? Is he always to be passed over for dashing if fragile Turks and minions of Lloyd George?
* “I’m not unhappy. I’m just not quite ready to be happy.” Good Lord, the scene in the nursery with Mary, Tom, and Isobel is one of my favorite scenes in the history of this show — gentle, sad, genuinely both bitter and sweet. “Well. Aren’t we the lucky ones!” I gasped “Jeeeeesus” when Isobel said that. The power of that choice, that decision to see it that way — the amount of emotional labor required, and the rewards of it. And then the kids come in. Remarkable work.
* “My people came over in the 1790s. We won’t go into why or how.” Haha you’re alright, Jack Ross, you’re alright. Actually, Ross is quite interesting, insofar as unlike basically every other character introduced to make the Crawleys uncomfortable with the changing world, the issues at play here are still very much a part of our day-to-day lives in a way we all recognize. (Class is also still an issue but it takes a different form than the English aristocracy, obviously. Racism’s just racism.) Indeed Downton is either asking us to show enormous forbearance or level pretty harsh condemnation on the various members of the family who’ve shown discomfort with Ross’s presence, depending on how generous you want to be to Fellowes.
* The problem, honestly, is Rose, who’s still not a person we know anything about. She’s a plot device, and a set of adjectives: young, vibrant, rebellious, naive. This isn’t Tom and Sybil, though that’s its obvious and intended antecedent. For one thing I don’t think we’re to believe Rose and Jack are in love, just that they’re fun sexy young people who enjoy each other.
* Insert joke referencing the Dowager’s remonstrance to Edith that she should let her time in London “rub off” on her here.
You know, gang, the dialogue on this show is…less than good. A lot of it is just lame hardboiled cop-show clichés: “Nothin’ is ever over,” “The world needs bad men — we keep the other bad men from the door,” I mean, jesus. The interpersonal stuff is weak too: “Why is there all this space between us, Marty?” Ohhhhh, brother. (That was almost made up for by Marty’s Oscar-worthy performance with his Wile E. Coyote metaphor, but then rapidly undone by a deeply unimaginative sex scene.) It feels like the role of dialogue on formative Great-TV shows The Wire and Deadwood — the way David Simon and David Milch developed their own rhythm and syntax and idioms to have their characters communicate their complicated ideas about and reactions to the dissolution and formation of communities respectively, Simon with simplicity and Milch with filigrees — has been forgotten. Shows that do self-consciously formal, even purple dialogue well, like Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey…that just doesn’t get acknowledged as best I can tell. But this thing, with lines like “I don’t think a man can love” or the college-dorm-room exchange about the impact of religious faith on morality or that whole let’s-repeat-the-double-entendre-twelve-times-just-in-case “I just don’t ever want you mowin’ my lawn” argument, is some weird critical cause célèbre. I have nothing but contempt for writing wherein I set myself up in opposition to other critics, but, like…what the heck, man.
That softness seeps into other aspects of the writing, too. When Marty revealed that Rust, on top of his entire library card-catalog of baleful backstory and character traits, also has synesthesia, I actually laughed out loud. Perhaps it’s supposed to feel ridiculous? And when Rust outlined his findings about their killer’s past crime to Marty, why would he save “the victims had the same spiral mark on their back” for last? Wouldn’t that be the first thing you showed, if you weren’t a character in a cop show building to a dramatic reveal? Even Rust’s nihilism, which is so extravagant it retains a certain vim and vigor even at its silliest, is undercut in this episode by the heavy-handed and shopworn decision to juxtapose his grim proclamations about how murder victims are ultimately happy to die with line-dancing flashbacks. (Which is a damn shame, because the idea of a person becoming a homicide detective out of curiosity as to the precise nature of the cessation of consciousness’ link to the physical body is novel and compelling.)
So how best to enjoy this thing? The final shot — that genuinely frightening slow-motion monstrosity — is the answer. True Detective is best approached and appreciated as a creepy potboiler, with some fun performances. (Give it up for Eli from Boardwalk Empire! Remus, too, by the way — he was the guy on the riding mower.) It’s got a fancier pedigree, but in this regard it’s not a world away from another not-quite-sure-I-get-the-buzz show, The Americans. A great show? Don’t get it twisted. A fun show, if you don’t mind staring at it in wry bemusement, Marty-to-Rust-style? Sure, why not.
* Okay, so, yes, Anna’s fucked up — her concern for Bates is something to cling to.
* There was quite obviously more to Baxter than meets the eye, from the start.
* Huh, did Gregson cancel his order of the cow because he got the milk for free?
* First Wilde, now Byron — the Dowager shivving major literary figures left and right!
* “Nobody cares about anything as much as you do. ha ha! haha! hahaha!” I haven’t said this in a while, but Lady Violet laughing at her own jokes is the best thing about Lady Violet. I find myself hoping Maggie Smith came up with that on her own.
* Right, okay, so Thomas’s maid is gonna kill ‘em with kindness. So much for my theory last season that Thomas was going to find that acting friendly opened enough doors for him that being friendly would be easier to do than not.
* Uh-oh, Edith at the doc. Whatever could the matter be?
* Evelyn Napier’s back! I…don’t know why I got so excited about that, either.
* “The sight of me is torture for her which is torture for me.” Trill shit.
* Very long shot of Bates crying. Man, that was tough. But…I don’t know, Bates is not a character who lends himself to existential terror. Discovering that the woman whose love defines your whole life wants nothing to do with you and won’t tell you why would be horrifying, but his decency and stoicism, and Brendan Coyle’s performance of same, doesn’t allow for plumbing those depths.
* “I don’t want to lose you, Tom.” And with that line, the show at last acknowledges the way that, intentionally or not, it threw the entire weight of its storytelling mechanism behind shipping Lady Mary and Tom Branson, like I don’t think any show has ever done before. That they’ve taken it nowhere up until this point speaks well for Julian Fellowes, in much the same way that taking his time with Mary and Matthew — making them not star-crossed, but simply incompatible, for various reasons, for two full seasons — spoke well for him.
* Here’s what I don’t get about Anna and Bates. Bates finds out Anna was raped. He’s very kind and thoughtful about it, you know, after prying and whatnot, with the exception of declaring of the rapist “he’s a dead man.” Anna’s panic about this exact reaction turns out to have been borne out. But much of their ensuing conversation revolves around how Bates will basically do anything for Anna because she walks on water to him. If she said “John, listen, I know you’re angry, but if you kill this man and go to jail it will kill me, too, so I need your word that you won’t do anything, because it would hurt me terribly,” he’d agree, right? At least as far as the show’s calculus regarding this couple would dictate?
* “You are made higher to me, and holier, because of the suffering that you’ve been put through.” Whoa. That’s…whoa. That’s romance as Christian martyrdom. That’s Bates and Anna, I guess.
* Oh right the footman tried to be a chef.
Below are links to all my extant writing about Battlestar Galactica. (As was the case with Lost, much of the writing I did about this show was done for my old dayjob at Wizard Magazine and has been lost to countless website revamps and ownership changes.) I hope you enjoy it!
Episode 4.0.1-2: Razor
Episode 4.0.12 extra
Episode 4.5.1: Sometimes a Great Notion
Episode 4.5.2: A Disquiet Follows My Soul
Episode 4.5.3: The Oath
Episode 4.5.4: Blood on the Scales
Episode 4.5.5: No Exit
Episode 4.5.6: Deadlock
Episode 4.5.7: Someone to Watch Over Me
Episode 4.5.8: Islanded in a Stream of Stars
Episode 4.5.9: Daybreak Part 1
Episode 4.5.10: Daybreak Parts 2 & 3
Episode 4.5.10 [continued]
Battlestar Galactica: The Plan
Episode 4.5.10 bonus: Lost vs. Battlestar Galactica: The battle of the finales
Caprica Episode 1.1
Caprica Episodes 1.2-6
* Anna a woman alone, isolated against the sky outside the Abbey. Why subtle when you can spectacle?
* “I always think there’s something rather foreign about high spirits at breakfast.” Tell me about it, Lady Violet.
* The relationship between Isobel and the Doctor is one of my favorites on the show because of its politesse. “I’ll think about it,” she says of one of his attempts to persuade her back into business as a health advocate at the hospital. Then she adds “I will — I promise.” A promise to him and to her. lovely.
* “Don’t be transparent, Mama. It doesn’t suit you.” Throughout this episode Lady Mary’s Dowager comes out.
* Wait, Branson slept with thirsty maid? How did I miss that? Oh, right, the rape scene.
* “I am already full of regrets. There is nothing but regret in me.” The Irish can be exceedingly bleak. No, seriously, fabulous line. This is a well-written show, if you like to hear complex sentiments elegantly expressed, which I do.
* “It’s immoral to react in such a jealous and selfish way.” “If we only had moral thoughts, what would the poor churchmen find to do?” You see what I’m saying? That’s a funny Dowager line, but it’s also an exchange in which Isobel isolates and upbraids an emotion inside her she dislikes but feels nonetheless. You really don’t get that on TV very often — everyone’s either straightforward or deceitful. Few people are at the usual low-grade war with themselves that we all are.
* “I hope you find a way to make friends with the world again.”
* “Being a family means welcoming new members, isn’t that right Braithwaite.” Lady Cora can always be counted on for all-too-apt obliviousness.
* Say what you will about the conservatism of Downton Abbey and Julian Fellowes, but having Lord Robert refer to having doctors’ offices outside of hospitals as potentially creating “a nation of hypochondriacs” is not meant to make this position sympathetic.
* “Ivy moves so fast for a beginner, don’t she?” It’s fun to see Daisy take a crack at someone, but I still just could not care less about this footman/kitchen maid love quadrangle.
* “The woman you loved loved you.” “But it doesn’t change anything.” “It changes you, from where I’m looking.” Again, a complex set of ideas about interpersonal relationships expressed elegantly. And by Hughes and Carson, no less!
* An exception to this rule, and to my ears an appropriate one, is the bluntness with which Anna describes how being raped makes her feel, which of course is where this episode, and the season, and possibly the series, was going to rise and fall. “I’m not good enough for him. Because I think I must have somehow made it happen. I feel dirty. I’m soiled.” These are concepts that we learn about, if we’re lucky, in books and articles and essays designed to introduce them only to tell us “no, this isn’t true.” But Anna doesn’t have that. She can’t, and doesn’t need to, come up with some mellifluous way to reinvent the wheel about these feelings. She just comes out and says them. Mrs. Hughes tries her best to bat them down, but they’re snubnosed and strong.
* “Better a broken heart than a broken neck.” Perhaps Anna’s focus on Bates’s reaction is designed to show us her side of their mutual selflessness. Perhaps it’s designed to indicate she’s more comfortable worrying about him than she is dealing with how she feels about what happened to her. I think either is valid.
* Gillingham’s alright I guess.
* What a weird voice on that jazz singer!
* Cousin Rose dancing with a……………………
* LOL, leave it to the Irishman to punch downward in the social standings! This is as depressing here as it ever is.
* “I will find out” sez Bates. This is…less than romantic, dude!
* “Jeez, Mrs. Hughes.” That’s what my notes said, and I’m not sure why. But boy, is she a mover and a shaker this season! Oh wait, now I remember, it’s that Branson went right to her, of all people, to confess his dalliance, which I’m still not sure happened or not. Tom, she’s got enough on her plate right now.
* Gillingham pops the question after a whirlwind four-day courtship. “He’s dead, and I’m alive.” This is…less than romantic, dude!
* “You fill my brain.” Okay, that’s better.
* “You’re very persuasive.” “Then be persuaded.” Even warmer!
* “Take as long as you need.” Oh brother.
* Wow, Mrs. Hughes is Sherlock Holmes!
* “You can’t force me,” sez Edna of taking some kind of primitive pregnancy exam. Oh yes I can, says Mrs. Hughes. This is a troubling conversation to have given the concurrent rape storyline.
* Edna’s out, much to my surprise. This show moves quicker than Ivy!
* Edna reads Thomas, and vice versa. Glorious.
* “Edith’s about as mysterious as a bucket.” Lady Mary out-Dowagers the Dowager!
* “I don’t dislike him.” “Ooh, what a recommendation.” Violet on the comeback trail!
* Whoa, Edith and Gregson getting their fuck on!!!!
* “It’s good for you to be reminded you once had a heart, and it’s to reassure the staff that you belong to the human race.” IS THAT MRS. HUGHES’ ENTRANCE THEME I HEAR?
* “The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end, that’s all there is.” -Carson. Again, this is a very well-written show! And this may be close to its raison d’etre?
* Glad to see a Robert/Bates scene. “My goodness, that was strong talk for an Englishman.” Bon mots for everyone!
* “Matthew fills mine, still, and I don’t want to be without him. Not yet.” Lady Mary letting Gillingham down relatively easy, given the stridency of his “he’s dead and I’m alive.”
* “I’ll never love again as I love you in this moment, and I must have something to remember.” Yes, it’s been quite a long weekend!
* On the other hand, Kissing someone you know you will not be with, just to feel good? Ah, that’s romantic as hell. Erotic, even.
* Jesus the sunlight on their silhouettes after Mary jilts Tony, talking to Tom and Robert in the foyer, goddamn. And then Rosamund and Edith, streaks of red against dark color, sitting in that room. This show is a marvel to look at and listen to.
* “You may find yourself feeling very sorry later” says Rosamund to Edith regarding sleeping with Gregson. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Is this why we had Tom and Edna’s short-lived pregnancy storyline — for foreshadowing?
On the list of True Detective‘s influences and inspirations, I’m guessing This Is Spinal Tap doesn’t even crack the top 200. I mean, the mother of all mockumentaries presents occultism and alcoholism as basically awesome instead of corrosive to the soul, and nobody dies a horrible untimely death. (Well, unless you count the drummers, and it’s not like the band does.) Yet in watching this second episode of HBO’s instant-hit crime drama, two quotes from Tap played on a constant loop in my head. (And no, despite Alexandra Daddario’s nude scene, neither was from “Sex Farm.”)
The first comes when the band is presented with the heavily censored album cover for their magnum opus Smell the Glove: “There’s something about this that’s so black,” says guitarist/philospher Nigel Tufnel, “it’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.” That sentiment is inescapable practically every time Matthew McConaughey’s depressive Detective Rust Cohle opens his mouth – never more so than when he explains to Gilbough and Papania, the detectives interviewing him about a mysterious copycat killing in the present day, the lessons he took from the death of his two-year-old daughter. “I think of the hubris it must take to yank a soul out of nonexistence into this…meat. To force a life into this thresher. As to my daughter, she spared me the sin of being a father.” This is the most profoundly nihilistic TV-drama dialogue since the starmaking debut of Richard Harrow on HBO’s frequently equally bleak Boardwalk Empire, during which he explained to his newfound friend Jimmy Darmody how the trenches of World War I cured him of his love of reading: “It occurred to me: the basis of fiction is that people have some sort of connection with each other. But they don’t.”
What’s more, Rust has just revealed that his history as a cop involves committing murder — the execution of a junkie who’d dosed his infant with crystal meth, a killing that doomed Rust to a lengthy deep-cover narco stint, a shooting, and the psych ward. It was only calling in the various favors owed him by Texas police – no doubt for other, undisclosed dirty deeds on their behalf – that enabled him to secure a supposedly sanity-preserving gig as a homicide detective here in Louisiana. Cohle even got some visually stunning acid flashbacks and hallucinations as a parting gift. Dude makes Vic Mackey look like Joe Friday.
Which is where the second quote comes in: “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” C’mon, True Detective, you’re laying it on a little thick here, aren’t you? Rust’s an alcoholic insomniac pill-popping flash-backing divorced institutionalized murderer with a dead daughter? Was there some kind of “sad backstory bingo” being played in the writers’ room? And was it played before or after the round involving cop-show clichés? If the angry captain, the disapproving father-in-law, and the hooker with a heart of gold had a single line of dialogue between them you couldn’t predict a split-second before they said it, like Bill Murray playing Jeopardy! in Groundhog Day, you may want to have some neurological testing done.
And it’s not like Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart fares a whole lot better. About the only thing saving his adultery storyline from the seen-it-all-before file is how berserk over-the-top it gets, from a nude scene that feels gloriously gratuitous even when Daddario’s character Lisa is still wearing her polo shirt to a locker-room confrontation in which Cohle threatens to break his hands during a dispute over the precise odor of the vaginal secretions on his face. Even the case itself, with its big, Hollywoodified crime scenes and Gothy defaced churches, comes across like something you’d see in a ho-hum Batman comic trying too hard to be creepy.
Yet in much the same way that Marty keeps telling his interrogators that Rust, for all his faults and quirks, was still a damn good detective, there’s something that seems solid under True Detective‘s bleak bluster. For one thing, its pacing is downright perverse, and I mean that in the best way. We don’t find out about Rust’s bloody record as some big last-minute reveal – he just drops it in casually about halfway through the episode, in an interrogation scene we’re witnessing through a videocamera. Similarly, we know all sorts of things about how the 1995 case plays out – they rescue a bunch of girls in the woods, they catch the killer, they work happily as partners for another seven years – that your average show would treat like season-ending payoffs. By continuously telling us where it’s going, way way before we’d expect to find out, True Detective ironically makes itself much tougher to predict.
Then there are the character dynamics around which you’d expect a show with the star power of McConaughey and Harrelson to revolve – subtle, sharp, and engaging. One moment, Marty can shake his head in disbelief and disgust over Rust saying he has no idea whether his own mother is alive; the next, he can react with genuine sympathy and sadness when he finds out Rust lost his daughter in a car accident, a trauma he triggered by obliviously inviting the guy over for a family dinner. You can see the roots of their solid partnership and its eventual dissolution.
Writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga are also quietly telegraphing the team’s relative effectiveness as cops. Today, Marty seems much more together than Rust – he’s a blowhard, yeah, but he stuck with the system and rode it into a successful retirement, and he’s being given star treatment as a witness while Rust’s relegated to some wood-paneled file room. But take note: Marty’s a full episode behind his former partner in figuring out that the detectives interrogating them are trying to “jam someone up.” He also seems not to be fully aware some of Rust’s dark spots: “Rust had about as sharp an eye for weakness as I’ve ever seen,” Marty relates, which is true as far as it goes, but a funny thing to say about a guy who’ll get information out of people by beating them with toolboxes. That’s a weakness, I guess, sure!
Of course, it’s also possible Marty’s covering up for Rust, trying to pull one over on Gilbough and Papania – which leads to a mystery I’m more intrigued by than the Yellow King and his antler-wearing victims. In a series called True Detective, which is so far delving hella deep into the foibles of the two cops who could conceivably be its title character, is a similar dynamic going to play out between the two detectives who are working their case in the here and now? Do either of these guys carry with them secrets like Rust’s, resentments like Marty’s? Do any of the four have anything to do with the killings they’re all ostensibly trying to solve? Throw in a slight but palpable sense of the hurricanes that have haunted the region (Rita destroyed the original casefiles; Andrew shut down the school where a missing girl once went), and a series of striking visuals (a night drive that wouldn’t look out of place in a Ryan Gosling movie; a contrast between the burned-out church and the birds, trains, and clouds that keep on gliding past it, leaving its sins hidden) and the blend’s still a heady one. Maybe that angry captain had it right: I’ll give True Detective a few more weeks, but goddammit, they’d better deliever.
I reviewed the series premiere of HBO’s new anthology-format crime drama True Detective for Rolling Stone. It’s the Spin̈al Tap album cover of hourlong quality dramas — NONE MORE BLACK — but Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are awfully watchable in it. I’m not sure that’s enough at this point, but we’ll see.
I reviewed tonight’s Downton Abbey for Rolling Stone. That was a disturbing episode. Can a show like this take the weight? That’s what I try to figure out.
Back in black: I reviewed the Season Four premiere of Downton Abbey for Rolling Stone. I enjoy writing about this show a great deal.
Over at Rolling Stone I ask exactly that. Excited to be covering the show for RS again this season.
I reviewed Homeland‘s season finale for Rolling Stone. An exercise in undercutting what little value the show still had.
I reviewed last night’s episode of Homeland for Rolling Stone. Juuuuust about had it with this thing.