Posts Tagged ‘TV reviews’
With so much story that’s either rote or nonsensical, the early exchange in which Claire explains airplanes to her awestruck husband stands out, for all the right reasons. What would a time traveller from 200 years into the future tell the man she loves about the world to come? Here’s the thing: I have no idea! That’s an exciting feeling! Stories should head into the great unknown wherever possible. Instead of a boring family feud and superfluous Black Jack flashbacks, we could have had an episode in which the two of them talk about electricity, The Wizard of Oz, indoor plumbing—or on a far more serious note, the World Wars, the atom bomb, the endless struggles and successes and setbacks that the oppressed will experience long after the Jacobite Rising is a distant memory. If only Outlander were as interested in pushing the envelope in its main characters’ heads as it has been in their beds.
The next day, Roger and Don attempt to put a positive spin on the merger at a companywide meeting, but their employees see right through it; they don’t even stay long enough to hear the end of the spiel. That’s the second time Don’s failed to sell his most important product: the agency built on his genius. He and the other partners are left alone in the crowd, losers in the proverbial battle royale. His lover, his furniture, his apartment, now his company: Mad Men’s final episodes are stripping Don down piece by piece. You can’t take your ball and go home if you’ve got no home to go to.
Director Nick Gomez put together Daredevil’s best-looking episode since the pilot, and one of the best-looking episodes of anything I’ve seen in forever — just gorgeous shots from start to finish. Dig the sequence when Karen visits Matt at his apartment for the first time since his “accident” (aka getting beaten like a red-headed stepchild by Wilson Fisk and a freaking ninja). As she enters, the shot is split bicamerally, with her and the man who’s lying to her in separate rooms on separate sides of the frame.
As they continue to talk, Matt’s two gigantic windows emphasize their separation:
Until she breaks out of her box and approaches him, touching him for the first time in episodes. Sure, if you’ve read the comics you know this is the first of many touches to come, but the staging tells you everything you need to know.
The episode starts on the spiritual side, as Arya Stark’s old “friend” Jaqen H’ghar takes her inside the House of Black and White, home to the fearsome Faceless Men. With apologies to the Wu-Tang Clan, these residents appear to be an order of killer priests, worshipping death as a single god that wears different faces depending on your denomination. (The show doesn’t aim for your inner middle-school fantasy nerd very often, but it sure hits the D&D/Frank Frazetta paperback-cover bullseye here.)
Equally appealing to your seventh-grade psyche, albeit in a completely different way: the wedding of King Tommen and Queen Margaery. Or more accurately, the wedding night, a wet dream come true in which a kind, beautiful older woman teaches an eager but innocent young lad exactly why the Gods gave him man parts. It’s hard to pull this off [ahem] without seeming creepy, but that’s part of the fun, and actors Natalie Dormer and Dean-Charles Chapman handle the material with charm and humor as well as heat.
None of this sits well with Tommen’s mom. The Small Council may be firmly under Cersei’s control, but her son is slipping through her fingers and right into Margaery’s…uh, let’s go with fingers here as well. Even a “friendly visit” (#airquotes) to her daughter-in-law earns her veiled insults (“I wish we had some wine for you — it’s a bit early in the day for us”) and tales of ribaldry about her baby boy’s bedroom antics So when the Queen Mother sees an opportunity to acquire influence over church as well as state, she grabs it with both hands.
But in the words of Crosby, Stills & Nash, “How can you catch the sparrow?” As indicated by his casting alone — Jonathan Pryce is the biggest name to join the show since Sean Bean, or at the very least, Diana Rigg — the High Sparrow may prove a more slippery customer. Sure, the holy man makes self-effacing jokes about his unusual alias: “Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Like Lord Duckling, or King Turtle.” Yet he’s presiding over a bona fide fundamentalist movement, one capable of marching the High Septon naked through the streets and converting the Lannisters’ lanky lord cousin Lancel into a true believer. Humiliating some pampered bastard who stages perverted rituals with prostitutes (it’s sacrelicious!) is all well and good, but does Cersei strike you as someone who’s sinless enough to avoid incurring the judgment of her pious new BFF for long? The High Sparrow could be every bit as dangerous as the undead monstrosity that the Queen’s crony Qyburn is keeping under wraps in his lab.
…it’s a big episode for actor Elden Henson, whose had previously been the weak link in a very strong ensemble. With the bad jokes on mute, his Foggy loses the comic-relief baggage and emerges as the kind of basically happy, basically decent, basically successful young guy you simply don’t see on prestige dramas that often. When he questions Matt for going outside the law, or attacks him for lying to him for years, or cries because he’s been so badly betrayed by someone he trusted, it feels all the more real because it comes from a character who’s not accustomed to these kinds of personal traumas. This is, quite convincingly, the worst thing that’s ever happened to him.
True to its title, “Speak of the Devil” is an episode that cuts right to the heart of the questions of morality it’s toyed with since the start of the season. And the moment Matt Murdock decides to answer those questions with “Fuck it, I’m killing the Kingpin,” he gets slashed and beaten to within an inch of his life. If you think that’s a coincidence, I’ve got a story about an elderly tenant getting stabbed to death by a random junkie I’d like to sell you.
The Alayne Game: Discussing the New “The Winds of Winter” Sample Chapter and the Start of “Game of Thrones” Season Five
BLAH is back with two, count ‘em, two topics! This go-round, Stefan & Sean tackle the new “Alayne” sample chapter from The Winds of Winter and the first two episodes of Game of Thrones Season Five. What’s in store for Sansa in book six? What’s our read on GoTs05e01-02′s plotlines and performances? Listen and learn, ladies and gents! And while you do, you’ll discover some very happy news from House Sasse, as well as musical surprise or two. Enjoy!
“I feel like shit all the time.” So says Philip Jennings in “March 8th, 1983,” the season finale of The Americans—and that’s before he murders a man whose prize possession is an adorable toy robot collection. Philip is talking about Annalise, the woman he and Yousaf both had a long-term sexual relationship with before Yousaf killed her and they stuffed her broken naked body in a suitcase. But he could be talking about almost anything he did this season: semi-seducing a teenager; driving a woman he tricked into loving him to the brink of collapse; inducting his daughter into a lifetime of danger and duplicity. Philip has a horrible fucking job, but none dare call it evil. None except someone equally horrible.
Ronald Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech, delivered on the date that gives the episode its title, is the act of rhetorical violence this season finale uses as a substitute for the physical kind. It’s a skincrawling suck-up to evangelical Christianity, and a gobsmacking exercise in false equivalence between birth control and Stalinism, delivered by a grown-ass man who cops lingo from Star Wars and whose hunger to refer to teenage girls who have sex as “promiscuous” is as self-evident as his hypocrisy on this point is well-documented.
But The Americans juxtaposes this address, which we sophisticates in the 2015 New Golden Age of TV Drama recognize for the religious and chauvinistic fanaticism it is, with the intimate and heartbreaking and damn near identical characterization of the Soviet Union and its agents by a teenage girl. Paige Jennings echoes the Leader of the Free World’s condemnation of the USSR when she calls up her own evangelical audience, Pastor Tim, and is born again in the truth.
“I didn’t do it for her,” he admits of the killing. “I did it for me.” He’s not proud of this, and he sports his dead dad’s cufflinks as a sort of penance. “That’s why I still wear these. To remind myself that I myself that I’m not cruel for the sake of cruelty.” He’s building up steam. “That I’m not my father! That I’m not a monster!” Then he pauses. “Am I?” You can hear it in his voice: He has no idea.
Listen, maybe there are some of you out there that aren’t plagued with the sinking suspicion that you’re every bit as big a piece of shit as you fear you may be in your worst moments. If so, hey, bully for you. Me, I found myself feeling sympathy for the devil. That’s right, the Kingpin made me choke up. Who’d have thought?
I reviewed Daredevil Episode 8 for Decider. This show is somethin’, man.
…But the biggest and funniest riff [“Stick”] played off the Daredevil comics involves the title character himself. Played by the wonderful Scott Glenn — who between this and his similarly weird role on HBO’s The Leftovers appears not so much to have aged with time but dried out like beef jerky — Stick was the martial-arts mentor who transformed Matt Murdock from a blind kid with uncontrollably sensitive senses into the black-clad badass we know and love today. As such, he’s given to a lot of portentous pronouncements: “You’ll need skills for the war,” “Surrounding yourself with soft stuff isn’t life, it’s death,” “They’re gonna suffer and you’re gonna die,” etc. In other words, he’s not a man, he’s a Frank Miller comic in human form.
Miller was just a kid trying to make his way as a comics artist in the Taxi Driver-esque mean streets of Carter-era New York City (he was mugged twice) when he parlayed a shot at the low-selling Daredevil comic into superstardom. It was he who gave the series its neo-noir makeover, incorporating techniques gleaned from American comics pioneers like Will Eisner as well as manga, Japan’s homegrown comics scene which at the time had very little readership in the West. His interest in ninjas, which he made a core component of Daredevil’s backstory, more or less singlehandedly shoved the concept into the American pop-culture mainstream: The ninja-heavy G.I. Joe characters and comics that Marvel developed owe him a great deal, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were conceived as a straight-up Daredevil parody. (Ever wonder why the Turtles’ sensei was called “Splinter”? If you’ve met “Stick,” you know the answer.)
As time went on, Miller gave Batman an even more successful grim and gritty makeover in his seminal work The Dark Knight Returns, to which the Tim Burton and Chris Nolan movie franchises owe a massive debt. He also created series of his very own, like the hardboiled crime comic Sin City and the homoerotic historical fantasia 300, both of which became hit films. Meanwhile, Miller himself became more and more like a grizzled old hardass from one of his own comics, wearing a fedora and reminiscing favorably about the good old days when America’s heroes were of the two-fisted, square-jawed variety. So when wrinkly, stubbly old Stick compares Matt Murdock to the Spartans, “the baddest of the badasses,” it’s a 300 reference that winks as much at Miller himself as the comic in question. This helps keep his zen tough-guy routine on the show just this side of knowing self-parody, instead of the unwitting kind.
Daredevil spends much of the hour trapped in a vacant building with Vladimir, the vicious Russian mob boss who until recently had been his number one target — and who, indeed, he’d beaten the living shit out of not even an hour before. Daredevil dragged him to safety and saved his life for several reasons. First, the crooked cops who are trying to kill him on Wilson Fisk’s orders are after DD as well. Second, the vigilante needs the gangster to live long enough to cough up details about his mysterious puppetmaster. Third — and this is the key part — that tough-guy line he laid down about how it’s not okay to kill but it’s perfectly fine to let people die? It’s bullshit.
The thing is, it’s not just bullshit in Matt Murdock’s book, whatever bluster he throws at Vladimir to bluff him into talking. It’s bullshit all the time, in every superheroic circumstance. Yet that didn’t stop Christopher Nolan from making it the climactic moral argument of Batman Begins, the initial entry in his genre-redefining Dark Knight trilogy of Bat-blockbusters. Remember? Batman and Ra’s al Ghul are trapped in a subway plummeting to the ground, and the Dark Knight kinda wisecracks “I won’t kill you…but I don’t have to save you.” Yeah you do, you cape-wearing murderer! It’s not okay for anyone to let a person who’s completely in their power die to punish them for perceived transgressions, let alone if that person is dressing up in costume to serve as an ethical exemplar for their community. Daredevil is no one’s idea of an ideal hero — he has way too much fun taking a road flare to Vladimir’s wounds for that — but he senses, correctly, that selectively blowing off his responsibility to save lives is, ahem, not so different than taking them directly. (Stick that in your Batsignal and light it, Bruce.) This novel, moral answer to the whole corny “what really separates a hero from a villain” question made it worth asking in the first place. I wouldn’t be surprised if it helps Daredevil supplant the Dark Knight as the street-level super-ethicist of choice.
There’s a bit of inexplicable optimism to be had at the end of the episode, however: Don’s apartment sells to a young pregnant couple who buy it at the asking price. But this only leaves Don with still more “freedom.” He’s now no longer pinned down even to a place to live. Where, and what, does that leave him? “You don’t have any character,” his angry underling Mathis barks at him after screwing up a meeting by misunderstanding Don’s advice. “You’re just handsome! Stop kidding yourself!” An empty suit kicked out of his empty apartment into an empty hallway leading to an empty future.
Subtle it isn’t, but that’s the point. This lack of subtlety is not some embarrassing secret we’re discovering behind Matthew Weiner’s back. Mad Men isn’t obvious; it’s direct. It’s pointing to the emptiness and demanding that, like Don, we stand right there in the middle of it all, the door that leads home shut in our face, wondering where to go next.
Gordon’s not the only member of the GCPD trying to save a member of the fairer sex from herself. (Ugh.) When twitchy Eddie Nygma loses his cool with the macho cop who’s beating his beloved, it’s the first time the Riddler-to-be has seemed like anything more than a cutesy comic-book character. Beyond that, however, Ms. Kristen Kringle’s abuse is handled so perfunctorily that it barely qualifies as a subplot at all. Actual dialogue from the victim: “He didn’t mean to. I said some things I shouldn’t have…It’s none of your concern.” Actual dialogue from the abuser: “Women…they need a firm hand.” So you’re going to write domestic violence into your Batman show, and that’s the best you can do?!? There’s no effort to rise above the most basic clichés, and less than none to actually make Kringle the subject of her own story. Put it together, and the eventual archvillian’s debut murder to defend her honor falls flat. (And would it have killed them to involve a riddle in it somehow?) There’s a term in comics, coined by writer Gail Simone, for treating female suffering as a means to a male character’s ends:women in refrigerators. Writers of superhero shows, we beg you: Close the damn icebox door.
Speaking of the Wall, it’s there where Jon Snow, alone among his surviving siblings, may still have a way to retain his humanity. Arya has entered the House of Black and White, a training temple for elite assassins. Sansa has embraced her position as the apprentice of Littlefinger, rejecting the help of the increasingly unhappyBrienne of Tarth in the process. Bran is off-screen learning to become a psychic sorcerer, and Rickon is god knows where doing god knows what. So when Stannis Baratheon offers to make Jon the new Lord Stark of Winterfell, the offer’s not just hard to resist — it’s likely to work.
But there’s a different road ahead for Lord Snow. Led by good-hearted bookworm Samwell Tarly and ancient Maester Aemon, the brothers of the Night’s Watch vote him their new Lord Commander in one of the only democractic processes Westeros has left. Instead of seizing power by force or gaining it by decree, he’s earned it through hard work, kindness, trust, and sacrifice. He’s got a chance to start a new cycle, right at the place where it counts the most: humanity’s last line of defense against the cold to come. We’ll see how that works out.
…at every opportunity, the show takes the low road, populating the trial with one-dimensional enemies and mindless hordes fit only for the audience’s contempt. The judges and prosecutor are straight out of Old Fashioned Asshole central casting. Laoghaire MacKenzie, the star witness, enters the courtroom to the sound of an ominous gong, just in case you wondered if she was a bad guy. But if you missed that bit because you were in the bathroom or something, don’t worry: Later, she actually tells Claire “I shall dance upon your ashes.” If she had a mustache, she’d twirl the shit out of it. Then there’s the fanatical priest, who fakes a change of heart about Claire so complete that everyone’s convinced it was witchcraft—instead of what it was, which is an unnecessarily complicated plot twist with a whopping 15-second payoff. The guy looks and sounds like the parish’s personal Pinhead. There are no surprises here, no nuances, so sense that anyone’s doing anything for any reason other than “this is this kind of story, and that’s what that kind of person does in this kind of story.”
[Vanessa] solves a dispiriting problem faced by contemporary TV: A lot of people who watch antihero shows hate the women on them. Just ask someone who plays one! Because they present an obstacle of doubt, derision, or suspicion in the path of the larger-than-life men in their lives, viewers who live vicariously through those men want those obstacles taken out with extreme prejudice. This is almost never the fault of the shows or the characters — Skyler White, Carmela Soprano, and Betty Draper, to name three commonly cited examples, are as complex and engaging as Walter, Tony, and Don. But if you’re looking to hack the structural security of New Golden Age TV Dramas, it’s an easy entry point to exploit.
The courtship of Kingpin and Vanessa breaks this mold in several ways. We meet them not years into a long-term relationship, but as they’re first getting to know each other. It’s a wonderfully oddball way to introduce your series’ main villain, yeah, but it also cuts through the Gordian Knot of the so-called “wife problem”: Vanessa is going into this with her eyes wide open.
I reviewed episode five of Daredevil for Decider, and got them to run my favorite gif of Ayelet Zurer three times, because that’s what being a hero means.
“People love hearing how right they are.”—Agent Stan Beeman, The Americans
Last year on Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister raped his sister Cersei. At least that’s what he did in the scene I saw. Statements on the matter by actors Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Lena Headey and director Alex Gravestalked about two people in a deeply dysfunctional relationship having sex they knew they shouldn’t be having, not that one person was refusing to have at all. Co-writer and showrunner David Benioff appeared to disagree in an interview taped prior to the episode’s airing, before adopting total radio silence on the issue. The show’s subsequent handling of the characters, author George R.R. Martin’s comparison of the scene to its equivalent in his original books, and further discussion by the actors provided still more complicated and confounding context. We could perhaps conclude that either through communication breakdowns between the players or a failure of execution to mirror intent, the scene — rooted in complex and destructive sexual dynamics between two habitually secretive and duplicitous characters and interpreted by half a dozen artists each with their own ideas about the event — simply got away from them.
Few of us did. Fans of the books lambasted the scene as yet another horrendous, story-destroying decision by Benioff and his creative partner Dan Weiss, two people frequent treated as singularly unsuited to the task of adaptation. Admirers of Jaime bemoaned the damage done to him by the event at least as much as his sister, the victim. Critics saw the scene as a romanticization of rape, using the show’s long and contentious history with female nudity, sex, and sexual assault to support the argument. And while the wider world focused in the latter of these three critiques, the former two were no less self-assured or severe in their respective corners of the critical firmament.
On one level, the reaction to what happened between the Siblings Lannister in the Great Sept of Baelor is just a standout example of the golden rule of arguing on the Internet: interpret with minimum good faith, attack with maximum rhetorical force. But that rule applies to discussions of everything from politics to fly fishing. In terms of art and art criticism, something else is going on—a phenomenon of which the social-justice framework for criticism is just the most well-publicized, hotly debated embodiment.
The past decade-plus has been a time of dispiriting uncertainty and powerlessness: an era of endless war, economic erosion, class disconnection, and political disillusion. At the same time, our approach to art and entertainment has become all the more unequivocal in its assertions about content and quality. We pore over TV shows for clues about their outcome, which we present with power-point precision. We treat all art like editorial cartoons, interpreting it the way we would a drawing of a fatcat politician holding bulging moneybags in each hand, and accept or reject the story accordingly. We treat the comics and novels that form the basis for our blockbusters as holy writ, we insist that fiction hew inerrantly to the facts that inspired it, and we punish those who stray from the path. We elevate our favorite characters and relationships to the point where the stories they inhabit are mere vehicles to get them to the place we’d like to see them go.
In all four cases—the Theorists, the Activists, the Purists, and the Partisans—we’re treating the inherently subjective fields of art and art criticism as things we can be objectively right about. We’re taking work that’s complex and capable of conveying multiple contradictory meanings and reducing it to a simple either/or, yes/no proposition.
In other words, we’re fucking up.
As Fisk, Vincent D’Onofrio leans into his ogreish physique in a way he probably hasn’t since Private Pyle went Section Eight in Full Metal Jacket. But by introducing him to us via his night out with art-gallery owner Vanessa (played by the sort of preposterously sexy Ayelet Zurer), the show uses his bulk to make him look soft, even awkward. It’s the same endearing alchemy James Gandolfini employed as Tony Soprano, whose size made him simultaneously convincing as a big lug from the suburbs and a terrifying rageaholic.
Which is a side of Fisk we certainly get to see.
Let me see if I have this straight. The heroes of Daredevil so far are two criminal defense attorneys (one of whom has a disability), a corporate whistleblower, a Latina health care worker, and a crusading African-American newspaper reporter who can’t afford medical coverage. The villain is a faceless conglomerate that’s exploiting economic instability to earn lucrative contracts and threatening leaks with criminal prosecution (and worse). Is this Marvel’s Daredevil, or Howard Zinn’s?
I kid, but only slightly. So far, Daredevil is an antidote to years of superhero movies about billionaires and black-ops supersoldiers saving us from ourselves. It’s a street-level show not just in the subgenre sense—“street-level superheroes” steer clear of intergalactic/extradimensional menaces in favor of the villains next door—but because these people look like us, live like us, and (with the exception of the occasional Russian mafia assassin) have the same enemies as us.
Daredevil is the People’s Superhero.
Only two episodes in and it’s already official: Daredevil has the best fight scenes in the history of live-action superheroes. Honestly, it’s not even close, which is both a compliment to the show and an insult to its genre. After all, fights are to superhero stories what singing is to opera: the part where all the characters’ emotional energy takes physical form and, ideally, knocks your socks off. Yet some 15 years into the modern superhero-movie era, we’re still saddled with either weightless CGI-enhanced acrobatics or blurry quick-cut Christopher Nolan Batman bullshit. So when that final five-and-a-half-minute spectacular of a slobberknocker finally ended, all I could think was this: It’s about time.
I reviewed episode two of Daredevil for Decider. God that fight is fantastic.