Monday, June 30, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 2: “You Found Me”

Posted By on Mon, Jun 30, 2014 at 12:01 AM

Real talk: if the episode had ended after the first 5-minute scene between Jason and Eric, I would have considered a triumph. A, um, “rousing” success. Jason Stackhouse sex dreams are always good for the soul, and Jason Stackhouse wrestling with, and then giving himself up to, Eric Northman…yes. This is what we wanted. All is forgiven, “True Blood.”

Except, the episode didn’t end at the 5-minute mark. It went on. And truthfully, that wasn’t all bad news. While the season premiere was a stinker pretty much all around, this episode had several decent sequences that echoed back to the series’ heyday. That's something the showrunners are clearly working toward -- this final season won’t be about taking us new places, it’s about going back to where we started. Unfortunately there was still a lot of messiness and stupidity to go around, so we have a long road ahead of us.

Following Sookie’s pledge of assistance last episode, Andy, Sam, Jason, Alcide, and Sookie headed out of town to follow the weakest of leads -- the corpse Sookie found in the woods last week. They thought maybe they could find some info on the infected vamp pack that attacked Merlotte’s, but all they found in neighboring St. Alice was death and a whole lot of nothing. The town was totally wiped out. As the Derptastic Five searched the house of the girl Sookie found in the woods, most of them reflected on their own imperiled families (Andy, Sam), while Sookie read the dead girl’s diary. It was basically her story, right down to being seduced by an older vampire and losing herself in his shadow. (I wondered if some of those lines weren’t actually lifted from Charlaine Harris’s books.) This prompted a decent discussion between Sookie and Alcide in which Alcide told her to stop being so hard on herself for being a human, and also, none of this is her fault. Alcide Herveaux: bringer of beef, speaker of truth. And then while Alcide was taking a shower (not nearly enough of that, show), That Idiot Sookie left the house after dark, with a massive pack of diseased vamps terrorizing her town, to go talk to Vampire Bill about whether or not he can still “feel” her. Someone please go on Amazon and gift Sookie a copy of “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

My issue with the field trip to St. Alice was that, again, there was NO BETTER USE of time for these people?! The mayor? The chief of police?! Their town is under siege, two of them have significant others that are missing and in grave danger, and they decide to spend precious daylight tracking down some random dead woman’s family two towns over? I also found it fascinating that this is apparently happening in 2011. Has anyone kept track of the timeline for this show? Because I believe Sookie was gone for several years in fairy land (end of Season 4? 5?), we had a time jump at the end of last season, and now we’re somehow three years behind the real world. That seems off to me. Also also, I am unclear on how the vamp horde wiped out St. Alice, since they couldn’t enter the homes of the townspeople without being invited, and none of the houses appeared to be burned or anything. It just doesn’t make sense. Jason Stackhouse, why were your pizza forensics not applied to this mystery?

While the main cast was away, the townspeople of Bon Temps took up their idiot banner by deciding that the only way to protect themselves was to ransack the police station and steal all the weapons. A few notable things: Warmongering Failed Mayor Guy continues to be the worst, not only as a character, but as an actor. Andy’s half-fairy daughter tried to stop the militia but got locked up after her powers were exposed. Kenya was the voice of reason until Irritated Woman of Color (none of them have names that I know of!) essentially Lady Macbeth’d her. Sam’s shifter nature was made public to surprisingly little fanfare. And they found more frozen corpses in the Merlotte’s freezer, presumably left there by the vamps to come back for later. The only good part of this plotline was Maxine Foytenberry, which is not at all a surprise.

Meanwhile, Jessica was still locked in Andy’s attic (attic? That is sunblocked better than a basement?!) but knew that Adilyn was in danger due to the blood swap last episode. She could do nothing to save her. The weird part of this scenario is that it appears that Jessica is not healing properly -- the bite marks on her arm were still visible. Is this because Jessica is no longer feeding? Or because she’s not sleeping regularly? I would also note that Bill Compton seems utterly uninvested in the whereabouts of his vampire daughter.

On to the good stuff:

Last week I questioned the point of making Lettie Mae a series regular since Tara was -- seemingly -- killed off so callously. I wondered if Tara wasn’t really dead. Then I wondered if Lettie Mae had actually killed her own daughter, and was going on a killing spree as part of some kooky religious head trip, as Lettie Mae is wont to do. Her plot became clear this episode: she is addicted to V, and uses it to “communicate” with Tara. It’s a nice callback to the first season and led to a few awesome, disturbing sequences, including Lettie Mae deliberately burning herself so that she could trick Etta into giving her blood. We did then get a vision in which Lettie Mae spoke to a crucified, snake-draped Tara (guess she really is dead!) in which Tara promised to tell Lettie the truth, but then started speaking in tongues, leading to Lettie Mae losing her shit. That whole situation just got a lot more interesting to me.

At Fangtasia, the vamps infected with Hep V continued to be awful. But Arlene realized that one of them, Betty, used to teach her kids. She and Holly worked to gain Betty’s trust, and Betty did indeed try to save them through a complicated plan -- the diseased vamps have to feed regularly and can’t sleep for long periods, or they die. And everything was going great until Betty stopped to feed a bit on Arlene, went into a blood lust, and then totally disintegrated into diseased nastiness right between Arlene’s legs. So that’s another trip to the Free Clinic for Arlene.

Finally, Pam’s search for Eric ended when that handy hand-drawn map from last episode (oh, show…) pointed her to a region in France, where she did indeed find Eric. But bad news: it looks like he’s got the Hep V. This all got very “Normal Heart” to me.

Monday, June 23, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 1: “Jesus Gonna Be Here”

Posted By on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 12:11 AM

If the final-season premiere was any indication, “True Blood” is going to be limping to the finish line. That makes me sad. What was once one of the greatest guilty pleasures on television has become such an echo of itself that it can’t even do exploitative trash right. I found Sunday night’s episode largely boring, poorly written, poorly acted, and overly stupid. And I need you to trust and believe me when I say that my expectations for this show are fairly low. Where is the gritty fun? Where is the whiskey-soaked gallows humor? Even the T&A seemed forced and half-assed. (Technically we saw Jason’s entire ass, but that is kind of the point of Jason Stackhouse.)

The episode picked up right where Season 6 left off, with a pack of Hep V-infected vampires rampaging through Merlotte’s (now Bellefleur’s), the site of the human-vamp mixer hosted by Mayor Sam Merlotte (and let’s all take a moment and try to swallow that plot development; it’s best with lots of butter). To the show’s credit, several different characters pointed out what a stupid goddamned idea it was to put most of the town’s human and non-infected vampire population together -- AT NIGHT! -- in one easily accessible public space. They basically turned Bon Temps into Lunchables for the zombie vamps. So incredibly stupid.

So stupid that, of course, Vampire Bill had to be the “brains” behind it, along with the aforementioned Sam. And during the ensuing chaos they were even more useless than ever, as several D-list cast members got abducted, including Arlene, Holly, Kevin the police officer, and Sam’s pregnant girlfriend from the human-supernatural league whose plotline went absolutely nowhere. (I had honestly forgotten that she’d even existed.) A bunch of other people were bitten and attacked, and most notably one of the infected vampires apparently killed Tara. I say “apparently” because it happened offscreen.

Let’s unpack that for a moment. Tara has been a major cast member of this show since Season 1, Episode 1. And her death was offscreen within the first 5-10 minutes of the episode. I don’t even think Rutina Wesley had a line. That whole situation seemed very weird to me, so much so that I was partially convinced that Tara was not, in fact, dead. (A theory that was bolstered by the odd camera work in the scene with her mother, the pastor, and Willa; I kept waiting for a “Sixth Sense”-type reveal that Tara’s a ghost or some shit now.) I can’t say as I’m upset that Tara is dead. She outlived her interesting plotlines a few seasons back, and the show had a fantastic opportunity to kill her off at the end of S3, but didn’t. My issue is that the whole think felt so perfunctory, like an afterthought. Why was she kept around for so long if they decide to throw her away like THAT?

The rest of the episode featured various characters reacting to the infected-vamp assault and the situation in general, which frequently boiled down to everyone in town hating that stupid whore Sookie (their words, not mine; OK, “stupid” is my word, too). The show really lost me here. Sookie is indeed an idiot and the maker of so many terrible choices. But how exactly are marauding, batshit-crazy vampires the fault of one telepathic waitress? Because she keeps boning vampires? That is what caused this plague? Come on, show. Vampires existed in Bon Temps before Bill ever showed up -- we know this, because the series practically started with the vampire sex tape featuring great television slut Maudette Pickens. (RIP, Maudette; you were an inspiration to us all.) There was the nest that got burned up fairly early in S1. Etc. The point is, vampires existed in Bon Temps regardless of Sookie, and the fact that everyone in town somehow blames her for this horrible Hep V situation…it makes no sense. And yes, I know that I’m discussing logic on a show in which people shapeshift into dogs and Bill Compton was regarded as a god for like 12 episodes. But this is really shitty writing.

Further shitty writing: some whistle signal calls off all the rampaging, infected vamps, and Bill and Sam do not try to figure out what that was. The implication is that someone is controlling these guys, and Bill at least seemed to recognize this. But instead he teamed up with Andy Bellefleur to just randomly drive around looking for the abducted humans. OK.

Speaking of which, nobody is using the vast superhuman resources that have been catalogued on this show to locate either the abducted humans or the infected vampires? Really? We’ve seen witches perform location spells. Sam and Alcide have tracked single characters for miles. God knows what the fairy powers do any more. But everyone in town is just sitting around with their thumbs up their asses? Except for the roving band of assholes equipped with two guns and a few stakes that somehow avoided getting picked off while skulking around after vampires in the middle of the night? (Including going to Jason’s house, which made no sense to me.)

For that reason, the closing scene in the church infuriated me. Let’s be honest: if this was a real-world situation, and you knew that there was a pack of feral predators trying to kill you, but that they were totally helpless during the day, would you spend your precious daylight hours sitting in church? Or would you either try to track down and destroy their nests, or fortify your own home? Or do SOMETHING? ANYTHING? Holly’s teenaged boys were sitting in that church. Their mother was missing and they were just sitting there. I don’t get it.

All the subpar writing made for some pretty shitty acting. Normally I think Anna Paquin does a decent job emoting on this show, especially given some of the insane plotlines the producers throw at her (Fairy Land, ‘nuff said). But she was pretty clearly phoning most of it in tonight, and her scenes opposite Alcide had all the spark of a pile of wet dishrags. We got some nudity. That’s always appreciated. But even their brief sex scene felt almost obligatory.

On the shitty acting tip, we were getting some daytime-soap realness from Nathan Parsons, the replacement actor for James, Jessica’s vamp boyfriend. Parsons is nice to look at, no doubt. But his first few scenes were almost comically bad. He was fine in his scene opposite Lafayette, in which they kinda-sorta hinted at a budding gay relationship between the two. But I have a feeling James is better seen, preferably in very little clothing, and not heard.

The James/Lafayette scene was one of several moments where I realized how far off this show has gotten in terms of its cast and characters. You guys, there are so many characters on this show that I do not give one single shit about. James is one, aside from his aesthetic contributions. Willa was a plot device last season, and I’m really not sure what purpose she serves now that Eric is gone (but she’s getting her own scenes now, so she’s either dying very soon or becoming a major character). Violet continues to be one of the worst, most irritating characters on this or any show, but at least she gives us an excuse for Jason sex scenes. (Not that the show ever needed an excuse for Jason sex scenes.) I love Lettie Mae, but the fact that Tara’s dead and she’s been promoted to a series regular leaves me totally perplexed.

The one new-ish, solely-show character that interests me at all is Adilyn, Andy’s half-fairy daughter. The relationship between her and Jessica is interesting, but that’s mostly because Jessica continues to be amazing at just about everything, even just standing there, yelling at a diseased vampire from across a yard for seemingly an entire episode. (Seriously show, THAT was your idea of compelling, edgy drama?!)

In the credit where it is due department, virtually all the storylines this episode revolved directly around the Bon Temps vampire crisis, instead of far-flung Who Cares? plotlines from the past few seasons. The new showrunner apparently has made this is one of the season’s key missions: to keep things very tight in and around Bon Temps. That’s good. The one exception is Pam’s world tour tracking down Eric, which has the potential to be fun, but which repeatedly came off as Amateur Hour last night. Kristin Bauer was trying it, but not even she could sell that corny dialogue that was supposed to read as badass. And the fact that some dude in Morocco has a hand-drawn map to where Eric is supposedly hiding… Again. Come on, show. This is just stupid.

The end of the episode SHOULD have been the kidnapped survivors from the vampire raid freaking out in the basement of Fangtasia, watching poor Kevin get his throat ripped out by a diseased vamp. But instead the episode ended in the limpest way possible, with Sookie delivering a monologue to the church congregation about how nobody in town knows vampires better than her (debatable), and she really wants to help. That was your cliffhanger? Sookie Stackhouse offering her vampire-wrangling services? THAT is supposed to get me to turn in next week? You saw the hairstyle she allowed Bill to wear in seasons 1 and 2!

I miss Debbie Pelt.

Monday, June 16, 2014

“Game of Thrones” Season 4, Episode 10: The Children

Posted By on Mon, Jun 16, 2014 at 12:19 AM

Color me conflicted. There were some totally kickass parts of tonight’s S4 finale, but they were sandwiched between a bizarrely timed opener and yet another botched ending. The overarching lesson I’ve learned from this season is that even when the showrunners have all the best material with which to work, they still have a serious problem ending an episode.

The episode began where last week’s left off, with that idiot Jon Snow stomping out north of the Wall to meet with Mance Rayder. I have just about maxed out on Jon at this point, I find the Wall stuff one of the least interesting elements of the books, and I was so disappointed by the conclusion to the Battle of the Wall episode that this was literally the last thing I wanted to see this episode. I would have preferred the “Moon Boy and Patchface Variety Hour” to this. Jon literally just walked into a Wildling camp and rapped with Mance. (I still dislike that casting, BTW.) They drank to Ygritte in what can only be referred to as The Great Wasting of Time. Mance informed Jon that after the assault on the Wall, he sent 400 Wildings to scale the Wall miles down the way, and that his army has no interest in conquering -- just survival. And to do that they need to be south of the Wall before winter really comes. Jon made a terrible play to kill Mance, but was interrupted by an army attacking the Wildlings out of nowhere. And THIS is what should have happened at the end of last episode. THIS should have been the end of Episode 9. Because Stannis Baratheon swooping in to stomp Wildling ass is precisely how that battle ended in the books, and it was freaking great. I cannot figure out why the showrunners decided to hold off on this until the beginning of this episode. Wouldn’t this all have been MUCH more satisfying last week? The only other element of note in this plotline is that Jon gave Ygritte a special funeral-pyre sendoff, and seriously, enough. No offense to Ygritte or the actress or anything, but the amount of time devoted to her this episode, at the expense of other critical plotlines, was eyeroll inducing.

In King’s Landing, the maesters -- Qyburn and Pycelle -- worried over the poisoned, dying Mountain. Pycelle objected to Qyburn’s barely contained glee at experimenting on Ser Gregor, and Cersei flicked him away, giving Qyburn the green light to do what he liked to the great slab of meat laying on the table, so long as it didn’t make him weaker. That…won’t be a problem, Cersei.

That led to a a FASCINATING scene between Cersei and Tywin in which Cersei explicitly told Tywin that his son and daughter have not only been fucking, but that his grandchildren are all the product of incest. The fact that Tywin didn’t know this was the case was shocking to me -- I always assumed he knew, but that he refused to to acknowledge it because of the shame it brought to his house. That was followed up by a scene between Cersei and Jaime in which she told Jaime that she was ready for the Medieval nuclear option regarding their relationship -- to go public, and eff the haters -- and pledged her love to him. And then they had sex on top of the table in the King’s Guard meeting room, because they’re classy like that.

In Meereen, Daenerys was given more proof that freeing the slaves was maybe not as easy as taking off their collars. An elderly former slave begged her to allow him to be sold back into slavery; Dany tried to find a middle ground by saying that he could sell himself back for only a year at a time -- a situation that Barristan Selmy assured her would be quickly exploited by the slavers. And then the goatherd from one of the first few episodes of this season (I think) came back with the charred corpse of his 3-year-old daughter, burnt to a crisp by Drogon, the biggest of Dany’s dragons. This is weird to me, because wouldn’t Drogon eat the child, not merely burn it and leave the body sitting there? Anyway, horrified Mother of Dragons Dany put her other two kids in Time Out by trapping them in a makeshift dragon pit under the city, and then she shackled them there herself. BECAUSE SYMBOLISM. No frozen-yogurt bar after baseball practice for Rhaegal and Viserion. But Drogon remains loose…

To me, the highlight of the episode came from the Bran plotline. I can’t remember the last time I said that. Team Bran continued its hike through the frozen tundra until it happened upon the fiery-hued weirwood in Bran’s dreams. But, problem: just as they were about to approach the cave at the foot of the tree, skeletal hands popped out of the ice, and terrifying zombie skeletons attacked. A pitched battle saw Hodor again become the great punching bag of Westeros, Meera Reed kicking ass, and poor Jojen getting stabbed repeatedly. Things looked bleak until one of the Children of the Forest -- think child-sized, wingless fairies -- popped up and started shooting fireballs. I don’t recall Jojen dying in the books, so that was quite a surprise (and there goes the theory I read about Jojen actually being possessed by his warging father, Howland Reed). Safe inside the cave, which was thick with roots from the towering weirwood above, Bran came face to face with the Three-Eyed Crow, who told them he had been watching them all their lives, “with one eye and 1,000” (a significant line to book readers). He had good news and bad news for Bran: “You’ll never walk again, but you will fly.” Bran’s storyline just got super cool, you guys.

In another big surprise, Brienne and Podrick Payne walked right up to Arya Stark and The Hound. THIS NEVER HAPPENED. I had been wondering what the show was doing, bringing Brienne so close to Arya and Sansa so soon. In the books she goes wandering WAY off course, getting involved in some fairly tangential, but possibly quite significant, story beats of her own. Arya and Brienne had a really lovely scene before things predictably devoled into Brienne vs. The Hound -- a battle that, again, never happened in the books. This was an epic beatdown that involved nut punches, an ear being bitten off, and at least two sprawls down rock-covered slopes. In the end, Brienne emerged victorious and The Hound was EFFED. I mean, seriously wounded -- bones protruding from his leg and everything. Arya left him literally begging for death after she walked off with his coin purse. The Hound’s fate is much more ambiguous in the books.

Finally, in the Tyrion plot, Jaime worked with Varys to spirit his little brother out of King’s Landing in order to save him from being executed. Some critical discussions between Jaime and Tyrion, and later Tyrion and Varys, were left totally out of the episode, specifically regarding Tyrion’s first wife, Tysha. That’s going to be problematic going forward, as the information contained in that discussion has a profound impact on Tyrion. Tyrion decided to make a last-minute stop by the Tower of the Hand and found Shae in his father’s bed. Awkward. There was a struggle -- this scene was weirdly way more upsetting in the show than it was in the book -- and Tyrion strangled Shae to death with a gold necklace. I will say that the show did a much better job establishing Shae’s motivations for betrayal than the books ever did. Tyrion then grabbed a crossbow (Joffrey’s?), found Tywin in the crapper. After a conversation about whores and survival, Tyrion shot his father in the gut. And then he shot him again for good measure, meaning TywinLannister is officially dead, too. Happy Father’s Day, Tywin! And then Tyrion got packed away in a crate by Varys and put on a ship. So please check your FedEx packages very carefully over the next few days.

Also going on a journey: Arya Stark, who booked herself a passage to Braavos thanks to that coin given to her by the Faceless Man back in, like, Season 2. And that was the end of the season.

Which was nice, I guess. A lovely shot. And everyone loves Arya, especially now that she’s finally on her own, in the must fucked-up “Mary Tyler Moore” scenario ever. But the third book had an absolutely jaw-dropping epilogue that I think most readers who also watch the show expected to close out the episode…and it didn’t. They just left it for, presumably, Season 5. And I just don’t get that. It is in the Top 5 WTF moments in “A Song of Ice and Fire” history, and tonight would have been the IDEAL place to drop it. So I’m really not at all clear on what the showrunners were thinking there.

Monday, June 9, 2014

“Game of Thrones” Season 4, Episode 9: The Watchers on the Wall

Posted By on Mon, Jun 9, 2014 at 11:15 PM

First, apologies for the late blog. I’ve just relocated to a new city and only just got internet access tonight. Next week’s finale blog will be up early the morning after the episode airs. I am sure there will be lots to discuss…

For the penultimate episode of the season the showrunners chose to focus on a single story arc: the Wildings’ assault on Castle Black and The Wall. This has been done before, notably Season 2’s Battle of the Blackwater. The difference here is that the assault on King’s Landing was gripping in part because it involved many of our favorite characters. And the Battle for the Wall really does not. Sure, everyone loves Jon Snow. I’m sure Sam has his fans (more on that in a bit). Ygritte probably has a disturbing number of admirers. But beyond that, it’s a whole slew of people we don’t know and a bunch of people we don’t care about. I mean, we don’t even love to hate them. And the ones we DO despise were treated so oddly (what was up with the quasi-satire bits with Janos Slynt?!). But beyond that, everything the show got right -- including some good action sequences -- was rendered almost moot by the colossal dropped ball that was the ending.

In terms of the plot, it was pretty simple: after talking about it since literally Season 2, the Wildlings finally got around to attacking The Wall and Castle Black in an effort to wipe out the Night’s Watch. The attack came from two sides. North of the Wall a massive army led by Mance Rayder -- who has not been seen once this season -- swarmed en masse, notably deploying both giants and mastodons in an attempt to breach the tunnels that go through the Wall. South of the Wall, the smaller band of Wildlings that crossed over in Season 3, including Ygritte, Jormund Giantsbane, and the Thenns, attacked Castle Black in the hopes of throwing the gates wide open for their comrades beyond the Wall. Fighting ensued, there were countless casualties on both sides, but ultimately the Watch came out on top and…I’m honestly not really sure why. There were several key battles, one of which was notably resolved off screen, but the tide shifted awfully quickly and without much explanation from where I was sitting.

At this point there have been so many changes from the book that it’s hard to know where to start comparing the two narratives. But there are a few key things left out that I think are worth mentioning. First, the show has done a poor job explaining why the Wildlings are attacking the Wall. This was brought up back when we were first getting to know those characters, but it’s not solely that they hate the Night’s Watch and they want to infiltrate Westeros proper. They are scared as hell of The Others, and that plot point hasn’t been mentioned in quite some time. Second, in the books there was a reason that the Wildling army was gathered so far north of the Wall. It was looking for something, which it found: the Horn of Winter, an ancient magical artifact that allegedly could bring down the entire Wall if blown. (The Wall was built with powerful magic; it’s not just Planetos’s largest, laziest ice sculpture.)

That horn, which the Night’s Watch knew the Wildlings had, gave this battle a whole different intensity in the books. Because at any time the Watch knew the Wildlings could blow it, and it could possibly bring the Wall crashing down around them. The show still gave the battle some high stakes, as there was a period where the Watch seemed hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned -- the incompetence of the Watchers was on full display here. But then it all turned rather quickly in a way that felt totally unbelievable to me.

The key victories in this version seemed to be the death of the lead Thenn at the hands of Jon Snow (or rather the smithing hammer wilded by Jon), the death of Ygritte at the hand of that poor kid adopted by the Watch after his village was sacked, the defeat and imprisonment of Jormund, and most importantly, the defeat of a giant in the tunnel by Grenn and a handful of other Watchmen.

So, first, that giant battle? All off screen. So disappointing. I understand that the show has limited resources, and what we saw of the giants and mastodons was impressive. But the safeguarding of the tunnels was such a crucial part of that battle, and the sacrifice of Grenn and the other Watchmen was so noble, that it’s really a crime that we didn’t get to see it actually happen. (Although the build up to it, with Grenn rallying them with the oath, was quite moving.) Beyond that, it was a totally different character who did this in the books, not Grenn, and I’m pissed on a personal level that hot, burly Grenn has been axed (possibly literally -- we have no idea how the giant killed him) just so viewers have someone they know/care about killed. (See also: Pip, who got an arrow in the neck.)

I realize I’m bitching pretty heavily, which isn’t entirely fair. The episode did quite a few things right. There were some impressive sequences. I loved the giant shooting the arrow, which in turn transformed its target into a projectile. I loved the anchor/pendulum thing. I liked the choreography in Jon’s fight with the Thenn. But there were some very odd decisions this episode that took a plotline most viewers were already bored with (at least via my informal polling) and made this even much less satisfying than it should have been.

Speaking of which, let’s pull back and discuss the non-fighting sections. At this point I’m going to call it: I don’t care for the show’s depiction of Sam. Or at least, I don’t care at all for his interactions with Gillie. I can’t decide if it’s the actors or the writing or the chemistry or what, but the two of them are beyond boring together. And truly, that spread to most of Sam’s other interactions this episode. My fear is that one of the points of this episode was to prepare the viewers for more Sam on his own, not as a Jon sidekick. In the books this is around the time where he goes on a very different path. I am unconvinced that John Bradley is compelling enough to act as the anchor of Sam’s arc. I didn’t have the problems with Sam in the books that I do with Sam on the show. Specifically, that I find him boring and at times even unlikable.

As for Jon Snow, that brings us back to the ending of the battle/episode, which was barely an ending at all. The Night’s Watch defeated the Wildings, at least for now. Hooray! But there is a dearth of leadership (did Alliser Thorne die? I saw him badly wounded, but did he die?), and so Jon takes it upon himself to go beyond the Wall without his sword OR his direwolf so that he can treat with Mance Rayder alone. That…makes absolutely no sense. None whatsoever. First, Mance knows that Jon cannot be trusted at this point. He betrayed him once. He won’t listen to him again. Second, Mance still has the advantage here. Yes, the Watch turned back the Wilding army once, but the Watch just took heavy casualties and just ONE giant nearly got through the tunnels. Imagine what would happen if Mance sent a whole squad of them. Especially after he killed Jon Snow, who is apparently looking to saunter into Mance’s camp unarmed. It just doesn’t make any sense.

And that’s because it never happened in the books. That ending? Jon going out alone into the sun and snowfields? Nope. Not at the end of Book 3, at least. Something major -- a critical plotpoint in the books -- instead intervenes in the Battle for the Wall and turns the tide. There’s no question why the Wildlings lost that showdown in the books, and Jon is suddenly put into a very different place. I think that situation HAS to happen in the show, and I guess they’re either going to do it next episode or next season. (I hope it’s not next episode; there are SO MANY story arcs they have to work on, and after this episode, I am officially over the Night’s Watch/Wildlings shit for a while.) So I’m not going to go into what that was now. But suffice it to say, it makes a hell of lot more sense narratively than just, “Oh, hey, suddenly we are winning! Jon, go talk to ManceRayder, since Ciaran Hinds will probably be on contract next season.”

Next: So very many things need to happen in the season finale that I wonder how there can possibly be time for them all. Answer: there isn’t, and several major plot points are going to languish until Season 5. But there will almost certainly be several moments that will leave people shitting their pants. In one case literally.

Monday, June 2, 2014

“Game of Thrones” Season 4, Episode 8: The Mountain and the Viper

Posted By on Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 9:21 AM

Another episode, another “Oh, shit!” ending. Expect at least one more of those before we wrap up Season 4, which adapts the second half of Book 3 -- easily the best of the series (so far) -- and ventures a bit into Book 4 and beyond. In addition to that brutal, jaw-dropping ending, we also got some interesting progression on a few other stories, including one that I would argue advances past what we’ve seen in the books. At the very least it changed the trajectory of a plotline significantly.

I’ll break down the story arcs, going from least interesting to most. Spoilers on!

In the North, the Wildlings south of the Wall attacked the messy whores of Mole’s Town and their johns. It was your standard village slaughter, with at least two survivors: slack-jawed Gilly and her baby, who were spared by Ygritte. From a narrative perspective, the attack was a gambit by the Wildlings to flush the Night’s Watch out of Castle Black. But really it was to establish that even though Ygritte is pissed off and ready to take out some crows, she still has a conscience. It also served to make Sam cry over Gilly possibly being dead, but I’m sorry: I do not care about Sam and Gilly. I like Sam fine, I’m ambivalent about Gilly, but their shared scenes have all the intensity of two damp pieces of wool lazily slapping together. There’s absolutely no chemistry there. Gilly doesn’t even seem to particularly like Sam.

Also in the North, Ramsay Snow sent his lapdog Reek to pose as Reek’s former self, Theon Greyjoy, so that “Theon” could treat with the Iron Islanders who have taken over Moat Cailin. You have to hand it to Ramsay -- that is an epic mindgame. The Krakens were not doing so well. They were all sick and wounded and dying, and barely holding on to the fortress, which is a hugely important strategic position when accessing the North (I don’t know if the show has made that sufficiently clear). Reek did his best role playing to persuade the pirates to surrender to Ramsay, assuring that they would be well taken care of and allowed to return home. The initial commander of the pirates politely turned down Reek/Theon’s offer by spitting blood in his face, Reek’s facade began to crack, but he was saved by another crack -- the one that appeared in the head pirate’s skull when his underling put an axe in it, and accepted the conditions of surrender. This of course led to his immediate disfigurement and skinning by certified crazy Ramsay (the fact that the pirate dude’s body meat was still steaming in the breeze was a…special touch), and presumably all the Ironborne being massacred. In return for securing Moat Cailin for his father, Roose Bolton, Ramsay was legitimized, meaning he is no longer The Bastard of Bolton. He’s just another sadistic, torture-loving nutbag, and the father and son are determined to take over the North. But first, Ramsay wants a bath! In all seriousness, this was the point in the books where I realized that the Boltons, who had been fairly minor characters since the start, were emerging as legitimate threats that would have to be dealt with by the time the series ended. You can’t just ignore them anymore, since they more or less run the North. And they still have at least one more trick, which I suspect will have to wait until next season.

On the road to The Vale, The Hound and Arya talked shop about the most satisfying ways to kill a person. As you do. They seemed to be getting along well enough, until they reached the Gates of the Moon and discovered that Lysa Arryn -- Arya’s aunt, whom The Hound planned to sell her back to -- was dead, probably dashed to pieces on rocks a few miles down the road. This prompted a spectacular facepalm from The Hound, and an uncontrollable giggling fit from Arya, because seriously, at this point it’s just ludicrous. Consider that she has been on the run since the end of Season 1, being bounced from one “protector” to the next in the hopes of being reunited with one family member or another. And every single one of them has ended up dead RIGHT before she arrives. It’s like Charlie Brown and that football, except the footballs are the heads of her family. Of course, Arya is unaware that her sister is in the Eyrie right now. And I don’t think she even got close to the Eyrie in the books. The question is now, to whom will the Hound try to sell her? Is there a fourth cousin twice removed hanging around?

In Meereen we had two plotlines. First, Grey Worm ogled Missendei while they were both bathing, leading to a confused Missendei asking the Mother of Dragons for her advice about boys, and later, a legitimately sweet scene in which Grey Worm essentially told Missendei that he was glad that he suffered all the torment of his childhood because ultimately it led him to her. I like both of those actors, and I like those characters, but I’m confused why the show is inventing this storyline -- those characters are very, very tertiary in the books -- when it has so many other character arcs and so little time to juggle them. I mean, how long has it been since we’ve seen Bran? At least two or three episodes? Anyway, Daenerys has boy troubles of her own, as Ser Jorah got sold down the river by Tywin’s messenger boy (literally, it was a boy who brought the message), who delivered to Ser Barristan Selmy the royal pardon Jorah was to receive from Robert Baratheon for spying on Dany and Viserys all the way back in Season 1. Jorah, to his credit, took being exposed like a man, and tried to explain to Daenerys that he believes in her, loves her, but Dany was in Stone Cold Mother role, and kicked his ass to the curb. That was a great scene, and very well acted by Emilia Clarke in particular. But it did take out some important Jorah background. In the books he explains specifically why he betrayed her -- he was desperate to get back to Westeros, to regain his honor, which he threw away for the love of a woman who was using him. I also can’t remember if the show went into the prophecy from the House of the Undying, in which Dany was told she would be betrayed three times, once for blood, once for gold, and once for love. Jorah sure seems to satisfy one of those, although you could argue which.

For me, the most interesting developments of the night came in The Vale, where the Sansa/Littlefinger plot advanced in a very different, interesting fashion. In the books there is a bard upon whom Littlefinger blames the death of Lysa Arryn. The bard had his tongue cut out and so could not defend himself when Petyr claimed that he pushed Lysa through the Moon Door. There was no bard here, so the show instead streamlined things so that it was Petyr being tried for the crime by the Vale lords, and his “niece Alayne” as the witness. I was stunned when Sansa delivered her monologue in which she told the lords of the Vale exactly who she was, how she got there, and that Littlefinger was the only person who had been a friend to her -- in the books, Sansa’s actual identity is still very much a secret to pretty much everyone in the Vale. Second, she made a very calculated move to speak truthfully up until the bit about Lysa’s death, at which she baldly lied, saying that Lysa killed herself out of fear of losing Petyr’s affections. That was another stunner for me. Finally, Petyr sought out Sansa in her room to ask why she lied for him, and Sansa, blithely working away at needlepoint, informed him it was because she didn’t know what would happen to her if they killed Littlefinger, but she does know what Littlefinger wants -- her, more or less. And in what I think of as a fairly major development that we have yet to see in the books, Sansa seems totally cool with leading Petyr on. For the remainder of their scenes she was giving Littlefinger major bedroom eyes and dressing and acting very much like a grown woman. There has been a lot of speculation about how Sansa would continue to develop over the course of the book series. I found this episode very telling. She’s going to take everything she’s ever learned from Cersei, Joffrey, Margaery, Olenna, and Littlefinger, and she’s going to become as ruthless a manipulator as she needs to be. I can see why some people might find it misogynistic. Personally, I found it empowering. You guys, Sansa is going to destroy Petyr. And it’s going to be amazing.

But what everyone will be talking about this morning is the conclusion of the trial of Tyrion Lannister. First, we got another great jail-cell scene between Tyrion and Jaime, including what I believe is an entirely new monologue for the show about Tyrion’s dimwitted cousin and his penchant for crushing beetles. Then it was the main event: trial by combat, with The Mountain acting as Cersei’s champion and Oberyn Martell as Tyrion’s. But truly, the Red Viper was acting in his own interests -- he wanted The Mountain to admit to raping and murdering his sister years ago, and murdering her babies, all at Tywin Lannister’s command. This was an interesting fight scene. The Viper was flipping and twirling all over the place while brandishing a spear, while The Mountain just lunged around in full armor, swinging a sword. The Viper had The Mountain on the ground, speared in the guts, and taunting him, and truly for a moment I thought the show was going to change things up, and that the Viper would win -- a huge, huge departure from the books. But then The Mountain pulled him down to the ground, got on top of him, admitted publicly that he did all the horrible things to Oberyn’s sister, and then CRUSHED HIS HEAD IN HIS BARE HANDS. It was just fucking brutal. Way worse than I imagined while reading it, because of the screaming (Oberyn’s and his paramour’s), and, you know, the sounds and sights of a skull being ripped apart.

So thus ends Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne. It’s a shame; I was kind of hoping the show would find some way of keeping him around, because Pedro Pascal really did a great job bringing the character to life. I liked Oberyn in the books, I loved him on the show. But his death is really a pretty spectacular moment, and I’m glad it wasn’t unwritten, so to speak. It also sets into motion a few other major plot points. Consider: Tyrion is now set to be executed for Joffrey’s murder (in which Tyrion had absolutely no part); Dorne just lost another member of its royal family in King’s Landing; anyone at that trial just saw The Mountain confess to murdering Elia and her royal babies; and before Oberyn died, he did a fair number on The Mountain. So this event produces many, many ripples.

But we won’t see any of them next episode, which apparently focuses solely on the Wildlings’ assault on The Wall. I’m excited to see that on screen, but concerned because that leaves only one episode to focus on this season’s myriad other plots, in which there are many, many big moments to come.

The Peking Acrobats @ Kodak Hall at Eastman Theater

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Holly Gage  PMC Workshop @ Studio 34 Creative Arts Center

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