TV Review

Sunday, August 10, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 8: “Almost Home”

Posted By on Sun, Aug 10, 2014 at 11:13 PM

In this episode, Bill Compton cemented his place as the biggest idiot on this show. And that’s really saying something, given the terrible decision making all around, especially from the Stackhouse clan. But Vampire Bill is really the absolute dumbest.

Before we get into that, I realized about halfway through this episode that something wonderful has happened this season: I actually care about these characters again. I truly had had just about enough of all of them at the beginning of this season, with the exception of Jessica, who is never not great. But the emotional scene between Lettie Mae and Tara, the quiet conversation between Bill and Sookie, and the legitimate peril for Jason, Jessica, and Adilyn (I remain ambivalent about Wade) made me realize that I actually am invested in what happens to these characters.

And that really is where Season 7 is a success to me -- so far, at least. The mega plotline about the Hep V vamps and now the Yakuza and the Sarah Newlin cure -- it’s fine. Not exactly riveting, except for seeing how the main cast members infected by the disease will get out of their impending doom. But there has been some strong character work this season that reminded me why I liked this show to begin with. (Well, the characters and the campiness, and also all of the sex and nudity. Which has been in short supply lately, so please fix that, show.)

All that said, these people are still incredibly stupid.

First, we wrapped up the Lettie Mae/Lafayette/Tara/Reverend plot by having Lettie and Lala trip on James’s vampire blood while at Tara and Lettie’s old house. And this time, the Reverend joined them and realized that maybe his wife isn’t totally nuts. (Kidding; she is absolutely cuckoo.) They all had a shared vision of Tara, who kind of brought them back in time to her 5th birthday party, which was interrupted by Tara’s drunk, rageaholic asshole dad. The V trippers watched as Tara’s father assaulted Lettie Mae in the past, and child Tara took the man’s gun and aimed at him -- but did not pull the trigger. She then buried the gun in the backyard, which is what V apparition Tara was trying to show them in the present. This was a very roundabout way for Ghost Tara to essentially give Lettie Mae a Care Bear Stare: Lettiehas to forgive herself for letting Tara down, because Tara let HER down by not killing that bastard when she had the chance. (That is some deeply messed-up logic, by the way. “It’s OK that you became an abusive drunk, because I should have shot Dad years earlier.” GRIM.) But Ghost Tara gave Lettie the gift of closure, and that was really lovely. And I’m glad Tara got a proper send-off on this show, considering how integral she was to the earlier seasons. But that seemed like an awfully convoluted way to get to that resolution when your nephew is a guy who can channel spirits. (Also, the best part of this to me was the family currently living in the home, horrified as these vampire-blood junkies just dug up their yard and stomped through their house. Can you imagine?)

The Teen Sex Idiots in Peril plotline was resolved after Violet sent pictures of Adilyn, Wade, and Jessica in bondage (not, like, sexy bondage; actual bondage) to Jason, prompting him to head to Violet’s mansion. Coming along for the ride was Hoyt’s random blonde girlfriend, Bridget, who had a big blow-up with Hoyt over children, which amounted to basically nothing. Violet quickly dispatched Jason and was about to begin some truly twisted Spanish Inquisition-style torture before Hoyt barged in and shot her dead. From where did Hoyt come? Did he tail Jason the whole way? Violet is hundreds of years old and was taken unaware by a dude with a gun? One shot was all it took? Weak sauce, show. There was some nice symmetry in that Hoyt killed the woman who killed his mother, even if he’s completely unaware of that fact. But, like so many of this show’s Big Bads, it was quite anticlimactic. Also, thanks for waiting until her last two episodes to make me like Violet. A raving madwoman with massive insecurities and a sweet sex dungeon is a character I should not have to force myself to like. She could have been the second coming of my beloved elegant wereblossom, Debbie Pelt.

The out-of-left-field rescue threw Hoyt and Jessica together for several heart-tugging exchanges. It all reminded of me of how much I liked that character in the beginning, and how adorable he and Jessica were together. (And also, I forgot what a hot piece Hoyt is. Especially now that he’s got a bit of Alaskan oil-man swagger. Am I right, ladies?) I can’t see how any of that is going to end well, but I so loved seeing them together again.

But then, I also didn’t hate Sookie and Bill together this episode. I only hated them separately. After Eric was healed by doing a shot of Sarah Newlin, he randomly flew to Sookie to tell her he was OK. (Again, this seemed very weird to me -- especially since she was at Bill’s house at the time.) Dumbass Sookie then drove to Fangtasia to get the secret of the cure from Eric and had to deal with the Yakuza, who were…unpleasant. (Except for the beefy tattoed ones; they were fine.) There was a whole fake-glamouring scene that tipped off the head of the Japanese contingent that something was up, but I didn’t understand why Sookie didn’t use any of her mind-reading abilities or other tricks during this sequence. Ultimately she found out about Sarah -- who is really, truly crackers, referring to herself as a new messiah -- went back and got Bill, and they all waited around for him to be cured. And then Bill said no. He didn’t want to drink.

So, there you go. Vampire Bill had a cure right in front of him and he willingly passed it up. Going into that scene I figured one of three things would happen. He would either get JUST to the point of drinking Sarah and die in a bloody pile of veins and irony, he would go nuts and kill Sarah instead, or he would decide not to do it. The last one makes sense given Bill’s irritating self-loathing and his acceptance that he brings only darkness into Sookie’s world. (This was subtly -- excuse me, “subtly” -- driven home by Bill’s dream in which he and Sookie had a shadow baby. So, confirmed crossover: Sookie is Melisandre from “Game of Thrones” and the shadow baby that killed Gay Renly was her kid with Bill. You’re clever, HBO!)

And nobody thought of Willa whatsoever.

Monday, August 4, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 7: “This May Be the Last Time”

Posted By on Mon, Aug 4, 2014 at 7:45 AM

This fairly low-key episode was notable primarily for the next few stops on the Long-Gone Character Cameo Train. This time around we got more Hoyt, psychic torment courtesy of Steve Newlin (and a cameo by the decapitated former governor of Louisiana), fairy granddad Niall, and best of all, the long-forgotten Dr. Ludwig, who I don’t think we’ve seen since Season 2. Between then and now Dr. Ludwig has divested even more of her shits, and now she has absolutely none to give you. Onward!

The major tension from the episode came from three arcs: Eric and Pam tracking Sarah Newlin, Vampire Bill staving off death, and Violet toying with kidnapped sex idiots Adilyn and Wade. We’ll cover the last one first, since it’s the least important. Violet did not kill the teen lovebirds right away, instead taking them to a palatial mansion that she apparently owns -- the creepy portrait on the wall suggested as much. This house, which I’m guessing is not in Bon Temps, was dripped in finery and came complete with a well-stocked sex dungeon. (Sidebar: If Violet had this kickass pad somewhere nearby, why was she willingly living in Jason Stackhouse’s den of iniquity? If you are regularly screwing Jason Stackhouse and you have access to a tricked-out bone palace, you take Jason Stackhouse to the sex dungeon! This is common sense! As a viewer, I feel robbed of the opportunity to see Jason investigating that toy chest. Violet is truly the worst.) Anyway, at first Violet was a consummate host. After Adilyn and Wade realized that neither one of them was interested in Violet’s kinky wares, they had what was almost certainly terrible, awkward step-sibling intercourse. And then Violet woke up, entered in truly unfortunate negligee, and threw Wade around like a ragdoll before turning her attention and fangs on Adilyn. And that’s why you don’t follow some crazy-ass vampiress to a second location, kids.

Andy and Holly spent the episode aimlessly searching for the missing teens, randomly ending up at Holly’s ex’s lake house. There Andy had a good cry and Holly was really pretty awesome. She assured Andy that their story would have a good ending. I’m not sure about all that.

The highlight of the episode was, weirdly, Arlene. I felt like this episode was a lovely thank-you to Carrie Preston, who has been with the show since the beginning and sometimes stuck in some thankless storylines. As much as I loved cholita-glamour Arlene, I am digging more maturely dressed Arlene. More than that, she had a great scene with Sam in which she more or less told him he’d be wrong to ditch Bon Temps at Nicole’s request. And then she had a few scenes with her vampire paramour, Keith (I think), who would be a lot more attractive if he didn’t dress like the lamest member of a biker gang based out of Peoria, Illinois. Seriously, that wallet chain. You are 500-something years old. KNOW BETTER. The first scene was a V-induced dream, in which Arlene fantasized about hitting it with a vampire and also did not-right things on the bar’s pool table. The second scene was actually quite sweet, and very well acted by Preston. Someone needs to hire her after this show is over.

We got one brief scene with LaFayette and Lettie Mae digging holes in the backyard of Lettie Mae’s old house, so that storyline is still a thing.

Jason spent the episode shirtless, teasing Sarah Newlin with death via her mental breakdown (also sometimes shirtless), and quietly dying inside while trying to comfort Hoyt over his mother’s death. That was partially because his former best friend doesn’t remember Jason at all due to Jessica’s glamour, and partly because Jason couldn’t stop lusting over Hoyt’s very attractive new girlfriend. That is going to end in tragedy, and I’m actually kind of disappointed by that since Hoyt was the one character who had a really nice endpoint to his story. He got out, but they had to drag him back in.

Vampire Bill continued to have his very boring flashbacks to meeting his original wife. I hope those are building up to some big revelation, because otherwise the only worthwhile element is Bill’s luscious Civil War-era man wig. His rapid Hep V infection was more or less blamed on consuming Sookie’s fey blood, which does make for a kind of irony given the number of times Bill screwed her over. Sookie called irritable dwarf physician Dr. Ludwig, and she just walkeda round verbally slapping everyone. It was great. Eventually she ditched that situation when she discovered that Niall was Sook’s grandfather, stating she wanted no part of any of it.

Speaking of, professional Colonel Sanders impersonator Niall did appear, and I am pleased to report that RutgerHauer is now only marginally more bedraggled than he was the last time we saw him. Which, if memory serves, had him stuck in the hell dimension in which he trapped Warlo. So I have no idea how he got out of that. Sookie called Niall to help Bill, and after tricking her into making pasta (shifty fairy!), he said he’d try, even though he dislikes Bill. That was a lie too, and Niall essentially told Sookie that Bill done shit the bed. Sookie was not exactly grateful for the diagnosis. I’m hoping that’s the last we hear about Sookie’s fairy nature before the end of the series, because this show is incapable of executing anything fairy-related in a way that isn’t corny and lame.

Finally, Eric and Pam and the Yakuza interrogated Sarah’s vamp sister, until diseased Eric freaked out and staked her, snuffing out their only lead seconds after they discovered that Sarah actually has a cure to Hep V. Pam wants Eric to take it. Eric seems ambivalent about the prospect. The Japanese contingent wants to synthesize Sarah’s blood, sell it as New Blood, and use Eric Northman as their spokesvamp. Great idea;thos ads should feature as little clothing as possible. Just a tip.

Sarah ended up at the old Fellowship of the Sun compound from Season 2,where her descent into madness continued. Now, you would think that any of the people tracking this woman -- including the Japanese government, which presumably has significant technical and financial resources -- would take a moment and make a list of all the likely places Sarah might end up. Because I would put the Fellowship compound fairly high on there. And yet, there were no henchmen already waiting there, because these people are idiots who have let her escape two times already. The episode ended with Pam, Eric, and the Japanese arriving at the campus, which was not the most exciting cliffhanger.

Oh, actually, that’s not true -- the episode ended with Sookie and a Hep V-vein-covered Bill having unglamorous sex on the floor. Which was also not the most exciting cliffhanger. So there you go.

Monday, July 28, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 6: Karma

Posted By on Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 12:33 AM

Anyone who has ever had issues with lawyers needs to watch that magnificent segment with Vampire Bill and the attorney. And then they need to slow clap, clap, clap at its last 2 minutes, rewind, and watch it again. Seriously, that was a thing of beauty, and probably especially gratifying for anyone who has been on the wrong end of a lawsuit.

As has become the trend this season, this episode featured a lot of slow, quiet character scenes that orbited around one riveting sequence -- in this case, Bill’s ill-fated attempt to change his will. Overall I thought it was another solid episode for the show, and I found the Bill/Sookie storyline to be poignant in a way that I was not expecting.

Let’s start the dissection with that plotline. As we discovered last episode, Bill has contracted Hep V. He fairly calmly called a lawyer who apparently specializes in vampire end-of-life issues (which is weird, given what we found out about the legality of vampire wills this episode). In the waiting room, which recalled that scene from “Beetlejuice” to me, Bill discovered that his disease was progressing very rapidly -- he experienced the first signs the night before, but as he sat there the telltale veins sprouted up all across his extremities. Could this have something to do with Bill formerly being Billith? Could it have to do with his exposure to Sookie, who frankly is sometimes enough to make anyone sick? Could it simply be a plot device since we have only four episodes left? We will find out!

Jessica overheard Bill’s Hep V admission, and quietly imploded, because she is still a teenager, and she just found out that her father is dying. She made the ethically dubious decision of disclosing Bill’s diagnosis to Jason and Sookie -- next episode, Jessica will tape a PSA about the importance of HIPPA guidelines -- which sparked a pretty brutal realization on Sookie’s part: she is infected with Hep V, and she infected Bill. Remember the scene a few episodes back, before Alcide died (let’s all take a moment to reflect on his bare backside), when Sookie had cut her arms open to draw out the Hep V vamps and then was bathed in their blood when they got shot up by Those Idiot Townspeople? At the time I remember thinking, “Sookie, you need to get yourself to the free clinic stat, because you have ALL the diseases now.” And she has at least one: Hep V. There is something very interesting about a show that has been so steeped in casual sex for its entire run -- I mean, vampire fiction is by and large a stand-in for overt sexuality -- concluding with its three main characters all suffering from what is a very thinly veiled take on a sexually transmitted disease. Were I a member of the Slut-American community (*ahem*), I might feel as though my lifestyle was being judged here.

Jessica’s cry for help also set another plotline into motion. Violet, who overheard Jason and Jessica getting it on last episode, attempted to win Jason back by playing the subservient, nubile girlfriend. We’ve all been there, sister. I can’t blame a girl for using every weapon in her arsenal to keep her grip on Jason Stackhouse, even something as clichéd as rose petals scattered all over the place (that said, there is something unwholesome about rose petals on a Bud Light throw pillow). But Jason Stackhouse allowed his psychotic vampire girlfriend to go down on him basically just after he had slept with another woman. Vampires have heightened senses. They can hear and…taste things. I’m no expert on relationships, but it seems like a VERY BAD IDEA to let a 500-year-old crazy woman with fangs put her mouth anywhere near your junk after you have just intimately introduced it to another lady. I’m just saying.

Anyway, Jessica’s call to Jason prompted Violet to burst out in a rage, and then leave a note for Jason saying they were done. Jason read it and was all, “PIZZA FOR EVERYBODY!” Except it couldn’t possibly be that easy, because Violet is the swap meet, undead version of “Fatal Attraction.” And she has decided to take her vengeance on Jason and Jessica out on Adilyn and Wade -- Holly’s son -- who are totally doing it now, leading to a very nasty fight between Andy and Holly. Arlene fixed things, which, let’s be real: if you are taking marital advice from Arlene Fowler LenierBellefleur, look at your choices. Look at your life. Your months-old teenage fairy daughter humping on the son of your future witch wife is kind of the least of your worries, Andy. The episode ended with Violet tracking down the teen runaways and basically leading them to their deaths, because they are stupid and horny and all three are totally extraneous at this point. At first I questioned why Violet would choose this particular path for vengeance, but Adilyn is important to Jessica and, to a degree, Jason, since she is the daughter of his friend and coworker. I have to show respect to quality vindictiveness when I see it.

Elsewhere, LaFayette and Lettie Mae returned to Lala’s house to find Vampire James waiting for them. After a great eyeroll from Lettie Mae, who knows some lustin’ when she sees it, Lettie Mae quickly convinced James to give her some of his blood so that she could communicate with Tara. James encouraged LaFayette to join in, given the shared psychedelic experiences V can create. Thank you for being a walking plot device, James. But next time have the decency to do so without your shirt. While tripping, LaFayette and Lettie did interact with Tara, who led them on a merry chase to the cross with a snake we saw before, then a weird glimmering portal, and finally the rundown house where she lived with Lettie Mae. There Tara dug up the backyard in her discounted David’s Bridal gown. Before they could find out what she was looking for, Reverend Daniels woke them up just so he could dump Lettie Mae. Way to harsh a buzz, man. But LaFayette now believes that Tara really is trying to communicate with Lettie, and Adina Porter was amazing in those scenes, so it’s all for a good cause. (Bonus: absolutely nobody even mentioned Willa.)

Over on the Sam Merlotte Living Purgatory Hour, Sam continued his miserable existence by being told by his very pregnant girlfriend that she was leaving Bon Temps, and that he’d better come, too. Sam is, you may remember, the MAYOR OF THE TOWN, so there’s a flaw in that plan. Also, he considers Bon Temps his home, and he doesn’t want to leave. Nicole and her unwavering bitchface made it clear that she’s done, period. I might care about this storyline if Nicole had ever made one positive contribution to this program, and if it had anything to do with what else is going on, or if Sam had any nuts left at this point. But his life is truly a steady turd rain, and how do you root for a guy in that situation? Charlie Brown might have kept missing that football, but Sam is basically just kicking at open air, falling down, and getting shot and/or stabbed and emasculated at the same time.

That brings us to the Bill/Pam/Sarah Newlin plot, which finally explained why the Yakuza has been hunting Sarah for episodes. As predicted, the head of the Japanese company that manufactured True Blood wants her dead, on account of her orchestrating the tainting of his company’s No. 1 product, and the related total economic collapse of his company. The ninja gangsters captured Pam and Eric with remarkable ease (bearing in mind that Eric is severely weakened due to the Hep V), and yet somehow let Sarah escape AGAIN despite her being within yards of their goons for the second time in three episodes. After a time-wasting negotiation that basically just served to establish why these people want Sarah dead, Eric and Pam joined forces with their captors.

Sarah, however, had a surprise left for everyone. After breaking into her vampire sister’s home, Sarah explained that she really is a whole new person (vampire sister’s succinct dismissal of Sarah’s “New Me” act was great), and that all of this happened for a reason. Because, you see, she can save her sister. Because Sarah has the cure for Hep V. There was an antidote, and she chugged it before leaving Vampire Death Camp. So she’s now a walking sack of Hep V cure. I’m going to award 10 points to whoever posted on Facebook that that would be the twist, and also predict that in the next two episodes Sarah Newlin will become the world’s largest Capri Sun, as Bill, Eric, and whatever other sick vampires with names drain her dry. Bonus: they won’t even get that burning peroxide aftertaste now that she’s a brunette.

Monday, July 21, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 5: “Lost Cause

Posted By on Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 8:46 PM

This week, “True Blood” turned into an adult version of “Can’t Hardly Wait” as basically the entire town descended upon Sookie’s Haus of Death for a swingin’ shindig where everyone made Big Life Decisions or slept with someone other than his/her partner. Plus, Eric dressed up like JR Ewing, the Yakuza shot up the George Bush Library, and we got something of a shocker ending.

But first: Sookie was very sad because her super hot boyfriend, Alcide, was murdered, and also because her life is basically a steady stream of torment and horror. Her friends, being the drunk sluts they are, decided that the way to address her totally justified emotional breakdown was to throw a “We Were Dying But Now We’re Fine” party. In Sookie’s house. Without asking her permission. Sookie, your friends are terrible.

The Happy Party took up the bulk of the episode and gave virtually every remaining cast member a nice moment or two. This was an episode very light on action and heavy on talking, but that reminded me that, underneath all of the ridiculous bullshit, “True Blood” is home to some talented character actors. To wit:

*Andy Bellefleur made good on his promise and proposed to Holly in a legitimately sweet scene. When this show began, who would have thought that Sheriff Andy would become its creamy nougat center?

*Arlene has an admirer in the musician vamp who saved her life last episode, but he seems like kind of a gentleman. And he’s already dead, so that should make him a good match for black widow Arlene.

*Jessica, finally unburdened by Andy over the whole eating-his-fairy-kids thing, spurned James’s amorous advances. This sent him straight into the welcoming arms of LaFayette, who confirmed the obvious -- that James was involved in a gay relationship around the time he was turned -- and then the LESS obvious -- that LaFayette is a top. Who saw that coming? Of course, Jessica walked in on LaFayette and James jeepin’ (well, SUVin’) and that was embarrassing for everyone, particularly LaFayette’s “I am not a minstrel and I deserve love” speech. We get it, LaLa. Although I did enjoy him calling out Jessica for being a shitty girlfriend, because that was kind of true.

*Jason went to comfort Jess and they, too, ended up boning. That’s fine, and expected, but I was most pleased that the show had someone verbalize how awful Violet is. That character’s continued presence baffles me. She obviously has a plotline now, as she overheard Jess and Jason hooking up, so SOMEONE is going to pay. But up until now she has always seemed like fodder that nobody remembered to kill off.

*Lettie Mae drugged the Reverend so that she could go to the party to get closure on Tara. And she delivered a lovely speech. And everything was going so well, until she lost her shit and attacked Willa with a knife so that she could use her blood to communicate with Tara again. So I guess that situation has yet to play itself out fully.

*Sam and his terrible wife/girlfriend/whatever totally killed the mood when she went off on a tirade about how screwed up the people of Bon Temps are by throwing a party after they were all nearly eaten. Oh, quiet, you. Your boyfriend got ripped apart by werewolves last season and the next episode you were screwing Sam, I believe with a dead woman’s kid in the very next room. Her claim that, “Things like this don’t happen in other towns” was also patently false since A) we saw a different town completely wiped out two episodes ago and B) in the Eric plotline this episode someone notes that half of America is being terrorized by Hep V gangs. So shut it, lady.

*Vampire Bill kept having extremely boring flashbacks to his Civil War days. They seemed barely relevant to the current goings-on in the episode, up until the episode-ending cliffhanger. Bath time with Bill came to a sad ending (we did get a butt flash, though) when Bill noticed the tell-tale Hep V veins sprouting up on his chest. That surprised me. Since they’re killing Eric that way, I didn’t think they’d also off Bill. Even though I don’t like them together, I just assumed Bill and Sookie would be together at the finale.

*Finally, in the Eric plot, he released Willa (at her request), but she had one more chance to play plot contrivance by directing Eric and Pam to Sarah Newlin’s vampire sister who lives in Dallas. You guys, just go with it. Also, Pam was hilarious in those scenes. Vampire Sister, who is ALSO dying of Hep V, pointed Pam and Eric to a swanky Republican fundraiser where the Newlin parents were likely to be, and also probably Sarah. And indeed she was there, telling her mother that the Yakuza were after her, right before the Japanese mafia stormed in and shot up the place. Eric intercepted Sarah, ripped the jaw off of one of the gangsters, and that’s where we left that. I’m not 100 percent sure why the Yakuza is after Sarah. I’m guessing it’s because she helped to orchestrate the Hep V-tainted True Blood scheme, which collapsed what must have been a very lucrative market for the crime lords. I’m also not sure how they missed Sarah last episode, since she was just in the kitchen of the guy they beheaded. You would expect ninjas to be more thorough in their death missions. Especially in this economy...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 4: Death is Not the End

Posted By on Sun, Jul 13, 2014 at 11:43 PM

The first half of Sunday’s episode felt like a LOT of filler. It was all character work that, arguably, needed to happen, but it felt obligatory rather than revelatory. But the second half of the episode really took off, featuring some great moments with Eric, Sookie, LaFayette, Bill, Jessica, and Arlene. And then it all climaxed with a thoroughly entertaining battle that featured so much glorious, blood-spattered death. For all my kvetching about this season, the assault on Fangtasia was one of the most satisfying sequences in “True Blood” history.

The episode opened very slowly, with Sookie and Jason informing the next of kin about the deaths of Alcide and Maxine Foytenberry. That meant brief appearances by Hoyt, all grubby and adorable on his oil rig (and still fully mindwiped), and Robert Patrick and his succulent man breasts. I can’t imagine we’ll see them again before the end of the show, but it continued this season’s apparent mandate of bringing back every character who ever uttered a line of dialogue. I look forward to seeing S2’s manservant Karl bringing in towels when nobody wants them.

After Sookie basically told Jason to sack up and be a man (Jason has truly become useless on this show, hasn’t he?), she got to work telepathically forcing a still-in-shock Holly to remember her captivity at the hands of the Hep V vamps. Andy Bellefleur was none too pleased with her methods, but it worked: the Keystone Kops of Bon Temps finally knew that the remaining damsels in distress were stuck in the basement of the most obvious hiding place ever, Fangtasia. Holly may now be a mental and emotional wreck, but that’s what she gets for working at Merlotte’s in the first place.

Before we got to the inevitable siege of Fangtasia we got several interesting character moments. In the quickest possible fashion:

-The Jessica situation was finally addressed, as James, Bill, and Sookie held an intervention after discovering that Jess has basically not eaten in months, since she ate those fairy kids. She cannot forgive herself for what she did, nor could she again drink from an innocent person. Sookie gave her one of the most brutal tough-love speeches I’ve ever heard, but it was actually LaFayette who brought Jess around by confessing that he murdered the love of his life, Jesus, and still has not forgiven himself for it. (Throughout it all James looked on like a sad vampiric puppy -- albeit one with great pecs). Another point toward Season 7: LaFayette has been a mess on this show since the season of unfortunate possessions, and I’m so glad that he’s awesome again.

-A good chunk of the episode was devoted to flashbacks showing how Pam and Eric started Fangtasia. While this wasn’t the most interesting use of time, it did give us Pam and Eric through the decades, including Pam in more fabulous 80’s jumpsuits and, amazingly, 90’s Eric in Color Me Badd drag. It also gave us their first meeting with Ginger, a college film student whose style icon was clearly Lisa Loeb. I totally want a spinoff with our favorite vampires appearing in various decades, wearing hilariously bad fashions and rolling their eyes at stupid humans. Make this happen, HBO! I am dying to see Bill Compton as Disco Stu (because you KNOW he was that guy).

-Eric and Pam arrived in Bon Temps intending on picking up Willa, who is justifiably pissed at Eric for being abandoned essentially right after being sired. But, predictably, they got drawn into the big-picture drama and joined the crusade against the Hep V vamps. Prior to that Eric and Sookie had a little chat that reignited the Eric-Sookie relationship I had thought totally extinguished at this point. But never count out the power of a smoldering Eric Northman.

The actual Fangtasia battle scene brought together virtually every major plotline this season. The Hep V vamps had just started draining Arlene dry when the healthy vamps started their rescue attempt. Just as that situation blew up the Roaming Vigilante Idiots showed up in an SUV and started throwing Molotov cocktails. So you had essentially three armies converging on one place, and it was a literal bloodbath, with apparently all the Hep V vamps wiped out and all of the major players in the Vigilante Idiot group killed off (poor Kenya got battering rammed to death!). I will admit to cackling like an idiot at the sprays of blood going off every five seconds, like some kind of Kool-Aid-sponsored water park ride.

And then, something unexpected: genuine emotion. Arlene was in a very bad way after the Hep V vamps had turned her into Louisiana’s largest juicebox. When Sookie found her she was fading fast, and calling it out for Terry Bellefleur. Sookie begged Arlene to hold on, but via her telepathy saw that Arlene was actually seeing and hearing Terry speak to her from the other side. For a few seconds I wondered where this whole thing was going, and I found the whole sequence riveting. It was like Whoopi Goldberg in “Ghost.” I mean that as a compliment. (Autumn Sunrise! You like it?) Eventually some random musician vampire -- a friend of James -- gave Arlene some of his blood, and she opted to stay alive. Terry told her to be happy. Maybe I’m a sap, but I liked that whole scene. It took me back to a place where I still liked Arlene and Terry, before that Ifrit business essentially ruined both characters. (And BTW: Arlene is totally going to start banging that vampire now.)

So four episodes in we’ve wrapped up the major threat introduced at the beginning of the season and rearranged the pieces on the chessboard for the final push. I’m not entirely sure what comes next. Obviously Eric’s disease has to be addressed. We have the lingering Sara Newlin plotline. The emerging love triangle between Jessica, James, and LaFayette. Those are all very character-based narratives, and I suspect that is where they’re going to take us: the big mega-arc is mostly done, and now the show is just figuring out where to leave these characters. I find that refreshing. Mind you, it could all go to shit next episode. But the preview has Ginger riding another bucking coffin, so it really can’t be all that bad.

Monday, July 7, 2014

“True Blood” Season 7, Episode 3: “Fire in the Hole”

Posted By on Mon, Jul 7, 2014 at 12:23 AM

I literally moaned, “NOOOOOOOOOO!” multiple times during Sunday night’s episode. I guess that means the showrunners are doing something right. I am invested, OK?! I thought I was totally ambivalent about this dumb show but there were two moments there that REALLY hurt. It was also an awfully preachy episode. I felt like it should have ended with one of the cast members talking about condom usage and responsible gun ownership, capped with a star wipe. The more you know…

This episode felt way longer than an hour, probably because it was split up over a shit ton of characters. I will try to go over the details as efficiently as possible, but I’m sure I’ll forget stuff. Feel free to bring up anything I missed in the comments.

-Picking up from last episode, Pam and Eric had several emotional scenes that verified what we assumed: Eric has the Hep V and is really pretty cool about dying at this point. He has HAD it. The analogy between Hep V and the recent uptick in AIDS rates was hammered home in some of the most ungainly dialogue yet this season. And we got some flashbacks that were both great -- Eric and Pam looking awesome in 80’s clothes! Eric banging a nubile French lass in the moonlight! NAN FLANAGAN!!! -- but also frustrating in that Eric’s chosen place of death is tied to a character we never even heard about before. I kind of saw where the show was going here, establishing that Eric has a history of periodically making very stupid decisions because he falls hard for certain humans, as he did with Sookie. (I wondered if perhaps Sylvie was part fairy, but that’s strictly me overthinking things.) But regardless, this is not the way Eric Northman should be going out. As a sad, bored vampire willingly dying from a disease while hanging around where some girl he banged in the 80’s used to live. Thankfully Pam prompted him into action by dangling the knowledge that Sara Newlin stills lives, so we won’t spend the next few episodes watching the erstwhile Viking warrior succumb to Hep V while Pam cries bloody tears on a fainting couch. That’s good.

-Speaking of Sara Newlin, she reappeared with a new darker hair color and an interest in Eastern spirituality in what I can only describe as an ill-considered crossover with Mike Myers’ “The Love Guru.” But more Sara Newlin is always a good thing, even if she’s just doing yoga, picking out wine, and exploring tantric sex with Yogi Bear. Plus: corporate ninjas!

-Back in Bon Temps, Sam wasted yet more precious daylight talking about Jesus with the Reverend before Sam and the dishy gay vamp got ambushed by the gun-toting townspeople. Gay vamp was killed off quickly, and then Sam turned into an owl and got shot at a lot. Sam Merlotte is truly Bon Temps’ Rob Ford.

-Jessica and Andy rescued Adilyn and cockblocked Holly’s poor son simultaneously. Efficiency at work! They dropped the kids off at Jason’s house -- a great environment for horny teenagers -- and were joined by Jason and awful, awful Violet to track down the roaming, gun-toting townspeople. I guess. Motivations are becoming quite suspect at this point. I mean, I get that the unruly mob is a source of major danger, but Andy and Sam at least have significant others abducted by ravenous, diseased vamps. So the fact that they’re pressing pause on that to go after a bunch of soccer moms and drunks with guns is somewhat questionable. Anyway, the cops and vamps ran afoul of the mob, Jessica got shot -- not killed, but shot (again it’s pointed out that she is not healing properly) -- and then Violet ripped out Mrs. Fortenberry’s heart. That would be “NOOOOOOOOO!” No. 1. The rest of that mob can eat a bag of Hep V-infected dicks for all I care; Maxine was television gold and we are poorer for having lost her.

-Speaking of Hep V, the sick vamps had to go on another hunting expedition and decided to take one of their prisoners along to feed on, like trail mix (that was pretty funny). They selected Holly after one of them interrupted her leading the other prisoners in an incantation. I’m glad the show finally remembered that Holly is a witch. She may not be throwing around massive spells like Doctor Strange, but I’m glad she was trying SOMETHING.

-Our other resident magic user, LaFayette, was on another plane himself -- the pharmaceutical one. LaFayette had himself a little party for one with a bunch of happy pills, and Vampire James came over to look broody and mumble a lot. They talked about how awesome drugs are and LaFayette whipped up a little cocktail, which James then sampled via blood suck. There was a moment where James thought LaFayette had OD’d, but of course Miss LaFayette is harder to kill than that. (Just ask that poor faux voodoo lady who took his place in the back of the car at the end of S1.) The basic gist: LaFayette has decided to embrace the fucked-up present by getting as fucked up as possible, and James is definitely interested in LaFayette but conflicted about Jessica. It’s very latter-season “90210,” but with fangs.

-Willa and the Revered had a nice discussion about salvation and addiction, and nobody cares about those characters.

-That leaves us with That Idiot Sookie, whose plan became clear. She wanted to use her role as Bon Temps’ go-to vampire bait to lure the Hep V vamps into taking her back to their nest, and Vampire Bill could track her back there because she took his blood. It’s not a terrible plot, although it made me wonder: have none of the people in the Fangtasia basement ever taken blood from any of the vamps left on this show? Anyone want to fact check that? Arlene seems specifically questionable to me. Furthermore, given the heavy vampire connection, not one person has thought to maybe check Fangtasia by now? I realize they’re all very busy talking about Jesus, but still.

The Sookie and Bill scenes were, if I’m being honest, some of the best moments we’ve seen from either character this season. That’s damning with faint praise, since I still wanted Sookie to shut up about rollercoasters and for someone in production to recognize what a deeply unflattering angle they were using to shoot Stephen Moyer. But the two characters have chemistry, even if I hate them together at this point. I had a moment where I gritted my teeth because they seemed to be setting up a very easy out that would basically absolve Bill for all the shitty things he’s done to Sookie -- after being totally drained last season he’s a “new vampire.” But they also seemed to close that door, so we’ll see.

-And then: tragedy. The sick vampires did in fact come for Sookie, Vampire Bill was taken out very quickly (great plan, you guys -- the sick vamps would never think to look for a guardian hiding in a tree WHEN SOOKIE WAS TALKING DIRECTLY TO HIM THE WHOLE TIME), and Sam, Jason, Violet, Andy, Jessica, and Alcide all showed up at the same time to rescue her stupid ass. The shootout took out several more of the infected vamps, but then the gun-toting townspeople showed up and THEY started shooting, and THEY KILLED ALCIDE! They shot his beautiful, brick-shithouse body full of holes! NOOOOOOOOOOO! This was so upsetting to me. I mean, Alcide’s character had become largely thankless over the past few seasons, especially since he became Sookie’s doormat boyfriend. But he still existed, and he was still frequently shirtless and occasionally pantless. You deserved better, Alcide! We all deserved better. At least you died the way we would like to remember you: completely naked.

There was a coda, with Sookie refusing to let the vampires present turn Alcide instead of letting him die because, “I’ve been down that road before.” For all my complaining, I think the writers are doing a decent job of showing us that, while still an idiot, Sookie has actually learned some things over the course of this series. (I also thought her speech to Bill about her feelings for Alcide was solid, and something I suspect most people can relate to.)

So thus ends the lives of Alcide and Maxine. Two great characters who shall be missed. The question is, who dies next? I’m more convinced than ever that by the time we get to the series finale there will be like five people left. That’s it. (And watch, two of them will be Violet and Willa.) They really are killing everyone off. We should start a death pool predicting who will die which episode. Put all your bets on Ginger to be the last person standing, screaming her head off as we roll to credits.

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.

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