Monday, September 30, 2013

"Breaking Bad": The good and bad of the finale

Posted by on Mon, Sep 30, 2013 at 10:09 AM

When "Lost" had its finale three years ago, I didn't think there would ever be another show that could drag me in like it did. My friends would always tell me about shows they liked on TV, and I would always react with a, "Pshh, it's not as good as 'Lost.'" In a sense, I was being bitter.

One of those shows people always mentioned was "Breaking Bad," but I never gave it a chance. I finally watched a few episodes on Netflix last month, and a few weeks later I would end up catching up to the current, final season. Along the way I see-sawed between liking Walter White and hating him, but after he poisoned a kid I was fully in the anti-Walt camp. I didn't think there was any way my allegiances could change. But then the finale happened Sunday night.

Unlike some much-talked-about finales from recent years ("The Sopranos," the aforementioned "Lost"), "Breaking Bad" didn't leave anything open-ended. There's not going to be any debates about what the ending means, only discussion on whether or not people found it fitting. Save for one far-fetched moment, I thought the finale achieved pretty much perfection.

Note that there are spoilers below, so if you don't want to know what happened, you should probably stop reading now.

The Good

The suspense: Pretty much every scene had me on the edge of my seat, and by the time of the epic final scene my heart was going so fast I thought it was going to explode.

Walt making sure his family gets his money: Even though they made it clear they didn't want his drug money, Walt still found a way to get it to them. He did put himself first throughout most of the series, but he always cared about his family.

Walt finally being real with Skyler: Finally hearing him admit he was doing everything for himself was very gratifying. It gave so much insight into his character when he said his ordeals in the meth business made him feel alive.

Laser pointers: This scene was great not only for the dark humor, but because we got to see Badger and Skinny Pete one last time. What would a finale have been without them?

The final showdown: This scene is going to get so many views once it starts appearing on YouTube, and for good reason. It was brilliant. You were kept guessing right up until the gun in the trunk. Then we got to see some of the best moments of revenge in television history, as Walt killed Jack Welker and Jesse killed Todd. You could argue that throughout the series, Walt went bad. But it was a temporary thing, a mere blip on the radar in his life. Jack and Todd were evil incarnate, and seeing them getting their comeuppances was oh-so-satisfying.

Walt and Jesse's goodbye: People were probably hoping for some more dialogue between the two, especially since the last time they saw each other Walt told Jesse he let Jane, the love of his life, die in front of him, and that he could've saved her. Only a few words were exchanged, and it was nothing particularly significant. Before Jesse gets into a car a drives to his freedom, they look at each other and exchange a nod. On Walt's end, I think the nod said, "Sorry for everything I put you through," while on Jesse's it said, "I forgive you." Maybe that's not what the writers intended, but that's how I like to think it went. I cried real tears at this part, something only a few other television shows have ever made me do.

Walt's death: If Walt and Jesse's goodbye made me cry, this took it even further. He got to be with his pride and joy one last time. The soundtrack ("Baby Blue" by Badfinger) went so well with the scene, one because of the lyrics ("guess I got what I deserved") and two because the meth was his baby, and it was blue.

Redemption: Walt's actions in the episode certainly don't give him redemption, but it shows he never went completely over to the dark side. For the first time in a while, he wasn't fighting for Heisenberg, he was fighting for Walter White. This made me respect his character so much more, seeing as he almost broke last episode and turned himself in. He righted all the wrongs he could before his time was up.

The Bad

The ricin in Stevia packet: There were a few things that bothered me over the course of the series, but none that came close to this. How could Walt have possibly put the ricin in a Stevia packet? I mean, was it just me or was the packet not sealed? Does he have a connection at the Stevia plant who he got to fill a packet with ricin for him? I'm not a sugar packet-ologist by any means, but how could you reseal a sugar packet? We saw Lydia rip the packet open, so it was sealed to begin with. I don't think this is really possible. I know Walt's supposed to be all-knowing, but I don't think that means being a magician. This didn't seem to bother my friends with whom I watched the finale, but it sure bugged me. Maybe I missed some really explicit detail, but I watched it three times over and didn't catch anything. I think the show asked a little too much out of our imaginations for this one.

Friday, September 20, 2013

REVIEW: The Onion at UR

Posted by on Fri, Sep 20, 2013 at 2:51 PM

Two staffers from satirical newspaper The Onion gave a presentation at the University of Rochester's Strong Auditorium Thursday night, and not surprisingly, hilarity ensued. Head Writer Seth Reiss and Features Editor Cole Bolton discussed the "history" (I use that term loosely) of The Onion, some of the most famous headlines it has printed over the years, the creative process that goes into an issue, and read some of the angry letters received by the paper.

If laughter really is the best medicine, the people in the audience got a heavy dose. The event seemed more like a stand-up comedy show than anything else, but it was also surprisingly educational. It was obvious that the duo knew how to work a crowd, Reiss in particular, and it was not much of a shocker when he said he worked in sketch comedy for several years.

The presentation had the same mentality as The Onion in general: anything and everything is fair game. This was especially notable when a section of the slideshow popped up revolving around famous people the newspaper has had "killed" over the years. Among them: Mother Teresa and University of Rochester president Joel Seligman, which easily drew the best response from the mostly student-filled crowd. They also showed charts ranking their journalistic integrity versus other publications such as The New York Times, and even University of Rochester's campus publication The Campus Times. (Not surprisingly, The Onion was ranked with a perfect score, while the other papers were given a sliver of its integrity.)

One of my personal favorite segments from show was when Reiss and Bolton did a reading of Neil Armstrong's moon landing, which was filled with more four-letter words than the average person probably hears in a week.

Perhaps the best thing that was discussed was how The Onion has fooled other news outlets around the world numerous times into thinking their stories are real, and subsequently running the satirical stories. Stories like the $8 billion Abortionplex, and a frustrated Barack Obama writing the entire nation a rambling 75,000 e-mail were just a few that have duped big names such as Fox News over the years.

While the Strong Auditorium was mostly filled with laughs during the presentation, things did take a more serious turn during the Q & A session afterwards. After somebody asked about the fallout from the Twitter incident at this year's Oscars, in which the paper referred to 9-year-old nominee Quvenzhane Wallis with an incredibly crude term, Reiss was hesitant to jump into it. But Bolton kept the issue alive and it was discussed for several minutes. This was probably the only span where the audience's roaring laughter was absent for more than a 30-second span. It was interesting to hear their side of the story, because all you really heard from The Onion before was their apology.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

"True Blood" Season 6: Unpacking the finale

Or, Did they just really kill him like that?

Posted by on Mon, Aug 19, 2013 at 10:47 AM

Season 6 of "True Blood" ended last night, and like the season overall it was a bizarre mix of highs and lows. I had serious problems with the show for the first quarter of the season, but then it seemed to get its act together for the middle portion before sinking to arguably series lows with the ridiculous hand-wringing over a not-even-tertiary character (I never want to hear the name Terry Bellefleur again; enough already). If I had to assign a grade to S6 overall I don't know where I would start. As for the finale, let's look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good: Alcide got a haircut! Thank god, because that parched-ass wig that was stapled to his head at the episode's beginning was DREADFUL. He also no longer seems to be an asshole. And apparently he's now banging Sookie. I am not overly thrilled about that last development for two reasons. First, Alcide's relationship with Sookie means we'll probably never see Quinn from the books. And second, I was pushing for Sookie and Alcide after seasons 3 and 4. I don't really care about either one of them at this point. Throwing them together after the awkward six-month jump in this episode seemed like fan service, but service for fans from like three years ago. That's when the show was at its peak, so that may have very well been the idea.

The Bad: The resolution to the Warlow plotline. It became increasingly clear that the showrunner this season was not into that character and his build up, since as soon as SookieID'd him as Ben and his fairy/vamp nature was revealed, Warlow literally spent five episodes tied to a tombstone in fairy land. (The ultimate insult: he was wearing his shirt the entire time. Missed opportunity!) He went from terrifying fairy-slaughtering maniac to an alpha SNAG (sensitive new-age guy), and Sookie went from pissing her pants over him to creaming her shorts in literally like one episode. We know Sookie's taste in men is terrible, but that was ridiculous. So this episode, after he'd been off the table for literally half the season, he went right back to Sookie-beating bad guy until Fairy Grandpa Colonel Sanders came back from the hell dimension and held Warlow until Jason could stake him. And poof! That was it. THAT WAS IT?! A stake was all it took? After all that build up? I feel so bad for Rob Kazinksy, who must have been reading these scripts and thinking, "...the hell?" I personally volunteer to make him feel better. Call me, Rob! I also really liked you in "Pacific Rim"!

The Good: Vamp Camp is over, Billith is over, and the show seems deliberately to be refocusing on Bon Temps and the slutty weirdos who call it home. That is exactly what the series has to do right now - drilling down its focus.

The Bad: The six-month jump was a lazy attempt at pushing the reset button. Seriously, that is what you do when your writers don't know how to dig out of the hole they've burrowed for themselves. Of the new status quo, Sookie and Alcide is actually the least of my complaints. (We should at least get some quality shirtlessness out of it.) Bill has written a best-selling book about his time as Billith and the origins of Hep V in which he admits to multiple murders, but apparently he'll never see trial for any of it. I question the legality of that. But here's the worst: Sam is now the MAYOR of Bon Temps?! In six months? You have to be kidding. He's been wanted for murder, implicated in god knows how many crimes, and his own business has been the site of countless homicides. Who would vote for him? His annoying girlfriend is still around, and still pregnant. I am hopeful that that story arc will eventually pay off with shifters being publicly outed because, seriously, it's ridiculous at this point. I'm fine with Arlene taking over Merlotte's if it means I never have to see her whining over Terry again.

The Good: We ended the season with Sarah Newlin still alive. She gets my MVP award for this season - that catfight a few episodes back was one of the best sequences I've seen on this show in years. I would love for her to come back at some point for one last, brutal attempt to wipe out the vamps (and sympathizers) who have repeatedly screwed up her plans. She's a surprisingly effective Big Bad for this show. Thank you, Jesus!

The Bad: We ended the season with several new, unneeded characters. Willa worked as a plot point but I question if we need yet another baby vamp, given that Tara has been given basically nothing to do for the past two seasons. I'm ambivalent about Adilyn, Andy's daughter, who also was there to move along the plot. At least she's a fairy, which is still fairly rare. But Violet survived? Really? She had chaff written all over her from her first appearance in Vamp Camp. And yet, there is something beautifully karmic about Jason Stackhouse stuck in a one-way sexual relationship for eternity, never getting his chance for, um, release.

The Ugly: We never got the teased Jason/Eric sex dream after Eric gave Jason his blood last episode. OUTRAGE!

The Unfathomable: Was that the end of Eric? Seriously? He burns to death in the mountains of Europe after Warlow's fairy blood wears off? I cannot accept that. I can't. Last episode, when Eric flew away, it seemed like he was going on some kind of fateful mission - possibly even to kill himself. This episode we find out he just went to go read a book and sunbathe naked on a mountain. Hey, random. While we did get to see Alexander Skarsgard in his full glory, I just can't believe that one of the key characters on this show was snuffed out in such an idiotic fashion. And ultimately I don't believe he was. For one, the camera cut away before we saw him crumble to ash. And second, Pam was deliberately out looking for him. So I do think we'll see Eric again. But I don't think he'll be a regular next season. (I even wonder if that was their way of writing out Pam.) Ratings are down and there's no way they're going to keep affording all of those actors. ASkars likely has no shortage of offers.

The Deeply Uncomfortable: The scene between Tara and her mother - who have barely been seen this season, and I don't think have interacted since she was turned in Season 5 - was cringe-inducingly awkward. Intentionally, of course. But as I was watching it I found myself actually flinching. Thinking about it again - "Let me nourish you" - SHUDDER!

The Questionable: So the big cliffhanger and set up for next season is, basically, vampire zombies. The Hep V plague has led to roving packs of sick vampires going from town to town to feast on humans. The response to this, in Bon Temps at least, is an organized symbiotic relationship between healthy vamps and humans. Humans voluntarily feed healthy vamps, who then act as their protection from the sick vampires. There are a few logical problems with this. First, we saw Hep V kill vampires in hours at Vamp Camp. It wasn't more than a day or two that they went from infection to jelly. Now we're supposed to believe that these vampires have been roaming for months while infected? But beyond that, I don't understand why humans are so worried about sick vampires. They can't get inside their homes. Why don't they all just stay indoors at night for a month or two? Nobody goes out, vampires can't get in. Problem solved. But of course, the geniuses of Bon Temps have to have a town-wide party at night, at a public place, which of course attracts a horde of infected, slavering zombie vamps. Of course it does. I guess there's some comfort in knowing that Sam Merlotte is as good a mayor as he was a business owner.

Ultimately I think the Season 6 finale succeeded in getting the show back to its Bon Temps roots, but it did so at the expense of burning through quite a bit of character development and making some bizarre decisions. It was certainly better than the conclusion to the previous two seasons, and I'm eager to see what the new showrunner can do. Because my gut says that Season 7 will be the final bite for "True Blood."

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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

REVIEW: The Amazing Acro-Cats at MuCCC (through 8/11)

Posted by on Wed, Aug 7, 2013 at 10:52 AM

Let's just get this out of the way: the Amazing Acro-Cats show, now at MuCCC through Sunday, August 11, is completely and utterly ridiculous. How could it not be? It's a dozen or so cats (plus two chickens, a trio of low-energy rats, and a woodchuck) performing a variety of stunts when and if they decide to do them. Because as any cat owner can tell you, cats will do as they please, when they please.

Samantha Martin, the woman behind the Acro-Cats, knows this, and she has constructed a charming hour-long show around the finicky nature of the animals she loves. It blends comedy, tricks, old-timey medicine-show salesmanship, education, and even a bit of music. So yes, it's all ridiculous, and among the most delightfully silly things I've ever seen. During the extended drum solo by Dakota, a member of the all-cat band The Rock Cats, I had to hold my head and wonder aloud, "How is any of this happening?"

Cat Bus
  • PHOTO BY ERIC REZSNYAK
  • The Acro-Cat bus, parked outside of MuCCC on Atlantic Avenue.

Martin argues that most of the tricks performed during the Acro-Cats show can be done by any cat. All you need to do is train them. She even demonstrated the ease of clicker training by teaching one of the adorable, teeny kittens up for adoption in the MuCCC foyer (steel yourself for that mewling fur gauntlet, parents of young children) how to jump through a hoop in a matter of minutes. And it's not all fun and games; Martin argues that training your cats to return to their carriers at the sound of a whistle can save precious time during an emergency.

But you want to see Acro-Cats for the stunts, not the advocacy. It's important to go in not expecting too much -- even Martin opens the tricks portion of the show with a section she refers to as "the lowering of the audience's expectations." One cat zips by on a skateboard. One climbs a pole. A few jump through hoops. But others perform more astonishing feats. One cat jumped from stool to stool even as they were being raised above the heads of Martin and her helper. Three took to an obstacle-festooned balance beam, weaving in and out, and up and over one another. Two walked around perched on top of balls. You get the idea. (I recommend sitting as close to the front of the house as possible, as I totally missed some of the floor tricks from the third row back.)

The tricks don't always go off without a hitch, like young Alley's inability to consistently weave through Martin's legs as she walked. But even when the talent doesn't stick with the program, Martin plays it off for laughs.

Martin's attitude is one of the strongest facets of the show (second, of course, to the "Aww Factor"). Nothing sounds more dreadful than a self-serious trained-cat show, but Martin is totally aware of the gonzo nature of what she's doing. She makes jokes about the realities of being a single woman with bushels of cats (she declined to disclose just how many felines are in her care), and regaled the audience with information about each of the stars of her show. After an hour you really got a sense of the personalities of several of the animal performers, including my favorite, Tuna, the diva of the Acro-Cats. Tuna has Martin trained to give her a treat every time she rings a service bell, has starred as a killer cat in a film, and is currently engaged in a fierce Twitter war with co-star Buggles (follow her at @Tunathecat). Tuna does not like to be touched by anyone. As Martin put it, "Tuna is only pretty on the outside." Tuna is my new spirit animal.

Tuna the Cat
  • PHOTO BY COURTNEY FAY
  • Tuna, star of the Acro-Cats and cowbell player for The Rock Cats, and her new No. 1 fan.

Tuna is also the manager and cowbell player of The Rock Cats, the world's only all-cat rock band. The group also includes Nue on keys, Dakota on drums, Sookie on chimes, Oz on guitar (Oz is the first male cat to join the show, because Martin says they don't work as hard), and Gregory Peck the chicken on tambourine and cymbal. Their performance was a highlight of the show.

Aside from Oz, who could barely be bothered to strum his guitar, the rest of the animals were engaged with their instruments. I don't think Nue ever stopped playing. After feeling sufficiently praised by the audience for her beauty (I'm serious!), Dakota got behind the drum kit. Both Tuna and Gregory Peck kept the beat consistently, until Gregory got bored and hopped off his stool for a while.

The band played two songs and then the show ended. Was it just a bunch of animals pawing at tiny instruments for treats? Yes. But it was hilarious to watch. Besides, the minute cats and a chicken figure out how to play "Musetta's Waltz," I am out of here. They've already figured out how to get us to feed them, shelter them, and clean up their messes. Who is the owner and who is the pet?

The Amazing Acro-Cats show continues at MuCCC (142 Atlantic Avenue) through Sunday, August 11. Show times are at 7 p.m. through Friday, August 9, and then at 1, 4, and 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, August 10-11. Tickets cost $13-$18. For more information check circuscats.com or muccc.org.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

“America’s Next Top Model” Season 20, Episode 1: Bring on the boys

Posted by on Sat, Aug 3, 2013 at 11:52 AM

It has been nearly a year since Tyra Banks has been on our television screens. But she is never far from our hearts (I say that both ironically and unironically), and so I was excited to welcome her back Friday night for a whole new season of ridiculousness. And the two-hour season premiere did not disappoint on that front.

For its 10th anniversary season -- and 20th overall -- “Top Model” has cast girls AND guys for the first time ever. Based on all the photo shoots from the season, which have already been put up for the social-media vote, I knew that Season 20 was going to be a mess. I didn’t realize how low the production values on this show had gotten until the “Find a paper cutout of your face stuck to a fence” bit. Oh, Tyra. Has it really come to this?

It somehow took us two full hours to get down to our 16 semifinalists. (Spoiler: if you look at the released photo shoots you’ll see that two of them ditch the competition fairly early on -- I won’t say who but based on this episode they’re no great loss.) And what a motley crew it is.

I know I’ve said this before regarding other seasons, but for real: this is the least modelesque bunch I’ve ever seen on this show. Precious few of them look remotely like the types of models currently getting work in the fashion industry, even if you’re considering it from a strictly commercial perspective. On that note, having a contract with Guess as the main prize makes a hell of a lot more sense than many of the previous prize packages on this show -- CoverGirl and Italian Vogue seemed totally disparate to me.

So let’s break down these broken-down dolls:

Alexandra made an impression for two reasons: the parched thicket of hair seemingly slapped on her head and her oft-repeated sob story about coming from a well-to-do family that lost everything because of the economic collapse. Because of this, I will heretofore refer to her only as The Economy. I found The Economy grating from the get-go and her dubious modeling potential was highlighted by her porn-adjacent posing in the final photo shoot. The only way she makes it even halfway is if she turns out to be house bitch.

Mike is an ice-cream scooper who Tyra scouted into trying out for the show. Mike has probably the best body of all the guys (scooping ice cream apparently does amazing things for your core), but has absolutely no idea what to do with his face. He’s generically handsome and seems decent enough, but if the premiere was any indication he’s going to quickly pale in comparison to the very similar -- and more charismatic -- Jeremy.

Renee is a former beauty-pageant queen, which historically has been perceived as a negative by Tyra. I found her likable, but perhaps a bit of a prude. She’s going to get saddled with the dreaded “too commercial” label.

Cory is our effeminate gay contestant. He’s like the antithesis of my physical type, but he’s already delivering some droll commentary so he should be fun to watch. He’s got a bit of Efron in the face, and his wiry body type is considerably different from almost all the other guys. That and his sound bytes should keep him safe until right around F6.

Jourdan is as close as we’ve got to a ringer this season. She’s tall -- 6’1” -- and at times looks like a more conventionally pretty Leila from last season. Jourdan’s problem is that she apparently lacks any kind of self awareness. She may be gorgeous, but Johnny Wujak suggested that she has no idea what to do with her face or body on the shoots. And she said numerous face-palm-worthy things during the premiere, including a couple of borderline offensive comments to/about Jeremy. She seems a little full of herself but that might be nerves. And seriously: stunning face. Totally looks like a Guess girl.

Don DEFINITELY is full of himself, and it’s a huge turn off. Don’s best quality is his hypnotic eyes. His body is…fine. Fit but unremarkable. He’s handsome. His racial ambiguity is a plus. But everything else is a huge negative. I give it four episodes before he’s cheating on his girlfriend with someone in the house.

Jianabecame more endearing as the episode went along, but this girl does not read “model” to me at all. She’s pretty, but looks like an everyday, ordinary girl. I don’t get it.

Chris S. is a) tiny and b) reminded me powerfully of Corey Feldman circa 2006. Those are not compliments.

Chlea is like the hybridization of Tahlia and Angelea from Cycle 12, which, again, is not a compliment. She’s our plus-sized -- excuse me, “fiercely real” -- contestant but is another one who does not seem the least bit modelesque to me. Beyond that, I lost track of the number of times she mispronounced words and just overall came off as really, really dim. She says she wants to be a successful model so that she can have her own liquor and clothing lines. She really said that. She wants to be the female Diddy. Chlea, please, I beg of you: the world doesn’t need one Diddy. It certainly does not need a distaff version.

Jeremy became one of the breakout stars of the episode to me, but it had very little to do with his modeling potential. He’s giving us some serious beefcake, with an exaggerated swimmer’s build. But his face is very Iowa farmboy, and he has no idea what angles work for him. (And he has quite a few problematic areas, including his under-eye area.) That said, he is incredibly charming, and I suspect he will be wildly popular with the young ladies watching the show

Nina is trying to be the next C12 Allison, what with the kewpie-doll eyes and the “quirky” persona. But the problem with pushing the quirk angle so aggressively is that it looks like you’re trying too hard, and that’s the case with Nina. I want her to calm down a little. (And also to maybe eat a sandwich or three.) Still, Nina is definitely one of the stronger girls this season.

Phil is hilarious to me. He’s like the hipster messiah and seems to be treating this whole experience as a performance-art piece. I just can’t believe that he’s taking this seriously. Phil is totally my physical type, so I’m biased toward liking him. And he’s fun in his talking heads. But even saying that, the photos I’ve seen of him are laughably bad. Like C19 Jesse-level bad. Phil is adorable. Phil is not a model.

Bianca is also not a model, and I have no idea how she made the final cut. I kept wondering who that girl was who kept wandering into shots. It looked like she just came from the mall. In 1992. Blossom Russo called. She wants her everything back.

Chris H. is probably going to bring the crazy this season. I already find his Sam MerlotteLitebackstory difficult to swallow, and his borderline delusional behavior this episode -- “I don’t know why people don’t like me; all I’ve done is run around punching people in the nuts and then sulk when they tell me to stop” -- has me seriously questioning his mental stability. As far as his modeling potential, he has the ugly-pretty thing going on for him. His face is interesting -- it’s not remotely symmetrical. He reads very masculine in an effortless way. He has no idea how to pose his body, but he photographs better than he looks in video clips. (The skin is a problem.)

Kananiis this season’s young mother trying to save her baby from a lifetime of poverty by going on a modeling reality show. At what point do we as a nation chip in for a pamphlet titled, “Stable Alternative Careers for Aspiring Reality TV Stars”? Because REALLY. Anyway, Kanani is pretty, but she’s got some orthodontic issues to overcome. Believe it or not, she can actually look somewhat regal in some of the photos I’ve seen of her.

Marvin drove me up the wall with his sob story, which has to be the worst in “Top Model” history. You guys, brace yourself: his father was a janitor. THE. HORROR. What classist asshole in the editing bays thought this was going to fly with the average American viewer? Your father had a JOB. He was involved in your life. The fact that he cleaned toilets for a living is a source of shame to you? Get a grip, child. I was both offended for his dad and embarrassed that he had to watch that shit on TV. Marvin is cute and dorky, but as judge Kelly Cutrone pointed out, not necessarily dorky in a good way. He has a very large mouth that dominates his face, and based on the photos, he doesn’t know how to use it in photos. I think the show wants us to love him because he’s the plucky underdog. I found myself hating him by the end of the first episode.

So what do you think of this season’s hamsters? Will a guy take it or a girl? And why are people still trying out for this show anyway?

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Monday, July 8, 2013

"True Blood" Season 6, Episode 4: Baby vamps make poor fairy sitters

Posted by on Mon, Jul 8, 2013 at 5:32 PM

Sunday's episode of "True Blood" was easily the best of the season, and possibly of the last few years of the show. It felt like the new showrunners finally got a feel for the characters and the tone of the show, and I saw flashes of the sleazy, campy show I used to love - and even a bit of the book source material it's based on. That's not to say it was perfect. There are still a lot of problems. But I found myself entertained and even a little, uh, excited by at least two scenes.

Since a bunch of stuff happened I'm going to keep it to the Top 5 best and worst moments of the episode.

WORST: The goddamned werewolves continued to be stupid and awful. After ripping almost all the human activists to pieces last episode, head bitch Ricki was eager to track down the last remaining survivor, the wounded, annoying Nicole. Alcide fluffed up his man titties and ordered her to scrub down the were camp instead while he and Martha tracked Nicole, her rescuer Sam, and constantly abducted were-puppy Emma. I've said it before, I'll say it again: this show has basically ruined Alcide. I don't care if he's on V or what, but he has become totally unlikable over the past two seasons. I demand a penance. It involves Joe Manganiello doing various athletic things in very, very little clothing.

WORST: Sam played Captain Save-a-Ho again and dragged a limping, bleeding, moaning Nicole away from the were feast, somehow losing the alleged master trackers in the process. OK. After a brief interlude with the increasingly pointless Lafayette, Sam turned into a majestic pony and gave a ride to both Nicole and Emma to some seedy motel. There he did what he does best: cry, drink, and have awkward, regrettable sex with a woman he barely knows (Nicole). In Nicole's defense, she had just seen Sam transform into a horse.

WORST: They referenced that goddamned Terry/Patrick/Ifrit plotline again. Show, please! I beg of you! Let it go! Give Terry and Arlene a few episodes off! It's really OK! If it wasn't for Arlene's glamorous cholitablanca wardrobe I'd be fine with them leaving altogether.

WORST: Tara and Pam continued to scream at one another some more. There's the great lesbian vampire story of our time, folks: two bored women snapping at each other episode after episode. Ultimately Tara flipped off Pam right before Pam got shot and taken to the governor's Vamp Camp.

WORST: Billith holding the Japanese blood scientist hostage in Casa Compton so he can crack the genetic code of fairy blood, in the hopes of reproducing enough of it to make the vampire race immune to the Sun. This plotline makes so little sense to me, because it's not like fairy blood makes vamps invulnerable, just able to walk in the sun. And Bill himself knows that fairy blood quickly wears off. Remember the Great Russell Edgington Bake-Off of Season 3?

BEST: Andy's Fairy Four magically aged from tweens to early 20somethings this episode, busted out of the house, and went on a joyride - where Billith and Jessica intercepted them while trying to buy hooch. This led to some great scenes with Jessica, culminating in her inadvertently going into a bloodlust and sucking all four fairy kids dry. It was both tragic and awesome, and Bill's face when he saw that his daughter had basically screwed his chance at "saving" the vampires - as well as committed multiple homicides - was pretty great. Most importantly, it got rid of the obvious plot device that was the Fairy Four. At least Jessica got to learn their names: Betty Crocker, Little Debbie, Sara Lee, and Capri Sun.

BEST: Magic Grandpa Lou Reed (TM Matt Austin) did something useful and fairy punched stupid Nora into the sky. When she landed she was quickly shot and imprisoned in Camp Vamp. Yay! I realize my hatred of Nora is largely irrational, but when I look at her I can't help but see everything I hated about S5 and the Authority/Lilith crap. Nora did give a cryptic message that Warlo is the only person who can defeat Lilith, but, well, we'll see. Things to remember: Nora is an idiot. Meanwhile, Fairy Colonel Sanders got sucked dry by Warlo (who interestingly did not drink his blood - he spat it out) and then hurled into the hell dimension that Warlo had been imprisoned in for 20-something years. So RutgerHauer gets this season's Chris Meloni Memorial Award for wasted guest star.

BEST: We finally, FINALLY got some great Eric scenes, including an incredibly erotic one in which he transformed fangbanging governor daughter Willa into a vampire. Watching that sequence, even with the goofy crucifix-neck-piercing, explains precisely why vampire fiction is so attractive to ladies (and some gentlemen) who aren't getting laid enough. His assignment to Willa - to go back to her father, and force him to accept his vampire daughter and, by extension, vampires in general - was a brilliant strategic move. Either way Eric wins. If the Governor kills Willa, Eric knows it will ultimately destroy him. But Eric isn't factoring in the wild card that is Sarah Newlin, who will play the Gov like a fiddle. Especially once she reveals that she's pregnant with his kid. (I'm guessing.)

BEST: I'm not sure I can accurately describe the hotness of the Jason/Ben shaving sequence. The set up: after Jason's collapse last episode, Ben brought him back into Sookie's Death Shack. Sookie ran to call for help, at which point Ben revealed to viewers that he's actually a vampire, surprising exactly no one. He fed Jason his blood, which instantly cured the ailing Mr. Stackhouse. The next morning Jason was doing shirtless pull ups in the doorway (bonus) and then having a very, very hot erotic dream in which he and Ben shaved one another's faces, climaxing with Jason accidentally nicking Ben with the razor, and Ben inviting Jason to lick his blood. Later in the episode we got Ben almost totally naked getting ready for a show. Let's all chip in for a THANK YOU bouquet to the "True Blood" producers for casting Rob Kazinsky, and for deploying his various states of nudity so effectively. And for giving us the most homoerotic Jason sequence ever. And that's saying something, given his past with LaFayette, Eddie, Steve, etc.

BEST: But the real, surprise star of the episode was actually Sookie herself, who actually demonstrated why we should be rooting for her in all of this insanity. Boggled by Jason's sudden improvement, Sook did a little investigating and found a bit of Ben blood in her living room. She did some magic woo-woo and noticed that it reacted in the same way Niall said the fairy blood did after Tent Show Massacre. She put 2+2 together, realized Ben is a fairy-vampire hybrid, did some sneaky cooking (including spiking the food with garlic oil and colloidal silver), and invited Ben over for dinner. When he ate the food without problem, Sook asked what he wanted of her, they got to screwing around, and the episode ended with Ben mounting Sookie on the couch, Sookie generating her Vampire Big Bang Ball, and saying the words, "Get the fuck off me, Warlo." Really fantastic ending, and the most book-Sookie-like Miss Stackhouse has been in ages. Two big thumbs up. Three, if we're counting shirtless Ben scenes.

Of course we know that Sook won't zap Ben/Warlo, since the teasers for next episode show them having a little chat. Plus, we're only going into Episode 5 of 10. But I give credit to the writers for realizing that a good chunk of these storylines were painfully obvious to the viewers (Ben/Warlo was clear since last episode at least), and clearing the decks of them to make room for something else in the second half of the season. On that tip, I am extremely nervous that Billith is going to turn his experimental eye on his daughter...

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Monday, June 24, 2013

"True Blood" Season 6, Episode 2: This little light of mine

Posted by on Mon, Jun 24, 2013 at 12:32 PM

While watching last night's episode of "True Blood" I was struck by the following thought: "When did this show become 'Charmed'?"

Two episodes into Season 6 I'm finding myself increasingly concerned about the tone of this show. It takes itself SO seriously now. There's nothing fun, or slutty, or gritty, or subversive about it anymore. Most of the plotlines fall into two categories: dour or borderline corny.

We did get two amusing scenes last night. The first was a blink-and-you-missed-it moment in which Lafayette was playing dress-up with recently orphaned werewolf kid Emma. The second was Eric dorking it up as a faux government stooge to get access to the governor of Louisiana. Both were delightful to behold, and felt a bit like the show's glory days.

The rest of it, however, felt very far removed from the Southern Gothic camp that defined the show in its best seasons. The episode as a whole was more entertaining than the season premiere, but I'm worried about the overall energy for the season. Say what you will about previous showrunner Alan Ball, but at least his episodes almost always had a pulse (no pun intended). Let's breakdown the various plotlines:

-Drama magnet Sookie just happened upon an injured dude on the side of the road. At first she attempted to leave him there - nice, Sookie - but ultimately she offered to help. And wouldn't you know it? He's half-fairy, just like Sookie. I initially groaned, because this show has a terrible track record when it comes to fairies. But this new guy Ben is so hot that I'm willing to go with it, so long as he keeps his shirt mostly unbuttoned. Sookie continued to demonstrate how astonishingly stupid she is by bringing this injured stranger back to her house, then letting a possibly concussed man fall asleep on her couch, and then turning Ben down when he offered to take her on a date. Sookie, look at him. LOOK AT HIM! And he doesn't turn into a wolf or want to suck the blood out of you. Idiot! (That said, I don't trust Ben at all. I suspect that the vampire who attacked him was Warlow, attracted by Ben's fae blood, and that in addition to roughing him up, the ancient vamp also glamoured Ben into working for him. But that's totally a guess.)

-Speaking of Warlow, we discovered that Rutger Hauer is not playing the Big Bad. He's Sookie and Jason's fairy ancestor, he is serving up some bedraggled Colonel Sanders Realness, and he apparently loves spaghetti. Hauer's character (I think his name is Niall; it sounded like "Nuh" whenever Jason said it) came back from fairyland to help his descendants with this Warlow problem. After dressing down Jason for spilling his family secrets to any stranger that would listen (seriously, Jason...), Niall determined that Warlow has escaped from the extra-dimensional prison Claudine sent him to after Warlow killed Sookie's parents years ago. He then explained that Warlow has been tormenting Niall's bloodline for years, and that in order to stop this some Stackhouse generations ago promised Warlow the first fae-powered girl in the bloodline. That'd be Sookie. The logic of this is dubious to me: terrible bad guy is destroying your family, so the best way to handle it is to just sacrifice someone else in your family? Dick move. At the end of the episode Niall trained Sookie on how to create some fairy-light bomb that will vaporize a vampire, but also permanently extinguish her fae powers. They should have just typed "MacGuffin" in giant white letters at the bottom of the screen and been done with it. Also, Niall's exposition dump this episode was beyond hamfisted, and even Rutger Hauer had a hard time delivering all of it in a manner even approaching believability. And lest we forget, this is the man who starred in "Ladyhawke." He has some experience with the ridiculous.

-The Bill plotline got crazier. I know; you thought it couldn't get more ridiculous than the Billith thing, right? Well, now Bill can see the future, specifically vampires being tortured/killed. After being approached by the naked, blood-covered answer to the Robert Palmer Girls last episode, Bill went into a trance and had a mental conference call with original Lilith. She vaguely told him how special he is, how he will have a major part to play in the coming conflict, and said explicitly that he is not a god, and that neither was she. That's the part that actually interests me about this whole crazy-ass storyline, and it has nothing to do with Bill, and more to do with Jessica. She had a surprisingly moving scene this episode where she prayed to Bill, who she is now accepting as a kind of vampire deity, asking him to bless and watch over all the people important to her, including Bill himself. Deborah Ann Woll is terrific, and having her watch in horror as Bill goes through this bizarre transformation is the only thing making this plot work for me. It's like Shelley Duvall in "The Shining," and her reaction to that freaky scene where comatose Bill telekinetically sucked every drop out of the blood hooker sold the moment to me, despite the hinky special effects.

-Eric and (ugh) Nora returned to Fangtasia to find Tara writhing in agony after being shot by the Louisiana state troopers last episode. Seems that humans have developed new anti-vamp weaponry, including silver bullets that emit UV rays that burn vampires from the inside out. That's actually kind of smart, and one of the themes emerging this season is science vs. supernatural, which we don't tend to get a lot of in paranormal fiction. Eric decides to take the fight to The Man, bluffs his way into a meeting with the governor of Louisiana (WAY too easily, and also, it's dark at 5:30 p.m. in this show?), and tries to glamour him into calling off the state-backed war against vamps. That goes poorly, as the governor reveals that humans have developed anti-glamour contacts that render that vamp power useless. He tries to take Eric into custody - he mentions "the camp," so we're definitely heading toward a vampire Holocaust thing here - but Eric flies away...only to pay a late-night visit to the governor's nubile young daughter. (Two other points here: Eric's flying seemed to surprise the humans, so that's another trick he's alerted them to; I suspect the "spitfire" the governor was discussing on the phone was Sarah Newlin. "Don't mess with Texas"?)

-On the "new tricks" tip, Forever Suffering Sam Merlotte was approached by a group of apparently human activists encouraging him to come out of the supernatural closet. The scene took an interesting turn when the leader of the group made a deliberate comparison between shifters and other supes staying hidden and her mixed-race grandparents standing up for their rights back in the 1960's. My question is, how exactly did these people know who Sam was? How did they know he's a shifter? We know that Luna's televised shift tipped off the population to the shape changers, but how did they identify her so quickly? And even if they did, how did that lead them to Sam in less than 24 hours? The episode ended with the activists getting surreptitious video footage of Sam openly discussing shifters and weres with Alcide and his pack, which showed up to take custody of Emma - ultimately by force. This was very weird characterization for Alcide, but I guess he's still hopped up on V from his packmaster fight, and high on being Head Wolf in Charge. Can I say, I'm growing increasingly tired of Alcide? He used to be charming and kind of an underdog (pun intended), but this new mas macho Alcide is not working for me. And I'm worried we'll never get Quinn in the show.

Quick round-up of the C and D plots:

-We got one bordering-on-embarrassing scene with Andy Bellefleur taking his now 4- or 5-year-old, totally verbal kids to the field where he met his fairy baby mama and demanded that she take them back. The kids giggling as they ran around Andy as he swore and yelled was kind of pathetically adorable, but this rapid-aging kids plot has been to death in other properties, and whatever qualities we once liked about Andy are rapidly vanishing at this point. Fairies ruin everything.

-The show called back to the awful Terry Ifrit plotline from last season by having his now-dead Army buddy's wife come find him at the bar. SHOW: WE DO NOT CARE ABOUT THIS PLOT. We never did. It was terrible, stupid, and had nothing to do with anything else. Terry Bellefleur is not even a tertiary character and he does not need his own storyline. Let it go. Give us Arlene as the likably bitchy waitress and Terry as her flustered husband/line cook and leave it at that.

-And then there's Pam. I think the show jumped the shark with the vampire bible/Authority crap, or possibly with the terribly handled witch plotline. But you can actually track this show's descent in quality by Pam's storyline. Remember when Pam was awesome? When we loved her because she had great witty barbs and absolutely no shits to give? That was a long time ago, and now all we get is Pam whining about Eric not liking her anymore and then hissing at Tara and then maybe making out with Tara. She is MISERABLE and absolutely exhausting to watch. The problem is that Pam basically serves no purpose anymore. As the show has expanded its focus to more global and mythological concerns (see: that stupid vampire bible shit) Fangtasia is awfully small beans. They tried to give Pam a plot last season by examining the maker/baby vamp relationship vis-à-vis her own separation from Eric, and her role in siring Tara. That worked to break down an otherwise hard-as-nails character. But when you break down a character you have to build them back up. We're now a solid two seasons into the Pam De Beaufort Pity Party, and I'm ready to leave. I don't give a shit about Pam and Eric. I don't give a shit about Pam and Tara, because they don't seem to actually LIKE each other very much. I feel like the show is shoving together two once-interesting characters that it has no idea what to do with anymore. I feel awful for both of those actresses, because they're both great. But now all they do is sit around in an empty bar and sulk. That's not fun, sexy, or scary. At the very least give us Ginger screaming in the corner!

Monday, June 10, 2013

"Game of Thrones" Season 3, Episode 10: The finale that didn't feel like a finale

Posted by on Mon, Jun 10, 2013 at 1:23 AM

I was fascinated to see how the showrunners would wrap up this season, especially given the intense public reaction to last episode’s Red Wedding. The answer is, they didn’t. Not really. What we got in the Season 3 finale felt more like a place holder than a proper finish. Some of the storylines were given a feeling of finality, or at least transformation, while others were being ramped up for Season 4. But all in all it was an unsatisfying ending that mostly served to just reposition everyone on the map.

See, this is the one place where I think splitting Book 3 over two seasons ended up hurting the series. Some people were downright infuriated by last week’s shocking ending, and feeling like the unceasing Stark misery was just too much to take. In the book, the Red Wedding happens midway through -- long enough so that readers still felt compelled to finish it, even if they hated that scene. And without spoiling it, the end of Book 3 gives readers some sweet, sweet vengeance as the comeuppance starts to get doled out to several characters. People only watching the show are left to feel that nothing but horror is on the horizon. And, well, that’s true. But the thing to remember is that horror is on the horizon for ALL of them, not just the “good guys.” I said a long time ago that I don’t believe anyone is going to survive this mess. I still think that’s going to be more true than not.

Anyway, let’s see where everyone ended up at the end of Season 3:

*We saw the aftermath of the Red Wedding, including Robb’s forces being decimated in slaughter and fire. The show also “went there” by actually showing the viewers his wolf’s head stuck on to his beheaded body. That kind of surprised me, but I realized that it was essential for Arya to see that image, so she knew her brother (and by extension, her mother) were really and truly dead. I know everyone is upset about the continued butchering of the Starks, but show-only fans need to understand two things. 1) From a narrative standpoint, all they’ve done is take out the “expected” leaders of the Stark clan -- the mother, father, and eldest son. What we have left are the bastard son, two daughters, and a severely disabled son. A big part of what Martin is doing with this series is exploring unlikely heroes in a medieval setting. How many straight, highborn, non-deformed men are the “heroes” at this point? 2) The Starks are actually not the main characters of this series. They’re the entry point, but they become less central as the plot moves along.

*Arya and The Hound got the hell out of the Twins and are currently wandering around the River Lands semi-aimlessly. Well, that’s not true. Arya sure has something on her mind: bloody revenge. She gets a taste of it after murdering a Frey lacky gloating about his hand in the wedding massacre, and once again shows us the coin given to her from Jhaqar Hagar. Suffice it to say, that will remain a significant plotpoint.

*News of the Red Wedding has spread to King’s Landing, where the Small Council is gathered and King Joffrey reacts with unbridled glee to the news that Robb Stark is dead. The scene serves mostly to underscore Joffrey’s psychopathic nature (he wants to serve Robb’s head to Sansa at his upcoming wedding to Margaery) and again to have him spar with Tyrion. The family squabble is ended by Tywin, who finds that even he is having difficulty keeping Joffrey under control at this point. Ultimately Tywin and Tyrion have a heart to heart about how Tywin’s maneuver to end the war (he was absolutely involved in planning the wedding massacre) will ultimately screw them all, because the North will never forget what just happened. Tywin isn’t terribly concerned, and instead takes the opportunity to inform his youngest son that he very nearly drowned him in the ocean on the day he was born. These family reunions are so touching!

*Speaking of reunions, Jaime Lannister finally returns to King’s Landing (with both Brienne and Qyburn in tow) to discover that nobody recognizes him, and to get a fairly…restrained welcome from his sister/lover/mother of his children. Lena Headey has really grown on me over the seasons. At first I was terribly underwhelmed by her portrayal of Cersei. But she’s gotten much better over the years, and I thought her scenes with Tyrion this season were excellent. So I was irked that this scene, which we’ve been building to literally all season, just landed with a thud. There are a lot of mixed emotions for both of those characters and all we got were two people looking at each other. Missed opportunity.

*In good (?) Lannister news, Sansa and Tyrion had a really sweet scene in which the newlyweds bonded over how to handle sniggering d-bags. That moment of peace was shortlived once Sansa discovered that her husband’s family had most of her remaining family members brutally murdered. But hey, that’s what happens when you have a crap dowry.

*Even more interesting was the scene between Varys and Shae, something that NEVER happens in the book. Neither of those characters are point-of-view characters, and this scene made me understand why. Part of why we love Varys is that you never really know whose side he’s on (except his own, of course). The mystique works for him. Here he openly sides with Tyrion, calling him one of the only people who stands a chance of righting King’s Landing, and he begs Shae to take a sack full of diamonds and leave since she is a “distraction” to Tyrion. Varys is, unfortunately, more right than he knows, and Shae’s pride demands that she tell him to go to hell. My guess is we’ll be seeing more of Shae’s point of view next season, and that’s unfortunate for reasons similar to Varys. The ambiguity of her upcoming actions is what makes them so interesting.

*The Theon Greyjoy Torture Hour returned, this time confirming what has thus far been left up for debate: his captor is indeed Ramsey Snow, the Bastard of Bolton. (The Boltons came out of nowhere this season to become the best bunch of murderous sociopaths in Westeros -- well done, boys!) After some completely unsubtle sausage innuendo through which we discovered that Theon is now technically a eunuch, Ramsey continued the psychological breaking of Theon by making Theon refer to himself by his new name: Reek. This is a significant departure from the book. Here Ramsey seems to come up with the name on the spot, as a reference to Theon being nothing but a pile of “stinking meat.” In the books, Reek is an established character who for a chunk of the series is actually Ramsey in disguise -- he goes all the way back to Book 2, possibly even the first one. There’s a whole backstory to it that is awful and disturbing. But I can’t imagine that jettisoning it will really hurt the ongoing Theon/Reek plotline.

*One of the better moments of the episode to me was using the Theon plot to solidify Yara (in the books called Asha) as a real point of view character in the series. Yara has been barely seen in Season 3, but after getting the Westeros equivalent of the SNL “Dick in a Box” skit (Step 1: Cut off Theon’s junk; Step 2: Put it in a box; Step 3: Send it to the Iron Isles) she informs her father to stuff it and takes a boat full of pirates to get back her brother. Yara/Asha is a great character, and it’s her story that makes the Iron Islands stuff even worth caring about. I was surprised to see that there was not another significant development in the Greyjoy family, but I guess they’re saving all that for Season 4.

*Jon Snow’s dumb ass got caught by Ygritte, and after Jon whined to her like a baby (“I’ve got to go home!”) and said that he knew she would never hurt him, Ygritte proved that Jon really DOES know nothing by shooting him with at least three arrows. This is another scene that was exclusive to the show -- Jon was seriously injured when escaping the Wilding group -- and the thing that makes no sense is that Ygritte found him, but the rest of the Wildlings were nowhere to be found. I can’t imagine that JormundGiantsbane just let her run off for some bucolic couples therapy.

*Jon’s brother Bran finally made it to The Wall with his motley crew, and stayed the night in the Nightfort. He told The Reeds and Hodor the tale of the Rat Cook, which may seem pointless, but stressed to the viewer just how huge a deal the Frey betrayal was in the eyes of the Westerosi gods. It also served to spook the kids just as Sam and Gilly climbed up a well into the Nightfort. Information about White Walkers was exchanged, dragonglass daggers and arrowheads were given (so apparently Sam had the whole damn sack he found at the Fist of the First Men), and then Sam showed Bran and the bunch the “secret way” out of the Nightfort. Which…did not look secret at all. It look like just a regular passageway. In the books I feel like this section was way cooler, involving a magic passage, a weirwood door, and spells that warded off nonhuman creatures. Which becomes very important in Bran’s story pretty much immediately…

*Finally we wrapped up, as we seemingly always do, with Daenerys. The Mother of Dragons became a mother once again, this time to thousands of Yunkish slaves who spilled out of the city to greet their emancipator. It was a nicely filmed scene that again showcased the leader Dany has become. It grew to a “moment” with the dragons flying and Dany being raised up by her new “children,” chanting “Mysah,” which means “mother.” I hope Dany enjoyed her time at Medieval Lolapalooza, because everything pretty much goes to hell for her from here. One thing the show didn’t mention: I believe all of these new non-slaves that have joined her are primarily whores and domestics who have no practical application in her army. And that’s a LOT of new mouths to feed. So like all single mothers, Dany is in for a very challenging road. But at least she has her dragons. Nothing could go wrong there, right?

And that does it for Season 3. It ended not with a bang, but with crowdsurfing. There were any number of cliffhangers they could have gone with, and they chose none of the above. An interesting approach. Will it be enough to keep people coming back for more? I hope so. While the Red Wedding is probably the most shocking moment in all the books yet published, there are plenty more “Oh, Shit!” scenes yet to come. And my hope is that the show will vastly improve on the sloppy, slow-moving plots of Books 4 and 5. But first let’s get through the rest of Book 3. There’s another wedding on the horizon…

Monday, June 3, 2013

"Game of Thrones" Season 3, Episode 9: A nice day for a Red Wedding

Posted by on Mon, Jun 3, 2013 at 11:04 AM

The Starks and The Tullys really shouldn't have been that surprised by the ending of last night's episode. If they'd bothered to look at the bridal registry they could have seen that all the Freys had signed up to bring BETRAYAL and DEATH!

I have been waiting for this episode since before the series even started airing. For the past few weeks people have been saying, "I don't know about this season; it's had some good episodes but it just doesn't seem to be going anywhere." If you haven't read the books I can see that point of view. But if you've read the source material, you know that a lot of things that seem minor, bordering on inconsequential, have actually been occurring at a fairly rapid pace in S3, and they have been paving the road to some major moments. Readers also knew that this week's shocking ending was coming, and the expectation of that alone was exciting.

I'm watching the show with a group that has - for the most part - stuck only to the show. So it was super fun to watch last night as their stunned silence turned into "Holy shit!/What the fuck?!" The Red Wedding is, for my money, THE biggest shocker in the books (the ones that have been published, anyway), and the scene lived up to its potential. The show did a very good job, although by the nature of the medium some of the details were lost. So let's go over a few of those, because they really add to the richness/tragedy of the situation. Spoilers on!

*The show did a great job communicating the ominous nature of the Tully/Frey wedding once the band kicked up. Cat (Michelle Fairley) realized that the door to the dining hall had just been locked, that Lord Bolton was wearing armor (and would not drink), etc. But the book was far more successful in building up a sense of unease as this event grew closer and closer, to the point where readers knew something awful was about to happen, but were still totally unprepared for what it turned out to be. The big "Oh Shit!" moment for Cat also might not have been communicated effectively in the show: the song being played by the band was "The Rains of Castamere," which was referenced in a previous episode by Cersei. The song is about a family that pissed off the Lannisters and which was subsequently literally wiped out by the Lions in return. So once Cat heard that at the wedding, she knew they'd been sold out. It's a chilling moment and Fairley played it very, very well. She was amazing in general this episode.

*The show has also not done a great job with establishing its tertiary characters -- this season it has done particularly poorly with the Reeds -- and that hurt this sequence vis-à-vis the significance of Roose Bolton. Bolton was at the wedding, the guest who would not drink wine and who was wearing armor under his fine dress clothes. Bolton was one of Rob's bannermen. He is also the person currently in charge of Harrenhal (in the show at least) and is the man who received and then released Jaime Lannister. His change of allegiance is significant. It demonstrates that the shrewd people of Westeros realized that there was no way Robb could win that war. There is also another important connection for Bolton that has yet to be verified by the show, but I assume is coming: his bastard son is the psychopath torturing the hell out of TheonGreyjoy. There's a reason House Bolton's standard is the flayed man.

*A minor detail, but one the show visually focused on: when the Starks and Tullys entered Lord Frey's home, dishes of bread and salt were passed around. This is an important Westerosi custom, and is essentially a contract between host and guest that no harm will come to either party during the visit. The fact that Lord Frey deliberately went through the custom, knowing full well he was leading these people to their deaths, is basically an affront to the gods old and new. But as you may have guessed by Frey's nonchalant reaction to Cat holding his wife hostage, Lord Frey is out of shits to give.

*It's interesting that I've seen the strongest reactions to the Red Wedding from women who were horrified by the murder of Talisa and her unborn child, specifically the viciousness with which she was stabbed in her belly. I don't know if this helps or not, but Talisa does not exist in the books. Robb has a totally different character for a wife, and she is not present at the Red Wedding - I believe she's still alive. I don't recall whether or not she was pregnant with Robb's kid. I remember people talking about the possibility, but I don't recall if it was ever confirmed. So basically, the baby murder was all for the show.

*The books also do a better job explaining that while the slaughter was going on inside the keep, Robb's army was similarly being demolished in its camp outside. I believe large tents that were set on fire were involved.

*I'll be curious to see if the show goes so far as to give us Robb's final fate: he is beheaded and his direwolf's head is sewn on to his body. It is unspeakably grim, but a) the show did show us Ned's head on a spike, and b) the show made a point of showing us Grey Wind for the first time in episodes, and specifically showed the wolf's death. That may have been so that Arya could actually witness yet more horror, instead of just realizing that she was standing right outside the castle inside which her brother and mother were being murdered. Arya bearing witness to the systematic snuffing out of her family is actually a key part of her character progression.

So, that's it for the Red Wedding. Robb is dead. Talisa is dead. Cat is dead. (I remember when reading the book I thought Cat MIGHT somehow get out of it gravely wounded, because Cat was a POV character from the very beginning of the series; her death was truly the most shocking to me.) The Stark Rebellion is over. But don't think for a second that things are going to settle down. The actions at the Twins serve to spin several characters onto totally different paths. (Ask yourself: what does Arya do now?) I'm very curious to see where the season finale leaves us, because the Red Wedding was the most shocking event of the third book. Well, until the OTHER wedding, but that's going to be in Season 4...

Some other thoughts on the episode:

*I have not been the biggest fan of Rory McCann as The Hound, but I thought the scenes between him and Arya this episode were terrific. I am realizing that part of that is the fact that Maisie Williams (Arya) may be incapable of delivering a bad performance (remember how amazing the Tywin and Arya Show was last season?), but there was the beginnings of an understanding between the two characters that felt very natural to me. And The Hound's line about Arya being terrified that everything was going to go wrong now that she was just seconds away from finally being safe...that is basically Arya's entire existence in a nutshell. Really good stuff.

*Bran got his first significant scene of the season, although it was largely set up for his arc in Season 4. I honestly believe that the Bran plotline has been the most poorly handled of the season. I don't know what the showrunners could have done - they had so many things to do in S3, and Bran's current situation isn't all that gripping. But trust me when I say that all of this Three-Eyed Crow stuff is building to something interesting. Unfortunately a lot of it has to deal with Westerosi legend that has been totally ignored by the show thus far. Have they even mentioned the Children of the Forest? The Green Men?The nature of the Godswoods?Bran the Builder? Expect the show to focus a lot more on Bran and his crew in S4, and expect things to get more exciting and creepy as they're joined by a mysterious new party member. (I am also glad that we finally got Osha and Rickon off the board in this episode. In the books they departed when the gang split up after the fall of Winterfell; I'm not really sure why they kept either of them around for any of Season 3. It's also curious that the show is sending them to a totally different location than their destination in the books, which frankly sounded way more interesting.)

*One last note on the Bran sequence: that tower setpiece is WAY cooler in the books. The tower is an interesting structure named for one of the former dragon queens of Westeros, it stands in the middle of a lake with the only access coming from a submerged foot bridge, and the whole battle with the Wildlings takes place at night, in a horrible thunderstorm. Production-wise it would have been nightmarish to execute, but it was kind of a bummer to see how much of that sequence was just thrown away. There was another interesting difference here: in the books, since Rickon and Shaddydog are long gone, they're not part of that scene at all. And I believe that Ghost is still with Jon at that point -- and senses that Bran/Summer is with them -- but I could be wrong. I honestly have totally lost track of the direwolves in the show. Have they even mentioned Nymeria since Season 1?

*Jon finally got away from the Wildlings and in the process majorly pissed off Ygritte. Note to guys out there: do not ditch your fire-kissed girlfriends in the midst of battle, because that is not going to end well for any party involved.

*The Sam and Gilly scene was largely pointless. It didn't even establish whether or not Sam left the dragonglass in the forest where he killed the White Walker, as it appeared that he did last episode. It did set up some important information that will come up next episode (I'm guessing) but the show really needs to work on making both Sam and Gilly more interesting. Right now they make me sad every time they're on screen, and we're actually going to see more of them as this all goes along. Unless they fix the chemistry between the two actors the upcoming boat sequence is going to be unwatchable.

*Lastly, we got the sack of Yunkai at the hands of Daenerys's captains, DaarioNaharis, Grey Worm, and Sir Jorah. This was largely offscreen and the entire point of the exercise was to establish that Dany can trust Daario at least somewhat, and that Jorah is intensely jealous and distrustful of him. What I noticed in this episode is that Dany herself seems to be fading into the background of her own plotline. Jorah is almost becoming the point-of-view character here. I don't mind that, necessarily, because I think Jorah is great. But the show has to be careful with Dany here, because since they've introduced Daario she's started to lose some of the regal nature that she's been growing into all along. That's obviously part of the point of Daario. But it's especially troublesome here, because the casting of Daario makes it unbelievable that Dany would be so swoon-prone around him. Puny McGirlhair is supposed to make the Mother of Dragons quiver? I don't buy it. (BTW: Have we skipped over Dany's betrayal prophecy?)

NEXT WEEK: I honestly don't know, because the preview showed us barely anything of consequence.

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Game of Thrones" Season 3, Episode 8: An Imp-ulsive wedding

Posted by on Mon, May 20, 2013 at 10:54 AM

The final act of Season 3 kicked off with several major plot points and some wonderful dialogue, making for another terrific episode in - I think - the strongest season of the show yet.

*The main plotline of the night took place in King's Landing, specifically the utterly joyless forced wedding of Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark. So many fantastic character moments leading up to, during, and after the nuptials, which went off with only a slight hitch when scumbag Joffrey removed the stepstool necessary for the cloaking ceremony (the Westeros equivalent of exchanging rings) for the sole purpose of humiliating his poor uncle. That scene in the book is more contentious. Book Sansa deliberately ignores Tyrion's request for her to kneel, and later Tyrion is less gallant about their wedding night. The show has been working to make Tyrion less morally ambiguous and more straight-up heroic, while softening Sansa's less-likable qualities (although most of those have been literally beaten out of her at this point), making for an oddly sweet pairing. Meanwhile, the show is taking great (yet silent) pains to establish Shaye's feelings about this whole mess, and it won't be long before that whole situation goes very, very sour.

Speaking of sour, there were a few uproarious wedding-related scenes with the Queen of Thorns figuring out the complicated family trees that will result from all of these Lannister weddings, and poor Loras awkwardly trying to start a conversation with his de facto betrothed, Cersei, before getting spectacularly shot down. The Loras/Cersei stuff was never part of the book, so I'm loving seeing that (and Loras has become a reliable punchline, which this show will increasingly need as it gets darker and darker). And Peter Dinklage should get another Emmy nod for his drunken yet heartfelt performance throughout the episode. Really terrific work.

*Elsewhere, the Mother of Dragons met with the captains of the Second Sons, the group of sellswords currently working for the slave masters of Yunkai. Daenerys offered their leader, a super hot but totally sexist piece of shit, a ton of gold and titles if they abandoned the Yunkai and worked for her instead. He and one of his lieutenants weren't interested, but the other - Bravosi Daario Naharis - was persuaded not only by Dany's words and money, but also her beauty. So he beheaded both of his comrades, dumped their noggins on the floor of Dany's tent, and pledged himself and his 2000 men to Dany's service. To be honest, I was less than pleased to watch this play out. First, by giving the viewers Daario's point of view, the show ruined one of the more dramatic moments from the books, when Daario visits Dany's camp in the night. Secondly, Ed Skrein is not even close to how I pictured Daario. He's supposed to be swarthy and impossibly sexy - the definition of masculinity. Skrein is blandly pretty, practically androgynous, and in this episode demonstrated very little magnetism. The disgusting pig of a leader he beheaded commanded the camera far more convincingly. Daario should be undeniable, for Dany and the viewer. I'm not seeing that in this casting at all.

*The Melisandre/Gendry plotline, which was arguably the show's biggest departure from the books, was brought more or less back to the source material this episode. Stannis had a frank conversation with Davos, who correctly argued that Stannis was obviously wrestling with the idea of sacrificing his bastard nephew to please the Red Priestess. Stannis released Davos (and bonus: Davos is now literate, thanks to the Westerosi "Reading Rainbow" that went down in his prison cell) in time to walk in on the aftermath and Melisandre seducing poor Gendry, dry humping him, and then leeching his chest and junk to get at his "king's blood." Note that it was slightly unclear, but Melisandre explained that the leeches were used because Stannis required proof that the "king's blood" was important - Gendry is still very much in danger of being totally sacrificed. (That is, if he doesn't die of blue balls first. That was brutal, Mel.) There is a scene in the books that features Mel throwing king's-blood-filled leeches into the fire, which produces godly visions for Stannis. We didn't necessarily get that here, but this does seem to be ending up back where the plot originated. I also liked that Stannis and Davos talked about what I consider to be one of the more interesting debates in the book. It's easy to look at Melisandre as a villain, or at best a zealot. But you can't deny that her power - and by extension her god - is very real based on what we've seen her do. So if you accept that at least part of her belief system is right, how can you doubt the rest of it? My interpretation remains that Mel is actually working on the "good" side (and that Dany, the dragonglass, etc. is all a part of it). Her methods are just massively skewed.

*On the dragonglass tip, the Sam plotline finally ignited as he, Gilly, and Gilly's wee babe came face to face with a White Walker north of the Wall. I appreciated the show explicitly arguing that the creature appeared to them because it wanted Gilly's baby, which Craster had promised to them along with all of his other sons. I honestly didn't pick that up while I was reading the books, I just figured it was Sam's shitty luck to run into one of them. With Gilly and the kid in danger Sam stepped up and attacked the wight. That didn't work out too well as it shattered his sword and sent Sam flying. He instinctively grabbed the shard of obsidian he found at the Fist of the First Men, stabbed the creature in the back, and it shrieked and split into teeny tiny pieces. And of course Sam, being Sam, grabbed Gilly and the kid and ran - leaving behind the very item that saved him. All in all I thought this was a well-executed scene, and I loved the attention to detail, with the crows swarming the tree and the wierwood crying. I'm not sold on the actors playing Sam or Gilly, though. Please know that I will always love Hannah Murray because she was my darling Cassie on "Skins," but both she and John Bradley are giving me too much slack-jawed mumbling and awkward sulking. Neither of those characters is terribly likable, and that's very strange, because I was instantly into them in the books.

*Finally, The Hound carted Arya around the River Lands in what looked like the most uncomfortable pony ride ever. Their brief scene served only to remind us that The Hound did in fact save Arya's sister, so he's not all bad, and to set up the fact that he's taking her to The Twins for the impending Tully/Frey nuptials. And if you thought this episode's wedding scene was memorable yet awkward, just you wait.

NEXT: We have a week off for Memorial Day, and also for the Liberace movie starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Between all the gold, jewels, and simulated sodomy it won't be that dissimilar from the goings on in King's Landing. And then come back on June 2 for more tragedy and buttocks. And I'm not just talking about that ratty fur-fringed frock they forced on Brienne.

Wl Ventions presents City Teen Auditions @ Rochester Association of Performing Arts

Dancers and Singers 14-16 yrs.old...

Two Views of a Character Portrait @ School of the Arts

Demo by Susan Lyon and Michelle Dunaway....

SageFest 8 @ AsIs Gallery, Sage Art Center

Mural by Thievin' Stephen, art exhibit by Nina Korn, art student-designed t-shirt...

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