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.

Monday, June 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 6 Reunion/Finale: And the winner is…

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2014 at 12:57 AM

The good news: the right queen won!

The bad news: was it just me, or was basically every part of that reunion totally predictable?

It’s times like this where I sincerely feel for RuPaul and the “Drag Race” folks. They gave the fans basically everything they could want in that reunion episode. They crowned the right winner. We got to see all of our beloved queens. Several fan favorites got their “moments.” The Pit Crew came out dressed in tuxedo briefs and there were some dancers doing some extremely gay choreography (shout out to the ode to Ornacia, which was everything). And yet, I still found it somewhat unsatisfying.

I think it comes down to the format, which results in the whole thing feeling scripted. Almost every queen came off very pageant-ish in her answers, which is to say, as rehearsed and crowd-pleasing as possible. And that’s just not very exciting to watch. When you look back at the reunions for seasons 1 through 3, before the format changed to prevent spoilers from ruining the whole season, the reunited queens were quite candid, and there were some truly shocking moments (the RuPaul/Tammie Brown slapdown from S1 remains legendary).

I understand why the production company made the change. And the “live” (but not really) format allows the fans to have a say in who wins, and gives them a sense of participating in the proceedings. But there has to be a way to harness that energy and yet still encourage the queens to be themselves. Maybe everyone needs to get REALLY drunk ahead of time. I don’t know.

Anyway, all the Season 6 queens were back on the stage, and each one got a moment in the spotlight. I’ll go through each one, and provide my thoughts.

Kelly Mantle: Looked great, and was totally cool with going out first. She acknowledged that she went from preseason frontrunner to first boot, but it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t give a shit. She got what she wanted out of this: national exposure. She said her early ouster was the fault of not knowing how to sew, but six seasons in, that excuse really doesn’t cut it anymore. The split premiere may have screwed her over, but come ON, queens. I don’t care how famous you are before going on this show. Know how to sew a goddamned seam. (That said, I still like Kelly.)

Magnesium Cronut -- excuse me, Magnolia Crawford -- or possibly Engarde, that swordfish from the Donkey Kong Country games -- may have been booed by the crowd when she came out in her sensible “Golden Girls” ensemble. That seems a bit harsh. Along with Laganja, Mags was the butt of the joke this season, and I think she’s actually a lot more engaging than the show made her out to be. The YouTube video she made revealing the “truth” about her elimination was pretty funny. Anyway, at the reunion she made a terrible joke about her nose. She claimed that she didn’t watch the season, which I am…dubious about. Ru didn’t let her get away with it. Macaroni Catfish will never win.

Vivacious: Ornacia continues to be her big contribution to “Drag Race.” I bet Vivacious gets sick of talking about it, but seriously: Ornacia for Season 7. Let’s make it happen. Just strap that bitch to a skateboard and send her down the runway. Vi looked predictably ridiculous in a gold and red confection, and taught the children how to pound a runway. I like Vivacious, and bet she would be fun to see live.

April Carrion: Was absolutely robbed going home so soon, and I loved watching the looks she would have worn throughout the season, which she put out on social media. I wasn’t overly thrilled with the look tonight, which was certainly avant-garde, but it sacrificed beauty in the interest of, well, interest. At least it was eye catching and memorable. April said that she wasn’t disappointed going home so early, because she was never meant to win this season -- she was meant to win “All Stars 2.” Throw down that sequin-covered gauntlet, honey!

Gia Gunn: Say what you want about Gia, but that dragon lady dress she wore tonight was impressive. Gia predictably tried to play off her bitchy attitude on the show as “just keeping it real” and...snore. Nobody’s buying. Gia wants viewers to know that she’s a “humble, nice Asian girl.” In addition to Deloreans and black-and-white movies, I’m not sure Gia knows what the word “humble” means.

Milk: Milk gave us glamour at the reunion, which I appreciated for its thumb-biting (“See, I CAN do this”), but still missed seeing something truly cracked out coming out of her. (Nobody this year even came close to Detox’s noir look from last year, or Sharon’s Ouija board glamour, etc.). Milk talked about how she got all kinds of attention for how hot he is out of drag. True that, but is that all that Ru had to talk about with one of the most subversive queens to ever appear on this show? She wore facial hair in the first episode, for Divine’s sake.

LaganjaEstranja: Laganja was giving us Gary Oldman in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” Realness, and was as fucking annoying as ever. It’s interesting to note that she was sincere and not irritating when talking about her drag mother, Alyssa Edwards. She just needs…so many seats, you guys. Laganja talked about how after the show, she put out a song, launched a jewelry line, and is involved in several other business enterprises. I don’t begrudge the queen success, but…really? Who is buying that? If she put out a line of pot-laced frozen lasagna entries, she could have all of my money, though.

Trinity K. Bonet: Trinity looked gorgeous; possibly the best dressed of all the S6 queens, with only Ben and Courtney giving her a run for her wig. During her interview with Ru, Trinity attributed her transformation on the show in part to Bianca, which was sweet to hear. She also spoke vaguely about being a role model for her community, and I felt that Trinity was selling herself short here. She came out of her shell so much throughout that season, and what I saw tonight was a bit of a backslide for her. Trinity: you are great. Please continue to be great! You don’t need to second guess yourself about anything.

Joslyn Fox: Joslyn became universally beloved thanks to her sweet personality and goofy sense of humor. I’m still a little baffled by how popular Joslyn became, because when you look at her performance across the season, she never once won a challenge, and only placed high a few times. But she is likable, no doubt about that. Joslyn said that she responded to the judges’ critiques by wearing even more accessories. I was chagrined that she didn’t show up wearing eight of her finest high-fashion bikinis. Later in the show, her VERY CUTE fiancée came up and asked Joslyn to marry him then and now. And ordained minister RuPaul did just that. The Scruff Pit Crew were the wedding party. It was sweet (and, again, kind of predictable).

Ben DeLaCreme: DeLa looked absolutely fantastic in a pink and gold giraffe-print outfit, and Ru immediately brought up the insane online reaction to Ben’s fifth-place dismissal. DeLa handled it all like a champ. A be-stilted Ivy Winters announced that Ben was this year’s Miss Congeniality (the prize: a $2500 gift card to -- am I wrong, or is that prize way lower than last year?). There was some controversy over this, since Joslyn was easily the frontrunner for Congeniality, until DeLa was eliminated…right before voting cut off. Conspiracy theorists have suggested that the show always wanted DeLa to win Congeniality, as a make-good for not making Final 3, and to better ensure her spot on “All Stars 2.” If DeLa wants on "AS2" i don't think she'd have any problems securing a spot, regardless of whether she won Congeniality.

Darienne Lake: Darienne looked really good, and Ru immediately discussed the “rivalry” between Ben and Darienne, which always seemed largely manufactured by the editors from my perspective. Ben and Darienne were totally sweet with one another and there were clearly no hard feelings there -- if there ever were at all. Ru showed footage of Darienne’s mother and father being supportive of Darienne, and more or less extending an olive branch to reconcile. I have no idea what the situation is between Darienne and her parents, but even though that was tres manipulative on the part of the show, I hope they work it out. I also hope the internet calms down on Darienne, because the negative comments have been out of control. The amount of vitriol, over basically nothing…people have problems. That’s all I’m saying.

Adore Delano: Adore looked polished at the reunion, but I found both of her outfits a little boring. Ru showed footage of a de-dragged Adore and Laganja watching the infamous “I Feel Very Attacked” episode of “Untucked,” and that entire sequence was even more awkward than the original fight. It was gross and exactly the kind of thing I DON’T want from this show. The upshot: Adore and Laganja are apparently friends again. Yay? Later, Adore said that Ru and the show made her feel like a more fully developed character, and I can completely believe that. Adore even admitted that she figured she would be going home by Episode 3. Early on, I thought that, too. It wasn’t until the musical episode that she showed us anything worth noticing, and even after that it was quite touch and go. Adore has an album coming out, and I’m so intrigued to see what she does as a pop star. She’s got tons of potential and serious natural ability. She just needs to get a few more years under her corset.

Bianca Del Rio: Bianca looked good -- loved the flower in the hair -- although I wish she’d given us a more eye-catching dress. She read Season 4 contestant Jiggly Caliente at a reader’s request, but honestly, it’s hard to find an easier target than Jiggly. Bianca discussed the nice-guy edit vs. her insult-comic persona. She did a hilarious bit talking about Lady Bunny’s encouragement to do the show. Bianca’s little friend Lola was in the audience, and she had a little poem for RuPaul. I wonder who wrote that.

Courtney Act: Courtney looked terrific tonight, and her second ensemble was giving me serious Jem and the Holograms glamour. I ate it up. Unfortunately, the hologram comparison was apt, because it seemed like Courtney wasn’t even really there for the vast majority of the show. I swear I don’t think she said a word prior to 11:17 p.m., within 15 minutes of the ending. Courtney talked about the fact that people had high expectations of her coming in, which added pressure to the competition. I bet that’s true. She also discussed how her blunt Australian sensibility maybe didn’t translate well on camera. (I think the editors helped with that.) Apparently Chaz Bono and Courtney have become good friends since the show, which is amusing given how Chaz lusted after Courtney as a guest judge. But hey, I am all for Courtney taking whatever boost she can get from this show, because I think she was treated fairly poorly by it for the last third of the season. She gave us some sickening looks, solid performances, and never once attacked anyone, and yet she’s still perceived as a “villain” by some. It makes absolutely no sense.

Once we got to the actual crowning, Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon came out looking great in Emerald City couture. In addition to the $100,000 prize, the winner of Season 6 received a crown and scepter presented by Fierce Drag Jewels. Can someone please compile a list of all the amazing businesses out there to dress drag queens? I am endlessly entertained by them.

And finally, Ru announced the winner: BIANCA DEL RIO! As it should be. They had taped four different endings, one each for Adore, Bianca, and Courtney, and a TIE between Bianca and Adore. And if that had happened, I would have been furious. Because I like all three of those queens very much, but you cannot argue that anyone had as strong a performance as Bianca. She has the best overall performance in “Drag Race” history. A tie would have been utter bullshit.

The funny thing is, Season 6 was stocked with strong queens. I argued before it even started that it could be anyone’s competition, and I think that’s true, given how far seemingly middle-tier queens like Joslyn and Trinity went, while shoulda-been-contenders like Kelly and Laganja went out fairly early. And yet, from the second she sashayed into that work room, Bianca Del Rio never missed a trick. She did well or amazing in every challenge, was funny and engaging, and navigated the social and fan aspects better than possibly any other queen before her. So was it a tight race? If you look at Bianca’s popularity on social media, especially going into the finale, not really. I don’t know if that’s a testament to the singular strength of Bianca Del Rio, or a condemnation of the show not fully showcasing such an amazing crop of talent. But there you have it.

So, that’s it for Season 6. Overall I would definitely consider it among the best seasons of the show thus far. What do you think? I was hoping for an “All Stars 2” announcement during the finale, and surprised we didn’t get it. A bunch of the queens (Porkchop, April, Willam, Milk, etc.) have been discussing it openly on social media. I imagine they have to be shooting it this summer/fall. It’s not Logo has anything else going on! Seriously, who is running that channel? Why are you not even attempting to launch any other programming now that the ONLY original series people watch is going off the air for seven months? Baffling...

Monday, May 19, 2014

“Game of Thrones” Season 4, Episode 7: Mockingbird

Posted By on Mon, May 19, 2014 at 12:37 AM

Watch that last step, Lysa gurl! It’s a doozy!

Lysa Arryn’s poorly planned physics experiment kicked off what should be a string of deaths over the next few episodes. I don’t think that’s spoiling anything -- people die on this show all the damned time. But by my count we should see at least five more fairly major characters die between now and season’s end. So that should give you something to look forward to in the two weeks before the next episode (no new episode on Memorial Day weekend).

Tons of plots to cover this episode. Let’s get right to it. Spoilers on.

-In King’s Landing, Tyrion tried to find a champion to fight on his behalf in his trial by combat. Cersei’s champion has been selected: The Mountain, played by a new actor who can barely speak English, but that is hardly the point. He is a wall of flesh and my tongue was hanging out for his entire shirtless scene in which he obliterated a whole group of randoms. Take me, Mountain! I am yours. As for Tyrion’s stand-in, Jaime’s out because he’s still useless as a one-handed combatant. Bronn declined after Cersei made him an offer he couldn’t refuse (more on that in a second). And just as Tyrion was making peace with meeting his end as a smear on The Mountain’s boot, Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne offered up his services against Mr. Mountain, the better to get legally sanctioned revenge for the murder of his sister and her children years ago.

A few thoughts. First, once again, Peter Dinklage was acting the shit out of those scenes. The dynamic between him and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is so good that I hate how few scenes we’ve had between them. Second, I was curious how they would handle Bronn, because this is basically the last we see of Bronn in the books (the ones published thus far, at least). I hope that we don’t lose Bronn altogether, because I have truly enjoyed Jerome Flynn’s take on the character, and he’s very popular with viewers. Third, that sequence in which Oberyn recounts the first time he met Tyrion was, I believe, almost verbatim what was written in the books. But it was so much more affecting on the show. I adore Pedro Pascal and what he is bringing to this role.

-In the Riverlands, The Hound and Arya came upon a dying man who had been set upon by marauders. This was a fairly pointless sequence except it furthered the odd bond between the two main characters, and then provided an opportunity for them to be attacked by people seeking the bounty on The Hound’s head. The bit with Rorge was almost ridiculously silly, but I’ll admit that it did make me laugh. Rorge also called back to S2 Arya buddy Hot Pie, who made an unexpected appearance in the Brienne/Podrick plotline. My memory of the Brienne plot in the books is awfully fuzzy, but I recall that it meanders quite a bit, and that she continues to search for Sansa, not Arya, who Brienne honestly believes to be dead. So Hot Pie’s tipoff to Arya’s continued existence is a fairly big change from the book. So is Pod’s encouragement that they head to the Vale, which would be the logical place for anyone with either Stark girl to ransom them, given that Lady Lysa is their aunt. If the show is streamlining the Brienne plot, I would be conflicted. On the one hand, it is fairly extraneous to most of the major arcs. On the other, Brienne goes to some pretty far-flung locations which some interesting history, and I’ve read some fascinating theories on the significance of the sequence at the Whispers in particular.

-In Essos, Daenerys was asked by Daario Naharis to let him do what he does best: fight or fuck. After making him take off his clothes, she let him do both. (I’m making this more lascivious than it was, but we did get a nice butt shot, and I’m more glad than ever that they recast Daario.) The morning after, Dany dispatched Daario to take his crew to Yunkai and retake the city, murdering all of the former slave masters who have once again rebelled against her. Jorah Mormont, who totally knows that Dany broke off a piece of Daario, kept his Friend Zone frustration in check long enough to council her against murdering hundreds more people. Dany made a point of having Jorah tell Daario that Jorah had convinced her to change the plan. A few interesting changes in this situation. In the books, Dany is basically so strongly attracted to Daario that she cannot help but take him into her bed. I thought the way the show handled this was a better reflection of the Dany we’ve come to expect: she slept with Daario, but not out of blind lust. She did it because she felt like it, and she never lost control. It felt more mature and regal to me, and less teenaged girl incapable of saying no to a bad boy. (We have ALL been there, right ladies?) But I was surprised at how well Jorah took Dany sleeping with Daario. He was awfully clinical about the whole thing, whereas you would expect him to be consumed by jealousy. I guess it boils down to all of those characters behaving more like adults and less like pouty, hormone-riddled children. So I really shouldn’t complain.

-At The Wall, the current command of the Night’s Watch continued to be The Worst, dismissing Jon Snow’s suggestions to seal the tunnels beneath The Wall, which he said would be useless against an army that would feature honest-to-god giants. That’s really all that happened there, but it was important to remind viewers of that plot point, since next week will see the south-of-the-Wall wildlings attack Castle Black, and we literally haven’t seen them since like episode 2 or 3 this season.

-At Dragonstone, Melisandre and her nipples took a bath, while the never-not-creepy Queen Selyse came in for a frank chat. The two women talked about faith, tricks, and truth, and they both acknowledged that Selyse knows all about what’s going on between Mel and Stannis. The really interesting part of that scene was Selyse trying to get out of taking her daughter, Shireen, on whatever trip they’re all going on. (Did I miss the part where they said where they were heading? I mean, I know where they’re heading. But did the show say it?) Melisandre made it very clear to Selyse that Shireen has to come with them, because she will be called upon by the Lord of Light. There has been a lot of speculation on the part of book readers about Shireen’s role in the overarching story -- throughout the books that have been published she is a tertiary character, but there have been many hints that she will have a key role to play. There are a few prophecies in which she could fit, and her once-dead fool, Patchface, has raised eyebrows from his first appearance. This scene between Mel and Selyse, which never happened in the books, certainly feeds those fires, both literally and figuratively.

-Finally, in The Vale, Sansa spent some time with her weirdo cousin Robin, and slapped the little shit after he threw a fit. This was a very bad move, as it was seen by Littlefinger, who urged her to maybe keep it together…before putting the pervy moves on her literally seconds after saying that he could have been her father. And THAT smoochy moment was caught by notable crazy person Lysa Arryn, who of course then tried to push her niece out of the Moon Door, sending her free falling to a brutal death on the rocks thousands of feet below. But fear not for Sansa: Littlefinger arrived in time, assured his wife, Lysa, that he would send Sansa away, and then told Lysa that there is only one woman he has ever loved: her sister, Catelyn. And then he pushed the bitch out the door. End scene (and episode).

So, yeah, Lysa’s dead. Petyr is probably very happy that she pushed to move up their wedding night, so that he could be the lawful Lord of the Vale -- although expect that to be contested. In the books there was a whole other character involved in this arc, a bard on whom Littlefinger pinned Lysa’s murder. So it will be interesting to see how the show handles that trial. I wouldn’t worry too much about Petyr Baelish, though. As has been proven again and again, he is basically made of Medieval Teflon. He makes bigger moves that just about anybody else in that universe, and he never, ever ends up on the losing side.

Next: Tyrion’s trial by combat, wildlings attack Castle Black, TheonGreyjoy tries to take Moat Cailin, and maybe we’ll check in with Bran. But probably not. Free Coldhands!

6×6 Virtual Opening @ Rochester Contemporary Art Center

6×6 Virtual Opening @ Rochester Contemporary Art Center

6×6 Virtual Opening @ Rochester Contemporary Art Center

6×6 Virtual Opening @ Rochester Contemporary Art Center

Screening & Discussion: "July '64" @ Livestream

Screening & Discussion: "July '64" @ Livestream

Presented by Citizen Action of NY, Rochester Chapter. Registration required....

View all of today's events »

Top Tags in
Arts & Entertainment



physical distancing


stay home

Browse Listings

Submit an event

© 2020 City Newspaper.

Website powered by Foundation.