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Archive for November, 2012

So, when I was watching it all unfold last night, I was pretty annoyed with the producers for essentially handing Abi immunity. Of course it’s possible that they’d planned ahead of time for the Survivor Auction to take place at this point in the game, and it’s not really under the producers’ control that the other survivors were too stupid to save their money for the inevitable “advantage in the immunity challenge” prize, but I do think it was awfully convenient that the advantage was skipping to the last round and that the last round was the only challenge so far that required absolutely zero skill. It made no sense that after two rounds of doing the rope maze thing, the final round was just untying knots. That reeked of last-minute producer interference and I hated it. In the end, it probably won’t affect the outcome of the game overall, but the thought of having to stare at Abi’s delusional face for another week is deeply unsettling.

Anyway, with Abi’s win came the inevitable focus on voting out Penner. Overcome with guilt, Lisa went to Penner and blabbed the whole plan, telling Penner that he is her heart connection in the game, but she just can’t not be a follower, so she’s voting him out. The more she cries and talks about how much bigger the game is than herself, the more I can’t help but see Lisa as the type of person who would easily get sucked into a cult. She might desperately not want to vote Penner out, but the mighty Malcolm and Denise have spoken, so she’ll do what they say. If their stay on the island was any longer, I have no doubt that she’d end up drinking some kool-aid.

Anyway, with Penner flabbergasted that his decision not to make empty promises basically sealed his fate, he scrambles and tries to convince Skupin to flip and vote with him, Carter, and Abi to take out Denise. He keeps scrambling at Tribal Council where this season’s trend of utter honesty continues as Penner tells everyone that there’s no way they’ll win if they’re sitting beside Denise or Malcolm, so the only move is to vote out Denise right now. The editors did what the could with Skupin’s hilarious facial expressions, but it was clear pretty quickly that neither Skupin nor Lisa would be able to think independently of Denise and Malcolm. Malcolm was even confident enough to not have to play his idol on Denise, even though Penner yelled out his vote as he was writing it down.

Here’s the thing with all of Penner’s scrambling – he’s absolutely right. I don’t think there’s any way that Denise or Malcolm doesn’t win and really, Malcolm probably has this in the bag. The final four might change – I still think Carter has a good chance of winning immunity to sneak into the final 3, but that’s about it. Abi might think she’s being super clever by telling people she has a hidden idol (in fact, I’m positive that she thinks she’s pretty much the best player to have ever played the game), but I don’t think anyone else is stupid enough to buy it. So, it should be Abi next week, then Carter/Lisa/Skupin. After Penner’s torch was snuffed, they cut to a shot of Malcolm and you could almost see the realization hit him – he’d gone from being on the worst tribe to winning the million dollars. He just has to ride it out for a few more days.

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For some reason, I’m having a hard time writing a regular review for this episode. Perhaps I’m spent with all the excitement of Boardwalk Empire or perhaps it’s because so much has happened this episode (and this season) that I’m running out of steam. Whatever the reason, I think I’m just going to stick to bullet points for today. Hopefully next week, I’ll be feeling more energetic!

  • So, we don’t really know what exactly happened between Brody and Abu Nazir during the 12 hours he was off the grid. The story that he tells Carrie, Saul, Quinn, et al. seems plausible enough, but Brody didn’t tell them that he prayed with Nazir, so who knows what else he’s hiding. I think it is significant that his discussions with Nazir about Allah revolved around personal motivation and force of will. I really liked the way the show kept us guessing by just showing us snippets of the flashbacks.
  • Still, Brody’s panic to ensure the safety of his family after he watched Nazir drive away seemed authentic.
  • The plot to blow up the vice president at a ceremony for 300 returning soldiers is at once symbolically typical of Nazir and also too simplistic. The plot from last season was layered, and I have  a strong feeling that this plot has more to it than meets the eye.
  • Mike, Jessica, and the kids are essentially playing house, and Mike occupies the role of father better than Brody ever has. I especially liked how he shut down Dana’s whining.
  • Mike and Jessica’s middle of the night guest room tryst echoes Carrie and Brody’s cabin tryst of last season. Both Brody and Jessica look more comfortable with their secret lovers than they do with their spouses.
  • I also thought it was significant that Brody wasn’t mad when Carrie told him that Mike was with his family. He is either ready to give up on his marriage and family because a) he genuinely recognizes that they’re better off without him and his baggage; b) he knows he’ll be dead soon thanks to his role in Nazir’s bomb plot; c) he knows that he’ll be in jail soon thanks to his role in Nazir’s bomb plot; d) he has deluded himself into thinking he can somehow run away with Carrie and everything will be fine; or e) he’s got too many other things on his plate to worry about that
  • Meanwhile, Saul has had Virgil and Max keeping tabs on Quinn, and they discovered that he has a different name, lives in extremely spartan living conditions, and a secret baby and baby mama who happens to be a police officer in Philadelphia who is immune to the charms of Saul’s beard.
  • Quinn is apparently adept at the city bus system and has a secret meeting with someone who Saul and Estes know, but who for now remains mysterious. So, he’s not a mole but just working for another agency? Or another part of the CIA? I’m interested to see where this goes.
  • One place that it apparently goes is that Quinn has standing orders from Estes to kill Brody the minute that Abu Nazir is captured. Brody’s saved at the last minute this time, but perhaps he won’t be so lucky next time. I can’t imagine Carrie will be too happy once she finds out this little detail.
  • Is Carrie just playing Brody or does she really have feelings for him that are compromising her integrity? I’m starting to lean more towards the latter.
  • Ambushing Roya and Nazir’s guys at the diner seemed slightly premature. I thought they were going to wait until they got to the location of the reunion?
  • I can’t wait for a Carrie-Roya interrogation scene next week.
  • Do you think they’re using Carrie so sparingly this season because of Claire Danes’ pregnancy? I can’t help but wonder how differently this season might have shaped up had she been able to participate more fully.
  • I can’t imagine what this show is going to do for the next 3 episodes. A normal show would have the interrogations and the frantic search for Nazir occupy the end of the season, but this show will probably cram those into the first half of next week. I can’t wait to see where they take us next.
  • Brody is going to die this season, right? I mean, now he’s got Abu Nazir’s henchmen AND the CIA pointing guns at him and he can only escape so many times. The only question is how it’s going to go down – will Quinn, Nazir, Saul, Estes, Walden, or Brody himself pull the trigger? Or, will Carrie finally be forced to prove once and for all whether she’s able to put her feelings for Brody aside when homeland security is at stake?

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“Everything’s connected, Charlie. You just need to stop and think it through” – Meyer Lansky

In what may be the best episode of the entire series (definitely of this season), Meyer Lansky’s words proved prophetic as all the story lines that were carefully laid out along the way finally started coming together in some of most exciting ways possible.

First, we get Nucky and Eddie as a bad-ass duo, fighting off Gyp’s men in the early morning hours at the Ritz, Margaret and the children already having been safely dispatched on a train to somewhere. Nucky’s shotgun blasts through the door were a thrill to watch and for a moment I thought we were going to get an exciting and lighthearted buddy caper starring Nucky and Eddie, the only man he can trust. Alas, Eddie was shot in the stomach, and Nucky soon had to take over the driving. With Gyp’s men all over town, including the hospital where he has a fucking wing named after him, Nucky’s forced to go to “the other side of town” and call on Chalky White. Now, any episode where we get this much Chalky White is going to automatically improve a notch in my book, and this episode shows Chalky at his very best. He doesn’t make it easy on Nucky, but he ultimately promises to help him and even calls his daughter’s med student boyfriend over to help with the ailing Eddie. What does Chalky want in return for this generosity? Only the promise that he be allowed to open a club on the boardwalk where Babette’s used to be. Nucky promises that, if he gets his town back, Chalky can have his club, but points out he might lose, in which case Chalky might need to make new friends. “Too old for that,” Chalky says, and with that Nucky has at least one ally he can trust.

Of course, Gyp Rosetti is doing his very best to undermine that trust by placing a $25 000 bounty on Nucky’s head. When Nucky asks Chalky if he trusts his men not to be tempted, Chalky replies that he doesn’t trust anybody. But, the men are loyal enough to Chalky to not do anything right away. When Gyp comes to Chalky’s beach shack, we finally get a showdown between two of the show’s most dynamic characters. They approached each other cautiously – Gyp tells Chalky his full name, then says people just call him Gyp, and “How do I address you?” Chalky’s reply was gold: “You’re doin’ it.” Then, Gyp makes awkward small talk about both of them having been left out in the sun for too long, with Chalky a little longer than himself. Chalky replies, “You just ain’t done cookin yet, friend.” I could listen to Chalky White talk all day long.

But, as much as this episode was a powerhouse one for Chalky, it was also an introspective one for Nucky. When he was under attack at the Ritz, the only person he could rely on was Eddie. Throughout the day, it became clear that Eddie was both his best friend and a complete stranger. He can’t understand his German babbling, and he didn’t even know he had a wife and two sons. He’s been utterly reliant upon Eddie for years (he didn’t even know Chalky’s phone number), and yet the man is a mystery to him. Nucky’s concern for Eddie and his insistence that he receive proper care and protection was touching and perhaps more sensitive than we’ve ever seen him.

Nucky also had plenty of time to think while riding alone in the back of Chalky’s van as they tried to move him away from those who might be tempted to turn him in for the reward. Steve Buscemi’s performance here was powerful, going through the range of emotions and showing just how far the mighty Nucky had fallen. When the truck gets stopped by Gyps men demanding to look inside, it’s unclear for a moment whether Chalky and his men will turn him in. I mean, I didn’t really expect Nucky to die, but the tension of the show had built up to such an extent that it felt like anything could happen. Luckily, Chalky proved his loyalty by killing the men, and when they open the truck to find Nucky crouched behind the crates, gun drawn, it’s clear Nucky has reached a conclusion. He’s not going to run after all. This is his city, and he’s going to take it back or die trying.

Nucky and Chalky go instead to the lumber yard where Eli’s oldest son works (remember how he showed initiative and an interest in the business way back when?). He serves them day-old doughnuts and coffee and Chalky and Nucky have a conversation about needs and wants before they’re interrupted by the unexpected sound of vehicles riding up. Stepping out to face what he clearly expected to be his certain death, Nucky is instead greeted by Eli, back from Chicago, and, in the most applause-worthy, fist-pumping final moment, Al Capone. He’s been on the road for 18 hours, so he wants a bath and some food, but come morning “You and me sit down and we talk about who dies.” Fucking Al Capone. Finally. The only thing that would’ve been better is if Van Alden had been with him but there’s still time for that. I can’t freaking wait.

As if the Nucky-Chalky-Gyp-Al story wasn’t enough, the two side plots were equally as riveting. Lucky Luciano and the aforementioned Meyer Lansky discussed whether they could trust a mute mobster from Buffalo who offered to buy 5 lbs of heroin for $15000. Lansky preached caution, nothing that everything’s connected and, with the situation between Nucky and Masseria up in the air, it would be more prudent to wait and see which side was victorious so as to not end up on the losing side of the proposition. Naturally, Lucky didn’t listen and, equally naturally, the Buffalo mobster and his sidekick both turn out to be cops. It’s unclear exactly how this storyline will tie in to the goings-on in Atlantic City, but I’m sure they will.

More clearly related is Richard Harrow’s unceremonious ejection from Gillian’s employ. Gillian crossed a line early in the episode, going through Richard’s scrapbook and finding the picture of him with Tommy and Julia on the boardwalk. She coldly reminds Richard that he’s just half a man, and that Julia doesn’t look blind, so there’s no way she’d ever want him. When Gyp comes to the Artemis Room and announces that he’s going to set up shop there, Gillian realizes that she might have sided with the wrong gangster, but by then it’s too late. Gyp’s men take over and turn the Artemis Room into, well, a common whorehouse, with men having sex with women in the lounge and talking back to her when she tries to regain some semblance of order. She storms upstairs to check on Tommy and instead finds Richard getting him ready to go outside. After Richard lied and said they were just going for a walk around the grounds, Tommy admits they were going to Julia’s and Gillian has Richard forcibly removed by Gyp’s henchmen. In the final montage, we see Richard in Julia’s brother’s bedroom, carefully laying out an impressive collection of firearms. Gillian finally went a step too far. I only hope that after Richard kills her, he stops to help Nucky/Chalky/Al defeat Gyp before riding off into the sunset with Julia and Tommy.

Next week is the season finale.  I can’t imagine how they’ll be able to top this one.

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After Skupin’s surprise flip last week, it was pretty much a certainty that this week would be decidedly less dramatic. Still, thanks to some skilful editing and some not-so-skilful players, even going into Tribal Council there was a 1% chance that someone other than Pete/Abi was going home. After a few seasons where there was clearly one dominant player who controlled everything from early on, it’s refreshing to have a season where there are so many people who see themselves as leaders and who, in fact, have acted as leaders at one point or another.

Post-Tribal, Abi decided to go passive-aggressive rather than apoplectic-aggressive. She shrugged off Lisa’s attempts at a cordial break-up conversation, and announced (seemingly at every opportunity) that she was no longer going to bother cooking. Her new strategy seems to be to just lay around, enjoy the next few days on the beach and piss everyone else off. In more recent seasons, this would have essentially punched her ticket to the final 3 (no jury votes!) but this season is different. This seasons’ players seem focused on only bringing people who deserve it to the final and that certainly doesn’t include Abi.

Since it’s obvious in the first act how the votes are going to go down at Tribal, the 6 non-Abi/Pete people take the opportunity to try and lock down a final 4. There are essentially 3 pairs – Malcolm/Denise, Lisa/Skupin, Penner/Carter. Malcolm and Denise approach Lisa and Skupin with a promise of a final 4, but Lisa says she trusts Penner more than Malcolm so they approach him. In a move that probably wasn’t very smart, Penner says he’d rather focus on getting Abi and Pete out before he makes any promises to anyone. In previous seasons (from what I understand), Penner was burned for making promises that he couldn’t keep, and he seems hellbent on avoiding that this time around by not making any premature promises. What Penner apparently didn’t anticipate is that his procrastinating sent Lisa and Skupin right into Malcolm and Denise’s arms, where they sealed their alliance with a supercool jungle handshake. Naturally, a lot can happen in the next few weeks to shake up that handshake, but things are looking pretty good for Malcolm and Denise in particular, thanks to Malcolm’s hidden immunity idol.

The Immunity Challenge was an impressively intricate rope maze that neither Abi nor Pete had any real shot of winning. Carter took home the Immunity necklace, and I’m starting to think that he’s going to sneak into the final 4 and maybe even a win. This was his second individual immunity, and as far as I can tell, he barely says anything (positive or negative) around camp. I wouldn’t put it past him to win out and force a breakup of that solid 4 alliance.

This time, though, Carter’s win just solidified the plan – 3 votes for Abi, 3 votes for Pete, whoever doesn’t play the idol goes home. Pete makes a last-ditch effort to convince someone – anyone – to flip and vote out Malcolm while they have a chance to blindside him, but he’s almost universally rebuffed in a hilarious montage. Penner in particular was hilarious, essentially telling Pete that he gets points for trying but that’s about it. It’s only once he gets to Skupin that there might be a sliver of hope. Instead of immediately rejecting him, Skupin listens, tells him he has some good points, and generally seems to be considering the move. Couple that with the fact that we’ve seen Skupin flip based on last minute decisions before, and the Tribal Council at least had some tension.

Jeff Probst took it upon himself to take what might be his last opportunity to go after Abi. Her cluelessness at both challenges (during the reward challenge: “Abi, are you clear on what’s happening here?” “No, not really”) and her cluelessness about general social interactions were at the forefront. She was apparently completely unaware that people hated her and thought of her as annoying. When Jeff tried to give her an out by suggesting maybe her problems with the other tribe members were because of cultural differences, Abi says she doesn’t think so because she has lots of American friends who like her fiestiness. It’s a ridiculous excuse in any case, because I feel like we’d hear about it a lot more if Brazil was filled with 200 million assholes. No, Abi’s bitchiness is just due to her inherent Abi-ness.

Despite the seemingly meaningful looks between Pete and Skupin during Tribal, the vote went down exactly how it was laid out in the first act. Abi played her immunity idol, and Pete was sent home. Next week, it’ll be Abi for sure, since there’s no way she’ll even come close to winning an immunity challenge. After that, the next real phase of the game begins.

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So, “A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama” is a palindrome. Besides being super cool, what does that have to tell us about this week’s episode? That no matter how you look at it, some things stay the same? That, like Rothstein said, sometimes the best plans are the ones that involve making moves that don’t help you but also don’t help your enemies? Or is it just a reminder that you can plan all you want, but even if you think you see things forwards and backwards, there’s always another angle to be considered.

Okay, so maybe that last one is a stretch, but this week’s episode was full of plans getting fucked up. Obviously Owen and Margaret’s plans go awry when Nucky’s plan for Owen to kill Masseria doesn’t quite work out, but there are smaller examples too. Like Gyp Rosetti’s dozen cases of booze that get knocked off the boat by a rogue wave and end up washing ashore in Atlantic City where the beachgoers think Christmas came early. Or the idiot new henchman who probably didn’t plan on getting buried neck deep in the sand before getting his head bashed in with a shovel, but seals his fate when he deigns to tell Gyp what a rogue wave is.

Or Jess Smith, whose plans to leave Washington behind have to be changed to plans to commit suicide when the presence of a gun-toting Gaston Means enters his bedroom in the middle of the night. (Sidenote: I’ll never get sick of Steven Root’s performance as Means, from his exaggerated pronunciation of words to his deliciously subtle facial gestures.) Even Means himself has to change his plans, although having Smith kill himself was a decidedly easier way to make $80k than actually having to “lower the curtain” himself.

Van Alden/Mueller’s plan (okay, it’s really his wife’s plan) to sell booze to the Norwegians seems to work out, until he finds out he’s been selling in Al Capone’s territory and gets hauled in for a little chat and fork-in-the-face session. (As Noel Murray writes, Al gives Van Alden a hearty “fork you”). That his plans don’t work out is of course nothing new for the perpetually unlucky Van Alden, but the face-to-face meeting with Al was fantastic, and Van Alden’s ramblings about Job reminded us of just how far he’s come from the Bible-obsessed prohie back in season one. I sincerely hope Van Alden starts working with Al and we get more of their uncomfortable confrontations.

Meanwhile, Rothstein thinks that he’s going to be able to sit back and let Masseria and Nucky duke it out, but he doesn’t know that his lack of commitment has led Lucky Luciano to go to Masseria himself for help funding this new “heroin” distribution. Masseria isn’t interested only in money, and he forces Luciano to tell him about Nucky’s plan for elimination.

And that of course brings us to Nucky and his plans to quickly and efficiently eliminate Masseria by sending only Owen and Agent Sawicki. We see them entering the Turkish bath after Masseria, and then Nucky is awoken by a 4 am delivery. The contents of the crate are poor Owen Slater, and Margaret’s anguished cries at seeing her lover/would-be-co-runaway are heartbreaking. Adding to the tragedy of it all is a flashback in which we see them making plans to move to St. Louis immediately. Margaret reveals that she’s pregnant with his child (her plans to obtain a diaphragm are obviously too little too late), and Owen responds by hoping it’s a boy. Margaret can see the happy life laid out in front of her, only to have it cruelly and violently snatched away at the last second. I knew it was too much to hope for a happy ending for Margaret and Owen, but he certainly deserved better than being stuffed in a crate by Masseria.

Indeed, it seems like there’s only one remaining hope for a happy ending – Richard Harrow and Julia finally got it on under the boardwalk after Richard confronted her drunken, belligerent father. I hope with all my heart that they’ll be able to run off together and save Tommy from crazy Gillian, but now that Nucky needs a new number 2, I unfortunately suspect that Richard will be sucked back in. But, that would likely result in a Richard-Gyp showdown, so it might be worth it. And really, it’s probably too much to hope for a happy ending in Atlantic City anyway.

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Is anyone else getting the distinct impression that Brody wishes he’d just blown himself up when he had the chance? He at least must be pining for the good old days of season one, when he actually had a semblance of control over his own life and the fallout from the actions. Back then, he was largely on his own. Sure, he had to play the part of the hero, which chafed on him a bit, but that didn’t really involve much energy. In the end, he even was able to exercise the decision not to blow himself up, and then he managed to convince Nazir that this was a better plan after all. Season One Brody was firmly in charge.

What a difference a season can make. While Brody thought he was placing himself firmly within the best-case scenario (he gets to keep his family and his life while working for Nazir from inside Congress), he was actually painting himself into a pretty small corner. Now, nothing Brody does is really under his own volition and it seems like his follower nature is kicking in more than ever. WHen he’s with Carrie, he does what the CIA wants; when he’s with Roya, he starts to think that being with Nazir is the right move; when he’s with his family, all he wants is to tell both the CIA and Nazir to go fuck themselves so he can live in some kind of domesticated bliss that only exists in his head. As Brody continues to spiral downward, it’s becoming more and more apparent that there is no “best-case” scenario anymore. Think about it: If he continues with Nazir, he’ll either die in the plot or he’ll be disgraced by the CIA, hated by his family, and spend the rest of his life rotting in a cell like Aileen. If he continues with the CIA, he’ll either be killed by Nazir (along with his entire family), or he’ll be forced to live in witness protection with a wife who doesn’t trust him, a daughter who is constantly disappointed by him, and a son who . . . well, as long as there’s video games, Chris probably won’t care. But still, hardly ideal options.

Indeed, as much as Brody might want to be with his family, it’s becoming more and more clear that they’d be better off without him. Even Dana, who sympathized with her father’s Islam and unknowingly stopped him from killing himself, doesn’t need him anymore now that she’s got surrogate-father Mike. As much as I disliked the hit-and-run plotline at the beginning, the last couple of episodes have made it all worthwhile. The scene where Dana visited the daughter of the victim and was told in no uncertain terms not to go to the police was heartbreaking. All along, Dana had been seeing the world in black and white, and the shades of grey that she’s discovering are disconcerting. She can’t imagine accepting a payoff in exchange for keeping silent about your mother’s murder and now she finds herself living in a world where that exact scenario is considered almost commonplace. She finds safe haven at Mike’s, and his willingness to give her space even lets her open up to her mother, revealing to her that it was Carrie who made Brody turn around. We don’t see the fallout from this revelation (because Brody doesn’t come home), but when Dana gets back to her parents’ house, she dissolves into tears in her mother’s arms. It’s a powerful scene where the two women, so often at odds with each other, are maybe finally in an honest place with each other, recognizing the strength that each other has, and knowing that, even though they’re in a pretty fucked up world, they’ll somehow get through it together. At the very least, Dana should hopefully sulk less around the house.

Brody, meanwhile, continues to fuck everything up. During a fight over what to do with Dana, Jessica demands that Brody just call the CIA and tell them to back off. Under the pressure coming at him from all sides, Brody finally explodes, screaming helplessly, “ICAN’TICAN’TICAN’T!” When Jessica leaves, Carrie rushes in and finds a broken Brody curled up on the floor at the end of the hallway. She manages to put the pieces back together enough for him to make his meeting with Roya, but the glue comes undone pretty quickly and Brody tells Roya that he’s out. When everyone else at the CIA is ready to pull the plug on the whole thing, Carrie of course insists that Brody can be salvaged if she has more time. She convinces Virgil to take the tracking off his phone, but she takes Brody to a known CIA safehouse motel where Saul quickly tracks them with a camera and audio surveillance. It’s through these methods that we get one of the most laugh-out-loud funny scenes in Homeland history, where Saul listens stone-faced to Carrie and Brody’s desperate sex sounds. Seriously, is there anything more awkward than Carrie’s surrogate father listening to him having sex with anyone, let alone a known terrorist? The awkward hilarity was amplified when the camera panned out to show Quinn and the rest of the surveillance team also listening intently. Quinn uses their moaning as a background track for yet another discussion with Saul about whether Carrie has finally crossed a line into being “stage five delusional.” Saul insists that Carrie is just trying to bring Brody back, but when she does return the next morning, he reveals that he’s not entirely convinced of this fact himself. Carrie insists that she’s not spiralling again, but it’s hard to really be sure. Is she any more able to stay true to herself than Brody? When she’s with Saul and the others, she acts impartial, but when she’s with Brody, it’s not clear whether she’s thinking with her head or her heart. I did love that Carrie treaded the realization that the entire staff had heard her having sex with Brody with no more than an annoyed sigh. Say what you will about her mental state, she doesn’t embarrass easy.

Perhaps she’s so confident because her sexy skills worked, and Brody calls Roya to tell her he’s back in. Roya treats this news with deserved skepticism and leads Brody to the middle of nowhere. She gets him to tell her that he’s only fucking Carrie to get information like Roya wanted him to, and it’s said with just enough edge that it might conceivably be the truth. Almost immediately afterwards, Roya disconnects his phone and the CIA’s listening skills, thus sending Carrie into a panic, insisting on being in one of the follow vehicles with Virgil and Max. As it becomes more and more apparent that Brody’s cover is blown (either that, or these are the stupidest brilliant terrorists I’ve ever heard of), Carrie becomes increasingly agitated.  She convinces Quinn to let them do a drive by, and she sees Roya and the assassin from Gettysburg with Brody. In an act reminiscent of Beirut, Carrie jumps out of the van and runs toward Brody when too late, she and Saul realize that the reason for stopping near an empty field is so that they can be picked up by a helicopter. As Carrie’s futile screams of “he’s gone!” echo into the darkness, it’s clear that this is about more than just protecting an asset.

It’s also clear from the look of terror and panic on Brody’s face that he knows he’s fucked. It’s a testament to the unpredictability of this show that I legitimately thought we were about to see the demise of Sgt. Brody. Instead, Abu Nazir steps out of the shadows and greets “Nicholas” in a deceptively warm-sounding tone. Nazir has clearly decided that enough’s enough and it’s time to bring Nicholas back to where he really belongs.

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While this week’s episode couldn’t possibly hope to live up to the craziness of last week, the surprise elimination at Tribal Council certainly let it hold its own. All in all, this is shaping up to be one of the most epic seasons of Survivor in quite awhile.

The fallout from the previous Tribal Council started immediately, with Abi immediately accusing Skupin of voting for her, and then seeming shocked when Penner revealed it was him instead. He said that he did it because he was pissed off at her, but it quickly dawned on him that he might have just royally screwed things up. If he had voted for Pete like everyone else on his side, Jeff Kent would still be there, Pete would be gone, and the balance of power would be on his side. Instead though, he was inexplicably out of the loop and left to scramble for his life once again.

I missed Penner’s previous season, but he is quickly revealing himself to be one of the best psychological players to ever play the game. He played fragile Lisa like a fiddle, commiserating with her about the pressures of child stardom, being a people-pleaser, and always wondering if she was good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, smart enough. It was brilliant really, the way that he told her that he knew she was worried about how she’d be perceived by the Survivor audience; although it’s still baffling to me, it’s clear that Lisa desperately does not want to be labelled a traitor or a liar or a backstabber. That seems to be the driving force behind her continued stubborn adherence to the  Abi-Pete-Artis alliance despite their persistent bullying. Hey, Lisa, if someone tells you every chance they get that you’re stupid, gullible, annoying, and guaranteed to get voted out before them, you are well within your rights to see if there are better options out there for you. Not only would I like her a hell of a lot more if she would flip and be instrumental in voting out she-devil Abi, I would have more respect for her because it would mean she finally stopped being a doormat loser.

All that psychological warplay happened before the reward challenge, in which the tribe was divided into 2 teams to complete an obstacle course. The teams were chosen thanks to a “schoolyard pick” (I really wish they’d show this happening one time – I think the goings-on could be quite illuminating) and the best part about this is that Abi wasn’t picked and as a result had no chance at any reward. Finally, some consequences to her “above-it-all” attitude and lack of participation in Immunity Challenges. I think Artis probably said it best when he noted that Abi seems to think she’s a genius at the game, when in fact, she’s totally clueless.

Anyway, the reward challenge was won by Penner’s team, thanks to an ingenious strategy where Penner dug up all 4 bags of balls from the mud so that all his other team members had to do was pick them up on their way by. I’m surprised no one thought of that one before. Anyway, their reward was to go to a village and give kids toys and enjoy a thank-you dinner made by the locals. I guess it was supposed to be heartwarming, but it’s really just emotional manipulation and it doesn’t add anything to the game. Plus, there’s something sort of icky about a bunch of white people who have been pretending to “survive” on the island going to dole out goodies to “natives.” I mean, they didn’t even wash the mud off of their clothes for heaven’s sake. I wonder what the kids really thought of these crazy westerners.

The immunity challenge was one of those probably-hard-in-real-life-but-really-boring-to-watch balance something games. Skupin won, apparently setting the table for an easy vote to eliminate Penner. On this season of Survivor, though there’s no such thing as a sure thing, and the scrambling around camp was in full force. Penner and the rest of the old Kabalaw decided their best move would be to vote for Artis, since Abi would never give the hidden immunity idol to him. She might give it to Pete, but not to him. At Tribal Council, Jeff was once again stunned by the obtuseness of Abi, as she admitted openly that she wasn’t sure she could trust Lisa’s loyalty. Penner couldn’t believe his luck, as Abi basically told Skupin and Lisa to vote against them.

In the end, Artis ended up with 5 votes to Penner’s 4, but it wasn’t Lisa who flipped, it was Skupin. I’ll say it again, I canNOT understand Lisa’s blind loyalty towards such terrible people, but with this vote, it seems like that won’t matter anymore. They should be able to pick off Abi or Pete next week (please God, let it be Abi) and then things will start to get interesting again. I think the reason that this season has been so great is because every 2 or 3 episodes, the status quo completely shifts – different people rise to power, different alliances form, and different concerns are brought forward. Whereas the previous few seasons have gotten stagnant in the middle as one dominant group steadfastly eliminated the weaker ones, in this season, even the dominant groups have severe weaknesses.

Next week: Lisa frets about how to “break up” with Abi. Hey Lisa, newsflash: you don’t have to break up with her, you just stop talking to her and stop voting for who she says. No breakup necessary, just stop being a puppet. I can’t wait!

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