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Breaking Bad - Courtesy AMC

Well, there you have it – everything is out in the open now. Hank and Walt’s epic showdown from last week was mirrored by an equally tense (but more tearful) faceoff between Marie and Skyler. The dawning sense of betrayal that came over Marie’s face as she realized that Skyler has known about Walt’s activities (to some extent) far longer than she (or Hank) had ever imagined was perfect and heartbreaking. When faced with it all laid out in front of her, Skyler could do nothing but cry and feebly apologize. When she was in it, she made the decisions that she had to in order to protect her family (from the man who protects their family) and she could compartmentalize things. But when Marie laid everything out for her, she was forced to look at the enormity of it all.

Or maybe she first realized the enormity of things when Hank called her, panicked, from the garage. Hank was quicker on the trigger than Walt (I loved hwo the shots were framed as a Wild West standoff as the garage door slowly closed) and he got Skyler on the phone first. As she walked into the diner, it was clear that Skyler felt like she was walking into a trap. And Hank was so focused on the end goal of nailing Walt that he completely misread the situation. He went into full cop mode, interrogating Skyler with the same tactics that he’d use to interrogate the average street drug dealer. But Hank failed to realize that Skyler might have been culpable in some of Walt’s crimes. He never stopped to consider that Skyler might be the one laundering the money and, as such, she might be a little reluctant to tell all the details of Walt’s crimes to a DEA agent, particularly one who insists that she did not need a lawyer. Hank’s strongarm tactics might work on average drug dealers, but Skyler is smarter than that. She needed time to think and formulate a plan, so she caused a scene and ran out, leaving Hank alone with his recorder.

Meanwhile, when he was unable to reach Skyler, Walt went straight to Saul. After immediately shutting down Saul’s suggestion that he simply send Hank to Belize (“I’ll send YOU to Belize” might be one of my favourite Breaking Bad lines ever), Walt went straight into damage control mode. Huell and Kuby went and brought him the money from the storage unit (after going full-on Scrooge McDuck, of course) and Walt took it to the site of his and Jesse’s original cook. Without the benefit of a team or big machinery like he had while he was burying barrels for the train heist, Walt spent all day digging by hand. After concealing the GPS co-ordinates as lottery ticket numbers, he immediately collapsed in front of Skyler in their master bathroom.

Awaking hours later on the cold bathroom floor (albeit with a pillow under his head and a blanket covering him), Walt was possibly at the lowest point he’d been since his moment of panic in the crawlspace. Dabbing his forehead tenderly, Skyler asks him if it’s true that the cancer is back. He confirms it and offers to give himself up, provided that she never speak of the money and keep it for Walt Jr. and Holly. However, the ever-pragmatic Skyler recognizes that this would never be possible. Hank tipped his hand to her during the interrogation – he didn’t have enough to get Walt on his own. He needed Skyler’s statement. For the time being, Skyler suggests, the best course of action would be to stay quiet. Never have the phrases “stay quiet” and “tread lightly” promised so much explosiveness in the weeks to come.

This explosiveness might come in the form of Jesse Pinkman. Like some kind of guilt-ridden drug-dealing Hansel, Jesse left a trail of thousands of dollars that led first a bewildered citizen and then the police right to him. Just as Hank was about to present his case to his boss without the solid proof he so badly needed, he found out that the one remaining living connection to Walt was in lockup at that very moment. We’ll have to wait until next week to find out if Jesse’s disillusion about Walt is enough to convince him to flip on Walt. Jesse may resent him and be consumed by guilt but will that be enough to overcome a lifetime’s worth of not talking to the police? Not to mention the fact that admitting everything would also send Jesse to jail for, at the very least, killing Gale. Will Hank be better at getting information out of him than he was at getting it out of Skyler?

Theory Time:

  • I don’t think Jesse will give Walt up. I think there’s too much history there, both between him and Walt and between him and Hank. As much as he hates Walt at this moment, I still think Jesse hates Hank more.
  • In the flash-forward, Walt is on the run with Skyler and maybe (probably?) the kids. That’s why his fake last name is Lambert (Skyler’s maiden name), not because he killed her. After seeing his refusal to even entertain the idea of killing Hank, I don’t think there’s any way he kills Skyler. She still might die, but not by Walt’s hand. If that’s the case, then I think he’s coming back to protect her/them somehow. The ricin and the machine gun must be to finish off whoever is still standing in their way.
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The Americans - Courtesy F/XAfter last week’s excellent (but unfortunately un-reviewed by me) episode, “Gregory”, The Americans picks right back up this week with the evolving dynamic of Phillip and Elizabeth’s marriage as they attempt to move past Elizabeth’s emotional (and physical) affair with Gregory by taking the morning off and having a tryst in a hotel room. Unfortunately for the spies we love, the morning that they decided to take off was the morning of Ronald Reagan’s assassination attempt. The rest of the episode surrounds the chaos of the day, as the FBI understandably worry that the KGB were behind it and the KGB worry that it might be a starting point for a coup and that they’d better get Operation Christopher underway just in case.

I really liked the way that they took a major world event and brought it into Phillip and Elizabeth’s world without it feeling forced. The whole episode was really about everyone scrambling for information with whatever tools they could find, and sometimes those tools are wigs, giant radio transmitters, and a friendship with the neighbourhood FBI. Speaking of their friendly neighbourhood FBI, I was happy that Stan is still being portrayed as a competent agent, spotting Nina’s tail and seemingly able to meet with her without being caught. Of course, I suspect that poor Nina will be heading for a new life in Cuba before too long (by the way, heading for a new life in Cuba is my new favourite euphemism. Sorry Joyce). But for now, it’s exciting to watch everyone be competent on their struggles to stay one step ahead.

Throughout this episode, Phillip and Elizabeth’s marriage was at the forefront as they disagreed about how to proceed. Flashbacks explained that Elizabeth had grown up knowing that the only person she could rely on was herself, but by the end, she realized that sometimes it’s okay to listen to Phillip. Indeed, despite the snippiness at each other during the day, by the time they crawled into bed, they were firmly back on the same team again, content in the knowledge that they are in this thing together, for better or for worse.

The same cannot be said for the increasingly strained relationship between Stan and Sandra. It’s perhaps a bit obvious, but I liked the juxtaposition of the Jennings’ relationship growing stronger every day while the Beemans continually grow apart. Sandra had built a life alone while Stan was undercover, and now that he’s back, they don’t know how to recapture what they had. It’s no coincidence that last week’s episode ended with Elizabeth asserting that she’s feeling something new for Phillip 20 years into their marriage and this week’s episode ended with Stan asserting exactly the opposite to his wife. They’ve lost their connection and it’s going to be exponentially harder to get it back when Stan’s job involves keeping secrets from everyone. Phillip and Elizabeth may have their problems, but at least they know (mostly) what each other does each day.

Overall, this was another strong episode in what looks increasingly like a show on the verge of greatness. The only thing that gives me pause is Phillip and Elizabeth’s daughter’s relationship with Stan’s son. I don’t mind a little Romeo and Juliet action but if they hit somebody with a car and then drive off, I might have to be out.

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After an unintentionally extended blogging break brought about by a combination of comprehensive exams and a lack of quality TV shows worth reviewing, it’s finally time to kick of 2013 with an exciting new show, The Americans. Last week’s premiere was effective and engrossing, and I found myself looking forward to Wednesday to see what would happen next in the lives of “Philip” and “Elizabeth.”

As they were warned last week, this week our favourite suburbanite Socialists find the stakes irrevocably raised. They’re asked to do the impossible – plant a bug in the office of the Secretary of Defense in only 3 days, despite the fact that such an operation would normally take 6 months. The only way they can achieve the impossible is by putting themselves out there, revealing themselves (albeit in disguises primarily made up of yet more wigs) to the Secretary’s maid as they blackmail her into stealing the titular clock by poisoning her son.

What The Americans does so well is blend the human/familial aspect with the cold and calculating world of espionage. Neither Phillip nor Elizabeth enjoy poisoning the innocent son or terrorizing his mother, but they both recognize their actions as a means to an end. Additionally, both are upset about being placed in such a position in the first place largely because they know that getting caught would mean being separated from their children indefinitely. Elizabeth, always the pragmatic one, stays up at night worrying about how her children will react and reveals to Phillip that she has no intentions of being taken alive. Phillip, meanwhile, prefers to sweep it under the rug with a simple “they’ll be fine.” Still, after last week’s flirtation with defection to the other side, this week Phillip shows no inclination to betray Mother Russia. For better or for worse, Phillip and Elizabeth are in it together and they can only hope to continue to stay one step ahead.

While Phillip and Elizabeth are strong-arming the maid, their FBI neighbour Stan and his partner conduct a shakedown of their own. While stealing caviar and shoving speaker foam into a shopkeeper’s mouth pales in comparison to Phillip breaking the maid’s brother’s arm and Elizabeth poisoning her son with an umbrella, the FBI agents reveal that they’re not exactly “good guys.” Whatever the merits of their methods, they get what they wanted – a mole into the soviet office, tantalizingly close to where discussion of Directorate S is going on. I appreciate that this show, while the FBI agents are nominally the antagonists to the Soviet spy protagonists, they’re not portrayed as stupid. It’s easy in these kinds of shows to depict public officials as almost comically inept, but in this case, the FBI agents are already right on the Soviet’s heels. They might be a step behind, but they’re keeping in step.

I’m not sure what to make of Stan’s caviar session with Phillip. Does he still harbour suspicions even though his midnight search of the truck last episode revealed nothing? Or is he just being a nice neighbour? Phillip and Elizabeth continue to be wary of Stan’s true intentions and I’m looking forward to watching their back and forth continue.

Indeed, there’s much to look forward to. The ongoing dynamic of Phillip and Elizabeth’s marriage continues to become more and more complex as we discovered this week that both are using sex to get what they want from various marks, and neither are entirely comfortable with it. Elizabeth continues to struggle to connect with her thoroughly American children, particularly her daughter. I’m not sure how much I would’ve enjoyed my mother waking me up in the middle of the night to pierce my ears, but it served well as a bonding exercise. Finally, I’m not sure how long until this will get old, but I’m quite enjoying the ’80s technology on display – the comically large camera, the need for a giant clock to hide the listening device, and an entire trunk’s worth of space required for its receiver. Not to mention the never-ending array of wigs. I can’t wait to see what new tricks Phillip and Elizabeth break out next week.

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Survivor - Courtesy CBS

I’m not going to lie, my 3000-word Homeland post and the fact that it’s the last day before Christmas holidays means that I’ve had difficulty getting up the motivation to write about the Survivor finale, even though it was overall pretty good. I think it’s time to break out the bullet points. (If I call them holiday bullet points, does that make them any less lazy? No?)

  • Can the powers that be cut out the terribly boring trudge through the eliminated contestants and just make the finale 1 1/2 hours long instead of 2? Is there anybody who would actually miss it? Not only do I not remember half the people, nobody ever has anything interesting to say about them. “He was a good competitor.” “She was funny.” “I liked him/her, sorry they had to go.” Oh please, just put me out of my misery. This is what DVRs were made for. Start watching a half an hour late and then blaze right through that crap.
  • That was quite the elaborate reward challenge, wasn’t it? I liked the way the puzzle was set up. The reward of help in the immunity challenge seemed huge at the time, but I wonder if also getting a sandwich or something would have helped his hands be more steady.
  • Can’t believe how badly Malcolm performed during that immunity challenge. He seemed to have the weight of the game on his shoulders, but in the reunion, he said that his hands were just always shaky. Might want to get that checked out there, Malcolm.
  • Skupin skating into the final 3 with immunity definitely wasn’t expected, and it made him cocky. Not flattering.
  • Malcolm seemed truly heartbroken (on top of being pissed) to have been voted out just before the finals. I loved his futile vote for Denise. Poor guy. So close and yet so far.
  • Could this have been a more bland final 3? I went into the final tribal council not expecting much. Who could really get up much animosity towards these 3, I thought. Turns out, a lot of people.
  • All 3 final survivors had pretty weak arguments for why they deserved it more than the others – Denise’s was “I’ve been to every tribal council;” Lisa’s was “I started strategizing after my brother came!” and Skupin pretended that he was on the chopping block every time, even though he wasn’t. I wouldn’t have blamed the jury members if they’d left their votes blank.
  • In the end though, despite their anger towards her and her constant “appeasements,” the votes all went to Denise, except for RC, who apparently suffers from Abi-esque delusions of grandeur and claims to have pegged Lisa as a threat from day one and subsequently voted for her, and Carter who hilariously voted for “Skoopin.” I heard him say more words in a row in this episode than he had in the entire season, but I still didn’t get the sense that he had any idea where he was or what he was doing. Oh Carter, never change.
  • WTF were people thinking voting for Lisa as fan favourite? Poor Malcolm, denied again.
  • But don’t worry, next season is fans vs. favourites and Malcolm’s “I might be convinced to come back” was about as cryptic as Carter is the next Einstein. However, judging by his dejected demeanour, I don’t think Malcolm fared too well in the already-shot-season-26. Still, there’s always the chance that he could have a better poker face than I think.

So that’s it, torches out until next season. This year was that rare season where the gimmicks actually work so well that you almost forget there were gimmicks at all. But a returning player and a celebrity both made it to the end, and the 3 tribe experiment added so much drama that you know they’ll be pulling that one out again real soon. Hopefully they can continue their upward swing during the next 25 seasons!

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Homeland - Courtesy Showtime

My first reaction as the lights dimmed on season two: Huh.

Then I realized that this season finale was just a compilation of different types of Holy Shit moments. Let’s break it down:

Holy Shit This is Corny – Carrie and Brody, back together at the infamous cabin from the first season, staring longingly in to each other’s eyes, joking about that time Carrie thought he was a terrorist and he pulled his gun on her and good thing they can all laugh about that now, amirite? And hey, Carrie has a mom! Who walked out on her family! And Brody is the only person she’s ever told! (Now accepting bets on which episode Mrs. Mathison will make an appearance in next season – I’m doubling down on episode 2). And hey, it’s super difficult to be in a relationship with someone with bipolar, but Brody can totally handle it since he’s, you know, the very picture of mental stability. Anyway, it’s not like Carrie is totally delusional. She does realize that dating Brody won’t allow her to continue working for the CIA, which would be a bigger deal if, at this point, there was any reason to believe she would be asked to rejoin the CIA. As far as she knows, she’ll be having to wear an embarrassing yellow visitor’s badge anytime she wants to drop in on Saul. She tells Brody she needs to think about it before making a decision. If only she’d shown the same kind of hesitation when she decided to become complicit in the murder of the Vice President.

Holy Shit Is there a Tim Horton’s on Every Corner in Rural Virginia Too? – Nice to see our northern answer to Starbucks make another brief appearance. No croissants in sight, but hey. Can’t win ’em all I guess.

Holy Shit Quinn Just Pull the Goddamn Trigger Already – Set up in a mirror image cabin across the lake from Carrie and Brody’s Love Cabin, Quinn watched them frolic in the woods for a day, then watched them get down to sexy time, and then chowed down on a delicious can of tuna. In the morning, when Carrie headed out on her Timmy’s run, he somehow sped across the lake, snuck through the woods behind Brody, watched him as he prayed, put his finger on the trigger and . . . nothing. Jesus Quinn, just do it. There’s already been a Jason Bourne. You can’t just stop being a trained assassin because you feel bad about it unless you’re also going to get amnesia and go on a rampage against those who programmed you.

Holy Shit This Is Really Bad Dialogue – Turns out, Quinn upheld a part of that last qualification, showing up super creepily in Estes’ darkened bedroom, gun across his lap, to threaten him in his most Batman-esque voice. Quinn’s job is to kill bad guys and – guess what? He doesn’t think Brody is a bad guy anymore. So suck it, Estes. Not only that though! He thinks killing Brody will also destroy Carrie, and that would be bad since she’s “The best analyst I’ve ever seen.” Uhhh Quinn – aren’t you an ops guy? What exactly makes you qualified to judge analysts? And anyway, if you were watching the same shit that I was this season and deemed Carrie the best, then I’ve got the best oceanfront property in Nebraska to sell you. Sure she was right all the time, but she’s hardly reliable.

Holy Shit Estes is a Pussy – So. After getting threatened by a newly morally-upstanding Quinn, Estes just folds like a cheap hooker who got hit in the stomach by a fat guy with sores on his face (credit: Joey Tribbiani). Why didn’t Estes just say, fair enough Quinn, you won’t kill Brody and you’re going to come into my home and threaten me with hokey superhero movie dialogue? Fine, you’re dead too. I mean, he’s presumably got an arsenal of trained killers on his speed dial, and some of them might actually be better at following orders. But no, instead, Estes calls the whole thing off, releases Saul from his captivity, and even tells him that the damning lie-detector report was in the process of being redacted “as we speak.” So . . . that whole storyline was just a waste of time I guess? No real ramifications? No real point except to make Estes evil, Quinn good, and take Saul out of the action for a few days.

Holy Shit Does Saul Ever Love Peanut Butter – A man after my own heart. Give him some peanut butter, crackers, and an extra carton of milk and he’s good to go.

Holy Shit Saul is the Only Reasonable Person on this Show – His showdown with Carrie in the halls of the CIA was perfect – thanks in large part to Mandy Patinkin. His disbelief at Carrie’s professed love for Brody was exactly what was needed, and I was vigorously nodding along when he told Carrie she was the smartest and dumbest fucking person he’s ever met. Yes Saul! Yes.

Holy Shit You Guys, Walden and Nazir Were the Same – The dual funerals functioned in a couple different ways, but the most blatantly obvious one was to underline the fact that who’s a terrorist and who’s a hero is just a matter of perspective. Nazir gets a respectful but anonymous burial at sea, while Walden gets memorialized in what I’m sure would’ve been a string of services glorifying a career that was essentially built around killing people. The other reason for the simultaneous services was to again show Saul’s sensitive side and make sure there was an iron-clad reason for him to not be at CIA headquarters when shit went down.

Holy Shit, Who Moved Brody’s Truck? – This was, obviously, the turning point of the episode and maybe the show. Brody, apparently miffed at all the glorification of Walden’s drone program, silently motions to Carrie leave the memorial and they have a little lover’s romp through the apparently completely empty CIA complex. Then, just as Carrie tells him that she’s decided to give up her entire life to run off with an avowed (former?) terrorist, Brody looks out the window and notices, holy shit, someone moved my truck. Carrie barely has time to curse before the truck blows everyone at the memorial to smithereens. Was it shocking? Absolutely. Did it provide one of the only legitimately tense moments of the episode when Carrie came to just before Brody and had the presence of mind to grab a gun (that was just sitting loose in a drawer?) and point it at Brody, assuming that he’d played her and that he was behind this whole thing? You betcha. Did it make sense? Well . . . I mean, okay, yes. Technically everything Brody said by way of explanation made sense, even if it was a little awkward and, I don’t know, hitting us over the head with it all. “Don’t you see? He set it up from the beginning! He wanted to get caught! He wanted us to let our guards down!” Thanks for the recap Brody, but we probably could’ve put some of that together ourselves, especially since it didn’t answer the most pertinent question, which is who exactly put the C4 in his truck and moved it into position? The way it just came completely out of nowhere took something away from it for me. I would’ve loved either a shot through the trees watching Brody park (to at least suggest someone watching), or a gloved hand reaching for the trunk, or something. Just something to suggest that something bad was going to happen and give the whole thing a tension leading to the explosion, rather than just going for the shock. I suppose the point is of not doing this was so that we would have fallen in to the same false sense of security as the characters, which I guess I get, but I would’ve just preferred some warning.

Holy Shit Everybody’s Dead – Well, not everyone of course. Our beloved red headed terrorist/congressman/fugitive will naturally live to see another day, but Estes, Mrs. Walden, Finn Walden, and a ton of other nameless CIA agents are all gone. And with that, so is much of the core of this season. It’s like the bomb was a big reset button. Estes proved himself to be a wuss, but the threat of Evil Estes would have always been lurking in the background. Not so much anymore. Now, Saul’s the senior director and they’ll be able to (plausibly) bring Carrie back into the CIA since they’ll be ridiculously short-staffed and need all the help they can get to figure out what the hell happened. I don’t mind this. A lot of what bogged down this season for me involved Estes/the Waldens, so with them out of the picture, there’s a chance the show can get away from the political intrigues and back to straight forward surveillance and intelligence.

Holy Shit, Best Episode of Storage Wars Ever – Carrie, realizing that Brody will be (with reason) suspected of placing the bomb, manages to escape the CIA compound and takes Brody to her storage unit, which, disappointingly is not filled with thousands of valuable newspapers from the day Elvis died. Instead, there’s just a giant case filled with money, guns, and fake IDs. Once again, Jason Bourne would be impressed. Carrie explains that she has a guy (conveniently located along the route between Virginia and Montreal) who is expensive but can make the best fake IDs around. The plan is to go to him, then go up to Montreal, and from there meet up with her friend June who will get them to Newfoundland, where they can board a boat into international waters. There they can . . . I don’t know, broadcast Major League Baseball with implied oral consent instead of expressed written consent (thank you, Simpsons). Anyway, I can get on board with this plan as a short term solution. I’m willing to buy the fact that Carrie has contacts who are able to make this whole thing possible. Plus, Brody definitely can’t stick around and try to clear his name since . . .

Holy Shit, Terrorists are Good at Framing People – This is one part of the episode that I can truly say I loved. I should’ve known that the terrorists would’ve made copies of Brody’s suicide video, but I didn’t. Releasing it after using his car to blow everyone up was a stroke of genius. Well played, terrorists. Now not even Brody’s own family can deny his culpability. While it displayed questionable mothering instincts for Jessica to force her kids to watch their dad’s own suicide message, it was worth it to see them all realize, a year too late, exactly what Brody was capable of. It’s even more narratively gut-wrenching considering that he didnt’ actually do anything this time! (Or did he? I’ll get to that). Plus, Dana had just gotten Brody to essentially admit that he had been planning on blowing up the VP that fateful night, but that he’d changed his mind and wasn’t like that anymore. So she thought she knew exactly what she was talking about when she insisted to the investigators that her dad couldn’t have done this and then . . . that damn video. Poor Dana. For a moment, I thought she was going to go into the garage and take out Brody’s gun and just end it all there. I mean, could you blame her? She kills someone, has it covered up, realizes that the world is supremely fucked up, realizes that you can never really know anyone, and then her dad, who she thinks she knows, is a terrorist and killed 200+ people right after telling her he wouldn’t. I mean, Jesus. That’s a lot to deal with, and I don’t know if she even knows at this point that Finn is also dead. I predict a lot more angst from Dana next season and this will probably be what pulls Brody back in from whatever fishing boat he’s hiding on.

Holy Shit, Carrie Made a Good Decision! – Together in the woods just south of the Canadian border, Carrie and Brody were at a crossroads. As Brody helpfully pointed out, the woods are always symbolic for these two. In this case, though, instead of bringing them together, it frames their goodbyes as Carrie realizes she can’t give up her life at the CIA. There’s a heartfelt-but-maybe-a-little-too-over-the-top goodbye scene, as Brody and Carrie tearfully promise each other that this isn’t goodbye and that one day, somehow they’ll be together. Okay, so they’re both still delusional, but as Brody disappeared into the woods and Carrie sped home towards her rightful place at Saul’s side, it felt like maybe the writers were on the right path. This entire season has seemed like the writers were just contriving situations to place Brody and Carrie together, to remind everyone that they both love each other so much, and it has felt at times very forced. The greatness of their relationship last season was rooted in its unexpectedness and in its inherently fucked-up nature. Last season, when they were together, they both knew it was doomed. This season, they spent most of their time together talking about how they could actually make this thing work long-term and it just felt too cheesy and unrealistic. So, for me, creating distance between them in season 3 can only bring good things. I’m not naive enough to expect Brody’s absence from the show will last more than, say, half an episode, but as long as he and Carrie aren’t in the same room, I think that some of the narrative tension that was there in season 1 will come back.

Holy Shit, Saul Totally Knows, Right? – The look that Saul gave Carrie at the end said so much. Mandy Patinkin is a master at showing subtle emotions, and to me, when he finally turned and saw Carrie standing there, there was both relief and anger written on his face. Of course he’s happy she’s alive, but at that moment, he had to realize that there was a good chance Brody was too and that she had helped him escape. Where else would she have been for a day? I’m really looking forward to see how this plays out. With Saul effectively in charge, it’ll be a different dynamic than last season when they had Estes to blame when bureaucratic red tape that held up their investigations of Brody. Saul’s also always been the one who was able to break through Carrie’s bullshit and call her out when she needed it. I’m hoping he’ll continue to be able to do that.

Holy Shit, What’s Going to Happen Now? – Well there you go. Season 2 in the books. It was uneven bordering on the absurd, but in the end I think I liked it. I do want to know what happens next. I want to know if Brody had anything to do with the bomb in his truck (my gut says no, but they’ve left the door open just enough that he might have). I want to know who’s the terrorist now. I want to watch Carrie and Saul and Virgil and Max watch people through hidden cameras and long-range lenses. I just have to change the way I watch it all unfold. After the first season, I watched this show expecting it to be like Breaking Bad or The Wire when really, it’s probably more on the level of Sons of Anarchy. It’s not in the upper echelons of TV like I thought it was, but it’s still heads and shoulders above most of the crap out there. While Breaking Bad and The Wire were masters of creating complex characters and slowly building up to outrageous situations so that they somehow still felt grounded in reality, Homeland is more like SOA in that it’s ultimately a soap opera in which a lot of shit goes down every week (seriously, think about the amount of shit that went down this season in either show. It’s crazy the amount of plot they run through). They’re both exciting, they’re fun to watch, and fun to think about. I thought Homeland was going to be more, but really, that’s my own fault for wanting it to be something it didn’t want to be and maybe never was. So, with that, I’m going into next season with excitement. I can’t wait to see how they’re going to bring Brody back after the first episode, I can’t wait to see if it ever comes out that he was involved in Walden’s death, I can’t wait for the inevitable Quinn-Carrie hookup, and ultimately I can’t wait to see what crazy shit the writers will throw at us. 

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Survivor - Courtesy CBS

Really, all that needs to be said about this week’s episode is:

ABI IS GONE! THE WICKED WITCH IS DEAD!!!

Of course, there is a bit more to it than that, but not much. Skupin won the reward challenge and opted to take (obviously) Malcolm and Lisa with him on a boat-and-pizza afternoon. While Skupin got drunk on sugar, Denise was stuck at camp looking for things with which to gouge out her ears to avoid having to listen to Abi talk for one more second. While on the boat, Malcolm apparently solidified his final three, telling Skupin and Lisa that he wanted to go to the end with them. This is probably a good move by Malcolm, but it seems like adding insult to injury to do so when Denise is suffering so badly alone with Abi.

At the immunity challenge, Malcolm stages an amazing “come from behind” victory by being the first to complete the maze even though he fell off the ladder and had to restart. Malcolm’s win seemingly cleared the path for an easy vote, but nothing is ever easy on Survivor, especially with Lisa playing. Abi starts telling her that she’s definitely on the bottom of the final four (probably not all that far off), and Lisa, as she is wont to do, immediately seizes on Abi’s idea of getting rid of Denise while she has the chance. She and Skupin chat it over and apparently decide to take this course of action. The threat to Denise is compounded when she goes to Malcolm and asks him to give her his hidden immunity idol, since it’s the last chance to use it and he doesn’t need it. For some reason (perhaps because he recognizes that Denise is his biggest threat), Malcolm refuses, saying he’s going to bring it home and give it to his mom to put on her mantle. Perhaps Malcolm was hoping that Lisa and Skupin would do his dirty work for him and he could get rid of Lisa without having to actually betray her.

Ultimately, Lisa flipped (or flopped) before tribal council or during Abi’s insanely annoying rant in which she continually called Skupin an idiot and a moron, Abi was finally sent home, and the final four that was agreed on weeks ago came to fruition. Now the real fun begins.

So: Will Malcolm complete his improbable run from worst tribe to sole Survivor? How many more times will Lisa flip-flop? Will either Lisa-Skupin or Malcolm-Denise break up, or will it come down to a 2-2 tie and a fire challenge to decide the final 3? Was Denise bitten by a vampire and how will she use her vampire skills to ensure herself a spot in the final 3?

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Homeland - Courtesy Showtime

Formerly (and more awesomely) known as “The Motherfucker with the Turban.”

Perhaps it’s fitting that this episode changed its name from something shocking (at potentially offensive?) to something a little more standard. The first half picked up right where last week left off, to the point where I was internally writing a eulogy for the Homeland that once was. And then, Abu Nazir died, and things started clicking into place again. It’s just that it’s getting increasingly difficult to put aside the ridiculous stuff and appreciate the acting and the emotional scenes on their own merits.

The beginning of the episode was another 24-ish romp as Carrie withheld significant information from Quinn (that Brody/Nazir are the ones who caused Walden’s pacemaker to malfunction), lied unconvincingly about how, exactly, she managed to escape from Abu Nazir (she got lucky, I guess?), and quickly jumped to the conclusion that Galvez must be the mole who helped Nazir escape since he, you know, just got out of the hospital and everything. This particular leap would be fine for just Carrie and her sleep-deprived brain to make, but they lost me a bit when Quinn leapt off the proverbial cliff with her, concluding that it “made sense” and leading an FBI chase of Galvez who, it turns out, was just going back to the hospital because he’d popped his stitches (or is that just what he wants us to think?!?!).

The one bright spot of the first half was Carrie’s botched interrogation with Roya. Nevermind how absurd it is that Carrie got into the room with her in the first place (she’d gone to wash her face while Estes explicitly told Quinn not to let her in the room, and then, when Quinn got back, Carrie was already in the room). That’s some ninja interrogation shit right there. Anyway, what I liked about it was that, while it seemed at first that we were in for another demonstration of Carrie’s expert interrogation skills, Roya quickly turns the tables on her. She tells Carrie what she wants to hear, feeding her some bullshit about what it’s like to be around someone who you know is bad for you, and who makes you do bad things, but you just can’t help yourself. A single tear falls down Carrie’s battered face, and Roya pounces. She grabs Carrie’s bruised wrists, and spits insults at her in Arabic. It was a powerful moment and would have been made all the more powerful if only there hadn’t been so many leaps necessary to get Carrie in the room in the first place.

Anyway, after Carrie’s failure, Quinn insists that she go home and rest, but for some reason sees it fit for her to drive herself home (in what was presumably a CIA-issued vehicle). However, the drive leads Carrie to realize that when Roya told her that Nazir wouldn’t run, she meant it literally – he had to still be at the abandoned mill (sidenote: I’m pretty sure Nancy Drew and the Abandoned Mill was a book I read in elementary school. Just something to think about for next season, Homeland writers. Maybe move away from the young adult mystery genre). She naturally heads back there against Quinn’s advice, and finds everybody packing up to go. There’s only one tactical team left and, probably just to shut her up already, they agree to go back in for one more sweep. Naturally, again, Carrie is left alone with only one guy (after an explicit conversation earlier in the episode where it was discussed that they always go in pairs), quickly finds a hidden room, and waits in the hallway while the lone operative goes in, finds where Nazir was hiding, and promptly gets his throat cut. The show then shifts from 24 to pure horror movie, as Carrie runs away screaming “HE’S HERE.” She manages to fight Nazir off not once, but twice, before the tactical team can swoop in and shoot him as he kneels on the floor in front of them and reaches into his pocket to pull out what I’m sure will end up being a cell phone.

The parallels between Nazir and bin Laden are fairly obviously drawn, but I especially liked the distinction between the popular reaction to bin Laden’s death (jubilant cheering, U-S-A chants) and Carrie’s quiet realization that she’d succeeded in taking down the person she’d devoted the last 10 years of her life to catching. There was no trace of jubilation on her face, but rather a mixture of satisfaction, relief, exhaustion, and a strange sense of sadness and pity. Abu Nazir was probably the person she knew the best in the world, and now he was lying bloodied on a gurney in front of her, looking like just any other person, not an evil terrorist mastermind.

As I mentioned above, after Nazir’s death, things changed. When Brody is told, his reaction is just as compelling as Carrie’s was. He breaks down weeping before attempting to pass it off as tears of relief to his family. It’s clear though, that Nazir’s death hits him hard. Before, he was lost because he was trying to follow the rules of too many people. Now, he’s killed Walden and Nazir is dead – the only person he has left to answer to is Carrie. Since the terrorist threat is apparently neutralized, the unhappy Brody family is allowed to go home (much to Chris’ chagrin).

What they don’t know, however, is that Brody’s life is in fact in more imminent danger after Nazir’s death. Saul’s detainment last week was for a lie detector test that Estes will use to blackmail him later, if necessary. I loved the return of the lie detector operator from last season, and equally loved that the actual administrator of the test was a stone-faced Estes henchman. I loved that the questions were framed in such a way as to trap Saul with partial truths (did he technically give Aileen the weapon she used to kill herself? Well yes, but there’s far more to that story, obviously). Saul correctly identifies the motivations behind this line of questioning, telling the operator that the only reason he’s being investigated is because he knows about the plot for the CIA to assassinate a U.S. congressman. This is, of course, left out of the official report. While I will eternally love Mandy Patinkin, this plot seems a little heavy-handed in terms of Estes’ rapid shift from authority figure harshing the main characters’ collective spy buzzes, to actual evil guy involved in blackmail, murder, and all sorts of shady dealings. Last season, Estes controlled Saul by revealing truths to him about the nature of intelligence and the war on terror, this time, he controls him by blackmail? It just seemed like a bit of a leap.

In any case, Estes tells Quinn that the plan is still very much on, and that he needs to kill Brody sooner than later so that they can just blame it on blowback from Nazir’s death (it’s best not to think too hard about exactly how this would work – would they really pretend that there’s another congressman-terrorist on the loose in DC? Exactly how incompetent is the CIA anyway?) Anyway, the spectre of Quinn’s gunshot hung over the final scenes, adding heart-pounding tension especially to Jessica and Brody’s breakup conversation in the car. While their decision to finally divorce was a long time coming, the way it got wrapped up into a neat little bow felt a bit forced. I mean, one day they’re yelling at each other, jealous of each other’s affairs, and the next day, they’re having a quiet conversation about how it can never work between them? I suppose it was set up by Jessica’s assertion at the beginning of the episode that “everything has changed” after Walden’s death. In any case, I thought the fact that Brody went right up to the point of telling Jessica everything before she stopped him by saying she doesn’t want to know was true to character. No matter how much Jessica proclaimed herself to want the truth, she couldn’t handle even the glimpses of the true Brody that she saw. Her realization that the only person he’s ever told the truth to was Carrie and that “you must really love her” was both cheesy and effective.

When a bullet didn’t explode through Brody’s head the minute Jessica exited the vehicle, it was clear that Brody would be going to Carrie’s. I hoped beyond hope that when the doorbell rang it would be Saul or Quinn telling her that Brody had died (because this would have been unexpected) but instead it was Brody, feeding Carrie lines worthy of my guilty pleasure, Days of our Lives. He did what he did to Walden because, if the choice was Walden’s life or Carrie’s, it wasn’t even close? Carrie naturally swallows it up, which I can hopefully attribute to her not having slept for 2 days. Was she really just able to ignore the fact that the whole reason Brody was a terrorist in the first place was because he wanted to kill Walden? Anyway, she tenderly kisses his hand and brings him inside while Quinn watches through the scope.

There’s only one episode left and a hell of a lot to get through. I’m hoping that, in the end, Carrie will realize that Brody is a terrorist and her happily-ever-after fantasies are both unrealistic and pathetic. I hope she’ll be the one to kill him, but no matter who does it, I want him dead. I don’t see how Brody can live and have this series continue to exist under any semblance of plausibility. As it is, I don’t really know how they can continue. Saul is out, Carrie is out (even though she single-handedly took down the world’s number 1 terrorist, I can’t picture control-freak Estes keeping loose-cannon Carrie around and not Saul), the whole Brody clan is out, Nazir is dead, Walden is dead – the whole series is begging for a reboot. Personally, I hope that Carrie, Saul, Virgil, and Max get together and form an elite private investigators’ unit and, through their surveillance of cheating spouses and insurance fraudsters, stumble upon a terrorist plot that’s even bigger than Nazir’s ever was. I just can’t imagine how they’re going to wrap it up next episode though.

In the end, that’s really the difference between this season and last season. Last season, the unpredictability was this show’s greatest asset, and even when it seemed like they’d painted themselves into a corner, they always managed to find their way out, even if it meant jumping through the window. I always trusted that the twists they would take us on would feel earned and would contribute to taking this show to greater heights. This season, when the show has its back against the wall, it fights its way out with explosions when exposition would do, and it takes us on wild goose chases rather than the simple path from A to B. After last week, I don’t trust it to do itself justice anymore, and that’s a real shame. I hope they can redeem themselves next year and the only way they can do that is by killing Brody and starting fresh in season 3.

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