Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Walking Dead: Triggerfinger and 18 Miles Out

Why yes, I WAS trying to gross you out. I don't think my Walking Dead pics that accompany our reviews have been gory enough.

Welcome to two weeks of The Walking Dead. Why, it’s two weeks! Two weeks! Two weeks in one!

Okay, it’s not really that exciting, more like my co-host, Josh Winstead and I have both been so insanely busy lately that we just haven’t found time to do this. That and fatigue sets in for both of us around, oh, just after lunchtime, so doing these recaps back and forth in the evenings is a little…zzzzzzzzz….

Gah! Wha? Oh, sorry, I’m awake again. So the last two weeks’ episodes of The Walking Dead will be brought to you by… the walking dead.

Nikki: We complained a lot in the first half of the season that this show had become The Talking Dead, with very little action and too much yammering. I have no such complaints anymore. Yes, there’s still talk and philosophy, but it’s balanced with equal parts awesomeness.

First, “Triggerfinger.” It’s hard to look at these two episodes separately now, because “Triggerfinger” set up a few things that came to a head in “18 Miles Out,” but let’s do a quick recap. In this episode, Lori wakes up in her crashed car to find she’s almost zombie food, but she deals with the zombie, gets away, Shane picks her up and promises Rick and the others have returned (he’s lying) and finally he tells her that he believes the baby is his. Meanwhile Glen, Rick, and Hershel discover that the two guys they got rid of in the bar had friends, and there’s an old-fashioned shoot ‘em up at the OK Corral, with the guys making it out okay, bringing back one of the other guys who’d been left behind when his leg was impaled on an iron fence. (Gah.) Meanwhile, Daryl has moved out to a tent in the woods (because THAT’S safe) and Carol goes out to try to talk to him and he berates her, projecting his own guilt over Sophia’s death onto Carol. Andrea sticks up for Shane and the way he’s been doing things, and finally in a bit of a Lady Macbeth moment, Lori literally wraps herself around Rick’s body as she whispers into his ear that Shane believes the baby is his, and that he could take better care of her and Carl than Rick can. Zoom in on Rick’s threatened face.

While there’s a lot of stuff that we can definitely talk about in this week’s episode, I wanted to mention the scene between Daryl and Carol (did they rhyme them on purpose?) They don’t appear in this week’s episode at all, but in that scene in the woods last week, it was sizzling. Daryl is just plain cruel, but the meanness of his words belie the pain he’s feeling himself. What I loved is the performances between the two. The entire time he was standing there berating her, I kept thinking, “Dude, that woman has skin so thick you can’t get to her… don’t you remember what her husband did to her?” As long as Daryl isn’t pummeling her with his fists, he can’t hurt her.

And then… THEN… he tells her that Sophia is dead because she didn’t keep her safe, that she didn’t care enough about her, and Carol’s head reels back as if he’d physically punched her in the face. It was an extraordinary moment, but even though he’d just emotionally shot her in the gut, she brings her head back to centre and keeps staring right at him. You know, I didn’t think much of Carol in the first half of this season, but the performance between these two actors was electric. The writers have found the perfect pairing in these two.

Only downside of “Triggerfinger”? Lori’s still alive. Sigh. Your thoughts?

Josh: Ha! You know, this episode had several great exchanges in it, and all of them involved one character trying unsuccessfully to coerce another. In the first, we saw Daryl pushing Carol away (and failing spectacularly, for all the reasons you mentioned above, a wonderful moment that comes full circle when we see Daryl sort-of participating with the group in the dining room meeting at the end of the episode, albeit grudgingly so). Then we had Lori pushing Shane away (and failing every bit as spectacularly) in an incredible show of talent from Jon Bernthal, who was riveting here to me even in his reaction shots, playing a lot more depth than I've seen from him recently (though, to his credit, the dialogue here was better than usual too).

And finally, we got that creepy devil-on-your-shoulder heart-to-heart between Lori and Rick in the tent, with the strong suggestion that her husband resolve the escalating Shane problem with a bit of frontier justice. As little as I like her, I never would have expected Lori to go all Atia of the Julii on us, and I kind of loved it. I thought it was a great wrap for the episode and did a good job of transitioning into the beginning of the next, where the timeline jumps a week (unlike the direct chronological abutment to which we're accustomed with this show).

There were certainly parts of this episode that fell flat for me – the entirety of the Maggie/Glenn story, for example, which felt manufactured, particularly in the moment when she runs past Hershel to embrace Glenn once they finally get back to the farm – but in general, I thought it was a well-plotted and engrossing hour. It also featured some terrific camerawork as well, with the disorientation and horror of that great opening sequence and any number of other examples (the overhead shot wherein Rick is rounding the dumpster behind the bar, a gun in each hand, leaps to mind).

However, I have neglected to mention one of the most significant aspects of this particular episode: namely, that it might be the single goriest one of the series thus far. As that first zombie at the crash site pushed its head through the windshield, peeling its face off in the process, I said out loud, “Wow, that's the most awful thing I've ever seen on this show.” And then the miserable gunshot guy behind the bar had his face discounted by 50%, and I said, “Wait, no...” But before five more minutes had passed, young Randall was stuck on the fence, and suddenly Rick turned into the Batman of leg yankers, and I elected to stop making grand statements.

Nikki: Atia of the Julii, NICE!! And a perfect analogy.

And SO agreed on the gore. You forgot the pickax through the back of the head and out the forehead. Geeeeaaaaahhhhh….. This week’s episode, “18 Miles Out,” certainly ramped up the gore as well, as Shane and Rick got caught up in a total zompocalypse and had to stab, shoot, and brain explode their way out of it. The ick factor is certainly strong with this one.

So with that, let’s move to this week. Last week a lot of tension was built up, and in this week it all came to a head. What an emotionally gutting week this was. The episode opened with Shane and Rick, literally at a crossroads (the symbolism was a little obvious there, but I’ll give it to them), discussing everything that’s happened between them that’s gone unspoken – Shane moving in on Lori when Rick was presumed dead; Shane’s possible murder of Otis; who’s the alpha male who’s better equipped to take care of everyone. I thought Shane was humanized a bit in this scene: he has the chance to be perfectly honest, and he is, saying that if he could take things back, he would have. That he never looked at Lori before he thought Rick was dead, and he’s sorry. Of course, talk is cheap, and this open dialogue eventually becomes something else completely when Rick and Shane are down to brass tacks, “discussing” whether or not they should leave the kid behind for zombie food or just put him out of his misery to ensure he doesn’t come to Maggie’s farm (I’m only now realizing the Dylan reference) and put all their lives in jeopardy.

For me, the best part of the Rick/Shane showdown was, again, the symbolism, but done a little more subtly this time around. As they fight, it gets sloppy and tired, and notice how they’re growling like zombies, they’re flopping around like zombies, they’re bleeding from several orifices like zombies… As Shane throws something at Rick and it goes through the window, you see Shane reflected in the glass, just as a walker is shuffling up to the window, as if there’s very little difference between Shane and the creature on the other side of the glass. But at this point, there really isn’t. They’re all just fighting for survival, following their animal instincts. Just like the walker they show stumbling through the field at the beginning and end of the episode, these survivors are all just stumbling along, completely lost.

Josh: Maggie's Farm! How have I never made that connection either? Must be slipping in my old age.

But on to “18 Miles Out,” or as I've been calling it, “Knife To The Head(s).”

This show features a good deal of recycling what are essentially the same conversations over and over – understandably, as the issues and concerns that provoke them are ever present. And this All-The-Rules-Have-Changed-Now debate is one we've seen several times already, but for me, I don't think it has ever been as effective or concise as it is in this instance, as Shane and Rick finally, FINALLY battle it out.

The heart of the argument lies in two statements: first, at the crossroads, Shane says of Otis, “Reality is, he had no business being here. There. Wherever.” Telling Rick beyond a shadow of a doubt that he thinks he gets to make those decisions, that he believes he has the right to determine who lives and dies, who is fit and who is fodder. Confirming that he is every bit as dangerous as Lori said he is.

And later, right before the fists start to fly, Rick answers him, finally says what he's been thinking ever since: “Stop acting like you know the way ahead! Like you know the rules!” Because, of course, there aren't any, not any more. There are the rules by which they choose to govern themselves, their own behavior, but even that is purely by choice and only works if no one else is around (as Tony and Dave's pals proved out). Rick may say he's “not the good guy any more,” but he's honorable, and he's steadfast, and in the narrow strip of shoulder they occupy on the side of the road to hell, that's as good as it gets.

I loved that shot of Shane too, looking just like a walker in the broken glass after trying to kill Rick with the giant wrench, but my favorite symbolism of the episode came as the two of them drove down the road on the way to the town. Rick is talking about plans for winter – precautions that need to be taken, ways the walkers' behavior might change in the cold – while Shane stares at that wandering zombie out in the field. What a great encapsulation of the difference between them, with Rick looking toward the future and Shane able to think of nothing but the immediacy of what's right in front of him. And that undoubtedly means this fight between them isn't over yet.

As incendiary as was this ongoing battle between our two male leads this week, however, the part of this episode that really did me in was that crushing speech Beth made to Maggie explaining why she wants to take her own life. Everything about their arguments (and the actors' performances) was perfect to me, and by the time Beth says, “I don't want to be gutted. I want to go,” I was sort of a basket case.

What about you?

Nikki: Nice interpretation of the walker in the field! I’ll admit, the nitpicker was awake in me, as I thought to myself, “We’re supposed to see the same zombie wandering the same field, but technically, if Shane and Rick were driving west on the way in, they would have been driving east on the way out and the zombie would have been seen out of the other side of the car.” But it’s less poetic that way. So let’s just assume the zombie crossed the road. Cue “Why did the zombie cross the road” jokes. (To eat the chicken’s brains?)

As you say, while the Shane/Rick smackdown was clearly the central scene of the episode, what was happening with the womenfolk over at the homestead was clearly just as important. The scenes with Beth/Maggie, Lori/Andrea, and Andrea/Beth (culminating in Lori-Maggie/Andrea) were not clear-cut, and definitely had my emotions flip-flopping all over the place. So we have, on the one hand, Beth becoming suicidal and Maggie and Lori hovering over her, with Andrea saying she needs space. But both the way Beth obviously took the knife and handed it back over, then made a few shallow cuts on her arm, it was clear she was doing these things as a cry for help and didn’t actually want to die, deep down. So Andrea’s idea that maybe she needs to work through her shit on her own were rather apt.

But, by that same token, any one of us who has ever known someone who’s just lost someone very close to them – or who have actually lost someone close to us ourselves – knows the overwhelming depression that follows, the idea that absolutely nothing will ever be right again, that the sun is shining just to mock you and the world has effectively ended and nothing – NOTHING – is worth living for. The days and weeks following the loss of a loved one are crucial, where the grief-stricken person needs all the emotional support he or she can get. Without it, we’d have far more suicides than anyone would like to imagine. So Lori and Maggie absolutely have a point, too, saying that Beth needs to be watched.

In the first half of the season, when Andrea told Dale what she thought of him taking away her decision to end her life, I thought that scene was emotionally devastating, true, and amazing. But the point was made. Now I feel like Andrea’s projecting her own emotions onto everyone else and acting like she’s the only person who’s ever lost anyone. Look around, Andrea. Maggie’s just lost her mom and you’re trying to tell her what it’s like to lose someone. Lori thought Rick was dead, but she held on to Carl and Shane as her buoys during that period to keep herself going. This is a freakin’ apocalypse… stop thinking you’re the only person in pain.

Of course, as I mentioned, in the end Andrea’s way was right. Stay close, but let Beth make her own choice. You can’t convince someone else to live; only they can make that choice. Andrea didn’t choose to live, she was forced into it.

And, despite being a little annoyed with Andrea, I did love the verbal smackdown between her and Lori. She tries to move Lori’s thinking into the 21st century and reminds her that women don’t necessarily have to be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, and just because Andrea’s acting sentry and doing what Lori thinks a man should do doesn’t mean she’s not pulling her weight. She basically tells Lori that she thinks she’s all that because both alpha males are hers. Again, it’s interesting how, in the same way Rick and Shane are reduced to their base animal instincts, Lori seems to have regressed to a caveman mentality where she’s automatically in charge because she’s with the strong men of the tribe. In many ways, Andrea’s words were unfair for the reasons I outlined above, but I still enjoyed this scene muchly.

OK, final thoughts over to you, Josh!

Josh: Final summation: two thumbs up from me. I loved how tense and action-packed these episodes were, and the writing was more consistent than usual. I am thoroughly enjoying the way our core characters are finding themselves increasingly pitted against one another in matters as plain as how best to love one another. The sky is growing ever darker for these folks, and something tells me that by the time we reach the finale, that storm will be all-encompassing.

Bits & Bobs:

• This speech: “Let me make this perfectly clear once and for all: this is MY farm. I wanted you gone. Rick talked me out of it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. So do us both a favor. Keep your mouth shut.” This may come to a head even before Rick and Shane duel again. And I cannot wait.

• The knife-through-the-fence tactic is a detail lifted out of the comics (and about the only such thing in either of these two episodes). And speaking of which, there was a big casting announcement made this week for a character that will be all too familiar to those of you who have also read the comics. I have purposefully avoided talking about it here so as to sidestep any possible spoilers, and I would recommend anyone wishing to remain unspoiled to stay away from any articles discussing it. However, for the folks already in the know, I offer my unvarnished opinion: waiting until Halloween to see this stuff is going to be almost as torturous as watching it.

• When Randall (who we didn't discuss at all somehow but about whose motivations I am still very much on the fence, can I get a rimshot) stabbed his zombie crawler in the head about thirty times with that filthy knife, I couldn't (and still can't) make up my mind whether they were implying he's just venting or actually psychotic. But I'm leaning toward psychotic. But at least he's capable, I guess.

• My nitpick of the episode: again with the blood all over Shane & Rick's faces, which also have open wounds from their throwdown. Did we not already establish this can infect you? Rules check.

• Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie, grew up primarily in England and so shares Andrew Lincoln's British accent. He's improved over the course of the show, but as a general rule, I think she kind of kicks his ass at the Southern one.

And that's it, folks. Be safe out there, and we'll see you next week.

Nikki: Always looking for the last word, but I just wanted to say, wow, I didn’t know Lauren Cohan was British, that’s amazing. And secondly, I TOTALLY agree about the open wounds and why aren’t they infected? The reason I didn’t say anything is I’m wondering if they’re going with the “zombies can only infect through saliva” thing… but then again, if a scratch can do it, then… can’t getting zombie goobers in the giant slice in your hand give it to you?

We’ll see you all next week!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fringe: "The End of Everything"

In Slaughterhouse-Five — the book every Lost fan has a responsibility to read — we met the Tralfamadorians, an alien race that can see across all points of time, present, past, and future, and who knows exactly when all of time will end. The problem? They can do absolutely nothing to prevent it. The protagonist of the novel, Billy Pilgrim, is cursed when he begins to be able to do the same thing, and can jump to various events in his own life, but, like the Tralfamadorians, is unable to do anything. He gets on a plane for the umpteenth time that he knows will crash into the side of a mountain, killing everyone but himself, but he just does it, because he's a fatalist who believes that whatever happened, happened.

Until now, the Observers on Fringe have been thought to be an alien race that were like the Tralfamadorians, with a little bit of Adjustment Bureau thrown into the mix. But what has set them apart from that alien race was the fact that they HAVE manipulated time (against Observer regulations, mind you) when September plunged his hand into the water and stopped Peter from drowning. He only did that because he believed it was his fault Peter had fallen into the lake in the first place. They are Observers, not Participants, and they were only supposed to watch people, not engage with them or do anything to actually change history.

And now, after this week's stunning episode, we know why. As always, when something is revealed in an Abrams show, it's not out of this world, and usually has that "why didn't I think of that?" feeling to it. I'm sure many of us suspected that the Observers were from somewhere in the far-off future, and now we find that they're the ultimate descendants of the human race. So, of COURSE they don't want to alter time; by doing so, they could effectively wipe themselves out of existence.

I haven't posted on Fringe for a while, and that's because I'd simply fallen behind. Over the past couple of evenings I caught up on the past four episodes, and it's amazing to watch them all together (to be honest, I felt like it was worth not watching them separately so I could watch it all unfold as one long story). All of them bring together that beautiful underlying message of Fringe: that beyond all the science and understanding of things lies something far more important: human connections and love. In "Making Angels," Alt-Astrid crosses over after the death of her father leaves her grief-stricken and looking for answers. Jasika Nicole, who plays Astrid, has long been a fan favourite, and I've really enjoyed watching her come to the fore more this season (at the end, where Astrid tells Alt-Astrid that her father is a difficult and distant man, only for us to find out she was lying to her to make her feel better, brought tears to my eyes). In this episode, the gang tries to get to the bottom of why certain people are being found dead, having bled out from the eyes. Turns out this guy, who grew up on Raiden Lake (where the cataclysmic episode with Peter being pulled out of the lake in 1985 happened), found September's glowstick and has become like an Observer himself. He uses his powers for what he sees as good -- finding people who will die slow, horrible deaths, and killing them painlessly and instantly before they begin their downward spiral. It was an interesting episode, with the euthanasia argument blending with a Minority Report premise, where this man believed he wasn't committing genocide, but giving people genesis into an afterlife and happier existence.

That episode was followed by "Westfield," the beginning of the three-part series that culminated this week, where Peter, Olivia, and Walter travel to a small town that's been wiped out by David Robert Jones, who pulled both dimensions together in this one spot, overlapping people with their other selves and causing immediate onset schizophrenic outbreaks and violence. In this episode, the cortexiphan that Olivia had been shot up with a couple of episodes earlier began having different effects, and this Olivia began having the memories of our Olivia. She suddenly believed she was her, Peter was her Peter, and she knew everything about their lives together.

In the next episode, "A Better Human Being," the gang investigated people with a hive mentality who had all been genetically modified as embryos, and all had the same biological father. As such they connected by speaking to each other telepathically. The episode tied in to what Olivia was undergoing, where she could hear the other Olivia in her head to such an extent that it wasn't just a voice, it was her entire consciousness. As she pleaded with Peter to believe her that she really WAS Olivia, and had remembered utterly everything about their life together and who she was, Peter was torn. Walter had seen the change in her and growled at Peter that he was somehow projecting his own consciousness onto her, much like he could do with the machine, and that he had to stop it, and accept that what he was doing was projecting what he wanted onto an innocent person who had been caught in the crossfire of Peter's dire need to return to the home he once knew. At the end of the episode, Olivia looks into Peter's eyes and tells him how much she loves him, and what he sees is his own Olivia looking back at him. Caught up in the moment, he kisses her, and we swoon (albeit cautiously) because it seems they're finally reunited.

Until Olivia goes into the gas station to pee and never returns.

And that brings us to "The End of All Things," where Olivia has been captured by David Robert Jones' people (along with Nina) so they can channel her abilities, and see if she can light up the little lights in the box the same way she did way back in season 1. Written by David Fury (who was responsible for much of Buffy and Lost's first season), this episode brings so many things full circle, including Olivia's abilities coming out through her empathy. Jones mistakenly believes she'll be triggered by Nina, so he tortures her in front of Olivia to make her do what he needs her to. Problem is, she now has the memories of our Olivia (or she might BE our Olivia) and that Olivia wasn't raised by Nina. She reveals that Peter is the only person who she feels strongly for, and so they capture him and bring him to her. And when she thinks they're going to hurt him, she goes all Carrie on them and nearly brings down the entire building in an amazing sequence.

But how Peter actually manages to get over to her is the key part of the episode. For September, who'd been shot a long time ago and showed himself to Olivia (did he see that coming?) has reappeared, and he's dying and collapses when he's with them. Walter connects Peter to September's unconscious mind the same way Olivia had connected to John's dead mind and where Peter had mindwalked through Olivia and Walter's cartoonlike consciousness. (I always love a good mindwalk.) In this one, we see how September can see all timelines at once, in a glorious SFX sequence where Peter sees the Big Bang, followed by the universe massively expanding and creating itself, as September stands and talks to him about what he'd actually done.

And here, we discover that these hairless men in fedoras and Don Draper suits are actually human, but what humans will ultimately become. And, as mentioned earlier, he's risked wiping out his own timeline by what he did with Peter already, and needs to right things. And *just* as we were beginning to hope maybe Peter had found his Olivia, and that all these people need is the memory of him to break through so they can become the people he once loved, September says he needs to get to his Olivia still, and only then can he create the child that will be essential to the existence of the human race. And, more importantly to September, to his race.

The key line September utters is that he exists in "one of countless possible futures for humanity." If humanity takes a different turn, then he no longer exists. No wonder the other suited bald men have been trying to stop September from effing up everything. No wonder he's been shot. But who shot him? He won't say. That's not important to him. What is important is that he fix this, and he tells Peter to go back home so Peter can find his way to Olivia. And when Peter does go back home (literally), he's captured by David Robert Jones's men, who bring him before Olivia and cause the chaos I'd mentioned earlier.

And when it's all over, Peter looks at this Olivia and tells her that he's sorry for kissing her outside the gas station, but she's not really his Olivia. Despite the heartbroken look in her eyes (and the devastating effect his speech clearly has on her), he assures her that when he was in September's head, he saw his Olivia, and there was no mistaking that was her. He needs to get back to her, and he can't be tricked again. As Peter turns to walk away, he leaves in his wake a woman who, as Walter predicted, has been caught in the cross-storm, who now carries the memories of a love that is so real it hurts — but a love that doesn't belong to her.

September has told Olivia ominously that in every timeline, in every possible future, she must die. We all must die at some point, so here's hoping that Peter's Olivia will die a natural death at a very old age. But there's a possibility that this Olivia will die much sooner, perhaps at her own hand. Who, after knowing and feeling a love at their very core that's been taken from them and will always remain unrequited, could possibly continue?

I posted a few weeks ago that the problem with this season is that they've created a new set of characters that seemed temporary, and that we couldn't actually feel close to. But I also mentioned that I had faith in the writers and hoped things would turn soon. And they did. My heart sank for this Olivia as much as if she'd been any of our Olivias. She's as human as any of them, and as real as any of them. But for Peter, there's only one Olivia in all the universes that is his. And that has got to be one of the most beautiful, romantic ideas I've ever seen on television.

There was talk this week that Fringe might actually be renewed for a fifth and final season, giving them 15 episodes to wrap up the story. Either the writers couldn't wrap it up in S4, or the new sponsorship of Nissan has helped things along immeasurably (no one could have missed the scene in "Making Angels" where Olivia obviously unplugged her new Nissan electric car and drove away quietly, making everyone in the audience want one of those — or maybe that was just me...). But where I'd originally said I'd be happy with four seasons, this crop of episodes really made me hope for a fifth, so that the answers could be given, and then the show could play out for a few more episodes as we see the repercussions of everything we've learned. Peter will find Olivia, he just has to. And the commercial break glyphs this week — which spelled UNITE — are more than hinting that we will see them together again.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Angel S5: Not Fade Away

As many of you know, my all-time favourite series finale is Six Feet Under, as I know it is with many of you. But that's mostly for the last five minutes, which I've watched so many times I've lost count. I couldn't honestly tell you what happens in the rest of the episode that preceded it. That last five minutes, though? SUBLIME.

But my second-favourite series finale of all time is Angel's. And I love it for the entire episode, so in some ways that pushes it right to the top. Every character arc was beautifully realized, every moment was wonderfully written and acted. I adore this episode, and what it says.

I went back to check my entry on it in my Angel guide, Once Bitten, and honestly, to sound REALLY immodest here, I was really quite delighted with what I'd written there, and couldn't possibly add anything to it. (It was that long entry for the Angel finale that inspired all my long entries in the Finding Lost books that followed.) For anyone who has held off reading the exclusive and spoilery Alexis Denisof interview in the book, feel free to finally read it, where he reveals that the decision to kill off his character was a direct result of the show being cancelled. He was absolutely lovely, and perhaps that's part of the reason why I love his character as much as I do. But I think it's mostly because of this episode.

Instead, I'll just say three things, and leave the rest of the talking to you.

Why I loved this episode:

Because "effulgent" made me laugh. ♥♥♥

Because "Would you like me to lie to you now?" made me cry. A lot.

And because "I kind of want to slay the dragon" made me cheer. It doesn't matter what happens at the end of that alley; in my mind, our heroes will always be racing into battle, willing to die to save the world.

Thank you to everyone who stuck around for Angel S5, and who have been with the Great Buffy Rewatch from the beginning. It's been a blast rewatching the Buffyverse with all of you.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Once Upon a Time: "What Happened to Frederick"

When we last left Prince Charming, he was leaving the castle on the morn of his wedding, determined to find Snow White and convince her that he’s the one for her. What he doesn’t know is that she already believes that, but the king had threatened to hurt Charming if she didn’t tell him to buzz off and convince him that she didn’t love him. And so, with Abigail on her way to marry a prince, we begin this week’s story.

I’m not sure if it was always the writers’ intention to make Katherine/Abigail a really good person, or if the fan reaction to her was so positive they had to turn Abigail around, but I’m thinking the former. Katherine was always likeable from the start, but Abigail came off as cold and distant. Now we know why: she was in love with Frederick, who died saving her father’s life and was turned into a gold statue. I was a little worried that she was actually tricking Charming somehow, asking him to complete an impossible task knowing he would die doing it, but it was good to see that she wasn’t tricking him at all.

The Guardian of the Lake was a cross between the Lady of the Lake of King Arthur legend (a woman that would rise up out of the lake, although she was a good entity in that story, if I recall correctly, and was usually just an arm holding a sword aloft), and a Siren, which is what Charming eventually surmises she is. But he defeats her by knowing that her fake love isn’t the real thing, and only a man who has experienced true love can spot the phony one.

Over in Storybrooke, the same thing is happening. Katherine is at first upset that David has been with Mary behind her back, until she looks hard at the photo of the two of them together. Like Charming, she can spot true love, and knows that hers was the fake one. She wants the real thing, and is willing to let him go. Just as Abigail wished Charming the best, she wishes David the best… but the mayor won’t have THAT, and steals the letter that she leaves behind. But when Regina burns the letter, what exactly does that do? Did it actually erase Katherine somehow? When Storybrooke Frederick reaches the car (which, expectedly, had ended up in a ditch just short of the town sign), she’s gone. What happened?

Meanwhile, we see the new stranger in town a little more. He manages to put Henry’s book back together and get it back over to him, and he has a name: August W. Booth. (The W = Wayne.) I checked the Brothers Grimm page on Wikipedia and did a quick search for August, thinking that was a secret name for one of them, and while it wasn’t, there was indeed an August connection: The Brothers Grimm had collected up the various stories for their legendary collection from local oral histories and stories, and were helped along by their friend, August von Hauxthausen, with whom Jacob Grimm had gone to law school. Fans speculated when he first showed up that perhaps he was actually one of the Grimm brothers, but perhaps he’s someone who simply helps the process along by collecting the stories and seeing that it stays in one piece, without actually being the author of the tales. I know I’m intrigued. In his scene with Emma at the wishing well he expounded on the magical properties of water, and how the water will always lead you back to what you’d lost. Interestingly, we saw him washing the pages of Henry’s book… was he dousing each page in the water of the well that appears to be drawn from the fairytale world itself?

And then there’s poor David and Mary Margaret. That particular storyline was heartbreaking (my 7-year-old daughter, new to such things, gasped audibly when Mary said, “We can’t be together” and said, “I’m gonna die, Mummy, I’m gonna die…” as she clutched her chest dramatically). I was so sad to see it happen that way, but we know they will find their way back to one another. (But honestly, GRANNY telling her she should be ashamed of herself? Harsh… and so sad…)

Another great episode. What I love most about Once Upon a Time is that it’s slowly putting the fairytale world story together, but trusts that we’re willing to be patient and wait it out (hence the Belle story being introduced and then left, as they do every week). We know where the Snow White/Charming story ends up – they get married and live happily ever after… for a year – so we know he won’t be killed by the king. Knowing that, we can simply sit back and enjoy the story as it unfolds.

But as for Storybrooke, that’s not a story that’s been told in the pages of a book; it’s still unfolding. OUAT continues to be a show that gives us stories of the week, but ones that are inextricably linked to one another.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Life's Too Short

Tonight HBO's new series Life's Too Short premieres on HBO and HBO Canada, and I can say without any hesitation that it's the funniest thing I've seen in months, and the funniest sitcom in years.

I know Ricky Gervais has fallen out of favour with a lot of people in recent years. He's lost a lot of weight, so aw... he's not big and cuddly and easy to poke fun at anymore. It's hard to laugh along with the self-deprecating Ricky when he's now looking rather hot right now. His stand-up comedy isn't as funny as it once was, and last year he was searingly cruel at the Golden Globes, and this year he wasn't funny at all, so watered-down that Seth Rogen stole the show when he uttered the single funniest line of the evening.

But when it comes to TV series, the team of Gervais and Merchant really can't be beat. The Office, Extras, and An Idiot Abroad are brilliant, and even the animated Ricky Gervais Show, which is a series of cartoons using the soundtrack of his podcasts with Stephen Merchant and the always hilariously doddering Karl Pilkington, is laugh-out-loud funny.

Enter Life Is Short. Another faux-documentary like the others, this one stars Warwick Davis, star of Willow and the guy who plays Professor Flitwick in the Harry Potter films, Marvin in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and got his start at age 11 playing Wicket the Ewok in Return of the Jedi. Or, as he says in Life's Too Short numerous times, "Warwick Davis? I was the star of Star Wars?"

In this show he plays an outrageously exaggerated version of himself, a guy whose life is falling apart because he can't find work, his wife has left him and he's going through the divorce proceedings now, and his incompetent account effed up so badly on his tax returns for the past 20 years that he now owes £250,000 to the government. Crikey.

And so, he's desperate to find work. But he's "England's go-to dwarf," as he puts it, so there's GOT to be work out there. Every day he wanders over to the offices of Gervais and Merchant, who always seem to be wearing exactly the same outfits, sitting behind a large glass desk and not actually doing anything at all, and they roll their eyes and pray he'll go away and make small talk with him that goes nowhere.

In the meantime, he's running his own little people talent firm called "Dwarves for Hire," (I can't even type that without giggling) and he's trying to get work for many other actors of small stature in the UK. But whenever the phone rings and someone is looking for a dwarf, he takes the job himself.

This is far more self-deprecating than Ricky Gervais's David Brent ever was, and is screamingly hilarious. I won't spoil anything, but in the first episode when Warwick is in Gervais and Merchant's office, Liam Neeson comes in and announces he wants to attempt a stand-up act. What follows, watching the world's Most Serious Actor attempt stand-up, made me laugh so hard I couldn't breathe, and my husband and I struggled to reach the remote to pause it so we could finish laughing, back it up to see what we'd missed, and then laugh so hard again that we had to repeat this about 4 times. Neeson is genius in this scene.

In the second episode, Johnny Depp hires Warwick so he can learn how a dwarf spends his days because he's studying for a role in Tim Burton's next film, an adaptation of Rumpelstiltskin. Again, Depp plays an exaggerated version of himself (more Hunter S. Thompson Johnny than Johnny Johnny) and the two eventually end up in Gervais and Merchant's office again. Remember Ricky ribbing Johnny at the Golden Globes? Yep, so does Johnny. Hilarious.

And in the third episode, Warwick gets the opportunity to "star" opposite Helena Bonham Carter in a period movie, but the part wasn't what he expected.

Along the way, we see him at Britain's Comic-Con and trying to make money in odd jobs (seeing him dressed as an "Ewok" for a quick £500 had me on the floor), and he is SUCH a genius. Davis is sublime in this, from his arrogant lines to his flustered reaction shots when terrible things happen around him and he has no idea how to get out of the situation.

Check it out tonight at 10:30 and let me know what you think. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Alcatraz: Guy Hastings and Paxton Petty

A couple of weeks ago I wrote up a blog post with a menu of what I'd like to see in the next couple of weeks on Alcatraz. And oh so happily, that very same night the writers delivered with the fantastic "Guy Hastings" episode, about a guard from Alcatraz (played by Hoyt Fortenberry!) who lived right on the island with his wife and beloved daughter, and comes back to life and wants to know why the hell he's back. It was a stunner of an episode, and my favourite up to that point. The backstory began to be filled in. Earlier we'd seen Ray Archer (played by Robert Forster), the man who had raised Rebecca because she'd lost her parents, and in this episode we see when he went to Alcatraz to become a guard. But the more interesting twist was that he did so because his BROTHER, Madsen, had been thrown in prison and he refused to let him rot in there alone. Which means... her "uncle" was actually her uncle, for Madsen is her grandfather. (OK, great-uncle if you want to get technical.) Hastings was the guard charged with training Ray, and he suspected there was something going on between the two of them, but couldn't put his finger on it.

I'd mentioned in my previous post that I was tired of them always telling us that we're now in ALCATRAZ, 1960, and happily, in this episode they only did it a couple of times, and assumed we could tell the difference the rest of the time. Also, by pulling Tommy Madsen and Archer's stories back in, we're linking this flashback to the earlier ones, and beginning to create some continuity, which was EXACTLY what I was hoping for. And... I finally learned Rebecca's name. ;)

I'm noticing JJ Abram's lucky number 47 is beginning to pop up a lot more in this. It was the key number in Alias (the number of Rambaldi artefacts she had to find) and it's interesting to find it here. I remember pointing it out in the pilot, and it popped up again in this episode as the address on Ray's bar. What will become of Madsen now that Ray's kicked him out? And if Hauser actually asked Ray to come on board 16 years ago, what does that say about how much he's known all this time?

This week's episode was "Paxton Petty," a unibomber who, suffering from PTSD after returning from Korea, began planting landmines around San Francisco. The episode opens with a landmine slaughter in a public park that is horrific and shocking, and Doc and Rebecca have to get to the bottom of things. But in a twist, Hauser, who is increasingly frustrated and melancholy over what's happened to Lucy, the former Alcatraz psychiatrist and what surprisingly appears to have been his girlfriend, tracks down Petty at a beach... and steps on a landmine. Luckily they're able to get him off it, only just before it blows up the head of the bomb squad. (Unfortunately, his demise was rather predictable. As soon as we met someone from Rebecca's past who was loveable and friendly, I said to my husband, "He's toast.")

Again, a great episode that once again reached into the backstory and didn't just give us a one-off backstory about the inmate-of-the-week, but one that involved Lucy, deepened her character arc and also pulled Hauser into it, making him a far richer and more meaningful character in the past. Oh, that and lots of Billie Holiday. ♥♥♥

This episode finally made some of our questions going forward a little clearer, things that we can watch out for and begin building the pieces of the new mysteries:

- What force brought these people back? Why? How?
- Why do some of them repeat their crimes, while others perpetrate new ones? Who is controlling them?
- Can the Alcatraz doc that Hauser has in his bunker actually reanimate dead people? He brought his third inmate, child killer Kit Nelson (whom they'd accidentally killed) to the doctor, and now he brings Lucy to him, demanding that he fix her. What does that mean?
- Paxton doesn't seem to know why he's here. Do any of them?
- We know that Cobb woke up on Alcatraz, and Paxton woke up in a tomb. Where did the rest of them wake up? Do they awake with the knowledge of what they're expected to do, or do they have some instruction? Or are they just going on instinct?
- Why, in 1960, was the doctor taking so much of Madsen's blood? Did his blood have something to do with all of them disappearing and time traveling?
- How much did I love that Hauser kept talking about the landmine "lickations"? ;) (Oh, how I love when that Kiwi accent sneaks through, Sam Neill.)

I think a few people misread my meaning in my last blog post, thinking I'd somehow given up on the show. Not at all; quite the opposite, in fact. It was because of how much I liked this show that I was demanding more from it, mostly because I knew it was in the hands of people who were capable of delivering it. And, in the last two weeks, deliver it they have. This has become must-see TV in my house, week after week.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Are You Watching The River?

If not, you should be.

ABC's new midseason replacement, "The River," first came across my radar when a friend of mine saw an advance of the first two episodes and said he hadn't been so drawn in by a show since Lost ended (and this is a guy who works in television, so he watches a LOT of it). So, of course, I was intrigued.

And boy, was he right.

Three episodes have now aired, and it's the story of a man named Emmet Cole, an explorer whose TV show, The Undiscovered Country (snicker) has been airing on TV for the past couple of decades, and all of America has watched him explore nature all over the world, with his lovely wife and adorable son by his side.

But now, the son has grown up and has become hostile to a father who put his family on display for so long and then abandoned them when he continued the show on his own; the wife has found solace with another but still pines for her husband; and Emmet, in a last trip up the Amazon, has gone missing and is presumed dead. And so, the network has decided to pay the wife handsomely if she can convince her son to take their film crew deep into the Amazon and film, documentary-style, a reluctant widow and her angry son as they search for a man who most of the world thinks is dead.

The result is absolutely stunning, edge-of-your-seat television. For the Amazon is full of the supernatural, magic, voodoo, curses, and things that go bump in the night.

In the first episode they actually find Emmet's boat, The Magus, and a sealed room in the bottom of it, which they weld open, thinking they can hear him pounding the walls inside. He's not in there, but something pretty nasty (that Emmet had presumably trapped in there for good reason) is. In the second episode, you will feel the hairs on your arm stand up as they come across one of the CREEPIEST things I've ever seen on television. Remember back in the pilot of Lost when fans coined the online phrase WTFPOLARBEAR?! That is NOTHING compare to the WTFDOLLTREE you will see.

A frickin'... DOLL. TREE. Like, little dolls with blackened eyes and little dirty bodies just hanging from a bamboo tree (from the second episode on the show was filmed in Hawaii). That MOVE of their own volition like little lost souls waiting for someone to haunt. And haunt they do. Go here to see a quick gif of the doll moving in the tree.

And in the third episode... yeesh. I remember my dad showing me the Audrey Hepburn film, Wait Until Dark, where she plays a blind woman whose apartment is broken into by Alan Arkin, and he quickly surmises she can't see anything and sneaks around the apartment, looming over her while she is unaware he is there. It was terrifying, and he told me that when it first came out, people were passing out in the theatres because of the suspense. Well, now imagine everyone on a boat going blind from some curse and these hoodoo undead people with no eyes boarding the boat and walking around silently. Geeeaaaaahhhh... (Although THAT actually wasn't nearly as jump-out-of-your-skin as the earlier scene in the episode, where they are hiding from these creepy voodoo guys in the bush and all these GIGANTIC millepedes come out and begin running over their arms, legs, torsos, and faces. I was FREAKING. OUT.)

The entire show is filmed documentary style, and unlike The Office or Modern Family, it's actually realistic. Two cameramen walk around with cameras. The people in the show wear small cameras mounted on their arms. When they go deep into the jungle one of the cameramen brings small cameras that he mounts in trees and in bushes to capture everything if they stop overnight. (That's how we see the little doll's head turning to listen; from one of the mounted cameras.) Presumably the producer will be reviewing the tapes later when they get back, but every little thing is captured, often things only we can see and the characters can't, which heightens the suspense and horror.

Leslie Hope plays the mother. I last remember her as Jack Bauer's wife, being blown away in the S1 finale, and she's great in this. Bruce Greenwood, a big star in Canada, plays Emmet, a rather small role given that he's billed as the star of the show, but you only see him in flashback "film footage" of his show from years ago. Joe Anderson plays Lincoln. I remember him from Across the Universe and playing Peter Hook in Control (the film about Joy Division), and he was great in both. He puts on an American accent in this one, and you can tell he's putting one on (his language is very carefully spoken and his r's are a little too harsh) but he does a fantastic job. He's joined by Eloise Mumford, who plays Lena, his childhood friend and the daughter of his dad's cameraman, who has gone missing along with Emmet. She is the last person Emmet was in contact with (and why he contacted her instead of the others is a mystery that's been building).

They're joined by the producer, two (oops, make that one) cameramen, the ship's mechanic and his Spanish-only-speaking daughter, and a creepy bodyguard/security guy (Thomas Kretschmann, who is absolutely fantastic) who seems to have ulterior motives for being there.

Is Emmet alive? Has he just Kurtzed all of them and gone up the river to go native? Or is he dead? Either way, the journey these people are taking isn't just a physical one -- with each step, they're discovering more about themselves, their relationship with those around them, and the "magic" of Emmet Cole's show.

The River airs on Tuesday nights, and will only be 8 episodes long (unless they sign up a second season). Definitely check it out; it's amazing.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Walking Dead: Nebraska

Hello everyone, and welcome back to the weekly Walking Dead recap that I’ll be doing alongside my co-host, Josh Winstead.

This week’s Walking Dead returned with a bang, continuing season 2’s storyline seconds after the mid-season ended, with a record-breaking 8.1 million people watching (despite the Grammy Awards offering lackluster competition).

In the opening moments of the episode we pick up right after the shocking mid-season ender, where a zombified Sophia had lumbered out of the barn and devastated us all, and as the rest of the survivors looked on in horror, grief, and shock, only Rick had the nerve to step up and put a bullet between her eyes. This week we are reunited with the survivors as they continue to reel from the shock of the revelation that one of their own was turned into a walker, while Carol quietly grieves the girl she lost a long time ago, not the thing that had emerged hissing from the barn. Daryl is angry that he’d wasted so much time in the woods looking for her (at least, that’s what he said, but it’s clear he’s sad that the girl he’d placed so many of his hopes in is now gone), Lori is shocked by Carl’s admission that he would have shot her if he’d seen her like that, and Shane continues to see Dale as his annoying, Tilley-hat-wearin’ conscience.

Meanwhile, Shane attacks Hershel and his family on their front porch, asking them how they could have kept this from them, and Herschel insists that he didn’t know Sophia was in there, that Otis had been the one rounding them up and putting them in there. It begs the question: if Maggie was going in there with the slop bucket and dumping the stuff, didn’t she notice a little girl in there? Is it possible that steeped in their own grief over losing their mother to this “disease,” they simply never put two and two together to realize that the little girl in the barn may have been the same one those other people in the RV were looking for?

It’s a tough scene, watching Hershel and his girls stand there full of their own shock and sadness, being attacked by others who are equally mourning having lost one of their own. We now know the reason that Hershel always has that pall of sadness about him, but in this episode the actor takes that look even deeper. We see a man who is utterly bereft, with no hope and no more belief in miracles.

What did you think of the Walking Dead return, Josh?

Joshua: Hi, Nikki! Boy, were the holidays bo-ring. I don't know what things were like at your house, but we had no running or screaming at all that didn't involve joyful children. And where's the fun in that? It's great to be back where none of the dangers to my sanity require I act with restraint. Or help them in the bathroom.

I thought the midseason premiere started strong, flagged in the middle, and then ended HUGE with a terrific reminder that this show is much less about the flesh-rotten walkers and much more about the soul-rotten ones. But before we jump straight to the last act, I did want to touch on that opening scene that picks up right where we left off in the barnyard. I think it's widely debatable whether or not Hershel and his family knew that the little girl in the barn was the same one for whom Rick and the quarry crew had been searching, but I have a feeling that the writers have no intention of offering a definitive answer. And that's fine by me – anything that adds to the tension is a plus, right? But the most significant thing about the whole sequence, more so than Maggie slapping Shane's raging face or Hershel demanding those pesky kids get off his lawn, was the fact that FINALLY this show has killed someone with a sickle.

Nikki: I’d like to believe that they didn’t know, that they simply were either too stressed or upset or in shock to realize that was Sophia, and perhaps Hershel hadn’t taken a look at all, and had no idea there was a little girl in there. I believe him when he says that. I don’t think he’s lied to them yet, has he? He’s certainly, um, eliminated a few things deliberately from conversation, but when confronted, he comes out with it.

But yes, let’s jump to the end scene because it’s the one I’ve been talking about endlessly with other friends who watch TWD. First, it was driving me absolutely batty that I knew the one actor from something else and I simply couldn’t place him, and then he sat down at one point and slurred something, and as soon as he spoke like that I said to my husband, “Ah! It’s the Cajun guy from True Blood!” Leave it to me to take an eternity to place a person. The non-accent threw me.

But the scene is rife with tension from the moment they walk in. Again, my husband actually thought they should have tried to befriend these two, and that Rick simply pushed them too far, too fast, and it was inevitable that things would go south really quickly. REALLY quickly. But why does Rick shoot them? What I love about the scene is that there’s no simple answer, but many possibilities, all of which are probably a little bit correct and help build new layers onto an already complex character:
• He’s snapped. He just shot Sophia in the head and has now emerged as a new, take-no-shit kind of guy who sees a problem and deals with it instantly.
• He’s still Rick, but he’s realized in arguing with Shane that maybe Shane is NOT completely right, and when he heard the guy say that on his way down from Nebraska he had to do a lot of things that were necessary, he saw these two as Shane times ten and decided to eliminate them before they became a danger to his family.
• In the aftermath of what happened at the barn, and the tension that’s been building with Lori and Shane and Hershel and Glenn and realizing that by leaving the farmhouse they could be walking away from their last chance at normalcy and domesticity, seeing Tony pissing in the corner just sent him over the edge and reminded him of everything he’s about to lose, and what the world has become.
• All of the above.

I loved the way it was handled and the questions that will arise from it. What did you think?

Joshua: Well, I recognized Michael Raymond-James right away, not only from his excellent stint as Rene on True Blood (perhaps my favorite character from season 1) but also from the co-lead role in FX's critically acclaimed ratings casualty Terriers (the only season of which may not ever see proper dvd release but is available via iTunes and Amazon and Netflix instant streaming right now; I promise it's one of the best shows you've never seen, right hand skyward, so go check it out for yourself). He's a terrific actor, and like fellow 3-name cannon fodder Pruitt Taylor Vince before him, I hated to see him dispatched so quickly, because he would have been a great addition to the cast. I don't think he had more than ten minutes of total screen time, but there's no denying it was an electrifying ten minutes.

Then again, Dave did not exactly seem like the kind of guy you'd want watching your back. Those ten minutes were also enough to prove to Rick beyond a shadow of a doubt that his family and the rest of the group he has sworn to protect were going to be safer if they didn't have to worry about running into these two guys again. As you mentioned, though, all their creepiness was relatively subjective. Neither of them said or did anything too horrid or damning; even Tony's bad-dog micturation, when taken in the context of a ruined bar in a ruined town on a ruined planet, and occupied only by men, is just uncouth and overly familiar. Worthy of execution? Not even close.

But that's judging the situation using old world rules, and the old rules no longer apply. Given your previous choices for murder justification, I'd go with 'All of the Above,' and then some. It's cumulative, and the longer Rick stared into this guy's eyes and listened to the matter-of-fact account of his survival and its all-too-familiar ambiguities and rationalizations, the more certain he became that the safest choice of action did not allow for the luxury of innocence until proven guilty. Dave said it himself: “Ain't nobody's hands clean in what's left of this world. We're all the same.” Much too close to home for poor besieged Officer Grimes, I think. And with Shane's admonition that “you're just as delusional as that guy” still ringing in his ears, not to mention the unshakable sight of the girl he couldn't keep safe staring back at him from down the barrel of a gun, the choice was almost made for him.

What I find myself anticipating most are the reactions from Glenn and Hershel after the fact. Glenn tends to be a pretty pragmatic guy, so I'm sure he'll take it relatively in stride. As for Hershel, maybe this encounter will serve to shake him of the delusional belief that he doesn't need people around who can pull the trigger like that, looking out for the few loved ones he has left.

Nikki: Well said! And I agree on Rick listening to Dave yammer on while everything that had just happened to him was running through his brain. This is a Brave New Destroyed World he’s in, where Nebraska is a wasteland where you pick up guns, where you can take guns off a dead cop’s body with no repercussions (and have no remorse about doing so), where people just assume they have the right to your house and you don’t have the right to say no. And he thought, this world needs some order in it. And I’m a cop. Under new rules. Bang.

And you’re right about Hershel; I wondered the same thing. If Rick can protect Hershel’s homestead from afar like that, maybe he should keep him around. But I don’t know if Rick wants to stay around.

I’ll leave the final word to you, but I just wanted to mention two more things:

Dale blaming Shane for Otis’s murder and threatening him when Shane was getting in the truck. Oh wait… no… that only happened in Shane’s head. For what I LOVED about that scene was the fact that Shane did ALL the talking, and other than one brief flinch, Dale neither moved nor uttered a single word. Shane’s guilt is so huge he’s simply imagining every word Dale would say, as if Dale’s an evil Jiminy Cricket conscience. Of course, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you, and sure enough, Dale truly thought every word Shane said, because he repeats it to Lori (though much of his accusation was likely gleaned from what Shane all but admitted to).

And speaking of Lori, I hope the zombies break into the car and eat her. She’s the ONLY CAR ON THE ROAD and she manages to get into an accident. What a dumbass. She honestly drives me batty.

OK, take us home, Josh!

Joshua: Something I neglected to mention about the encounter in the bar, and a factor that I am sure played a part in Rick's decision to shoot first and ask questions never, was Dave's mention of a group with which they were traveling. He didn't go into any sort of detail, but “group” in this environment could mean anything at all. I'm sure the scenarios Rick imagined in his head ran the gamut from a ragtag impromptu militia to a full-scale cannibalistic concentration camp, not unreasonably so. And if Dave and Tony were just scouts, then no doubt we haven't seen the last of whoever they are.

Bits & Bobs:

- The way Sophia's funeral played out was one of the saddest things I've seen on this show so far, from Carol's speech about how “Sophia died a long time ago” to the perfunctory way everyone just walks away from the gravesite without a word being spoken, as depicted by that great overhead shot before the commercial break. Quiet, deliberate awfulness, perfectly portrayed.

- Speaking of Carol, I thought the scene where she stumbles shellshocked out of the woods and Shane cleans her scratched arms was perfectly placed within the episode, as I was getting pretty sick of Shane's fuming and stomping around by then. But he makes his half-confession to her about worrying how everyone else in the group thinks he's coming unglued (possibly because of how often he acts like he's totally coming unglued), and then... nothing. End of scene. Huh? What a missed opportunity to provide more depth for our increasingly one-note deputy.

- And speaking of the funeral, the big 'I Cry B.S.' moment of the episode for me was when we saw the gravedigging crew as they finished their work, and NOBODY WAS WEARING GLOVES. If any one of them wasn't bleeding from the palms at that moment, then they must do a heckuva lot more shoveling than anyone I know. Sure, it's a nitpicky complaint, but really – it's a farm, people. Use your brains for something besides zombie bait.

- Bye, Nice Guy Daryl; we hardly knew ye. Sigh. I know he made that bitter speech to Lori about how he was “done lookin' for people,” but like you mentioned earlier, I'm not so sure the façade has crumbled away, or that it's actually a façade at all, for that matter. And since no one else even knows Lori left, I wonder if Daryl will end up being the one that goes to look for her by default, possibly even saving her life. Rick & Glenn & Hershel could always find her on the way back to the farm, but I love the idea that Rick and his family might be beholden to Daryl like that. (Then again, like you, I also kind of love the idea that Lori doesn't come back at all, so maybe it's best to ignore me.)

- Dale, regarding Shane: “I knew guys like him. And sooner or later, he's gonna kill someone else.” Yeah – probably you, dude. But am I reading too much into it, or does that phrasing seem to imply that Dale has combat experience, likely in Vietnam? And if so, will that end up meaning more than the simple fact that Dale has been somewhat disingenuous about his familiarity with guns?

- Rick: “She's smart enough to know what she feels.” Glenn: “No, no, no.” Hahahahaha!

- One final note about the bar scene... I think Dave's awesome toast needs to be in every TWD commercial for the rest of the season. “To better days and new friends. 'Til we're dead.” (After which, in my viewing notes, I prophetically jotted: “In about 5 minutes.”)

Thanks, Nikki! Have a great week, everyone.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Angel S5: Eps 19, 20, 21

5.19 Time Bomb
5.20 The Girl in Question
5.21 Power Play

For my lengthy analyses of these episodes, follow along in Once Bitten.

Late again, sorry! I've always been a fan of "The Girl in Question," which appears in the middle of this week's episodes, although it's not typically a fan favourite, mostly because of the very fake Buffy in it (fans had been led to believe SMG was going to make an appearance in the episode, and rumour had it she was supposed to, and then they couldn't get her to come back to film the scene). Oh, and about that Buffy being there? Um... actually, no, I won't spoil it for you, but there's a whole other side to that story that's unveiled in the Buffy Season 8 comics. Including what was up with the Immortal.

Cynthea Masson, who was involved in our Buffy Rewatch, gave a paper at the 2008 Slayage on The Girl in Question that ended up winning the award for best paper of the conference, so she could probably say a lot more on it, but all I wanted to point out was the very quick black and white scene of the painfully hip Dru and Spike in 1950s Italy going, "Ciao, ciao..." Joss Whedon was a huge fan of British comic Eddie Izzard, and that scene (and the HILARIOUS scene of Spike and Angel on the scooter) was an homage to this clip from Izzard's extended European history bit in Dressed to Kill:

Also, I meant to mention this a few weeks ago, but it was during "You're Welcome" filming that the cast and crew got the news from the WB that Angel had been cancelled, and the writers were already working on story lines for Season 6. One of those crucial story lines was the Black Thorn, which was supposed to be set up at the end of S5 and then compose much of what S6 would be (at least, that's what Alexis Denisof told me during a long interview I did with him). But then they found out they were going to be cancelled. So they pretty much introduced it in "Power Play" and resolved it in the next episode. Sigh.

Which brings me to the very sad news that this is the penultimate week of the Buffyverse rewatch, for next week is the finale. And while I won't spoil a darn thing for you, I will say that where I liked "Chosen," I LOVED "Not Fade Away." It's definitely in my top 3 series finales, after those for Lost and Six Feet Under. So I'm looking forward to next week and what y'all thought about it.

Spoiler Forum: Angel S5 Eps 19, 20, 21

As always, here is the Buffy/Angel spoiler forum for this week's episodes.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Once Upon a Time: "Skin Deep"

In this week’s wonderful episode, “Skin Deep,” we get the long-awaited appearance of Emilie de Ravin, still curiously using her Australian accent (but considering the vast number of accents in the fairytale world, perhaps it’s appropriate she should bring a new one to the mix). In case you’re thinking she can’t actually do an American accent, check out Roswell, where she played the annoying Tess, who spoke with a perfect American accent, if I recall correctly.

Written by Jane Espenson, “Skin Deep” was a very well-wrought retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Originally a French fairytale, in the original a young girl lives with her father and two wicked sisters, and the father loses his wealth to bad debts, until he hears that one of his ships has returned and he might still have some assets on it. He travels to find the ship, and his two older daughters tell him they want lavish gifts, but Belle, his youngest, only wants a single rose. The ship isn’t what he thought it was, and he stays at a castle on the way home and picks a rose from a garden that belongs to the Beast. The Beast says he can give the rose to Belle, but he must return as the Beast’s servant. The man goes home, and his daughter decides to go to the castle in his place. She loves the Beast as a friend, but dreams at night of a handsome prince. Eventually the Beast lets her go home to her family to visit them but when she returns, he’s lying near death from grief over losing her, and as she cries over him, her tears fall on him and he’s transformed into the handsome prince. In the Disney version many of us are familiar with, the story is altered to remove the sisters and add a jealous suitor, Gaston, who tries to kill the Beast.

This version pays homage to the others. The father’s name is originally Maurice. In this one, in Storybrooke, he’s Moe French (Moe being short for Maurice, and French alluding to the language it was originally written in). He sells roses, which is what got him into trouble in the first place (just as it gets him into trouble here), and Gaston is turned into a rose when he dares to challenge Rumpelstiltskin.

Claire Bear Belle delivers a wonderful speech about how she sacrificed herself because it’s so rare in the fairytale world that any woman is given the opportunity to be the hero (which is the case), where Mr. Gold tells Emma that bad things happen to bad people, also something that’s common in fairytales but more ambiguous in Storybrooke.

In this episode we get the revelation many of us have suspected since Mr Gold first walked into the mayor’s apple orchard – that he knows exactly who he is, and like the mayor, remembers the fairytale world. Where he’s wrong is in thinking he’s the one with all the power, for once again, despite him being the man who can find a price for everything, she is the one who knows everything, and is keeping Belle captive in Storybrooke when he thinks she’s actually dead.

Robert Carlyle put in a brilliant performance, both as the grieving Mr Gold who shows up the mayor, beats the local florist, deals out of anguish, and then finally reveals himself to get back his one token to remember Belle; and as Rumpelstiltskin, who starts off as his gleefully mischievous and evil self and begins to fall under the thrall of the lovely Belle, finding love where he didn’t expect to, and then going mad with fury when he thinks she’s betrayed him. The scene where she defiantly tells him that all he’ll end up with is an empty heart and a chipped cup (which is actually the case now) is beautifully done, both by de Ravin and Carlyle. This is the second episode where the writers have humanized Rumpelstiltskin, and both have been highlights of the season.

Highlight: Belle: “Why do you spin so much?”
Rumpel: “I like to watch the wheel. Helps me forget.”
Belle: “Forget what?”
Rumpel: “Guess it worked.”

Did You Notice:
• The homage to Game of Thrones? Not only does the episode open with the camera panning over maps of the kingdom and music that’s very similar to GoT’s opening theme, but it immediately cuts to Storybrooke, where the florist is called Game of Thorns. Haha!
• David is reading Anna Karenina, which [spoiler alert] not only plays into his own situation – Anna is torn between two men and eventually one of them convinces him to leave her husband and run away with him, a twist on what’s happening with David and Mary Margaret – but it also plays into the story the Queen tells Rumpel at the end, since when Anna runs away with the Count she is shunned by society (the way the queen says Belle’s father shunned her), and she kills herself, just as the queen says Belle did.
• At the beginning when Belle’s father was scared of the ogre, was anyone expecting Shrek to be standing on the other side of the door? No? Just me?
• Just as Rumpelstiltskin takes Belle (which means beauty) away from her father in the fairytale world, he takes away Mr French’s beautiful things (his roses) in Storybrooke.
• Geppetto’s parents hang in Rumpelstiltskin’s dining room.
• I couldn’t help but wonder if Mr French’s roses were the offspring of Gaston.
• I also can’t help looking around scenes like where Ruby, Mary, and Ashley go to the bar and wonder who the fairytale creatures are around them.
• Sneezy is running the convenience store. We last saw him busting Henry when Hansel and Gretel set him up.
• The queen’s umbrella is divine. Seriously, I want to know the Goth clothing and accessories website she uses. It was like a creepy spiderweb.
• The rectangular windows in the jail were like the ones in the castle.
• The queen refers to “a certain mermaid,” hinting at an Ariel story to come.
• I loved the title of this episode, and the play on words it created.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Angel S5: Eps 16, 17, 18

5.16 Shells
5.17 Underneath
5.18 Origin

For my lengthy analyses of these episodes, follow along in Once Bitten.

Whoops! Big thanks to Marebabe for sending me a note to nudge me into remembering this week's post!! I was just telling someone earlier today that this week, for the first time since 2005, I don't have a project on the go. And I guess I just slacked off SO much for the past 2 days after working my butt off for 7 years that I completely forgot to do anything. Yikes.

OK, so in order to get this post up as quickly as possible I won't say much other than I LOVE Amy Acker as Illyria (while I was devastated to lose Fred, I think as Illyria she shows serious acting chops I wasn't aware she had, and I thought it suddenly unveiled her as a quite remarkable actress.

Complete sidenote: A friend of mine had her first daughter after three boys, and gave her the middle name Illyria. Yes, I do surround myself with awesomeness.

And... poor Wesley. Fred's not the only character who is just a shell of who she once was. Compare the dark, broken, destroyed Wesley of this week's episodes to the slapstick Giles wannabe from season 3 of Buffy, and it's like they're two different people entirely. I think Alexis Denisof is just extraordinary. And I won't stop saying that until the finale. (I lie... I won't stop saying that even after the finale.)

And... is that Jayne?? ;)

Spoiler Forum: Angel S5, Eps 16, 17, 18

As always, here is the Buffy/Angel spoiler forum for this week's episodes.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Alcatraz: The Story So Far...

Alcatraz’s fifth episode airs tonight, and the series started off with a bang, and ratings are still strong (it’s winning Monday nights, even against the Bachelor). But I’m really hoping to see something pick up this week, because while there are a lot of things I really like about this show, I’m starting to find a lot of things I don’t like. (Warning: Spoilers ahead for up to the fourth episode, which aired last week.)

If you’re not watching it yet, here’s what you need to know:
• In March 1963, two guards went to Alcatraz on the eve of its closing to escort the prisoners off the island and remove them to various other prisons. When they got there, the prisoners were all gone. They'd disappeared without a trace.
• Sam Neill’s character, Emerson, was the young guard, and has apparently devoted his life to following why they’re here.
• Suddenly, in 2012, they’re showing up in San Francisco (looking like they did in 1963), committing crimes similar to their original rap sheets.
• Sam Neill has put together a team of a blonde cop whose name I can never remember, and Doc, played by Jorge Garcia, who has written several books about Alcatraz, has two PhDs, and runs a comic book store.
• Before he met the blonde and Garcia, he was already working with Parminder Nagra’s character, who was revealed in the second episode to be a psychologist at Alcatraz back in the 1960s, which means not just the inmates, but the workers in the prison will be time-travelling to the present day.
• When they catch the inmates, Emerson puts them into a cell in a replica Alcatraz he’s built.
• The blonde detective discovered in the first episode that her grandfather was an inmate, so she knows he’ll be one of the ones they’ll be finding, and she spotted him in an early episode when he caused the death of her partner.
• In the first episode we saw Jack Sylvane, an inmate who was mostly innocent and just in the wrong place at the wrong time, who is now on a killing spree. During one of his kills, he goes to a man’s place and takes a key from him.
• Week two was Ernest Cobb, a Giovanni Ribisi lookalike sniper who takes people out with an Asperger’s precision, usually killing three or four to cover up his main target, a teenage girl. Before they caught him, he shot Nagra’s character, and she’s still in a coma.
• Week three was Kit Nelson, a child kidnapper who would take the kids home, treat them to his favourite things (outings, cherry pie), and then remove them to a bunker where he’d kill them 48 hours after kidnapping them. They found him before he killed the kid he’d kidnapped, but they had to kill him in order to do it. Emerson took him to his underground replica house and handed him off to a doctor with instructions to do what he does best. Reanimation? Not sure yet.
• Week four was Cal Sweeney, a bank robber who romances the bank tellers so they’ll turn off security cameras and get him into the back, where he pulls out people’s safety deposit boxes and steals personal belongings. However, unlike his original crimes, he now goes to the home of one person he’s stolen from to find out exactly why their one object was so important, and then kills them. He obtains a key and Emerson now has two of them.

What I love about Alcatraz:
• The flashbacks relating to the present day are building up a mystery about the warden, caretakers, and the prison itself.
• Jorge. He was great as Hurley, but he’s playing a different character here and has risen to the occasion.
• The Alcatraz replica. Brightly lit like the cells the Initiative had on Buffy to house the “hostiles,” it’s a creepy place where the inmates just stand around like little dolls in a dollhouse, waiting to find out what they’ll be doing next.
• The inmates of the week. Most of the stories have been pretty interesting, although Ernest Cobb is still my favourite. I like the idea of Doc tracking them down using his research of their past.
• Geri Jewell. Geri showed up last week as the sister of EB Tiller, the nasty deputy warden. I spent over a year working with Geri on her memoir, and she was delightful, hilarious, and wonderful. This is the first major role she’s had since then, so it’s awesome watching her on it.

What I don’t like:
• Abrams said this is going to be a non-serialized show, like Alias became in the fourth season, which made me unhappy. But that’s not the case. However, the problem with just adding a few serialized elements, which is what they’ve done with it, is that they’re making them seem insignificant and not worthy of exposition, and instead it just comes off as weird. They HAVE to start giving us something here, or it’s going to lose interest. And the inmate-of-the-week thing was fine for the first three weeks, but by now I really thought we’d have something.
• Those DAMN subtitles. Seriously, if they’re in Alcatraz, and the prison is actually running, I GET they’re in Alcatraz. Don’t tell me. And if the scene right before this was set in 1960, odds are it’s still 1960. And if they’re doing laundry, I bet I’m smart enough to grasp they’re in the laundry room. Showing me ALCATRAZ – LAUNDRY ROOM – 1960 is just condescending. Stop with the subtitles. For god’s sakes, we didn’t need them on Lost, and we don’t need them now. For a guy who helmed a show that demanded a LOT from its viewers, he doesn’t seem to be demanding two brain cells of the viewers of Alcatraz.
• The wooden dialogue, mostly the tough-cop crap that comes out of the blonde cop’s mouth. She’s all, “Listen, I know you’re having it rough, but the best thing we can do for her right now is to find this guy now!” No, actually… finding the sniper will not magically bring the coma patient to life.
• I get that Doc has two PhDs. And that he’s super smart. But here are two things my husband and I have been mocking: one, the way he can pull up anything on the giant underground headquarters computer. Blonde cop says, “Pull up the security footage of the bank” and boom, he not only pulls it up, he zooms in on what we need to see. AND… he does it all with two keystrokes. Genius!
• The second thing, and this goes for the whole show, is I hate how conveniently (and implausibly) they wrap up everything near the end. Last week he was all, “I lived in a building once that had air conditioning vents that came in from either side and if we go in through the vents I bet we could get into the bank and I bet the vents go out to” OH MY GOD ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Insane. I’ve lived in a lot of apartment buildings, too. I couldn’t tell you how the damn vent systems worked. But I guess if you have a PhD in history, that makes you an expert in electrical and heating systems.

I haven’t recognized many of the writers of the weekly episodes, and I’m thinking if you’re going to launch a big new series, you’d pull out some big guns at the beginning. I’m hoping Abrams is about to do just that. Remember David Fury’s fourth episode of Lost? We were already hooked, but when that one happened (I’m referring to “Walkabout”) there was no changing the channel.

Do that, JJ. Give me one of THOSE episodes. Let’s improve this dialogue, show me some more interaction of the inmates we’ve already met (I want to see Cobb and Sylvane talking, or the warden trying to pit Sweeney against Nelson). I get what you’re doing, and it’s very good, but now let me see what’s going on in Alcatraz. You’ve built up four baddies, and now it’s time to show them interacting.

And clearly, in the present, there’s something going on with the inmates that’s not consistent. Cobb and Nelson committed crimes they’d done the first time around. But Sylvane, this guy who was supposed to be innocent, is going on a murderous rampage that’s completely unlike him. He stole a key and didn’t know why. He was killing people and practically apologizing, like he was being controlled. Same with Sweeney. He was a bank robber; now he’s a mass murder who revels in the kill, and again is led to a person with a key. Why? Who is compelling these people? Are you just going to build up a mystery and not give us anything at all? People complained about Lost not giving answers, but they hadn’t begun dropping hints of a mystery this early in the game (at least, not obvious ones at that time). But this is getting a little frustrating.

After all, they disappeared in 1963, and the action has all been set in 1960. Clearly something big is going to happen in that interim three years, and that’s where the story is beginning. So let’s start showing us where it’s going to go.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

HBO's Luck

If, like me, you're not going to be watching the Super Bowl tonight (I can't even watch it for the commercials, since in Canada they pre-empt the American cool ones with Canadian boring ones) I'd like to recommend HBO's new series, Luck. It just started last week, and I know many of you are watching it already, but if not, it's worth changing the channel for.

The series, created by Deadwood creator David Milch and directed by the always amazing Michael Mann, follows three key storylines. In the main one, Chester Bernstein (played by Dustin Hoffman in his first TV role), a mobbed-up gambler, money launderer, casino operator (name that money-based crime, he's probably done it), has just gotten out of prison, and with the only person he trusts, his chauffeur Gus (Dennis Farina), he puts together a new scheme involving the Santa Anita racetrack. Using Gus as his frontman, he buys a horse from a trainer, Turo Escalante, and thus begins their entry into this world.

Meanwhile, Nick Nolte, in the most poignant story, plays Walter Smith, a sad trainer who's been around the block many times, trying to trap lightning in a bottle one last time with a young horse whose father Nolte had trained, loved, and lost.

And on the frontlines of the races are four guys, led by Kevin Dunn, who have scored HUGE and are now trying to find a way to circumvent the IRS while finding an even bigger payday (of these, my favourite character is Renzo, played wonderfully by Richie Coster). On the edges of these stories you have the stuttering Joey Rathburn, played by Richard Kind (who I still think of as the lame grasshopper in Bug's Life), an agent for the jockeys, and one of those jockeys, Rosie (Kerry Condon), trying to convince the trainers to use her full time.

As is typical of any David Milch show, the dialogue can be complicated and very long. Don't pick up a magazine or check the internet during an episode or you'll be lost in about two minutes. There are times where the dialogue felt a little wooden and stilted, but necessary, such as when Dustin Hoffman relates, in a long monologue, exactly why he went to prison in the first place, to his friend Gus, who knows EXACTLY why he went to prison. But the audience needed to know, and Milch uses this scene as shorthand to convey to us some background. Often (and occasionally unfortunately), Milch never subscribed to the "Show, don't tell" theory of writing.

Also, unless you know something about horse-racing, there are details in here that can be a little over the average viewer's head. In the first episode, the foursome at the races attempt a gambling strategy that made no sense to me, and partway through the episode my husband and I were looking at each other, saying, "Uh... are you following this?" In the second episode, the plot revolves around a tournament that I didn't understand, either. BUT... in both cases, about 2/3 of the way through the episode, one of the characters finally explains what is happening. Milch clearly realized that his audience wouldn't necessarily know about horse-racing, so he provides the explanations through his characters (usually one person acts as the spokesperson for the audience, saying they don't understand what's happening, and another explains).

The acting, which comes as no surprise, is stellar. The actual horse races will have you on the edge of your seats, and the edits between the closeups of the jockeys and the faraway shots is so seamless I was convinced Kerry Condon had been trained as an actual jockey, before I read an article about her real-life award-winning jockey stand-in. As with most HBO series, the first couple of episodes contain a lot of set-up. It's hard to name a single HBO series that had such an amazing pilot I was hooked from the first episode. But, as with most HBO series, once you get past that first or second episode, what remains is a stunning series that only HBO has proven to deliver for so many years. What other series could pull a cast like this together... for television? Luck is proof that television has finally surpassed movies as being the superior form of storytelling.

Luck airs on HBO and HBO Canada at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights.