Tag Archives: Episode 12

Sons of Anarchy – “Culling”

“Culling”

November 24th, 2009

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve checked in on Sons of Anarchy, primarily because I’ve run out of superlative things to say about the show. Right now, the show is riding a wave of momentum that feels almost Wire-esque, relying less on twists or turns (which would perhaps illicit more of an immediate desire to write about it) and more on a clear depiction of SAMCRO accomplishing what they want to accomplish in the form of some really compelling asskickery.

“Culling” is the first time in a few episodes where things, you could argue, go wrong, but what’s most intriguing is how uniquely situated the audience is within this story from a traditional law and order perspective. Because our point of view lies with the Sons, who are in this for vengeance over justice, we root against the ATF and become legitimately concerned when the Charming P.D. enter into the equation. The show has us cheering things that television doesn’t necessarily always condition us to cheer, and it makes for an episode that builds tension not by having things go terribly wrong but rather having the definition of justice become a debatable topic on which different characters have very different perspectives.

It’s the complicated web the show has been spinning with shocking clarity all season, and it’s making for an enormously entertaining march to the finale.

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Mad Men – “The Grown-Ups”

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“The Grown-Ups”

November 1st, 2009

There’s been an ongoing debate amongst Mad Men viewers about how the show should ideally be handling the intersection of its fictional characters and the historical events that happen around them during the 1960s. Some have argued that the uncontrollable impact of history is almost too powerful for the show, overwhelming its characters and distracting from the more interesting elements of the show, but others have indicated that the cultural upheaval is integral to understanding how these characters are acting and how this decade is changing them. If I had to place myself within these two camps, I’d probably place myself into the latter, although admittedly I take the point of the former group in regards to the third season’s penultimate episode.

Harmed both by our prior knowledge of the episode’s central tragedy, young Margaret Sterling’s wedding falling the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and by a lack of a connection between that tragedy and the character motivations on display, “The Grown-Ups” works perhaps too well to capture the chaos that surrounded these November days. Rather than the chaos disrupting a clear sense of order, it came amidst a false sense of stability that crumbled suddenly, yes, but not as subtly as it needed to. This isn’t to suggest that the episode was a failure, or that it didn’t offer a stark depiction of these tragic days, but the combination of an oft-dramatized moment in history and a lack of character actions that felt distinctly of this show’s universe ended up making this one a bit less exciting than perhaps it seemed in theory.

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Season Finale: Weeds – “All About My Mom”

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“All About My Mom”

August 31st, 2009

“Something happens today, something else will happen tomorrow.”

That’s really the motto of this show, isn’t it? Shane, in his numbed and disconnected state, is the poster child for the series, accepting of the idea that if something goes bad today, you might as well just shrug it off and move onto tomorrow, when something similarly terrible is going to happen. Shane got shot, a shot meant for Nancy, but rather than send him into some sort of depressive state it seems like he sees this world (if not reality, which we know has little to no connection to this sensationalist fable of sorts) clearer than he’s ever seen it before.

Whereas Nancy Botwin, she has never seen this world clearly. She is impulsive and in over her head at every turn, making decisions that she knows she will eventually regret but struggling to stop herself, to really right herself on this particular journey. At the end of this, the show’s fifth season, Nancy finds herself surrounded by people who are suddenly seeing the world in a different light. Andy has grown up, purchased a minivan and proposed to Audra. Celia has decided she’s set on doing what Nancy did, and looks to regain power of her drug dealing future. And Shane, young and formerly naive Shane, decides to take matters into his own hands when it matters most.

What separates this finale from every other is that it seems as if the show has accepted its identity: it, like Shane, accepts that something happens today and something else happens tomorrow, and that this season’s cliffhanger will not be the last for the show. While this season has had its quirks, and has been perhaps the most different of any season, where it succeeds is in its clarity: the actions undertaken in the finale are cleaner, more precise, than they’ve ever been before, but with an opportunity for consequences as complicated as the show has ever dealt with.

Which, if not quite what drew me into the show into the first place, at least feels like a consistent and effective dramatic purpose for the aging series.

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Season Finale: Royal Pains – “Wonderland”

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“Wonderland”

August 27th, 2009

If you were quite a hawk-eyed reader of the blog, you might have seen a few weeks ago that I was convinced Royal Pains was ending its first season when Burn Notice ended the first half of its third, with a relationship-driven cliffhanger regarding the pairing of Hank and Jill. I was mistaken, of course – the show kept going, and this past Thursday it came to its finale and delivered something a little bit different. And “Wonderland” was a finale, of sorts, but one that is really strangely placed in terms of why I kept watching Royal Pains all summer.

It’s the show that really “broke out” in USA’s biggest summer ever, but the reasons it remained engaging for me as a viewer really has nothing to do with the show’s characters, at least for the most part. While some of these shows work due to the quality of their ensemble, the characters have felt ancillary to the premise and the aesthetic elements of the series. The show’s Hamptons setting is intriguing in the potential for us to meet recurring clients, and to embrace a world where the very rich and the very poor tend to interact on a regular basis – it opens up the potential for unique cases not seen on other medical shows, while in a breezy enough location to keep things from getting too serious.

However, this was a finale that went back to very basic procedural diagnosis drama, and that returned to the core relationship between the show’s regular characters which…well, I don’t want to be mean, but I don’t particularly care. I don’t dislike Hank, and I find Divya’s life quite interesting, but both Evan and Jill have been criminally underwritten, and the episode’s efforts to put roadblocks between their relationships is actually fundamentally false in terms of building suspense for a second season. The show has a stable of recurring players who I’ve grown quite accustomed to, and to put them into danger or to build suspense around them would actually feel final.

Instead, we’re putting roadblocks between characters who aren’t going anywhere, and whose divisions will be temporary before the show enters into its same comfortable rhythm next season.

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Season Finale: Nurse Jackie – “Health Care and Cinema”

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“Health Care and Cinema”

August 24th, 2009

In its first season, Nurse Jackie has struggled to come to terms with what show, precisely, it wants to be. This is not to say that the result of this identity crisis has been an unentertaining piece of television, as in many ways the show’s tonal inconsistency is intricately linked with the central character’s struggle to live two different lives. But the show has certainly been strongest when both its comedy and its drama have felt more intricately linked with something emotional and human about these characters. The reason most viewers (that I know) have gravitated towards Zoey is not only that she’s hilarious, but also because that humour derives from clearly drawn character traits that are realistic in their neuroses, and that don’t feel forced in the context of the series structure.

Which is why I have nothing but reservations about the show’s trajectory having seen the first season finale, where it seems as if the show veers into an entirely different and fundamentally wrong direction that creates a cliffhanger which feels sensationalist to a point that robs the show of its dramatic impact. Showtime’s Weeds has been doing these types of finales for years, but in that show Nancy Botwin was over her head in early seasons running into situations that spiral out of control as a result of both her own decisions and circumstances far outside of her control. However, in that instance, the dire consequences feel like they are part of the show’s drug trade universe, both logical in terms of the show’s structure and indicative of someone who is new to this world.

However, Jackie is not new to the world of adultery, or drug addiction. Her flaws are not new or sudden, but rather longstanding questions that she has simply been ignoring or eliding for the past number of years. Her life is a web of lies, certainly, and we saw two weeks ago that she is willing to cause herself more pain in order to maintain her facade. However, the way the finale portrays the unraveling of that world makes it seem as if Jackie hasn’t thought about this moment, and that the reality of it would drive her not only to turn her back on the people around her but also to fall apart personally and professionally.

Where the finale goes wrong is that all of this takes place with either cheap dramatic shorthand or through oddly placed character emphasis, resulting in a contrived and forced cliffhanger akin to Weeds’ surreality as opposed to this show’s more grounded humanity.

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The Final 3 Episodes: Pushing Daisies – “Water & Power”

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“Water & Power”

June 6th, 2009

“It’s like putting your faith in the idea of someone before really knowing who they are.”

The above quotation, pulled from the episode, was my personal reaction to Pushing Daisies. I was “all in” from the moment I heard the premise of the pilot, pretty much, and was even more excited based on that episode. And there is something dangerous about that like, for example, having to deal with the fact that it was on the air for about 1/8 the amount of time as According to Jim. But the one thing that Pushing Daisies, as a show, never did was to displace my faith in any violent fashion – I was disappointed by its short end, but its quality rarely faltered, and that is something important to remember as we continue our journey through these final three episodes.

When you enter into a bittersweet series of episodes like these, knowing that the show has been canceled and that not all resolutions will be possible, an episode like “Water & Power” is a real microcosm of that feeling. As soon as the episode begins with a shot of a young Emerson Cod, you realize that this will be the show’s last chance to give this character a proper sendoff, especially as it relates to his search for his missing daughter. It was a recurring bit of story that was never actually a storyline: we saw the book he made, and we were there when he told Ned for the first time, but it’s never actually been the central point of a mystery of the week.

But, of course, it never will be again either: although the episode allows the issue of young Penny to emerge as the purpose of the show’s narrative, it doesn’t resolve the storyline in some sort of final way, and leaves the door open for all of the things we know the show won’t have. It introduces a few highly compelling recurring guest stars, for example, but we know the show will never get to see them return, and since it doesn’t offer any real finality for Emerson and Penny it feels like yet another chapter that, while satisfying for what it could have been, isn’t all that satisfying for what it ended up being.

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Summering in Deadwood: “Sold Under Sin” (The End of Season One)

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Summering in Deadwood: “Sold Under Sin”

Season One, Episode Twelve

[A note before we move on: friend of the blog Todd VanDerWerff is going through the show from a different perspective than I am, having already seen it, and is recapping the show for The A.V. Club. You can check out his thoughts on the first three episodes there – I am sure they are far more entertaining than my own.]

Just as I expected, there was a moment in Season One of Deadwood where my ability to successfully stop after each episode to blog about it, or to find enough time after watching a disc to sufficiently try to summarize where things were going to that point, pretty much disappeared. This isn’t a sign that I have become disinterested in the show, or even necessarily that I was so engrossed that I couldn’t take the time to stop. Rather, it was a combination from some “real world” commitments and the fact that this show may have some of the most unique pacing I’ve seen in a drama of this nature.

Admittedly, I’m used to watching The Wire in terms of my epic ensemble HBO shows go, and as such I got used to a single plotline denoting a season, and that plotline representing the plot that you could sort of follow your way through. In the process, you learn things about each character, the process serving as the main impetus while the characters react as seems necessary, often times to tragic or at the very least suspenseful results.

But what I’m learning watching “Sold Under Sin” is that Deadwood operates differently: yes, each season represents more one large storyline than any small selection of storylines contributing to a whole, but what sets Deadwood apart is that there isn’t really a plot to speak of. While the show’s finale shows the outside world infiltrating this lawless camp more than it has before, the show has been clear from the beginning that this was an inevitability, rather than anything we would find surprising or that would bring forth surprising behaviour from these characters.

On some level, this would be a complaint about another show: I can’t think of a single characters whose path has fundamentally surprised me, or gone in a different direction than I expected, and the show has relied almost entirely on nuance and performance in terms of its characters fulfilling predetermined destiny more than charting their own path. The show’s plot, meanwhile, has moved so slowly that a majority of its more explosive conflicts are left entirely absent from the finale, left smoldering while smaller and more recent conflicts prove the most dramatic in the episode. If we were to judge this finale based on these qualifiers, expecting dramatic shifts in character or plot resolution, “Sold Under Sin” is an abject failure.

But, just to be clear, this isn’t a show that should be judged on those qualities: those acting nuances are just plain compelling, the performances coming alive in this episode as in every episode right in line with Milch’s particular brand of dialogue, and the smoldering embers of conflict in the town are so full of potential that it was all I could do, even finishing the finale as the sun rose, to keep from popping in the first disc of Season Two.

And isn’t that the right way to judge a show, especially one which has clearly not yet begun (and considering its cancellation might not end) its journey?

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Who Won The Amazing Race Season 14, and Did They Deserve It?

[Looking for details on The Amazing Race Season 15 finale with Meghan and Cheyne, Sam and Dan and Brian and Ericka? Find out who won, and whether they deserved it, here!]

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Who Won The Amazing Race Season 14?

May 10th, 2009

In what began as one of the most promising seasons of The Amazing Race in recent memory, with some slick new editing and the much-loved pairing of Mike and Mel White, tonight’s season finale was in some ways a let down before it even began: while there are reasons to appreciate or even admire the three teams who have made it this far, they have all done things that have kept me from actually liking them. This isn’t to say that any of the three teams are objectionable, or that they don’t truly deserve to win, but rather that all of them feel at least a little bit problematic from an analytical perspective.

However, there needed to be one winning team, and after traveling tens of thousands of miles and visiting what seemed like even more individual countries than ever before (until the end, anyways), the winner of The Amazing Race Season 14 is…

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Season Finale: Dollhouse – “Omega”

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“Omega”

May 8th, 2009

If there is a single common trait amongst Joss Whedon’s best work, it’s passion. There is this impression that Whedon is pouring his heart into every little scene, and it’s almost always clear when Whedon himself is scripting an episode because it feels particularly purposeful and engaging. And, as a result of this, his passionate legion of fans respond in kind, and a fan favourite series is born. Unfortunately, the same series is probably also doomed to criminally low ratings, so to an extent Whedon has been painted with the brush of “Critical Darling, Ratings Failure.”

But to be honest, halfway through Dollhouse’s inaugural season, I didn’t feel Joss Whedon’s passion for this series: the premise wasn’t being used to its potential, the actors weren’t being allowed to dig into their characters, and in a television arena where patience is not a dependable virtue amongst a mainstream audience Whedon waited six episodes before finally delivering something with a pulse. But out of loyalty to a man whose work I admire and who even admitted last month at PaleyFest that he was going through a creative struggle on his end more than network intereference, myself and the legions of Whedonverse fans patiently waited for the show to break free.

And break free it has: starting with “Man on the Street” and extending into “Spy in the House of Love” and last week’s fantastic “Briar Rose,” the series has not so much reinvited itself as it has discovered the proper perspective on its themes and ideas. Even the episodes not quite as effective have helped to introduce key elements in a way that, rather than seeming like a random “This could be cool, I guess” sort of storyline, feel organic in the season’s momentum. Key mysteries were squared away faster than expected, one key reveal was played so well that being spoiled didn’t even matter, and heading into “Omega” there have been a number of critics who have noted that Dollhouse has quite stealthily become the show they most want saved during this year’s upfronts.

What impresses me about “Omega” is that it doesn’t present a cliffhanger, nor does it fundamentally change our knowledge of the Dollhouse universe (although I thought we should have seen it change on its own a bit more); while it confirms just what happened with Alpha, and makes good on a subtle line from Dominic last week that many astute fans picked up on, the episode is more about paying off some of the ethical questions and dilemmas posed over the last season in such a way as to less justify than explain them. While not perfect, slowing a bit in its conclusion and struggling in sections that required comic timing from Eliza Dushku, it was a finale that nicely summed up why this show is most certainly worth saving, while leaving more than enough questions to lay the groundwork for a second season.

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Lost – “Dead is Dead”

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“Dead is Dead”

April 8th, 2009

Forgiveness is a really interesting emotion, primarily because of how subjective it is. There is a great moment in “Dead is Dead” where Locke suggests that he and Ben discuss the elephant in the room, being the fact that Ben, you know, murdered him, and Ben immediately heads into a long and rambling explanation of how he had to do it, how it was the only way, how he knew he couldn’t leave it to him, etc. Locke, meanwhile, just shrugs: “I was just looking for an apology.”

Locke, of course, has a very different value of forgiveness, having been through so much, and in his new resurrected form Locke is more sure of himself than ever; he forgives Ben because he’s now alive, and he now has purpose, so who is he to really complain?
The problem with the episode is really not a problem at all: Benjamin Linus’ flashbacks are designed specifically to show us those moments where his empathetic nature emerges, some sign of the young boy who went into that Temple returning as part of this new individual. However, in the present day, we see that Ben is still just as much a monster as before, and I think there’s something inherently problematic in the way he treats these situations with such moral dichotomy.

But it’s supposed to be problematic, and Michael Emerson delivers another knockout performance, and “Dead is Dead” succeeds based on the show’s emphasis on his duality.

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