November 30th, 2010
Look, let’s get it out of the way: Sons of Anarchy was very far from the best show on television this fall. It was a season with a story to tell which seemed completely unwilling to tell that story, and when it finally got down to business it seemed as if everything was expedited and choppy. For a series that once delivered what I would describe as sick, twisted poetry, the third season lacked both rhyme and reason. While I perhaps understood what Kurt Sutter was going for by the time we reached the season’s penultimate episode, nothing about “June Wedding” made those previous episodes any more satisfying. In fact, the show sort of felt like it was following Stahl’s example: when you think a situation is going south, or you’re tired of playing a certain angle, you just shoot someone and call it a day.
I have some fundamental issues with the idea that Stahl could even come close to getting away with what she did in “June Wedding,” and the degree to which Stahl’s sociopathic behavior is being used to fuel the march towards the season’s conclusion, to the point where I’ve officially written off this season of television. Last week’s episode indicated to me that whatever Sutter was selling this year, it simply was not the show I want Sons of Anarchy to be, or the show that it had the potential to be coming out of its incredibly strong (and cohesive) second season.
In advance of watching “NS,” I had heard the buzz: this was a “return to form.” However, as Cory Barker wrote about earlier, the degree to which a solid finale (which “NS” arguably is) can overwrite previous struggles is fairly limited. And yet, I had no expectations that a legitimately enjoyable 90 minutes of television would actually make the season’s problems more apparent. “NS” is a smart episode of television which only confirms that the show’s third season was a wild miscalculation, an absolute failure of “Serial Narrative 101” that traveled halfway around the world and only got a lousy t-shirt with a bundle of letters hidden in it which only confirmed presumed details from the distant past.
I’m a bit busy now, though, to delve into all of the reasons why the season fell apart. I plan to come back to it at a later date, perhaps early next week, but for now I want to take “NS” as what it truly is: a launching pad to the future, and an opportunity for the series to move on with something resembling momentum.
Because on that level, “NS” is more or less a success.
Official Ballot Miscellany
June 4th, 2010
Earlier this evening, Emmy voting officially began; this isn’t particularly important to us non-voters, but it does mean that the official ballots were released (PDFs: Performers, Writing, Directing), which means that we know who submitted their names for Emmy contention and can thus make our predictions accordingly. In some cases, this simply confirms our earlier submissions regarding particularly categories, while in other cases it throws our expectations for a loop as frontrunners or contenders don’t end up submitting at all.
For example, Cherry Jones (who last year won for her work on 24) chose not to submit her name for contention this year, a decision which seems somewhat bizarre and is currently being speculatively explained by her unhappiness with her character’s direction in the show’s final season. It completely changes the anatomy of that race, removing a potential frontrunner and clearing the way for some new contenders (or, perhaps, another actress from Grey’s Anatomy). Either way, it’s a real shakeup, so it makes this period particularly interesting.
I will speak a bit about some surprising omissions and inclusions in the categories I’ve already covered this week, but I want to focus on the categories that I haven’t discussed yet, including the guest acting categories, writing, and direction, which are some interesting races this year.
“Across the Sea”
May 11th, 2010
[For more discussion of the episode, check out my breakdown and analysis of critical responses to “Across the Sea.” Also, for a review of the series’ penultimate episode, What They Died For, click here]
Do metaphors count as answers?
It’s the question I found myself returning to throughout “Across the Sea,” a story which feels so designed to discover answers that it never quite achieves a narrative in its own right, although I don’t necessarily mean that as a slight to its effectiveness. However, while you could argue we get some facts and details that help us piece together previous events, there is very little of what one would call “clear” answers in the hour. What we get are extended metaphors meant to give meaning, rather than clarity, to that which has happened before and that which will happen in the future.
Considering the breadth of questions we as an audience have at this stage in the show’s run, there is no chance that the show will ever be able to make everything perfectly clear, and when tonight’s episode actually tried to provide “answers” it often felt unnatural, inorganic. Where the episode worked best is in using metaphors and abstract ideas to solidify human emotions and character motivations: this is the story of Jacob and his nameless twin brother (who we’ll call Esau for the sake of the Biblical connection, even if their mother’s name makes it less than perfect), but it both implicitly and explicitly gestures to what we’ve seen unfold on the island for six seasons, and in doing so gives greater meaning to that journey even if the “why” question remains unanswered.
I don’t think “Across the Sea” is by any means perfect, but I think it did a most admirable job at crafting a story which crystallizes the show’s journey thus far, worrying less about the big picture and more about establishing where the individual portraits the show has created fit into the mysteries of the island (which may remain unsolved).
March 23rd, 2010
Considering how important “Ab Aeterno” is to the Lost mythos, and considering how much I enjoyed the epiosde, I don’t think I’m going to have a whole lot to say about it – or, more accurately, I didn’t think I’d have a whole lot to say until I actually started writing about it. This does not mean that the episode didn’t live up to my expectations, or that there isn’t plenty of questions to mull over in the week to come. Instead, I simply mean that things were confirmed more than they were revealed, and the questions that were answered actually provided clarity as opposed to more questions.
In many ways, “Ab Aeterno” (which translates as “since the beginning of time”) is about the interrelationship between “how” and “why,” with its answers addressing issues related to both key questions. Structurally speaking, Season Six is no more clear than it was before, but the brief glimpse of Jacob and the Man in Black from “The Incident” is intricately fleshed out into the story of how Richard Alpert made the decision between a man who offered him everything he once had and the man who could assure him that there would be something to live for.
The result is a simple story of love and loss, and an important turning point in our understanding of why these characters are stranded on this island, and how they may play a role in its eventual destiny.
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.
November 10th, 2009
I don’t need to tell you that “Balm” was an exceptional hour plus of television: for about two weeks, critics have been waxing poetic about how this could be the show’s defining moment, and how this is the episode that raises Sons of Anarchy from the upper echelon of television drama to the upper upper echelon of television drama. The result is that Sepinwall, Fienberg, Ryan, Poniewozik and every other critic under the sun have already made their position extremely clear, to the point where I don’t really have much to add in terms of singing its praises.
However, that’s never particularly stopped me before, so I still want to talk about how great this episode is, or, more accurately, why this episode manages to be great despite some significant challenges. This is an episode which builds its tension around an action that before last week was almost entirely foreign to its audience (at least those with no deeper knowledge of MCs than what the show offers) and that creates an emotional climax you can see coming by the time the episode gets going, and yet manages to pull it off so brilliantly that it’s as if we as viewers have always known what “going Nomad” refers to and that we could never have expected the kind of emotion the episode’s final moments bring.
It’s an episode that turns the viewer into an active participant in the lives of each and every single character, to the point where we are sitting at the dinner table with the characters in that final scene and responding as they are to the news being delivered.
And that’s some damn fine television.
September 29th, 2009
I’m on the record as suggesting that The Good Wife’s pilot was one of the most accomplished of the fall season, delivering a clever take on the legal procedural that emphasized but didn’t contrive a personal story for Alicia Florrick, part rusty trial attorney and part struggling wife of a shamed politician serving behind bars. The pilot was sharp in how it weaved the two worlds together, both her new job and her life balancing shame and anger, and the show has a pretty bangup cast.
As always, it’s interesting to see how a second episode reacts to the pilot, especially with a procedural where the “hook” of the show seems like something that might only exist in the first episode before being slowly phased out with time. However, with “Stripped,” it becomes clear that The Good Wife is not going to be a show that sees Alicia’s husband or his infidelity fade into the background, which is both good in the long term and perhaps somewhat awkward in the short term.
The core of the series, the integration between her personal life and her job, remains an interesting combination of workplace drama and Alicia’s personal struggle. However, the way that the episode brought her husband’s stripper past into the story was less graceful than it was in the pilot, forcing things into the open by conveniently introducing a stripped-based rape case into the proceedings. It’s not ineffective, per se, but it feels somewhat more forced than it was before, and feels almost like a second pilot as opposed to an example of what the show will do in the future…but a second good pilot.