Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Vampire Diaries "No Exit" Review

Jean Paul-Sartre wrote a play, his most famous play, titled No Exit. In French, the title is Huis Clos, which is a legal term that refers to a private conversation behind locked doors. Sarte, one presumes, drew a parallel between the conception of hell and that of the courts. The Vampire Diaries’ “No Exit” doesn’t draw a parallel between humanity’s conception of hell and our awareness of the legal system. I’ve made a habit of referring to famous works of literature or drama when I write about The Vampire Diaries. The most famous line in Sarte’s play comes at the end when a character realizes that hell is other people. Hell is not a place, but a struggle between the self and other. The Vampire Diaries plays around with the same essential ideas of Sarte but only brazenly. Elena and Stefan experienced the struggle between the self and the other, which for the supernatural folk in the show means a struggle between the beastly feral vampire and the compassionate human. None of the supernatural characters have struggled extensively. Caroline struggled briefly before embracing what she became. That followed for everyone else. Elena went through a rough stretch, but Stefan’s been the tortured one, trying to find a balance.

The appeal of Damon has been his lack of self-reflection. He lives. He is. He behaves recklessly when reckless and does not become a remorseful, sogging mess when he’s finished with recklessness. The appeal of Damon for Elena was how different he was from Stefan. Stefan couldn’t help Elena during her long transition in season four. She was sad, unstable, on the edge, and so the person for her was not walking consciousness Stefan Salvatore, but his brother that will do all he can to give her what she needs in the moment—only in the moment, because for switchless vampires it is the moment that matters. Damon’s recent string of brutal, remorseless murders were typical of the character, a rather unexciting development since we’d seen this side of him already. “No Exit” furthered Damon’s new habit of feeding on vampires. I didn’t think about the possibility of his new problem as a way to deepen and progress the character. My biggest gripe with the last few episodes, concerning Damon, was the repetitiveness of his behavior. Five seasons in, characters shouldn’t walk backwards following the footprints left in the mud.

Damon faces a struggle between self and other, actualized when Katherine and Stefan come to rescue him. Katherine, of course, does not want to save him. Stefan would like to save his brother. Dr. Wes trapped Damon and Enzo in a house to further his understanding of the Ripper serum through observation. Enzo escapes with his life after Dr. Wes releases him, right after Damon digs into his neck. Damon lost the struggle, but he’s still new to the struggle. He doesn’t know what’s in him that’s more powerful than the strength of his arms and jaw. Stefan does. He learned control and choice. Damon wished for his brother and ex to stay away from the house because he lacked control.

Katherine used Damon’s lack of self-control to create a situation in which the outcome seemed to be fratricide. Damon bit into her neck and fed. Stefan lured him away with his own blood and then snapped his neck, locked him in the Salvatore dungeon to begin teaching Damon self-control and the power of free choice. Katherine revealed she wasn’t Elena in that scene. She pushed the moment to a crisis. Her goal was to put Stefan into situations with no exit: in the hotel room, with wet hair, full breasts, seductive eyes, but that didn’t work; later, with the whole ‘kill brother’ plan. Katherine tasked Nadia with killing Matt. Nadia did not kill Matt. Katherine also lacks self-control. She cannot escape herself, her impulses. For instance, she’s insistent on detailing the history of the question she answered wrong during her study session with Stefan. Her desire for Stefan leaves her open to discovery, which she inevitably is—discovered, I mean. The characters can’t be conveniently stupid for too long.

Stefan and Katherine figure it out by the end of “No Exit.” There are wide eyes and expressions of astonishment, disbelief and incredulity. Besides Damon’s unexpected confrontation with his self and other, “No Exit” was frustrating to watch. Too many characters acted to service than plot rather than the plot servicing the characters. Tyler and Caroline tried to figure out why Matt disappeared, but they believe his story. Each time the characters seem on the precipice of making progress towards what’s going on, the subject is dropped. The intimate personal matters take precedent over the other personal matters involving Matt. Tyler and Caroline work out their issues by not working out their issues. Tyler apologizes for his violent behavior; however, he reminds Caroline that sleeping with the guy who killed his mother hurt. So, there’s little reconciliation actually. Stefan seems to sense something but then shrugs it off. The inconsistent characterization hurts “No Exit.”

The main plot is nicely put together, and the characterization is consistent with what we’ve seen. I heard a piece of advice from a writer about threading the lacers of plot together does not mean a story was told well. The A story is good storytelling. Other bits of effective storytelling pop up here and there: Matt’s dialogue with Nadia about mothers sets up the wolf bite reveal very well while also reminding the audience of what Matt has experienced. Enzo’s loyalty to Damon elevated a mostly flat character to slightly less flat.

Despite the effective bits of storytelling, the engaging A story, I felt flat by the end, as flat as any Enzo scene is. Oh well.

Other Thoughts:

-Dr. Wes and the Travelers make less of an impression now. I don’t care to know what Wes does to Enzo.


-Brian Young wrote the episode. Matthew A. Allowitz directed.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Arrow "Time of Death" Review

“Time of Death” opens with a heist sequence orchestrated by William Tockman, the episode’s villain, later known as the Clock King, dubbed by the mainstream media, which Sara dismisses because the name came from the mainstream media. Sara lived with and worked for the League of Assassins for a stretch of time and survived on an island, fought brutally, but she still knows nothing is so much brutal and villainous and evil as the mainstream media. There are numerous ticking clocks in the episode. The clock ticks down on stopping Tockman, on the tension between the Lance sisters, on Thea figuring out why her mother and brother won’t talk; and, also, there’s a ticking clock when Felicity puts herself in danger. Furthermore, Felicity feels a sort of pressure to match the scars and wounds and struggles of Oliver, Sara, and Diggle, as if she’ll lose ‘his girl’ status if she doesn’t act.

The various ticking clocks all hit a climatic and exciting conclusion. Robert Krepper’s the Clock King is a memorable villain. Some Arrow villains fade from memory. The Clock King is distinctive for a simple reason, not unlike other villains in genre television or stories: he’s driven by personal interest in helping his sister after his death. The title refers to the clock king’s terminal illness. Tockman’s more layered than most villains; he’s especially more interesting than Shrapnel. I liked that Tockman wasn’t driven by anti-government anger, a desire to blow things up. Tockman was a very light version of Walter White, distilled for The CW—a seemingly good guy doing bad things for family. He was precise, controlled, and steady, like a ticking clock. The cadence of his instructions to the men he hired to steal for him was metronome-like.

Tockman didn’t unravel. Nothing broke within him except for a cell phone that Felicity infected with the suicide virus Tockman used to destroy the center of Oliver’s underground work. By the second-to-last act, he had ceased being a threat. I mean, all villains on Arrow aren’t that threatening. The most threatening villains in the show are Malcolm Merlyn and Slade Wilson. Tockman’s role in the series eventually became, as most of the villains in the show, a catalyst for one of the characters. In this episode, Felicity changes through her interactions with the clock king. Felicity feels down about herself whenever she sees Oliver work with Sara. She looked on sadly when Sara and Oliver kissed goodbye. Diggle, Oliver, and Sara, exchanged battle stories of their wounds and scars. Felicity felt left out.

Sara revealed a tremendous ability to use a microscope to study blood samples, which made Felicity crawl inside herself like a turtle into its shell. Her interactions with Sara weren’t overtly contentious. Their interactions were like that situation you may or may not have experienced when your friend or more-than-friend brings around someone who knows and understands someone in ways you don’t understand the person you care about like the friend from the past. Diggle noticed. Oliver did not. Felicity put herself in the bait trap for Tockman to be noticed by Oliver. She takes a bullet to the shoulder while saving Sara. She feels renewed. Until the last act, she doesn’t smile. She’s bothered, insecure, doubtful, and sort of sad. Her little act of heroism leads to a meaningful discussion with Oliver about why she’ll remain his girl, and then Felicity asks for another really effective aspirin.

The Lances receive a significant plot in the episode, the details of which are get them all in the same room (with Oliver awkwardly there too). Quentin’s hope for a reunion with Dinah didn’t interest me. He fails; Dinah’s happy teaching college in another city. I was invested in Laurel-and-Sara’s fractured sisterhood. Oliver acts as the key to resolving the fractured sisterhood. Laurel blames each situation for why she’s become a drug-addicted drunk. Oliver calls her on it. Oliver sees into everyone, especially the woman he loved for half of his life. The purpose of his speech to Laurel is for Laurel to look inward to figure out really hurts, deep down. And what hurts Laurel, way deep down, was not that Sara left with Oliver, or that Tommy died, or that she lost her job. Laurel opens up to her sister about her hurt starting after she thought Sara drowned; and since that moment, Laurel felt like she was drowning every day. The writers described feelings of depression really well. I didn’t like the entirety of the monologue, but the monologue effectively transformed melodramatic melancholia into relatable depression for I’m sure, many of the viewers.

So, yeah, some characters healed or began healing. The healing vibe stopped when Moira introduced Oliver to Slade, who’s finally showing off his presence in Starling City. Slade did not come to make amends with Oliver. He’s come to kill Oliver’s family, wreck his family’s entire life, and wear a gnarly costume. All that was missing from the overt clock theme was a clock’s finally tick before a new hour starts.

Other Thoughts:

-I either have amnesia or the Black Canary never saved Sin. Sin’s father died on the island, so there’s that. I didn’t think Sin would become a character that gets a subplot. CW superhero dramas are full of surprises, though. I also think the chances of Slade killing Sara and Laurel becoming the Black Canary are 100%. The thematic unity of tonight’s episode seemingly guarantees that Slade will murder Sara.

-Robert Krepper’s played a villain on nearly every CW series. I want him to play a villain on Hart of Dixie, The Carrie Diaries, and America’s Next Top Model.


-Wendy Mericle & Beth Schwartz wrote the episode. Nick Copus directed it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

How I Met Your Mother "Rally" Review

Love is the elixir that fixes people. Barney Stinson’s magic fixer elixir was made out of love for his friends, in their moments of greatest need. The series will enter its final month next Monday. “Rally” kicks off the final run of episodes for the series with a declaration of the series’ purpose, its mission statement: that love heals and transforms. Carter Bays and Carter Thomas take the roundest of roundabout roads to arrive that particular poignant point, but that’s old hat. The roundest of roundabout roads includes detours into the future where the friends remain coupled, successful, and betraying their vows not to horribly imbibe while in the Elysium of their lives. The friends rallied together in the hours before the fateful wedding that changed lives and brought Ted the other half of his soul.

Don’t we all need to rally as How I Met Your Mother airs its final episodes? Nine seasons of a story that could’ve been told in four; a final four seasons that have been atrocious; and a horribly executed gimmick in the final season. The end nears, though—perhaps that’s why I smiled several times tonight. TV writers don’t end a long-running series with one ending. There are several endings throughout the final episodes of a series. Those endings spark beginnings that one can imagine and then write fan-fiction about for years after. “Rally” throws in some of those endings. Barney’s arc from Bro to Relatable Human basically completes. Barney’s wild stories, tricks, sleights-of-hand, and all else he’s ever done, were his ways of helping his friends, connecting with them, and loving them.

The gang collected items for Barney’s hangover elixir. Throughout the search for the items, Future Ted flashes back further, and flashes forward, to explain what happened when each one broke their ‘no drinking til near-death’ vow, and to show where each one was when Barney gave to them what looked like the concoction developed by the memorable-but-fictitious Dr. Jekyll. Barney never told them the secret ingredient of the elixir. Barney’s omission of what made the drink work led to the gang devising various ways to rouse him from unconsciousness so that he could name what they missed. Barney’s been cursed by his upbringing to repress what he feels and to cartoonishly live his life. Okay, that’s a bit too much to lay onto a shallow and mostly superfluous secondary character. Barney’s that guy you know who can’t be serious unless cosmically influenced. Barney’s depiction sort of reflects the modern person’s inability to not turn whatever he or she consumes into farce, satire, jokes--to deplete something meaningful with irony. The only way Barney could tell his friends that he loves them is when he won’t remember telling them, or else he’ll explode.

Barney helped his friends after a hard night of drinking, all at the most momentous moments of their lives. The elixir helped Ted after Stella left him at the altar. Barney promised Ted that he’d move past identifying himself as the guy left at the altar. The elixir helped Robin when she doubted herself before returning to the airwaves. Marshall thought he blew an interview. Lily worried about a kindergarten field trip (which briefly thawed my icy HIMYM heart). Present-day gang vow not to experience a hangover like Barney’s, but Ted reveals that every one horribly drank one night in the future. For Marshall, he imbibed when convinced he lost an election; for Lily, she drank after moving Marvin to college; for Ted, he drank in celebration of his wife’s published book; and Mrs. Ted Mosby drank in celebration of the New Year. The connective theme was love. Each hungover episode was connected by a momentous event: a marriage, a book, an election, etc. Love put a button on the scenes from the future. The last scene of the episode belonged to Ted and The Mother. The Mother nursed a mean hangover, and Ted brought to her the elixir of love, which brought out her own feelings of love for her husband, followed by the offspring of their love: their own lovely son and daughter. The bedroom scene descended into loving chaos. Yes, love.

The gang repays Barney’s loving kindness with A Weekend at Barney’s photo shoot for the wedding, which briefly earns him the respect of Robin’s father. The Weekend at Barney’s was my least favorite part of the episode and a reminder of what I won’t miss about the series.

Other Thoughts:


-Any one else notice how similar Alyson Hanigan and Cristin Milioti look? I mistook Hanigan for Milioti in the opening limo scene. Perhaps I’m the only one who noticed it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Vampire Diaries "Total Eclipse of the Heart" Review

So, Dr. Wes stumbled into a legion of travelers to protect him. Great. It was a sparkling start after last week’s bummer of an episode. The introduction of Dr. Wes and the travelers are among my least favorite things about season five. The Damon torture episode before the winter hiatus was the nadir of TVD. Last week’s episode suggested a change for the rest of the season. I wrote about this whole three acts to a season thing that doesn’t work now. Oh well. Dr. Wes and the travelers act as catalysts for Damon’s further descent into regrettable life choices and then mosey off. They’ll be back, though. Alas, they’ll be back.

Damon’s already committed many bad acts during his life so much of what he does in “Total Eclipse of the Heart” reminds one of what he’s done and what he’s capable of when he doesn’t care. The ‘Kidnapped Jeremy’ plotline was a retread of other ‘Kidnap and threaten Jeremy,’ and I expected one of the characters to raise awareness to that in a meta way. Of course, no character calls attention to that. Damon acts out of spite towards Elena, though she never broke up with him because Katherine hijacked her body and used her Elena identity to end things. See, that’s a retread of what happened last week on the show. It’s not very fun to read, right? Damon uses Jeremy to hurt Elena, but Elena’s gone, so Katherine needs to fake emotional investment in Jeremy’s safety. Katherine-as-Elena does add a nifty twist to the Jeremy-in-peril, especially since it leads Tyler and Matt, of all characters, to figure out that something is off in Mystic Falls. Enzo kills Jeremy, but Katherine revives him. Stefan exiles him from Mystic Falls. Damon staggers, as if slightly wounded by his brother’s words, before muttering that he never intended to return. Dr. Wes and the travelers then turn Damon’s instincts around by injecting him with the stuff that makes him hungry for vampire blood.

Damon’s bad life choices actually progress at the end of an episode in which he behaved like an older rock band that only plays colleges. Yes, Damon takes the head off of a vampire in the last scene as Enzo looks on and remarks, ‘This could be trouble.’ Damon remarks to himself and to his victim that what’s happening to him is karma. Decades and centuries of murdering humans led him to the moment when he feeds on his own kind. There’s the rub. Damon’s redemption will happen through his ordeal against his kind. The murder of Aaron, the sort of murder of Jeremy, and all else he’s done will be forgiven because this ordeal. Stefan knows Elena won’t forgive Damon for killing Aaron, but she will because of the emphasis on the love triangle. Sometimes, Damon’s as shallow a character as that idea of changing a bad boy into a good boy, which is the root of Elena/Damon. Stefan admits to Katherine why he didn’t want Damon to be torn from Elena, because Elena brought Damon back from the deep, helped him to resist his worst impulses. Essentially, she changed him for the better.

Katherine likes to see Damon’s self-destruction since he tortured her on her last day and manages to turn what Elena would do to her own advantage without giving herself away. Stefan’s her prize and approaches romance with him two or three times. The first is at the Bitter Ball when they dance, and the second happens in Elena’s dorm room. Katherine manipulates the situation and almost kisses him. Katherine rejects Damon for life for having harmed Jeremy. Stefan still furrows his brow, bothered by his brother’s behavior, reluctant to take from his hope and salvation. The love triangle will end one of two ways: Stefan selflessly lets Damon have Elena or Damon figures himself out and can exist without Elena. All three will be changed by the current story, probably for the better until better is dramatically and narratively uninteresting and the writers decide Stefan needs to take heads off again.

The commitment and dedication of Stefan are what I’d point to when explaining why he’s the best character in the series. The writers continually nail the character’s humanity. Stefan reminds me a lot of Angel, but Angel was never as free as Stefan. Angel was burdened by the past, he committed his life’s work to helping the helpless/hopeless. (I’ll always prefer Angel.) Stefan was really awesome in those two scenes in which he threatened Enzo. He was tender in his scenes with Katherine. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” showed once again how horribly our favorite characters will act; it challenged our idea of morality in our modern world once again; and it, again, got us to root for those characters behaving horribly. Stefan’s the heart of the show—he’s been the worst and he’s been the best. Now, TVD doesn’t actively challenge its viewers to think about what we’re rooting for, but I think Stefan’s there as an active reminder of what living looks like. He is the most human.

None of the major characters have caught onto Katherine. She play-acts Elena adeptly. Tyler, of all characters, hears Nadia compelling Matt. I can’t remember the last significant turning point involving Tyler. Matt also figures out that Nadia and Katherine worked together to take Elena’s body. Matt will eventually forget because that’s how Matt’s written. Tyler may or may not be useful to the others in clueing them in about what’s happened to Elena. Caroline watches Katherine closely, sensing something different, especially when Stefan’s around. I assume the jig will be up for Katherine by early March. I think she’ll have changed somewhat, but however much she changed will be undone by hijacking Elena’s body. That kind of character stuff happens a lot on TV.

Damon feeding on other vampires is the next great crisis for the gang. I don’t know why anyone besides Stefan would want to save him. Season five seems more about telling stories in quick 2-3 episode bursts than that long-form commitment to Klaus and the originals. That works. I’d love to see Dr. Wes written off, but I assume an awesome dream episode awaits us all in early May. (I don’t really assume that).

Other Thoughts:

-I loved Nina Dobrev’s acting when she played Elena’s sadness about Jeremy followed by her playing Katherine’s total apathy about it.

-For a vampire that’s spent a couple decades locked in a cell, Enzo’s possibly the most stylish character.


-Rebecca Sonnenshine and Holly Brix wrote the episode. Darren Genet directed it.

About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.