Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Vampire Diaries "Monster's Ball" Review

Season 5 of The Vampire Diaries is either on a path towards brilliance or going completely off the rails.

Julie Plec has said in interviews that she keeps the TVD story in her head, so never does she commit the stuff in her head to a computer, I assume. Now she’s behind three shows on The CW. Five episodes into The Vampire Diaries’ fifth season and it’s hard to tell where everything is going. A ton of stuff has happened in five episodes. Murders, conspiracies, ancient love affairs and heartache, Bonnie’s death going public, Steven R. McQueen working out on camera, amnesia Stefan, Silas owning the town and then losing it once Quetsyah showed up. “Monster’s Ball” continued to throw, presumably, every idea the writers had during the first few weeks of breaking the season. Katherine met her daughter, Nadia; Professor Maxfield’s more intelligent and nefarious than last season’s Professor; Damon killed his brother twice; Jeremy disregarded Bonnie’s wishes to not come back through Silas; Tyler’s back to tell Caroline he won’t be back, that he’s going after Klaus so he can ruin his life like Klaus ruined his.

On the surface the amount of plot and movement through five episodes is exciting. TVD hasn’t lost the knack for break-neck pacing and crazy reveals. I don’t want TVD to lose its identity. Throwing as much plot into a story can trigger something bad. Characters could be lost under the all of the plot. It’s fair to wonder what TVD’s identity is. TVD’s essentially a show about two brothers and the girl they love. It’s also about death and loss and mourning. In their world, death is not the end, unless it is—that fluctuates. Simply, though, TVD follows a group of people who care about each other and will sacrifice their lives for their friends’ lives. The threats come from ancient evils with convoluted back stories. The scene in which Jeremy, Bonnie, and Damon, talk about Silas and how to use him to bring Bonnie back includes a cliff notes version of last season’s Silas mythology. The cliff notes exposition requires cross-cutting exposition. Once all three are clear on what happened and what needs to happen, there exists more uncertainty and mystery. They can’t trust Silas. Helping him so he’ll help them will have a catch. Plus, Quetsyah’s around to further complicate the mythology.

The Vampire Diaries made sprawling mythologies an essential part of its charm. The actors are incredibly good-looking, the writing’s brisk and clever, with enough twists and turns to keep social media buzzing until the next episode. The many relationships inspire many fan-made videos. Fans love the idea of love so much and the idea of x character loving y character. It’s cute. Season 1’s the lightest on the mythology. Season 2’s pretty fantastic. The writers used expectations of mythology and the major narrative arc of the season to pull of a memorable twist. Season 3 used aspects of the grand mythology to show something different from Stefan and to delve into and flesh out the originals. Hang around with anyone or anything for awhile, though, and what once was charming may start to grate and annoy. Room with a friend and you’ll learn what annoys you most about him or her. Date someone long enough and you’ll stop comparing her to the stars and instead transform into a Leonato from Winter’s Tale. Five seasons into an intricate and at times confounding mythology starts to wear on a guy or a gal. The charm wanes. The spark’s just not there like it once was.

Damon works with Silas to bring Bonnie back from the other side. Silas wants to destroy the other side so that he’ll die and meet his beloved. Damon wants to trade Silas’ life for Bonnie’s. Their partnership involves betrayals and multiple neck snappings. Damon’s motivated to save Bonnie solely for Elena. Elena’s been distant since she found out the truth. Elena feels guilt. Bonnie was dead during the summer of her life with Damon. Damon experiences the cold shoulder from his girlfriend. Damon’s motivations stem from Elena’s desires—her mood determines his mood. Silas gets answer from Quetsyah as Stefan. Quetsya, of course, finds out what’s going on and then desiccates him. Stefan wakes from his temporary ‘death’ and breaks Damon’s neck, because Damon’s a dick. By episode’s end, Damon makes progress in his plan. He corrals Katherine to cure Silas, which he forces her to do by forcing her neck to his mouth. Katherine doesn’t die.

Katherine met her daughter in “Monster’s Ball.” Nadia and Katherine’s scenes involved evocations of Katherine’s personal mythology: what she’s done, who she’s done it to, etc. Katherine defines herself by her invulnerability, but she’s more so defined by how long she’s run. There are constant reminders of how long she ran from Klaus. With Nadia, she’s still running, but from Silas. Damon’s forceful feeding of her blood to Silas felt like a period to her chaotic life. It was wonderfully bittersweet. She finds her daughter, the one person in life she went back for, and cared for, only to be sucked dry. The girl woke up, though. Her heart never stopped beating. Katherine’s story was the best of “Monster’s Ball.” The twist that she woke up, asking, “Am I in hell?” wasn’t like the moment she posed as Elena, made out with Damon, and cut off Elena’s Uncle’s fingers. The way the show arrived at that moment was really well done.

Elena’s story involves Professor Maxfield. Maxfield’s more compelling than Elena’s attempts to learn more about Megan’s murder. Maxfield’s testing Jesse in his lab. Jesse’s the ‘perfect candidate.’ He tested Jesse’s mood, reaction to light, lucidity, etc. I’m looking forward to the chance Maxfield’s going to open up the vampire mythology, but his plan’s probably just evil. Maxfield told Elena to leave campus before people start spreading rumors about her and her friends. Elena meets a possible soul mate in Aaron. Aaaron suffers from extreme survivors guilt and is like the male Elena. I really loved the look Nina Dobrev gave him during the compulsion scene. Elena hasn’t expressed what she expressed in, perhaps, forever. Of course, like everything else, the storyline involves more mythology, which may or may not go off the rails.

We shall see.

Other Thoughts:

-So, Michael Trevino’s heading to The Originals? I haven’t seen the latest episode of The Originals. It’s still a problematic series. Klaus isn’t a great leading character, but Joseph Morgan’s a terrific lead. I dug the Davina episode. The middle acts of that episode are strong.

-Caroline’s broken-hearted over Tyler’s departure. I didn’t care about their relationship. Caroline’s the best when she’s unattached.

-It took five seasons for TVD to put Paul Wesley in James Dean’s leather jacket. Paul Wesley should be the James Dean type studios look for when looking for the James Dean type.

-I got distracted thinking about Shakespeare once we learned Quetsyah bought a Cleopatra costume. Elena’s Anne Boleyn and Damon’s Henry VIII were interesting choices by the writers. Perhaps The CW wanted to connect TVD with Reign in whatever way possible.

-John Postiglione wrote the episode. Kellie Cyrus directed it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Arrow "Crucible" Review

Oh but of course Sarah’s the Black Canary. The focus on the Lances last week, specifically Quentin’s speech about what his daughter’s death made him want to do for other girls in the city, wasn’t just for character development. It was deliberate foreshadowing that yelled at the viewer, “Hey! She’s not dead.” Here I am, an average TV blogger, pointing out this and that about episodes of television. I totally didn’t see the Sarah Lance reveal coming, not even after reading Dan Fienberg’s post about Arrow last week that dropped anvil sized hints about the Black Canary. I thought, “Hm. How strange for Fienberg to mention Laurel Lance and the Black Canary together.” I never put it together.

“Crucible” is another strong episode in this young second season. Oliver’s fighting a gang that’s collecting guns and trying to take over the city; this story ties into the larger narrative. Arrow’s second season is definitely aiming for bigger things. Superhero sequels always surpasses the original: The Dark Knight and Spiderman 2, to name two (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer doesn’t count). Stephen Amell tweeted that an alternate title for the episode is ‘Revelations.’ Characters learn through reveals. Through a police stop, Quentin learns his daughter’s going off the rails. Laurel drinks and drives, and she feels sad and guilty about Tommy. Quentin sees himself in her, the drunkard he became after Sarah’s death. No one held him accountable during that period in his life, so he didn’t hold himself accountable. Through accountability, he hopes to save his daughter from something potentially fatal.

The major revelation is Sarah Lance-as-the Black Canary. The woman thought dead on the Queen’s Gambit survived and thrived, transforming into a feminist ass-kicker. Oliver’s rarely rattled in his life. His five years on the island, on a boat, or wherever else he was, hardened him. Sara’s re-appearance rattles him. He knew she didn’t die at sea, because he met her again on the boat. He thought he died sometime after that; she thought he died sometime after, too. Not even I miss that foreshadowing. Sarah doesn’t want Oliver to tell her family she’s back. The Sarah she knew is gone. Sarah’s hardened, like Oliver but unable to function in day-to-day life like him. She came back to check on her family after the earthquake and hasn’t left because leaving’s harder after seeing them.

Oliver doesn’t tell Quentin or Laurel. Sara’s able to overhear her father explain Laurel’s struggles since the earthquake. Caity Lotz plays Sara’s reactions really effectively. Lotz’s Sara Lance/Black Canary never smiles. Her eyes convey a sadness that’s hard to capture. It’s sadness, longing, but also separation and isolation--it’s the sadness of not being able to capture what you once had, what you once felt, and what you once knew. Oliver shares in that specific feeling. When he’s with her, he looks as pained as she. The best scene of the episode happens after the reveal, in Oliver’s lair with Diggle and Felicity. Oliver doesn’t act vulnerable around them, but he does in this scene. His shoulders are slumped, his head is down, and he’s reflecting on what happened. His voice momentarily cracks when he tells them the five years were hard, a struggle. It effectively conveyed that, no matter how hard a time the Lances or Queens had after the Queen’s Gambit sunk, Oliver and Sara experienced the most pain and hardship.

The gun plotline leads to a reveal about the new bad guy in Starling City—it’s none other than the guy Oliver’s trying to work with to help restore the city. The villainous gang shares a lot in common with the Hoods from the premiere. Bad guys use the earthquake to gain power in the city. Sara and Oliver fight together. Oliver wants to see how she does in a real fight. Sara kicks ass. The fight scene is one of my favorites in the series. Arrow has the best stunt coordinator in TV. The fight scenes and the stunts amaze me every episode.

The island scenes seem to begin Oliver’s ascent to king of the Russian mafia. The lesson Oliver learns is that life is hard. His captor shoots him in the gut. Oliver’s able to use tools left to him to remove the bullet. Doing so proves one’s toughness in the jails. The men on the boat take Oliver and drop him at the feet of Sara Lance. Slade’s name-dropped by Sara in Starling City, so hopefully we see him sooner rather than later. Shado’s fate is completely unknown, but one figures she won’t last that long. Who knows, though. The dead don’t stay dead. Maybe zombie Robert Queen will return to save his wife from prison.

Other Thoughts:

-Roy’s tiny role in “Crucible” is the lone one veiled in secrecy. Thea is unaware of what he does for the vigilante. Sin won’t tell her what Roy’s doing after Roy saved her life. Colton Haynes has shown more depth this season. He’s not just a chiseled jaw line.

-Diggle has one scene to remind the viewer he’s going to get to Deadshot soon.

-Summer Glau appeared! Summer looked resplendent in a dress. Her character’s mostly annoyed with Oliver. I’m sure there’s much more to her. One hopes her character can dance. Show runners, always let Summer dance.

-Andrew Kreisburg & Wendy Mericle wrote the episode. Eagle Egilsson directed it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

How I Met Your Mother "No Questions Asked" Review

“No Questions Asked” is a useless episode of television, the worst kind of filler episode. Filler episodes should entertain. How I Met Your Mother hasn’t entertained in four years. The episode’s full of pointless and baseless gags, useless flashbacks, a horrible spoof of ghost shows, and hollow resolutions. For an episode so useless, the two important stories of the episode, Marshall’s hesitance to tell Lily the truth, and Barney and Robin beginning to realize why they suck together, were the meatiest of the season. Those stories mean something for the characters and for the audience. Of course, bad comedy undercuts the storylines.

Marshall’s frantic to stop Lily from reading the revealing text about Marshall’s judgeship Daphne sent because she’s a plot device. I dislike this story because it’s unnecessary and one of the oldest tropes in sitcom. Television’s a business. A long time ago the business settled on a season of at least 22 episodes. Storytellers don’t always have enough story for 22 half-ours, or 24, or 26. No, storytellers sometimes don’t have enough story for 13 episodes. HIMYM hasn’t had enough story for the last four seasons, but here we are. I guarantee an aspiring writer submitting this as a spec script to an agent or a show would get rejected. The lack of originality is not surprising but expected.

The A story is full of sitcom situations you’ve seen many times before. The writing makes the audience aware. Before Ted, Barney and Robin figure out elaborate ways to get into Lily’s room to delete the text message, Marshall tries to tell the three they can enter through the room door because it is broken. The audience’s time needs wasting, though; so Ted sneaks in through the window, looking like the ghost of room 13 in silhouette. Yes, Lily’s sleeping in the haunted room. The story of the haunted room is horrible and not worth recapping. Barney sneaks through the air vents. Robin sneaks in with the assistance of room service. Lily pays no mind to the entrances. She’s sitcom-dumb in these scenes. She disappears to complain to the manager about her room service bill. Not too long ago, the show celebrated Lily’s friendship with Lily. Robin has no problem giving Lily and Marshall a $400 bill. I don’t like these characters.

Lily keeps her phone with her, which makes sense. People keep their phones in a pocket. Unfortunately, the trio concoct new ways to get the phone back. The conceit connecting the three is Marshall’s use of the ‘no questions asked’ favor. ‘No questions asked’ is a thing mid-thirty year olds do in HIMYM. Ted owes Marshall for Marshall helping him out of a mailbox without asking questions; Barney owes Marshall for signing him out of a hospital without asking questions; Robin owes Marshall for helping her escape something stupid. Ted uses the ‘no questions asked’ thing on Lily when she’s about to read Marshall’s text message. Since she’s a sitcom character, she obeys. Ted sighs and celebrates with Farhampton’s smoothest whiskey. Marshall, of course, realizes why he shouldn’t keep Lily in the dark abut the judgeship. For their entire relationship he never used ‘no questions asked’ with her. So, Marshall tells her. Lily threatens to kill him. The end. Jason Segel played Marshall’s slow realization in the third act well. The scene worked well, but then HIMYM ruined it by asking Alyson Hanigan to mail in her reaction and adding sound effects to her reaction. Lily’s threat, like Barney’s outburst against his family earlier this season, will get forgotten by November sweeps (which is next week).
Robin and Barney realized a central issue in their relationship and impending marriage: communication. Neither communicates. Barney and Robin act without thinking about each other. Robin’s bothered by that communication problem. HIMYM’s usually forcing problems in a relationship, but communication problems is a natural part of relationships. Robin’s feelings about communication connects her with the audience for the first time this season. Barney doesn’t care until the third act when he becomes a functional character and not a collection of tired punchlines.

Barney and Robin communicate and form a plan for taking Lily’s cell phone and deleting the text message from Daphne. The resolution is hollow. Barney and Robin don’t address the real issue, but I guess the amount of episodes lefts means the show will return to this plot point. Perhaps their communication about the form shows they’ll communicate together. Of course, Robin’s going to sneak out a window on her wedding day. Relationship fears haven’t been quelled by Marshall’s phone project.

Next week’s preview promises a return to more substantial storytelling—that is if you’re craving more Robin/Loretta drama. The Mother is going to return next week. I hope the mother can salvage the season. It’s a trainwreck right now.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Vampire Diaries "For Whom the Bell Tolls" Review

The Vampire Diaries excels at moving farewell scenes. Bonnie’s farewell scene is different from other farewell scenes. Kat Graham’s still a regular. Bonnie’s not going anywhere. Death means absolutely nothing on this show. Bonnie means very much to Caroline, Elena, Matt, Jeremy, and old Stefan. Bonnie’s continued presence didn’t affect the scene negatively. I felt nearly as much watching the scene as I felt watching the memorial scene from season four’s “Memorial.” I’ve experienced the death of a friend. Scenes like the penultimate ring-bell for Bonnie scene is a rarity in The Vampire Diaries. The pacing is blistering, the plotting rapid, so scenes of reflection and remembrance happen, but not for 3-5 minutes like tonight. The writing’s really, really moving sometimes.

Remembrance day is being celebrated in Mystic Falls. The townspeople didn’t gather for a party, but they did gather for alcohol and hanging out at the cemeteries. Remembrance day is appropriate for what happens in the episode. Stefan can’t remember his past or the people in his present. Matt can’t remember what happens to him when he passes out. Bonnie’s actually remembered and grieved. The audience remembers that professors are evil in TVD’s Virginia. Memory’s complicated. Remembering is joyful, sad, painful, nostalgic, but it’s usually never easy. Whenever one remembers something happy or sad, one feels a pang. So it is with Stefan. Stefan’s mind was wiped by Quetsyah. His diaries tell him who he is, but he doesn’t feel who he is. Elena reveals she’s with Damon a second before they kiss on a beautiful sun-drenched day. Stefan doesn’t receive the news well.

The fear throughout the episode is Stefan engaging with his Ripper self. Bonnie’s help is essential for Stefan’s well-being and any extra in the episode. Damon distracts Stefan from the hunger with stories of their past. Stefan’s floored by the knowledge he’s killed his own father and ripped through people but a little littering is beyond reproach. Damon shows Stefan a good time. They drink, they crash cars, and Damon introduces him to Elena again. The sparks fly between the old flames. Nina Dobrev’s chemistry with Paul Wesley is amazing. I’d love to read the pages for their trip down memory lane to see how much more Wesley and Dobrev gave the material through their magnetic chemistry. What works for the characters is more than the words on the page, the blocking, and the language. It’s the body language, the expressions on their face, the light and twinkle in their eyes. I get the intoxicating effect of Elena on Stefan and Stefan on Elena because it’s intoxicating watching the two.

Stefan and Elena’s relationship always worked better than Elena and Damon. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” went back to their roots. Elena remembered Stefan bringing her atop a ferris wheel, flying her up actually, the day before the nonsense with Klaus. Elena tried to re-create how they met to help jar Stefan’s memories. Stefan’s memories didn’t jar, but he felt the energy in their connection, the pulse of their blood when together, and felt like he knew why he wasn’t a bad man with her. Elena’s effect on him is tranquil, divine, of the stuff of Elizabethan poets. Pre-amnesia Stefan’s nobility, honor, respect made him respectful of Elena’s choice. Amnesia Stefan thinks the situation sucks, feels lousy, and is completely not okay. His own brother stole his girlfriend. Stefan doesn’t go on a ripper tear. Caroline calms him down with her memories of him resisting the edge. Her memories of his resistance helps him make a healthy choice. He leaves his house, leaves his brother and ex-girlfriend behind, and decides to rely on Caroline. He trusts her. Paul Wesley and Candace Accola are great together too. I don’t like the history of amnesia in television shows. Amnesia’s almost always a bad sign; however, Stefan’s well-adjusted with amnesia. He’s got a backbone. He’s not content being the good guy, the respectful guy. He’s not mean, he’s just not taking it, and he’s letting Damon and Elena know they did wasn’t cool.

Bonnie’s death eliminates her, as of now, as an option for helping return Stefan his memories. I’m sure she will be soon. Next week’s previews indicate a new plan for Bonnie and Stefan, Jeremy’s moment of truth about Bonnie’s a significant moment in the series and the season. Bonnie’s absence shows how essential she is to the group. The writers’ decision to keep her behind the veil and on the other side is very welcome. I didn’t care for Bonnie swearing Jeremy keep her secret. Kat Graham stood around and smiled for three episodes. In this episode, she watched McQueen’s work-out--McQueen’s resembling a Greek warrior now. Magic always annoys me in any genre show. Magic’s a cop-out, a convenience, a deus-ex-machina. I dislike amnesia but I don’t want it resolved with magic. It will be, of course. Magic’s fundamental to the show. Right now, though, the absence of magic is refreshing.

Matt’s storyline won’t disappear like Stefan’s memory. The dude, Gregor, threatened Matt via video camera. Matt set up cameras around his house, all HD. I guess Rebekah and him got a bunch of money during their European vacation (Matt’s got HD cameras). I would’ve loved a scene in which he’s watching Paranormal Activity when the light goes off about doing the same. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” leaves out Silas and Nadia, which was nice after last week’s mythology-heavy and exposition-filled romp.

The title “For Whom the Bell Tolls” is taken from the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same title. Hemingway took ‘for whom the bell tolls’ from a John Donne poem, “Meditation XVII.” Donne composed it while ‘convalescing during a nearly fatal illness.’ Two lines stand out for its possible connection to the episode, specifically the penultimate scene of goodbye and grief for Bonnie. Elena sobs; it hurts her to think why her friend died. Caroline can’t think about what happened to her friend, because she doesn’t want to cry for days. Bonnie, through Jeremy, tells them what she wishes for them: happiness and normalcy. John Donne wrote, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am in involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” I think that was the root of Bonnie’s reluctance to share what happened to her. She didn’t want to see her death diminish her friends; alas, death does diminish.

Other Thoughts:

-How long is Michael Trevino back for? Did he even get a line? His name’s been in the credits. I don’t know. Caroline’s soon-to-be vampire friend got killed by the evil professor. Ah, evil professors.

-TVD’s writers must’ve fallen hard for Orphan Black.

-Damon’s come a long way. He hugged Jeremy instead of killing him. He comforted Elena. He expressed a bit of regret for killing Uncle Zack. Ian Somerhalder’s embrace of Nina in the intense ‘Elena’s freaking and sobbing over Bonnie’ scene was the best hug I’ve seen given on television in 2013.

-Brett Matthews & Elisabeth R. Finch wrote the episode. Michael Allowitz directed it. Fun fact about Brett Matthews: he’s a former assistant of Joss Whedon. Michael Allowitz was the first assistant director for Cruel Intentions!

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.