Sunday, May 18, 2014

Game of Thrones "Mockingbird" Review

“Mockingbird” may’ve been the kindest episode in the history of Game of Thrones. The episode’s kindness is tinged with brutality, uncomfortable truths, murder, but kindness lasts in every scene. Westeros is a truly shitty place to live. Well, the south may have its advantages. King’s Landing and northward, though, is nearly complete shit. Arya and The Hound wandered into the yard of a homeowner. Arya wonders about soldiers inside the house. The Hound walks forward, evidently unconcerned about soldiers. Sitting up, supported by a solid object, is a man recently stabbed in the gut. When asked why he hasn’t ended his suffering already, he responds, “Habit, I guess.” There’s a sweetly sad conversation between the dying man and Arya Stark. Arya reads into his words meaning about the nothing of nothing keeping one going even when that something is painful. She tells him her secret that she’s a Stark child, and the man doesn’t know the Starks, mistaking The Hound for her father. The scene shows a merciful kindness in two ways: Arya’s conversation with him, and The Hound mercifully ending his suffering with a stab through the heart. The scene also shows the wide effects of the war. The viewer follows many characters in many places, but each character in each place has a personal stake (or had) in the war of the five kings. Arya’s and The Hound’s meeting with the dying man shows that people without any clue about the houses and the conflicts pay a very final price regardless.

The episode doesn’t continue to introduce anonymous characters living in war-torn lands. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss return to the personal internal world of Westeros where the names of Stark, Lannister, etc., are well known. Tyrion needs a champion for his trial-by-combat after Jaime and Bronn pass on the opportunity. Jaime can’t fight with his left hand, and Cersei bought Bronn with a bride and land. Tyrion explained his actions during the trial to Jaime after Jaime wonders why his brother decided against saving his own life with admittance of guilt. Tyrion reminds his brother of his innocence, and of his own brother’s complicity in far worse crimes than the one Tyrion’s accused of, to which Jaime expresses hurt and a re-phrasing of his brother’s particular sentiments. Prince Oberyn visits Tyrion last, after Tyrion’s most trusted men left him for dead. Oberyn tells him a story of the time he met him, days after his birth. Stories traveled from Casterly Rock to Dorne about Tywin’s monster child. The camera fixes on Tyrion during the most stinging and searing parts of Oberyn’s memory. Tyrion had a red eye, a tale between his legs, two reproductive organs, and Cersei referred to her brother as the monster who killed his mother. Peter Dinklage never portrayed Tyrion better, with the sadness, tragedy, pain, and, also, the rigidity in his manner, the determination to not break from Oberyn’s terrible words from a terrible memory, the bitter knowledge that his sister will get what she wants because Cersei also gets what she wants. Oberyn wants something, too: justice for his family, and so he will champion for Tyrion against The Mountain. The groundswell of emotion that bubbled under Tyrion’s less-than-steely resolve bursts in a string of sounds mixing shock, surprise, and, of course, relief. Oberyn didn’t intend to further wound the already wounded Tyrion Lannister wth his memory; rather, he meant to show Tyrion someone in the world saw him as Tyrion sees himself, and that someone’s willing to fight for him, for the reasons already stated, and also because he’s not a monster. The viewer already has a fresh image of The Mountain in his or head during that scene. The Mountain disemboweled three men in 10 seconds. He’s the Lannister’s champion. Juxtaposed with The Mountain’s violence is Tyrion’s depth of thought, honesty of heart; but there’s an almost sinister quality to the beginning of the Oberyn/Tyrion scene: Tyrion’s covered in darkness, mostly on his left side, until the door opens, letting in light that lights the rest of him, suggesting that Oberyn may save him or that he’ll become that monster.

The following scene(s) synthesizes the central stuff of the episode. Sansa uses snow to build Winterfell. George R.R. Martin has not surpassed the descriptive beauty and power of Sansa’s solitary re-construction of Winterfell from her mind in the books. The show cannot hope to match the power of the written word painting the scene. Robin ruins Sansa’s solitary moment of reflection and tribute to her home. Sansa indulges the insane child by offering to include a moon door in Winterfell. Robin knocks down the tower, and then destroys her entire snow Winterfell with his feet because she told him he ruined it. Her kindness had a negative affect. Littlefinger approaches her after Robin leaves, crying, because Sansa slapped him for his behavior. Littlefinger reflects on the idea of re-making what others have ruined by ruining what’s been made, or something like that. Littlefinger seems to make up anything to get to the moment he can kiss her with any sort of subtext, which he does, before pushing his bride out of the Eyrie, through the moon door. Lysa wanted to murder Sansa for daring to kiss her husband, the man she killed for, the man for whom she’d do anything. George R.R. Martin never really returned to the brilliance of that chapter in the books. It begins so beautifully in the snow and ends with the greatest plot twist in the entire books (which the show broke apart) that re-frames the entire series for the reader and, hopefully, for the viewer (the last 3 episodes).

Other Thoughts:

-I probably could’ve kept writing more and more paragraphs, but the night matures by the second. There’s a rare bright spot unmarred: Hot Pie gives Brienne a lead about Arya Stark, and then asks her to give Arya a pie in the shape of a direwolf. Fantastic.

-The most interesting scene of the episode—and I apologize for using the banal word ‘interesting’—was the one with Melisandre and Lady Selyse. The contrasts of the scene stood out. Melisandre bathing freely, sensual and sexy, while Lady Selyse stand far from her, unable for a second to be as free and sensual and sexy. Melisandre spoke to the Lady about the potions that trick men into seeing the truth. Each potion serves a purpose—to help a man with his virility or bravery. Melisandre points Selyse to the flames, free of tricky potions, explaining that she needn’t trick her mind to see. The scene cuts before Lady Selyse sees what Melisandre in the flames. Shireen will join them wherever they go next.

-David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wrote the episode. Alik Sakharov directed.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Grimm "Blond Ambition" Review

Grimm finales always build to the moment of crisis, which is not uncommon in season finales. TV shows want fans returning in the fall to find out what happened to their heroes left in peril. There are moments of crisis in “Blond Ambition.” There are life-and-death stakes like last year’s finale wherein Nick suffered zombie paralysis (was that it?) and attempted kidnapping. The effects of what happened to him—the dead eyes, clammy skin, and violent outbursts in bars; his role as murderer instead of detective tasked to find himself generated the early stories of the season. Here and there Nick experienced lingering effects, but it stopped. Wu had his nightmare experience. Trubel came to town. Monroe’s parents came to town. Adalind and the baby happened. These events aren’t listed chronologically. Adalind posed the greatest threat, but she only acted because Viktor suggested she return the favor of taking his powers from him. So, she does by seducing Nick.

Nick easily succumbs to Adalind’s seduction, because Adalind uses a spell and magic potions to become a mirror of Juliette. The mirror spell seems like a trope from bygone genre television; it had a certain nostalgia to it. Adalind tests her manipulated image with Renard, and with Juliette, to create confusion and misunderstanding. It works. Renard calls Juliette about stopping what already started. Juliette calls Adalind, because Adalind called Juliette about Renard’s behavior, to tell Adalind about Renard’s behavior. Grimm sometimes indulges in unnecessary scenes wherein characters exchange information the viewer witnessed seconds earlier. The point, of course, is to show Adalind’s satisfied reaction to the confusion she created. Two smart characters were powerless to see that Juliette’s been mirrored, which makes Nick more vulnerable, though those scenes were unnecessary. The act breaks, too, lack oomph. Adalind becoming Juliette again ended the second act, which already happened in the final scene of last week’s episode and the teaser of “Blond Ambition.”

The finale takes a little bit to move towards the delightful chaos at episode’s end. The first half of the episode concerns the wedding and Adalind’s slow moves. Monroe receives final approval from his father about his bride. Rosalee’s sister ruins her dress, but Monroe’s parents love Rosalee and choose to buy her a wonderfully expensive dress. Everyone makes a reason for why Nick needs to wear sunglasses when the minister asks why the best man will the best man wear sunglasses during the entire wedding. Nick’s friends along with Monroe’s family, and Rosalee’s sister, take whatever one said and builds upon that to create a coherent, sensible reasons for the shades. It’s like campers around a campfire when a counselor suggests they tell a story, so little Jon Jon starts with a hookable line about a Smores monster making its bi-annual appearance at Camp No-No. The made up story about the shades lacks imagination, but the delight is in the fumbled attempts to make it okay.

The shades, of course, become superfluous at the wedding because of Shade. Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt devised a way to delay Nick’s realization about what he lost through Nick conveniently forgetting the shades and having to borrow prescription sunglasses from Monroe’s father. The prescription sunglasses blur Nick’s vision. When the wedding guests freak out because of Trubel’s surprise appearance, Nick thinks he can’t see the woged people because of the glasses. Shade solved his problem. The antidote to losing his Grimm powers crashes to floor because the wedding guests turned into a punk rock crowd and collapsed upon Trubel, causing her to drop the bottle, which Renard explained would help Nick from something ‘very bad.’

Renard takes several bullets to the chest, shot by Weston Steward, which begins the madcap end to Grimm’s third season. Wu comes to the scene and begins investigating the scene, which leads to him and his partner discussing the ‘weird stuff’ that happens in and around Nick’s life. Alone, and wandering the house, Wu finds a book containing an illustration of the Aswang, which terrorized and terrified him, inducing near-insanity in him, and reducing him to a patient in a psychiatric hospital. Wu’s discovery sets up an exciting storyline for next season.  “Blond Ambition” set up other potentially wonderful and engaging storylines for next season.

That’s all one can really ask for with Grimm, right?

Other Thoughts:

-Nick and Trubel talked about living normally, which Nick dismissed. Now he has the chance. Juliette thought about ending the relationship after Adalind duped him. His life doesn’t mesh with what she wants. I’d like for next season to focus more on Nick as a more public Grimm figuring out how to make both his lives work, which has happened on a smaller scale. I don’t know.

-Jim Kouf & David Greenwalt wrote the episode. Norberto Barba directed.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Vampire Diaries "Home" Review

Death had long ceased as a threatening end to a character in The Vampire Diaries. Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec used surprising deaths to create a spectacular sense of the unexpected in the early seasons of The Vampire Diaries—those days when people swore that “No, no, it’s NOT Twilight on The CW.”  But every character died. Some died multiple times. What does a writer do when the ultimate stake loses meaning and power over the world? Undo it.

Season 5 of The Vampire Diaries marked the gang’s transition from high schoolers to collegians. Amazingly, college barely figured into the season. Professor Max came from the college, and, yes, the college had a long history of vampire experiments, but the Mystic Falls crew continued to not attend classes. Jeremy barely went to classes his senior year, responding to his sister’s and Damon’s concerns about his education that he lives in an insane town. That happened during a rather dreadful episode of The Vampire Diaries when Damon and Elena played house. In “Home,” Elena and Damon part forever, until the writers contrive a way to bring him back in the sixth season. “Home” brings together stuff. Silas returns to teach Bonnie the spell, and then leaves via black hole of oblivion. Liv finds a heart and risks death to help people she spent nearly her entire run trying to harm and/or kill because redemption. There were convenient bits of plotting re: Silas’ kindly return to help Bonnie so that he could return to the physical world and wreak havoc. The Travelers gather in the Grille because the Sheriff invites them where they enjoy free drinks, good times, and then death. Damon’s plan to kill them all with an explosion caused by a gas leak and his car running through the Grille to trigger the explosion seems like a flawless plan. All who die will come back. Not all can come back. There’s no narrative juice to all the favorite characters re-joining the physical world to smile, laugh, and enjoy life without any threats or heartache or loss. Damon can’t return; he misses the window. Sheriff Forbes didn’t seem to make it back. Bonnie’s Grams told her she ensured her daughter peace after she helps her friend. Peace takes the form of an enveloping light, descending from above to embrace her and Damon, Bonnie wants to know whether or not it’ll hurt. The blinding light, and the end of season five, interrupts Damon’s response. It goes: “I don’t—“

Elena sobs and clutches a wall to keep from falling to the ground in a heap. Damon says really sweet things to her, about what she means to him, and what he feels knowing she loved him when he died. Damon’s selfless act serves as atonement and redemption for what he’s done in his 100+ years on the earth, and his actions through season five. Season five was probably the worst season for the character, regressing to the worst iteration of the character. He responded to the break-up, done by Katherine, by killing Aaron. He killed Whitmores from the 50s onwards. One heroic act in television makes up for a string of bad, murderous decisions on The Vampire Diaries. All it took for Klaus to experience redemption and a love was his drawing of Caroline and a horse. So, yeah. The more frustrating aspect of their renewed separation, which follows several separations. There was the sire stuff in season 4 and then Elena’s ‘switch-off’ arc followed by the fustercluck of season five. Elena and Damon committed to each other in the last episodes of season five. The other side explodes, or whatever, after Damon can’t cross back over to the side. Forced separation. Heartbreak. Fans will cry, “What if?” Maybe Elena and Damon aren’t interesting together. Keeping them apart increases anticipation from the audience. The smart move would probably be to grant the characters happiness in the series finale. It’s way easier to keep characters apart together. TVD enjoyed a creative high during the heights of Stefan-and-Elena together. Perhaps there’s a reluctance to do the same with Elena and Damon. There’s also the post-modern awareness of Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder having broken up, but professional writers won’t sacrifice storytelling because of the personal lives of two cast members.

The strongest material in “Home” focused on the Salvatore brothers and their twinning reactions to each other’s death. Damon freaked out and made a plan. Ian played Damon’s reaction with a mixture of shock, panic, and determination—determination to get him back. Damon conveyed with a look what Stefan tells Caroline near the end of the episode after he returns and his brother does not. Silas made a crack about Stefan’s perpetual sadness. Stefan’s experienced a sad life. His Lexi sacrificed her future to stop Markos from returning, and his brother gave his life to get his back. The strongest relationship was never between Elena and Stefan or Elena and Damon; it’s Stefan and Damon. Stefan’s inaction showed his deep feeling for his brother. The scene contrasts the histrionics of Elena’s. It shows that the saddest things are sometimes felt without tears but with a quiet anguish too deep to articulate, to heartbreaking to rend in any way audible. Jeremy, unlike quiet, reflective Stefan, tries to raise the gods with his cries for Bonnie during his run through the woods to save her from death.

Ideally, the deaths of Bonnie and Damon would remain permanent, considering the purpose of “Home,” beyond the various finale things, was to make death matter again. Death won’t matter once they return from the infinite white beyond. “Home” wasn’t a bad season finale. It brought together some loose threads of the season. The writers broke up the season into three distinct acts, with bits of influencing the endgame. The writers never lack for plot. TVD proved in past seasons its strongest when the characters remain consistent. If the character work excels, all the other parts of the episode improve.

Other Thoughts:

-Enzo and Liv were great additions to the show this season. I liked Enzo’s friendship with Damon whenever the writers didn’t push the idea that Damon’s friendship with Enzo was the most important relationship in his life.

-I look forward to season six, especially with Matt Davis back as a series regular. Alaric is the greatest. You’ll find season six reviews right here in The Foot.

-Stefan and Caroline—together—will happen next season. Lexi couldn’t believe Stefan missed his dear connection with Caroline. Oh, TVD and its courtships.

-Matt Donovan had the greatest lines this season. Tonight’s one about blowing up the only place dumb enough to hire him and Jeremy was magnificent. Poor Matt Donovan wondered about the bliss of normality if he and Jeremy moved back to Mystic Falls with Travelers as the new neighbors. His sister had a most shitty end, too, awhile. That damn void will be revisited in season six. Too many worthwhile characters were sucked into it.

-Caroline Dries & Bryan Young wrote the episode. I missed the name of the director. Apologies.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Arrow "Unthinkable" Review

Arrow caught the wandering gaze of television critics and bloggers around mid-season when The CW sent out an advanced copy of an episode. Ever since the advanced copy hit the mailboxes of critics nationwide, Arrow became more part of the pop-cultural fabric. Discussions about ABC’s Marvel’s Agents of Shield would inevitably include comparisons to The CW’s Arrow, and how Marvel could not compare. Perhaps that’s why Arrow didn’t catch on with the general Internet public, and why it didn’t become a buzz-worthy or ‘trendy’ show until some critics started writing about it. The CW was the Gossip Girl channel. Folk couldn’t believe that the teenage melodrama channel boasted the best superhero series ever made. Indeed, believing and accepting is more prevalent here in the month of May, seeing that Entertainment Weekly named “Unthinkable” a must. The critical attention didn’t validate Arrow, of course. Arrow kicked ass in season 1. Season 2, as the best series do, as the best movies do, improved upon what came before.

Two main essential conflicts dominated the second season of Arrow. First was the conflict between Oliver and himself; the second was the conflict between Oliver and Slade. Their final conversation of the season, set in A.R.G.U.S.’ super maximum-security prison (located below the island), touches on the two essential conflicts. The two conflicts rode parallel lines until it reached the end point below the surface of the island where Oliver reminds Slade of his role in his, Oliver’s, development and transformation. Oliver wanted to become a hero instead of a killer. The Vigilante was the killer; the Arrow is the hero. A character only grows through conflict. Dan Harmon, creator of Community, reveres the monomyth. Essentially, a person should return to where he or she began, having changed. Oliver, of course, couldn’t become a hero because he wanted to. He needed to earn it. He needed to experience the dark night of the soul. That’s why a hero has his or her nemesis. The nemesis is the anti-thesis of the hero’s thesis, but together they form a synthesis that forms the next thesis.

Slade claims victory after Oliver, with the help of the League of Assassins, saves the city from the drone strike. Slade claimed victory while behind the bars in his cell, his physical purgatory (as Oliver calls it). Oliver calmly sits on a stool, listening to his deluded friend continue to delude himself by such concepts as winning and losing. Oliver doesn’t challenge those concepts or point out the arbitrariness of claiming ownership over one or the other. Slade saved Oliver’s life five years ago. Oliver would not have survived without his friend. His family would’ve never seen him again, and he never would’ve been able to love people and have friendships with people with Slade. Loyalty and friendship motivated Oliver to save his friend’s life on the submarine after Shado’s tragic death. The mirakura infected Slade with a deadly parasitic-like virus that eroded the mind and corroded the senses.  Both men were responsible for each other’s survival during their time together, but they each lost a lot because of what was borne between them in those early days on the island. So, both lost. Slade lost his soul and his Shado(w). Oliver lost his mother.

Oliver told Slade he didn’t kill him because of a weak will, but because of strength in his will. Slade promises to do all sorts of horrible things to the rest of his friends and family, unwilling to let Shado’s death go. Oliver thanked Slade for making him a hero. Felicity also aided Oliver’s ascent to true heroism. Slade posed a seemingly insurmountable to Oliver: endless strength and a personal vendetta. Until Felicity helped Oliver clear his mind and figure out a way to resolve the Slade problem without regressing, he’s ready to regress. Oliver’s “The Road Less Traveled” moment happens after Laurel’s taken, and Quentin wonders why the Arrow won’t kill to save a life, a good life, his daughter’s life. Why won’t he, indeed? Oliver thinks about the moment when his distorted globe led to his mother’s death, i.e. when he didn’t act before and wonders why he didn’t act. The times he didn’t act led to his mother’s death. So, he thinks he should kill Slade and end it. Felicity reminds him that he killed him before and nothing happened. Slade lost his eye but nothing more. Slade, then, almost broke Oliver’s life.

Felicity suggests beating Slade with their minds, because Slade’s really the one with distorted globe. Sane folk can outthink an insane man suffering from delusions and hallucinations. Oliver employs misdirection. The misdirection leads to Felicity jamming the cure into the neck of Slade’s. The way they get there involves love and playacting that probably set the hearts of shippers of Oliver and Felicity aflame. Later in the episode, on the shores of the island where Oliver learned to survive with Slade five years ago (now six, right), he and Felicity share meaningful looks, and then laugh before a question about how he learned to fly a plane sets up season three’s flashbacks that involves Amanda Waller and A.R.G.U.S.

Without Slade, Oliver wouldn’t have been made, as he is when he sits across from him. Without Oliver’s triumph and his continued existence on the planet, and the continued existence of his family and friends, Slade could not sit and stew and simmer in his cell, planning for the day he escapes and makes Oliver’s life a living hell again. A synthesis forms the next thesis.

Other Thoughts:

-Other happenings in the finale, of course, because it is the finale. I thought it more worthwhile to use the main body to write about the most important narrative of the season. Anyway, Sara did not die. She returned to the league of assassins with Nyssa. The character sort of faded away in the last four episodes.

-I dislike overt finale feeling in a season finale. Laurel had the worst line regarding what she learned this year. I shook my head. Quentin may die, and Laurel doesn’t like that. I assume he’ll survive. Quentin had a badass moment when he saved Nyssa’s life.

-Diggle’s going to become a father. I liked that Amanda used Lyla’s pregnancy as leverage. Arrow has its unapologetically soapy moments.

-Thea wore expensive leather pants after she decided to leave the city with her father, fed up by everyone in her life lying to her. I still adore Willa Holland, but her character needs more kick. Come on, writers: Laurel had a good arc this season. Find one for Thea this summer.

-Stephen Amell’s damn good. The scene when Oliver told Felicity he loved her was wonderfully underplayed. He’s basically as good and reliable as David Boreanaz was during ANGEL now.

-Marc Guggenheim & Andrew Kreisburg wrote the script. Greg Berlanti got the story credit. John Behring directed the shit out it.

-Terrific season. I tip my hat to the entire writing staff, the cast, the production crew, the post-production crew, the drivers, and everyone else responsible for season two. Everyone, enjoy your summers. Read a lot of books. Come back to The Foot tomorrow for Vampire finale fun.

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.