Saturday, January 30, 2016

Grimm "Eve of Destruction" Review

Grimm definitely does not ‘work’ all the time. Often, it’s a messy show with inconsistent pacing, strange plot choices, odd structures, and pieces the writers will ignore for months and months--for example, the Wesen council. The Wesen Council seemed like the lite version of The Watcher’s Council in Buffy. Buffy’s Watcher’s Council made her, Buffy, unhappy. They were a stuffy, rigid council more concerned about themselves than the one girl saving the world. The Wesen Council was similarly useless. Rosalee reached out to the council after the Black Claws ambush on the gang. Their response? We’ll get back to you. The council never does, because a member of Black Claws murders the entire group during a meeting about how to contain the threat of Black Claws. The elimination of the council will create a ripple effect through the wesen community. Lucien seemed to clarify that his group wants the world to know about wesen. No wesen council will probably result in chaos, or nothing. One never knows with Grimm. The writers, really, wrote off a part of the show that added nothing. Whatever shallow drama the wesen council added to the show was not dramatically interesting. The wesen council appeared and it was like, “Oh? Britta’s in this…”

Black Claws laid waste to the council. They killed Xavier. Nick and Hank learned the ideology of the group spread into suburban families after asking Billie’s parents questions about her whereabouts. Her parents believe she’s living a courageous life of convictions. Nick, Hank, Monroe, and Rosalee try to make sense of recent developments. They’re all reactive, vulnerable, and unsure. Trubel knows more than they, as does Meisner, and none can believe Juliette came back from the dead as an even more destructive force. For Nick, he needs clarity about Juliette (who and what she is). The woman was responsible for the death of his mother, and the near destruction of the people closest to him. Juliette/Eve is in character rehabilitation mode. Meisner gave her the name Eve to symbolize a new beginning. Instead of biting from the forbidden apple, Juliette/Eve will atone for ever touching, let alone biting and mauling, the forbidden apple.

The appearance of Eve upset Nick’s new domestic order. Adalind worried about the return of Juliette, you know, because of the wanting to murder her thing. Adalind and Nick have adapted to a peaceful domestic situation with Kelly. They meaningfully kissed for the first time (no one acted like the other; no one was forced to do it to save someone else). Adalind apologized for what she did to Nick. After they kissed they thought about the implications of being together. Both decided waiting until the craziness subsided before doing anything. By then, Meisner will likely have brought Diana back to Adalind, and Juliette may be redeemed. This whole storyline—the different parts cohering together eventually--could be a disaster.

Nick’s meeting with Eve had that underwhelming quality specific to Grimm. The writers build to climatic meetings or fights  or revelations, but the scene itself is a dud. Nick/Eve was a dud. Juliette/Eve sits stone-faced, offers a little about her purpose, and then stands to kill one of the leaders of Black Claws. Nick asked about what she did before he thought she died to which Eve met him stone-faced. Eve returned to her cage. She removed her wig. The last shot of the episode was of her eyes to show how precarious the divide is between her two selves.

“Eve of Destruction” established, for the third time this season, the Black Claws threat. The difference this time, I suppose, was becoming aware of how the good guys planned to combat the threat. Black Claws revealing that wesen live among ordinary humans seems the initial agenda of the group. I assume they’ll want to take over the world, too.

Other Thoughts:

-It was a decent return for Grimm. NBC only aired 6 episodes during the fall. Will NBC air an uninterrupted stretch through May?

-Renard and Wu fell off the narrative after the teaser. Renard helped question Xavier. Wu disappeared.

-Thomas Ian Griffith wrote the episode. John Behring directed.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Vampire Diaries "Hell Is Other People" Review

The title of tonight’s Vampire Diaries episode comes from Jean-Paul Sarte’s existential play No Exit, which involves four characters existing in a room together. The last line of the play is, “Hell is other people.” Existentialism’s in again (existentialism AND nihilism). Existentialism’s so cool that people don’t know what it is when ascribing it to writers. One may peruse Reddit’s Book page and find the transcendentalist writers of the 1870s described as existentialist writers. Damon’s plight isn’t an existentialist or an absurd journey. Once he solves the riddle of his personal hell, he’ll return to Mystic Falls, which means he works towards an end. Damon works towards emotional catharsis. When he experienced the catharsis, the emotional drove him into a madness in, presumably, present day Mystic Falls.

Damon would need a puzzling personal hell to make him feel something. Seven seasons of The Vampire Diaries defined Damon as the erratic reactor to life, which Stefan contrasts because he’s the soul and heart, and Damon’s inability to deal with emotions led to incredible amounts of carnage in Mystic Falls. He murdered Jeremy 47 times, and he countlessly threatened everyone in Mystic Falls if something stopped or interfered with what he wanted. Lily took from Damon Elena. Elena changed Damon. She softened him. I wondered how the writers would tell Damon’s personal hell story without Elena. The trick is—and it’s not a trick—was to center his catharsis around his mother. The first act of season seven belonged to their turbulent relationship. She became a vampire after the TB and never visited. Lily never left her abusive husband. She started a new family with the Heretics, and on and on and on. Lily died. Damon declined to tell her he loved her, or anything emotionally substantial. He told, essentially, that she this to herself.

His personal hell was a loop until he solved what he needed to solve. A letter from Stefan sent him during the war served as the inciting incident. Stefan struggled with Valerie’s departure, the death of his mother, and life. Damon thought seeing his brother at home would restore him to present day Mystic Falls. He briefly came back to Mystic Falls each time, if he failed, which was a nifty twist the show once owned every episode. He needed leave from the Confederate army to reach home, which forced him to volunteer to bring deserters back to camp. Each time he went to the house, everyone but him and Henry died. Damon first killed that day. He covered the crime up. Henry and Damon never spoke of it again. The murder represented his first instance of repressing what he felt. His face expressed horror and shock, but he repressed what he felt until he didn’t think of it again. Lily appeared in the basement after the first time it happened to tell him he needed to embrace the pain and the feelings. Over and over and over again he re-lives the day at the house where everyone ends up dead, no matter how differently he changes his approach. Whatever happened, happened.

Of course, his hell’s full of imaginary people, imaginary places—real people and real places transformed into symbols and visions of what goes on inside Damon so that he knows it and so that when he doesn’t know that someone he trusts and loves tells it to him. Damon broke the deserters’ house loop by throwing a grenade at his camp. He wandered the southern countryside, found his house with Lily awaiting him, and then conversed with Stefan about what pain he, Damon, needs to embrace and feel: his pain because of how he left things with their mother as she lay dying. Stefan forced the feelings out of him in the basement of their house as their father beat Lily to death. Lily’s blood poured through the wooden floor onto Damon’s face, which was wonderfully done by director Deborah Chow, and Damon admitted who he wanted right after everything went wrong in the home of the union sympathizers: his mother. He lost her without telling her that he loved her.

The scene shifted to the battlefield where Lily lay dying. Damon told her over again why he hated her: for giving Kai the sleeping beauty coma idea for Elena, for what she didn’t do as a mother and wife, for never coming back; and he told her he loved her. Yes, Damon experienced the moment of emotional catharsis; he returned to Mystic Falls; and he killed Stefan, Matt, Caroline, and Bonnie to get back and finish what he couldn’t in his personal hell. Again, TVD executed a nifty ‘twist’, though I suspect the twist will be that he’s at the next stage of his journey through his personal hell, or that the second act of season seven’s entirely about the brothers’ respective personal hells.

It’s rare that a show can kill off with the main characters without killing them off in an effective way. Buffy did it in “The Wish” and ANGEL did it in “Time Bomb.” I think TVD accomplished it in “Hell Is Other People.” Damon, convinced he screwed up the riddle/puzzle, tried to reset. It didn’t reset, and now everyone he loves is dead. Caroline, in Damon’s personal hell, foreshadowed it by telling Damon they brought him back first because they thought the longer he stayed in his hell the less human he’d be, meaning he’d kill Bonnie to bring Elena back—except this time he kills everyone to bring his mother back.

“Hell is Other People” was a pleasant surprise and a good start to the second act of the season. It was the most imaginative and daring episode of season seven. So much of early season seven was a drag. I think a stretch of episodes that blurs the line between what’s real and what’s not would be good. The episode title, as I already mentioned, comes from a Sarte play. The writers should give a tiny nod to Flann O’Brien’s fantastical novel about a murderer being transported to a surreal hell.

Other Thoughts:

-I forgot why Alaric wasn’t in the episode, in any of the planes of existence or non-existence. What a busy life that man leads.

-Matt’s mostly a fictive piece of Damon’s unlife, I think. I don’t anything but the experience is real, whatever real means. Unfortunately, we saw nothing of Matt’s badass vampire fighting army.

-No flash-forwards either. Perhaps, when Damon and Stefan wake up, it’ll have been three years. Stefan will wake first. He’ll find Damon in that coffin. Or not. I guess season seven’s a narrative puzzle like the hell-worlds.

-Tonight marked The Vampire Diaries’ first Friday night airing. Julie Plec told reporters that the show would continue until Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder decide they don’t want to continue. The CW could cancel the series before any of that. Julie Plec does seem not worried about the show ending after this season. Could The Vampire Diaries never end like Supernatural? Will I be 35 and still writing these reviews? Eh, I’ll do it. Let me write, Julie Plec, if you’re reading, the 14th episode of season 9.

-Holly Brix & Neil Reynolds wrote the episode. Deborah Chow directed.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The X Files "My Struggle" & "Founder's Mutation" Review

“My Struggle”

A Chris Carter mythology episode began the tenth season of The X Files. Well, that’s an audible heavy sigh.

Some have waited eight years (or fourteen years) for something new from The X Files. Fans wanted another movie. Kumail Nanjiani, the voice of The X Files fandom, and also a successful actor, comedian, and podcaster, wanted a movie. He and the fans, instead, received a new mini-season helped by the nostalgia craze gripping popular culture. We’re less than one month from the premiere of Netflix’s bad idea, Fuller House, and if you look around the rest of popular culture you will see that everything old is new again. I waited 5 or 6 months for new episodes. “Waited” is a poor word to describe it. I knew new X Files episodes would air in 2016. If I finished the series without any new X Files to come, I would have been contentedly indifferent about it. I chose to watch the series because Tim Minear and David Greenwalt began their careers under Carter’s maniacal eye. I preferred to watch their episodes in context of the series. Thus began a year-plus of watching The X Files. Knowing the series would continue in January 2016 motivated me to continue watching during parts of the series where, otherwise, I’d stop.

“My Struggle” began a new mythology, which seemed less new mythology than it did mythology I either thought existed or imagined. None of Mulder’s wild epiphanies in the episode took me unawares. I never understood the mythology clearly, though. Joel McHale’s Tad O’Malley (shades of Cary Elwes’ bland as Greek yogurt Brad Folmder) delivered the crowning monologue of the series which tied in current American issues with geopolitical issues into the existing man-made alien conspiracy. My friend Diddy liked to tell me, while I watched the series, about fan frustration with the series’ later seasons, “It’s hard to pay off a conspiracy.” I probably severely botched his eloquent remark about the problem of the conspiracy as a be-all-end-all of the series. The gist of Tad’s monologue: the elitist men want to take over the world.

Mulder, depressed for years after the second movie, lost Scully because of his depression. It’s a raw wound for both. Scully thought he wanted her to see him with Sveta. A.D. Skinner brought them together after Tad asked to meet them. A whirlwind of clunky exposition followed. Sveta might as well been named Plot/Exposition Device. She read Scully’s mind, which told new viewers about Scully’s failed marriage and about their son, William. Mulder delivered a speech to the audience about his history with The X Files. I expected the voiceover to become a scene in which a crazed bearded Mulder telling a group of kids at the park about the alien conspiracy while he fed geese. Chris Carter should’ve went at the story without any of the exposition niceties. FOX would never allow that, because network executives feels it necessary to continue holding the viewers’ hands despite the transformative TV landscape. The mission statement scene of the show—Mulder reminding Scully of what he sacrificed for The X Files and why he needs to prove this NEW conspiracy—seemed half-assed by David Duchovony as if he went through the motions for the scene because the scene went through the motions of the series. Fans know, Chris Carter, what The X Files meant to Mulder and how it affected Dana.

The critics tweeted together like a ravenous pack of sugar gliders near the end of TCA to let people know “My Struggle” was a terrible episode. Thanks, TV critics. “My Struggle” isn’t a terrible episode. The X Files barely made a terrible episode in nine seasons (the exception is the Kathy Griffin episode, and I didn’t like the Chris Carter directed video game episode much). Carter had to reintroduce the characters, their motivations (he had to give Dana motivation for returning to the X files) the mythology, and the series for a potentially new audience (I’d bet a can of nickels on no one deciding to give this X Files show a chance, on a whim, after the NFC title game). It’s easier to tweet that the episode’s terrible than it is to do that. Carter did not help himself by writing a mythology episode. The mythology negatively affects the episode. Carter wrote the characters around the mythology. I mean he started with the mythology instead of with the characters. I have a sense of where they are in their lives, but I think upcoming episodes will support the characters much more than they’ll support the mythology. And, of course, one could argue the mythology’s so much a part of the Mulder character, and to an extent the Scully character, but it’d be better if they were investigating something completely different.

“Founder’s Mutation”

TV critics did not like “Founder’s Mutation” either. In their barrage of negative X Files tweets, TV critics described the episode as ‘not terrible, but bad’ which improves upon the terrible “My Struggle.” Is “Founder’s Mutation” a not terrible but bad episode? It’s not great. Perhaps the brevity of the season overstuffed the episode. Chris Carter and his writers used to write 22-26 episodes per season. Season 10 has only six episodes. Anyway, it began as a seemingly stand-alone episode, but it became more and more about their lost William. The inciting incident of the episode—a suicide—led Mulder and Scully to investigate a center of research for children afflicted with rare genetic disorders. The Founder, Dr. Goldman, experimented on children. (Dr. Goldman and his research returns Mulder and Scully to Scully’s own pregnancy.) Scully directly asked The Founder whether or not he used alien DNA in his experiments. The doctor declined to answer.

Dana imagined a life with William. She took him to school. She nursed him after he broke his arm. She worried about him as all mothers worry about their children, and she worried he became half-alien when he hit puberty. William-as-a-puberty-alien made me laugh. Likewise, Mulder, at the end of the episode, imagined life with William. They watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mulder wondered how his son would continue his search for extraterrestrial life and the truth. They set off rockets. William declared he’d “go up there” one day.” Mulder then had a nightmarish imagining of his aliens abducting his son. Between their personal daydreams of raising William is the question of whether or not they did the right thing for him. Dana gave him up to protect him. Mulder barely saw him (because Duchovony was a part-timer and barely interested in the series). They’re sadder and regretful without him. The last image of the episode is of Mulder sitting alone in his kitchen staring at a picture of baby William. In a dreamland he could’ve lived a happy, peaceful life with Dana and William.

The case of the week ties Mulder/Dana/William with Goldman/Goldman’s wife/their kids. The children have alien DNA. The son caused the disruptive, piercing, sharp noise—his way of communicating ‘find her’ about his sister to Sanjay. Their father kept her as an experiment. Her brother freed her, as their mother cut into her uterus to free him. The case of the week story’s not totally coherent. It suffered from the high number of beats of the episode and the reduced runtime of episodes. TV runs 3-4 shorter now than it did when The X Files ended. The teenage character appeared three times early in the episode. He disappeared midway until Mulder saw a custodial work in the hospital hallway and remembered the other custodial worker. He returned. Mulder grasped that he could not control his ability, which is a tropey, but interesting, character thing to explore; but then he’s a typical terrible teenage character, and he disappears again after killing his father.

“Founder’s Mutation” was an okay/average episode of The X Files. A person’s enjoyment of the episode may entirely hinge on his or his feelings about William.

Through two episodes, I’d say—and I’ll write—The X Files is as X Files as ever.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Arrow "Blood Debts" Review

Photo: CW
Arrow started season four with a flash-forward six months in the future. Oliver stood by a fresh grave. Barry joined him. They spoke in vague language about revenge. No one knew who died, why it affected Oliver, why no one stood with Oliver (besides the obvious fact that doing so would ruin the surprise of who’s in the grave), and the first part of the season didn’t return to the grave. “Blood Debts” opened at the grave, four months from now. The intent, at first, seemed to be ‘make the audience think Felicity died.’ Darhk’s ghosts shot up Oliver’s and Felicity’s car immediately after he proposed and she said yes. The show wouldn’t kill her, because not enough time passed for the grave scene to work. The wound needed to matter, though; thus, Felicity can’t walk after the shooting. The bullet paralyzed her. Oliver comes closer to his season one ‘kill anyone’ self than he has since he decided to change his ways of delivering justice to those that failed his city. Oliver’s so consumed with the blood debt that he does not visit Felicity until after her surgery. He freed Machin. He nearly killed a ghost. Laurel reminded him what Machin’s capable of, and Oliver justified it by citing Machin’s mutual desire for revenge against Damien Darhk.

The episode ended with the continuation of the grave scene. In the car with the tear-stained face of Felicity, she tells him that she needs to kill him. Oliver agrees. A great big unexpected twist may loom. Darhk didn’t appear until late in the episode—to defend his wife and daughter from Machin—and when he did he spared Oliver’s life because Oliver saved his family from a fiery death. Diggle, Laurel, and Lance reminded Oliver how his journey from killer to mayoral candidate (not in those words). Oliver’s a lite CW version of Hamlet. Does he act or does he not? By acting will he lose his soul or will he lose everyone around him? Supposing he doesn’t act when he has the chance, when he and Darhk fight after Darhk’s promise not to kill him for a few weeks, and he costs the life or lives of people him and Felicity love, one may read Felicity’s words as not only sadness but deep rage, the kind of rage one only conveys in a slow, monotonous utterance. Oliver screwed up somewhere, and it cost someone more than his or her ability to walk.

“Blood Debts” continually circles where Oliver was and where he is. The question seemed to be “What will it take for Oliver to kill?” Someone hurting Felicity is the what. It’s a no-brainer. Their first scene together after her surgery’s really sweet. Oliver showed his devotion in a look after Felicity thought her paralysis meant he no longer wanted to marry her. The ring, which he (did he?) put on her finger, acted as the symbolic pact. The episode raced through scenes. The writing served a lot of different parts of season four’s stories. Amazingly, the writers found a spot for Thea and Alex. Diggle beat the nonsense out of his brother, worked through his complicated history with him, and began reconciling with him through a card game, the same one they played together as children, when they were free from the violence of the world. Lance told Laurel about him and Felicity’s mother. Thea had to deal with the consequences of her blood lust again via Machin. Plus, the flashback stuff continued.

The episode was a typical Arrow episode. Good fight choreography. A clear threat. The group worked and worked leads til they found something. Between the action was decent scenes of character development. And it pushed the season forward.

Season four’s been a better season than the wreck of season three. Season three had two of the worst episodes I’ve seen in TV. I don’t think the show will reach the peak of season two. Some weeks I think, “Well, I’ve had enough Arrow.” Since I stopped writing about the show weekly, nearly every dead character returned to life, and everyone’s part of the vigilante crew. Stakes don’t exist. It’s silly how many characters returned from the dead. I continue to watch for the characters. Oliver’s still a well-drawn hero. Stephen Amell’s fantastic playing him. I care about Felicity, Diggle, and Thea. I wonder how the gang will stop Damien Darhk. He seems unstoppable. Slade and Ra’s seemed unstoppable, too, until Oliver stopped both. The writers will conclude the story of season four, unlike Marvel, which seems to tell stories only to introduce more stories without resolving the initial story because the initial story will continue until the sun explodes.

I think 22 or 23 episodes is too much for a single season of Arrow, but Mark Pedowitz is NOT looking at TV With The Foot for tips regarding how to run his network. Arrow definitely has weaknesses. Its plotting gets wonky. Marc Guggenheim answers weekly fan outrage on his Tumblr page. Why? Why do that, Marc Guggenheim? Arrow, more recently, displayed a bit of the poor habits of ABC’s atrocious superhero show, No Ordinary Family, which boasted the talents of Guggenheim and Berlanti. Arrow, like a growing number of shows, lacks individual identity episode-to-episode. The writers force characters into situations without doing the work. They half-assed Laurel becoming Black Canary. (I know it’s an old criticism). Arrow used to stand out among the superhero shows. As more and more and more and more superhero shows come out Arrow more and more becomes another face in the crowd. I like the show some weeks, and I forget why I liked the show other weeks.

Essentially, it’s an inconsistent show (somewhat like this review!). I think it stems from the haphazard writing. Network TV shows will never have meticulous planning of cable shows or streaming shows. Plus, the creative team’s thinking of two other shows all the while, sustaining a franchise, and an entire universe. Rumor was the writers had no idea who was in the grave when they wrote the scene in June or July and when they shot it. Certain writers produce great work when they write off-the-cuff, when they write themselves into corners, and certain other writers do not. Arrow suffers more than not from it.

The central arc works well. Oliver’s increasingly personal war with Damien Darhk’s solid and focused. Diggle’s arc with Andrew has worked. It’s the rest of the parts that aren’t that great.

Other Thoughts:

-On the day At The Drive-In announced a world tour and new music, I thought I'd match it by writing an Arrow review. I haven't written about Arrow in a year and a half. 

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.