Friday, February 26, 2016

The Vampire Diaries "Moonlight on the Bayou" Review

Tyler Lockwood rarely figures in my favorite scene of an episode, but a first time exists for everything. Damon’s never-ending battle against himself, which has seen many shades and depictions throughout the series, reached a turning point in the locked cell with Tyler Lockwood. Eventually Damon cannot continue living as he does or expecting his friends to die for him. Tyler, during his werewolf transition, shouted that maybe ripping his throat out would be best for everyone because then no one would ever have to sacrifice himself or herself for him again. Something about Tyler Lockwood spoke to Damon, though. Bonnie brought the hand of Enzo to unlock the cell door, but Damon pleaded with her not to. Bonnie’s love for him motivated her to save him. It nearly killed her. Damon experienced an epiphany as he sat holding his best friend’s hand that he must become someone worth saving. He didn’t think it fair to ruin the lives of the people he loves most in his life for his unlovable life. Damon told her that tomorrow he’d spare them all from himself, which probably means Damon, in trying to free people from protecting him, will alienate Bonnie and Stefan more by selfishly desiccating himself next to Elena’s coffin. His intention is not to wake up until Elena does--even when attempting nobility and selflessness, he’ll piss off people.

The Armory imprisoned Damon and Bonnie in the armory. Enzo’s father founded the Armory, a new secret vampire-fighting group. Enzo worked with them to learn about his father. The loss of Lily motivated him to join the group that kidnapped and emotionally manipulated him. Enzo, forever lashing out against people because he didn’t have a family, tried quitting the group after he lost a hand and nearly killed his former best mate in the world and his future love. Of course, the leader of the Armory revealed to him the aforementioned information about his father as well as that she, the leader, is related to him. Enzo’s always been a drifter character, lacking central purpose and direction, and filling whatever plot hole the writers needed. The Armory is as limp and flat a group as the travelers.

They want to find Stefan so that they can eliminate The Huntress. The Huntress briefly appears to nearly kill Stefan twice, once in a gas station, and again near New Orleans. Stefan stopped in New Orleans for magic protection from The Huntress, provided for by one of Klaus’ New Orleans bars. Klaus freaked when he learned why Stefan fled Mystic Falls. Klaus adds more legitimacy to The Huntress’ street cred as badass vampire killer. If the most powerful vampire in all the land fears her then the audience should fear she’d one day kill Stefan Salvatore. Klaus kicked Stefan out of his city, but his conversation with Caroline changed his heart. He saved him from near phoenix stone hell fun. Afterwards, Klaus asked Stefan to let Caroline go and to free her from the burden of putting her life on hold for him, and then he asked Stefan to stay in New Orleans to continue the crossover event with The Originals (and to introduce him to a witch that may help him with his Rayna Cruz problem).

“Moonlight on the Bayou” belongs to Damon more than Stefan. Stefan’s story concluded in the latest Originals episode. Stefan’s time in New Orleans acts as a prologue, I guess. Him and Klaus drink, then Klaus threatened him, and then he saved him. He refused to give his blood as antidote in case Tyler bit Damon. Stefan wanted to leave by train to somewhere far from Rayna. “Moonlight on the Bayou” also is half-complete. The Damon stuff’s good, but Stefan’s story extends for another hour. In between is the introduction of the secret Armory group, which I had to remind myself was integral to the episode. Matt acted snippy with Valerie in reminding her she’s the reason he has no co-workers, and she fires back that she’s the reason for Stefan’s and Caroline’s safety. Matt relents and nods like she’s right, but Matt, three years from now, would shoot a vervain arrow in her neck. Mary Louise and Nora nearly brought unhealthy gas station food before the Armory shot them in the neck and took them away (presumably to use as backup bait for Rayna, though neither are marked; however, Rayna may hate every Heretic with the hot fire of Jermaine Jackson diss song and cares not whether she marked this or that vampire. I mean, we know she doesn’t care about killing unmarked vampires. She’ll kill any vampire that gets in her way of the marked one. The three year jump is coming in #716 or #717, I think. Maybe no one sees Nora and Mary Louise for another three years.) What I’m getting at is that the episode is scatter-shot, a transition episode for a transition episode, as well as a transition episode for a spinoff crossover event.

Other Thoughts:

-Where could Stefan travel by train from New Orleans? Let me count the ways. The Sunset Limited would take him from New Orleans to Los Angeles. He’d enjoy a near 3 day journey through the state of Texas. He could’ve met up with Caroline in Houston or San Antonio. Stefan could’ve taken the Crescent from New Orleans to Virginia, or the City of New Orleans to Memphis or Chicago or anywhere in between. Stefan, after The Originals nonsense, should travel to LA, compel himself a boat, and hang out on the water.

-Caroline and Alaric C story: keep newborn babies quiet in a public restaurant, as well as Caroline being unwilling to part from the babies. I’d wonder why Alaric and Caroline took them out in public before their vaccinations, but this is TVD and the babies are magic.

-Three years flash forward tease: Caroline asked for Klaus in New Orleans, but his bartender told her no one has seen him in three years. The intrigue.

-Caroline Dries & Brett Matthews wrote the episode. Jeffrey Hunt directed.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Grimm "Map of the Seven Knights" Review

The Keys, man. A long time has passed since The Keys were integral to the plot. Grimm used to introduce pieces of mythology in the first season and then never follow up. I usually make jokes about Grimm following up on a plot point ten seasons later because The Keys disappeared as a plot point. Well, now they’ve returned as a plot point. The Grimm gang will travel to the place of Anton Chekhov’s death to retrieve the last of the seven keys.

“Map of the Seven Knights” is steeped in history. The epigraph—“History is the nightmare from which I am trying to awake”--of the episode comes from James Joyce’s Ulysses.  Stephen Dedalus speaks the words to Mr. Deasey in the second chapter. Before their conversation, Stephen taught his class a history lesson about ancient history. Nabokov noted: “In the space of one moment, while a schoolboy pauses in blankness of mind, Stephen’s vivid thought evokes the torrent of history, shattered glass, falling walls, the livid flame of time. What’s left us then? Apparently the comfort of oblivion: ‘I forget the place, sir. 279 B.C.’ Though probably unintentional, it connects with what Monroe read to Rosalee about the Byzantine Empire. James Joyce, in his final novel, Finnegans Wake, structured history as a circle, like a river, based off Vico’s theory of history. Rosalee remarked that what happened to the Byzantine Empire seems similar to Black Claw’s plan. Monroe replied, “Only things that changed are the names.”

Tyrannical groups burn the books first. Book burning has a long history. People in pursuit burn the books that challenge their power. Black Claws wants to wipe the Grimms from history. Monroe’s Uncle Felix, an antiquarian book collector, appraised twenty Grimm books. Black Claw pursued them from Prague to Leipzig, and Portland. The two goons from Black Claw murdered Felix in his hotel room. They took the shipping number for the books shipment, but Nick and Monroe stopped them before they could destroy the books. Black Claw would like to erase history and create a new one, while Nick, Monroe, and Rosalee want to preserve history and beat Black Claw by using history.

The episode builds, builds, and builds to the climatic Keys reveal in the last scene. The characters’ reactions mix shock and awe by the recovery of things they thought lost in the trailer fire. What was lost can be found. It’s a little late-Shakespearean, no? They Keys will unlock the treasure buried in the Black Forest as it has unlocked a central motivation for Black Claw, Nick’s crew, and Hadrian’s Wall. The writers connected past, present, and future in one scene—a rarity for a show that, more often than not, really, really slowly connects plot points.

Unlike “The Inheritance,” which was the last Grimm episode in which Grimm received a key, “Map of the Seven Knights” didn’t include quick flashbacks to remind the viewer of the keys and other dormant parts of the mythology (key figures and such). The show, seemingly, committed to its wacky story. It nears 100 episodes. NBC secured a sweet syndication deal. The network may not care to force accessibility. David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf probably decided that Grimm is what it is, that those watching always watched and don’t need the hand-holding of past episodes; or, Kouf and Greenwalt didn’t include quick reminder clips of mythology because Nick doesn’t know he’ll find three more keys. The show runners didn’t want to give the ficus away (despite telling interviewers during the summer about the return of the keys).

Uncle Felix offered another look at Monroe’s eccentric and idiosyncratic family. If not for Rosalee, Monroe, like Felix, would have devoted his life to clocks and clock-making Felix never married or bore children. He cared for books. The best part of the episode was Felix’s short monologue about protecting and preserving books. Felix’s death gives Monroe personal motivation in the fight against Black Claw. Protecting and preserving the Grimm books protects and preserves his Uncle Felix’s legacy.

Now, the fight with Black Claw means preserving and protecting history, the legacy of the Grimms, and life as everyone knows it.

Other Thoughts:

-That dinner scene in the beginning of the episode was written for the sake of exposition. It was sloppy exposition. “Does Adalind LIKE you?” “Shucks, I don’t know, Monroe.” “Do you LIKE her?” “Oh boy, oh boy, I don’t know!” “Hey, isn’t it weird you slept with both of them at the same time, with as one body?” Nick also complimented Adalind’s mothering.

-Example of flirty banter between Nick and Adalind, paraphrased: “I remember your birthday.” “Do you? Oh yeah, you did arrest me one time.” Nick should’ve followed it with a Pacey like caressing of her hair and the words, “I remember everything, Adalind.”

-More Eve debate: is she different from Juliette? Why does she remember what Juliette did? It’s a twist on character rehabilitation. Juliette will be back in the gang by season’s end.

-Jim Kouf wrote the episode. Aaron Lipstadt directed.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Vampire Diaries "This Woman's Work" Review

Rayna Cruz possesses the Slayer look and the Slayer back story, but also another kind of vampire hunter from Buffy’s sister show, ANGEL. Rayna Cruz’s backstory called to mind the tragic history of Holtz. Rayna lived with her hunter father. Her father taught her about the history of the brotherhood. Rayna wanted to become a hunter, but she couldn’t until a hunter died. Julian came to her village fifteen years later. Fifteen years meant her father could train her and teach her how to fight. A vampire hunter, though, needs more than physical strength in a fight. Rayna tried to bargain for her father’s life by warning Julian what would happen if he killed him. He’d go mad, and he’d try to kill himself. Julian compelled Rayna to do it. Her father understood. He shared parting words with her: “Don’t forget.” Rayna would not forget what she learned from him or what Julian made her do to him.

Over a century later she couldn’t kill Julian herself, but she could kill Beau. Low hanging fruit, yes, but killing him effectively terrified the other vampires. Showing what she did to vampires she marked increased the stakes when Stefan took a knife to the heart for Damon. How will Stefan survive Rayna when no one survives Rayna? Shamans gifted her with a long, long life. Her father gifted her with courage, resolve, and a fighting spirit. Damon promised Stefan, after he told him that Elena still lived, he’d kill Rayna with her bare hands to make it right and to bring Stefan back to Caroline.

Presumably, Stefan and Caroline won’t see each other until three years after the birth of Alaric’s children. “This Woman’s Work” seems so near to the narrative time-jump, but Damon hasn’t decided to sleep alongside Elena yet. What’ll compel him to choose the coffin over doing whatever it takes to help Stefan survive Rayna?

Ostensibly, Rayna’s the heroine of any other story, but The Vampire Diaries has been the reverse of Joss Whedon’s Buffy. The vamps Buffy wouldn’t hesitate to slay have become the characters the audience roots for to defeat the slayer. Rayna slightly reminded me of Dana from ANGEL’s “Damage”—a season five episode about the downside of Buffy’s ‘Everyone Becomes a Slayer’ solution in the Buffy series finale. No, Rayna didn’t possess the madness of Dana, caused by childhood trauma related to a sexual predator, but “Damage” and “This Woman’s Work” shared a central theme about coming after people who treated them awfully. The writing in TVD lacks the deep perspective of ANGEL’s last season. TVD portrayed Rayna as sympathetic, strong, fierce, a girl motivated by tragedy, but she’s the Big Bad because she wants the Salvatores. Dana tried and tried to kill Spike. She took his hands. Dana confused Spike for the man that traumatized and hurt her. Spike understood Dana. Angel, too. No, Spike did not hurt Dana, but her hurt many girls and families like the man hurt Dana. Spike accepts that he deserved it. He was a monster. Dana was an innocent victim. Rayna’s an innocent victim. Angel added near the end, “So were we once upon a time.” TVD will never explore that story. Ultimately, the audience will want the gang to stop Rayna because she wants to hurt the gang.

The fight between Rayna and Damon highlights the non-ambivalent writing. Rayna beat Damon. Standing above him ready to send him back to hell, Damon tells her sending him to hell would be redundant as he’s already in hell for killing Elena. Damon doesn’t tell Bonnie what he did to Elena. Enzo threatened to. Stefan didn’t have a chance to tell Alaric or Caroline on account of difficult magic related c-section surgey. Damon could not tell his best friend because nuance has been obliterated in Whitmore/Mystic Falls. Damon, like Dana, was mad, confusing hallucinations for reality. Had Stefan revealed what Damon did to Elena before he saved his brother from being marked, Bonnie and Alaric may’ve decided to let Damon fight his own battle. Stefan will never stop loving his bro, though, so he would’ve done it no matter what. Feeling pain redeems whatever past atrocity either brother or any character committed against someone.

Rayna started the episode as the focal point; however, she gradually became less of an active presence in the show and more of a specter of doom. She spoke less. Damon mentioned his pain, but she didn’t mention that her life and her mission came from pain and is pain. A terse, badass hunter rocks. Rayna’s like a combined Dana, Faith, and Elena. Damon mentioned the resemblance, which then seemed to motivate him more. Perhaps the thought of a doppelganger-like Elena existing hurt too much. Rayna could be an amazing character.

Stefan and Caroline exchanged emotional goodbyes after Rayna marked him. A quick montage of Stefan’s memories with Caroline followed the marking. He promised to keep her company through the pregnancy and after when Alaric took the girls south. The marking changed many things. Caroline followed Alaric to Dallas. In the flash forward, she needs Klaus for a specific reason. Alaric encouraged it, even with his girls in the car. Klaus shouldn’t meet children. Anyway, the first nine of season seven barely featured Stefan and Caroline together. The post-hiatus episodes featured a small improvement in their on-screen togetherness. Evidently, the writers were more interested in the other pairings: Stefan/Valerie and Caroline/Alaric. Their forced parting lacked the emotional punch of Alaric telling her he named one of his daughters after her mother.

All in all, though, “This Woman’s Work” brought the season closer to the good stuff in the flash forwards. Nora and Mary Louise ran away from town. Julian’s done for in flashbacks now. Beau’s gone. Rayna’s a cool character. Enzo revealed he’s working with Matt and Tyler’s secret super group. Not bad.

Other Thoughts:

-Of course, the writers had to concoct a convoluted magic plot for the birth of the twins. I didn’t like that B story. What a tough filming schedule for Matt Davis. He spent ¾ of his part in the episode in a car.

-I badly confused Krystal and Rayna last week, leading to a special kind of bad review. One may not write as badly as I did last week ever again.

-Damon hallucinated Elena in an otherwise empty coffin. I assumed as much. Enzo told him he saw what he wanted. Does this mean more Damon’s not free until he’s free of Elena nonsense?

-Chad Fiveash & James Stoteraux wrote the episode. I missed the director’s name.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Thoughts on The Walking Dead, The X Files, and Better Call Saul

The Walking Dead--”No Way Out”

Opinion looks split about Sunday night’s episode. Some have expressed great excitement about the episode, calling it the best of the show in awhile. Others have expressed great hatred about the episode, mostly paid bloggers and critics. The primary gripe of the paid bloggers and critics is the lack of a central drive/narrative in The Walking Dead. What’s it all for? The question seems silly to ask six seasons into the show. Early reviewers must’ve mentioned the comics--specifically the comics commitment to unending stories of agony and suffering. I see both sides of the reaction to “No Way Out.” I liked parts of the episode. I didn’t like other parts of the episode. The Walking Dead writers proved they can distract its audience with zombie-killing and gruesome character death fireworks.

The most common complaints were about the red shirt deaths of the Andersons, another Glenn fakeout, the survival of every single important character, Rick’s plan, and Daryl’s zombie torch party. No one understood why Rick and the gang didn’t decide to torch the quarry instead of lead the zombies twenty miles away. The most common compliments were about the the deaths of the Andersons, another Glenn fakeout, the survival of every single important character, and so on. All of the reviews, the message boards, and the comment sections are based on opinion and taste. Some loved the exact thing others hated.

As for the central narrative problem, it’s always been surviving. People want to know what’s there to look forward to at the end of the series. If the writers had courage, it’d be the same thing until the end of existence. The writers have shown consistent reluctance in taking any narrative risks. Any death is ‘safe.’ The death of the Andersons won’t disrupt the narrative. Carl will now look COOLER because he’ll have an eye-patch. Two major things stuck out for me: the bungling of the Wolves, and the hesitance of Negan’s cronie. The Wolves, potentially, had a cool backstory that could’ve enriched and layered the Alexandria story. They were the ones Deanna exiled. Instead, they were another group of undefined villains only defined by their violence. The opening scene of the episode teased the deaths of Abe and Sasha. Daryl saved the day with a rocket launcher. To play armchair head writer for a minute: I’d introduce Negan in the scene (because why does every TWD Big Bad need a delayed introduction? Why do we always meet the SAME minions every time); he’d immediately shoot all three dead and take their weapons. Negan, then, wouldn’t be immediately neutered.

Anyway, what did I learn from the reaction to the new episode? People, basically, like TWD when it’s complete chaos. The quieter stories that make up most of the show’s texture don’t appeal to the audience quite as much. I saw more than a few references to Chekhov’s Gun, which has long become an overused crutch for anyone reviewing TV, whether it’s Chekhov’s Rocket Launcher, or Chekhov’s Carol Scaring Children to Death, or Chekhov’s Unstable Teenage Male Character with A Gun Who Wants to Shoot Carl for Walking with His Girl. I’ll use something different from Chekhov, a quote. “Any idiot can survive a crisis; it’s the day-to-day living that wears you out.” Everyone, no matter the qualms, likes a wild crisis episode such as “No Way Out”, but the week-to-week experience of watching characters living day-to-day wears them out as it wears out the characters in the world.

The X Files--”Babylon”

Chris Carter wrote a few of the best episodes of the series, and he wrote some of the worst episodes of the series. “Babylon” is not the worst Chris Carter episode, but it’s far, far from the best. Mulder’s shroomed out experience in the country bar already is among my least favorite sequences in the series. Carter seems to believe X Files fans want him to use his show as a platform to grapple with all that ails the United States. The premiere grappled with the state of America because of an Alien conspiracy. “Babylon” grappled with radical extremist terrorism, why it happens, the toxic dialogue happening all over talk radio and 24/7 news channels, and the tower of Babel. Mulder wondered would anyone speak the same language again. Trying to ask and answer such a question in 42 minutes is daunting and not worth it. Chris Carter’s responsibility isn’t that; his responsibility is the story. The story of the episode, which was Mulder and new character Einstein, along with Scully and Einstein’s partner Miller, trying to accomplish the same objective in fundamentally different ways. The pair of agents engaged in a duel of ideas and ideology, much like the ideology of the suicide bombers motivated them to blow themselves in the teaser, and much like the differences of ideology between groups of people will ultimately prevent anyone from reconciling and coming to peace. Mulder succeeded in spite of Einstein’s skepticism, as he succeeded for years with Scully’s skepticism. So, no, Carter didn’t have the pages or the time to make his ambitious theme worth it. Maybe it would’ve been better for an X Files movie.

Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose joined the show as Special Agents Miller and Einstein. FOX wanted a potential spinoff weaved into the mini-season. It’s a retread of Doggett and Reyes, though. Doggett and Reyes were good characters, defined as something other than ‘Mulder II and Scully 2’. Miller and Einstein were more extreme and younger versions of Mulder and Scully. Ambrose was great. Amell finally broke free from The CW. FOX will want additional X Files next year. Gillian and David won’t sign on for more than 6, I don’t think. FOX could order 13. The X Files could tell 7 Miller/Einstein stories and 6 Mulder/Scully stories.

Better Call Saul--”Switch”

Tremendous episode. Jimmy turned down a job offer from a prominent firm, spent his days lounging at a pool, scammed Ken Whins with Kim in one of the highlights of the episode, and then took the job offer because of Kim. Better Call Saul is great. The writers have shown that the narrative journey of a character means more than any fixed ending. Jimmy’s going to wind up in the Omaha Cinnabon store. His life will become a grey dumpster room. Jimmy’s arc is only part of what makes Saul a great show. The writing and the structure is spectacular. TV’s overrun by episode structures that limit scenes to 90-120 seconds and acts to seven pages. AMC lets Better Call Saul write wonderfully long scenes. “Switch” had the aforementioned great Jimmy/Kim scam Ken scene, and, also, the scene when Daniel calls the cops about the break-in and they quickly deduce he’s involved in something bad. Plus, it’s a beautifully shot show. New Mexico, man. And like Breaking Bad, every detail matters. What one may think is a one-off scene will become a multi-episode thing. Wonderful.

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.