Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Vampire Diaries "Today Will Be Different" Review

Today wasn’t different, was it? The phrase implies that different means better, and the challenge facing Stefan, Caroline, and Bonnie only grew with the passing of a day, and became worse. “Today Will Be Different” introduced the Siren in the flesh. Her name is Sybil. She’s one of the most stylish women I’ve seen on television. Like previous TVD villains, she seems impossible to defeat. Stefan snapped her neck, but she bounced back a second later. She has a nigh impossible-to-break grip on the minds of Stefan and Enzo. True love keeps a percentage of their will free, as established last week, but Ms. Sybil the Siren broke Damon’s tether to Elena, and she’ll soon break Enzo’s tie to Bonnie.

Saving Sarah Salvatore was the central problem of the episode. Sybil seemed to think this woman was responsible for the difficulties she had corralling Enzo’s mind totally. She’s not, but she dies anyway because Damon refused to kill her for two reasons: Elena loyalty and Salvatore loyalty. The Siren stopped Stefan from saving Sarah (all he could do was offer an apology to her), and he watched the third to last Salvatore pass on from earth. By the end of the episode he considered himself the last Salvatore because he believes he has lost Damon forever. Once Elena’s gone from even the periphery of his mind, he’s gone.

“Today Will Be Different” unintentionally resurfaced one of the secret themes/patterns of the show, which is the villainy of its heroes. It’s not a deliberate, hateful, vengeful villainy, but it stems from the group’s inherent selfishness. Caroline scolded Bonnie for going rogue to take Enzo away somewhere safe with her, a departure from the plan that led to Sarah’s death. Bonnie defends her action by saying she’s mourning a life she wants that she watches play out in front of her every day between Caroline and Stefan. See, it’s self-indulgent, self-absorbed, and selfish shit.  Hell as a final place of suffering eternity is a major part of this season’s narrative weave. Stefan stops Damon from snapping Sarah’s neck with the argument that his destined path to hell isn’t fixed—he can change it by sparing her life. During the car ride exposition dump about Sarah and how Damon killed her mom while pregnant with Sarah, Caroline remarked that it was one of the worst things Damon did. Bonnie’s too defense about Enzo’s role in the Sarah thing to care about anything else. The scene in the car misses the part where they acknowledge their own part in committing horrible, horrific acts, which they could atone for, in their lives.

The central narrative, though, continues to frame Damon as the worst. Sarah remembered that Caroline tried to kill her in season six, but Stefan dismisses it as “out-of-character”. The humanity switch has always been Julie Plec’s way of letting her characters be bad without any consequence. If a major part of the season is this idea of hell, of final, eternal punishment, even if the eternal crime was an accident, as it was for Alaric’s intern’s when she crashed her car and killed her best friend that sent her to hell, and it is the theme, as evidenced by the teaser in the season premiere wherein the audience learns that Sybil wanted the most evil of humans, then each character should confront their worst parts and choices. They may yet in this final season.

Sybil’s probably only a prelude to the Biggest Bad: the devil. The sirens are messengers for the devil. It’s a variation of Buffy’s First Evil storyline from its last season. The First Evil controlled Spike and made him do terrible things again. The same has happened to Damon. Along the way The First tried to use each character’s past against them in an attempt to kill that character. Depicting a first/original evil allures writers at the dusk of their story because their characters have defeated different kinds of evils throughout the story, so defeating the evil that begat evils, in the end, is basically a no-brainer. This storyline is way more interesting if the writers focus on all their characters sins instead of only Damon’s.

Other Thoughts:

-Speaking of Buffy, Sybil has a bit of Glory thing about her.

-Stefan and Caroline got engaged. I dread the wedding related hijinks. You know what’s interesting about weddings or wedding planning on TV? Nothing.

-We have a new mystical symbol this season in the form of a tattoo. I assume the university allowed Alaric to become leader of The Armory because of his insistence on scholarship and research. I’d like to see a scene when Alaric presents his research to his department chair, or whatever, like he told the babysitter about his research, and they fire him for wasting resources. Of course, I don’t remember the university being involved in The Armory. At least Alaric’s an active character again.

-Melinda Hsu Taylor wrote the episode. Longtime TVD director Pascal Verschooris directed.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Vampire Diaries "Hello, Brother" Review

We’ve reached the last TVD season premiere ever, and it’s a lackluster episode, as dull as the season finale. Stefan, Bonnie, Caroline, and Alaric searched for answers about what they freed from the vault, and for Damon and Enzo. Of course, Damon’s evil and his switch is off, but Enzo didn’t flip the switch, and his humanity’s the difference between the two. He leaves little clues about what was released from the vault—it’s a siren from Greek mythology—from one paragraph in Homer’s The Odyssey. Bonnie picks it up. By the end, accompanied by song, the siren rises from her bloody water.

The Odyssey’s the origin story for all literature. Homer chronicled Odysseus’ journey home from the Trojan war to his wife, Penelope, through his various trials. Billions of words have been written about the story. William Gass referenced The Odyssey in his essay on evil; Gass underlined the delightful vengeful violence Homer and the Greeks took in depicting the massacre of the suitors. The Odyssey has resonance for TVD in one aspect. It’s the final season of a journey for their characters who have faced similar trials against foes like the sirens and the Cyclops and Scylla and Charybdis but with different names: Klaus, Kai, the council, Rayna, Katherine, and even themselves. Whereas TVD’s writers always depicted the evil parts of people as a switch, Homer showed evil, violence, brutality, revenge, and the worst parts of human nature as that: an intrinsic part of human nature.

Damon is past the point of hope in his 47th turn as an evil, murderous vampire. I thought Plec and Williamson would used the possession as their ‘out’ for whatever horrible violence Damon and Enzo commit, but they’re committed to redeeming Damon through his faithlessness in himself. He can’t be saved, he thinks, but a corner of his brain remains lighted by Elena, and she’ll be his redemption and a reward, as Penelope is for Ulysses, at the end of this story.

Until then, we go through the motions with the brothers. Stefan hated saving Damon last season, but he’s utterly destroyed by Damon blaming him for ruining him over a century ago. He loses hope as Bonnie restores hers. Enzo actively fights the possession for her. So, they’ll continue trying to save who they love most in life (while writing about it for Elena).

Alaric and Caroline engage in busywork. They learn a few things that’ll help the narrative in a few episodes, but it’s not especially compelling. The most unbelievable part of the episode in an episode that reveals sirens are real, with one living in the water eating humans, with the one paragraph Enzo and Bonnie read in The Odyssey informing the central narrative of the season, and, you know, with vampires, was when Alaric’s hot coworker tried to sleep with him in the formerly possessed vault.

I had a small but unrealistic hope that TVD would surprise the audience by returning Damon (and Enzo) to himself by the end of episode and by ending the story with the supposed Big Bad; however, even if they had used that twist, a new big bad would be introduced, and the same beats of investigations, road trips, threads to families, and all that would repeat as it has repeated for the last several years.

TVD struggled last season. This season, its last, has six less episodes, but Julie Plec and her writers had a full season to learn what worked and what didn’t with Nina Dobrev. They have the advantage of a final season and the nostalgia that comes with the final season. LOST used the sideways to pull at the nostalgia of fans, but Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, Eddie Kitsis, Adam Horowitz, and the other writers wrote a good, quality final season. The teaser of “Hello, Brother” resembled the teaser in the “Pilot”. The last act had Elena from the “Pilot”.  Nostalgia helps distract viewers from a bad final season, but it’s not enough. I wrote at the top of the review that this episode’s as dull as the finale. I hope the season’s not as dull as last season, but it may be.

Other Thoughts:

-I’ll carefully watch which cast members have checked out. The CW announced the end of the show after Ian Somerhalder announced season eight would be his last. Kat Graham announced it’d be her last too. This show would continue like Supernatural if Ian and Paul Wesley wanted to continue. Thankfully, they don’t. Ian seemed sedated. Paul projected a kind of apathy. The others seemed “checked in”.

-Welcome to the final season of TVD and of my TVD reviews. It’s my seventh season writing about the show. I could’ve written 2 or 3 novels, probably, if I wrote those novels instead of these reviews.

-Julie Plec & Kevin Williamson wrote this episode. Welcome back, KW. Michael A. Allowitz directed.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

TV With The Foot's Spectacular Sesquipedalian (not really) 2016 Fall TV Roundup!

A month has passed since I finished my Everwood re-watch after I started it five years ago. The network television season began shortly thereafter. A slew of shows premiered, including NBC’s This Is US, which received the most uniformly positive reviews. Critics favored network comedies more than dramas. Speechless on ABC received special praise. Michael Schur’s The Good Place, starring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell, was an anticipated show, especially for fans of Parks & Recs and The Office. Most sighed sadly at the return of Kevin James to CBS comedy, the revival of MacGyver, and the Dr. Phil inspired procedural titled Bull. Last week began the return of The CW’s superpowered series, as well as the premiere of their curious new dramas, one of which is an adaptation of 2000’s Frequency, another which is an adaption of the Archie comics, and a third that follows a couple destined to be together by fate as they complete their bucket list before the world ends.

I watched little of the various networks’ new offerings. This Is Us is passable tear-jerky melodrama, but it’s heavy-handed and relies on contrivances to build drama and potential conflict. I enjoyed Speechless, but it’s no different from ABC’s other comedies. In fact, I’ll a reveal a secret to anyone reading right now. ABC has made the same comedy show for the last eight seasons. Modern Family, The Middle, The Goldbergs, Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat…they are the same. If you watch their comedy block, you’ll think you watched the same episode four times. No wonder Steve Levitan and the other show runners wrap for the day at 5PM.

Instead of network sitcoms and dramas, I watched more cable and premium channel shows, on FX and HBO, mostly. Donald Glover’s Atlanta follows the Louie formula, and it’s been good. It’s grounded, but surreal, too, as in the Justin Bieber episode, or the YouTube star one, or the two short scenes with the kid in whiteface serving in school suspension. I meant to watch Better Things from Pamela Adlon, but I haven’t yet. I watched two episodes of Westworld. The star of the show so far is the Utah wilderness. Westworld’s stuck in sci-fi tropes. Nolan and Joy want to explore consciousness, how it forms, and what it means, but they’re caught up in the typical tropes of sci-fi, and bound by Crichton’s book. Thus, they can only tease at those ideas of consciousness, ideas that work better in prose than in the televisual medium. It’s a huge narrative world filled with diverse characters but at its root is a story of good and evil--unless the writers have planned to subvert the traditional symbols of good and evil in westerns (the white hat and the black hat; the man in black and Ford, who wears white), and the narrative world the audience knows. Westworld’s already saturated in sci-fi and western tropes, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, John Donne, and Gertrude Stein, with Stein being the trickiest allusion, though an apt one for the show because of her dedication to the structure and style of the sentence might inform the structure, style, and substance of the robot soul.

I watched episode one of Issa Rae’s Insecure during the week and really liked it. Sure, it has the trappings of the typical NY-based sitcom, but Issa Rae’s voice, as Dan Fienberg pointed out in his review, sets Insecure apart from the other shows based in New York City around twentysomethings trying to find themselves in life and in love, but, of course, I’ve been slowly charmed by more and more hipsterish NY comedies, most recently by some of Girls’ last season, and Master of None, and Broad City.

Another show based in New York City and Brooklyn that completely surprised me and sort of dazzled me is HBO’s High Maintenance, created by Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair. The show follows a nameless weed dealer across the city as he delivers weed to his clients. The previews and the premise didn’t interest me one bit but, sometimes, one cannot judge a show based on previews and premises, and High Maintenance was the opposite of my expectations. I caught some of the second episode and remained transfixed for the next eighteen minutes. The third episode transfixed me more. I haven’t even told anyone I know about the show. It airs at 11 on a Friday night. TV blogs don’t devote exhaustive and overwhelming coverage to it like they do for Girls. I’d bet a pack of frozen spinach on none of my friends or wellwishers knowing that High Maintenance exists. I should perhaps write more about impresses me and arrests me about the show, but I can’t do that yet. For anyone reading, and there’s not a lot of you, give the third episode a chance. It’s titled “Grandpa”.  

As for what’s ahead in The Foot, my reviews of The Vampire Diaries will resume next weekend. It’s the final season, and I’ll be closer to the TV blog equivalent of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. Gratias misericors DominusNBC pushed Grimm’s premiere date to January 6, 2017 after announcing the show will end after six seasons. I will write reviews for what promises to be a baffling, incoherent, and nonsensical farewell season because, as evidenced by Everwood, I like to finish what I start.


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.