Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Getting It Right: More Good Drama; Or Sunday Night TV Recaps

Sunday was done right again with my main Sunday dramas returning with four great episodes across the board and one truly fantastic one to put the icing on the cake. The navigations of the shows this week, one in particular, made me ponder on a particular trend in television criticism – from a professional or an amateur. We’re geared to think of television shows often as continuous things and not as a single episode entity and there’s this debilitating trend to react to a potentially game-changing moment not with the initial surprise and thrill it gives us but as the signs of something potentially bad. We end on a cliff-hanger and we immediately think not “wow, that’s daring” but “yikes, how can they make that work”. On one hand it’s critical wisdom but on the other hand it robs individual episodes of their success. Critique an episode on what it does not on what subsequent episodes could potentially do wrong.

 Now, on with the shows…

Boardwalk Empire: “Blue Bell Boy”; Season Three, Episode Four
This episode could very well have been called “My Melancholy Baby”. Even as the initial set-ups seem to suggest that things might be going well for characters – Margaret gets her clinic, Nucky is set to find his poacher, Tabor Heights will just be avoided – but of course things don’t stay calm in Atlantic City (and its outliers) for long. And even if it’s ostensibly calm, the ache runs deep. Winter and Van Patten are still creating a fine drama in a post-Darmody but a great scene this episode encapsulates my overarching worry. Nucky, Owen and a teen hide in a cellar to escape the police. They are that close to danger and the scene works, but there’s a potent lack of bated breath thrills because ultimately we don’t have that emotional connection to Nucky or Owen (at least not yet). Margaret is the closest thing to a beating heart the show has, but she’s not involved in the gangster machinations where the most emotional thrills are essential. It’s why what the episode accomplishes with Al Capone as the episode draws to a close becomes so phenomenal.
One of my favourite scenes from early Boardwalk Empire days was that visit Jimmy paid to Capone’s house and realised his son was deaf. Amidst the carnage the parent/child themes are a mainstay of the show and with Jimmy gone we don’t see as much of the father/son bonds (Nucky is up in the air). Al’s trouble of reconciling his alpha-male tendencies with his son’s deafness is expected but the way it parallels his issues at work moving from that emotional scene with his crying son to the bloody bar throttle is a fine example of how the show doesn’t try to clumsily separate gore from the personal but the two are inextricably which makes it that much more powerful. Case in point Nucky’s decision to kill the boy at the end. I’m slowly becoming fond of Owen just because Cox is putting his all into playing him, and Nucky’s decision was an essential one. The way precocious boy unfolded as such a clear equivalent to Jimmy necessitated it and it’s nice even with him gone, the underlying of Mr. Darmody continue. Now….what shall become of the Tabor Heights kerfuffle. We’ll see…
Episode Grade: B+ 

 Dexter: “Sunshine and Frosty Swirl”; Season Seven, Episode Two
…now what? It’s the foreboding tone of the episode and I suspect will be the tone for the season. Dexter’s secret is out, how can he continue his need now? That scene where despite Dexter’s ardent threats, Louis fails to heed his warning is a key example of how things are getting precarious for him. Typically, Louis would be dead (how did he even last a whole season?) now it’s more nuanced and even more fun. The surprise emotional juggernaut is that, yes, Dexter does love Debra that much to try to reign in his dark passenger and the emotional payoff of the episode where he calls her to stop himself is a brilliant move in progress. But, now what? Can it last? The questions raised are deliciously inviting and I’m fairly confident that the writers can make good on whatever the fallout is. And with these Russian mobsters more dangerous than his typical foes, and LaGuerta digging where we really wish she wouldn’t how much trouble will he be in? is his only option death by suicide like his fellow serial killer this episode? As I said, delicious questions raised – my interests are piqued for their resolutions.
 Episode Grade: B+ 

The Good Wife: “…And the Law Won”; Season Four, Episode Two
First things first, this Kalinda issue has me worried. Not because I am actually worried but the disconnect I feel with random utterances I’ve heard from fans who all but loathe it (seemingly) worries and confuses me especially since two episodes in we don’t know what the writers are moving to (as it should be) and since Kalinda has always been notoriously difficult to we have no idea – two episodes in – what she’s up to, if anything. The scene where Will grills her for being lax intrigues me more than annoys because it’ss not a case where Nick is destroying her cool as much as it’s one where he’s distracting her. It harkens back to her solitude – it’s what make her good at her job and just having to deal with a “husband” is distraction enough. Where it leads is something I’m invested in.
And while she has Nick, Alicia has a new friend in Maddie. The way Diane sends Alicia in for one thing but she comes out with another recalls something that always makes me think about Alicia is a protagonist. She’s so calm to the point of placidity that key chances for her to be assertive (doing the task Diane set) are squandered because she’s so reticent. Even as Diane’s ire is misplaced, it’s still pertinent because it’s a key defect in her character with the show, gloriously, doesn’t avoid. True, though, she’s gotten much less quiescent in her relationship with Peter. I doubt reconciliation but what that easy laugh with him at the end of the episode portend? I sure know what Eli hopes it means.
Episode Grade: B+ 

My thoughts a brilliant episode from Homeland and crazy fun wildness of Revenge below the jump...

Homeland: “Beirut is Back”; Season Two, Episode Two
Here’s how invested I was in this episode. Carrie is dashing through a home in Beirut looking for clues, something, anything while Saul and company wait agitatedly for her in the car. The crowd outside gets hostile and a brick smashes into their windowpane. I’m so caught up in the moment I flinch as much as the characters do. But, it’s not just the direction. The episode is plotted and written with necessary depth but tightly constructed. Chip Johansson wrote my favourite season 1 episodes (“The Vest”, “Achilles Heel”, “Clean Skin”) and I love his work here. Carrie’s scenes with Saul before her breakdown then the one with him after are just deftly written and give Claire and Mandy so many things to do while evoking so much profundity in their characters. What transcends the good norm of character study is that with Johansson’s script and Cuesta’s direction the character study doesn’t happen when the thrills are done but they happen AS the thrills come. “Did we get him?” Carrie frantically asks, disappointed in the turn of events while Saul calm regards the fallout as a success.
Whether or not the tightly constructed yarn depends much too much on chance is something I’m not as inclined to examine. Is it an avoidance to say that life is a series of systemic chance occurrences? I’d expect the writers could answer any potential “plot-hole” discussions (Brody doesn’t have to surrender his phone because he was headed to a secret meeting and in ht amidst of a capture who’d waste time to the vet the man the VP let in?) and I like that the show doesn’t condescend to explain everything to an audience it gives much credit to. Of course, I’m truly burying the lead which that final revelation brings. Too many are focused on worrying how the how is backing itself into a wall by doing this instead of appreciating this episode for what it’s worth and trusting the creators to continue in good stead. The chance occurrence of that revelation truly worked for me, from Carrie incidentally picking up that bag to pack and Saul barely realising the existence of the chip. Someone needed to find out Carrie wasn’t wrong. It could only be Saul. I liked that symmetry.
 Episode Grade: A/A- 

Revenge: “Resurrection”; Season Two, Episode Two  
Revenge can go for the emotional juggernaut and really floor you with their poignancy sometimes. Still, in a way, they’re most interesting when they go for the full out frothy, madcap silliness that only they can do as well – as far as primetime TV goes. The twist upon twist of Conrad realising Victoria’s survival then to the staged kidnapping and a further way to manipulate their children together is so gloriously, ridiculously amazing I can’t even deal. Poor Daniel Grayson is being played on so many front right (father, mother, sister, “girlfriend”, former-girlfriend) no wonder he’s turned to weird hair-does (intervention needed). The Grayson wildness is so good it’s able to prevent the insipidity of the Porter boys from dulling the episode. Fauxmanda deserves a better arc than being in love with Jack and the less said about Declan the better. Significantly, though, it’s important that Batmanda lies to FauxManda which is either a salient strategic move or a very emotional one borne from jealously. As much as I want Batmanda to succeed we must recall that FauxManda is a “problem” she created, and further FauxManda has done nothing but pledge allegiance to her for the most apart.
FauxManda, for me, represents the thorny (get it? Emily THORNE) path that Batmanda must inevitably trudge to get her true revenge. People like FauxManda, people like Charlotte, people like Daniel will always be collateral damage for people looking for vengeance like Batmanda, Conrard and Victoria. Amidst this, Nolan’s work issues might seem mundane but I like the trajectory of having Nolan NOT tied to Batmanda’s revenge-y apron strings. Asides: what happens to Ashley now? Does she go back to being the help? What’s up with Takeda’s second-in-command? And is Batmanda’s assailant really dead? Aaaaw. Poor white-haired creep, it’s like we never knew you.
Episode Grade: B+ 

Other points to note
  • A fine example of how much the show can move me sometimes. When I saw that clipping of the female aviatrix’s death I felt as devastated as Margaret. 
  • I swear I’d watch the show within a show where Quinn goes around getting duped by strippers. I like Desmond Harrington. 
  • Fine, two episodes in only but where are my good Diane or Cary scenes? 
  • Will young love make Dana more bearable? Time will tell. 
  • Okay, I'm sorry, Declan's rich partner-in-crime was hitting on him right? RIGHT?

Standout Sunday Performances
Claire Danes in Homeland A/A-
Michael C. Hall in Dexter B+/A- 
Mandy Patinkin in Homeland B+/A-

Madeleine Stowe in Revenge B+ 
Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire B+ 
Julianne Margulies in The Good Wife B+
Stephen Graham in Boardwalk Empire B+ 
What did you watch this Sunday?


dinasztie said...

I'm beginning to get a little bit bored with The Good Wife. Julianna still makes me watch, though.

Claire is unbelievable this season. Carrie's character has become richer and richer. She plays her with such sensitivity and simpathy. Having just found out I'm bipolar myself I thought it would be a bit weird to watch her character, but hell no... I'm just even more amazed by her. I've never seen the disease portrayed so well in my life.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

There is only one of the things you addressed that I can weight in on, which is that my view of Kalinda's character in The Good Wife is that she really doesn't care about anything that doesn't have anything to directly do with her. So, she keeps doing just enough to get by at her current job until an opportunity to move on to a better situation presents itself.