Archive | September, 2013

Breaking Bad “Felina” Review (5×16)

30 Sep

breaking-bad-series-finale“I did it for me.”

How the mighty have fallen. Walter White was once on top of the world, but he ends the series alone in his meth lab, dead from his wounds. It’s a fitting end, though, one that doesn’t necessarily vindicate Walt, but rather satisfies him.

He begins the episode in his car, staring out the window before the opening title kicks in. It’s a quiet moment of contemplation, of catharsis, of a realization of who exactly he is. He’s a criminal mastermind, he’s killed people, and he’s gotten off doing so. He’s reveled in the power that comes with being on top, and before he goes out, he finally admits it. In a wonderfully acted scene for Gunn and Cranston, Walt tells Skyler that yes, he’s enjoyed being a criminal. It’s helped him feel alive.

It’s not a moment of repentance, however. Walt’s had innocent people killed, destroyed his whole family, and left his life in shambles. He will never be completely absolved of his sins because he only takes responsibility for what he feels he should be responsible for. He’s always been about honor, and this episode is pretty much a bow on the facade of Heisenberg. When he visits Skyler, he’s still hoping for a nugget of redemption, anything that can add one final piece to the puzzle that is his mind. What’s different here is that he finally understands, and Skyler knows.

In that final sequence with Uncle Jack, Jesse, Todd, and the rest, he decides to let Jesse go, giving his former partner a chance to finally kill him. Yet, Jesse wins out by not doing so. He’s free now, free from the clutches of both Uncle Jack’s group of Nazis and Walter White himself. By rising above Walt’s level, he’s finally obtained the closure he needs. It’s a moment of pure ecstasy and freedom for him, zooming out of there to something better. That one flashback he has of the box he pawned for drug money is beautiful, reflecting the true craft of what he’s done. He’s really damn good at cooking meth, and it’s become an art for people like Walt and Jesse. It’s a small dose of hope, of happiness, amidst all that despair, and it’s almost representative of a trophy.

Finale-2Walt’s trophy has always been the meth. Yes, he visits Skyler and he takes a genuine final look at both Holly and Flynn, but it’s almost as if those constitute necessity. Can someone like him really go out without self-gratifying himself one last time? He’s never understood his family more, and never been more of a family man, than right here in this finale, but he’s also never been more of a meth cook. Jesse’s box represents what Walt is at heart: a crafter, an artist, and a criminal. He makes his final stand in his meth lab, but all that stand constitutes is an end. The story of Walter White ends where it began. He gets his way in the finale, but he’s lost everything. It’s a tricky line to navigate, his fate straddling the thin line between vindication and victory, but it’s his fate nonetheless. He’ll never be vindicated, and he’ll never truly win. His legacy will live on, and his family will live on. He’ll always be Heisenberg, and he’ll always be Walter White. In death, he lives on.

Grade: A-

Season Grade: A

Series Grade: A

Other thoughts:

-Jesse killing Todd is both incredibly sad and incredibly cheer-worthy. The series has tortured Jesse beyond repair, but strangling Todd is his cathartic moment. Jesse’s descended to the level of murderers, but there’s something entirely different this time.

-Todd goes out on his greatest flaw: his admiration for Walt.

-Lydia also gets poisoned!

-Badger and Skinny Pete get the best ending the show could ever write for them. “The whole thing felt kinda shady, morality wise.”

-Marie’s one scene is incredibly heart-breaking, just by the fact that we realize she’s alone. Her call to Skyler seems to be one in which she’s reaching out, though, and hopefully their relationship can begin to heal.

-I do feel like things may have come together a bit too easily here, although Walt’s victory, for the most part, works thematically.

-The final scene’s direction is quite similar to “Crawl Space”. However, while that scene felt more confined, this one seems to almost be setting Walt free.

-I like the way Walt gives Jack a false sense of hope before shooting him.

-Walt doesn’t kill Gretchen and Elliott because he’s never been a monster. He may have killed out of necessity, but he sure didn’t take pleasure in it.

-Where’s Carol?

-I like the way the directing exemplifies Walt’s ubiquitous nature, especially during that scene in the Schwartz house.

-This episode is quiet until the end, which is a great choice. “Ozymandias” was the climax and the end of Walter White’s story. These final two episodes are more of an epilogue detailing the end of his life.

-Todd’s ringtone is really something.

-Huell’s still in that house.

-Was anyone else worried that Jesse was going to lose control of the wheel and die a fiery death?

-The final song is excellent, and while the final scene is a bit cheesy, the show’s earned it.

-Thanks for reading along all season, guys. Writing about this show has truly been a pleasure, and I thank Vince Gilligan and Co. for creating such a masterpiece of modern television. This is a show that will be talked about for years to come.

Credit to AMC and Breaking Bad for all pictures. I own nothing.

Masters of Sex “Pilot” Review (1×01)

30 Sep

627There’s something infectious about the new Showtime drama. It draws us into its rich world of complex characters and its sexual intrigue. It’s not devoid of humor. It establishes a compelling tone that challenges us, excites us, questions us. It is, far and away, the best new show of the season.

Let’s face it, though. Sex runs rampant throughout television, and in most cases, it’s gratuitous. Masters doesn’t, and shouldn’t, shy away from sex, but not once does it feel like the show is portraying it in a gratuitous nature. It’s an inherent and essential aspect of this layered world the show has created, and it’s portrayed in a very matter-of-fact way. It’s dangerous, yet it’s not. It’s fun, yet it’s not. It’s necessary, yet it’s not. It just is, and that’s a refreshing take on the topic.

The show’s heart is kept beating by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, two fantastic actors whose characters are on opposite ends of the spectrum; Masters (Sheen) comes off as cold and distant, while Johnson (Caplan) is warm and likeable. Yet, this is what keeps it interesting; a battle for supremacy seems to be arising, but there’s also a mutual respect and attraction that may go beyond the science of sex. Masters is a scientist, but he’s also a human being. His desires for control seem to permeate both his professional and his sexual life, and his final request in the pilot paves the way for some intriguing storylines.

The supporting cast is weaker, but that’s usually what happens to shows right off the bat. Betty (Annaleigh Ashford) is the first volunteer for Masters’ revolutionary study of sex, Libby (Caitlin FitzGerald) is Masters’ wife, and Ethan (Nicholas D’Agosto) is one of Virginia’s flings. I do have a few problems with these characters. The intricacies of Masters’ home life are a bit muddled, and while I expect that to improve later on, the whole subplot about his wife doesn’t quite make me care. Ethan comes across as a complete jerk, and while I guess that’s kind of the point, his final scene with Virginia doesn’t work for me thematically. Their sexual relationship is a good way to explore Johnson’s character, but Ethan calling her a whore comes across as dickish, not enlightening.

Masters of Sex

Still, Caplan and Sheen anchor the cast, and they’re good enough to keep this show compelling. One thing that’s fantastic about the show is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s not Ray Donovan or Low Winter Sun. It has adult storylines and poses complex questions about our sexual and mental states, but there’s a general playfulness there that’s been missing in the new cable dramas. It’s funny! Shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men know when to get serious and when to get hilarious, and that is what I want to see on television. Masters is not an anti-hero. The show does not try too hard. We do not get thrown into a pit of despair. That, in itself, makes Masters a fantastic show.


Other thoughts:

-So, Lizzy Caplan is gorgeous.

-The directing of the pilot is magnificent. Those overhead shots during….okay, I’ll stop about Lizzy Caplan now.

-The scene with the dildo and the head of the university is fantastic. It’s just the right amount of awkward and weird. Caplan holding it enthusiastically in front of his face is a sight to see.

-“Best seat in the house.” “But not too close, or you’ll get poked in the eye.” “You’re saying watch out for the dildo.”

-The sex scenes are pretty nice, though. That last one between Langham (Teddy Sears) and Jane (Helene Yorke) is something.

-“What does the woman you’re sleeping with want? The riddle of life itself can’t come close to the unfathomable mystery of that question.”

-“Some can accommodate big better than others.” Ain’t that the truth, Caplan.

-“I wouldn’t get too in your head about it.” “Too late.” “Your other head.” Line of the night.

Credit to Showtime and Masters of Sex for all pictures. I own nothing.

Homeland “Tin Man Is Down” Review (3×01)

30 Sep

627-1Consequence is a tricky subject to tackle. What exactly should we be punished for? How should we be punished? To what extent should a government that has let a terrorist slip out under its nose be punished? Homeland asks all these questions in a contemplative, melancholy season 3 premiere that completely scraps the frenetic pace of Season 2.

This is no doubt a good route to take, as last season descended into a world of plot contrivances that soured many peoples’ opinions of the show. We left off with Brody on the run, the CIA in pieces, and David Estes and Abu Nazir dead. The premiere, naturally, deals with the fallout of this mess; there are Congressional hearings and detrimental effects abound.

On the CIA front, Carrie is now the scapegoat, taking the full brunt of the blame for Brody’s escape. Danes is still magnificent here, conveying so much pain and guilt in just a few looks. Mathison’s own government has now turned on her; she’s not fighting for some hidden cause, and she can’t ever have the hope of being the hero anymore. This is Carrie’s biggest fear: having nothing to fight for but herself. She can continue to protest Brody’s innocence, but not even her closest ally has the luxury of listening to her. She’s truly trapped.

We also see the effects of the bombing on Saul, who’s now been promoted to head of the CIA. He’s now a much harder character that is slowly descending into a pit of darkness. Whereas before, he was mainly motivated by a sense of loyalty to his institution, he’s now spurred on by revenge. He seems defeated and determined all at once. There’s a wonderful dichotomy between Saul and Dar Adal, an intelligence operative that pressures Saul to cut ties with Carrie. Saul’s being backed into a corner here, much like with Carrie.

On the home front is where the episode mainly stumbles. Jess, Dana, and Chris were absolutely essential in season 1, as they represented one side of Brody’s moral dilemma. It was fascinating to watch the family slowly succumb to the pressures of his occupation and ultimate decisions, but now, the question arises of how interesting the family is without Brody. Sure, showing the aftermath is important, but we don’t exactly feel a connection with Dana or Jess (no one cares about Chris), and more importantly, we don’t feel their connection to Brody. Baccarin and Saylor are great actresses, but they don’t have much to work with. Still, I’m not going to be one of those people that blasts the scenes dealing with the consequences because they’re as much a part of the show as the juicy stuff.

a_610x408This is a show about how personal relationships are affected by a impersonal problems. Last year, like it or not, the Brody-Carrie relationship was essential to the show, both thematically and plot-based. Season 3 smartly removes Brody from the equation early on, but the question of whether he should still be on the show remains. Still, if season 1 suggests anything, it suggests that the guys behind Homeland can create a compelling character piece with spy undertones. Season 3 starts off slow, but hopefully it’s on the right track.

Grade: B-

Other thoughts:

-So Quinn is still here. His scenes feel a little shoehorned in, and I hope his character is expanded on later.

-Dana tried to commit suicide, and she now has a new boyfriend. I really hope we don’t go down another hit and run type storyline this season.

-Oh, how I miss the Carrie-Brody “The Weekend” dynamics.

-There’s an interesting new CIA agent played by Nazanin Boniadi.

-So, how’s Brody going to return? Hopefully he jumps out of Saul’s beard or something. Speaking of, nice beard-off between Saul and Adal.

Credit to Showtime and Homeland for all pictures. I own nothing.

Saturday Night Live “Tina Fey/Arcade Fire” Live Blog/Review (39×01)

29 Sep

tina-Fey-SNLThis season of SNL brings new changes, as well my system of weekly live blogs and reviews. Check back in after every couple sketches, as I’ll have updates every 10 minutes or so.

OBAMA COLD OPEN: The SNL political cold opens have never been all that great, but this one is good enough to kick off the season. The fact that Aaron Paul shows up is amazing, and Kate McKinnon does wonderful work here. However, there’s also a lot of unfunny stuff. GRADE: B

TINA FEY MONOLOGUE: Tina Fey’s absolutely amazing. She gets in some good lines here, but the sight of everyone dancing around her doesn’t really work as well as it should have. Anyway, hi to all the new folks. GRADE: C+

“GIRLS” PARODY: Now here is where Fey shines. Blertha is a new character in “Girls”, and everything that she does and says is absolutely hilarious here. Not only that, but the other cast members’ impressions are spot on. Bayer’s Shoshanna and McKinnon’s Jessa are great. GRADE: A-

EXPRESS AIR: This doesn’t really amount to much, except to make fun of a bunch of people that aren’t all that funny. Thompson’s huge suitcase is a hilarious visual gag and Monyihan’s creepy foreigner are great, but the sketch ends up feeling a bit overlong. Still, I liked it. GRADE: B-

NEW CAST MEMBER OR ARCADE FIRE?: Thompson is who makes this sketch work. The premise isn’t all that great, but him screaming at all the cast members and Fey is a joy to watch. While I’m bummed out that Hader is gone, it’ll give guys like Thompson and Killam some more time in the spotlight. GRADE: B

EMETH: As soon as the sketch started, I knew Aaron Paul was going to factor in somewhere at the end. It’s a short sketch, but is just long enough to get in some fantastic meth-smoker shots from the cast. McKinnon is always a treat to watch, and the sight of Thompson trying to grab a naked guy in his living room is hilarious. Also, Aaron Paul. Why not? GRADE: B+

WEEKEND UPDATE: (I’ll take a look at the two musical performances later on) I’m not sure about this yet. Cecily Strong is great, but the first update segment is a bit shaky. I like the bit where Fey gives her advice, but the news stories themselves aren’t all that great (save for maybe the Low Winter Sun slam). Newcomer Kyle Mooney shows up in a not particularly funny guest spot, but Drunk Uncle is able to close off the update on somewhat of a good note. Also, Aaron Paul again. GRADE: C

UNWANTED WOMAN: What? In what world is this funny? I tuned out somewhere in that awfulness, because all I saw was a bunch of stupid stuffed animals. GRADE: D+

RICK’S MODEL T’S: Okay, that late show fatigue is setting in. Fey does what she can as a wife of a car salesman, but her role amounts to nothing but spewing out random lines. Granted, that doesn’t sound all that bad, but nothing really lands here. Hopefully the last sketches can pick up the show a bit. GRADE: C-

ARCADE FIRE: I’ll admit that I’ve never really paid much attention to these guys. I like their style and use of visuals, though, and their sound is very unique; I don’t think I’ll be buying their albums anytime soon, but their performances here are very enjoyable. GRADE: B

MANOLO BLAHNIK: This sketch is consistently hilarious, and I probably will never get tired of it (okay, I probably will). Fey fits in well (“I saw you on House Hunters, and you picked the wrong house, bitch!”), and the other two get in some amazing lines as well (“What’s that thing you put stuff in?” “Your mouth?”). It’s a random sketch, and it’s great. GRADE: B+

Episode Grade: C+

Best sketch: I’m going with “Girls”. I had the grade at B+ before, but I’m bumping it up. It really was a perfect parody, and Fey was wonderful alongside the other cast members.

Worst sketch: “Unwanted Salesman”/”Model T’s”

Final thoughts: I was expecting more out of the premiere, especially with a powerhouse of a host in Tina Fey. There were some great moments, but the whole thing dragged on near the end. Aaron Paul was great, and I felt that Cecily Strong fit in alright Weekend Update. She didn’t get any of the guests, though, which is something I’m hoping we’ll see next week.

Next week: Miley Cyrus. Oh well.

Credit to NBC and Saturday Night Live for all pictures. I own nothing.

Strike Back “Shadow Warfare, Episode 7” Review (3×07/4×07)

28 Sep



“No taking this personally, but your plan could’ve used a little more finesse.”

The back half of this episode is a non-stop thrill ride, with the confines of the prison being used to deliver heart-pounding action sequences that culminate in an excellent cliffhanger. Stonebridge is captured along with Andersson, and Scott and Nina are captured in the prison.

Let’s back up. The entire premise of the episode involves Scott and Stonebridge infiltrating a Russian prison to break out a British computer hacker, and the aforementioned Nina is a Russian double agent working with Locke. Obviously, the prison break plot has been a staple of countless action shows and movies, but Strike Back is able to inject its own humor and twists that help it stay fresh.

Prison, though, is a place of confinement, and Scott and Stonebridge have never been more confined, both literally and figuratively. We continue to see the desire to leave Section 20 in both the leads, and the prison scenes contain some nice character development. Scott receives results that say that Stonebridge has been exposed to a lethal poison, therefore confirming the fact that it isn’t a mental problem. Scott decides to tell his partner, which is an excellent decision on his part; he can’t keep avoiding the truth. Stonebridge is the kind of guy who’d rather be subject to a poison than a mental problem.

Another interesting development in this episode arises with Kamali, who seems to be going off the rails in a situation that emulates Dalton’s. His suspicion that he’s been exposed as a double agent strike deep into his mind, and he kills a bank guard and Kamali’s bodyguard whilst closing Al-Zuhari’s bank accounts. The parallels between him and Dalton are coming more into focus now, and it’ll be interesting to see where it all heads.

Grade: B+

-The first scene is classic Strike Back.

-I’ll be back with more later. I just wanted to get this up quickly.

Credit to Cinemax and Strike Back for all pictures. I own nothing.

Parenthood “It Has To Be Now” Review (5×01)

27 Sep

627-2Season 4 of Parenthood was one of the better seasons of television I’ve seen. Monica Potter had a breakout performance that should’ve earned her an Emmy nod, and the rest of the show gelled in a way that the previous seasons had not. How’s the Season 5 premiere, though? Breaking down the episode by storylines….

Kristina running for mayor

This is an interesting one. The mayoral race is more about taking advantage of her life (per her scene with Gwen) than actually winning, although she wouldn’t want to lose. It’s understandable why she’d do it, but it feels kind of strange in the context of the show. Still, Monica Potter can make just about anything work. As for Bob Little, he’ll probably get the brunt of Adam and Kristina’s heat; he doesn’t deserve it, because two consenting adults had consensual sex, but he’ll be Kristina’s enemy.

Max and Hank

This is a storyline I love. I hate that Sarah always has to be stuck in a romance plot, and I’m glad that we focus on Hank in relation to Max here. These two have a deeper connection and understanding of each other than pretty much anyone else in the show, past or present.

Joel’s new project and Julia’s job-finding troubles

Sonya Walger’s around to stir things up a bit! Also, we continue to see Joel becoming more successful as Julia becomes less prominent. Sydney explains profit margins.

Crosby and Jasmine

Although I love the issues this storyline focuses on, the fact that the two have been in conflict for so long underscores the importance of Crosby’s feelings. They seem like they’re in an endless marriage of conflicting viewpoints, yet they love each other so much. It’s a bit of wheel-spinning.

Ryan and Amber

This is a beautiful relationship. That final proposal scene is definitely cliche, but it’s so well acted by Whitman and Lauria that it becomes something perfect. I wish we could avoid the inevitable relationship troubles that they’ll face.

Other thoughts:

-Drew grows more hair! People forget Haddie even exists! Zeek can still go to Funkytown! Sarah used a hammer and smashed a smoke detector!

Grade: B

Credit to NBC and Parenthood for all pictures. I own nothing.

Parks and Recreation “London, Parts 1 and 2” Review (6×01/6×02)

27 Sep

627-1Parks and Recreation brings a smile to my face every time it’s on. Yes, last season suffered from a bit of wheel-spinning, stranding the show in a static phase that soured my opinion of the show. However, this premiere is a nice return to form, setting a new direction for the show’s characters.

The cold open is among the best in Parks history. The show truly understands its characters, something that seems to slip away from other shows as the seasons wear on (due to necessity of plot, which makes this episode even more impressive because it gives the show a new direction). This scene doesn’t get too sappy, but it’s the right amount of sweet. Ron Swanson is not the guy who needs an elaborate wedding; he truly cares for Diane, and the quicker they get it done, the better. Leslie is someone who wants to make everything perfect for everybody, and her childlike glee at the events unfolding is a joy to watch. It’s sweet, and more importantly, it’s true to her character.

Flashforward to a month later. Several storylines are prominent throughout, the main one being a trip to London. Leslie has to give a speech before the International Coalition of Women in Government, where she has to come to terms with the fact that her political career means ignoring the general awfulness of many people around her. It’s a very important moment for her character, one which Ron Swanson is every a bit a part of as her.

We also have Ben and Andy visiting Lord Covington (the great Peter Serafinowicz), and Covington and Andy’s interactions are absolutely hilarious. It’s a way to write Pratt out of the show for a while, but it’s incredibly well done.

Back in Pawnee, Chris and Ann are trying to tell everyone about their pregnancy, and Tom finds out that his main competitor is Jean Ralphio’s father. Both work well in the context of the episode, and fill out what is a very sweet and hilarious one hour premiere.

Part 1 Grade: B+   Part 2 Grade: B+

Overall: B+

Other thoughts:

-Henry Winkler is fantastic.

-Chris and Ann’s storyline ties in well with Leslie’s, as they continue to look for assurance that, yes, this is a good marriage. These are similar storylines, and I’ll be sad when the two leave.

-Ron visiting the Lagavulin distillery is really beautiful.

-I enjoy Ron’s hatred of Europe. “Fine, enjoy the fact that your royal overlords are a frail old woman and a tiny baby.”

-“Let’s go see if it was a goose.”

-Jerry imitating breastfeeding…oh, man.

-“Hogwarts is fictional. Do you know that? It’s important to me that you know that.”

-“Do you not think that, or do you not think that?” Welcome back, Perd.

Credit to NBC and Parks and Recreation for all pictures. I own nothing.

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