The Americans S1 Ep02 “The Clock" Directed By Adam Arkin Written By Joe Weisberg
Two episodes in and it’s apparent how The Americans will be handling it's self. Philip and Elizabeth will do their best IMF impression in a mission of the week set up, while Real American Hero Stan slowly picks away at the Soviet menace in deeply connected storylines. It’s not a bad set up. Vegas has been doing it, to some effect. The clearest difference between these two shows is I care about both plots in The Americans in Vegas their case of the week is utterly forgettable.
The episode after a pilot normally reiterates a bunch of stuff found in the pilot, just bogging the episode down and eating up precious minutes. “The Clock” isn’t one of those types of second episodes. In fact it is more like a mirror version of the pilot, with a couple things still being the same.
Things once again open with one of the Jennings in a make up, taking someone to bed. This time it’s Philip playing the role of honeypot. He has charmed his way into Annalise’s life as Swedish Intelligence Officer Scott Berman. Convincing her to take pictures of U.S. Secretary of Defense's office as part of a larger plan to bug the place. Something that would normally take six months minimum to do. Word comes from up top that they only have three days to pull of the job.
Accelerated schedules means everything is built on a thinly made house of cards. At the center of that house is the Secretary of Defense’s maid, Viola who they coerce into helping them by poisoning her son. As the audience we know Philip would be a man of his word and give her son the antidote, if she did her job. It’s an easy job if you take a step back and remove all the poisoning and secret agents: 1) steal a clock 2) give Philip the clock 3) put it back. Viola doesn't need to know what goes back in the clock just a simple trade off and her son gets better. It’s obvious the Jenning’s aren’t bad people. They just have a jobs that require them to do bad things. Like nearly smothering Viola’s son once she fails to do her simple task.
Most of the actual spy work was done by proxy. Leaving Philip and Elizabeth helpless as they wait and see if their gamble pays off. Or ends with them taken into a dark room and forced to betray everything they know. All that is left for them to do is talk about how fucked this whole mission is. Phillip is of course perturbed that the higher ups would even allow this sort of thing to go through while Elizabeth is clearly still in the duty-first camp. That icy exterior was largely gone this episode which made things a bit odd. In the pilot you don’t actually see Elizabeth being a mother. In “The Clock” she is very preoccupied with being a mom and connecting to her daughter, Paige. By the end she has softened her stance a little bit but underneath this is still a women who would rather kill herself then be taken alive. This motivation seems to be born not totally out of love for the motherland but the fact she wouldn’t be able to handle how Paige would react.
Having the pilot focus on the family Jenning’s was a necessary and well played move. The specter of “What would happen to the kids, if we get caught” just hangs over everything Philip and Elizabeth do. Even when the mission is over Philip is still watching Henry sleep with a look of horror on his face. The show was never going to get you to root for people who actively try and harm us....no matter of far removed we are. Still how can you root for someones family being torn apart.
A family that doesn't seem as unified is the Beemon clan. Not that Stan would notice that much since. Stan is busy getting his own mole in the KGB, a secretary in the embassy who trades beluga caviar for high end stereo equipment. Other than not taking her to bed the FBI and KGB aren’t that different. All his interactions with Phillip at this point are just a fun mix of is he or isn’t he integrating his neighbor.
C+ Quicker paced episode that was tightly executed and managed to keep the same kind of quality as the pilot. Even if Keri Russell acting like a mom was a bit odd at first.
The majority of the marketing material used Eminence Front so here it is long form.
Arrow S1 Ep13 "Betrayal" Directed By Guy Bee Written By Lana Cho & Beth Schwartz
Ever since the end of “Pilot”, where it was revealed that Moira Queen was somehow connected to an evil cabal of Starling City residents, it was only a matter of time before Oliver found out about it. It took a little longer but “Betrayal” still ended on The Hood growling at Moira Queen that she has failed this city.
He gave his mom a chance to come clean. Oliver didn’t come at her in his hood, arrow pulled taunt. He came to her as a concerned son wondering why this list of bad people - that Water had discovered before vanishing - belonged to his mother. She didn’t come clean, she lied to him and burned the book. Even with this admittedly shady behavior Oliver refused to Hood up and honor his father.
If this had happened in episode 3 there wouldn’t have been a non hooded encounter. This isn’t episode 3, it’s 13 and Oliver is more human and connected then he was at the start. Obviously conflicted Diggle steps in to objectively spy on Mrs. Queen. Spying on her might of hurt Oliver in the short term but the recording of her conversation with Malcom Merlyn (who they fail to recognize) gives him the push he needed to at least unleash the Hood on her.
Ollie was distracted this episode with the other woman in his life, Laurel. She once again calls him to do work where the police can not. Find more evidence on recently released Cyrus Vanch so that she can send him back to jail. In the hand off Detective Lance decides to blow the cover that he bugged the phone. Which further alienates him in the eyes of his daughter, and the police. There is serious talk that some in the force don’t want the Hood to be caught given his recent heroic acts.
Whatever distrust Oliver and Det. Lance have toward one another has to be put to the side once Vanch kidnaps Laurel. The moment where Lance realizes one of his own men ratted on Laurel’s involvement wasn’t over played. You had the expected quick cuts with quicker zooms, mimicking Lance’s chaotic point of view. For a male soap opera this could've been a “big” moment, but it was there and gone before Tommy could even put two and two together. How the show turns Tommy into the Harry Osborn of this show will be quiet the feet. He isn’t exactly the angriest guy.
Cyrus Vanch was created for the show. He was a stereotypical tough guy would be crime lord. Other than a murder in the first 5 minutes all we get is talk of how he is a bad dude. This guy was a super villain redshirt. Yet “Betrayal” manages to make him the only man other than Malcom Merlyn to come extremely close to defeating the Hood. How? A mix of editing and a bit of comic book logic. Having Vanch essentially monologue his plan and cross cutting it with Oliver taking out his plan. This made the action look better than it really is and subtly played with the villain monologue trope. Than just as Vanch said Oliver takes out the 24th guard outcomes guard number 25 and Oliver finds himself lacking in his quiver. They told us and showed us the plan happen, who doesn't like that in heist films? Vanch just didn’t account for the father of the girl he kidnapped.
Paul Blackthorne isn’t the greatest actor in the world. He is able to emote rage quite well, so when he comes charging at Vanch ready to double tap him I bought the idea that they might have Lance cross the line. They don’t, in the end he is the police he can’t kill but the Hood can.
Meanwhile on flashback island Oliver meets the man Yao-Fei sent him to learn how to survive. In the world of DC Comics if you wanted a teacher in survival the best bet is Slade Wilson, he likes swords. Now Slade Wilson in this case is played by Manu Bennett (Crixus in Spartacus). Bennett was not the man in the mask who tortured Oliver earlier it was his partner he claims. In Arrow Slade claims to be Australian Intelligence sent to get Yao-Fei off this island. The best (and most likely worst) part about this island is they have a large amount of leeway in terms of plotting. Slade is a good guy for now but eventually he can turn, how does his mask end up on the beach? Will Slade betray him in an attempt to get off the island?
B - Going in Betrayal appeared to be just another episode of Arrow that could push things forward a bit. And it was but it also had some really good moments.
I don't like Bon Jovi. But this just kind of popped in my hed. Also dosen't Jon Bon Jovi look like Kevin Bacon? Or is ist Kevin Bacon who looks like Jon Bon Jovi
Yea, this is a bit later than I'd liked it but I was other wise preoccupied reading through Television Criticisim by Victoria O'Donnell (2nd edition) in prep for school and all the TV sets were otherwise occupied. I should have Arrow and The Americans review things up normal time though.
With a title like “Kin” the idea of family just permeates all throughout this episode of Justified. Which starts in a surprising place, a doctors office. Not after a shootout, robbery, or some other violent act a normal doctors office, consider me shocked to know Harlan County had one of those. Raylan is waiting around for his Winona, whom he believes to be late for her own appointment about her pregnancy. Not that he is in any place to judge her, having missed the last two completely. In typical Raylan fashion, he has it all wrong. Winona moved her appointment back 30 minutes, he brings her both cold and the wrong coffee, and doesn't even bother to stay, duty calls.
It’s a short scene, like most stingers are but several things are present. Firstly it reminded everyone that Natalie Zea can act. Secondly the irony of Raylan Givens trying to be a father. Here is a man who has all but erased familial ties, not that he isn’t willing to use them when they suit him, trying to create a family (or some semblance of one) and failing at it. If anything it was just nice to be reminded that Winnona still existed.
The Government has called Arlo in and are offering freedom in return for the location of Drew Thompson. They are also putting the hunt for Drew Thompson on the Marshal’s service after you know an FBI agent being a mole and blowing his brains out. Agent Barkley is none too pleased about this and with good reason. Justified has never really tried to overly communicate a shocking twist. The show has played everything straight for the most part. So when Agent Barkley pops up in Wynn Duffy’s motorhome not much is made of it. Turns out Agent Barkley has been working for the Tonin family all along thanks to childhood friend Nick Augustine. Nick also explains to Wynn another reason (beside apparently witnessing Theo murder someone). Drew Thompson was down in Panama with Theo Tonin and stole $2 million in cocaine from the crime boss. The thing that really hurt Tonin though was being shot in the eye. This whole time the grand mystery of Drew Thompson seemed like a major conspiracy, nope it is just some eye-for-an-eye beef. As stated above Justified plays things cool so when Nicky kills Barkley easily and without remorse it happens so fast you might not even feel shocked. Wynn Duffy sure wasn’t, even without the mustache Wynn Duffy is still a boss.
Having none of it Raylan sets out to find Drew Thompson himself before the deal can be finalized. So that Arlo can “die in prison.” Which leads to the return of Constable Bob and brace face Roz. In order to pay for her braces, Roz is sent out by her stepfather Josiah Cairn to strip wire and otherwise cause trouble as he once did. In a pinch Raylan just straps Josiah to the side of his car and drags him around until he spills where he and Arlo hid Drew Thompson, amongst the hill people.
Harlan County is home to many a colorful character but the way these hill people are spoken of left me wondering if things would suddenly turn into The Hills Have Eyes. These hill people and Harlan County are not as different as Afghanistan to Colt at least just “Bunch of clans, led by men with beards, shooting at each other.” One of the things they happen to be shooting his at his boss, Boyd. Boyd went up in the hills looking for Drew just like Raylan did and much like Raylan finds himself tied up next to him.
Raylan at least entered the hills with armor, a picture of his mother and her cousin, Maggie. Maggie lives amongst the hill people so Raylan hopes to be taken in as kin. He finds himself lacking in the oral traditions of his “kin”. Boyd being Boyd tries to lie his way out of the situation but instead gets marked to be put down a mine shaft, he thought it was a boy he played football with. Lucky for Raylan Maggie shows up and takes him in as kin. Her saving the both of them is more out of annoyance for the trouble it would bring then any sort of blood bond. Raylan can respect that.
Maggie also lets Raylan (along with Boyd) know that Drew isn’t on their hill anymore. Last she saw of him he was hobnobbing with local officials. Which seems odd for a man who is trying to stay dead. This is the type of thing that makes it feel like we’ve already seen Drew Thompson and just don’t realize it. Raylan and Boyd part ways in typical fashion, Boyd handcuffed to something.
Now that Raylan and Boyd have shared screen time and are on the same path it feels like the season arc is fully kicked in. Which leaves all the Cassie St. Cyr seemingly finished. That little mini-arc doesn't feel finished though and I am left wanting.
While Colt wasn’t waiting around for Boyd or sawing him free of a tree he was off running in search of Ellen May. She wasn’t kidnapped by St. Cyr, Dixie Mafia, or anyone. She was picked up by Shelby who is hiding her out at his place. Colt might be new to the Crowder operation but he is smart enough to lie well in between looking for Ellen May, claiming her last words were “I’m cold.” Shelby making a proper move against Boyd is a nobel thing. He really wants to be good police (well sheriff). It all screams this ending with the two of them sleeping in the slurry bed Boyd had made for Ellen May.
B+ Raylan still hasn’t killed anyone but hey the mysery of Drew Thompson is making more sense.
The song Drew sings was Leaning on the Everlasting Arms and was in the True Grit remake.
WARNING SPOILERS: I’m going to have to talk about a twist and a character death. I’d say watch and come back but I’d feel bad recommending this show.
The Following S1 Ep03 "The Poet's Fire" Directed By Liz Friedlander Written By Adam Armus & Kay Foster
Three episodes into The Following and I feel like I’m in the middle of a long dark tunnel. “The Poet’s Fire” makes forward progress and I still find myself in a long dark tunnel but there was a small glimmer of light.
This is an episode that featured a man being burned alive, a gruesome stabbing, suicide via swallowing cloth, kidnapping, and disturbing home movies. Except for the home movies at the end, none of it really stood out, affecting me in anyway. Well, I laughed once but the show hopefully wasn't going for that. Following is centered around a cult of serial killers. Violent acts should be common place. Just because the acts, to these characters isn’t any sort of big deal, Paul in a jealous rage bashes a girls head in like it’s nothing, doesn't mean the show shouldn't treat them like it is nothing. Without any sort of reflection or some attempt at emotion all the brutal stuff going down The Following becomes the hollow gore porn people who complain about the state of TV imagine it to be. The Starz series Spartacus is bloody and sexual all the time, but it never felt as hollow as The Following.
The Following has done little to get me interested in a majority of the characters. They killed one of them tonight. I needed to look him up on IMBD to know his name. The show has positioned the followers as the characters that, presumably/hopefully, get some sort of exploration. And they do, right at the very end when it is pretty meaningless.
The use of flashbacks this week was better than previous episodes. They started to inform things in the present. At their worst it just shows what Ryan meant when he said Carroll fooled him to. Carroll and Hardy shared a drink together while going over the case. Fueled by good scotch Joe Carroll flirts with Hardy a little bit. Adding a bit of sexual tension to the Hardy-Carroll dynamic has possibilities. This being on a network it seems doubtful that it will ever be made totally explicit. Then again this is a show that had two men share a kinda romantic kiss, maybe Kevin Williamson has long leash.
Non-Hardy related flashbacks show the followers having a good natured game of truth or dare, as good natured as a game amongst serial killers can be. Viewers get a segment of this scene, Ricky stabbing Maggie, earlier on but without the context. These planning flashbacks could be the most interesting in the series. They don’t just function as exposition like so many of the prior flashbacks.
There is a another brief flashback that builds on the game of gay chicken played by Jacob and Paul earlier in the planning room. One night deep into their cover as the gay neighbors and after a few too many drinks it turns out the two have developed some sort of feelings for one another. Turning the Emma-Jacob-Paul grouping into a sort of love triangle is a little interesting. This way the show can give these segments a bit of tension without it being based on will or won't Paul kill Joey. How Emma, who has gotten more worse sense last week, hasn't figured this out and just take Paul out when she had the chance is something that can only happen in a TV show. To deal with his angst Paul runs off to town and picks up a girl. He then proceeds to bash her against the card and take her home as a guest. Paul is no longer the third wheel.
This major revenge scheme by Joe Carroll is his new “novel”. As a way to gain his followers trust, Carroll is letting his followers “write their chapter” however they want. Jordy says Carroll only told them about their chapter but Emma acts like she co-wrote the plan. How much dose someone like Paul know compared to Jacob or Emma. Some of the followers try to give their chapters a theme. In the case of Ricky the “follower of the week” he wants it to be about revenge. Striking down the men who ruined Joe's career.
Of the revealed followers Ricky and is the least interesting of the revealed members. Rick is a mousy little dude who likes fire and isn’t good with knives, ask his wife. That’s all there is to him. No trip into the past that showed he had a troubled childhood. He just liked fire and it never went away, so of course he would become a follower.
“The Poet’s Fire” starts up just before “Chapter 2” ends, with the guy in Poe Mask, Ricky, finishes off The Raven (classic Poe). Ricky then proceeds to douse a seemingly random bystander with gasoline and lights him ablaze. Immolation Is an inherently brutal way to go out. Seeing this man, it turns out he was a book critic who wrote an especially critical review of Joe’s book, flail about and scream wasn't all that unsettling. Seeing Ricky in the Poe mask essentially photobomb this guy was humorous.
The majority of scares and twists that have happened have not been effective. Any basic horror fan could see them coming, it also doesn't help when they are given away in TV spots. Scares might have been off this week but the twist, that Maggie was a follower all along, was well executed. The reveal of another couple followers makes the FBI look even dumber then they already appear, but this is TV they have to be. Editing made this particularly reveal good, crosscutting from Iceman making a call to Maggies phone vibrating with a message, not the phone we were hoping to see. Seconds later Agent Reilly(Billy Brown) finds himself with a knife in his face. Ryan and Agent Parker left cleaning up the mess, with Agent Parker swearing vengeance, not that you would by it.
“The Poet’s Fire” had flashes of a good show within it. In totality “The Poet’s Fire” is still pretty hard to watch if you want to think about it at all. Kevin Bacon continues to make the best of it with some sarcastic one liners. Most of them directed at Iceman Mike Weston, who continues to come off as a creepy stalker in training.
C - Going into writing this, I wasn’t feeling this episode at all. If I wrote grades first it would've been a solid D. Writing this out though has gotten me to enjoy it a bit more. Maybe there is hope for The Following, man do I want you to be good.
Jordy did sing a song and there was one at the end, but I haven't been able to figure it out. So instead here is Kelly Clarkson Since U Been Gone (yep that's the correct spelling). I could argue there is some sort of tonal connection to "The Poet's Fire", but, truth is, I listened to it earlier today and it's been stuck in my head. Besides She was the first American Idol and had that terrible musical.
I do my best not to spoil anything to much. The only thing below that I would consider spoilerish involves mention of a character and what Spacey dose in broad strokes.
A little over 72 hours ago Netflix released it’s first major piece of original content, House of Cards, based on the 90’s BBC series of the same name. Shepherding this prestige web series is executive producer and director of the first two episodes, David Fincher, lead and EP Kevin Spacey, with playwright Beau Willimon (Ides of March) adapting the majority of the series, with a credit on 10 of the episodes ( 4 individual, 6 & credits).
I watched the first 7 episodes the first day, starting at around 2 pm my time. Finishing off the remaining 6 over Saturday and Sunday. Originally I’d planned this as some kind of all encompassing “review” of House of Cards. Having spent the majority of the Super Bowl XLVII, where the team hailing from the city of The Wire just won, trying to concentrate my thoughts onto a piece of paper I don’t think a straight up review is the right move. Honestly I can only give an impression. Marathoning the series like I did without really stopping for note taking makes everything a bit of a blur. If you are looking for some kind of guidance on if you should or shouldn't watch it, well, you might as well watch it (eventually), you paid for it with your subscription. House of Cards is good, it has all the makings of good prestige film/television and Kevin Spacey is entertaining as Congressmen Frank Underwood.
House of Cards overall quality is secondary to my interests. Netflix has entered into the content business and is the new HBO. Ratings, what do they really matter for a company like Netflix? How would they even measure them? Heck I’m more interested in how film and TV sites cover something like House of Cards. The episode-a-week model doesn't really work when the audience can watch it over a weekend, like me. What kind of shelf life dose House of Cards or other shows have.
My initial approach to thinking about House of Cards was wrong. I was looking at it like another HBO-esque TV show. It isn’t a TV show. Television shows have episodes released over time. House of Cards has come out all at once*, it is more akin to a novel then a television show or most other web series. I recommend this GQ article featuring Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, as he talks up House of Cards and don't call it season 4 of Arrested Development. In it Hastings talks about the instant access Netflix offers. Who needs time slots anymore? If I want to watch something at 2 am why should it be a infomercial? If I wanted to, I could have watch the final episode first. I often start books by reading the last page first, man did that make HP7 weird. The episode titles are even called chapters. This long form approach is why the show throws characters at you fast and furious with no real reason for you to care about them. Characters need to be introduced so they can slowly grow and grow in importance, if it doesn't grip you for the five minutes it takes to show you a face so be it. It is still more then likely you will hit "next episode" the second the ticker starts and the credits role. You don't read a book one chapter a week.
The plotting in general fails to have a sense of momentum in the middle chapters, after Fincher with his style manages to make everything just move. There are small episode long arcs, some are more interesting than others. Like Frank Underwood House of Cards is thinking of the long game. In this way it is your generic slow burn political drama. Despite Reed Hastings hope for more artistic freedom with the platform Netflix offers, House of Cards is pretty generic.
Kevin Spacey is Frank Underwood, a Democrat U.S. Representative from a South Carolina district and House Majority Whip. Frank correctly backed the next President of the United States and was assured the job of Secretary of State. Things change and Frank finds himself passed over for the position. Leaving him nothing else to do than to manipulate his way to an even higher position in the political food chain. Over the 13 episodes Underwood replaces the Secretary of State with someone he wants, fights over a major education bill and tries to get a man elected Governor of Pennsylvania. All the while slowly inching closer to the his real goal. To further his goals he becomes the key source to upstart reporter, Zoe Barnes(Kate Mara) and takes a keen interest in the political future of a young Congressman Peter Russow(Corey Stoll).
Spacey with his heavy southern accent, appropriately hamms things up when dealing with the theatrical and heavy language Willimon. The moments where Spacey breaks the fourth wall are hit and miss. Some are more soliloquies on the nature of things, while others are short jokes, the worst are when Spacey is literally saying something like “it all comes to this”. Spacey’s overt acting doesn't makes these moments grating, in fact the nonchalance in their implementation had me waiting and imagining other characters soliloquizing as they stared off into the distance. Frank Underwood manages to be extremely frightening without trying to be villainous. He is a villain, just not the super kind.
Seeing Underwood be such an agent of change to people is most entertaining part of the show. Just seeing him manipulate the President, Congress, and local politicians like it is nothing was enough for me to forgive the luls in momentum. Spacey manages to make scheming look entirely effortless. Some of these schemes go off a little too easily, like a persons claim over Israel-Palestine relations. Sometimes the story requires things to just happen.
The rest of the cast hold their own. Helping and complicating things is his wife Claire, played by Robin Wright. Claire and Frank at first seem to have a marriage based more around their mutual love for power, but really they couldn’t be with anyone else. Her part of this story meanders about and never really culminates in anything, despite some Shakespearean allusions. Robin Wright is good enough to make it work but she is kind of wasted. Kate Mara gives an overall good performance her character on the other hand started to just become annoying. Corey Stoll as U.S. Representative Peter Russo, stands out in the supporting cast. His acting mixed with where Congressman Russo goes made for the most engaging subplot of the show.
The original BBC series spawned two sequels To Play the King and The Final Cut. This House of Cards has an open ending with ample room for another season. Getting to see Spacey chew scenery, scheme, and smoke cigarettes with Robin Wright again doesn't seem too bad. House of Cards is a quality bit of political drama. How it ages against the other great political drama is yet to be see. It is barely four days old at this point. Do you need to watch it now? Probably not, if something like Breaking Bad is at the top of the instant queue. Should you eventually? Yes.
* Yes, I know the show has been sold to foreign markets as a TV series, but I only got the Netflix option.