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TV Review: The Bridge 1.6, “ID”

7 Jun

bridge 6b

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

“ID” was another top-notch episode of The Bridge, albeit one which was mostly playing catch-up with itself. We learned more about the personal histories of Marco, Sonya, and Hank, but only in the usual snippets we’ve come to expect from this series which, while not a complaint, doesn’t provide much more than bits of interesting history. The overarching plot barely moved at all aside from Charlotte diverting her nagging moral anxiety over the tunnel in her backyard by enlisting the assistance of her clearly intelligent and stand-up new boyfriend who I’m sure will live a long and fruitful life in no way impeded by the ATF or Mexican drug smugglers, Sonya’s supposition that The Bridge Butcher may be an active law enforcement officer, and the probably doomed one way or another Gina Meadows dying a pretty terrible death which may or may not have been the work of The Bridge Butcher. Most of the episode spent its time watching characters merely catch up to themselves and each other, but it still contributed to the expertly rendered portraits of its characters the series has been constructing.

Aside from the shocking sights of The Calaca’s knife-ridden corpse hanging from a telephone pole in Juarez, and poor Gina’s tragic, bloody departure, the episode’s most captivating image was its closing scene where Sonya takes the hand of her sister’s now brain-damaged killer while he absently colored pictures of a blonde woman with her face literally blacked out except for her eyes. We already knew Sonya occasionally visits the man, but her futile attempts at discerning some kind of reason for her loss took on new weight when we learned that Hank not only originally took the case of Sonya’s sister’s murder, but that he caught Dobbs and was the one to put a bullet in his brain. I loved that Hank wasn’t disturbed by shooting Dobbs, but by taking away Sonya’s hope for answers. It casts a new light on Hank’s and Sonya’s relationship which elevates it from the typical dynamic usually seen between a protective father figure stereotype and a female subordinate, even more so than has Sonya’s Asperger’s.

Marco continued to struggle keeping his family together, but the highlight of his time in “ID” came from his meeting with Fausto Galvan to return the million dollars cash Galvan provided for Maria’s ransom. Here we continue to see Marco do what he can to remain an honest cop despite the conclusions Frye and Adrianna are making about his career. Again, this characterization is another one which has now taken on greater significance with a last minute revelation, that Marco’s and Fausto’s fathers apparently built Galvan’s drug business together. Nevertheless, I wonder if “ID” would have been improved by spending more time with this development instead of watching the Ruiz family continue to gradually fall apart.

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Although watching Gina struggle to make sense of the trauma she endured mirrored Sonya’s own past, I’m not sure how effective this was in achieving what was desired by her death and the aforementioned scene between Sonya and Dobbs. It wasn’t poor, but it took up the majority of the episode for a payoff which wasn’t exactly poignant so much as it was tragic. Meanwhile, most of the rest of “ID” followed Frye and Adriana put pieces together which the audience has already been aware of for some time so it didn’t exactly make for very compelling proceedings. Similarly, I suppose Frye’s new found desire for sobriety has been brought on by his learning just how deep the conspiracy of Cristina Fuentes’ death is buried in the FBI, but I didn’t think this was illustrated very clearly which made me question the efficacy of seeing Frye dump out all his booze and drugs. What I missed most from “ID” was Steven Linder. I’m afraid he’s probably dead in a ditch somewhere for killing Calaca, but I can’t believe after all the time spent with this character we wouldn’t even discover his ultimate fate.

I love everything I’ve seen of The Bridge thus far, including “ID” (especially the eye/vision motif achieved from the eyes drawn by the sketch artist working with Gina, Sonya’s exclamation that The Butcher is watching them, and the drawings from Dobbs), but it seems clear this episode will prove to have been a relative lull in an overall outstanding season of television.

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TV Review: The Bridge 1.1, “Pilot”

28 Apr

the bridge pilot

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The pilot episode of The Bridge indicates it’s a series which speaks softly and carries a very big stick. Despite being a crime drama about two seemingly mismatched detectives joining forces to capture a serial killer – two of the most tired TV tropes in existence – you hardly notice because of two general strengths: careful attention to detail and being deeply rooted in horrific realism. This does not look like a show which sets out to reinvent the wheel, just produce a very efficient and overall solid wheel.

The Bridge is a remake of a Scandinavian crime drama of the same name which premiered in September of 2011. The FX series follows a joint investigation by American and Mexican authorities (led by Inglorious Basterds’ Diane Kruger and Academy Award winner Demian Bichir, respectively) into a series of murders which begins with two halves of two bodies – the top half a conservative American judge and the lower half belonging to one of the thousands of dead girls of Juarez – found on The Bridge of the Americas across the Mexico-Texas border. The original Dane-Swedish series is so well-received that not only is FX remaking the show in America, but a Franco-British co-production has been announced as The Tunnel to be broadcast on Sky Atlantic in the UK and Canal+ in France.

Apparently the co-production company Shine America wanted the series to take place on the Ambassador Bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, in order to mirror the original series’ winter setting, but thankfully head writers and executive producers Meredith Stiehm and Elwood Reid were persuasive enough to set the series in El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Jaurez, Chihuahua. This setting, and the masterful world-building which makes it as much a character as either of the show’s leads, both of whom are fantastically effective, is crucial to the series’ intrigue. Though I contend this is a high quality episode on every level (writing, acting, directing, production, editing, pacing, tone), the politics of the region is what elevates it to potentially daring television.

Since the early ’90s there have been probably about two thousand or so abductions of young women in Ciudad Juarez, pretty much all of which have gone unsolved. I use such vague terms only because as Amnesty International puts it, “Inadequate official data on the crimes committed in Chihuahua, particularly accurate figures on the exact number of murders and abductions of girls and women, has led to disputes around the issues that obscure the quest for justice.” Yeah, the problem is so out of control that proper records aren’t even kept on these women. They are known unceremoniously as the dead girls of Juarez and their tragedy is a morbidly fascinating confluence of backward cultural attitudes, an intensely corrupt justice system, powerful drug cartels, and economic despair. To learn more about the corrosive epidemic check out Casa Amiga or Ni Una Mas (or just watch this At The Drive-In video), but for the purposes of this review suffice to say the gravity of that situation, while in no way compensating for the other aspects of the show thus far, absolutely lends to the show the level of stakes most dramas simply can’t replicate.

But to tackle the episode more directly, I loved how immediately the initial crime is portrayed and then seen to draw in its key players. Moving with deft momentum the episode (which was a full hour for the pilot as opposed to the standard 43-ish minutes) managed to provide solid characterization to both leads’ characters as well as those of their supporting cast. In particular, Kruger’s Detective Sonya Cross, who is part of a new categorization of television protagonists whom experience some degree of autism (including The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, Community’s Abed Nadir, and the late Alphas’ Gary Bell), convincingly conveys the isolation and painful uncertainty of functioning among individuals most of whom never consider the ramifications of anyone having such debilitating difficulties in terms of the social cues and norms which we all take for granted, let alone a police detective. Typically I cringe at such portrayals of the magical autistic, but done well, as I believe may be the case here, these performances can honor those they emulate.

In addition to Cross, Detective Marco Ruiz, and Cross’ supervisor Lieutenant Hank Wade (The Silence of the Lambs’ and Monk’s Ted Levine), we’re introduced to a horse trainer and his wife, the Millwrights, and an as yet nameless man who appears to be a coyote, or human trafficker. I’m curious to see precisely how this man’s interactions with the women of Juarez fit in with the plans of the mastermind orchestrating not only the dead women found on the bridge, but the fake carbombing of Matthew Lillard’s jaded journalist, Daniel Frye. Also curious is what Mr. Millwright’s secret basement contains which will drag Mrs. Millwright into the investigation.

I recognize how stilted and trite a show about odd couple detectives tracking a serial killer around a chief on the verge of retirement whose pilot includes a ticking time bomb sounds. But despite all these apparent cliches, The Bridge contains just as many admirably brazen elements and appears to be nothing less than the only series tackling not only issues of immigration, a topic controversial enough it’s unseen anywhere but 24 hour news networks, but those of the corruption and corrosive nature of Mexico’s infrastructure, a subject which deserves wider American attention for many reasons, chief among them being the fact that the concerns of our neighbors reflect our own. The Bridge is clearly capable of more than just riding the “ripped from the headlines” nature of their setting’s humanitarian concerns, and is a truly competent series which knows how to skillfully utilize its elements to successfully achieve its goals, such as Ruiz’s recent vasectomy and subsequent limp and good-natured ribbing from a coworker symbolizing a man who has moved beyond the archaic notions of machismo which many agree contribute to the hundreds of deaths per year of young Mexican women in Juarez, or the tears welling up in Cross’ eyes when she hears of Wade’s impending retirement and his reassuring shoulder bumps to comfort Cross in lieu of more conventional means of physical comfort. The Bridge may be playing on well tread ground, but if the pilot is any indication it’s merely a solid foundation upon which the series will construct a masterful narrative, one which I eagerly await to experience.

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The 7.39 (1 of 2): Episode Review

11 Mar

Vimeo trailer

BBC

Is a railway romance a good platform for a lasting relationship?

David Morrissey and Sheridan Smith book a one-way train to Excitementville, bypassing Responsibiltyford and Mundaneton in the BBC’s new two-part drama written by David Nicholls. But is the story merely an unambitious clich of a Brief Encounter replacement service?

Most disappointing of any aspect inside the programme was the decision of the BBC programmers not to reschedule the entire evening to broadcast the 7.39 at its misleading self-appointed time and choose the ironically timely 9pm slot instead. For one day or two, surely the Ten O’clock News could have been delayed due to leaves on the line or some sort of signal failure directed at Huw Edwards.

David Nicholls, author of best-seller One Day, choo choo chooses one train as his subject for this mini-series. The service in question is the daily commute of the 7.39 to Waterloo. Here, differently, but equally ground down by ‘real life’, David Morrissey and Sheridan Smith meet and strike up a relationship founded on the mutual acknowledgement of the esoteric frustrations of a daily commute via public transport. The friendship simmers with flirtation as slowly the novelty of conversation on a train turns to the realisation of the frisson they find in each other’s company. They can leave their domestic troubles at the door as they mind the gap and seek a way to have their buffet cart and eat it too.

The acting is superb, even if Smith is forced into stereotype by her role as foil to Morrissey, our protagonist. Nicholls’ ability to articulate the great unsaid, but instantly recognisable, gives the programme a consistently comfortable, charming and playful atmosphere. It is perhaps its greatest strength and weakness. In episode one, it lacked any of the counterpointing bite and pain that made One Day such a success. Perhaps the second episode will embellish the groundwork laid by the first, the next hour may pick apart and scrutinise with more reality the affect any affair would have on either family. Morrissey is actually happily married to Olivia Coleman, but wants something more and has two stroppy and ungrateful teenagers who are drawn with broad brushstrokes at this stage. Meanwhile Smith is engaged to a Duracell bunny in the shape of Sean Maguire, a fitness guru keen on baby-making in the country, not entirely to city-girl Smith’s liking. He is nice and dependable. Fans of Scott and Bailey may recognise the nature and impending trajectory of his character.

As a young man, Brief Encounter is not a natural part of my psyche. But the accusation of critics that the show is the Brief Encounter for the modern viewer does seem to be justified in some respects after some research.

I would suggest Briefer Encounter is a kinder summary.

The time-frames in the two ‘versions’ are on different scales. The 7.39 is a whirlwind while the film is zephyr-esque. Moreover, we have only seen 60 of 120 minutes. If silver screen-goers had their cine-reel cut short after 43 of 86 minutes no doubt they would have grumbled that events so far were unsatisfactory in containing and describing the whole story. For better or for worse, complicit in a youthful ignorance of some classics I should have seen by now, I don’t hold a nostalgic preservation for the 1945 treasure, which could be the reasoning behind the narrowly paralleled quandary explored in the film and yesterday’s TV cousin. It was new and interesting to me, probably built on an existing fondness for the film in some, but no doubt irked others

Therefore, let us let time tell. The thorny issue of a ‘remake’ may dominate critical discussion but in actuality, The 7.39 was not called Briefer Encounter or Brief Encounter: This Time It’s Personal. Stories need to be retold and aren’t necessarily rehashed because of a similarity in the conceit which carries them, be it cafe or train.

Returning to Nicholls’, he acutely airs collective truths: the mild thrill of sneaking into First Class, the morning winces of pain after a gym session designed to impress a girl and the illicit mint to conceal alcohol on the breath. The script was littered with such touches which were pitched excellently by the acting. Nice cinematographic touches included the view from under David Morrissey’s character’s bed. Morning moods were depicted by smoothly slipped on slippers, leaping out of bed forgetting them altogether and gingerly placed feet on the floor after the previous day spent at Smith’s gym.

The episode was thoroughly enjoyable despite the lack of any tangible jeopardy. This is bound to surface tonight as the bubble of the 7.39 expands to burst with Fairy Liquid-induced red-eyed stinging pain for the two families as yet unaware of events which are gradually spilling outside the confines of a single brief encounter on the train. Will Morrissey ruin the Smiths dreams yet again? Or will Smith produce another profusion of pain for Olivia Coleman to demonstrate her growing reputation for versatility in tragic-dramas such as Broadchurch, Run and most recently The Thirteenth Tale.

Yes, The 7.39 is safely pedestrian, lacking the cut-and-thrust of a Sherlock or creeping nightmare of a Whitechapel, but trains must reach a range of termini, not just Excitementville.

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Scandal 3.2 Review, ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’

11 Dec

Scandal

Hello, gladiators! Welcome to another recap of ‘Scandal’, the only show on the air where dinner is a bargaining chip, there are assassins around every corner, and a loving father may turn out to be either the villain of the piece, or the unlikely avenging angel that can save your career. Here is ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’, a flashback-heavy episode all about Olivia’s relationship with her father, aka Rowan Pope, the head of the black-ops government group, B6-13.

In flashbacks to five years ago, we see Huck and Liv’s friendly interactions in the subway station as Huck remains homeless and Liv attends awkward dinners with her dad who’s trying to restore a loving relationship with his daughter following the death of the matriarch of the Pope family.

Rowan is still lying to Liv about his job but they soon reconcile a little. She chats to Edison (yay! Awesome to see him back!), her then-beau, before getting caught in an attempted mugging that Huck saves her from, revealing his true nature to her when he brutally beats down the would-be muggers.

Later, Olivia talks to Huck and they open up to each other, Huck revealing his tragic past. In a conversation with her dad, Liv inadvertently reveals Huck’s story to his then-boss Rowan. Oops. A few days later, Rowan has Huck secretly apprehended, lying to Olivia about B6-13 andd Huck’s ‘arrest’; later she meets David Rosen for the first time who tells her that Huck was never arrested.

Scandal 302 1

Olivia investigates, tracking down the front company and address Huck mentioned in a confused state and confronting her father. Rowan cuts her down to size, revealing his true face by coldly ordering her about and the nature of his work. Olivia walks out of the restaurant and soon has her revenge by going for dinner with her dad and Edison, her now-fiance, a senator in charge of spy monitoring. She demands Huck back.

Huck is given back to her but her father calls her, revealing he got Edison in an accident and tells her to break up with him. Olivia reluctantly agrees but cuts off all ties with Rowan. He’s dead to her now.

In the present day, poor Jeannine Locke is getting set up for a fall and Olivia and Fitz chat about it (including a Dalai Lama anecdote that is hilarious). Liv reveals that she’s going to attack the White House which Fitz agrees with. Olivia soon announces a press conference outside the White House with Jeannine.

Mellie is desperate for Jeannine to be brought in while Cyrus is busy dealing with Rowan’s pressure and Olivia’s conference. Cyrus and Mellie try to get Fitz to ‘admit’ to sleeping with Jeannine, which he angrily rebuffs. The pair plot to leak more faked information to back up their lives to the delight of the assembled press.

Scandal 302 2

Abby and Olivia struggle to get an alibi for Jeannine while the latter is shocked by her father’s arrival at the offices, warmly greeting the entire team including Huck. The father and daughter share a grinning confrontation where he demands she drop the Jeannine Locke situation otherwise Ballard will die.

Olivia and Huck talk about B6-13 and how orders of insubordination are treated (Huck recalling the pit of deprivation where an agent is ‘reprogrammed’). Liv contacts Fitz and asks him to help free Ballard despite he and Ballard’s rocky relationship. Fitz orders Cyrus to find out about Ballard despite all reservations.

Quinn hacks into Olivia’s email (“because [she] can”) and uncovers the breaking-off of the father-daughter relationship, but Huck tells her not to and to avoid becoming like him. Meanwhile Abby gets the IMs that will give Jeannine an alibi from Jeannine’s friend/colleague Ethan by threatening his hard drive. Soon the campaign to clear Jeannine’s name continues by dressing her up. Jeannine has a breakdown ahead of the interview and Liv toughens her up for the fight ahead. Everyone needs an Olivia Pope pep talk in their life. Seriously.

Mellie soon gets frustrated by the lack of progress and arranges a meeting with the naive Jeannine, one that soon has her destroying the IMs with Ethan’s help to Liv’s anger. Olivia bargains with her father for Ballard’s life by giving her father the dinners back, before challenging Jeannine who is being paid off by Mellie. The interview is cut off by an announcement from Fitz who demands Ballard back from Cyrus, otherwise he’ll tell the world the whole truth.

Fitz announces his affair with Jeannine and the entire issue is put to bed with Jeannine getting promised interviews and a book deal along with her two million from Mellie. Quinn confronts Huck about something she found in Liv’s emails and deduces that the homeless man in Liv’s emails was Huck. Huck violently confronts Liv about B6-13 and the truth about her father, shocked when he throws her against a car. Huck stalks off, horrified.

At home, Liv tries to assauge her guilt with wine when Rowan contacts her, tells her to open the front door… and reveals a bloody and barely conscious Ballard! The pair embrace as Rowan demands dinner with Liv and Ballard manages a single word: ‘Hi’.

A great follow up to the very strong series opener and one that definitely follows up with the great cliffhangers of last week. Best of all are the flashbacks which rather than delving into the tumultuous relationship between Fitz and Olivia (which were getting a bit stale to be honest), focus on Liv and her dad and are played extremely well by Kerry Washington and Joe Morton alike who play the relationship as treading the line between loving and loathing in equal measure.

The flaws in this episode are only slight ones – Mellie does a lot of one-sided ‘Evil Queen’ stuff in this episode which is a shame seeing as she’s normally a much more developed character. Harrison gets nothing to do really and the turn Quinn is taking is, while I’m sure worth it down the line, is just a bit annoying. I like Quinn when she’s good, not playing at being bad.

Anyway, a solid follow up which wraps up the Grant affair story – for a while at least – and gives us plenty of backstory into the Pope family which seems to be the main pin for this season as we learn more about Rowan (or is his name Eli?). Plus that ending brings back the fantastic Scott Foley and sets up just what shocked Cyrus between he and Fitz. Hmm…

ED NOTES: FOUR STARS, PLEASE

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Breaking Bad 5.16, Felina Review

29 Nov

Nh

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

With all the hype surrounding Breaking Bad, the final episode had to be one of the most hotly anticipated series finales of all-time. It’s a great episode, although perhaps not in the highest tier for Breaking Bad standards. Anyone tuning in tonight just to see what all the fuss was about might not even have thought too much of it at all, but Felina isn’t for them. For all the fans who have stuck with the show since the beginning and withstood its heartbreaking emotional unpredictability, Felina is a welcome, satisfying conclusion.

At the end of the episode, a title card even thanks the fans for helping make the show what it was. The show’s been good since long before it had a big fan base, but in later seasons especially it really did grow into a juggernaut partly due to the eager recommendations of its fans. Picking on Breaking Bad fans for their enthusiasm even became a popular internet trope. We’re like Ron Paul supporters; we just have to proselytize. I, for one, feel entitled to that.

Sincere and welcome bits of fan service pepper the episode. Prior to Felina’s airing, I joked to my friends it’d be a clip show a la Seinfeld’s finale. Obviously that doesn’t happen, but we do get a number of well-placed, emotional flashbacks. There are subtle nods to past moments, even totally inconspicuous ones like Walt tapping the meter on a tank in the meth lab. Not only are most of the loose ends tied up neatly, but fan favorite characters I didn’t expect to see again show up and we even revisit Hank in a flashback to the very first time Walt’s eyes opened up to the possibility of making money cooking meth.

Actually, undoubtedly the weakest aspect of Felina is its predictability. I’ll try to save most of the spoilers for later, but basically, if you predicted an ending based on the most obvious clues you were probably pretty much right. For a show driven by twists and changes in direction, it’s slightly disappointing. Yet it’s hard to seriously hold that against it. This is the finale; there’s nothing left to drive towards. Vince Gilligan carefully crafted an episode of Breaking Bad that, for once, met audience expectations. It makes for an extremely satisfying finish.

But it isn’t immediately obvious things will turn out that way. Granite State carried just enough ambiguity in its ending to make it unclear whether we’d be seeing redemptive Walt or a full-blown villain Heisenberg in the finale. While I didn’t imagine Walt harming Gretchen and Elliott, the scene at their house makes you wonder. There’s a Clockwork Orange vibe, with sociopath Walt casually strolling around in their home as classical music dances through the hallways. I don’t know who it is that’s playing, but if it’s Beethoven then the allusion must be intentional. But I applaud this use of Gretchen and Elliott; they provide the perfect, plot-sensible vehicle for Walt to see to it that his money gets to his kids.

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When the two red dots appear on the Schwartz’s chests, it’s the jumpiest moment of the episode. It also makes Walt’s seemingly casual observation that their house faces east that much more chilling. For a moment it does seem like Walt is in full-blown villain mode. That sense of Heisenberg as a fully arrived super villain quickly vanishes, though, when his snipers turn out to be Badger and Skinny Pete using laser pointers. Right down to the very end the show maintains its dark sense of humor, with Skinny Pete wondering if what they’re doing isn’t “kinda shady, like, morality-wise.” $100,000 makes him feel OK with it. His and Badger’s inclusion in the episode is a fantastic tribute to the fans, but it’s a little hard to believe story-wise. For one thing, the characters have not been typically painted as especially competent, so hitting their laser pointers right on the mark from such a distance is a bit of a stretch. So, too, is it tough to imagine how Walt found and recruited them in the first place. It’d make for a funny deleted scene. But it’s easy to be forgiving of that imagination stretch for the sake of seeing favorite characters one last time.

Walt also gets the chance to give his family a more proper farewell. One of the most revealing parts of his visit to Skyler’s house is that the voicemail is no longer her chipper greeting but the machine’s built-in recording. Also tellingly, Marie is no longer wearing purple – she’s certainly been changed by the introduction of Heisenberg into her life. But her continuing communication with Skyler is a promising sign that what’s left of Walt’s family is going to stick together. Walt even gives Skyler the location of Hank and Gomez’s bodies and finally lets her know what happened at To’hajiilee, allowing for some painful closure (although those bodies, being buried in the desert for months, have got to be pretty gross by now). It’s also nice that Walt gets to see Junior one last time, from a distance, but it’s a little puzzling why Junior is riding the bus. Perhaps the sensible assumption is that he got rid of his car knowing it was bought with drug money.

But it’s Walt’s conversation with Skyler that is the real emotional core of the episode. The camera is positioned during much of their conversation so that the pillar that obscured Walt at the beginning of the scene divides them. It’s obvious that it’s too late for Walt to make amends; he doesn’t even try. He begins what sounds at first like yet another, “I did everything for my family” speech. As Skyler cuts him off he surprises her by instead saying, “I did it for me.” That first couple hundred grand may have been for the family, but the more Walt insisted on being seen as a provider the thinner the excuse became. He admits that he enjoyed being Heisenberg. He liked that he was good at it and he felt alive doing it. That simple admission is probably the best summation there can be of the completeness of the character’s arc. It destroys any division that existed between Walter White and Heisenberg; he tells Skyler this with just about the same casual, half-guilty inflection he used when he admitted to smoking marijuana and liking it in the first season.

A flashback in the episode shows Jesse daydreaming, or perhaps hallucinating, about the box he made for his mother in high school that he ended up trading for drugs. Fans wanted to see some of Jesse in high school and although he isn't in Mr. White's class, it's a touching reminder that Walt's isn't the only tragic journey the show has chronicled.

A flashback in the episode shows Jesse daydreaming, or perhaps hallucinating, about the box he made for his mother in high school that he ended up trading for drugs. Fans wanted to see some of Jesse in high school and although he isn’t in Mr. White’s class, it’s a touching reminder that Walt’s isn’t the only tragic journey the show has chronicled.

With his family business handled, Walt prepares to meet his destiny. The way Walt dispatches with the neo-Nazis ranks right up there with setting off the mercury fulminate at Tuco’s and blowing half of Gus’s face off. Leading up to this episode I had my doubts that Walt planned to use the M60 on the neo-Nazis because he’d still be hopelessly outgunned. When we see Walt tinkering with a robot in the desert, we know what he’ll get his assist from. It ends up being science that saves the day after all – and a robot, just like Jesse wanted way back in the second season to get them out of the desert.

While it’s plenty macho, there’s a little bit of sloppiness to the final scene. For one thing, if the neo-Nazis are going to bother inspecting both Walt and his car so thoroughly, why on earth would they skip over the trunk? Walt must have known Jesse and Jack were not true partners even if he knew Jesse was behind the cook because Jesse would never team up with such sadistic villains, but nowhere do we see that thought process carried out. It seems Walt truly believes they’re partners, but the way he needles Jack about it – and he needs to needle Jack to buy himself the opening he needs to grab the remote for his gun – says otherwise. And the fact that out of a roomful of people, the four main characters are the only ones still breathing when the gun stops firing is great for the plot, but not for believability.

Nonetheless, it’s still pretty damn well-executed and fun to watch. Seeing Jesse take out Todd is utterly gratifying, a pure catharsis. Another brilliant piece of writing is Walt putting the last bullet in Jack’s head before Jack can spit out the location of the remainder of Walt’s money. Walt not only doesn’t need it, he doesn’t want it. And, like many fans predicted, Walt poisons Lydia by putting ricin “in that Stevia crap” she’s always putting in her tea. Every one of these deaths and the subsequent final standoff between Jesse and Walt not only works in the context of the show, it provides the right character his right redemption in a way that is totally pleasing to fan expectations. Sadly, whether an oversight or an omission due to lack of time, Brock’s status is not addressed. I suppose most people will imagine that Jesse, who drives away from the neo-Nazi compound with the thrill of life filling him once more, will see that he’s taken care of somehow.

Nazisdead

The closing song is a little jarring. Aside from the opening lyric, it doesn’t really make a heck of a lot of sense. The song in the teaser is better, and also contains an apt lyric: “Maybe tomorrow a bullet may find me.” It’s fitting to see Walt, dying or dead from a bullet he took out of his own M60, lying on the floor of a meth laboratory as the series closes. Whether he dies in this scene or not, the story of the great Heisenberg is certainly come to a definitive close. His family is safe from prosecution and all his work as Heisenberg was not for nothing. Still, I wish we knew for sure whether Walt survives that gunshot wound or not. It may be classy to end such a powerful artistic statement as Breaking Bad with a question mark, but with everything else pretty neatly wrapped up I wish they didn’t dangle Walt’s fate.

While it may not have been as unpredictable and wild an episode as some others in the series, Felina didn’t need to be. The bad guys get their comeuppance and no one else who’s innocent suffers. I’m thankful the show didn’t try to do anything outrageous or unpredictable with this last episode. It doesn’t really give us anything we didn’t see coming (although the M60 contraption is sure to be a series milestone), but it’s as close to a happy ending as the series had any chance of having.

It’s bittersweet to see the show go. It already feels nostalgic. There’s no doubt every participant knew they were part of something special. You can see it in the blooper reels. No matter how severe the scene, they are having fun. Every actor will be defined by what they did in this show forever, and although Aaron Paul will probably get tired of people yelling “Bitch!” at him on the street, he and everyone else deserve tremendous praise for their work on the show. Breaking Bad brought characters to life, made an audience feel for them, jolted and surprised and amused us for years.

So is Breaking Bad the greatest show ever? Such a distinction is probably impossible to make, but people will be arguing very persuasively in its favor for a long time to come. Felina is a perfectly satisfying wrap to a perfectly satisfying series, a closing chapter that makes Breaking Bad one of the most complete and rich stories ever told in the medium of television.

Lastshot

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TV Review: Dexter 8.9, “Make Your Own Kind of Music”

23 Sep

8x9

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

“Make Your Own Kind of Music” isn’t just the title of the Mama Cass song featured prominently in the episode of the same name, it appears to be an open challenge from the writers to the audience as if to say, “You think you can do better?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes.” Even the Dexter viewers who eat up whatever the writers throw at them can agree that an episode this far into the series’ final season being so boring is a real travesty. The entire episode was spent catching up to that which the audience already knew: Deb’s coming back to Miami Metro, Cassie’s boyfriend is The Brain Surgeon, and Vogel is connected to him. Plus Hannah’s sticking around a bit longer for no other apparent reason than to retrieve money she was apparently going to leave behind at the end of the previous episode, presumably so she can either be captured or killed, which is the only real function any character on Dexter serves anymore.

Plagued by what seemed like a more than usual amount of clunky, expositional dialogue (which is saying a lot for this show), “Music” was equally uninspired on every level. Maybe if the developments which did occur weren’t seen coming so long ago they wouldn’t have been so tedious to sit through. But even if we didn’t know they were coming, nothing in this episode carried any weight or momentum. For example, watching Dex and Hannah retrieve money from Arlene was a complete waste of time. One might disagree by saying Dexter’s accidental appearance in her home when Deputy U.S. Marshal Kenny Johnson stopped by Arlene’s house helped throw the Marshal off Hannah’s trail. But that forces the question of why Marshal Clayton was introduced at all.

It’s kind of funny how “Anything can happen on this show,” might sound like an endorsement, but is actually a scathing cut-down. “Anything can happen,” is only exciting when a series has consistency, reason, and meaning yet still works with those elements to surprise its audience. Dexter lacks all of those aspects. Anything can happen because there is no rhyme or reason to the plot, it simply unfolds as it needs to in order to either prolong the inevitable or get the writers out of a situation they couldn’t actually, you know, write their way out of.

The one thing this episode did which would be appreciated as something moving in the right direction, if I felt there was any actual forward momentum left in this series, was getting some information on Vogel’s connection to The Brain Surgeon, Oliver Saxon, also known as Daniel Vogel, Evelyn’s son. Turns out he was a psychopath (big surprise) who drowned his little brother, was sent to an institution, and used a deadly fire to escape and create a new identity which allowed him to learn how to dissect brain segments and wrap them like pieces of jewelry from Tiffany’s to send to his mother decades later.

I say this was almost a good move merely because the worst seasons of Dexter suffer from there being too great a distance between protagonist and antagonist, and after eight episodes there was nothing known about The Brain Surgeon or why Dexter would choose to involve himself with the Surgeon’s shenanigans other than to protect his new mother figure. “Music” helped fill in some of those blanks, but only in the most basic, requisite fashion. Actually, it didn’t even do that because now that Vogel knows the Surgeon is her estranged, psycho son she doesn’t even want Dexter to protect her from him, and Dex wants to kill him simply because he invaded his home and killed innocents, and of course because we need to remember that Dexter isn’t a morally questionable, narratively intriguing, mass murdering anti-hero who ever takes responsibility for the chaos he cultivates, he’s an actual superhero who’s just got to take out the bad guys before riding off into the sunset, except it’s really boring.

I guess we could say Vogel’s delusions about helping her son reflect Dexter’s delusions about living any kind of normal family life, something both Vogel and Deb each addressed in separate scenes with Dexter, perhaps the one thing this episode actually took effort to illustrate, but now that Vogel and her son are having tea together there’s nothing keeping Dexter from running away to Argentina with Harrison and Hannah so I don’t understand what it is we’re supposed to care about on this show anymore, and this episode provided nothing – not one glimmer of hope – to suggest there is.

In the case of Dexter, or any series, the audience is supposed to listen and the writers are supposed to make the music, not the other way around. But instead of listening to a dynamic and rich composition on the inevitable failure of a serial killer with “a depth of emotion,” as Vogel puts it, we have to listen to (and internally compensate for lest our heads explode in frustration) the television equivalent of some crap pop album in the form of Deb and Hannah bonding over chicken salad, or Quinn being conflicted about his relationships with Jamie and Deb, or Elway yelling at Deb – none of which are reasonable or relevant! These are the scenes we have to endure in “Make Your Own Kind of Music” instead of anything actually happening which would bring us closer to some semblance of a satisfying resolution to a series which can hardly even be eulogized as having lost its way considering I’m no longer sure it ever knew it in the first place.

The post TV Review: Dexter 8.9, “Make Your Own Kind of Music” appeared first on WhatCulture!.

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