Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x11)

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the end of Donald Draper. Alright, that might be a bit of a bold statement to make out of the gates since Don is still very much alive at the end of this week's episode, "Time and Life." Or rather, his body is still breathing, moving, talking, and showing all the normal signs of life. The essence of Donald Draper is dead, however. It got swallowed up by the hellish machine known as McCann/Erikson and there was nothing Don, advertising god, could do about it. Once upon a time, Don could start over and build something with his own two hands; now, Don can't even get a room full of secretaries to listen to him. Very steadily over this last half of the season, we've been watching Don lose those carefully constructed cards that made him the man of mystery and allure we loved (hated?) for so long. The rotting and dead core that is Don Draper is finally surfacing and everyone around him can see that he's a sad and morose guy who ultimately has no character because he's devoid of any meaning--just like the ads he writes. Is there anything left for Don Draper? Sex appeal, mystery, job, wife, and even to some degree Sally, have left him. Don jokingly tells Roger this week, "What's in a name?" as if he now understands that even his name is getting him nowhere, and of course the irony in that is clear: his name isn't even his own. Grab something depressing because while this was a stellar episode, it was very sad. 

For all its complex subtly and carefully layered meanings, sometimes Mad Men gives you episode as clear cut and in your face obvious as any other TV show. This was such an episode. Not that there weren't layers and symbols and carefully constructed narratives (most of which harkened back to previous episodes, the season two finale with Pete and Peggy and more readily seen, the incredible, TV defining season three finale, 'Shut the Door. Have a Seat') but, rather, that the surface reading isn't carefully belying anything deeper. It really is crystal clear: what happens to SC&P in this episode has happened before, but this time around, there is no saving themselves or the company. They can't start over. Again. There is no time, there is no drive, there is no desire or fierce hunger to match the time, drive, and desire and hunger of season three when Donald Draper, still an advertising god, waltzed into Bert Cooper's office and demanded his chance to build something of value with his own two hands. This time, it's the same scenario but you can't get past the beginning. This entire season began with one question: do you have time to change your life? The answer seemed to be, at the end of the first half, yes you can if only you remember that the best things in life are free and love can come to anyone. But the second half takes Mad Men's ultimate thesis--people do not fundamentally change--and has our main characters go through plot lines that they've gone through before to show that they cannot change, and by virtue of not changing, the outcome is different. This time, Don is going to lose. This bit of the story needs some plot so a basic rundown is in order: McCann/Erikson, the giant machine that turns out advertising like it's a science and not an art, has officially swallowed up SC&P. McCann/Erikson played dirty, waited long enough to make SC&P think they were in the clear and then struck the company we love and never afforded them the chance to try and get out of it. Don, Roger, Pete, Joan (sound familiar? It's very season three finale) and Ted tried their hardest to pitch a new idea--going out west and being left alone out there with a few select clients but Jim Hobart at McCann didn't even let Don finish his pitch (symbolic!).

The real meat of the episode, I think, comes during the meeting at McCann. Welcome to advertising Hell, though the devil in the red tie (Jim Hobart himself) will tell you that you're going to advertising paradise. I love how this was constructed. The SC&P heroes walk into an ad agency (yes, that's a pun on a season three episode title) and they think can take on Goliath. They might be smaller but they are not without friends. And, they've got Don, advertising god. The man who can lay down some seriously profound advertising on you that will make you weep. The man who came up with the Carousel. That's Don Draper. He'll put these giants in their place. Except, it doesn't work. Don isn't even allowed to get through his pitch, to do the very thing that defines Don Draper, before Hobart, our Satan figure, interrupts and tells Don to take a seat. That should be your clue. It isn't going to work. What follows next reads like the literal devil laying out a banquet of treats for you, hopeful that you'll give into temptation.  The men (and woman, though Joan doesn't matter in Hobart's male centric eyes) of SC&P, aren't exactly resolute. With a glint in his eye, Satan slowly turns to each of the people that he thinks "matter" and offers them their greatest temptation. For Ted, it's a pharmaceutical (something Ted hinted at last week). For Pete, it's Buick. And for Don, in a hushed and awed voice spake Satan, it's Coca-Cola. This is, by the way, another nice call back to one of the earliest episodes in season one in which Hobart tried to lure Don to his company by seducing Betty into being a Coke model. Nice, eh? The fact is, though, that none of those people--Ted, Pete, and Don--are going to be as respected and valued at McCann as they are right now. Ted, doesn't care. He's a sheep and will gladly bleat along so long as he doesn't have to make decisions. Pete is morose about it and self pitying, but ultimately probably won't do anything about it because, in spite of being a grimy little pimp, Pete can often be quite profound and knows this is the future of business (and, historically, he's right). He hit the nail on the head two weeks ago: we can never get past the beginning. And Don...well Don's basically dead on the inside and has surrendered to the end. He's our very twisted Jesus insert in this episode and unless he decides to balk, he just threw up his arms and gave into temptation. There is no fight in him anymore. When the news breaks to SC&P that they are being absorbed (which means that 90% of those people are going to lose their jobs), Don tries to give a rousing speech about how this is the beginning of something new and exciting, but he is literally drowned out by the buzzing of those around him. No one is listening to Donald Draper anymore, and Don has neither the fortitude nor drive nor energy to make them. He has surrendered.

The other plot of this week was Peggy and like the SC&P team above, so below. The past is circling the partners with narrative call backs to previous stories and episode that they seem to be only passing aware of; they know they've done it before but they it doesn't become as omnipresent to them. Peggy, on the other hand, is smack dab in the middle of her own haunted past as she and Stan try to cast little children for an ad. What does Peggy know about being a mom? She thinks very little because of course she gave up her own child, something that apparently has haunted her ever since. Don's advice to her, "this never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened" (god, one of the best moments in TV history) didn't quite reach Peggy's ears. She's lived by it certainly, but giving up her son in adoption has always loomed large over her, and never more so when Peggy is expected to "play mom." Her heartbreaking conversation with Stan was, first off, supremely acted by Elisabeth Moss but, secondly, just full of pain and regret but also triumph. Peggy wouldn't change her decision, but it doesn't mean that she isn't troubled by it. I also had a major squeal of delight when Peggy gave what might be her own personal thesis; if I had to sum up Peggy it would be exactly as she put it to Stan, "She should be able to live the rest of her life, just like a man does." That's Peggy. That's just Peggy to a T. Now, with that said, I must admit that I will be really disappointed if Peggy's big Mad Men end is her actually going to McCann/Erikson. Peggy wants to create something of lasting value but I'll tell you right now, she can't do it there. Peggy won't be respected or loved or even thought about. She'll go back to being one of many instead of the one and only. If her tale ends that way, I'll be extremely upset. Maybe Peggy could shuffle through life like that (after all, as Ted said last season, "You're going to die someday, you might as well keep cashing the checks.") but for Peggy fans, it would be heartbreaking.

Miscellaneous Notes on Time and Life

--Another highlight moment, the couch scene between Pete and Peggy, recalling the last time they sat thusly on a couch: the day Peggy told Pete that he got her pregnant and she gave away the baby.

--"Enjoy the rest of your miserable life!" Okay then Lou!

--Even the West is now closed to Don Draper unless he runs from McCann/Erikson. The West has always been Don's safe haven, his paradise. But now it's a dream denied.

--Trudy Campbell has a fabulous wardrobe and I would like that white dress please.

--Joan isn't even acknowledged by Jim Hobart. She'll become nothing but a secretary to McCann/Erikson.

--"I don't know because you're not supposed to know or you can't go on with your life."

--"You are OK." I need more Drunk Roger and Drunk Don having contemplative moments. 

--"I'm fine. I have work to do." OR: how to survive life if you're a character on Mad Men.

Monday, April 27, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x19)

It's my birthday. Maybe that has nothing to do with this weeks episode, "Lily," but I thought I'd put it out there. Well, maybe it does have something to do with this weeks episode. What is a birthday? It's a time to reflect back on your life, the choices you've made, the wrongs you committed and the wrongs you've righted. It's a time to remember friends, family, and think about the future. And isn't that ultimately what Emma (and her dark hearted fated friend, our titular Lily) are doing in this episode? Remembering their friendship and all good times and the bad times and looking toward the future. Albeit, they have very different versions of the future given that Lily wants to suck the marrow from Snow and Charming's bones and make their corpses dance as she sits on the beast that rises from the sea and cackles. But hey, no one is perfect. Did I like the episode? That's always the question isn't it? For me, it's middle of the road--not great, but not horrible. This weeks episode was really about questioning if you can change fate, if you can beat destiny. Is Lily really fated to be "wrong" because of Snow and Charming's choices? Is Emma really fated to be the True Love Savior also because of Snow and Charming? And if Emma and Lily are really intertwined and have been since birth, then what does that mean for their collective and individual savior/anti-savior journeys? Grab your evil former best friend and let's go! 

The Chore Wheel Is To Blame

Can you defeat fate? And more importantly, should you try? According to the Sorcerer (who is apparently a giant blue smoke monster; a hybrid of the Man in Black and Robin Williams's Genie from 'Aladdin' in my mind) Lily and Emma's fate remain entwined as they have been and always shall be, even in spite of Lily's banishment. So when Emma was a little fetus type thing and Lily was a dragon fetus type thing, they were tied together? Who put them that way? Is "FATE" just some sort of universal force that no one can control or wield and we are merely puppets on strings; or does the Sorcerer have a larger role to play in this? Let's face it: the entire way the Sorcerer was presented, pillar of smoke, talking in a disembodied voice to his supplicant who fears to appear before this entity? It's not subtle; it's Moses and God, or really any kind of prophet/servant of the Lord and Yahweh Sabaoth (Lord of Hosts if you don't know your ancient Hebrew). The Sorcerer seems to be the show's own God-insert which makes me wonder if the Sorcerer is some sort of omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent figure then doesn't He control fate? Doesn't he make up these rules about who is tied to whom? Doesn't matter who it is--Lily and Emma; Emma and Neal; Snow and Charming; Regina and Robin. The Sorcerer is the clockmaker. Everyone is a cog and together we turn and create life around us but only once the clockmaker has put all the pieces in and wound it up. If The Sorcerer is God and Controller of Fate, then we have to wonder why he set up Lily and Emma to be so fated together. Is Lily some sort of Anti-Savior--a force to drive Emma to her final monomyth-laden fate? All Saviors need someone or something to battle against--Cora, Pan, Zelena, and Ingrid might be good seasonal villains (well, less so with Zelena) but a True Savior, in all their archetypical glory, needs someone equally mythic and cosmic to prevail against. Moreover, does the Sorcerer have an outlet in our world? If he's controlling the wheel of fate (not to be confused with the chore wheel though Lily seems to have a particular disdain for that as well) then he has to be controlling the fates of Emma and Lily in our world: putting them in Minnesota, putting them in Boston. Even their stories seem eerily similar with the same symbols, like necklaces and boy/girl crime sprees. If the Sorcerer can dictate fate in our world, then what does that mean for us humans here on planet Earth? My point is this; how much of this is fated (and perhaps controlled by the Sorcerer) and how much of this is simply based on choices? And which matters more in this universe? Regina says that our actions are our own but fate pushes us, yet it seems like fate is doing more than just pushing our characters. It seems to be dictating them. You know, like throwing a wolf out into the road so that your car gets a flat tire and you end up meeting your very own Anti Savior at a coffee shop. And for a show that has harped on "evil isn't born, it's made" we have two episodes in a row now where two characters are evil more so because of their nature and how they were born and not because of their choices. Is there an actual mission statement? Maybe. And I'll get to that in a bit.

So is Lily really evil? How do you even answer a question like that? No, really. Try. I'll wait. You can't can you? Neither can I. I don't know how to define objective evil and most people in this world don't know how to either. We have very little concept of objective evil because our world is so utterly subjective. Most of us would agree that slavery and rape are objective evil. Even something like murder gets murky because figures like soldiers and police officers, those who normally get the hero label, have to kill all the time. It's not pretty but we don't call it objective evil. We call it justice or war or doing the job. So if the two objective evils in this world are rape and slavery at the least, then is Lily really evil? Adult Lily tells Emma that because of her (and Emma's parents) she is hard wired to make bad choices, but that is a wholly confusing sentiment. We're all hard wired to make bad choices because, at the end of the day, humans are lazy, sloppy, greedy, lustful, and selfish. We all want what we want and we want it now. It's okay. It's what makes us human. It's not a bad thing; but it's our ability to walk away from being lazy, sloppy, greedy, lustful, and selfish that makes us better than our baser selves. Lily chalking all of this up to being hard wired is saying that she's no different from anyone else. And that may actually be the point in this philosophical exercise. How so? Well, put a pin in that because I'm going to come back to in a moment. But first: Lily knows everything that Emma wants to tell her because the Apprentice appeared to her on the bus and told her she was special. Note, for the children in the audience, if you are approached by a strange man who claims that you are special and he can show you how and why, run as fast as you can, scream for help and get to a well lighted area. Oof. Really, OUAT? Anyway, here are the questions involving that super special bus moment (beside why Lily didn't scream and run away): is the Apprentice indirectly responsible for Lily and her behaviors? First, he didn't appear to Lily until she was 15 or so, letting her bad decision making go unchecked for over a decade. Second, when he did finally step in, it was to tell her all about the Two Idiots who wronged her, putting her on the path she is currently on which is to burn Snow and Charming over a large BBQ. Once again, is Lily responsible for her actions or was she fated to be this way?

Savior And Anti Savior 

It's the oldest story there is--black and white, light and dark, good and evil. Except, even here on OUAT where things have reached soap opera levels of stupid (oh, we'll get there my friends. We'll get there) it's much more complicated. So I told you to put a pin in the Lily being just like everyone else idea and here's why. Emma has a choice: kill Lily or don't kill Lily. Lily has a choice: accept what happened to her and forgive or don't accept what happened to her and don't forgive. It's the same kind of choice we face every single day here on planet Earth (though, perhaps, without the theatrics). Lily isn't pure evil anymore than Emma is pure goodness and light. Even before learning about what her parents did and going down this darker path, Emma was given to fits of rage, jealousy, greed, selfishness, and has lied, stolen, and been violent. She is not some ray of light in a dark and abysmal world. Lily, by the same token, is not some dark and abysmal figure. She might have made wrong choices but she's also kind, sweet, caring, nurturing, forgiving, and helpful. She doesn't exist as a raincloud to Emma's sunshine. There are no heroes and villains; just real people with real problems (though, again, perhaps without all the drama). The entire point of this season wants to show (whether or not it's being executed well, I'll decide at the end of the season) that the line between heroes and villains is nonsensical and nonexistent. The Savior can go dark and the Anti Savior can be good. There is darkness in Emma and there is light in Lily just as there is in every single character on this show. What is going to matter more than what destiny says they are is who they say they are. Does Emma accept that while she is the Savior and responsible for the happy endings of everyone in Storybrooke, she might also have to be a little dark in order to understand the light? My answer is yes. The Savior (in all their mythic glory) cannot truly walk in the light until they understand the darkness. They must be tempted and tested and pushed to the point of no return before they reach their apotheosis and become the godhead or the ultimate Savior of the Universe or the Eternal Champion or the Prince that was Promised or the Dragon Reborn or any other fantasy/religious title you want to throw at me. That's Emma's journey right now.

One final topic and one that isn't moral or philosophical or archetypical but rather something so insultingly stupid that I laughed for 5 minutes solid. Of course Zelena is pregnant. Of course. Because while OUAT likes to dance with those deep questions that I've been putting forth in this review, it also likes its big shiny reveal and Tweetable moments. Zelena carrying her sister's soul mate's child? Daytime soap opera at it's finest (worst?) It is so unbelievably cringe worthy that I really hope everyone sees how simply ludercrious this is so I don't have to explain it. In an episode that had some pretty heavy quandaries, the fact that it ends with the most cliche and squicky reveal in this show's history pretty much sums up the show as a whole. It tries to be something deep and meaningful and offer commentary on life and the universe...and then your sister reveals that she's carrying your boyfriend's love child. Just when you think there is substance, the flash returns. I will say this; I think it's very likely that Zelena is lying about being pregnant because it's how she plans to keep Robin with her and cause Regina pain. Though, what's her end game? In nine months even stupid, straw-headed Robin is bound to notice that there is no baby being born to Zelena. And honestly, how far does your code really take you, Robin? The woman raped you and is carrying your child in order to torture another person and still you think you should stay. Your code is often frustrating but nevermore so than now. If Zelena is not lying and she really is carrying Green Hood Baby then, obviously, we're not getting rid of Zelena this year. Doesn't that just beat all? Here's hoping no one tries to cast the darkness from little Green Hood into another living soul! God, ain't fate a bitch?

Miscellaneous Notes on Lily

--Some of the dialogue between Young Emma and Young Lily was tortuously bad and cheesy. "It's like my whole life is darkness and when you're around, things are brighter." Not only is that full of the worst kind of cheese, it also feels pretty Queer Bait-y.

--Rumple's speech to Belle was quite nice but I'm not so sure this was the end of Rumbelle. I think at the very least, it's the end of Scarlett Beauty. Which is such a shame because it's totally been developed in the show to be believable and poignant (I'm holding up a Sheldon Cooper-esque Sarcasm sign). Do I ship Rumbelle again? Nope. But, I have to admit, I had some pretty Rumbelle positive feelings during that final shop scene.

-- Seriously, little children...do not follow strangers just because they offer you food! Stranger! Danger!

--I'm not touching the hot button ethnicity issues of Adult Lily with a ten foot pole.

--Emma is inside Neal's apartment for the first time since his death and she has no emotional reaction whatsoever. I would rage about this but Emma, while undergoing a cosmologically significant journey, is still Pod! Emma. 

--Could someone please tone down Maleficent's lipstick? It blinds me. Though, in other makeup news, at least Emma has gotten over her case of Ebola Eyes.

--Zelena is pregnant. I really need to end on this hilarity.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x10)

What is a forecast? It's a prediction of the future based on current patterns, a theme that ran throughout this weeks episode aptly titled "The Forecast." Everyone is worried about the future--the company's future, their own individual future, the future of those around them. But more to the point, no one (well, almost no one) knows their future nor could even halfheartedly accurately predict their future. Most of the characters this week couldn't articulate their future if their future stood before them stark naked and dancing. When they think about the future, they get tongue tied, they seem to focus on one singular thing instead of thinking broadly (well, again, almost everyone) or they end up realizing that the future is bleak and scary and they have no place in it. This weeks episode was easily the best of the arc so far (the return of Sally at long last does a lot to solidify that, honestly) but it also hammers home themes I've been dissecting all along--Don Draper is almost over and done. His story--the advertising and sexual god who had everything and deserved to have even more--is almost over and Don knows it. He simply can't go on because there is no future for a man like Don anymore. The future belongs to Peggy and to Sally, and all Don does is crap on their dreams and make them uncomfortable. Don is literally charged with writing the future and he's stumped. He has no future and he can't see one for the life of him. Grab a horny teenager (that will make sense if you watch the episode) and let's go!

There are really three main stories this week--Joan, Betty/Sally, and Don. Let's start with Joan. Our favorite sashaying red-head's future should look bright; she's moved up in the world as a partner and an account manager. Joan gets to fly to LA and conduct interviews and have people fall at her feet, something our Joanie has always loved. But, take a look at Joan's life as she is living it. Does it seem like the life of someone who is thinking about the future? At this point, Joan is loaded, making more money than she's ever imagined, and she's still living in that tiny little apartment in the village with her mother and hiring a teenage flower child to watch her four year old. Joan also hasn't been out in the social world much lately, from what we've seen. Joan was the fun loving girl who enjoyed going out and meeting men and being admired. And now, she comes home to a mother, a son, and nothing else. But more to the point, Joan isn't trying to change her situation. She hasn't bought a new house; she goes to work and comes home. That's her present and her future. And then Joan meets Richard, a smooth talking handsome guy who wants to admire Joan and all her best assets. For a little while, Joan gets to be in her glorious past--the hot to trot woman who doesn't live at home with her mother and son, who isn't divorced, but looking for Mr. Right to sweep her up off her feet and take her to a whole new world. It's exactly what Joan of season one and two would have wanted--the man, the money, the adventure. Joan is so stuck in the past with Richard that she more or less neglects to tell him about her son and mother. That all comes crashing down when Richard learns about Kevin and almost instantly doesn't want a future at all with Joan. He's done all that stuff; he wants the grand and glorious adventure. For Joan, it's a reminder that her own future is now tied to Kevin, her son. She can never have a future that isn't linked to Kevin; she doesn't get to run off or be whisked away by the handsome stranger. Not anymore. Joan's story was one of the more positive of the three this week since Richard came to his senses and decided that he wants Joan--baby, mother, and all. Will it work for her? Possibly. Joan just needs to remember that Kevin is not ruining her life (ouch. Harsh, Joan) and hopefully Richard will live up to his promise to accept her.

Easy there, Mrs. Robinson. So this was easily the most disturbing story of the night. What does the future look like for Betty and Sally? It looks like dead children in Vietnam. Specifically, it looks looks like their old friend Glenn Bishop dead in Vietnam. It's interesting how the two Draper/Draper-Francis women react to the news that Glenn is shipping out. For Sally, it's one of her oldest friends going off to probably die for a cause that neither she (as our resident Jane Fonda) nor Glenn really believe in. For Betty, it's the potential death of someone who she once mothered and "wifed" and is obviously having a very sexual attraction to, even years after their first encounter because Betty will always see herself as a princess-child and never more so than when Glenn comes a-knocking. For Sally, the future is bleak because it means growing up and learning some hard truths (your friends might die; you could turn into your parents). For Betty the future is bleak because it means there is one less person in the world who will find you attractive and want you. And doesn't that just sum up Sally and Betty to a T? The relationship between Betty and Glenn has always been super squicky because he idolized her as the perfect mother and she adored the attention Glenn gave her as both the so-called perfect mother (um, no, think again Betty, dear) but also the perfect mate, a fairy tale princess who would give him a lock of her hair and she would be his forever. Did you notice how often Betty touched her hair in this final scene between the two? She's remembering when all Glenn wanted were her gold tresses. This was a pretty awkward moment but Betty, like Betty does, doesn't stop it because it's wrong morally; she stops it because she's married and therefore they can't do it. Her vision of the future isn't about what is right and wrong, but the here and now of potentially getting caught (something that probably titillates Betty secretly). And then there is Sally who is watching her mother, and then later her father, be enamored of teens and basically be sick and sad people and decides that she has had enough of both of them. She wants to be someone different. Good for you, Sally.

Which brings us to Don, the man who's creative genius was so defined for the entire run of the series that it's a truly sad note that here, at the end of the series, he can't even write a 2500 essay on the future. A high school project in the most remedial sense and Don has nothing to say. Isn't that the ultimate theme of this last arc: Don has nothing left to say. He's not creative anymore; he's neither captivating nor charismatic nor charming nor any other adjective you can come up with to describe the late great Donald Draper. He is an empty vessel whose employees can see right through him whereas before no one could suss him out. Don used to be a genius at selling himself and what he sold was mystery and allure. Remember that great line from season one? "He could be Batman for all we know." Nobody knew how to crack the enigma that was Donald Draper; but now everyone can see through his facade and well coiffed hair. Like Mathis tells him before he gets fired, "You have no character. You're just handsome." That's exactly it. Don isn't a real person; he's a facade, an ad for the American dream but ultimately empty and devoid of meaning. But Don is handsome, could speak well and he was a creative genius and that fooled a lot of people; but not anymore. Don's future is dark, dank, and and totally imaginary. Everything around him is rotting to the core--his genius, his family, his facade and even his house. A real estate agent who barely knows him managed to get a read on Don's personality in a shorter time than it took both of Don's wives! The agent tells Don that his entire house reeks of failure and that it looks like a sad person lives there. And, of course, she's right on both accounts. Don cannot hide who he is anymore and the inside bits of him that he once kept tucked away and hidden are oozing out like so much sludge. And the worst part? I think Don recognizes it too: "We know where we've been, we know where we are...it's supposed to get better." But it doesn't get better does it, Dick? You can't start over and you can't hide your flaws; in the end you have no character.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Forecast

--I didn't mention it in the proper post, but of course, who is the one person who can see the future and is excited by it? Peggy Olson. She wants more than advertising. She wants to create something of lasting value. Oh Pegs. You are the anti-Don Draper. It's lovely to watch. I know I say it every week, but you're gonna make it Peggy.

--Every single line Sally uttered was my line of the night, but to pick a few: "This conversation is a little late. And so am I." "All I want to do is eat dinner..." "Anyone pays attention to either of you – and they always do – you just … ooze everywhere.”

--Betty is positive that Glenn will make it and live through Vietnam, so naturally he'll die.

--Don flirting with the teenagers was a whole new level of creepy.

--Nobody has time for Meredith's nonsense. It's hilarious.

--No ex-girlfriend this week, but there were still "three women" in Don's life--Sally, Peggy and the real estate lady. And none of the three liked him nor had time for his nihilistic mountain-of-crap. 

--3 episodes to go. Will Don live through the end?

Monday, April 20, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x18)

If she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will. Here's something rather shocking: I actually enjoyed parts of this weeks episode, "Sympathy for the De Vil." There were twists and turns that felt like season one of OUAT, back when there was a magic to the show unlike any other. Cruella, not being scorned by love and a man, but instead being a literal sociopath who, in turn, spurned and scorned a man (and fed her mother to her dogs)...that's good. That's more than good, that's delightful. That's the sort of meal I can sink my teeth into and enjoy. Now, don't misunderstand, there were plenty of things about this episode that I found utterly ridiculous (story worlds don't exist in time...? The Author poofs to other lands...? Cruella ended up in the Enchanted Forest how...?) but often times a good twist can overshadow the criticisms in plot devices used, dialogue uttered, and squicky special effects. I'm not sure if this was the my favorite of the season (still think it's 'Darkness on the Edge of Town') but this was one hell of a step up from last weeks utter travesty in storytelling. Everyone grab a puppy coat and some gin and let's go to 1920s! Fictional! London (because that's a thing now). 

Like A Spider Waiting For The Kill

So Cruella wasn't scorned by a man and then went evil over how unfair her life was without a man. I mean, let's all take a moment and appreciate that ONCE actually didn't go this incredibly misogynistic route like they have many times before in which women feel worthless or can no longer be good because "my man done left and hurt me!" The aspect of this narration that I truly appreciated was that for most of the episode you thought that's exactly where this backstory was going. The Author up and did something nasty to the poor woman and she went evil because her heart was broken. But nope! Cruella is actually a sociopath who enjoys killing and couldn't care less about the Author...and probably gives even less thought to the rest of humanity. Her backstory isn't in keeping with the idea that evil isn't born, it's made, but it is something utterly different from that now trite and repetitive theme that has been hammered home to us about a million times now. I appreciate the difference. I think there is probably a line somewhere with mental illness and it's very possible that the writers crossed it (I'm honestly not sure since I'm not a mental health expert) but sociopathy is a condition that causes this kind of behavior--not caring about others, being able to fake emotions to gain trust and sympathy, using everyone around you in a manipulative way. Does it make you evil? No. Does it mean that the ill person should die? No. But I do recognize that in this fairy tale world story, Cruella's danger was to everyone around her and in order to advance some parts of the story and move it forward, she was going to go down, even if it might make me question (once again) the mortality of the show. But I'm sort of talking in circles and getting ahead of myself. Let's really look at Cruella here in all her sociopathic and crazed glory. Let's dive in and splash around in that darkness, eh?

The way the narrative of Cruella was set up was rather...genius. Yeah, I just called something OUAT related genius. Don't worry. I haven't changed my tune about the show in general. Do you know why we have little kids in TV shows? To garner sympathy. TV audiences have a hard time hating little kids, especially when said little kids are running from an authoritative figure like an oppressive mother dressed in all black who uses dogs as a scare tactic. It brings to mind Henry in Season One, constantly running from the Evil Queen. You rooted for Henry and rooted against Regina because we are hard wired as a species to want to protect children. The fact that it's a little girl, with our current Cruella story, only sells the point more; think The Walking Dead--the little girl who turned out to be...well, a crazy sociopath who thought she could hear the Walkers talking to her and wanted to be their friend. We watched horrified as Carol killed her because you don't hurt children but at the same time, you knew it's what had to be done. This episode and Cruella's backstory had a similar vibe. The audience is now tuned to think of Cruella as a poor soul, locked in her attic by her mother, tortured and lonely. Showing us a character like that touches something human inside us; we might never have been locked in an attic (well, I should hope not) but we understand and empathize with the loneliness and the fear and her wanting, simply, to live. That feeling of wanting to live is a theme the Author and Cruella apparently share. The Author (who's name is Isaac so I can finally stop writing "The Author") lives his life by writing stories but never living a story himself. He records, he changes, he manipulates, but he never gets to experience what it's like to live a story--in which he's a dashing and handsome man and a beautiful woman is enraptured by him. Cruella appeals to that, having lived a life of solitude as well, not being able to live her own story. They seem to be kindred spirits, but that's the beauty of the sociopathy. Cruella knows how to play on people's weakness and use it to her advantage: in this case getting out of the house to start, and then--once she learns Isaac's secret about being the Author--stealing his quill and wanting to use it after she kills her mother (and skins the dogs for a coat). You see, Cruella, is a killer. An utter killer. She murdered her mother's husbands and then she murders her mother. For a lark. Cruella just wants to watch the world burn, folks. That's her villainy. It's interesting because it's fresh and new. It's what I used to expect from OUAT long before they sold out for cheap tricks and cliche storylines.

The one part of this flashback I did not enjoy was the incredible amount of plot holes and wonky hand waving. How about I just spit out these questions at random. I don't even have answers or solutions; I just have a lot of questions and some eye rolling. Realms of stories don't have time? They exist outside of time? Then how would it always be 1920s Flapper era, even before America had their 1920s flapper era? How did the Author get to 1920s! Fictional! London? How did he get back? How did Cruella get to the Enchanted Forest? How did her car get to our world? Why do you need both the ink and the quill? Why did the ink change Cruella's eyebrows and hair? Can the Author write himself into different places? Do any realms have time and progress? The Enchanted Forest obviously progressed. Did the original "real world" authors (like Barrie or Baum) write those worlds into existence? Do you see what I'm getting at? They are interesting questions but they are also being left incredibly vague with the understanding that they will never be explained. It's supposed to be handwaved away with "magic." But it's sloppy and frankly confusing. When writers don't respect the rules of their world, it's obvious and it pulls audience members out of the narrative moments because suddenly we're focused on trying to rationalize the fantasy world breaking. And it becomes increasingly hard to make excuses for the poor and sloppy handling of said world and universe, which is why I've stopped and now just point out all the flaws and rail again them.

OMG! They Kidnapped Henry! Those Bastards! 

There wasn't a whole lot going on in present day Storybrooke which is why this is going to be much shorter (yes, yes, yes. I'll talk about Rumbelle later.) Really the entire present day story was leading up to Emma killing Cruella to save Henry, not knowing that the Author had written that Cruella could never harm another soul as long as she lived. It was a good twist, but this is the question I really want to ask: Is this really enough to make Emma go dark, like Gold hopes and planned? Because, this was, in Emma's mind, justifiable homicide. She doesn't know that Cruella has been "banned" from hurting people and is unable to actually hurt Henry. All Emma knows is that the lunatic has a gun pointed at her son and has every intention of using it--or so Emma thinks. What wouldn't a mother do in this situation? See. There we go. We're back to that that question that ONCE has always wondered about; namely, what lengths would a parent go to in order to protect their child? From Rumple ripping apart worlds, to Snowing taking Emma's supposed darkness and putting it in Lily to Emma killing another person to save Herny, the theme of parents and their offspring is one that keeps coming back up. Even in the flashback, Cruella's mother believed that there was no way to fix Cruella (and to be fair, there isn't) so for other people's safety and for Cruella's, she locked her in an attic. Should this act of preserving her child really cause Emma to go evil? And if it does, what does that say about all the other acts parents have committed in the name of their children but has not caused them to go all red-eyed (no, seriously. What is up with JMo's look lately?) and demonic. Did Snowing go evil after the Lily incident? No. They tried to be better heroes. And we constantly see how Regina's love for Henry is really her saving grace. So for Emma to go full on Dark Side after this leaves me with a lot of questions about continuity and fairness. The writers have been playing up Evil! Emma this season but the way of getting her there leaves a lot to be desired. In other news, how the heck does Henry have no survival skills yet? This kid has been kidnapped how many times now? Many. The answer is many. And he still can't manage to get away from the crazy people? Seriously, kid. Start carrying some pepper spray. I think I am going to paraphrase Buffy here, "Henry's in trouble. Must be Sunday."

Miscellaneous Notes on Sympathy For The De Vil

--Alright. Let's do Rumbelle. Kill me now. Or just give me lots to drink. First off, I have a lot of issues with the idea that Belle would willingly give up her heart to the Evil Queen, a woman who held her captive for 30 years. But moreover, that moment in the woods (while well acted) was just full of NO. The way "Belle" spoke to Rumple was hard to watch. And why didn't Rumple realize he wasn't kissing is True Love? Shouldn't you know that? Also, ex husband? When did that happen? How did that happen? Did she fax him divorce papers while he was in NYC living on Ramen?

--"I'm a really terrible person." Well, she did warn us. Also, dragon eggshell to keep your youth. The hell is that?

--Emma is behaving like a petulant child right now. I get that she's angry; she has every right to be. But to say that she doesn't trust Snowing and Charming with Henry's life?? Are you kidding me? They'd never hurt Henry. It's actually the opposite of their Lily story--they protected their family first and foremost. If the writers want me to buy that Emma has grown as a character then she needs to develop a new coping mechanism.

--Speaking of Emma, I also have a really big problem with the idea that because the villains--Hook and Regina in this case--never touted themselves as paragons of virtue, their deeds aren't as bad or reprehensible. That's...not how this works Emma. That's not how any of this works.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x9)

Women are whores. And the men of the world can treat them as such: wooing, sexing, paying for, bribing, hustling, and manipulating women as they see fit. Or at least, that's the stance Mad Men takes in this weeks episode, "New Business," a title, by the way, that feels very tongue in cheek since the women-are-whores thesis is nothing new for this show, especially for Don Draper who has some serious whore issues. Much like last weeks episode, this was a strange one and I'm wondering if we're going to be seeing strange episodes every week now. There were really two main threads--Don treating women like whores, and Megan being treated like a whore. Subject and object. Man and woman. Hustler and his hustlee. There is one very hilarious exception that I'll get to at the very end, but outside of the "whore thesis" (yes, I think I will keep calling it that) this weeks episode was also an exercise in French lunacy. Half the episode felt like a very old French comedy with the wacky, drunk mother and her two daughters who cat-fight for a few hours all while being sexy, stylish, and speaking in French. And honestly, I could watch Marie yell, "bring cash!" for hours and never stop laughing. It was another odd-ball one, but aren't all the best episodes? Grab some furniture that doesn't belong to you and let's go. 

Hey look. Death came to visit. Well, Di was more or less forced to come visit after a not-so-well-played proposition from Don. A lot of this episode centered on Don trying to get to know Di and Di's ultimate rejection of Donald Draper (hm, potential foreshadowing since technically the real Don Draper is dead?) Don is really laying it on thick with Di, isn't he? He somehow shows up at her new place of business where she is once again a waitress--a service worker who will give you what you want but in the end you must pay her for it (women are whores). After Don gives Di his phone number and tells her to call him, she proceeds to get drunk and...actually calls him. This is a late night booty call but not one that is initiated by Di; never lose sight of the fact that Don is in control here. Even when Di tries to tell Don that she isn't sure she wants this (sex), Don rebukes her by saying "it's three in the morning. You know why you're here. Do you want a drink or not?" In other words, Don is treating Di like a whore and Di understands that this is her role to play. For a few hours she gets to forget her tragic life (because of course the woman is also a mother with a lost child. I'll get to that in a second) but ultimately Di is treated like a woman of the night--she eventually has to leave the apartment, like so much dirty laundry, when the real woman of the household comes calling. Her status as whore is even more enforced in the end when Don shows up, gift in hand, and expects his just rewards. Now credit where credit is due, Di actually rejects him here only because she's been made aware that she's just another whore in a long line of whores. Once you get her out of her uniform of either a service worker (waitress) or her sex worker uniform (the nightgown), it turns out that she's a person with (really depressing) feelings! Who knew! Di was once a mother to two little girls, one of whom died. Golly. This sounds familiar, or at least bears some startling resemblances to Don's life, something I think he understands and I think will continue to draw him to Di. Don is also the son of a whore (Di's current status in this episode as both whore and mother) and his mother left him just like Di left her other daughter. There was another child left behind who must be missing both sibling and parent (Adam or even Dick Whitman himself) while Di embarks on a new life to forget the pain from whence she came. Di is also Don, but since Don's a whore himself this really all fits neatly together. I know there is a lot to unpack in this paragraph and in the interactions between Don and Di themselves but it really comes down to this: Di is, at the end, an amalgam of Don's issues wrapped into one sad package. She is a whore (as was Don' mother and part of his great shame growing up in a whore house); she's a mother who left her children (like Don's own mother and like he's accused Betty of doing in the past) and she's Death Incarnate (a figure that has loomed large over Donald Draper since the beginning of the show). As Don is wont to do, he tried to make Di into some sort of savior figure for his mountain-of-crap but fails because he turns her into those very problems: death, sex, and mothers. Have we seen the last of Di? Probably not. I expect we'll see her again, maybe at the end of the seasons/series.

And then there is Megan, who was treated like a whore by pretty much everyone in this episode. To some degree, I think Weiner and company are trying to get us to think about actresses as whores in general, a metaphor that certainly isn't unique to Mad Men. In order to move her career forward, Megan has to do what so many actresses do in her position: butter up, seduce, and play to those in power (and because we're in the 1970s--that means a man). In this case, Harry Crane, someone Megan cannot stand even in the slightest but for whom she'll put on her best mini-dress, poof up her hair, and put on tons of eyeshadow (holy blue eyeshadow, Batman!). She'll play up the fact that she's a gorgeous woman while flattering the heck out of her lunch companion if it means Harry will help her get an agent. Now, make no mistake, I am not making excuses for Harry Crane who takes the women-as-whores thesis to a literal translation and propositions Megan at the lunch table. He's a pig and he deserved a good slap in the face or even just a glass of wine thrown in his face. But he's demonstrating the concept of this episode: men have the power to turn women in whores and, more than that, it's expected. All art is selling something, and if Megan wants to be an artist, then she has to sell something--namely herself. Harry's entire bit of advice to Megan after she rejects his sexual advances is that if Megan didn't act this way, she'd be further in her career. Whore it out, baby! That's how you'll get far in this world. After the nasty run in with Harry Crane, Megan is then treated to yet another display of women-are-whores and this time from her former husband, Mr. Draper himself. After hearing about how Don has ruined Megan's life, Don decides that the only way to make up for this is to treat Megan like...you guessed it. A whore. He literally pulls out his check book and gives her a million dollars. In Don's head, he's hoping that this makes Megan happy and that's righted the wrongs he committed because surely women want things like money and presents (never respect or admiration or an apology), but coming off of Megan's lunch with Harry in which she was asked for sex in return for help in her career...this was just another way of reminding her that she's a whore. Way to go Don!

And thus we come to the one woman in this episode who was not treated like a whore, but rather treated everyone around her like one--man, woman, model, vegetable, mineral. She's even trying to make art her bitch, isn't she? Pima. A well known photographer who has been hired to work for SC&P, Pima moves through the episode hustling Stan and Peggy and the company. She can get everyone to do as she wants, from showing her the dark room to, presumably, getting Peggy to change her mind on which photo to use. But here's why I think this little subplot is hilarious. Do you see what Pima is wearing--what she wore the entire time she was in this episode? A man's suit. We never saw Pima not in a three piece male-esque suit. It's all sort of fabulous, of course, but it helps drive home the thesis of this episode: men have the power. In order for Pima to be as well respected and powerful as she apparently is, she adopts a male lifestyle, either unconsciously or consciously. Pima dresses in female-version of a man's clothes; she hustles everyone around her, she understands that all art is selling something and you can either be the seller or what is being sold. Pima manages to get Stan to seriously worry about his art and his own creative genius (not something we've ever seen from Stan before) just by her mere presence. Pima manages to gobsmack Peggy with just one little touch on skin. The actual business side here doesn't matter. Pima is a walking thesis for this weeks episode. But to leave this review on a slightly more upbeat kind of note, the one person who figured Pima out by the end? Peggy Olson. Peggy might have been treated like an object by Pima but she saw what was going on and seems to be the only one who did. Oh Pegs. You're gonna make it after all. One final nail on the head moment, this time coming from Pete Campbell. He gave, what I think is not only a sum of the series as a whole, but answer the questions I posed last week about if Don (or Dick) can enter 1971: "What if you never get past the beginning?" There are no second chances and no chances period. These characters--apart from Peggy--keep making the exact same mistakes over and over again (hence the irony of this weeks title). People do not fundamentally change; they are always stuck in the beginning.

Miscellaneous Notes on New Business 

--Another women-are-whores moment, though a much subtler one. Marie calls Roger and begs him to come over with money ("bring cash!") to help her out of a jam. She tells him to bring $200 in order to get all of Don's things off the sidewalk. When Roger gets there, he only has to pay $180, the furniture is in the truck, and Marie is having a cigarette. It might be incredibly subtle, but I'm pretty sure there was some hanky panky between Marie and the furniture mover in order to reduce the price and get the stuff off the street before Roger arrived.

--Betty is going back to school to get her master's degree in psychology. Because "people love to talk to me." I think I laughed for five minutes solid.

--"How do you sleep at night knowing the Manson Brothers are running around?"

--So, does Don ever get his furniture back? That was hilarious but also a nice symbolic note that his life is now literally empty. Also a nice juxtaposition to the opening scene where Don also looks around the Francis house but instead of finding it empty. finds it full of life and color. Everything that empty NYC penthouse is now not.

--Are we going to be seeing an old girlfriend every episode now? Hi Sylvia, it's really appropriate that you showed up this episode since you were really Don's whore-mother in season six. Also, mega awkward elevator meeting, no?

--I miss Sally. Where is Sally?

--"You're nothing but an aging, sloppy, selfish liar." Pretty much, Megan, pretty much.

Monday, April 13, 2015

In Which I Review Once Upon A Time (4x17)

I have an alcoholic beverage. Please, let that be a warning to you for how I feel about this episode. What in the name of all that is holy was that? I mean, I know it was a giant cluster-frack of stupid, but what was the point of any of this weeks episode, "Heart of Gold"? Do we really need another villain on this show? Are we not drowning in villains already? Did we really need an entirely pointless trip to Oz for some really random reason like a magical potion that will cure magically thick blood (only..why did Rumple need it in the past..?) Did we really need an entire episode devoted to Robin Hood and his so called code of honor that is anything but a code of honor? Did we really need a magical switcheroo thanks to a magical plot device (six leaf clover; lord save me from these plot devices). In short did we actually need this episode at all? Would your lives be any poorer--would the story of ONCE be any poorer--without it? No. No it wouldn't. I spent so much of this episode honestly wondering what was going on and so confused that even on my second re-watch I wasn't sure if I got all the plot points. This whole episode--and this whole show now--are designed for one thing: the shock value. They don't care about heart and emotion and treating their characters like human beings; they care about buzzworthy moments that you can tweet about with clever hashtags. Worst episode of the arc by far, and maybe one of the worst episodes period. Grab your lucky six leaf clover and let's go. Also, drink every time I ask you "what is the point?" It'll be fun!

The Not So Triumphant And Totally Unneeded Return To Oz

How about a semi-nontraditional review? I haven't done one in a while.

PLOT: Rumple sends Robin to Oz to retrieve a plot device never heard of nor seen before in the history of this show and one that has no ties (that I can think of) to mythology or Disney Lore.

This is Stupid Because: Why does Rumple need Robin Hood to travel to Oz? Why does he need Robin to get this magical elixir? He says he can't do it himself since Zelena doesn't want to see Rumple, but why not put on a disguise? Change your appearance? We know magicians in this show do it all the time. In present day, yes, it makes sense for why Rumple needs this elixir with the really specific name but why in the past? Is it just a precaution? Because Rumple isn't experiencing any thick-blood symptoms in the past; he isn't weak, fatigued, and he has magic so he can cure himself--which is exactly what he tells Robin he used to do while he lies in a hospital bed. While in Storybrooke, Rumple used magic to prevent what is happening to him, so the logic should follow that in the Enchanted Forest, Rumple did the same. So again, I ask you why is Rumple showing up, fully cloaked and speaking in his over the top cockney accent, to ask Robin to go to Oz? What was the point?

To add insult to injury, what is the point of Will Scarlett in Oz? Or better yet, how did he get to Oz? And how did he get out? And how did Will then met up with Robin Hood once back in the Enchanted Forest? Why is Will even part of this show? What is the point of Will right now? Can Will Scarlett get character development outside of Robin at all? Does anyone else remember Wonderland and how wonderful Will was in that; how he went from a guy with no heart to someone who gave probably the best speech ONCE has ever given about the power of true love? And now Will is just the random comic relief and he added nothing to this plot or show. Robin did not need to met Will on the road; he knew he was going after the elixir (for whatever reason you want to fanwank away to) so adding Will is one hundred percent unnecessary. The only thing that I think might be relevant in the here and now (let's not worry about what may or may not be coming for season 5) is that they had Will mention his sister again. Is Penelope--the sister--in any way related to the current plot? Is she secretly Cruella? I mean, why not, right? Secret identities are all the rage right now. If Marian can be Zelena using a magical 6-leaf clover in a shiny jar to transform and glammer herself, then I guess Cruella can really be Will's long lost dead sister. And, finally, there really is no point in talking about Zelena in Oz in the past. It was maybe the briefest appearance by a character in their own mythology to date. She just thew some fire balls, got knocked down, and that was that. The writers just want you to be excited to see a former character; and yes, there are Zelena fans but really...did anyone actually miss her and say to themselves "golly, I wish I could see Zelena again for five seconds while she just saunters toward Robin and then awkwardly throws fireballs." This trip to Oz was a total waste and left me with way more questions about how portals work and how people move about realms, but the questions are just exhausting at this rate. So...move on? That's what I am supposed to do, right? I'm not supposed to worry my pretty little head about such silly things like logic, plot, and continuity.

Everybody Is A White Woman

PLOT: The longest lasting Person of Color on this show turns out to be a white woman who is now sexing her sister's true love and forcing her former mind-rape victim to write her a happy ending. And we are supposed to cheer that she has returned from beyond the grave.

This is Stupid Because: do I really even need to say? Really? Do I need to sit here and tell you how horrible this is? Once Upon A Serious Race Problem. I talked about this back in my review of 314, "The Tower" in which Rapunzel was the very definition of a filler character and was only there to prop up Charming but this is a new low. This is the lowest of the low and sadly major racial issues are happening every single season now. Every year, every arc, there is some Person of Color character who is treated appallingly by the writers. Either they die quickly, are really a white person in disguise, submissive, or an obstacle. And, in this case, it's all for the sake of promoting a very troubled relationship! This is the OUAT writers wanting to have their cake and eat it too, damn the consequences of what it means from a racial standpoint and how it makes their entire writing staff look either completely out of touch or incredibly racist! What do I mean by the cake metaphor? Last season, the writers on the show decided that they weren't done playing with their favorite Green-Skinned Toy so they decided that she survived Rumple's attempted killing. While I hate that idea, it's at least in line with how TV runs mostly. No one is ever truly dead and people come back all the time (unless you're Neal). But the writers also wanted to have a lot of Outlaw Queen drama because sex and triangles sell and so to hell with morals or logic or codes or honor, right? And so we got an entire half season of never ending OQ drama, complete with sex in a crypt and now none of that matters. Why? Because Marian was never Marian. She was Zelena all along and the real Marian was evaporated by Zelena in the Enchanted Forest of the Past when Hook and Emma went through her time portal (because heaven forbid they keep a strong woman of color on this show!) Now, the fact that Robin broke all his codes of honor and chivalry don't matter at all--it wasn't his wife; in fact it was a villain who takes delight in breaking her poor sister's heart by screwing her soul mate! It's cheap; it's tawdry; it's remedial. And frankly, it's a sign that the writers on this show don't care about telling a good and honest story, they care about heightened drama and things that make people gasp but not in a thought provoking kind of way. Only in a way that gets them to tweet excitedly. It's all flash in the pan and no substance.

Okay, I've been plenty snarky for awhile, let's do something different. How about we discuss my favorite moment of the episode, though of course I did have some serious issues with it as well. This speech Rumple gave Robin outside the hospital was quite beautiful and quite reminiscent to who Rumple used to be--the Rumple I loved. It was also the most he spoke of his son in a very long time, as if Rumple (or the writers) suddenly remembered that Baelfire was part of this show once. Rumple, in this scene, recognizes that he did have happiness. But as he does, Rumple let it go, he pushed it away. Rumple dropped Bae down a portal and wasn't content to be married to Belle. As he says, "a man who pushed away every chance at happiness because it was never enough." That is Rumple in a nutshell; so why do I still have issues? Because that thesis of Rumple hasn't been playing out on screen. He has been myopically focused on his power but with no underlying desire for his happy ending until he lost it all at the end of the FROZEN ALL THE THINGS--which would have included Bae. Even if Michael Raymond-James never came back to this show (and I'm not expecting that he ever would want to return) Rumple not trying to bring back his boy after searching for three hundred years? After this speech in which he understands that he did have his happy ending once? Makes no sense. None whatsoever. And now he's being expected to get a happy ending for the woman who murdered his son (and gleefully gloats about it) and mind-raped him for a year. And we're supposed to be thrilled that Zelena is back. Nope. Not even remotely.

I'm going to be honest. My heart isn't into this review this week--be it praise or snark. The frustrating and lackluster (and very rage inducing) episode has just left me sad and angry and not wanting to even think about how truly terrible this episode was. And it was truly that terrible. It's not even a matter of not seeing our regular cast members. Stand alone episodes of guest stars can work well enough if the material is strong; but the cheap and sickening morals and ethics coupled with the overwhelming number of plot devices and silly reveals just leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I miss when this show made me happy; when I found something new and exciting every week. Now I just watch with half closed eyed, thinking about all atrocities they are committing. There were other ways to end Marian and Robin without resorting to some serious blatant racism. There were ways to introduce the Elixir of the Wounded Heart without the unnecessary Oz trip. This show claims that it wants to push boundaries but in reality it just falls, head first, into the oldest and silliest of soap opera tropes. And with that note, see everyone next week.

Miscellaneous Notes on Heart of Gold

--Get out of Neal's apartment and get out of it right now. I don't care what excuse they come up with for why Regina has Neal's keys in the first place. Zelena name dropping him is the first time we get a Nealfire reference in HOW LONG and it’s from people who could care less that he’s dead (not to mention his murderer) and instead of it being meaningful and heartfelt, to show that characters who should care--like Emma and Henry--have actual human emotions and aren’t just caricatures and robots only focused on shiny shiny magic and PLOT….it’s to hint at what is to come plot wise–brief and unneeded outside of shiny shiny plot. That is what is offense. Neal is mentioned in passing for PLOT not because the characters on this show should actually want to talk about him as if he was a meaningful part of this story because guess what–HE WAS. Get out of Neal's apartment, you perfect strangers.

--Rumple doesn't want Neal's things--well, fine. But maybe Henry does???

--"I am only the Savior because you altered my entire being at the expense of another soul." No, I don't think that is how this works Emma. You're actually only the Savior because of your parents true love and the fact that Rumple put a drop of it on a scroll. Nothing about this news affects you or casts dispersions of your saviorhood.

--"You're the biggest pain in the ass I've ever had the displeasure of writing about." Ok, line of the night.

--How did Rumple get the Quill?

--Robin uses the clover to disguise himself when breaking into the Dark One's Castle. Okay, fine. But Belle recognized Sean Maguire (who now plays Robin) but she only met Tom Ellis (who played Robin in "Lacey") So in order to solve what was never a plot hole, but merely a standard TV business occurrence, the writers created more problems for themselves. 

--If Marian was Zelena all along, then why was "Marian's" heart bright and pure red when Regina removed it in 403?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

In Which I Review Game of Thrones (5x1)

Folks, don't get used to this feature; it will not be a regular occurrence. But often times I feel compelled to review an episode (one singular episode) for my own selfish reasons: mainly that I just really want to talk about that episode but have little time to review the show fully. I'll do a season finale as well for GoT to make it up to any readers. Here is something you may not know about me; I have been reading A Song of Ice and Fire for over a decade. Long before HBO got their hands on George RR Martin's work, I was reading it, theorizing about it, and loving it. As such, my relationship with HBO's "Game of Thrones" is complicated. While I adored the first season, since it was an almost literal translation from page to screen, the show has begun to wildly diverge and go off on their own path--something I find rather hard to stomach especially when their own path feels like a disservice to Martin's work. The show is also going to be sticking its toe into future books that have not been published as of yet. That makes me both excited and nervous as someone who has had to wait years in between books and would love some new things to analyze, but also nervous as someone who didn't imagine her favorite book series being spoiled by a TV show. However, since I do consider myself a lover of all things TV and pop culture, I have been remiss in reviewing, properly, an episode of Game of Thrones--the biggest pop culture craze out there. So, without further ado, the season five premiere episode, "The Wars to Come." Grab a dragon...or a direwolf. 

In Kings Landing

Welcome to the year of Cersei Lannister. I mean that literally. Season five is going to be made up of two books, A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons (and apparently a little bit of The Winds of Winter). The former, book four in the series, is very Cersei heavy as we witness her attempt (emphasis on attempt because Cersei Lannister couldn't rule even if she was literally handed a book called 'How to be the Best Ruler Alive') to rule in King's Landing in the wake of her son Joffery and her father Tywin dying. In the passing of Tywin, Cersei is preparing for her next battle, mostly against the Tyrell clan who refuse to leave King's Landing without securing Margery as Queen; Joffery or no Joffery, Marg must be queen. Cersei is easily my least favorite character in print or on screen. Everything about her is off-putting but nothing more so than her constant attempts to rule by being "mother of the year." In other words, claiming that everything she does is for her children, but in reality is for Cersei's own selfish desires. Her interactions with Jaime, even if it was rather brief, were stilted and harsh but doesn't seem to mesh with what we saw from them at the end of S4. The back and forth of Jaime and Cersei needs to be at an end, and I'm not just saying that because it's completely different in the books. Jaime's own redemption arc, something that was done quite well in season 3, came to a sudden screeching halt at the end of last season when he and Cersei slept together in the White Tower (no no no no no!!!) Jaime should be forever moving away from Cersei as her hold on power begins to tighten and everyone around her is strangled to death. It's time for Jaime to branch out and go...be the Jaime I know (and kinda really like) in the books. Accompanying Cersei's march through King's Landing, we had a brief mention of the new Sparrow sect. Keep an eye on them. Trust me.

At The Wall

Oh Jon Snow. You are your father's son. Both fathers. If you're familiar with who Jon's biological papa is--the kind of man Rhaegar Targaryen was--then did anyone else feel like Jon was really playing out Rhaegar's struggle here? Rhaegar had a choice just like Jon and Mance do. There is the selfish choice, which, yes can mean making your own choice however foolhardy or you can make the harder choice, the one that might lose you the respect of your friends, family, and subjects. You can bend you knee to something like losing everything you thought you stood for in order to save the world. Jon, like Rhaegar before him, would chose the harder path--it might make things messy and complicated with his subjects and those who live under him, but it's the best choice because what do pride, honor, and being king matter when the world is at stake? Running off with Lyanna? Possibly a very bad move. But if it means that the Prince that was Promised was born? Possibly worth it. The conversation between Jon and Mance was quite touching and nice; Mance has been like a father figure to Jon and Jon deeply respects the Wildlings (most of them) now, thanks in large part to Ygritte. And that's why my favorite moment of the evening was Jon shooting Mance through the heart so he wouldn't have to watch a good man die in a truly terrible way. You're a good man, Jon Snow. I hope you can stay that way. In other Wall related news, the men of the Night's Watch need a new Lord Commander. Yeah, keep an eye on that plot development. Trust me. And, Mel, I'm only going to say this once: you do not get to screw Jon Snow. You keep your weird fire mitts off of him. He is not for you! Fanaticism: thy name is Melisandre.

In Pentos

Drunk Tyrion is my favorite Tyrion. No, that's a lie. Any Tyrion is my favorite Tyrion but I do love snarky, wishing-I-was-dead, mostly drunk Tyrion. I both loved and hated this portion of the episode. I'll start with why I hated it (and yes, it has to do with the books). Varys is a great character; sly, cunning and unassuming, he's the perfect master of whispers. But I have such serious problems with this idea that Varys is on #TeamRealm or something. In a way he is, but he--like everyone else in Westeros--on #Team-Realm-As-I-See-It. He isn't trying to restore the Targaryen monarchy, not with Daenerys. He's trying to put a Blackfyre on the throne for crying out loud (if you don't know what that means, go read the books. Trust me). He's not pro-Targaryen and he's not pro-realm. He's pro-my-guy-who-I've-invested-a-lot-of-time-and-money-into. Where is fAegon!? Ugh. Sorry. This bugs me more than I thought it would. However, forget everything I just said because even though I do not like that they've turned Varys into someone he is not, I did love his speech to Tyrion about what makes a good ruler. And he's referring to my Silver Queen, Daenerys Targaryen. That speech made me proud to support Dany and everything I think she stands for--the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, and the human. Now, Tyrion, go find someone who knows Dany better than anyone else (*cough* Jorah *cough*) and get thee to Meereen! Even though I am nervous about the show spoiling the books, I can't wait for Tyrion and Dany to met. My two favorite characters? In the same room? Talking? Yes please.

In Meereen

And finally in Meereen, I try very hard to ignore that Daario has a nice butt because I really dislike his character in the books. He is not some romantic, sweet and nice guy, HBO. He's a swaggering sellsword who proposes that Dany butcher half of Meereen. He "loves" her only because she is powerful and beautiful and rare, like her dragons. He doesn't really know her and the attempt to add sympathy to him by giving Daario a sad story fell on my very deaf ears. But yes, the actor is gorgeous. Meereen is a hard plot line to talk about because from here until the end of this season, it's going to be rough going for Dany. Very rough going. I don't want to go give anything away, but those Sons of the Harpy? Keep an eye on them. Trust me. My hope for this season with Dany is that they let her stop being "badass" all the time and show how fragile and human she is, and not just in bed with her lover. Daenerys is made up of self doubt, more so than Cersei, which is a really important contrast. She is plagued by decisions she's made and the consequence thereof. Dany becomes an increasingly internal character and I am worried that the show doesn't know how to translate that on screen since you can read someone's internal conflict but it's harder to show. Book five, which is a Dany heavy book, is really focused on her identity and what being Daenerys Targaryen means. Is she a Harpy Queen or The Mother of Dragons? They have got to sell that this year or else the resolution that comes at the end isn't going to have any impact. Trust me.

Miscellaneous Notes on The Wars To Come

--Obviously with Game of Thrones, there are a lot of plot lines so I had to skip quite a bit. Here are some highlights. As someone who doesn't particularly like Sansa Stark, I did really enjoy her tet-a-tet with Littlefinger; it shows that she has come quite far since the beginning. But, where are they going...? Can't be the North. It's not the North, right? That would be sincerely weird given the books as it stands right now.

--The opening scene was really well done and I'm glad the show is keeping the Younger and More Beautiful Queen prophecy.

--I don't understand what Brienne is doing now that she's lost Arya and has apparently given up on Sansa. Also, I didn't like the way Brienne was talking to Pod. Brienne feels bad for the boy in the books, but she is never visciously cruel to him like she was in this episode.

--Oh look, sexposition. What would GoT be without it? Also known as: you need to remember Dorne so here is a whore talking about Dorne while being a whore.

--No Arya or Jorah this episode. Two of my favorites.

--Angry dragons make me sad

--"Who said anything about him?"

--Overall I'd give this episode an 8. The things I did not like were because I'm a book reader first. It's a constant struggle.

Monday, April 6, 2015

In Which I Review Mad Men (7x8)

The end of an era. A time to say goodbye, to think fondly back on all the memories made. A time to realize how massively you've screwed up your life. Welcome back, Mad Men. I have missed you dearly. Let's just start off with some eyebrow raising but not really a criticism, more a passing caveat. This weeks episode, "Severance," was a weird one. It's not that Mad Men hasn't done oddities before; on some level all episodes of this show are weird in that they are so carefully constructed and detailed that you can feel overwhelmed by the amount of symbolic resonance and storytelling. But this episode felt like it never quite knew where to land. I half expected it to end with Don Draper waking up and the entire thing having been an nightmare. But, of course, Mad Men isn't that crazed. It was all real and it was really that macabre. It's hard to imagine that the first half of this season ended with Bert gleefully dancing and singing while secretaries in outlandishly bright costumes twirled around him, but it did. The best things in life are free, he intoned. It was a message from beyond the grave: Donald Draper, do you have time to change your life? Do you understand that you can have it all, but only if you let go of these material things holding you back? Perhaps, only if you let go of Donald Draper? Well. Guess what? Message, not received. Because the underlying thesis of Mad Men is, and always has been, that people do not change. This Don Draper...is the same Don Draper in season one. Bert's message fell on deaf ears as the money and the women and the booze begin to pile up around Don once more. But maybe, just maybe, he can still catch his flight. Grab an old fashioned cocktail and let's embark, one final time, into the dizzying brilliance that is Mad Men. 

I have said it before: Donald Draper cannot enter the 1970s. I've also said this before: I was wrong. Turns out, Matthew Weiner can almost gleefully pass right into the 1970s without anyone blinking an eye. It was rather cheeky of Weiner to pass over the remainder of 1969 in the fashion he did (no Woodstock!) especially for a show so heavily entrenched in the 1960s aesthetic, but it's perfect for the man who loves to skip months at a time to prove that these broken people at SC&P are still the same. So, having admitted that I was wrong, I want to take a look at Donald Draper's current mountain-o-crap that is infecting his life. This episode finds Don doing the same thing Don always does: he's philandering, he's boozing, he's sleeping on the job. After successfully coming back to work last half of the season, working his way back up to creative director (no fuss, no muss, his name is back on that iconic door) and he finds himself back where we somehow always knew he'd end up: lonely and alone. Money corrupts. Isn't that some sort of trite cliche? Well, for Don and the rest of the partners who turned a hefty profit when they allowed their company to be bought by McCan/Erickson, it turned them all into bitter shrews who are deeply unhappy and looking in all the wrong places for the life they really want to live. What life does Don really want to live? What life can he really live here at the end of all things when Bert's message has failed to seriously make an impact? The proposition that saved his job is slowly killing him because I think Don Draper is tired of being Don Draper. I think he's ready to be Dick Whitman.

If there was one theme that was hammered home time and time again in this episode, it was that you have to take the life you want to live, not accept the life you have. The problem is that several of the characters stumbled into this realization and then blatantly went the other way. Kenny was fired and was finally free to go live his life as an author like he always wanted, only to turn around and get another job in advertising, the job that has made him miserable and cost him an eye. Joan finally realized that she would always be seen as a sex object, an uncomfortable reminder that she literally slept her way to the top and prostituted herself for her partnership, but instead of facing it head on, she buried herself in more luxury clothing, believing that her new found wealth could ease her pain. Peggy, ever the romantic deep down inside, met a great guy and had her first true perfect date only to snub it the next morning and tell herself that aspirin would cure her of this desire she felt for something non-work related. Oh Pegs. Listen to the cute guy: you're fearless and you really can have it all. Be your Mary Tyler Moore best self and have both the career and the man. If anyone can do it, it's you. But let's bring this back to Don. And...Rachel Menken? Who, turns out to have died prior to this vision of her dressed in fur? Another ghost from the past--they aren't uncommon to Don who has seen his dead brother Adam and of course Bert.

Why is Rachel here? In a lot of ways, Rachel Menken (from season one) was perhaps Don's perfect match and the "one that got away" out of the many (many many) women Don has had over the years. She was sexy and strong and independent but also damaged much in the same way that Don was. They connected but Don, being Don, decided to go back to Betty and his kids only to find out, at the end of season one, that he has missed the train in the current Draper household but only after Rachel rejected his offer to fly off into the sunset together. Rachel Menken shows up here as a bit of a Jacob Marley-type of ghost. Once you learn she is dead, you almost hear the chains in the background warning our Draper-Scrooge to change his ways and start living the life he wants. That's the takeaway message Don gets from visiting Rachel's memorial and seeing her children. "She lived the life she wanted to live. She had everything." Don does not have everything. No word on Sally and the boys this episode; Megan is now being called "the ex wife" and his work is once again only something that gets him through the day. Was Don in any way creative this episode? He did nothing but show up, drink, and whore. And this is what I mean by saying that I think he's ready to start being Dick Whitman. It's time for Donald Draper to really die. To be put in that pine box that Don once placed "Dick" in and be gone. Dick Whitman never got to live a real life. He grew up poor and unloved and abused by his father, his stepmother, and the whores he lived with and then all too soon he went to Korea and upon his return home decided he didn't want to be Dick Whitman anymore; he wanted to be Donald Draper. Dick Whitman has been struggling to live for decades now, crushed under the weight of Donald Draper. Well, Don Draper has lived a life that Dick thought he wanted, but now that's over. Those things that once made Don who he was, that carefully constructed life he built out of a deck of cards, is crumbling around him and instead of adding another fake layer to it (another wife, another business venture, another drink) perhaps he can have a proper wake up call and live the life he wants. Dick's life. Whatever that might mean. Don Draper entered 1970, but if (oh such a big word and full of such possibility, that 'if') Dick Whitman can finally claw his way out of Don Draper's carefully lad out life of lies, I wouldn't be shocked if Dick enters 1971. The best things in life are free, Dick. Go; live the life you want to live.

Miscellaneous Notes on Severance

--"Is that all there is?" Basically the other theme of the night that fits in with the "go live the life you want" theme.

--While I love Peggy and Joan tag-teaming and being badass business women, it's still very hard to see Joan being treated the way she is. Sexism has always been a motif in this show and I didn't expect it to stop here at the end, but poor Joan. She did sleep her way to the top, but she has also proven that she's damn good at handling accounts. She is more than the sashaying secretary with big boobs; she's actually incredibly competent but to to hell if men can see that. The fight between Peggy and Joan was rough to watch, but these are two women who do respect each other but often have a hard time showing it because their approach to life is always going to be different. Remember, 10 years ago (show time), Peggy was a little slip of a girl with a big box on her fist day and Joan was the towering figure of secretarial authority. Now, look at them. Joan is still treated like a sex object while Peggy gets treated "like a man" who more or less hates being reminded that she was once a secretary and not a copy chief.

--Now forget everything I said in the above note because "I want to burn this place down!" was my line of the night.

--Of course Don becomes obsessed with a woman name "Di" whom he treats like a whore. Of course.

--Let's all take a moment to appreciate Roger and Ted's epic 1970s 'stache. 

--When people die, things get mixed up. Dick Whitman "died" many years ago and things got mixed up. Fix your life Don. Before it's too late.