Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Summer TV Rewind: Merlin 1.12: "To Kill the King"

Our guest blogger Sarah returns again to recap the penultimate episode of Merlin series 1...

***

“You have blood on your hands, Uther Pendragon. Blood that will never wash off.”
- Morgana

Before we start this recap, I just want to warn you that is not one of my favorites. I don’t really like the leap they’ve taken with Morgana. That being said, let’s dive in. We begin with Tom, Gwen’s dad, sort of bouncing happily along in town, and he finds Gwen cleaning a rug. He scares her and hands over a really nice button and a very expensive looking dress. Gwen’s a little concerned at the cost, but Tom assures her that things are looking up for them. Night falls, and we see Tom at the forge smelting lead when a man appears. By the hood and creepy entrance we know he’s a sorcerer. He pulls out this stone thing and turns the lead into gold. Arthur and his men show up just as the process finishes and Tom’s holding a block of solid gold. Meanwhile, Merlin’s been awakened by the use of magic. Keen senses that boy’s developing.

Merlin tells Gaius about being woken by the use of magic. He’s not sure about what’s going on, but it soon becomes clear. Gwen arrives and tells them her father’s been arrested and charged with treason for helping a known sorcerer. Meanwhile, Morgana is trying to plead Tom’s case. She fails, of course, because Uther is a stubborn bastard and Arthur’s still just scared enough of his father to not really question things. But, this sets Morgana on the war path the rest of the episode. And that part of the storyline is what irritates me so much about this episode. We’ve seen Morgana disagree with Uther’s policies before but never so openly. Yes she got caught helping Mordred escape, but what transpires later in this episode is more than that. It’s hostile.

Anyway, Morgana goes in search of Gwen and finds the stone Tauren (the sorcerer) used to turn the lead to gold. She holds it, and it starts to glow and resonate. Merlin gets the same look on his face as when he woke up the night before. Morgana quickly hides the stone and slips off, and she finds Gwen asleep in Gaius’s chambers. Merlin begs Morgana to speak to Uther but she tells him that all Uther sees are enemies, even if it’s not true. After Morgana leaves, she sneaks into Arthur’s chambers and steals a key (presumably to the dungeon) and slips it to Tom. That night, as rain pours outside, Tom wonders whether to use the key or not. Unfortunately, he makes the stupid move to actually escape. Uther flips out and orders Tom to be killed on sight. Arthur argues that the trial is in the morning. Uther barks out that the trial was a formality and he’s a dead man. Tom gets caught and is killed. Gwen’s distraught, as she should be, and Morgana goes on a crazy ass tirade.

This is part of what annoyed me so much. I mean, I like that she’s contrary to Uther in a way that Arthur isn’t. But she’s kind of just exploded at Uther and it seems a little sudden. Maybe it’s just that she finds the injustice of killing Tom so horrible, but it seems not entirely related to that. She harkens back a little to The Beginning of the End when he almost made her an enemy. And perhaps like an enemy, Uther locks Morgana up in the dungeons. She continues to rant that he’s a tyrant and only interested in himself. I personally would have liked to see a slower burn on her anger and have these bigger displays of defiance lead up to series 2. We get these bigger displays in series 2 but, yeah, it just kind of annoyed me.

Arthur shows up and tells Gwen her job is safe. Her house is also hers for life. It’s a small comfort, and Arthur also apologizes. He tells Gwen whatever she needs or wants, all she has to do is ask. Upon rewatch, I thought she would say she wanted her father back but she just meekly thanks Arthur. Next we see Arthur, he’s gone to see Morgana in the dungeon. At first she’s berating him, calling him daddy’s little helper. He’s come to let her go. He tells her though that he promised his father she’d never challenge his authority again and that she’d learned his lesson. If it happens again, he might not be able to help her. In a moment of compassion, Morgana admits that Arthur is a better man than his father and always has been. We know that’s obvious.

When Morgana gets back to her chambers, she finds Gwen there, and after a short talk in which Gwen tells Morgana she shouldn’t have gotten involved, Morgana learns that Tauren attacked and threatened Gwen. Under the guise of informing the guards to go meet Tauren in the woods, Morgana takes the stone and heads out herself. She held the stone for a minute or two and made it glow. Merlin, of course, woke up, and he follows her to her meeting with Tauren. To use a much loved “Leverage” phrase, Morgana gets Tauren to give the Evil Speech of Evil, wherein he tells Morgana he plans to use the corruption in Camelot to take down Uther. The gold he will make will go towards paying bribes. Morgana says he’ll need someone close to Uther and offers herself.

Merlin’s pretty out of it the next morning (almost walks into the broom cupboard because he thought it was the front door) and seeks out the Dragon. Merlin’s conflicted about what to do, and the Dragon doesn’t help. All Merlin gets is the Dragon’s own hatred of Uther and saying that he (Merlin) should let Uther die so Arthur may become King. That evening, Morgana sets her plan in motion. She speaks with Uther and brings up her father. He died in battle and she tries to make Uther believe her reaction was because Gwen’s loss stirred up old memories. By the following day, she convinced Uther to go with her to her father’s grave. Meanwhile, Merlin’s had a talk with Gaius about whether Uther is a good King or not. Merlin’s still not convinced, but Gaius says that despite his (many) failings, Uther has brought prosperity and peace to Camelot. That night Merlin sees Morgana meeting with Tauren. The plan is set. She and Uther ride out the next morning and Gwen and Merlin have a little talk. It spirals into Merlin asking Gwen if she had the power over life and death if she would kill Uther. She says no, and that it would make her a murderer and she couldn’t stand being on his level. Merlin races off to stop Morgana from harming Uther.

Morgana has her Druid cape on as they ride out to her father’s grave, and it’s obvious she’s still pissed with Uther. The violins rise just as Merlin arrives with the staff from The Gates of Avalon. Morgana and Uther are making their way down a hill. Merlin takes out two of Tauren’s men. Uther and Morgana end up making up (Uther tells Morgana that she’s so much like his father and he regrets killing Tom) just as Tauren makes his move. They spar a little and just as Tauren’s about to stab Uther, Morgana steps in and kills Tauren. It would seem that Morgana’s hissy fit of the episode has passed and all is once again happy in Camelot. I just wish the writers would keep her arc a little more consistent.

Monday, August 30, 2010

MTVP 2010 Emmys Coverage: The Aftermath

“The Island it was mythical, and in the end they died. I didn’t understand it, but I tried”
-Jimmy Fallon

It feels like with this year’s Emmys broadcast, NBC execs said to Jimmy Fallon, “You know that Emmy show last year with that Neil Patrick Harris guy that actually didn’t get panned by critics? Do that..but, you know, with you instead.” Yes, there were many elements of the 2010 Emmys broadcast that were very reminiscent, and in some cases identical to, the 2009 broadcast on CBS. I loved the 2009 broadcast, so you might think this would make me happy, but I actually think that many of the elements of last night’s show that worked well (and there were definitely good moments) were tailored to Jimmy Fallon as an individual performer, rather than the elements that were reused because they worked well last year for a Neil Patrick Harris-helmed show. This was not a bad Emmy’s broadcast, really, certainly not as bad as the Ryan Seacrest helmed “theatre in the round” of 2007 or ABC’s horrible idea to have five co-hosts in 2008, or heck, even the 2010 Academy Awards. I did not personally, however, enjoy this year as much as I enjoyed last year. Part of that, to be fair, is because Neil Patrick Harris is one of my favorite entertainers, and obviously he isn’t going to be hosting two years in a row. Another element is that in most categories, the nominee I was really pulling for didn’t win.

We’ll start with the repeat elements that I didn’t like, just so I can end this on a more positive note. First of all, John Hodgman was back doing his silly facts about the winners as they walk to the stage bit. This was hilarious and fresh last year, but repeating it so soon feels stale. There was also, once again, an emphasis on what was happening behind the scenes at the show. Every time the broadcast came back from commercial, we heard the director announcing what everyone needed to be doing. There were also multiple screens visible showing different behind-the-scenes elements like the show time clock. It was innovative when these elements were introduced last year, but doing the same thing this year, again, feels stale. When Jimmy Fallon sported a white dinner jacket for the entire final hour of the show, it really, really started to feel like they were simply trying to recapture last year’s lightening in a bottle. There was one “repeat” element that worked for me, and that’s because it involved Neil Patrick Harris (big surprise). After Harris’ win for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series was announced, Harris was called upon to present an award. As he walked onto the stage, the orchestra played the opening bars of “Put Down the Remote,” the big song-and-dance number he performed to open last year’s show.

As I mentioned in my introduction, I thought the show worked best when it was tailored specifically to Fallon. I really enjoyed the opening sketch, which involved Fallon and some of the “Glee” cast trying to put together a glee club to raise money so the Glee kids could attend the Emmys. The funniest part of the skit was when the group recruited Jon Hamm, who was getting dance lessons from Betty White. I’d really like to see Hamm show off his comedic talents more often. I also found it amusing that Fallon introduced each category of awards by singing a little song and playing his guitar along with someone from that category (ie Kim Kardashian for Reality and Tom Hanks for Movie/Mini-series). Finally, I also enjoyed Fallon’s musical tribute to three long-standing shows that ended their runs this year: “24,” “Law and Order,” and “Lost.’ He parodied a different classic end of year video song for each. My favorite was his song about “Lost” sung to Greenday’s “Time of Your Life.”

There were also some things I liked that weren’t specifically related to Fallon’s performance. I liked that when writing and directing nominees were announced, there was a video of each of them humorously answering a question. I thought that was a great way to put a face and personality to a name. I also appreciated the sendoff for the late Captain Phil Harris, my favorite of the “Deadliest Catch” captains. The heart breaking scene of Phil’s son Josh telling Phil’s other son Jake about their father’s death was included in the Best of Reality montage, and Phil himself was included in the In Memoriam segment. Lightening things up a bit again, Ricky Gervais was one again by far the most entertaining presenter. He had waiters go out into the audience and serve beer to all the invitees. Finally, George Clooney received the Bob Hope Humanitarian award, and it’s the first time I’ve actually sat through and appreciated one of the big awards. Clooney gave a very timely speech, considering it was the fifth anniversary of Katrina, about how we need to still think about areas affected by disasters for long after the disaster happened.

The actual winners were a mixed bag for me this year. Once again starting with the negative, I was somewhat unhappy that Neil Patrick Harris lost Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy for the fourth time. On the positive, Eric Stonestreet of Modern Family won that category, so at least Jon Cryer didn’t repeat. I was somewhat disappointed that Bryan Cranston won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama for the third time in a row (although he gave a very classy acceptance speech), just because he’s won twice already and there were other deserving nominees. Overall, I was disappointed that there was no love for “Lost.” Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad” won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama over both Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn, and Matthew Fox obviously did not win Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama. Also, “Mad Men” won Outstanding Drama Series yet again as opposed to giving “Lost” an award to send it on its way. “Modern Family” won Outstanding Comedy Series, which was kind of a “meh” win for me, since I’ve never watched it. I suppose I have to appreciate that the “30 Rock” dynasty has toppled, although I would have preferred a win by “Glee” or for “Community” to have been nominated at all.

There were really only three wins that made me especially happy. The first was Jane Lynch winning Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her work as Sue Sylvester on “Glee.” Sue is an iconic character after just one season, and Lynch’s acceptance speech was very gracious and classy and not at all like her character. I also liked that “Top Chef” finally unseated “The Amazing Race” in the reality competition category. “Top Chef” is an excellently produced, exciting show, and that team definitely deserves the Emmy. The best win of the night for me, of course, was Jim Parsons winning Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance as Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory.” Parsons has an “aw shucks” attitude, and he seemed truly grateful and humbled by the win. So, on that positive note, that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject of the Emmys until next year. Here’s hoping, presuming the Emmy broadcast contract is renewed with the same terms they’ve been using in the past, FOX doesn’t tap Ryan Seacrest to host again!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

MTVP 2010 Emmys Coverage: The Players

It’s that time of year again, folks! Tonight is my very favorite awards show of the year- the Primetime Emmys. It’s my Super Bowl. Seriously. Tonight’s show should be a good one. Jimmy Fallon is hosting, and while I don’t think he can quite live up to Neil Patrick Harris’ versatile, entertaining performance last year, the man can be quite funny. The last time NBC broadcast the Emmys, Conan O’Brien hosted, and the effort had not been matched until last year. How appropriate that Conan’s replacement take the reins this time. I’m truly hoping for some moments this year that involve CoCo himself, though. It could be good awkward fun, and I’m sure Conan would handle winning any awards on a show broadcast by NBC with class. Plus, there are some really great nominees this year. The Academy made some really interesting, unusual (in a good way) choices. Like I did last year, I’m going to use this space to talk about the awards categories I really care about. I’m no expert- this is just my hopes, not my predictions. In other words, I’m impatiently waiting for 5:00 when the E! red carpet coverage starts, and I want to blabber on about the Emmys to somebody. Might as well be the entire internet!

Outstanding Drama Series

The Nominees:

Breaking Bad
Dexter
The Good Wife
Lost
Mad Men
TrueBlood

My Pick: Lost

Lost deserves a final Emmy for its swan song season. A rather unwieldy mythology was wrapped up in an emotionally satisfying, character-centered way, and I really couldn’t ask for more. The usual actors delivered stand-out performances. The Lost powers that be submitted the following six episodes for consideration: “Dr. Linus,” “Ab Aeterno,” “Happily Ever After, “The Candidate,” and “The End, Parts 1 and 2.” I think these were excellent choices. “Dr. Linus” could potentially have made my Lost Fifteen Favorites List (I will finish that, by the way) had season six episodes been eligible for consideration in the project. It was a wonderful vehicle for Michael Emerson to give yet another powerhouse performance as Ben Linus. “Happily Ever After” has plenty of beautiful Desmond and Penny moments- it really had heart. “The Candidate” was emotional in a tragic way, and “The End” was just plain epic.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

The Nominees:

Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights)
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Matthew Fox (Lost)
Michael C. Hall (Dexter)
John Hamm (Mad Men)
Hugh Laurie (House)

My Pick: Kyle Chandler

This is one of two nominations (the other will be very apparent when we get to it) that made me say, “It’s about time!” Kyle Chandler has been absolutely superb on “Friday Night Lights” for the past few years, and it’s time he be recognized for it. Coach Eric Taylor is someone all men, heck all people, should aspire to emulate. He’s tough when need be, but he also makes an effort to empathize. He’s not perfect, either- he’s made some dumb mistakes for the sake of his students. I don’t know if the character could have become so layered if Kyle Chandler hadn’t turned in so many brilliant performances. Coach’s talks with his players have become an iconic part of “Friday Night Lights,” and they might have been preachy or cloying without Chandler’s sincere delivery. He truly is the heart of “Friday Night Lights,” and I am so excited that he has finally been recognized for that. Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose!

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

The Nominees:

Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights)
Glenn Close (Damages)
Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
January Jones (Mad Men)
Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)
Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer)

My Pick: Connie Britton

Among the perennial nominees like Close, Hargitay, and Sedgwick are some actual new, non-movie star choices this year. I’m happy to see January Jones, Julianna Marguilies, and Connie Britton join the club. But, if you haven’t been able to figure it out already, Connie Britton is my other “It’s about time” pick. Tami Taylor is one of my favorite characters on television, and much of that is due to Britton’s excellent work. Tami is a former wild child who eventually settled down to become the excellent wife and mother we now know. Britton brings such warmth to Tami, and I love how she contributes to a beautiful, realistic portrayal of positive family life. Tami and Julie’s mother/daughter chats can be heartbreaking in their realism, and Eric and Tami Taylor are the best depiction of marriage on television today. Britton brings a bit of an edge to Tami, too. Tami’s not just a mother and wife, she’s got a career as well, and she works to balance all her roles as best she can. Connie Britton is really just a delight to watch in this role.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

The Nominees:

Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age)
Michael Emerson (Lost)
Terry O’Quinn (Lost)
Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad)
Martin Short (Damages)
John Slattery (Mad Men)

My Pick: Terry O’Quinn

As much as it pains me, because Michael Emerson and Benjamin Linus are among my favorite television actors and characters respectively, I’ve got to give it to O’Quinn this year. I had some serious issues with the Man In Black overall (we should have been introduced to him much earlier in the series if he was going to play such a pivotal role in the endgame), I can’t deny that O’Quinn constantly hit it out of the park this season with his performances. He had to play two completely different characters this season, and he handled the task admirably. It was fascinating to watch all the sometimes subtle, sometimes obvious differences between John Locke in the Sideways-verse and the Man In Black in our universe. O’Quinn submitted “The Substitute” for consideration, and while I prefer Emerson’s submission, “Dr. Linus,” “The Substitute” is a good quality episode and is an excellent showcase for O’Quinn to demonstrate his talents to the Emmy voters.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

The Nominees:

Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
Steve Carell (The Office)
Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm)
Matthew Morrison (Glee)
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory)
Tony Shalhoub (Monk)

My Pick: Jim Parsons

Jim Parsons never fails to steal the scene as Sheldon Cooper on “The Big Bang Theory.” I would like for him to win the Emmy because he is fearless and puts everything he has into his performance. Sheldon is an incredibly neurotic character, and Parsons imbues the character with so much energy. Parsons submitted “The Pants Alternative” for Emmy consideration, and while I don’t think it’s his best work of the season, it is extremely broadly comedic. How could drunk Sheldon doing geek stand-up and mooning his peers at an awards banquet not be broadly comedic? Emmy voters tend to favor more broadly comedic performances in the comedy categories, so he could have a legitimate shot at the award. I would also really look forward to seeing Parsons give an acceptance speech. I’m sure it would be absolutely adorable. Parsons appears incredibly humble and is always surprised to receive recognition for his outstanding work.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

The Nominees:

Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Chris Colfer (Glee)
Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)
Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family)
Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother)
Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family)

My Pick: Neil Patrick Harris

Did you really even have to ask what my pick for this category would be? This is the fourth time Harris has been nominated for his role as Barney Stinson on “How I Met Your Mother,” and I’m hoping, in this case, that fourth time’s the charm. I’ll admit, season 5 was by far HIMYM’s weakest and didn’t provide as much quality material for Harris to work with, but it’s high time to make up for past snubs, particularly last year’s. It’s not like Harris didn’t do good work, he just didn’t have quite the range of material to work with as last year. I especially enjoyed his performance in “Of Course,” which displayed a range of comedy and drama. Harris chose “Girls Vs. Suits” for his submission, which I don’t think is an entirely bad idea. I thoroughly enjoyed the big song-and-dance “Nothing Suits me Like a Suit” number, and something on that grand a scale could make the difference. Also, Harris is riding momentum from having won two Emmys already at this year’s Creative Arts ceremony, one for his hosting of the Tony Awards, and one for his guest role as Bryan Ryan on “Glee.” Here’s hoping he’s three for three!

Glee 1.21: "Funk"

“Their school statue is a giant bronze of a great white shark eating a seal pup. It weighs three tons.”
-Kurt

“Funk” wasn’t one of my favorite episodes of “Glee,” although it did have some entertaining moments. Mostly I was just cringing in horror at Will trying to seduce Sue, though. As they say on “Futurama,” “You watched it, you can’t unwatch it.” Some of the musical numbers in this episode were a lot of fun, and some were just plain odd. The episode was more fun overall than I remember it being when I first watched it back in May, but there are still most definitely better episodes of “Glee.” I will say that I really felt bad for Rachel in this one, which doesn’t happen often. So, without further ado, it’s time to get funky (yeah, they said the word “funk” in this episode more times than I can count).

Rachel calls the glee club to the auditorium, claiming it’s an emergency. Vocal Adrenaline is there, and they’re being led by none other than Jesse. Vocal Adrenaline performs a very intense rendition of “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, and New Directions are left feeling pretty depressed about their chances at Regionals. When they get back to the choir room and discover that Vocal Adrenaline has hung toilet paper all over everything, morale sinks even lower. Artie informs the group that this is typical Vocal Adrenaline behavior. They call it a “funkification.” The idea is to psych out teams that could potentially be a threat. What brought this on was the fact that Ohio show choir blogs and message boards (a fact that multiple blogs and message boards exist on this topic kind of baffles me) all say that New Directions has a chance to upset this year. That won’t happen if the kids can’t snap out of their funk, though.

It’s not just the kids who are feeling down. Will is feeling the pressure, too. Sue barges into the choir room with two drafting students claiming that she is preparing to turn the choir room into a trophy annex. Sue says that she knows New Directions is going to lose at Regionals and have to give up the choir room, and she needs space to house the massive Nationals trophy she expects her Cheerios will win this upcoming weekend. To make things even worse for Will, his divorce was just finalized. Of course Terri is an absolute terror that Will is well rid of (and he knows that), but it’s still a bit demoralizing to finally give up on something you devoted so much of your life to.

The New Directions kids are determined to get their revenge on Vocal Adrenaline, and Puck realizes that it’s going to fall to him to actually make it happen. Puck and Finn go to the Carmel High School parking lot one night and slash the tires of all the Vocal Adrenaline kids. This would be absolutely horrible if it weren’t for the fact that the cars in question are all Land Rovers that Shelby bought for the kids when they won Sectionals. A reward like that is outrageous, and an argument could be made that they all deserved what was coming to them. Certainly, that’s what the show’s writers are hoping you’ll think. I suppose there’s really no good excuse for destruction of property, though, and Puck and Finn have to pay the price for their actions. To keep Shelby from pressing charges (which would result in their expulsion), they have to pay damages. To do that, the guys are going to have to get a job.

In a rather uncharacteristic attempt to try anything to feel better, Will tries to make a purchase from Sandy. Sandy (thankfully) refuses to sell to Will, but he is able to help in another way. From his years as glee club director, he learned Vocal Adrenaline’s one weakness. They have never performed a funk number. Because all of a sudden, the writers want us to believe that Vocal Adrenaline are soulless automatons instead of the really talented, spirited performers we’ve seen in the past. Regardless of continuity implications, the information gives Will an idea for this week’s glee club assignment. The students are going to have to perform a funk number. Mercedes says she has it covered, but Quinn thinks the can bring her “pregnant teenage reject” pain to the assignment.

Rachel tells Will that she thinks that Vocal Adrenaline is using Jesse to break her heart, and by proxy, bring down New Directions. Rachel considers herself the “heart” of New Directions, you see. This gives Will an idea. Maybe he can destroy Sue using similar tactics. This means we’re in for a whole lot of squick. Unbelievable amounts of squick. It was so bad it was hard to not hide my eyes from the screen. First Will attempts to seduce Sue with a musical performance, under the guise of getting her opinion on whether or not it would be too raunchy for the students to perform. Then he brings her flowers and protein gels. I seriously could not wait for this plotline to be over.

There’s some squickiness going on over at the Sheets N Things too, where Finn and Puck have found employment. Sandy has a hand in this plot, too. Apparently he’s the pickiest customer at the Sheets N Things, and he makes Finn and Puck feel pretty awful about themselves. They feel awful enough to sing a bit of Beck’s “Loser.” Mark Salling actually sounds pretty awesome on that song. Cory Monteith, not so much, but that’s what we’ve come to expect, and I’ve certainly griped about it plenty here. Sandy Ryerson can be plenty squick-worthy on his own, but the real cause of squickiness in the Sheets N Things plotline is Terri Schuester. She’s not dealing well with the divorce finalization, either, and she keeps picturing Finn as Will. Thankfully, she doesn’t cross any sort of line, or it would be as unspeakably squicky (even more so than Will and Sue), but she does offer to help Finn find a funk song to perform for glee club. She’s determined to not let glee club be such a source of anger for her anymore.

The first funky performance of the week is Quinn’s. She gets together with a group of supposedly also pregnant teens to form a group she calls the “Unwed Mothership Connection.” I say supposedly, because with the dance moves those heavily pregnant looking girls were doing, I’m surprised none of them went into labor right then and there. The group performs a decent, although not especially memorable, rendition of “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” I enjoyed the second performance much better. “Puck E. Puck., Finnie D., and the Funky Bunch” performed “Good Vibrations” with an assist from Mercedes. It always amuses me when “Glee” does early 90’s hip hop, because I remember it well, and I’m convinced that these kids would have never, ever heard any of those songs.

Meanwhile, Will’s plan to destroy Sue goes a little too well. He agreed to meet Sue at Breadsticks for a date, and he deliberately stands her up. When Sue shows up at Will’s house to demand an apology, Will gives her a piece of his mind. The next day, Will arrives at McKinley High to see the Cheerios in disarray. They’re walking around with more blank than usual looks on their faces. Will seeks out Kurt for an explanation, and Kurt explains that Sue has refused to get out of bed since being rejected by Will. Will starts to feel bad about what he has done, because unlike Sue at this point, he has a soul. He realizes that the Cheerios need Sue and deserve to have their shot at Nationals. Will swallows his pride and makes a trip to Sue’s house (which is decorated with trophies, by the way) to apologize.

The lives of the Glee kids are all changing rapidly. Mercedes, impressed by Quinn’s recognition of what it’s like to be different, invites Quinn to move in with her instead of continuing to live with Puck’s family. I really don’t get this plot, but it wasn’t a big enough part of the episode to really upset me. Rachel, however, is not doing as well. She gets a call from Jesse and happily runs out to the school parking lot, most likely expecting to be running into his arms like a scene from a typical rom com. Instead, she gets egged (literally) by Jesse’s Vocal Adrenaline teammates. To add insult to injury, Jesse smashes the final egg on Rachel’s head himself. The New Directions guys want to take violent revenge, but Will encourages them to find an alternative, even as Sue and the drafting students happily wheel the latest Cheerios Nationals trophy into the choir room (won with the help of a massive Celine Dion solo by Kurt- really the one plus to the whole situation).

The kids do come up with a better way to get their revenge. Will calls Jesse and tells him to bring Vocal Adrenaline to the McKinley High auditorium. The kids then proceed to put on a real “funkification.” They perform “We Want the Funk,” and it’s quite a fun performance, although I wouldn’t rank it among my absolute favorites. The Vocal Adrenaline kids realize that funk isn’t their strong point, and they start to feel depressed too. Something tells me those kids could perform a funk number just fine, but since we’re so close to the end of the season, I’ll do my best to suspend disbelief.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Summer TV Rewind: Merlin 1.11: "The Labrynth of Gedref"

Please welcome Sarah back once again for another installment of Summer TV Rewind...

***

“A unicorn is pure of heart. If you kill one, you must make amends by proving that you are also pure of heart.”
- Anhora

Merlin and Arthur are out in the woods hunting when Arthur spots an animal moving in the woods. He sends Merlin to check it out and discovers a unicorn. Merlin’s rather taken with the beast. He tries to get it to leave, but Arthur shows up and kills the unicorn. Merlin tries to apologize to the unicorn when Arthur takes the beast’s horn as a trophy for his father. Just as they leave, Merlin sees a hooded man as ominous music plays.

Uther is thrilled with the gift and thinks Camelot will be the envy of other kingdoms. Gaius warns that there are old tales that slaying a unicorn brings bad luck to the one who killed it. Both Arthur and Uther dismiss this. Well, they don’t have long to wait until things start going wrong. All the crops in the kingdom have died and withered and there isn’t much grain to ration. Not to mention, all the water has dried up and turned to sand. Uther is convinced now it is the work of sorcery. He implements a curfew and a penalty of death on all looters.

That night, Merlin and Arthur are out (Arthur tells Merlin to go home to avoid the embarrassment of locking up his own servant) when Arthur spots the hooded man from the woods. He and Merlin chase after the man but come up empty. It’s like the man’s made of smoke. Then again, he’s magical so…go figure. Anyway, the man, Anhora, tells Arthur that by killing the unicorn, he’s brought draught and famine on his own people. Guess Gaius was right. Anhora tells Arthur that he will be tested, and if he fails, even just once, Camelot will be damned forever. But, no pressure, really. Merlin reports back to Gaius, and Gaius impresses upon Merlin the urgency with which he needs to convince Arthur that Anhora is telling the truth.

That night, Merlin and Arthur are on watch when Arthur spots someone sneaking into the granary. The man they find claims he’s taking the food to feed his children. Arthur knows the penalty for looting is death but lets the man take the grain anyway. The next morning, water has returned to Camelot. Merlin tells Arthur that he thinks it was a test from Anhora and succeeding was what returned the water. Before Merlin can way much more, Arthur goes to check the guard and we see just hundreds of people in line waiting for what little food there is left. Morgana and Gwen manage to distribute a little food Gwen smuggled from the kitchens. That night, Merlin’s made rat stew (there was a rat plaguing Arthur’s room) and Arthur mocks Merlin and forces him to eat too. However, Arthur decides that they will seek Anhora out the following day to try and lift the rest of the curse.

While they’re searching, Arthur spots Anhora walking. He chases after Anhora and finds the man from the grain stores. There are lots of bags of food around. Arthur’s annoyed but starts to walk away. Unfortunately, his ego and sense of honor (read: pride) get in the way as the man taunts Arthur. The man says that Uther wishes he had another son and that Arthur isn’t worthy of the throne. This is just enough to piss Arthur off and challenge the man to a swordfight. It’s not the usual kind of fight scenes we’ve seen. It’s much more angry and haphazard. Arthur is willing and about to kill the man when he disappears and Anhora replaces him. Arthur tries to take his anger out on Anhora but it’s pretty hard to kill someone who just disappears when you try to attack. Anhora says that because Arthur was willing to kill to protect his pride, he’s failed the test and Camelot will suffer. Arthur says that his people didn’t deserve this and they didn’t do anything. But Anhora only disappears in time for Merlin to find him.

When they return to Camelot, they find that the remaining stores of grain have all rotted. There’s no more food in Camelot. Arthur says there’s some stores left in the castle but it won’t go far. Uther, in response, tells Arthur to stop rationing food because they need it to feed the army. Arthur thinks that’s a stupid idea and they should ask for help. But no, Uther could never ask his enemies for help. It’s just a sign of weakness. Arthur storms out. Uther really can’t handle asking for help. He’s such a man. Seriously. Kings are supposed to protect their people. I think it’s a little sad that Arthur sees that and he’s just a kid (well okay so he’s like 20 but still). That’s one of the things the writers have been doing all series. They’ve been showing us Arthur evolve and grow past his father’s expectations and beliefs. He still may mostly agree with his father regarding magic but he’s far wiser when it comes to running the place.

Merlin seeks out Anhora and begs him to give Arthur one more chance to prove himself. Merlin’s confident Arthur will succeed because he cares so deeply for his people. Anhora grants the second chance, and Arthur rides off to the Labyrinth of Gedref. Merlin’s been instructed to stay behind, but since when does Merlin do as he’s told? Arthur arrives at the labyrinth and enters. Merlin does as well, and he finds Anhora. Merlin learns the maze was really for himself, not Arthur. We get some crazy fantasy music going during the labyrinth scene. All drums and chanting voices. Reminded me of something out of Lord of the Rings. When Arthur finally manages to get through, he ends up on a beach somewhere and discovers Merlin and Anhora. Anhora explains that there are two goblets on the table and both must be drunk. One contains a harmless liquid, the other a deadly poison. All the liquid must be drunk and only one person may drink from each goblet. I like this scene because it reminds me of the bit in The Princess Bride when Wesley outsmarts Vizzini.

After much arguing, Arthur distracts Merlin long enough to steal the other goblet, pour it into his own and down the whole thing. Merlin’s horrified when Arthur keels over but Anhora explains that it wasn’t really poison, just a sleeping potion. Arthur has proven himself to be pure of heart and as such, the curse is lifted. Merlin and Arthur return to Camelot to find the crops have grown again and all is well with the kingdom again. But there is something Arthur must do before he can celebrate. He and Merlin go to the forest and bury the unicorn’s horn. Just as they finish stacking rocks atop it to keep it from being disturbed, Merlin spots the unicorn. When someone who kills a unicorn proves they are pure of heart, the unicorn with live again.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Friday Night Lights 4.04: "A Sort of Homecoming"

“I got a pep rally to organize this week, I’ve got papers to grade, I’ve got a family to raise, I’ve got a wife to love. And then I’ve got you two bozos.”
-Coach

“A Sort of Homecoming” was a kind-of messy episode of “Friday Night Lights,” but there were some really beautiful moments that made the episode still work for me. For the most part, those moments that I especially enjoyed all involved characters who have been a part of the show since the beginning. There were some lovely Coach and Tami moments, as always, and Matt and Tim were especially stellar, too. I’m not sure what this means for Season 5 when we’ll have fewer original characters than ever. I guess it’s too early to judge, since I’ve still got plenty more season 4 episodes to recap, and these new characters might still win me over yet. I suppose this transition was inevitable, given this is a show that takes place in high school, and students do graduate (I’ve done so myself a few times at this point!). The first season of “Friday Night Lights” was just about as close to perfection as television can get, though, and I’m kind of in mourning for the cast that made me love the show in the first place.

Principal Burnwell is giving Coach a hard time again, and one of his taunts, where he fake cheers for the Lions, gives Coach an idea. The Lions need to have a pep rally. Later at practice, another piece of the puzzles comes to Coach. He sees a faded sign on the fence at the Lions’ field commemorating the 1983 State Championship team. This particular scene was a great example on how “Friday Night Lights” will use an image to convey so much. Coach is dealing with an especially difficult practice, mostly because Vince and Luke are still sniping at each other, when he looks up and notices the sign all of a sudden. It’s such a contrast to the haphazard action on the field and has such a sense of forgotten history that it’s a really powerful moment.

Coach has some distractions to deal with before he can really work on starting to put his big plan together. The arguments between Luke and Vince get more and more heated, especially when Luke’s wallet goes missing and he blames Vince. They start fighting in the locker room, and Coach warns them to knock it off. Clearly, though, that’s not going to happen quite yet, because we’re still pretty early in the episode. It looks like Vince won’t really be getting along well with Landry, either. Jess invites Landry to a party, and at the party, Landry and Vince both hit on Jess. Well, Vince tries to hit on Jess more than Landry does. Landry doesn’t really think she could possibly be interested in him until Vince mentions that Jess told him she was dating Landry. Turns out Jess only said that to Vince because she wanted Vince to leave her alone.

The plot that turned out to be the most satisfying in this episode, in the sense that it was very emotional and involved many good character moments, involved Matt and Julie. Julie and Matt have a talk about Julie’s college applications, and Matt is a bit taken aback when Julie starts mentioning a list of schools that, with the exception of UT Austin, are all extremely far away. Matt isn’t especially happy about this development, and when Tim stops by Panther Pizza and tells Matt he’s going on a hunting trip, Matt wants in. Tim was actually originally planning on going hunting with Billy, but Mindy put a stop to that by telling Billy he had to take her to an ultrasound instead. Julie is not at all happy to find out that Matt is going hunting, which I predicted as soon as Matt asked Tim if he could join him. They have a huge argument and aren’t really speaking for a little while.

There’s an interesting contrast between Julie’s home life and the home life of Becky, the teenager who has taken to following Tim Riggins around. A morning in the Taylor house is all smiles and domestic happiness as Coach and Tami get breakfast together and talk to the Lions Assistant Coach, and Julie happily bounces into the kitchen carrying Gracie Belle (how Texas is that name, by the way). Becky, meanwhile, wakes up to a note from her mom on the kitchen table. Becky got a spot in an important beauty pageant, and her mom had promised she would take Becky dress shopping. Becky is devastated that her mom has bailed on her yet again, and she somehow manages to convince Tim to take her shopping. This situation should be hilarious because Tim can be so bumbling, but it’s actually sad because of Becky’s frustration with her mom.

While Matt’s away on his hunting trip, Julie accompanies Devin to a gay bar called “Steers.” Devin is just starting to explore her sexual identity, and she wanted Julie along with her for moral support. Julie is a good sport about it, and she teases Devin about wanting to know what “her type” is. The most important plot point here was that the Assistant Coach Julie met earlier in the episode appears to be the proprietor, or at least an employee, at Steers. Since this is middle-of-nowhere Texas, it could prove to be a big deal if more people in Dillon knew the truth. I imagine he’s only been able to keep it under wraps because Steers is on the outskirts of Dillon.

Tami is still dealing with the fallout of telling Luke, ex-Panthers star, that he needed to attend his zoned school, East Dillon. She has a meeting with someone higher up in the school district about funding issues. Tami is especially interested in updating the library at West Dillon. In fact, the administrator she’s talking to had promised her library upgrades last year. Now he’s going back on his word, claiming that Tami has hurt the football team via the Luke incident, and with decreased football revenues, they can’t afford to upgrade the library anymore. To add insult to injury, when Tami leaves the meeting, she finds that her car has been vandalized. It now has “Panther Hater” spray painted on it.

That incident is the final straw for Tami, and she offers to cook dinner for a meeting of Lions alums Coach has coming up. Coach is hoping that this meeting will result in the beginnings of a booster club for his team, and he asks Buddy for help. Buddy is still wallowing in his “I’m not a Panther anymore” depression and says he wants nothing to do with it. He does end up showing up to the dinner, though, and he manages to sway Coach’s guests into thinking that holding a pep rally and starting a boosters club would be a great idea. Someone harder to convince is Jess’ dad. Coach was hoping to use his restaurant to host the pep rally, but he’s not having it. For some reason, he has completely separated himself from his football past. Jess finally is able to convince her dad to host the pep rally. She says that even though he’s not making football a part of his life anymore, his kids were raised to be “football people.”

Luke and Vince’s fight escalates one final time. This time it’s not on school property, and the police get involved. Coach is called down to the jail, and he convinces Luke to take the bulk of the blame for what happened so Vince doesn’t go back to jail for violating probation. On the way home, Coach pulls a classic Coach move, even if it is a TV trope that can be seen from a mile away. He leaves Luke and Vince by the side of the road to find their own way home. It seems like this will be a bonding experience that improves their relationship. Only time will tell if it sticks.

The big pep rally was fun, just because it was cool to see such a joyful display of the best Southern culture has to offer. There was a real sense of community. The constitutional law nerd in me cringed a little at one of the new boosters offering a prayer, considering it’s a school function, but the event itself had a lovely vibe, so I’m willing to let that violation go. I’m still finding it difficult to root for a team other than the Panthers. We went through all their ups and downs for three years, and it just feels wrong that we’re supposed to have similar, maybe even stronger (since they’re such underdogs) feelings about the Lions now.

Mat and Tim’s hunting trip started off like typical TV faire, with Matt firing off his gun when he shouldn’t and basically being bumbling. Later, though, they have a really great conversation by the fire. They mostly talk about why college didn’t work out for them, and they talk about Lyla and Julie. Matt’s now claiming that he gave up art school in Chicago because of Julie, and that doesn’t really seem to jive with what we saw at the end of last season. It seemed like Matt was staying behind for his grandmother, which I find to be a lot more noble. Then Matt said “Texas forever,” and I forgot whatever plot qualms I had in my fit of extreme nostalgia for season! Peacefulness for Matt isn’t going to last long, though. While Matt is away, the Saracens get “the visit” from the Army informing them that Matt’s father has been killed in the line of duty. Tim drops Matt off at the Taylor house after the hunting trip, and it’s up to Julie to tearfully give Matt the bad news.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

FlashForward 1.22: "Future Shock"

“We’re all lined up where we’re supposed to be.”
-Aaron

“Future Shock,” fittingly, was a series finale that essentially failed because of the hubris of the producers of “Flash Forward.” In a way, this is an appropriate ending to the series, because that hubris was really the downfall of the series overall. Around this time last year, I remember watching interviews with the two men who were showrunners at the time (they had each left that position by the time this episode aired) talking about how they had a multi-season plan for the story they wanted to tell. They were so confident that they would have those several seasons to tell this story that they left many, many questions unanswered. I don’t think this episode would have really worked even if we had gotten a season 2, but the problems with the episode are magnified when we know we don’t have any more episodes in the pipeline.

When the episode begins, none of the characters are where they’re supposed to be to experience the futures they saw in the October blackout. Pretty early on, though, we start to see events unfolding that will take most of the characters closer to what they saw. First, Bryce shows up at the detention center and bribes the guard at the reception desk for Keiko’s phone number. This was one of the few scenes that I actually really liked in this episode, even though it involved the horrific Bryce/Keiko/Nicole triangle. I thought it was amusing that Bryce saw the guard was reading a romance novel and thought if he appealed to the “epic romance” of his story with Keiko, she might give him Keiko’s number. It turns out that she’s willing to give up the information alright, but she wants a bribe in exchange.

In other news, Tracey miraculously suddenly has a faint pulse (spoiler alert: she’s still alive at the end of the episode), and Demetri, Janis, and Simon are planning their infiltration of NLAP. The idea is that Simon will hack into the mainframe and get as much information as he can on Hellinger and his crew for Janis and Demetri. As the trio arrive at one of the gates to NLAP, it’s obvious that Janis isn’t doing so well. Something painful and baby-related is going on with her. She tries to hide it, but she’s not successful. Demetri wants to turn around and get Janis to a hospital, but Janis insists that this is too important an opportunity to pass up. Janis being in distress provides the distraction Simon and Demetri need to get into NLAP. Demetri wants to stay behind and help Janis, but since the security guard has called for an ambulance for Janis, Simon convinces Demetri that she’ll be just fine. She’s on her way to the hospital, after all, where she would later find out that her baby is healthy, but a boy instead of a girl.

I’m going to wrap up the Bryce/Nicole/Keiko story all in one go now because it irritates me too much to weave it in and out of the rest of this post. Nicole shows up as Bryce is leaving the detention center. Bryce isn’t pissed at her anymore, but he still dumps her, saying he loves Keiko even though he’s never met her. Some people might say that’s romantic. I say it’s silly. Meanwhile, at LAX, Keiko’s mom is quite awesome. She causes a major disruption to distract all the ICE and TSA officers so that Keiko can make a break for it and go try and find Bryce. Nicole starts to drive home from the detention center and ends up driving into a lake, only to be rescued by a nice guy who has been thinking about her since her flash forward. I imagine that had the series continued, they would have turned into a romantic pairing, but it feels hollow. Bryce almost gets shooed away from the restaurant where he is supposed to meet Keiko, but a waitress recognizes him as “Keiko’s man” and lets him in. Keiko fights traffic all the way to the restaurant, but she eventually gets out of her cab and walks. The two have the “reunion” Bryce saw in his flash forward.

The Benfords are of course at the center of all the action in this episode. Each is pretty quickly put back on the path of where they “belong.” Wedeck bails Mark out of jail and ends up having to go back to the FBI building before he can take Mark home because bombs have been found throughout the building. Lloyd and Dylan show up at Olivia and Charlie’s little beachside campout. Wedeck tells Mark to stay in the car, but like all good television characters, he can’t possibly obey that order. Mark asks Vogel to keep an eye on his family, then he heads into the about-to-explode FBI building. If a bunch of bombs about to go off wasn’t bad enough, the pack of scary guys with masks and guns that Mark saw in his flash forward are now in play, too. They just mow down everybody they see in the building, including the bomb squad.

At the Benford house, Lloyd and Olivia are shocked to find that in the brief time he’s been there, Dylan has managed to go all Beautiful Mind and scrawl the equation from Lloyd’s flash forward on Olivia’s mirror in her lipstick. It’s the tachyon constant, which, as we learned in the last episode, is the biggest unsolved mystery in physics (or at least it is in the “FlashForward” universe). At flash forward time, Simon thinks he ought to send Lloyd a text like Lloyd said he did in his vision. Simon sends Lloyd a mathematical “wave” as an inside joke that somehow lets Lloyd figure out the tachyon constant and determine that the next black-out is immanent. As in it could occur with in the next day or two. Mark narrows down the time by following the connecting lines on his conspiracy wall that Gabriel changed around during his last visit to Mark’s office. Mark realizes that the next black-out is going to happen at 10:14 PM that very night.

Olivia shoes Charlie away from the door just in time to avoid hearing Vogel say “Mark Benford is dead.” It turns out that Vogel wasn’t actually announcing Mark’s death when he said that. He was just telling the other agent that Mark had decided to do something so crazy that Vogel didn’t see how Mark could survive it. Speaking of Mark, his cell phone rings, which draws a rain of machine gun fire to his office. The whole place is completely torn up, which is pretty creepy. Because Mark is the main character on a TV show, though, we know that he somehow escaped the bullets. We later see him outrun the guys with the guns and take down a few of them. The one part of this sequence that I like is that Wedeck manages to take down a guy with a gun or two himself…from the toilet. That’s especially funny if you remember Wedeck’s flash forward from the pilot. Mark manages to get a hold of Wedeck on the phone, and he tells Wedeck to warn the President that another black-out is about to happen.

At NLAP, somebody using remote access takes control of the facility right out from under Simon. This mysterious person activates the collider, clearly trying to start another global black-out. Simon desperately tries to shut it down, but he doesn’t succeed. He offers Demetri the QED to get him through the inevitable black-out, but Demetri says he wants to actually see his future this time. We then get to see the black-out, which is depicted as a montage of people passed out around the world interspersed with quick images which we can guess are probably from our characters’ futures. The images were so quick that it’s pretty impossible to hypothesize which image belonged to which character, though. Mixed in with all this, we see a quick sequence in the present of Leeta taking Janis out of the hospital. The final image is of an older Charlie telling someone “they found him.” Then the FBI office completely explodes.

The main reason why I found this episode unsuccessful as a series finale is that it left so much open-ended. I think it’s always smart to create a finale every season that wraps up most things but leaves one thread, and not an especially niggling one, that can be explored next season. That way, it’s win win. If the show is canceled, the audience gets a decent amount of closure. If the show is picked up, you have a place to start telling the next chapter of the story. FlashForward left so many threads open and began so many new mysteries that it really wasn’t satisfying. It’s like they assumed they would have plenty more time to tell their story, and obviously, they didn’t. Ah well, after I post this blog entry, I probably won’t give the show another thought.

Summer TV Rewind: Merlin 1.10: "The Moment of Truth"

Our always-insightful guest blogger Sarah returns to continue her Summer TV Rewind of Merlin series 1...

***

“When the time is right, the truth will be known. Until then, you must keep your talents hidden. It’s better for everyone.”
-Hunith

We open on a peaceful little village with children running about and adults carrying bundles of wood and tending to farm animals. Almost immediately, however, we’re interrupted by a horde of men on horseback, led by a scarred man named Kanen [Editor’s note: it’s Doctor Bashir!]. He’s come to collect the harvest, by force. Hunith, Merlin’s mother, tries to stand up to him and gets a shiner for her trouble. Kanen gives the villagers one week before he returns, and he wants all of their food. Hunith goes off the Camelot to seek help.

Arthur’s managed to get Hunith an audience with the King, but it doesn’t go well. Their village lies in another kingdom, and if knights of Camelot were to enter, it would be an act of war. Uther can’t risk the lives of hundreds for one small village. We get a short scene on a tower with Merlin and Arthur. Merlin explains that he’s going home because he has to look after his mother. Arthur understands and wishes he could have done more to help. It’s one of those times where the writers sort of bang you over the head with “Arthur will be a great King”. All the same, I thought it was rather touching. A short while later, Merlin is packing with Gwen’s help. She gives him a sword and packs some armor. When he protests that he can’t carry all of that, Morgana appears, dressed not in her usual flowing gowns but a kind of gauzy shirt and pants. She tells Merlin he’s not going alone. She and Gwen are going with him. It’s the least they could do after all he’s done for them. That night, Hunith tells Merlin he shouldn’t have let the women come, but he couldn’t talk them out of it. Sometime after their fire goes out, Merlin hears horse hooves in the forest. It ends up being Arthur, come to help them. Merlin’s grateful for the extra assistance.

The next morning, they arrive in Merlin’s village just in time to find Kanen and his men ransacking the place. Arthur manages to fight off a few men. Merlin does the same with the help of a little magic, and even Morgana gets to kick some barbarian ass. Katie McGrath looks pretty awesome handling a sword, not going to lie. We meet one of Merlin’s childhood friends, William, and he doesn’t look pleased to see Arthur around. Arthur starts speaking to the villagers and telling them they need to stand up to Kanen and his men, but William isn’t having any of it. He doesn’t trust Arthur and his “kind.” Merlin tries to talk him out of his dislike, but it’s no use. That night, we get another interesting Arthur/Merlin moment. Arthur wants to know why Merlin left his home village. Merlin can’t just come out and say it’s because he has magic. So he just says he didn’t fit in anymore. The next morning, Merlin’s a little unsure of himself. He says he’s just Arthur’s servant, but Hunith tells him it’s more than that. Arthur cares for Merlin. While Merlin’s out gathering wood, he and Will have another encounter. It starts off in a joking manner but quickly falls serious. Will is hurt that Merlin left their village after Will found out about Merlin’s abilities. Merlin tries to explain that his destiny is tied to Arthur and if anyone found out about Merlin’s powers, he couldn’t protect Arthur. William isn’t too pleased with that answer. We move to a practice montage of Arthur teaching the men to fight. Morgana and Gwen press upon Arthur the fact that there aren’t enough men to fight and that the women should be allowed to join in. Arthur says it’s too dangerous. That night Merlin overhears Morgana and Gwen talking, and it seems to reassure him of Arthur’s friendship when Morgana says that Arthur wouldn’t be there if he didn’t care for Merlin.

The next day, Arthur is trying to rally the troops, as it were, to come up with a plan to force Kanen and his men to fight on their terms. He’s interrupted by a woman’s scream and a dead Matthew (one of the villagers) riding back on a horse. Arthur had sent him to be sentry. Once again, William tells Arthur that they’re going to lose. They’ll be slaughtered. Arthur tries to defend his position but fails. He can see that William may be right. Merlin begs William to stay and join them, but William says he can’t. He says Merlin is really the one abandoning their people because he won’t use his magic to stop Kanen. Merlin is clearly hurt by this and leaves Will to his packing. I have to wonder if, since there’s so little Uther in this episode, Will is somehow taking his place, just on the opposite side of the issue. Merlin goes to Arthur and explains that William’s father died serving their King and is therefore distrusting of all nobility. But Merlin’s confident they can still beat Kanen. Gwen speaks up in a rather uncharacteristic moment and tells Arthur that the women have just as much right to fight for their lives as the women do. And thus we find ourselves in the rousing speech of the episode. Arthur shows he can be a good King and treat people like his equals. He gives this great monologue about how the villagers are fighting for so much more than Kanen is. They’re fighting for the right to survive and live each day of their lives. It really is inspirational.

When Merlin gets home, Hunith tells him to be careful because she knows he’s going to try and use his magic the following day against Kanen. Merlin says that there’s no choice between protecting people and revealing his gifts. He’d reveal them in a heartbeat to save those he loves, and if Arthur does find out and doesn’t accept him, then Arthur isn’t the friend Merlin hoped he was. The next morning, Gwen finds Arthur out in the woods and she’s brought him some breakfast. Arthur kind of turns his nose up at it and Gwen scolds him. She’s immediately apologetic for her tone but he waves it off. She’s right and he should be more grateful. I’m pretty sure this is the writers trying to lay the groundwork some more for Arthur/Gwen.

Merlin and Arthur have one last touching moment (well, okay, so not exactly touching) where Arthur tells Merlin to put his own armor on. Obviously, Arthur can actually dress himself! Merlin is about to tell Arthur about his gift when Morgana shows up and reports Kanen and his men are close. The villagers hide, and soon Kanen and his band of forty thieves (okay I couldn’t resist the Aladdin reference) arrive. The first defense, a fence hidden by hay, goes up without a hitch but Morgana’s having trouble with the flints to light a line of fire. Merlin manages to get it started, but not after briefly drawing attention to himself. The fight begins in earnest and it looks like Arthur and the villagers might have a chance. We see more of Morgana and Gwen in action and I have to say, very well done. Will shows up to help, and before long, he and Merlin realize that things aren’t actually going well. Merlin summons a giant gust of wind that does the trick, but Kanen’s not done. He and Arthur have quite the knock-down-drag-out fight, in which Arthur wins. Just as Arthur demands to know who made the wind and Merlin’s about to confess, Kanan uses his last strength to shoot one final arrow, and Will saves Arthur’s life by sacrificing his own. On his deathbed, Will lies and tells Arthur he was the sorcerer, not Merlin. It’s a mixed reaction from Arthur. He says he wouldn’t kill Will but later tells Merlin it was dangerous to keep the information secret since magic is dangerous. Hunith impresses upon Merlin that he needs to go back to Camelot with Arthur. Even though Merlin can’t tell Arthur the truth, it appears that Arthur is the friend Merlin hoped for.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Glee 1.20: "Theatricality"

“Yes, for several years in my early twenties, I dressed up as Elvis, but he was a Christian, Will, and did not possess the ability to transform into a bat!”
-Principal Figgins

“Theatricality” was probably one of my least favorite episodes of “Glee” this season, even though I do have a slightly embarrassing love for Lady Gaga. Thing is, this was billed as the “Lady Gaga” episode, but there were only actually two Lady Gaga songs used. I guess the licensing fees were too high to include more, but I still think it was false advertising. That’s not even the main reason why I dislike this episode, though. I can deal with the lack of Lady Gaga music. What I can’t deal with is so many of the characters making me extremely angry. Oh yes, was there ever drama in this episode. I suppose that’s sort of appropriate considering the title is “Theatricality,” and if you weren’t sure of the theme of the episode, the characters are sure to repeat the words “theatricality” and “theatrical” for you plenty often, so you are certain to figure it out.

Despite my problems with the episode overall, I did find the opening scene to be quite funny. Tina and Will have been called into Principal Figgins’ office. Will tries to assure Tina that there’s no way she could be in trouble but Will, as always, is wrong. Principal Figgins is trying to ban Goth dressing at McKinley since a group of Twi-hards attacked students while pretending to be vampires. What is even funnier is that it’s not the fact students were attacked that has Figgins spooked about Goth style. He thinks vampires are real and might try to attack him. Will and Tina enjoy making fun of this a little bit, but the edict still stands. Tina is not allowed to wear Goth clothing at McKinley anymore. When she shows up to glee club practice in a gray sweatshirt, she feels like she has lost her identity.

Finn is struggling with identity issues as well. His mom has a big surprise for him, and that surprise turns out to be that they’re moving in with the Hummels. That wouldn’t be so bad, except for the fact that Finn is going to have to share a room with Kurt. Despite being generally tolerant and sweet (the scene in the first half of the season where he thinks Kurt is asking him to the prom and he lets him down gently would be a good example), this makes Finn feels really uncomfortable. It doesn’t help that Kurt is all gung-ho about redecorating their room and that Kurt and Finn are both facing a great deal of taunting from McKinley’s football players.

Meanwhile, at school, Rachel rushes into glee club rehearsal with important news. She has figured out that Vocal Adrenaline is testing out a Lady Gaga number for Regionals. I actually think this scene is one of Lea Michele’s better comic scenes in the series. The way she breathlessly explains to the group how she figured out Vocal Adrenaline’s plans is hilarious. Anyway, Will decides that this week’s glee club assignment should be to come up with their own Lady Gaga number. The girls and Kurt all think this is the best idea ever, and the guys just squirm in their seats and look unhappy.

Rachel and some of the other girls decide to go spy on a Vocal Adrenaline rehearsal to find out just what they’ll be up against. The Vocal Adrenaline kids are all dressed up in faceless red costumes reminiscent of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” video. The group isn’t being theatrical enough for Shelby’s taste, so Shelby decides to give her own performance as an example. She doesn’t sing a Lady Gaga song, though…she sings something from “Funny Girl.” I thought that was an odd song choice. On the one hand, it works to make Rachel absolutely sure she’s listening to her mother, but on the other hand, I didn’t really see anything “theatrical” about the song or the performance. Rachel makes her way to the stage, and the reunion is more awkward than sappy, which
I suppose is a good thing. Glee gravitates to the sappy a little too often. Both Rachel and Shelby are sitting in separate rows of auditorium seats as they talk, and when Rachel mentions that when she was a kid, her dads would bring her a glass of water when she’s sad, it makes Shelby realize just how much she’s missed out on.

Back at school, Finn confronts Will about how all the guys (except for Kurt) really don’t want to do a Lady Gaga assignment. Will relents and says they can do something different, as long as it’s still theatrical, and Finn says he already has an idea. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, Kurt and Tina have taken to wearing Lady Gaga-inspired outfits around school. This draws the negative attention of two football players, who in dialogue that’s way too on-the-nose, tell Kurt and Tina that they don’t like people who feel the need to be different, so Kurt and Tina had better watch out. The football players act offended that Kurt and Tina feel the need to express their unique personalities through their clothing. Kurt makes some comments about how the football players get their hair cut at Supercuts, and in just about the lamest product placement ever, a football player gets in one last jab about how you don’t have to make appointments there- you can just walk in.

The kids participating in the Gaga performance are all in costume at the next glee club rehearsal, except that Rachel is a notable exception. When she finally does show up to rehearsal, her costume is a bit…sad. She went for the dress made out of stuffed animals look, and it’s not working for her. Her dads can’t sew, so they stapled the stuffed animals onto a dress for her. Despite Rachel’s bad costume, the group’s performance of “Bad Romance” is actually pretty good. I liked that we got to hear some voices that we don’t hear often- Kurt, Tina, and Santana sang lead. I was especially impressed by Naya Rivera’s voice, and I hope that we get to hear her more in the new season, which starts in about a month. This summer seriously flew by!

Finn gets harassed by football players as he’s getting ready for the boys’ performance. He just happens to be in the bathroom putting on some stage makeup when the football players who had been harassing Kurt and Tina see him. They question his sexual orientation and basically make Finn feel horrible. Finn manages to pull himself back together in time for glee club, where the boys perform a number by the band Kiss, complete with crazy make-up and pyrotechnics. I’m seriously questioning how a high school auditorium has pyrotechnics, but I suppose some of the performance elements of “Glee” require more than a little suspension of disbelief.

When he gets home, though, Finn is still fairly pissed off by the football player situation. Kurt asks Finn to intercede with the football players on behalf of himself and Tina, but Finn’s not having it, because he’s been a victim of the taunting too. Finn tells Kurt that he should tone it down if he doesn’t want to be the subject of mocking. The argument escalates when Finn sees how Kurt has redecorated their room with a Moroccan theme. Finn claims he can’t live there and uses a very derogatory term to describe the d├ęcor. Burt hears Finn’s language and kicks Finn out. He says he can’t have that type of attitude around his family, and he had hoped Finn was different. Although this was a great performance by Mike O’Malley, I thought the whole scene lacked authenticity. It felt like Burt was seriously overreacting. Now, I’m not saying that the language Finn used was at all okay, but I think that Finn’s use of the language wasn’t coming from the same place that it comes from with most people who use it. I think it would have been more productive for Burt to find out exactly why Finn was reacting as he was. It could have been turned into a better teaching moment.

Rachel continues to deal with her own family drama. She once again shows up unannounced at Vocal Adrenaline’s rehearsal space. She asks Shelby to help make her a better Lady Gaga costume, and even though Shelby would rather not see Rachel, she agrees. The new costume is actually really cool. It’s black and white and very geometric. Later, though, Shelby and Will have a conversation that reveals Shelby’s true colors, if we couldn’t figure that out already. She’s a beyond-selfish jerk. She’s disappointed at the realization that Rachel isn’t still the snuggly baby she gave up. She’s got a number of years of experiences that Shelby hasn’t been able to participate in. Shelby basically wants to throw Rachel away for new toys, and it’s going to leave Rachel a wreck.

Before we wrap up the storylines for the week, there’s another musical performance. Quinn had been pissed at Puck for most of the episode because he had been suggesting silly “rock star” names for their baby. Puck claims that the “theatricality” assignment made him realize that he needs to put all his feelings out there for Quinn to hear, and so he and the guys perform “Beth” as Puck’s more serious suggestion for a baby name. This musical performance was kind of mediocre. The real problem I had with it was that even though this was Puck’s song to Quinn, Finn took a verse. I’d really like to see Mark Salling sing more often- I enjoy his voice, and I still fail to understand why Finn has to get at least partial lead on every song when Cory Monteith is clearly the weakest male vocalist.

The wrap-up of the Rachel/Shelby plot in this episode induced even more rage inside of me. Shelby tells Rachel that it’s probably best if they limit their contact going forward, and even though Rachel is trying to put on a happy face, she’s devastated. Shelby gives Rachel a “gold star” cup to use to drink water when she’s sad, and I found that insulting. “I don’t want you in my life anymore even though you’re my daughter, but here, have this shiny cup!” Rachel asks Shelby for one favor- she wants them to sing together. Rachel’s song choice is an acoustic version of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” I like Lady Gaga’s music, including “Poker Face,” but it’s really not meant to be acoustic. It needs all the synth elements to really work. Needless to say, the performance was decidedly lacking. The one thing I did like was that Shelby definitely gave Rachel a “disapproving mom” look when Rachel started singing the more-than-a-little dirty lyrics of the first verse. It shows that maybe Shelby could have handled a teenage girl more than she gave herself credit for.

At the end of the episode, Tina of course gets her style back. I did kind of like how she went about it, though. She threatened Principal Figgins that she and her vampire family would attack him one night if he didn’t let her go back to dressing how she wanted. Kurt is still facing threats from the football players, but Finn, now dressed in a Lady Gaga outfit too, brings the rest of the glee club with him to save Kurt from a beat down. See what I mean about Finn not being a bad guy despite his unfortunate choice of language? He didn’t deserve what he got from Burt. Ah well, such is life I suppose.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Chuck 3.19: "Chuck Versus the Ring: Part 2"

“No plan? That never stopped me before!”
-Morgan

Overall, “Chuck Versus the Ring: Part 2” was an exciting season finale. I think I would have been kind of pissed if I didn’t know that there was definitely going to be a Season 4, but with that knowledge, it was a fun ride. There were some interesting doors left open, and some apparent major paradigm shifts. I’m definitely anxious to see what big changes that seem to have happened in this episode actually stick next season. While I know shows have to mix it up to stay fresh and interesting, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this episode’s big changes. I’ll get to that later, though, because it’s kind of awkward to talk about it when I’m still speaking in generalities.

This episode involves some flashbacks, which I didn’t find especially effective. The flashbacks certainly worked on an imparting important information level, but they didn’t really work for me on an emotional level. During the first flashback, little Chuck has broken his mother’s necklace, and Ellie is angry at him. Steve takes a break from his mysterious work to tell Ellie that she always has to protect Chuck. Steve obviously knows that his work makes his family life very tenuous, and he wants to make sure his kids will be okay. The performances, however, were very flat, so the scene didn’t really do much for me.

The present-day action naturally begins with the rescue of Chuck, Sarah, and Casey. This sequence was pretty fun, mostly because the rescue involved Casey’s Crown Vic. Ellie has lost sight of the Ring vehicle, and Morgan and Awesome are floundering. They’re disagreeing on whether they should just go in guns blazing or have some sort of plan. In the midst of their squabble, they remember that they’re in Casey’s Crown Vic, which will certainly have some helpful tricks up its sleeve. They find a gun in the glove compartment, but that’s just the beginning. By sheer luck, they push some random buttons and end up sending a missile right at the Ring vehicle. This happens just after Shaw gets out of the vehicle and starts talking about how he’s going to execute Chuck and the crew.

If the hilarity of Casey’s tricked-out Crown Vic wasn’t enough to get the episode off to a good start, I also loved Casey’s reaction to finding out the identity of his rescuers. He, Chuck, and Sarah are trapped in the Ring vehicle, feeling pretty dazed. Awesome sticks his head right in there and, in another Star Wars homage, says “I’m here to rescue you.” Casey looks up, sees it’s just Awesome, grunts, and puts his head back down while rolling his eyes. I never get tired of Casey’s “looks of haughty derision” as Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory” would say. The whole moment was priceless.

The mood quickly turns serious as the group decides just what to do next. Shaw is still alive and the Ring is most definitely still after them. Everyone but Ellie thinks they all need to go off the grid as soon as possible. Ellie argues that she and Awesome are regular people. They don’t go “off the grid.” She snatched up Chuck, tells him to get in the car, and they have a talk. During this conversation, Ellie makes Chuck promise that after he takes down the Ring (gotta have vengeance for Dad, after all), he’ll quit the CIA for good. This was an interesting moment because as viewers, we know that if Chuck fully keeps to his promise, we’ll have no more show. The mystery that remains for us to figure out is just how Chuck will get around that promise.

Chuck hacks into the remote interrogation video feed at a CIA holding facility, and Team Bartowski is able to talk to General Beckman. General Beckman informs the team that a sort of “spy conference” is being held in Los Angeles. Not only is Shaw supposed to be the star of the event, the five elders of the Ring are supposed to be there. Chuck organizes the mission. He and Sarah are part of the Russian delegation to the convention, and Casey and Morgan are maintenance men. Chuck thinks he successfully made eye contact with Shaw without Shaw recognizing him, and Casey is pissed because he discovered Morgan has Alex’s phone number. The later situation was absolutely hilarious, because, really, I don’t think you want to be on the bad side of Casey when it comes to his daughter. He’s scary enough even when the parental instincts aren’t kicking in! Despite their conflict, Casey and Morgan manage to find Shaw’s hotel room number.

Shaw is on stage, about to start a rather self-congratulatory speech, when Chuck calls his cell phone to let him know that his team is in the building. Shaw stuipidly texts all the Ring elders to tell them to get out of there, and they run right into Casey and Morgan. Chuck, meanwhile, is waiting in Shaw’s hotel room. Shaw is so full of himself that he doesn’t realize Chuck is recording his confession and broadcasting it to the entire convention. He doesn’t realize it until Chuck starts bragging about it, that is. Shaw wants to fight Chuck, which doesn’t work out too well for Chuck. Throughout the episode, the Intersect has been taking a toll on Chuck. He starts to flash, then he sees all sorts of strange symbols and can’t function. This happens when he tries to flash on his kung fu skills, Sarah steps in just in time to keep Shaw from killing Chuck, and Shaw takes the opportunity to make a getaway.

Back in Burbank, Morgan checks back in at the Buy More to find that things have gone a bit nuts while he’s been gone. Big Mike has been informed that the Burbank Buy More might be closed due to low sales, and Jeff and Lester give him a crazy idea to try and fix their numbers. They decide to have a “Going Out of Business” sale before they actually go out of business. Jeff and Lester have even arranged to have their new Jeffster! music video play during the event. Morgan doesn’t have much time to figure out what’s going on, though, because Shaw has infiltrated the store. He’s planting bombs all over the place, and when he sees Morgan, things go from bad to worse. Shaw holds Morgan captive and tells Sarah that if she doesn’t bring him Chuck, he’ll blow up the Buy More.

Shaw has Morgan tied up in the “cage,” and Morgan is desperately trying to get out so he can pull the fire alarm and get all the customer’s out of harm’s way. Casey advises him to break his thumbs in a scene that’s really too painful to ever rewatch. Morgan’s pain is for naught, though, because Jeff beats him to the fire alarm. Jeff pulled the alarm because the Beverly Hills Buy More crew has busted into Burbank claiming that the Burbank store is closed and obligated to send Beverly Hills all their inventory. Jeff wants to create a distraction, and he does so at almost the exact moment Morgan frees himself. I really, really felt sorry for Morgan at that moment! The Buy More now abandoned, Shaw handcuffs Sarah to the Nerd Herd desk, saying he wants to kill both her and Chuck. Chuck wakes up from his Intersect-induced haze just in time to attempt a rescue, which culminates in a pretty cool showdown between Chuck and Shaw set to the Jeffster! music video.

Shaw gets the better of Chuck and knocks Chuck out, and it turns out that’s just what Chuck needed. While Chuck’s unconscious, we see another flashback of Chuck as a kid. In that flashback, little Chuck went poking around in Steve’s lab and got himself Intersect’d. Steve isn’t happy that Chuck was snooping, but he’s amazed by the amount of data Chuck’s brain can process. I find it fascinating that the fateful e-mail from Bryce wasn’t Chuck’s first exposure to Intersect technology. I have to believe that this is going to have huge ramifications for future episodes.

Anyway, having his bell rung worked as a sort of “reboot” forChuck’s brain, and he’s suddenly able to fight Shaw again. Chuck refuses to kill Shaw a second time (he’s been there, done that), but Sarah ends the fight by whacking Shaw on the head with a very large object. She grabs the Governor and gives it to Chuck, who instantly feels relief. The relief is short-lived, though. While the CIA is trying to clean up the Buy More, Morgan grabs the detonator Shaw was going to use and accidentally drops it. Our characters rush out of the store just before the whole place goes up in flames.

The final sequence of the episode takes place slightly in the future. Jeff and Lester are wanted on suspicion of causing the explosion at the Buy More. The rest of the gang is having a sort of wake for Steve. Even Alex drops by, which I thought was sweet. The proceedings are interrupted when Chuck gets a mysterious text of the type his dad used to send. He is led to Steve’s “lair.” He pretty much had his own spy set-up right at home. Most interestingly, Chuck finds a part of his mother’s necklace from the earlier flash back, and we see that his mother is still alive and appears to be involved in spy world.

It’s really the final quarter of the episode that leaves me wondering what is going to happen next year. The whole Buy More element of the show could potentially be jettisoned, which I think would be kind of a shame. Although I was one of the first to gripe whenever the Buy More story of the episode didn’t seem to fit organically with the spy world story, I think the Buy More is necessary to add to the fun geekiness of the show. It also appears that Chuck will now be back in the spy game, but on his own team. I’m wondering if he, Sarah, and Casey will set up their own little operation, and if they do, how that will work. Overall, I’m really left wondering which of these potentially huge changes are going to stick. I can’t wait to find out!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chuck 3.18: "Chuck Versus the Subway"

“Your courage makes me very proud. But there's some battles you have to walk away from.”
-Steve Bartowski

With the name “Chuck Versus the Subway,” I expected this episode of “Chuck” to be the ultimate homage to the fact that “Chuck” was saved last season thanks in part to fans buying foot-long Subway sandwiches every Monday to show their support of the show. The “subway” referred to by the title, however, turned out to be much more literal. Overall, I thought this episode was very effective. There were emotional moments and surprising twists and turns to set up the wild ride that will be the season finale. It was everything that the penultimate episode of a season should be. There was one big reveal that made me happy just because the secret that was revealed had been going on for so long, although the reveal has the potential to fundamentally alter the show.

The episode opens with Chuck hovering over his dad as Steve puts finishing touches on the Governor. As he works, Steve warns Chuck that there may come a time when Chuck will have to abandon the people he loves for their own protection. Chuck doesn’t really want to think of this as a possibility. This is a very interesting arc to watch throughout the episode. Steve has to come to terms with his guilt for what he did to his family, and Chuck has to decide whether or not following in his father’s footsteps is the right thing to do. For the time being, Chuck decides to cling to his Burbank life. Sarah decides he needs a bit of a breather, and they go to a farmer’s market. Chuck’s trying to enjoy the moment, but he’s distracted when he thinks he hears the voice of Shaw. He follows a shadowy figure down into the subway, and when the subway car doors close while Chuck is still on the platform, Chuck can see that he was indeed following Shaw, who has somehow mysteriously risen from the dead (not a first in the universe of “Chuck”…Bryce Larkin, anybody?).

Back at Castle, the rest of Team Bartowski is skeptical about what Chuck said he saw until Steve checks the security footage. It’s undeniable that the person Chuck followed into the subway was Shaw. Sarah and Casey are ready to go after Shaw, but Steve doesn’t want Chuck to join them. Steve is convinces that the whole thing is a Ring trap. Chuck is still determined to stick with those he loves. Since we’re still pretty early in the first episode of a two-parter, it’s not surprising that the mission goes horribly, horribly wrong. The building the team infiltrates is an actual, legitimate CIA office, and General Beckman happens to be there defending the Intersect mission to a tribunal.

Casey and Sarah realize pretty quickly that their target is a real CIA office, but at that point, the group has decided to split up, and they can’t get the information to Chuck in time. Ellie is being held at the office by Justin for her “safety,” and she sees Chuck beat up Justin. She doesn’t know what to think. She’s convinced Justin is good and is wondering how the heck her little brother could be evil. Chuck, Casey, and Sarah all end up in the tribunal room, and Chuck doesn’t really do much to give the higher-ups confidence that he’s not a liability as the Intersect. Things go from bad to worse when the star witness at the hearing is none other than Shaw. Shaw says Chuck is a hero, but the Intersect has made him unstable. He tries to play off the Paris situation as different than it appeared due to Chuck’s delusions. Chuck notices a mannerism of Shaw’s that makes it obvious Shaw has downloaded an Intersect into himself, too. Chuck tries to take down Shaw, but it just gets everyone into deeper trouble. Chuck goes into a holding cell, Casey goes on the run, and Sarah is determined to help Chuck. Sarah sticking with Chuck is pleasantly surprising, considering she just learned that Chuck lied to her about his condition.

After saying goodbye to Sarah (where he actually calls her by her first name…the good Colonel is a bit of a softie after all!), we next see Casey in a diner, where a girl takes his order for pie. It’s obvious he’s a regular customer here, and it’s also obvious that the server is Casey’s daughter, Alex. She doesn’t know she’s his daughter yet, though. Which means she’s really not pleased, to say the least, when Casey forcibly abducts her from the diner. Casey does have a good reason for abducting Alex, though. Justin has appeared in the diner. It’s obvious that the Ring wants to take out the family members of Team Bartowski. Casey takes out Justin with a napkin dispenser as he’s dragging Alex out of the diner. Casey drives Alex to a deserted location and tells her that he’s her father and that everything he owns belongs to her. He gives her a key to his Buy More locker. Alex doesn’t believe him, though, and she’s still understandably freaked out. She proves she’s Casey’s daughter, though. She convinces Casey she’d feel more comfortable talking outside of the car, then she uses some mad self defense skills to get away just as the CIA is closing in.

Elsewhere in Burbank, Ellie and Awesome meet up at their apartment. When Ellie starts to frantically tell Awesome what is going on with Chuck, his first reaction is to be elated that Ellie now knows the truth and he doesn’t have to lie anymore. Needless to say, Ellie is pissed that Awesome has been keeping Chuck’s CIA affiliation a secret from her, but she puts that aside in an effort to help her brother. She wants to know everything Awesome knows about what Chuck has been up to. Awesome realizes that he only knows about a few select missions Chuck’s been on, so he decides to take Ellie to see Morgan, who will almost certainly know everything Ellie wants to know. Morgan and Awesome go down to Castle to find out what’s going on, and what they see on the video screen is kind of disturbing. General Beckman is shredding documents with a vengeance.

Part of what has the General so spooked is that Chuck has managed to escape from CIA custody, mostly thanks to Steve’s computer wizardry. Sarah catches up to Chuck just as he’s about to complete his escape by jumping into Steve’s car. Sarah makes Chuck hesitate a bit, but he ultimately makes the same decision that his father did long ago. He wants to run away to protect the people he loves. After they drive for a little while, though, Chuck changes his mind. Steve had just given him the Governor, and Chuck was visibly more relaxed. Then he gets a call from Morgan, who had just been informed by General Beckman of how bad things had gotten. Chuck can’t just leave Sarah, his friends, and the rest of his family. Steve at first really doesn’t want Chuck to go back, but eventually he sees that his son is right and turns the car around.

To try and fix the situation, Chuck and Steve need help from Ellie. They need her to tell everything she can about her encounters with Justin. Ellie is reluctant at first because she’s angry about all the lies, but Chuck and Steve promise to catch her up once everything has calmed down. When they get to the park bench were Ellie had her rendez-vous with Justin, Chuck and Steve realize the nearby subway stop is probably important. Steve promises Ellie that after this mission, he will never leave her again. And we’ve all watched enough television to know that can’t possibly end well. Inside the subway station, Chuck and Steve find a full-blown Ring lair. Shaw is alerted to intruders in the ring base, and he and his goons catch up to Chuck and Steve quickly. Ellie watches in horror (while hiding) as Shaw kills Steve in an attempt to get Chuck’s emotions to prevent him from using the Intersect.

Alex shows up at the Buy More to use her key, and Morgan saves her from being hit on by Jeff and Lester. Morgan reassures her that Casey is a good guy, and if he said he’s Alex’s dad, it must be true. Morgan and Alex go check out Casey’s locker, and in a secret compartment, they find quite a bit of money. There isn’t much time to be happy, though. Awesome stops by to break the news about what happened to Steve and Chuck. Chuck, Casey, and Sarah are all now in Ring custody, and Shaw is taking them to a secret location where he believes they will never be heard from again. Chuck is utterly defeated and feels like there’s no way they’ll possibly get out of this situation. Despite what he may think, though, there are potential rescuers. Awesome, Ellie, and Morgan aren’t far behind.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer TV Rewind: Merlin 1.09: Excalibur

Sarah is back with another installment of her Merlin Series 1 Summer TV Rewind.  Enjoy!

***

“That is my fault and not yours. You are my only son and I wouldn’t wish for another.”
- Uther

We begin in a crypt in the evening hours. There’s very little light around and the room is full of stone tombs. The camera moves to one particular tomb and we find Nimueh enchanting the body inside. The body rises in dark, dented armor and we immediately cut to a far happier scene. Arthur, being of age and heir apparent, has become Crown Prince of Camelot. Uther looks so happy. Gwen teases Merlin in the background that he’s proud of Arthur. Merlin tries to brush it off just as the knight we saw rise from the tomb crashes through a stain glass window and throws down a gauntlet (it’s a piece of armor that covers the hand and wrist) for a challenge. Arthur starts to put away his sword when one of his knights, Sir Owain, accepts the challenge, a fight to the death. By the look on Uther’s face, you know there’s something hinky going on.

Merlin and Gaius have retired to Gaius’s chambers for the night, and Merlin keeps pestering Gaius with questions about the knight and where he comes from. Gaius insists he has no idea who the knight is or where he comes from and tells Merlin to go to bed so he (Gaius) can finish his work. Meanwhile, Morgana is begging Arthur to put a stop to all the craziness. He tells her there’s nothing he can do. Owain picked up the gauntlet and he must fight. It’s the Knight’s Code and Arthur can’t go against it. Once Merlin has gone to bed, Gaius slips out to visit Geoffrey in the records room. It’s clear that Gaius was lying to Merlin. Gaius saw the crest and Geoffrey confirms it belonged to Tristan Dubois. Gaius brings this news to Uther but Uther says that dead man can’t rise. We also learn that Uther killed Tristan twenty years ago.

The next afternoon, we find the Black Knight waiting for the challenge to begin. He’s just standing there, not moving. In the castle, Arthur is trying to prepare Owain for the battle. Owain seems pretty confident that he’ll win but Arthur isn’t so sure. They’ve never seen the Black Knight fight, and it could be disastrous. Gwen arrives to give Owain a token from Morgana for luck. The fight quickly commences and it’s clear that the Black Knight has better skill. Owain holds his own for a short while and it looks like he’s landed a mortal blow but the Black Knight isn’t phased in the least. A few more parries and Owain is dead. The Knight throws down the gauntlet again and Arthur starts to jump over the barrier to get it when Uther stops him. Sir Pellinor takes up the challenge. As the Black Knight walks away, Merlin and Gaius wonder whether the Knight really was injured or if he’s already dead.

Arthur demands to know why Uther stopped him from accepting the challenge, and his father gives him some half-assed reason about letting the knights prove themselves. Arthur argues that Pellinor isn’t recovered from a previous fight, but Uther says tough luck. There’s nothing he can do, and he walks out (typical Uther). Next we find Merlin and Gaius checking the crypt, and they discover Tristan’s tomb has been broken into (or as Gaius says, someone’s already broken out). Gaius explains that Tristan was Uther’s brother-in-law, and after Igraine died, Tristan challenged Uther to single combat. Uther won. It’s most likely the Black Knight is a wraith, the spirit of a demented soul conjured by great magic. No mortal weapon can kill it. Too bad for Sir Pellinor. Much like Sir Owain, Pellinor puts up a good fight but dies in the end. Before the Knight can draw his challenge a third time, Arthur challenges him. Uther looks really pissed. And he yells at Arthur once they’re back in the castle. Arthur gives the argument that he can’t break the Knight’s Code. There can’t be one rule for him and one for all the rest. He’s going to fight.

Gaius brings the news of Tristan’s empty tomb to Uther, and they have quite the heated argument about whether to tell Arthur the truth about his birth and who Tristan is. Uther, saying he’s the King and wont’ be told what to do, isn’t going to tell Arthur. Merlin’s decided to take it upon himself to try and stop the Knight with some magic. Unfortunately, it fails. So does his attempt to convince Arthur to pull out. Merlin tries to make Arthur see that his people know he’s courageous and a great warrior but pulling out would show great wisdom, another kingly trait he needs to have. Arthur isn’t having any of it.

Back in the throne room, Uther is pacing about when Nimueh shows up unannounced. Uther demands to know why she would come to his kingdom after everything that happened. In this scene, we learn that Nimueh allowed Igraine to have a child, even though she was barren. Unfortunately, the balance of life and death had to be preserved and so Igraine died while Arthur lived. Nimueh says she had no idea it would be Igraine that would die. Uther doesn’t believe her. Interestingly, Nimueh says that if she’d known what would happen (Uther going uber anti-magic) she wouldn’t have granted his wish and given him a son. It kind of makes her seem a little less evil.

Merlin makes a trip to see Geoffrey to find out if there is anything about a weapon that can kill the dead. After some bemoaning of Merlin to hurry up, they discover a fable in which there was a sword, begotten in dragon’s breath. Merlin takes off with the idea and stops by Gwen’s place to ask for her father’s strongest sword. It’s another cute Gwen/Merlin moment where they have some awkward pauses. Meanwhile, Arthur’s watching the knight standing outside waiting when Morgana comes in and again begs him not to fight. But he’s sporting that Pendragon stubbornness and says he has to. She claims she understands and leaves.

Uther visits Gaius and apologizes for his temper. He’s going to take Arthur’s place in the fight the following day. Igraine gave her life for their son and now he must as well. It seems rather selfless but with Uther it’s kind of hard to tell sometimes. Uther reasons that if he dies, the wraith will also and Arthur will be alive. He also asks Gaius another favor which we see a little later come to fruition.

Once Merlin obtains a sword from Gwen, he goes to see the Great Dragon. The Dragon, in a bit of comedy, tells Merlin that his knowledge of Merlin’s life isn’t universal. Merlin explains the situation and the Dragon agrees to burnish the sword under one condition- it must be used by Arthur and him alone. No one else may use it. Merlin promises Arthur will be the one to use it and leaves. Gaius drops in to see Arthur and slips him a sleeping potion, which knocks him out for the rest of the night and into the following day. Plus, he’s locked in.

Shortly before the fight, Merlin happens upon Uther getting ready for battle. Uther orders Merlin to help with his armor. While doing so, Merlin tries to dissuade Uther from using the sword the Dragon burnished but to no avail. Uther is amazed, however, at Merlin’s loyalty and tells him to look after Arthur (presumably, after he’s dead). Uther goes to meet the wraith for battle and we actually get to see Anthony Head do some stunt fighting. It’s pretty cool. The sword works as it’s supposed to and slays the wraith. Arthur wakes up during the fight and tries to get out of his room. He finally manages and confronts his father after Gaius dresses a wound. Gaius seems pretty impressed by the sword too. Arthur and Uther have a rather important heart-to-heart in which Arthur admits he always figured Uther was disappointed in him. Uther says that was never the case and that he wouldn’t wish for another son but Arthur.

That evening, Gaius and Merlin are eating dinner and Merlin is unusually quiet. He ends up going to see the Dragon (after being beckoned in the middle of the night), who is rightly pissed that Uther used the sword rather than Arthur. The Dragon orders Merlin to take the sword and toss it. So we see him go to a lake far from Camelot and toss the sword in, which gives us the very opening shot in the title sequence. Overall, I like how this episode introduced the concept of Excalibur. I expect at some future point in the storyline, we’ll be seeing the sword again.