Saturday, June 30, 2012

Summer DVR Dump: The River 1.02: "Marbeley"

“He knew what he was doing out here. That he'd be inviting in darkness. He wouldn't ever risk exposing you or Tess to that. But me? He could risk me.”

I didn’t find “Marbeley” to be as effective an episode of “The River” as the series pilot was. We did learn more about the character, but the episode wasn’t very scary. Yeah, old dolls can be creepy, but if that’s all you’ve got, I’m not really scared. I guess I didn’t really believe in the threat posed by the spooky thing of the week (the spirit of a little girl). Maybe if we had actually seen the little girl’s ghost it would have been more effective. Little kids captured the right way on film can be freaking creepy. I’m hoping that this episode isn’t a sign that the show is going to be super-procedural in nature with a team travels farther into the jungle, team encounters scary thing, team defeats scary thing, team forgets how scared they were and keeps exploring formula to every episode. I’m happy to stick with the show, however, because all shows need a little time to find their way, and hey, it’s over after eight episodes anyway! It’s not like watching “The River” is a big commitment. And Scott Michael Foster (Cappie from “Greek”) shows up in episode four, apparently. So there’s that.

Like the pilot, the show opens with old footage from Emmet’s television show, “The Undiscovered Country.” This footage is from Chirstmas 1988, and after we see the usual, Norman Rockwell-style (but in the jungle) Christmas stuff, we get a very telling scene between Clark and Tess. They talk about why Emmet wanted to stage an elaborate Christmas, and then they kiss. I guess we know the identity of Tess’ partner in the affair now. Could Clark be embarking on this expedition because of guilt just like Tess? Later in the episode we get more “The Undiscovered Country” footage from early 1989. Emmet gives Lincoln a rather strange necklace. He tells Lincoln that he was instructed to give the necklace to a very special child and that the necklace has power over life and death. Young Lincoln thinks this is pretty cool, but I think it’s kind of creepy.

In the present, the team is trying to figure out their next move in the search for Emmet. They know tey should be using the show footage backup tapes to try to figure out where Emmet spent his last days, but Lena says she’s having trouble putting the tapes in order. She has an idea for fixing the problem, though. She remembers Emmet asking her to research treatments for an infected insect bite, and she figures that she can put the tapes in the right sequence by examining the bug bite in each. If the bug bite looks nasty, it’s a newer tape. So Lena puts the tapes in something resembling an order, and the team comes up with eight possible locations for Emmet’s last transmission. Meanwhile, while Jahel is sleeping, a blue dragonfly that had been puttering around the Magus and annoying several characters flies right into her mouth. It clearly isn’t an ordinary dragonfly, because she wakes up instantly, possessed by Emmet. Jahel/Emmet immediately goes to wake up Tess. She tells Tess that they need to leave the Amazon and that “they have me.” Then Jahel starts seizing.

This incident leads to a big argument amongst the rest of the team about whether or not they should heed Jahel/Emmet’s warning. They decide to ignore it and continue with the search. Lena once again provides the breakthrough, interpreting “they have me” has being related to footage she saw of Emmet with some soldier-types. Some of the team members are going to go into the jungle on foot to check out the location. Walking through the jungle, Emmet rightfully confronts Lena about being kind of chummy with his dad. He does have a valid point. Lena does seem to always be talking about something Emmet told her. I don’t think it’s supposed to mean there was something more between them, but it certainly comes off that way sometimes. The conversation ends when the team finds a cemetery. British rubber barons had harvested in the area centuries ago. The team hears what sounds like a child crying, but it turns out to be a monkey holding a doll’s head. Hundreds of doll heads are hanging in the trees above. It’s fairly creepy. Lena, again the font of information, says that there are probably “spirit trees” to which the locals bring gifts. Lincoln sees that one of the “gifts” hanging from a tree is his childhood Teddy bear, Marbeley. This means that Emmet must have been there at one point. Conveniently, it’s starting to get dark, so the team is going to have to make camp and spend the night in the creepy cemetery.

Night falls and the camp is set up. Tess turns the camera on Clark for a moment to make him confirm his good intentions in leading the expedition. I enjoyed seeing him squirm a little. Meanwhile, Lincoln and Lena talk about the fight they had earlier about her contact with Emmet. After trading some barbs, Lena becomes more contemplative and says that she thinks Emmet confided in her instead of Lincoln or Tess because he felt he could put Lena at risk for the darkness he was experiencing, but he didn’t want to put his family at risk. Later, after everyone’s been asleep for a little while, there is suddenly chaos in the camp. Lincoln has been kind of thrown across the campsite. He’s freaked out, and he tells the team that they’re leaving immediately, even if it is dangerous to trek through the jungle in the dark. As they cross a small, muddy creek, a hand reaches up out of the mud and grabs on to Tess, pulling her under. The rest of the team grabs her just in time. This makes Lena (of course) remember the legend of the Abandoned One, a little girl who was abandoned by her family in the jungle. The locals would deliver toys (the dolls we saw in the trees) to placate her spirit. It turns out that idiot Lincoln took Marbeley with him, and the spirit is apparently not happy that someone took one of her toys.

The team thinks that the spirit will be placated if Lincoln gives the bear back. They go back to the trees, and Lincoln keeps trying to tie Marbeley back up. Every time he starts to leave, though, it falls back down. Then all the dolls start falling. It’s pretty darn creepy. The crew starts frantically trying to get back to the Magus, but somehow they end up back at the doll trees instead. And Tess is gone. Presumably she’s been pulled under the mud by the Abandoned One. Then the team realizes that what the spirit probably actually wants is her mother. They go over to the cemetery and dig up the body at the grave most likely to be the mother’s, and Lincoln dumps the body in the river, begging the spirit to return his mother. It doesn’t happen right away, so Lincoln starts sobbing to Tess that his mom’s gone. Then Tess suddenly reappears out of the mud and all is well.

Back on the Magus, Lincoln goes to Jahel, who is still only semi-conscious, and he begs Emmet’s spirit inside of her to tell him where he is. Jahel tries to say something, but she cant. Instead, the dragonfly pops out of her mouth, and she’s conscious again. She apologizes to Lincoln for not being able to give him the answer, and she says she tried to hold on to Emmet’s spirit for as long as possible. Lincoln finds the life and death necklace in one of the cabins on the ship, and he puts it on. He goes to talk to Lena on the deck, and they start laughing like old times. The episode ends with old footage of Lena and Lincoln similarly laughing on the deck of the Magus as kids. We see Lena’s dad, the cameraman, suddenly notice a very strange mark (a symbol of some sort) on Lena’s neck.

Summer TV Rewind: Sherlock 1.02: "The Blind Banker"

“How many murders is it going to take before you start believing this maniac’s out there? A young girl was gunned down tonight. That’s three victims in three days and you’re supposed to be finding him.”
- John Watson

This week’s mystery begins with a young woman performing a tea ceremony at a museum. She seems like a fairly normal girl, even rebuffing a co-worker’s offer of a drink after work. She says he wouldn’t like her much. Next we see her, she’s in the museum after closing, tending to her teapots, when a noise catches her ear. She steps out of the vault to find something tall covered by a sheet. Tentatively, she pulls it off and whatever she sees freaks her out. Cut to John at the store, buying groceries. He’s not having a very good time of it. The machine keeps telling him things haven’t scanned (I know how that feels), and then it declines his card and he hasn’t got actual money to pay for it. So he goes home empty handed. Meanwhile, Sherlock’s been having a fight with a guy who looks like he came out of Aladdin or something. But the body is gone by the time John gets back. He complains about why he hasn’t gotten the shopping and Sherlock says he can take his card.

So, off John pops to the store again. He returns to find Sherlock reading an email on John’s laptop. We only get a glimpse of the message but it appears to be from an old acquaintance. And before John can ask Sherlock for a little money, Sherlock decides a trip to the bank is in order. He doesn’t mention that it’s a stock exchange. Apparently Sherlock’s old university pal Sebastian works there, and they’ve had a break in. Someone broke into one of the offices and left a painted mark on the wall and a photo. Sherlock is on the case and bounces around the trading floor in a rather comedic bit until he finds what he’s looking for. As he and John leave, he explains that because of all the wall and pillars in the area, clear line of sight limits who the message was intended for. Sherlock deduces it to be for Edward Van Coon, the head trader for Hong Kong.

So they’re off to look up every Van Coon in London. Which turns out not to be too many. Sherlock weasels his way into the right flat by pretending to be Van Coon and ringing the upstairs neighbor who he deduced just moved in. He borrows her balcony to get into Van Coon’s flat and after rifling around a bit he finds Van Coon dead, shot in the head. The police arrive and Sherlock is surprised to see Detective Inspector Dimmick instead of Lestrad. Sherlock points out with numerous “obvious” references that Van Coon didn’t kill himself. He was murdered. He and John go to share the news with Sebastian, but the police continue to state it was a suicide.

Later that night, we see a man racing towards his house. He gets in and locks all the doors, but somehow the killer still gets in. And we see the young man from the beginning of the episode (the one who asked the girl out) working, and his boss tells him to authenticate some Chinese vases because the girl, Soo Lin, resigned. He goes to her apartment, but she doesn’t answer so he leaves a note. The next morning John goes off to try and get a job so they can actually pay the bills. He’s overqualified but he needs the money. He gets home to find Sherlock sort of talking to himself (Sherlock thinks he’s talking to John). Sherlock points out the man who died the night before is a journalist. He drags John down to Scotland Yard and manages to get five minutes in the man’s flat. And here he has a breakthrough. The killer can climb. He’s been scaling walls and that’s how he’s gotten in. As they leave, Sherlock picks up a book and that leads them to a library where the symbol from the bank appears in the stacks. So they need to find the connection.

Sherlock believes it is a cypher of some kind and he’s going to an art expert. His expert turns out to be a tagger who leaves John literally holding the spray paint can when the community police arrive. So now John’s got to go to court to deal with it. Sherlock’s not interested. He orders John off to get the journalist’s diary while he goes to speak with the banker’s personal assistant. As John climbs into a cab, we see a woman taking pictures of him. That can’t end well. We pop back to the museum guy for a moment as his boss explains that Soo Lin gave “family reasons’ as why she resigned. Her co-worker isn’t convinced since she didn’t have any family. Elsewhere in the city, John and Sherlock find information from their respective decedents and end up in Chinatown at The Lucky Cat Emporium. It’s kind of creepy. While browsing the shop, John notices one of the symbols from the bank and library on the bottom of a cup. It’s an ancient Chinese numerical system. The symbols stand for the number 15. As they eat lunch, Sherlock realizes that both the victims had been smuggling things into the country from China.

From the café where they’re eating, Sherlock spots a phone book sitting on a stoop, and it just so happens to be Soo Lin’s building. He breaks in, but it turns out he’s not the first. The killer they’ve been looking for has been there, and Sherlock realizes a little too late that the killer is still there. Sherlock gets choked out for his trouble, but he finds her colleague’s note and that leads them to the museum. They don’t learn much except that she resigned and had been working on her teapots on her last day. Down in the vaults we see what Soo Lin saw at the start of the episode. Someone’s painted the numbers on a statute.

As they leave the museum, Sherlock’s tagger shows up with good news. He found the paint in a skate park. So they spread out and look for more clues. John finds a massive amount of graffiti and snaps a photo on his phone before going to find Sherlock. It was a lucky move, really, because in the ten minutes John is gone, someone paints over the graffiti. Sherlock spends the night figuring out what all the symbols mean. They’re all numbers and they appear in pairs. So it’s back to the museum where Sherlock notices that two of the teapots are shiny (only one was shiny the day before). So he and John stake out the museum to catch Soo Lin after hours.

They find her and she fills them in on quite a bit of exposition. She was orphaned at fifteen and went to work for a crime syndicate. It was the only way for her to survive. But she left that life behind when she was seventeen. She thought five years of distance would be enough but they found her. ‘The Spider” is after her and it turns out he’s her brother. Before she can explain the code of the numbers, the lights go out and Sherlock takes off to try and find the killer. Unfortunately, John hears gunfire and goes off to help, leaving Soo Lin alone. Her brother slips into the vault and kills her. DI Dimmick still doesn’t believe them about the murder connection. So Sherlock charms his way into the morgue so he can show Dimmick that both men had the same tattoo as Soo Lin linking them to the Black Lotus (the crime syndicate). In his customary arrogant way, Sherlock demands every book from both men’s flats. He’s going to compare them to figure out which book the code references.

Sherlock and John stay up all night, and John ends up crashing pretty hard at the hospital when he’s supposed to be seeing patients. But he does get a date out of it (with his boss). Sherlock tells John to go to the circus for his date. Of course, Sherlock tags along because it’s a one night only Chinese circus. The smugglers have sent gang members to find whatever was stolen. Quite impressively, Sherlock, John and his date Sarah manage to knock out some of the smugglers and get away. Dimmick orders a raid but finds nothing. So the trio head back to the flat. Sarah’s actually quite helpful. She points out that two of the numbers have already been deciphered. Soo Lin apparently started to work on it. Sherlock is on his way back to the museum to figure out what book to use when he realizes it’s a London guide and he decodes the rest of the numbers. Too late for John and Sarah. One of the smugglers shows up and kidnaps them.

John comes to in a tunnel bound to a chair. Sarah is bound and gagged beside him. He denies that he’s Sherlock (despite the evidence the Chinese think they have) and the general says she’s going to kill Sarah if he doesn’t give her what she’s looking for. Sherlock figures out what’s happened when he returns to the flat and makes quite the show of swooping in and taking out the goons. John manages to save Sarah but the general gets away. The following morning, they head back to the bank because Sherlock deduced the banker as the thief and he’d given the pin to his personal assistant. We cut to the general speaking to someone via webcam. All we get is the initial M when messages are sent back. I’m guessing she was linked to Moriarty. We end with her getting shot in the head.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer TV Rewind: Downton Abbey 1.02

“We all have different parts to play, Matthew. And we must all be allowed to play them.”
-Lord Grantham

The second episode of “Downton Abbey” focuses mostly on the arrival of new heir Matthew and his mother, Isobel, at Downton. The arrival of the “other” Crawleys causes upheaval throughout the estate, both upstairs and below. The most enjoyable thing about the big Crawley arrival was that we got to see the beginning of one of my favorite aspects of the show-the perpetual battle of wills between two British acting titans, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton (you know who she is as Harriet Jones during the Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who). These two start verbally sparring right from the get-go, and it’s magnificent. We also get the first fateful meeting between Matthew and Mary, which is funnier than I remembered it. There are also a few other more minor downstairs stories to round things out. This episode has many of the show’s best qualities, and it really shows how everything came together rather quickly. I suppose it had to considering there aren’t many episodes in each season.

Matthew arrives right at the beginning of the episode, and he’s kind of an ass to everyone. Most significantly, he is rude to the servants who have been hired to manage Crawley House where he and Isobel will be living. He is most rude to his butler/valet, Mr. Mosely. Matthew seems bound and determined to prove he’s not blue blood by refusing most help from the servants, but he doesn’t realize that by refusing help, he’s not letting the servants do their job and he’s disrespecting them. He manages to disrespect his cousins, too. He makes a whiny comment about how they’re probably going to sic the daughters on him right away to get their inheritance back via marriage, and just as he’s saying this, Mary shows up to invite Matthew and Isobel to dinner at Downton. Matthew has to eat a lot of crow for that one, and it doesn’t appear that Mary has forgiven him. She tells her sisters that she has a different suitor in mind. Anyway, Lord Grantham has to explain to Matthew that the servants are just trying to do their job, and Matthew eventually feels bad and lets Mr. Mosely start picking out his cufflinks.

Another upstairs clash related to the Crawley arrival, which I already sort-of mentioned, is the massive clash between the Dowager Countess and Isobel. Isobel asks the Dowager Countess how they should address each other, and she simply replies, “We can start with Mrs. Crawley and Lady Grantham.” The Dowager Countess is also very confused when Matthew mentions that even though he’s still going to work as a solicitor, he can learn about running Downton on the weekends. The poor Dowager Countess didn’t even know what a weekend was! Maggie Smith, of course, delivers each line with acerbic perfection, and Penelope Wilton is a worthy foil. Their rivalry escalates when Isobel begins to show an interest in the village hospital. Her late husband was a doctor, and she trained as a nurse (her recitation of this is the Downton equivalent of “We know who you are!” from “Doctor Who”).

While touring the hospital, Isobel encounters a farmer with dropsy who is not expected to survive. Throughout the episode, she continually pressures the doctor to perform a new procedure which could save the farmer’s life. The Dowager Countess, of course, sensing her power at the hospital waning, tries to oppose this at every opportunity. The procedure, of course, saves the farmer’s life, and in an effort to perhaps force his mother (who is President of the hospital) to deal with Isobel head-on, Lord Grantham appoints Isobel Chairman of the Board for the hospital. The ceremony where this takes place is highly amusing, mostly because the Dowager Countess is constantly looking daggers at Isobel.

Matthew’s arrival has also caused some disruption downstairs. Some of the servants (mostly O’Brien and Thomas, of course…would you expect anything else?) resent being asked to serve a lowly solicitor from Manchester. I’d say O’Brien grumbles about it the most consistently, while Thomas is the loudest. O’Brien gets in more trouble for it, though, because Cora comes down to the kitchen to hand her a button she found while O’Brien is in the middle of a major gripe fest. Cora gives O’Brien an extremely well-deserved dressing down for insulting a member of Lord Grantham’s family. Once Cora leaves, however, O’Brien turns the nastiness on Cora herself, grumping to her colleagues that a “real” lady wouldn’t have come downstairs to give O’Brien the button. She would have rung for O’Brien to come get it. One thing that I don’t think is really sufficiently explained in “Downton Abbey” is why O’Brien is so insufferable and bitter. She just is. I’d like to know more about what happened to give her that attitude.

The William/Daisy/Thomas sort-of triangle is furthered a bit in this episode, starting when William gets in trouble for serving a meal with a seam in his jacket starting to come apart. Carson, of course, says this is contrary to the dignity he expects at Downton. Daisy offers to mend the jacket, which of course encourages William’s crush on her. Daisy, however, is still not reciprocating, because for some reason I really can’t fathom, she’s still hung up on Thomas. Thomas plays into this (maybe just to make trouble?) by dancing with Daisy one evening after work. Poor Daisy is just making a complete fool of herself, and it’s kind of sad to see. It would be nice if one of the other, more perceptive, characters would give her a heads-up that Thomas isn’t available. I think somebody does eventually, but they really should have already.

My favorite plot of this episode outside all of the Matthew’s arrival drama involves Carson. Anna notices Carson acting suspiciously one day, appearing to steal food from the kitchens, but she doesn’t say or do anything about it. When he is in town one day, Mr. Bates also notices Carson shadily slipping into a pub. Things come to a head one day when a strange man shows up at the front door of Downton. Carson is out, so Bates has to play butler and open the door. The visitor is extremely demanding and asks to wait in the parlor to talk to Lord Grantham when he returns. Bates agrees, grateful that the visitor will at least be confined to one room, and he sends Anna off in search of Carson. Sybil arrives home, and she offers to stay with Bates and the visitor to offer an explanation to her parents and keep Bates from getting in any trouble. It turns out that the ornery visitor, whose name is Charlie, once performed in a stage act with none other than Carson. They were “The Cheerful Charlies.” Charlie (the visitor, not the butler) has fallen on hard times, and he wants to make some money by blackmailing Carson. He was right that Carson was ashamed of his performer past (which doesn’t quite make sense to me), but he ends up fessing up to the Crawleys, and Lord Grantham succeeds in getting rid of Charlie. I liked the idea that Carson wasn’t always the stick in the mud we now know him to be, and I found his discomfort very entertaining.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Newsroom 1.01: "We Just Decided To"

“We’re coming to a tipping point. I know you know that. There’s going to be a huge conversation. Is government an instrument of good, or is it every man for himself? Is there something bigger we want to reach for, or is self-interest our basic resting pulse?”

So I made the mistake of reading too many reviews of “The Newsroom” before watching the pilot. Critics I respect panned it pretty badly, and one in particular went on rant after rant on multiple platforms. I have to say, however, in spite of my better judgment, now that I’ve watched the pilot, I think I’m going to love this show. Sure I hate how Sorkin treats his female characters, and how women are treated in television matters to me a great deal, but man can he write dialogue and deliver the emotionally uplifting speech or moment. Sorkin’s love of “great oratory” shows in everything he writes. As an unapologetic die-hard liberal (except when I’m at work, where I have to inject a dose of practicality), I think the progressive cause needs to be vocalized and vocalized loudly. We can’t play nice anymore if we’re going to return to any semblance of civilization where people care about each other. And Sorkin hits those notes beautifully. Also, I think that the setting of a cable news show is a better place for the trademark Sorkin political preaching than a late night sketch comedy show, or even a sports news show for that matter, was. Cable news is all about political preaching. Only the setting of “The West Wing” was better.

The episode opens in Chicago, at Northwestern University’s journalism school, where cable news anchor Will McAvoy is participating in a panel discussion. His fellow panelists are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and they are spending most of the panel time screaming at each other. Will, the “Jay Leno of the news” refuses to take a side and brushes off every political question with a joke. Eventually one hapless sophomore asks the panel what “makes America great.” The pundits give their canned responses, and Will tries to give a safe an answer as possible. Then he sees a woman in the audience who holds up signs saying “It isn’t. But it can be.” This spurs Will on to the diatribe to end all diatribes where the goes on at length about why we aren’t the greatest country. And all of his points are excellent, even if I don’t agree with his solution (going back to a time when “men were men”). Despite the misogynist overtones, I appreciated the call for a return to civility and honest discussions about our country’s serious problems.

Three weeks later, Will returns from a tropical vacation (rumor is that he was with Erin Andrews, but in real life 2010 she was still lying low after her stalker incident) to find quite a lot has changed at his show. As Will is approaching the studio, there’s some rather stupid banter between outgoing Executive Producer Don and his girlfriend/Will’s assistant Maggie about how Don thinks it’s too soon to meet Maggie’s parents. Clearly, Don’s an ass. Aaron Sorkin doesn’t mess around with his characterization. Anyway, Will makes it to the studio, and Maggie, Don, and blogger Neal are the only three people in the room. Maggie tells Will that he needs to go see Charlie, the wise older network boss in the vein of Isaac (“Sports Night”) or Leo (“The West Wing”). Charlie says that there’s going to be a new show on at 10:00, Don is leaving to executive produce that show, and he’s bringing most of the staff with him. This leads to a big argument between Will and Don about why exactly Don is leaving. Will wants to know if it’s because he’s not a nice guy or because his show is sinking.

At lunch, Charlie gives Will more bad news. He’s already hired a new executive producer for News Night (Will’s show). Will’s ex-girlfriend Mackenzie McHale, who has just returned from an embedded reporter gig in Afghanistan, has been given the job. Will is really pissed off about this, so I guess their split wasn’t amicable. In the newsroom, while Will is at his agent’s office trying to get the power to fire Mackenzie, Mackenzie arrives and meets Maggie. She senses a kindred spirit after listening to Maggie’s troubles with Don, I suppose, so Mackenzie makes Maggie an associate producer. Jim, a senior producer Mackenzie is bringing in, arrives and is pissed to find out that the job situation is much more tenuous than he was led to believe, considering Will already wants to fire Mackenzie and all. Mackenzie’s solution is to try to make Jim develop a crush on Maggie to make Don jealous and want to return to the show. How ridiculous and juvenile.

When Will returns, he wants to see Mackenzie in his office immediately. It turns out that he’s gotten Mackenzie’s contract changed from three years to week-to-week, and Will has final approval over Mackenzie’s employment each week. Mackenzie starts trying to just guarantee that her staff will still have a fair shake at a job. Out in the newsroom, news alerts start coming in about the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion. Jim and Neal think that beyond the initial damage from the explosion, this incident could develop into a massive oil spill. Don thinks they should drop the story for now, and since he’s still the executive producer, he wins. Jim ends up getting information from both a source at BP and a source at Halliburton, but Don still keeps trying to brush him off.

Back in Jim’s office, Mackenzie gives a big, typical Sorkin speech about reclaiming the fourth estate and “speaking truth to stupid.” I thought some of it went a little far, but some of it really struck home. We are desperately in need of a national conversation on the role of government and more civil discourse in general. Anyway, out in the newsroom, Jim gets brushed off by Don one too many times, so he goes into Jim’s office and interrupts Mackenzie to tell her about the Deepwater Horizon. Will is intrigued, so Jim and Neal brief the rest of the crew about what is going on. They predict the massive oil spill almost perfectly, which is a little cheesy, but kind of fun, too. I like a good fist pump moment in my television, although it would be best if the News Night team gets it wrong every once in a while just to keep things fresh. Will demands to know Jim’s sources, and it turns out that they are Jim’s college roommate and sister. Don’s still against the idea, pointing out that if they’re wrong about Halliburton, they could be exposed to some serious liability. Jim decides to go with the story anyway, and he also kicks everyone going with Don to 10:00 out of the newsroom. Everyone left starts working in earnest, and it’s rather awesome.

There’s some hilarious pre-show banter between Will and Mackenzie where Mackenzie gets Will to agree she’s in charge while they’re on the air. And the show itself is pretty great, too. It feels much more authentic than Sorkin’s attempts at faux sketch comedy on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” The crowning moment to me was when Maggie, newly minted AP, is able to get the Minerals Management Service inspector who inspected Deepwater Horizon on the phone. The inspector is voiced by none other than Jesse Eisenberg, which is great, but what I really love is that Maggie got a moment to genuinely shine. Everyone in the studio and newsroom applauds at the end of the show, and Will seems genuinely happy that he did something right for a change.

Despite the show’s success, some things still haven’t changed. Don, for example, is still n ass. He offer’s the “compromise” of going down to the lobby to say “hi” to Maggie’s parents before disappearing for “work.” In another kind of adorable, albeit highly immature scene, Mackenzie sees this and signal’s to Jim that he has a chance with Maggie. Then she goes to talk to Will. They have a sweet moment when Will recalls going to a baseball game with Mackenzie’s father, and he mentions that right before his Northwestern tirade, he thought he saw Mackenzie in the audience. He figures it must have been someone who looked similar. Will then jumps on the elevator, and Mackenzie doesn’t have the chance to tell him that she was indeed the woman in the crowd at Northwestern.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Summer DVR Dump: The River 1.01: "Magus"

“Yeah, well, that’s the point, Clark. Science isn’t a great big wonder anymore. Discoveries are made in a lab, not the jungle.”

For our first Summer DVR Dump of the summer, we’re going to be looking at ABC’s short-lived horror series, “The River.” From what I’ve seen of this episode, there isn’t a ton of substance to it, but I don’t really expect a lot of substance from horror, and what it tries to do, it generally does quite well. There are intriguing characters, a pretty creative premise, and plenty of scares. The show centers around the disappearance of Dr. Emmet Cole, a Steve Irwin-like naturalist and television personality who, during its heyday in the 1980s and 90s, often included his wife Tess and son Lincoln in his show. Many years later, when Emmet has become rather estranged from his family (but is still filming his television show), he disappears in the Amazon, and a production crew convinces Tess and Lincoln to film a television series out of the search. Created by “Paranormal Activity” mastermind Oren Peli and continuing in the tradition of that film and “The Blair Witch Project," the show uses faux “found footage” to bring the scares. And given the show’s likely small budget, the creative team does a decent job bringing those scares.

The episode opens with footage from Emmet’s television show, circa 1998, and it introduces us to Emmet’s catch-phrase, “There’s magic out there.” We see a few more, slightly later clips, where it starts to look like there is trouble in the paradise that is the Cole family. I really like the use of the archival footage in the show thus far. It sets the appropriately creepy mood, mostly because it reminds me of all the old DHARMA Initiative films from “Lost.” Anyway, we quickly zoom forward to the present day, where Emmet is presumed dead and Lincoln has just given a speech at his memorial service. Tess, in an extremely tacky move, recruits Lincoln to join the search expedition on camera while he’s in the bar post memorial service. At first, Lincoln wants nothing to do with it, and he’s rightfully pissed that his mother is still peddling false hope, even after the memorial. Then Tess explains that Emmet’s emergency beacon has started emitting a signal, and it is possible to find it.

Next thing we know, Tess, Lincoln, and a group of Emmet’s former crew are all on a boat in the Amazon. The crew includes producer Clark Quietly (played by Harry Dresden himself, Paul Blackthorne), cameramen A.J. and Sammy, bodyguard Kurt, engineer Emilio, and Emilio’s equally handy daughter Jahel. Anyway, they find the beacon fairly quickly, but there is no sign of Emmet. As they’re taking a little R and R at a village (and Lincoln is being a hero using his doctoring skills on the locals), a helicopter touches down. The crew is then joined by Lena, the daughter of Emmet’s cameraman. She wants to find her own father, too, and she says she knows where to find the Magus.

Lena’s instructions lead the team deep into the jungle, to an area that isn’t even mapped well. Emilio and Jahel say this is because bad supernatural creatures reside there. Soon enough, the Magus is found, but that’s really only the beginning of the strangeness and the creepiness. Right from the get-go, the team notices all manner of strange noises. Which seems like it would be a good sign to run away, but apparently not for this group. Clark works on getting the ship’s cameras up and running while the rest of the crew tries to get into the panic room, the door of which has been welded shut. I guess they figure Emmet might be inside. Eventually they succeed in cutting their way into the room, and Lincoln makes the bonehead move of opening up this small, coffin-like container. Energy bursts out and sends Lena flying across the room. She ends up with a kind of serious laceration on her leg that Lincoln, with his mad doctoring skills, has to stitch up as they reminisce about growing up together on the Magus.

Just as things kind of calm down a little, we learn that it’s about to get much, much worse. Jahel is upset because Lena’s blood is now on the container that Lincoln opened. Before Lincoln opened it, the container had trapped Corpuseco, a pretty nasty spirit. Opening the trap was a bad idea to begin with, but getting Lena’s blood on it has made Corpuseco even stronger. For some inexplicable reason, Lincoln takes Jahel’s warning seriously, and he rushes to the deck of the ship to give the order to leave immediately. He wants the whole crew back on the rafts ASAP. There’s only one not-so-tiny problem. The rafts have all been slashed, so the crew can’t use them to go anywhere. Their next option is to get the Magus running again and use it to escape. Emilio and Jahel are going to fix the engine, and Lincoln is going to clear the rudder of debris. Lena helps Lincoln with the rudder, which seems really stupid to me. Going in Amazon River water with a healing wound seems like asking for infection.

Anyway, Lena mentions something about how Emmet had contacted her asking about backups of the footage he shot, and this makes Lena realize that she can probably find the footage somewhere in the Magus. She does indeed find the tapes, and she shows them to the team. The footage is creepy stuff of Emmet performing creepy rituals. In one shot, he seems to be holding fire in his hands. He says that Corpuseco is actually the spirit of Cam Travers, a producer on the show who had died. There’s also some footage of a very harried-looking Emmet saying that he is close to finding “The Source.” If “The Source” is a glowy cave protected by a very angry woman who looks like Alison Janney, I’m going to scream.

Elsewhere on the ship, Lincoln has a bit of a confrontation with his mother. He’s been wondering why, when he was a kid, they all-of-a-sudden stopped going on expeditions with Emmet. Lincoln can only conclude that his mom was having an affair, and she doesn’t deny it. Before they can really discus this revelation, however, the ship starts to move. Corpuseco is not happy that its prey is getting away, and it goes on quite the rampage, smashing the ship about. Cameraman Sammy, trying to prove that he’s just as daring as his boss A.J., gets to close to the action and is killed. Can’t have a horror series without a significant number of deaths, right? Lincoln’s had it, and he rushes up to the deck with the soul trap container thing. He puts some of his own blood on it and tries to re-trap Corpuseco. Tess, however, goes completely stupid, and starts yelling at “Cam Travers” to tell her if Emmet is alive. She wants “one for no and two for yes.” Corpuseco responds with two lacerations, for “yes,” presumably. Lincoln is then able to trap Corpuseco, and Lena throws the trap overboard.

We next see the Magus and her crew in daylight. They’re still motoring through the water, and things seem much more calm. Chad sits happily in the camera bay, presumably getting ready to edit some footage, when he catches Kurt the bodyguard on the phone. Kurt is basically saying that if Emmet did indeed find The Source, he’ll put him down. So there is an angry person protecting The Source after all, just not one who looks like Alison Janney! Anyway, with the light of day having somewhat restored everyone’s sanity, Lincoln says that he wants to continue the search for Emmet. He now believes that his father is alive, and he wants to find him. So the Magus continues to motor through the jungle, for better or worse.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Summer TV Rewind: Sherlock 1.01: "A Study in Pink"

“Dear God, what is it like in your funny little brains? It must be so boring.”
- Sherlock Holmes

We start our very first outing of “Sherlock” with flashes of battle. They’re clearly nightmares and when the dreamer wakes, we find our Dr. John Watson. In short order he’s made it to his desk with the help of a cane and settles in with his laptop to try and write an entry on his blog. Nothing comes. He’s a little defensive in his therapy session, noting that the therapist has written he has trust issues (yes he can read upside-down). Despite the therapist’s insistence that writing about what happens to him will help him in his quest to settle back into civilian life, John states that nothing ever happens to him. Oh my dear Watson, don’t ever say things like that. They’ll come back to bite you.

We now find a woman is talking to a man we assume is her husband. He’s gotten lost and ignores her instance that he catches a cab (apparently such a thing is beneath him). Well unfortunately for him, he somehow ends up dead and it appears it is suicide by pill. Not a shock to anyone, the woman turns out to be his mistress. His wife is giving a press conference as the other woman looks on. Next we see two teenagers caught in a rainstorm. One of the boys says he’s just popping home to get his umbrella but we see shortly that he’s taken the same pill as the first man. A few months later, a prominent government official is found dead by the same pill. Obviously there is something going on. At a press conference, Detective Inspector Lestrad tries to say that the apparent suicides are linked but and that they’re working on it but things go awry quite quickly. Everyone in the room keeps getting texts saying “wrong”. Definitely a bit odd but it did pique my interest. And Lestrad isn’t surprised to see who they are from. We cut briefly to the park where John is out for a stroll when he runs into an old school friend who is now a professor. They get to talking about how John can’t really afford to live in London alone on his army pension and the friend suggests a flat share. And he’s got someone in mind.

In a rather clever reveal, we meet Mr. Sherlock Holmes. He’s looking at the corpse of an older man who used to work in the morgue. The morgue assistant seems a bit shaken up by the whole thing, especially when Sherlock takes a riding crop to the body to determine what the bruising looks like after twenty minutes. He seems to be working a case and whatever the riding crop evidence reveals may save or condemn someone. He’s definitely got some odd methods. He’s in the lab examining something when John and his friend arrive. Sherlock in his peculiar way interviews John for a potential flat mate, mostly by point out all kinds of information about him including where he served in the Middle East and why he won’t go live with his brother. He does so in a rapid spew of dialogue, fit for the Doctor (which makes sense since at the time, he’d auditioned to be the Eleventh Doctor). That night John goes home to Google Sherlock and finds his website “The Science of Deduction”. John thinks it is a load of crap. But, he still goes to meet Sherlock at 221B Baker Street. At first blush it doesn’t look like they’re the likeliest of pairs but when Lestrad shows up with news of a fourth suicide (this time with a note), Sherlock gets giddy and invites John along. John seems rather too eager to be off to see more death. Sherlock impresses John on the car ride to the crime scene by explaining how he deduced the facts about John, from his time overseas, to his brother and his drinking habit. Only probably is John doesn’t have a brother. He has a sister.

At the scene, Sherlock continues to rub people the wrong way but he doesn’t much care. He’s in the thrill of the game. He deduces rather quickly that the victim, Jennifer Wilson, was unhappily married for at least ten years and had a string of lovers. She scratched ‘rache’ into the floor and Sherlock believes it was supposed to say “Rachel”. She’d come from Cardiff (based on the fact her coat was damp and it hadn’t rained in London that day). He keeps rambling on about the victim’s suitcase but there wasn’t one found with or near the body. At this point, Sherlock is convinced they are murders and he races off.

John limps after him only to find Sherlock has disappeared. One of the other detectives on scene warns John to stay away from Sherlock. He’s a psychopath. John just shakes his head and limps off in search of a cab. As he’s walking along, payphones start to ring. He finally answers one and a creepy sounding voice tells him to look around and spot three cameras. Each turns away so on surveillance you can’t see the car that pulls up. John is instructed to get in the car and it takes him to an abandoned warehouse where he meets the voice on the phone. The man claims to be Sherlock’s arch enemy, although from the interaction, he seems quite a bit like Sherlock. He wants John to feed him information on Sherlock’s activities in exchange for a rather generous sum of money. John refuses. He gets several texts during the encounter from Sherlock, telling him to go back to Baker Street as it is urgent and could be dangerous. So John swings by his old flat and retrieves his service weapon. He gets to 22B Baker Street only to find Sherlock lounging with three nicotine patches on his arm. They help him think. Guess they had to work in his addiction somehow. I thought it was kind of clever. Anyway, he only needed John to send a text to Jennifer Wilson’s phone. He’s found her suitcase and he wants to draw the murderer out. So with the text sent, John and Sherlock head to a café across the street from where they texted the murderer. They barely have time to sit down and have a rather awkward conversation about whether Sherlock is gay or not (and whether John is too) before Sherlock spots a cab that’s pulled up in front of the address they’re watching. No one gets in or out and thus begins a rather intriguing chase scene. You don’t often see people chasing cars in shows like this. It’s always car on car or a pure foot chase. It turns out the murderer wasn’t in the cab though. It was just a tourist. But Sherlock was making a point. John took off from the café without his cane. His limp really is psychosomatic.

Someone’s tipped off the police to Sherlock finding the case because Lestrad is waiting upstairs and he is not happy. He’s initiating a drugs bust mostly just to irritate Sherlock and to get his attention. It works. Lestrad reveals that Rachel was Jennifer’s stillborn daughter but Sherlock can’t fathom why she’d be thinking about her dead child from fourteen years ago (yeah he doesn’t exactly do empathy). John posits that maybe the killer talks to the victims and then gets them to kill themselves. He doesn’t know it yet but he’s right on the money. As Sherlock is ranting that Jennifer planted her phone on her killer to help the police find him, Mrs. Hudson appears and badgers Sherlock that his cab is waiting downstairs. Which is bizarre since Sherlock didn’t call for one. And when John logs in to Jennifer’s smartphone via the internet and does a GPS search, the phone comes up at 221B Baker Street. Sherlock puts it together and takes off for the cab. It makes sense. Taxi drivers are pretty much invisible to most people. He convinces Sherlock to go for a ride so they can talk and tells Sherlock that he’s got a fan. They end up at an abandoned college building and the cabbie fills Sherlock in on how the game is played. Two bottles, each with a pill. One is good and the other is bad. Whichever pill Sherlock doesn’t choose, the cabbie takes. Sherlock of course isn’t stupid. He’s got do some deducing before he makes any kind of decision. He points out correctly from the way the cabbie is dressed and the torn photo of children in his cab that he’s dying and he lost his kids to his ex-wife. The cabbie admits that everything Sherlock said is true but that the cabbie has a benefactor who will be providing a lot of money to his children.

Meanwhile, John is on his way to find Sherlock. He arrives at the college but goes into the wrong building. Time is running out. The cabbie pulls a gun on Sherlock and says if he doesn’t choose a pill, he’ll get shot in the head. Sherlock with a smug look says he’ll take the gun. It turns out to be a fancy lighter shaped like a gun. So Sherlock decides to be off until the cabbie entices him, asking if he figured out which pill was the good one. John finally spots them from the opposite building and just as Sherlock is about to put the pill in his mouth, a shot rings out and hits the cabbie. Sherlock gets a little creepy and violent by putting pressure on the wound until the cabbie blurts out the name Moriarty (his benefactor). We end with John quietly admitting he shot the guy and the mysterious man whom John met earlier appears. He’s not in fact Sherlock’s arch enemy. He’s his brother, Mycroft. They have something of a childish feud still going. As the pair walks away discussing dim sum and fortune cookies, Mycroft tells his assistant to upgrade the surveillance level. It’s time to keep a closer eye on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Summer TV Rewind: Downton Abbey 1.01

“Every mountain is unclimbable until someone climbs it, so every ship is unsinkable until it sinks.”
-Lord Grantham

This summer, I’ll be looking back at several shows, the first of which is “Downton Abbey.” “Downton” aired on cable channel ITV in the UK and on PBS here in the States. It’s essentially a soap opera in Jane Austen (well, a couple decades after Jane Austen, but still English manor culture) trappings. We follow the ups and downs of the Crawley family, led by Robert, Earl of Grantham, as they try to navigate a period of drastic change in the world and for the British aristocracy. Lord Grantham has an American wife, Cora, who he married for her money (which was needed to save Downton) but has since come to love. They have three daughters, the prickly Mary, Edith with an inferiority complex, and Sybil the idealist. In the tradition of classic shows such as “Upstairs, Downstairs,” we follow the lives of Downton’s servants as well, and in some cases, they are even more interesting than the folks upstairs. All of the characters deal with the trials of everyday life (and some occasional heightened drama, because this is television after all) as their way of life, due to world events, is rapidly drawing to a close.

The series opens in 1912 as the Crawley family gets some devastating news. The Titanic has sunk, and the men who were the next two family members to be in line for Robert’s title, his cousin and his cousin’s son Patrick, were unexpectedly aboard. The opening scene where new Downton valet Mr. Bates and the telegram with the news are traveling along the same route was rather beautifully artistic. As is typical in these types of stories, Downton and the overall Grantham estate is subject to an entail (the property interest is called the “fee tail” when you study it in American law school). This means that only the closest male relative can inherit it. Since Lord Grantham only has daughters, this is a problem. The problem was originally going to be solved by Mary, the oldest daughter, marrying her cousin Patrick, but now that Patrick is dead, everything is in disarray. If nothing is done, the estate will go to third cousin Matthew Crawley, a solicitor (how terrible- he works for a living!) from Manchester who we don’t meet until the very end of the episode when he gets the news of his new status. Complicating things is the fact that Cora’s money that she brought to the marriage is now fully tied into the estate, and there is no way to give that money to her daughters.

Because she is at the center of this inheritance debacle, Mary Crawley is a central character in this first episode, and really in the series overall, and the arc she takes in just this hour alone is rather fascinating. She starts out the episode incredibly unlikeable. She didn’t really love Patrick, she had only agreed to marry him to save the estate, and her reaction to his death is downright cruel and unfeeling. She asks her parents how long she needs to be in full mourning (considering the engagement wasn’t known outside the family), and she makes a point not to cry at the funeral. This really sticks in the craw of middle daughter Edith, who actually had romantic feelings for Patrick. By the end of the episode, when Mary is rejected by a suitor when he finds out that she won’t be inheriting all of Cora’s money (she’ll only be getting a generous but comparatively small settlement), we actually feel kind of bad for her, though. She’s been taken down a peg, and she’ll continue to operate as more human for the rest of the series.

On the downstairs side of things, Downton has a new staff member, and the transition isn’t going well. That staff member would be Mr. Bates, an old war comrade of Lord Grantham, whom Lord Grantham has hired as his valet, mostly as a favor. Before arriving at Downton, Bates neglected to mention that thanks to a war injury, he now walks with a cane. Lord Grantham seems okay with this, but some of the staff is not. Some staff members, like butler Carson, are legitimately concerned that Bates won’t be able to fulfill all of his duties, such as serving a meal as a third footman when a large group is staying at Downton. Other staff members, however, like Lady Grantham’s maid, O’Brien, and the first footman, Thomas, have more sinister motives. Thomas had really wanted to be promoted to valet, and he essentially wants to continue to pursue his dream by destroying Bates. O’Brien is just nasty and for some reason is really attached to Thomas and puts her nastiness to work for whatever he wants. It’s certainly not romantic interest that causes O’Brien to be so loyal to Thomas. As we learn through an encounter between Thomas and the suitor who visits Mary, O’Brien isn’t exactly Thomas’ type.

It was fun, in rewatching “Downton Abbey,” to see the beginnings of so many things that would later come to define the show. Bates and Anna, the head housemaid, certainly seem to have a thing for each other from the get-go. Mary is perhaps overly proud, but when she is rejected by the suitor, we can see that she’s also quite vulnerable. Thomas and O’Brien will continue to wreak havoc on Downton with their mischief for years to come. We see Edith’s feelings for Patrick, which will again come into play in the second season. And there’s the beginning of what would be a sort of short-lived triangle with Daisy the scullery maid and the two footmen, Thomas and William. It’s all good stuff, really. The one thing we haven’t really seen yet is the beginnings of the spark between Matthew and Mary. Which makes sense, considering Matthew hasn’t even arrived at Downton yet! I’ll be looking forward to rewatching the show so I can see again how their relationship progressed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Writers' Spotlight: Joss Whedon

Welcome to the next stop in the writers’ spotlight series. This time I’ll be discussing genre guru Joss Whedon. More than likely he’s a household name these days thanks to his most recent film work. But he wasn’t always so well known. Before he was the twisted god of gore, he worked on films such as Toy Story and Alien. Hard to believe he had anything to do with a bunch of talking toys. His next big adventure into movie-dom was the 1992 “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. By all accounts it was not very good (I have it on DVD but have yet to bring myself to watch it) but it was the jumping off point for Joss’s twisty, zany, sci-fi career.

As mentioned above, Joss’s first TV foray was a remake of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on the WB. It would move to UPN in season 6. Unlike its movie predecessor, the show actually caught on. Perhaps it was the change in leads or the inclusion of the tall, dark and forehead (ahem, handsome) vampire named Angel. Looking back at the first season, I think it was a lot lighter in tone than some of the later years. You had things like giant Venus flytrap demons and people turning into hyenas. Much of the humor on the show came from Buffy’s two friends, Willow and Xander. Joss set out to use fighting vampires and living on the Hellmouth as a metaphor for the hell of high school. What he came up with was a strong ensemble show that moved beyond its original premise after season 3. We saw Buffy grow past her first love, fall for an older (well several centuries younger than Angel) guy in college and fall into the arms of another vampire during a very dark period of her life. And if there’s one thing Joss made perfectly clear beginning with this show, it’s that no one is safe. He’ll kill off your favorite character just because he can.

From the beginning, Buffy was the epitome of strong female characters. Literally. As a slayer she had super strength, speed and healing ability. But she wasn’t without her faults and flaws. Joss has a great skill in crafting shows that not only give you payoff for character development but a slow burn in the storyline. If I had to pick one thing that really defines Joss’ writing, it’s his love of drawing out a story over a period of time. You don’t even notice it happening. It’s just fluid.

Next came “Angel”, a spin-off that began concurrent with Buffy’s 4th season. Compared to its predecessor, I think Angel started out and stayed darker. While we learned a little about Angel’s past on Buffy, we explore his curse and his history far more on his own show. It becomes quite clear just how hard he struggles each day with the weight of his soul, trying to make up for the atrocities he committed as one of the most ruthless vampires in Europe. But, just because Angel spent a lot of time brooding, especially in season 2 over his sire Darla, it was definitely an ensemble cast. Cordelia (played by the lovely Charisma Carpenter) provided a lot of the comedic chops in the early years. And it wouldn’t be Joss if he didn’t kill someone we cared about. Poor Doyle sacrificed himself after only 9 episodes of the first season. But it allowed another Buffy character to cross over, former Watcher Wesley Windham-Price.

I wasn’t as big a fan of Angel, despite the eye candy of Christian Kane as morally ambiguous lawyer Lindsay MacDonald, as I was of Buffy. I think for me the show went downhill in season 4 with the whole Connor/Cordelia storyline. I’m aware they had to handle Charisma’s pregnancy somehow but it turned into something disturbing and not in a good way. I think bringing over a few more characters from Buffy in Angel’s final season revitalized the show for me. Angel and crew were now fighting evil from the belly of the beast. And while I’m not a big fan of how the show ended (cliffhanger much?), it definitely fit with the theme of the show that you just have to keep fighting every day to make things better. Of course Joss had to kill off pretty much everyone with a heartbeat left at the time. It wouldn’t be Joss without it.

While Buffy and Angel were still bouncing around what would later become the CW, Fox picked up a quirky cowboy space opera “Firefly”. From the beginning, it was obvious that it was a strong ensemble show. I have to admit, I came to Firefly much later and thus had the benefit of watching the show in order. I think Joss’ genre factor started to take over with Firefly and that started him on a somewhat downward spiral with Fox. It is pure hilarity to watch a group of cowboys rattling around in an old Firefly-class ship trying to do a little honest work while harboring fugitives. But I guess it just wasn’t a concept that caught on in its day. Another staple of the Whedonverse is that he uses the same actors. Both Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres guest starred on “Buffy” and “Angel” respectively following Firefly’s untimely demise. I really would have liked to see what Firefly would have been had it been given the chance to do a slow burn like Joss’ other work. Though honestly, I kind of hope that its season 4 wouldn’t have suffered as badly as both “Buffy and Angel.”

It wasn’t until Serenity appeared a few years later that we got the likely payoff we would have gotten if Firefly had remained on our TV screens longer than 14 episodes. We got our obligatory random death (RIP Wash). But we also got to see how much Summer Glau had improved her acting. She wasn’t horrible in Firefly, mind you. But she was young and her skills had definitely expanded since then.

Joss took to the interwebs in 2007 during the Writer’s Guild of America strike and put together a little three-act musical called “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”. Jen is a rather big fan of Dr. Horrible. He got a bunch of his friends together, including Felicia Day and Neal Patrick Harris and did a low budget project that exploded on the web. Whedon proved you don’t need gobs of money to make something people want to see. It also utilized the web in a way that hadn’t really been done yet (though Day’s web series The Guild had some success at the time). Joss actually had you rooting for the villain of the piece in this one. There’ve been talks of doing a sequel for years but so far nothing concrete has materialized.

Joss’ next TV project wouldn’t appear until 2009 when he and former Faith actress Eliza Dushku pitched a really trippy premise to the Fox executives. And thus “Dollhouse” was born. Dollhouse was much different from Joss’ previous work in that there were no supernatural or cowboy elements. It focused on organization that provided programmable people for a hefty price to the rich and powerful. Dushku played Echo, a blank slate who slowly became aware of herself and her imprinted personalities. It had a lot of great comedy from newcomer Fran Kranz’s Topher. He was the resident super genius and reminded me a lot of Andrew on “Buffy”. He got the witty, quirky lines that are so typical of Whedon. Fox gave Dollhouse a second season at the eleventh hour and the plot of what would have likely been 2-3 additional seasons got squeezed into 13 episodes. We had guest spots from prior Whedon alums Amy Acker and Alan Tudyk as well as newcomers Dichen Lachman and Enver Gjokaj. Joss did kill off several characters in the course of the show, but much like Firefly, we never really got to see what the show could have been like if allowed to grow at its natural rate. I think part of Joss’ difficulty with shows like “Firefly” and “Dollhouse” stemmed from the change in viewership methods and willingness of networks to give shows a chance. He was really denied the ability to use his slow-burn technique to develop his characters.

Joss hasn’t made it back to TVland (no, not the channel) since “Dollhouse was cancelled in 2010. But he’s not been idle. Way back in 2009 he did a little film called “The Cabin in the Woods”. Due to all kinds of behind-the-scenes drama, it didn’t make its big screen debut until 2012. It’s done phenomenally well and is a great twist on the usual horror movie. I have to say, if you are at all a fan of Joss’ writing and directing, this is a must-see. The dialogue, the storyline, the cinematography is quintessential Joss. He also got to play in the Marvel universe when he wrote and directed this year’s “The Avengers”. Another big hit and a serious mainstream credit at that. It has also done staggering numbers worldwide. Joss will next be putting a modernization of “Much Ado About Nothing” with much of usual cast of characters. I am looking forward to whatever Joss does next, be it big screen, small screen or internet.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.09: "Blackwater"

“I should’ve been born a man. I’d rather face a thousand swords than be shut up inside with this flock of frightened hens.”

A lot of critics kind of panned “Blackwater” for not quite living up to the hype, but I think it was probably the best episode of this season of “Game of Thrones” thus far. I was just glad that it wasn’t bouncing around between ten different plots. This episode was completely focused on the battle, and it was so much better for it. Can you imagine if the scenes from this episode had been interspersed with Jon being made fun of by Wildlings for being a virgin and Dany yelling more about her missing dragons? The focus on the battle really allowed the tension to mount in a controlled way as the fighting grew closer, and then, once the fighting broke out, as it threatened to topple King’s Landing. We also got to learn a great deal about many of the characters involved, including Tyrion, Cersei, Sansa, Shae, and Joffrey. We also see the consequences of Arya not getting to Jaqen soon enough for him to kill Tywin. Even though the power that be didn’t have the budget to make this episode an all-out special effects extravaganza (although the big explosion in the bay was pretty darn spectacular), I think the episode was crafted so well that it was a joy to watch.

The episode opens, naturally, with the sort of calm before the storm. We start out in Blackwater Bay, where Stannis’ fleet is approaching King’s Landing. The crew is not in that great shape. They’re kind of languishing below deck, and there’s definitely some vomiting happening. Above deck, Davos and his first mate have a chat about how long it’s been since Davos last saw King’s Landing. Inside the Red Keep, Tyrion and Shae are discussing the upcoming battle. Shae seems more confident about their future than Tyrion, and she desperately wants to protect Tyrion. Elsewhere, Grand Maester Pycelle gives Cersei a bottle of Essence of Nightshade. Cersei’s to use it if the city is sacked, but she seems kind of pissed off about it. Meanwhile, Tyrion and Varys work on strategy. Varys shows Tyrion a map of the tunnels that run under the Red Keep. Tyrion promises Varys that he’s going to go down with the ship. He doesn’t plan to try to escape the city. Varys warns Tyrion that the dark arts which have powered Stannis’ fight for the Iron Throne are extremely dangerous. Essentially, Varys has seen some really crazy shit involving the dark arts. Because of this, Varys thinks that Stannis on the Throne would be a really bad idea, and Tyrion is the only man who can stop him. Yay pep talk!

As Stannis’ fleet draws closer, tensions mount. From the deck of his ship, Davos hears the warning bells ringing throughout King’s Landing. He orders for the ship’s drums to be played to provide equal intimidation. In the Red Keep, Sansa is ordered to say goodbye to Joffrey before being taken to a bunker of sorts with the rest of the women and children. After Sansa leaves, Joffrey and Tyrion start arguing over why there aren’t more Lannister ships in the bay. The conversation devolves to the point where Tyrion is speaking to Joffrey through Lancel and Joffrey is speaking to Tyrion through the Hound. It’s quite hilariously immature. In the bunker, Sansa and Cersei have a rather revealing conversation where Cersei gives Sansa advice on how to keep the “smallfolk” in line if she ever becomes Queen.

The sequence that leads up to the start of the battle (and the beginning of the battle itself) is quite spectacular. Stannis’ ships approach, and Joffrey is rather impatient to fire on them. Stannis and his crew are really confused about why there’s only one Lannister ship in the bay. They decide to approach that ship, not believing it could possibly be a trap. Davos sees wildfire leaching out of the ship and into the water, and just as he calls out a warning, Tyrion signals to Bronn. Bronn then shoots a flaming arrow, which lights the wildfire. There’s a massive, green explosion, and Davos’ ship is obliterated. I felt bad for the guy. He was boring, but he was loyal. Stannis’ ship is okay, and he wants his fleet to keep proceeding towards the beach. They’re still going to try to enter King’s Landing through the mud gate.

As the battle progresses, we bounce between Cersei and Sansa and the ladies in the bunker and the battle action outside. In the bunker, Cersei gets really drunk on wine. And she’s a mean drunk (big surprise). She mocks Sansa for praying with the other ladies. She tells Sansa not to pray, and she details exactly what Stannis’ troops will do to her if the city is sacked. Then Cersei, who is smart even when drunk, realizes that Shae is a new handmaden. She starts questioning Shae about her past, and Shae’s trying to answer as best she can without giving up that she’s Tyrion’s lover. Shae is saved by Lancel interrupting with a battle update. The battle is getting a bit dicey, and Cersei orders that Joffrey be taken to his chambers immediately for his safety.

Outside, the Baratheon troops land on the beach, where they survive a rather amazing flaming arrow attack by the Lannister contingent. They’re met with Lannister soldiers in person at the mud gate. This is where the fighting starts to get really messy. Lancel sustains a rather minor injury and runs off immediately, of course. All of this fighting makes the Castle Defender games I’ve played online look positively shiny and clean. The director of this episode really went with the gore and lots of gurgling noises as soldiers died. The beach and the area around the gate are engulfed in flames, and this makes the Hound’s fire phobia kick in. He goes back inside the Red Keep as Stannis orders his troops to raise the ladders. When Tyrion sees that the Hound is back inside, he gets really pissed, and in response, the Hound quits. Joffrey is led away from the battle on his mother’s orders, and this makes the troops start to get a bit restless. Tyrion gives an awesome pep talk speech which ends with something like “those are brave men knocking at our door…let’s go kill them.” He wants to lead some of his troops through the tunnels to attack Stannis’ forces from behind.

Cersei is called away from the bunker with the news that Joffrey is in his chambers, and Sansa tries to calm the other ladies by leading them in a hymn. Shae tells Sansa to escape the bunker. Stannis is honorable enough that neither he nor his troops will hurt her, but Ser Illyn Payne, who Cersei has stationed to kill the ladies in the event that the Red Keep is sacked (ostensibly to prevent them from being raped) will hurt her. Sansa takes Shae’s advice, and when she gets to her chambers, she finds the Hound there. The Hound says he’ll take Sansa to Winterfell, and it appears that Sansa is going to take him up on the offer.

Outside, Tyrion and his troops manage to destroy the Baratheon battering ram. Just as they’re starting to celebrate, another massive horde of Baratheon troops approach. Tyrion fights valiantly, but he sustains a big laceration across his face, and he falls to the ground. In his rather dazed state, he sees a fancy horse and a big army start to fight the Baratheon army. On the Iron Throne, Cersei looks ready to give Tommen, her youngest son, the Essence of Nightshade, but before she can do so, troops burst through the door. It’s Loras Tyrell (who has changed loyalties, the traitorous bastard) and Tywin Lannister. So it appears that Team Lannister has won the day. I’m glad Tyrion has a chance to live because he’s awesome, but the rest of the Lannisters are rather horrid. Oh well, I guess we can hope that one day when the dragons are grown, Dany will take them out.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Summer Lovin': Seven Shows to Beat the Summer Doldrums

Summer, especially right now, can be quite the TV wasteland. In recent years, however, the cable channels have started giving us some original scripted programming to somewhat mitigate the withdrawal symptoms! Even so, it’s quite strange to go from having at least one show to watch almost every night to only watching two or three shows a week. This summer on the blog, Sarah and I will mostly be covering what we like to call “Summer TV Rewinds” (older shows we’re rewatching on DVD) and “Summer DVR Dumps” (shows from this past season that we didn’t blog as they were broadcast). Specifically, this summer, expect to read about “Downton Abbey,” “Sherlock,” “The River,” and “Homeland.” For new TV, I’ll also be covering HBO’s “The Newsroom,” written and created by the incomparable Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin. For this post, though, I’m going to highlight a few shows that I plan to watch, but not blog this summer. These shows are all highly entertaining, but they either don’t fit neatly into the blog schedule (because they will run into the beginning of the Fall regular TV season) or aren’t really suited to regular blogging because of their more procedural nature. So instead of, you know, going outside and enjoying the warm weather with a family cookout or something, watch these shows instead!


Premieres: Monday, June 11 at 9:00 PM on ABC Family (catch up with the pilot on, then check out Episode 2 later tonight)

The Bottom Line: “Bunheads” is a new dramedy by “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. Broadway darling Sutton Foster plays Michelle, a Las Vegas showgirl who gets whisked away to a very small California town called Paradise when she impulsively marries a rather creepy (but rich) fan played by Alan Ruck. In Paradise, Michelle clashes with her new mother-in-law (played by “Gilmore Girls” alum Kelly Bishop) and potentially finds her new calling when she bonds with four of her mother-in-law’s ballet students. Two things about the show give me pause. First, there’s a major twist at the end of the pilot that I think could make the tone of the rest of the series completely different, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. Second, since this is an ABC Family show, I’m afraid that the creative team will be directed to focus more on the four teenage dancers instead of the much more interesting Michelle and her new family. Overall, though, I’m a sucker for shows with quirky, strong female leads (e.g. “Wonderfalls,” “Pushing Daisies,” “Suburgatory,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), and “Bunheads” as it appeared in the pilot certainly fits that bill.

The LA Complex

Premieres: Tuesday, July 17 at 9:00 PM on The CW

The Bottom Line: “The LA Complex” is a Canadian import about a bunch of young adults (most of them Canadian) who are trying to start careers in the LA entertainment industry. All but one of the characters live at the Deluxe Suites (aka “The Luxe”), a long-term stay low-end motel with a neon-lit pool and an in-house indie band called Whale Tooth that plays music to create atmosphere at all times of day or night. While this sounds kind of cheesy, the show has depth because none of the characters are really all that successful. They are really struggling to get their careers started (or make a comeback, in one character’s case), and they struggle most deeply with their own self-doubt. The cast includes the lovely Jewel State, who has appeared on a number of favorite shows of mine at different stages in my life, starting with “Space Cases” and also including “Wonderfalls” and “Firefly.” The show also has a lot of uniquely Canadian charm. Leave it to Canadians to make a porn company look like a big happy family, for instance. Anyway, if you’re in the mood for a pure juicy soap with a side of Canadian cheese to beat the heat this summer, catch up on season 1 (most of the six episodes are up on Hulu) and check out season 2 when it premieres on the CW this July.

Warehouse 13

Premieres: Monday, July 23 at 9:00 PM on SyFy

The Bottom Line: Warehouse 13, entering season 4 this July, is a very clever genre show on Syfy. We follow Secret Service agents Pete and Myka, with the help of their friends Artie and Claudia, as they go on adventures to retrieve dangerous magical artifacts. These artifacts are all kept at Warehouse 13, which is only the latest in a very long line of Warehouses, each located in the center of civilization of its time. My personal favorite past warehouse is Warehouse 12, which was located in the UK. The top agents there were H.G. Wells herself (yes, in the Warehouse mythology, H.G. Wells was actually a woman, played by Jaime Murray, most recently of “Ringer”) and her assistant, played by “Torchwood’s” Gareth David-Lloyd. Anyway, what makes “Warehouse 13” a fun summer show is the camaraderie between the characters. They are truly a found family. The history nerd in me also appreciates the efforts to weave the artifacts into the fabric of American history.


Premieres: Monday, July 23 at 10:00 PM on SyFy

The Bottom Line: “Alphas,” which will be starting season 2 this July, is the story of a group of people with superpowers who work to bring rogue people with superpowers under control. What is interesting about “Alphas” is that the powers tend to come with a cost. For instance, one of the characters has super senses, but she can only use one super sense at a time, and it also makes her have some OCD tendencies. The Alphas had been kept secret by the government, but at the end of last season, they went public. I’m looking forward to seeing how the public will react to their existence. The only caveat is that last season’s showrunner, Ira Steven Behr, has left the show. Behr is what made “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” the complex, arc-driven show it was, and I think his presence will be sorely missed on “Alphas.”

White Collar

Premieres: Tuesday, July 10 at 9:00 PM on USA

The Bottom Line: “White Collar” is sort of a TV version of “Catch Me If You Can,” with convicted con man Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) working with FBI agent Peter Burke to solve white collar crimes. I like “White Collar” because it delves a bit deeper into the characters than the typical USA show. The Neal/Peter bromance is fun to watch. I also like the very healthy marriage between Peter and his wife Elizabeth, even if it does mean he tells her a lot more about his cases than he should. Only Coach and Tami on "Friday Night Lights" are better, really. At the end of last season, Neal and his friend Mozzie had skipped the country (it’s complicated), so the beginning of next season will take place on a tropical island. Good times should be had by all for sure.


Premieres: It’s been back on for a while now. It’s literally on my TV right now. Check it out on SyFy!

“Eureka,” now in its final season, is about a secret town in Oregon where the country’s best scientists do R&D for the Department of Defense. Inevitably, something goes wrong each week, and hapless Sheriff Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson) has to save the day. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know these quirky characters and the town in which they live very well. The show also has the unique distinction of making scientists look really cool, and it makes science look like fun. I think we could use more television like that, really. The show got even better when the powers that be decided to employ geek culture ambassadors Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton to play frequently recurring scientist characters. We’ve followed all these characters through several major changes, including an alternate timeline that stuck, and I’m not sure I’ll be ready to let them go at the end of this season.


Premieres: Sunday, July 15 at 8:00 PM on TNT

The Bottom Line: “Leverage” follows the adventures of a group of sort-of reformed con artists who have decided to form their own company and become vigilantes of a sort. They like to say that they pick up where the law leaves off. Again, this is a show with extremely well drawn characters. There’s Nate, the functioning alcoholic who leads the team, Sophie the insecure grifter, Parker the uber-thief, Hardison the know-it-all hacker, and Eliot the hitter with a heart of gold. The plots can sometimes be a little repetitive, but it’s just a lot of fun to spend time with these characters each week. I’m a sucker for caper movies and shows ("Sneakers" has been a favorite of mine for years), so “Leverage” is go-to summer television for me.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Game of Thrones 2.08: "The Prince of Winterfell"

“I will hurt you for this. A day will come when you think you are safe and happy, and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth. And you will know the debt is paid.”

Again, an episode of “Game of Thrones” advances all of the many, many plots only incrementally. It feels like they are just marking time before the big battle in the next episode, and it is rather frustrating. Also, again the episode showcased that the men Ned Stark raised are just plain stupid. They sort of (well Robb, mostly…the other two are just pure idiots) try to do honor to how Ned raised them, but they fail miserably. On the other hand the Stark daughter we see in this episode continues to acquit herself rather impressively, although I’m not sure Ned would approve of the murder for hire methods she has used to survive her trial thus far. There are only two more episodes left of this season of “Game of Thrones,” and I’m kind of glad about that. I’m hoping the creative team can regroup and produce a more cohesive product next season. For this season, I simply have to be content with the amazing (as always) production values and the wonderful performances by the true masters of the cast, like Peter Dinklage (when they’re allowed to actually be on screen). The new characters introduced this season have failed to move me. I’d rather we could just focus in on the characters I actually care about, which are pretty much just Robb, Daenerys, and Tyrion. I used to include Jon Snow on that list, but he’s just pathetic these days. Anyway, let’s just get through this recap so we’re one step closer to the (hopefully exciting) Battle of Blackwater in the next episode.

The episode opens in Winterfell, where Yara and some other Iron Islands riders are approaching. They enter the compound, and they kind of take over the place, much to Theon’s chagrin. Yara thinks Theon is an idiot for taking Winterfell, considering the strength of the Iron Islands is in ships, and Winterfell is nowhere near the water. She doesn’t think they’ll be able to hold Winterfell once Robb tries to take it back. To add insult to injury for Theon, Yara says that she’s been instructed by their father to take him back to Pyke. The North wants him dead for destroying the Stark family, and the Greyjoy’s don’t think Theon is safe at Winterfell. Theon refuses to leave. He’s going to seriously stupid levels to try and prove himself to his father. Yep, TV shows always come down to daddy issues. By the end of the episode, things manage to get even worse for Theon, although he doesn’t realize it just yet. Theon and his first mate are discussing what to do about Bran and Rickon’s “bodies,” and with the cruel first mate egging him on, Theon decides to let them hang for a little longer. They also discuss what to do about Maester Luwin, and the first mate thinks he needs to be silenced. Luwin himself spots Osha in the shadows. When he investigates he discovers a hiding place where Osha is keeping Bran and Rikon. She figures Winterfell is the last place Theon would look for them. The charred bodies do indeed belong to other children.

North of the wall, Ygritte delivers Jon to some Wildling higher-ups. Ygritte just barely manages to keep them from killing Jon on sight. She says that Mance, the King Beyond the Wall will certainly want to talk to Jon because he is the son of Ned Stark. The lead Wildling seems to think that the Halfhand, who is also being held captive, will be enough for Mance, but he eventually relents. When he gets to talk to the Halfhand, Jon learns that the rest of their Ranger detachment is dead. Later, Halfhand gets really pissed off at Jon (I don’t remember exactly why, but does it really need an explanation?). He pushes Jon down a hill as Ygritte looks on, kind of confused. Elsewhere north of the Wall, Sam and some of the other Night’s Watch folks are digging latrine pits. One of them hits something hard with a shovel, and it turns out to be a sort of tablet with runes on it. Inside is a Night’s Watch cloak wrapped around obsidian arrow tips.

Near the Craig, Robb and Talisa are preparing for the big surrender. They are talking about Robb’s promise to marry a Fray girl in exchange for permission to cross the river at the Twins. They also talk about Ned and how he was a good man and taught Robb important values. Before they can continue this conversation much farther, though, they get news that Jaime has escaped. They arrive at the army camp, and Robb has to confront Cat. She didn’t kill Jime when she trained her sword on him. She let him go in exchange for Sansa and Arya. Robb is (rightfully) extremely pissed off that Cat went against his wishes, and he says that she is considered under arrest, and she will be under guard 24/7. We quickly see what happened to Jaime in a scene with him and Brienne. Brienne has the unenviable job of escorting Jaime back to the Lannisters. They pretty much insult each other the whole way. As you do.

After the original chaos of having to arrest his mother has passed, Robb is in his tent talking to one of his advisors. They are discussing how to retake Winterfell and what to do with the Iron Born who participated in the betrayal. Robb wants to show all of them mercy except for Theon. Theon needs to die. And I say good riddance. Hopefully Robb gets his wish there. Talisa interrupts the meeting, and the advisor quickly leaves. She asks Robb how he is, which is kind of a dumb question considering his siblings are all held captive and he just had to arrest his mother. The conversation then turns to how Talisa ended up as a nurse. A slave once saved her brother from drowning at a big festival, and after that, she couldn’t stand to live in a country that allowed slavery anymore. So she moved to Westeros. Robb is clearly very impressed by this story, and he says that he doesn’t really want to marry a Frey. Talisa, of course, doesn’t really want him to marry a Frey either. This realization leads to much kissing and sex between Robb and Talisa, naturally. This can’t possibly end well.

At Harrenhal, Tywin is talking strategy with his top advisors yet again (we see to hear a lot more about strategy than actually see it). He wants to move on Robb while some of his troops are occupied with retaking Winterfell. Arya panics, and she runs to find Jaqen. I guess she wants Jaqen to kill Tywin before he has a chance to escape. She asks Gendry where Jaquen is, but Gendry hasn’t seen him. Nobody knows where Jaqen is, and the Lannister troops are starting to move out of Harrenhal. Arya does eventually find Jaqen, but by then it’s too late for Jaqen to kill Tywin. Arya tries to use Jaqen’s own name as her third name on the kill list, and when Jaquen begs her not to force him to kill himself, Arya says she’ll withdraw her request if he helps her and her friends escape Harrenhal. Arya and her buddies do indeed seem to be on the road to a successful escape by the end of the episode.

At King’s Landing, Tyrion is studiously trying to plan for Stannis’ immanent attack. While studying, he’s arguing with Bronn over Bronn’s refusal to conform more closely to Goldcloak standards. He even refuses to wear the symbolic cloak. Varys joins in on the conversation and divulges the information that all the thieves have been rounded up in preparation for the siege. Tuning the other men out, Tyrion finally figures out where Stannis will probably focus his attack. The Mud Gate. As Stannis and Davos approach King’s Landing, Stannis wastes time bitching about how Robert gave Storm’s End to Renly instead of him, even though Stannis endured horrors trying to hold the keep during a siege. He also says he’ll name Davos Hand once he is King.

Elsewhere in the Red Keep, Cersei is really pissed off to hear the news that Joffrey intends to participate in fighting the immanent battle, and she’s taking it out on Tyrion. Cersei thinks Joffrey is too young to fight, but Tyrion thinks it will boost troop morale. Then Cersei brings out the big guns. She says she has found Tyrion’s whore, and Cersei is going to torture her if anything happens to Joffrey. She then has the whore brought in, and it’s clearly not Shae. To protect Shae, Tyrion goes with it and pretends that this whore is the whore he brought with him to King’s Landing against Tywin’s wishes. After he plays his part, he runs back to his chambers and frantically calls for Shae. She’s there, safe and sound. They pledge their devotion to each other, and since this is “Game of Thrones,” I can’t see it lasting very long.

Later, Tyrion is talking battle with Varys and Joffrey. Joffrey is being really stupid about wanting to fight despite his lack of experience, and he runs off when he meets some resistance. This leads to a conversation between Varys and Tyrion about the future of the Seven Kingdoms. Varys says that Tyrion is the best Hand King’ s Landing has had in a while. Jon Arryn and Ned were both good, honorable men, but they didn’t like to play the political game. Tyrion loves the game, and he is good at it. Because he likes Tyrion, Varys gives him some important information. They had thought Dany was dead, but (as we know) she’s actually alive and very much a threat to Westeros, especially once her dragons are grown. Tyrion wisely says that they can only play one game at a time. Speaking of Dany, she’s still in Quarth, and Jorah has found her a ship and a captain. She’s not interested in leaving without her dragon’s though. Jorah reluctantly says he’ll take her to the House of the Undying to try and get them back.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Person of Interest 1.23: "Firewall"

“He’s in danger now, because he was working for you. So you’re going to help me get him back.”
- Reese

The finale has finally arrived! I’ve been waiting quite anxiously since last week to see how everything played out this week. And let me tell you, did not disappoint. We start with an in media res with Carter getting a call from Finch saying that Reese needs help. She heads out when the FBI agent swoops in to drag her away. They’ve spotted Reese on surveillance and they plan on catching him. We rewind to 6am that morning and find Finch waiting for Reese in the library. Reese has been encouraging Lionel to show initiative and get noticed more by HR. It will have to wait though because they’ve got a new number, Caroline Turing (played by the lovely Amy Acker. She’s been popping up in guest spots all over my favorite TV shows this season). She’s a psychologist for the rich and secretive. As Reese is spying on her, it sounds like some of her clients have some issues that might prove dangerous to her safety. Meanwhile, Lionel finally meets the top brass of HR and they give him and Simmons an assignment. With Elias gone, it seems that HR is moving into murder for hire. They’ve been contracted by a wealthy guy to take out someone. That someone turns out to be Caroline. Right off the bat things are going to be really complicated.

Reese installs a motion sensor camera in a thermostat outside Caroline’s office and ends up posing as a new patient to keep an eye on her. She makes some accurate observations about him and he has to speak very carefully in how he answers her questions. Say the wrong thing and it could get very messy. And as if things weren’t complicated enough with the case, Alicia (from the NSA) has found Finch and is watching him. She sees him go into the library. After their session, Finch alerts Reese to the fact he’s brought in an old friend to help them narrow down which client put the hit out. Enter Ms. Zoe Morgan. I really have to say I like the way she and John work together. I hope they bring her back more often next season. She has narrowed it down to three possible clients and is going to check them out while Reese keeps an eye on Caroline some more. Finch also lets Carter know that things are fishy with one of HR’s top brass, a city Councilman. So I guess she knows about the corrupt cop network, too. Speaking of, Simmons and his guys are setting up how they’re going to take out Caroline. They’ll ambush her and make it look like a robbery gone bad on her way home from work. Of Course, Reese is there to save her.

Reese and Caroline duck into an expensive hotel and of course the only available room is the honeymoon suite. But they take it. They don’t have much time to settle in, though, because HR has found them. We do have a kind of touching scene where Caroline starts to freak out and Reese gives her chocolates to make her feel better. I have to say I laughed both times I watched that. He delivers it so straight-faced but that makes it all the more amusing. We get the scene we started with where Finch calls Carter for help and she sees Lionel is among the people in ops. Finch has an idea though. The person who had the penthouse before them had a helicopter that’s still there. Reese may be a little rusty but he’ll give flying it a try to make their escape. They don’t get far though because the FBI has figured out where they are. The HR crew is on their tails now, too. So they’ve got both sets of guys to worry about.

Zoe has gathered a little more intel on one of the potential clients, a prominent prosecutor. The guy Reese saw in Caroline’s office was a fake. He was blackmailed into doing it. So Zoe is headed for Caroline’s office to snoop around some more. Meanwhile, Finch is on his way to meet Reese and Caroline after they make their escape. Unfortunately for him, Alicia’s still spying and she breaks into the library. That can’t possibly end well. Meanwhile, the HR crew is going to blow up both Reese and Caroline and make it look like Reese (who they’ll say is unstable and would do anything to resist capture) did it. Carter is frantically sending Reese texts to help him evade both the FBI and the HR gang. Someone is obviously feeding HR intel because they figure out Reese is on the freight elevator. It doesn’t look good for Lionel because Carter notices him texting furiously on his phone, too. Just as both teams are about to make their move, Finch shuts down all the cell towers in the surrounding area, hacking it so that only he can call. Meanwhile, Carter goes to confront Lionel about his involvement and we get the scene we’ve been waiting for since Carter started working with our boys. Lionel admits he’s been working with Finch and Reese and Finch calls Carter and confirms it. But they’re all going to need to get downtown to help Reese get out of the predicament he’s in.

Reese manages to get Caroline to the service tunnel that she needs to take to get away, but he’s going to stay behind and hold off the guys with guns as long as he can. Finch is waiting for her at the water treatment plant. And in a small scene that I missed before, Reese breaks into the HR car and steals a gun and sees the remaining explosives in the trunk. "Person of Interest" wouldn’t be complete without a big gun fight, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Just as Reese thinks he’s out of luck and time (Simmons says as much), Carter and Lionel show up and give Reese enough cover to get in their car and they take off, HR in hot pursuit. Thanks to the explosives, Reese manages to blow up the HR car. We also get a rather funny scene where Carter and Lionel were complaining to Reese about him not telling them about the other.

Meanwhile, things aren’t going very well for Finch. As he’s waiting for Caroline to arrive, Alicia gets in the front passenger seat with a gun trained on him. She knows who he is and she wants some answers. She’s obviously come a little undone since the whole inception of the Machine. He tries to tell her that the Machine didn’t kill Nathan (I’m guessing they had some kind of connection beyond business contacts) but that people did. Before she can say more, Caroline arrives and shoots her. She reveals that she’s the hacker from “Root Cause”. I have to say that I’m quite excited by this revelation (though I initially thought Alicia might be the hacker). We get Amy Acker going from sort of Angel season 3 clueless Fred to Dollhouse season 2 evil Whiskey. I like it. She’s quite excited to finally meet Finch and she was glad that he and Reese figured out she was in danger, although she made sure she would be by taking the hit out on herself.

Reese gets to the drop off point to find Alicia’s dead body lying on the ground and the car gone. Caroline has taken Finch. It turns out that the FBI agent was the mole and he gets arrested. But Simmons is still out there running around. So we have a nice set up for season 2 and more Amy Acker to come! At the end Reese addresses the machine, telling it that he needs help to find Finch. It looks like the Machine isn’t quite as tied to human control after all. A nearby payphone rings and we are left with Reese answering it.

HIMYM 7.23-7.24: "The Magician's Code"

“Aren’t you tired of waiting for destiny, Ted?”

I have mixed feelings about “The Magician’s Code.” There were some jokes that worked well, and there were some jokes that were just plain stupid. Of course, my first reaction should be “full squee” as Joss Whedon would say, considering the big reveal in the final scene of the two-parter. Considering I’m a huge fan of the Barnman and Robin, and I’ve complained about how their relationship was handled in too many blog posts to count. The big reveal at the end of the hour, though, was kind of anticlimactic. And could the wardrobe folks have found an uglier wedding dress for poor Robin? Unfortunately, the other big character life moment of this episode, the birth of Lily and Marshall’s son, was somewhat emotionally unfulfilling as well. It could be because the lead-up to the birth was rather unfunny. It was the most “sitcommy” plot of the first half of the episode for sure. That being said, there were definitely some good laughs and moments in the hour as well. The first half of the episode used the “fake clip show” technique made famous by Community to especially good effect. And it’s nice to get some more confirmation that these characters we’ve now spent seven years with are eventually going to end up in a good place.

Overall, I found the first part of this two-parter to be the strongest half. This part of the episode largely focuses on the birth of Marshall and Lily’s son, the awesomely named “Marvin Waitforit Eriksen.” Waitforit is clearly either the coolest middle name ever, or the worst. The characters all seem to think it’s the former, which I guess is what really matters. It’s kind of a complicated story how poor little Marvin got that middle name. Well, maybe it isn’t really all that complicated. It’s Barney’s fault, of course. Would you expect anything else? As you recall, when we last left Barney and Marshall, they were gambling in Atlantic City and Marshall had gotten completely stupid drunk. And of course, right when Marshall is completely incapacitated, Lily goes into labor back in New York. Barney has vowed to get the very stumbly Marshall back to New York or die trying (in exchange for the middle name of the Eriksen spawn being Waitforit), and Barney has to run through quite a few schemes before finally succeeding. He tries to get cab fare from a slot machine, tries riding a motorcycle through the casino floor, and he finally succeeds when a bus driver offers a ride. This isn’t a normal bus though, it’s a senior citizen tour bus, and it’s not bound for New York City. It’s going to Buffalo. The resolution to this plot is it’s one redeeming quality. The bus driver says he can only stop the bus for emergencies, and all the seniors go “Spartacus” for Marshall, all claiming they’re having a heart attack and need to go to the hospital where Lily is about to deliver.

Meanwhile, back in New York, Lily calls Ted and Robin for help since she’s in labor and Marshall is missing. To be distracted from the pain, Lily demands that Ted and Robin keep telling her stories. This is what leads to the faux clip show, and I think it was the strongest part of the two-part episode. Ted and Robin tell all sorts of silly stories like “Worst taxi ride ever,” “Where does that door go?” and “Cuban Sandwich Crisis.” Each is accompanied by a flashback, and most of the flashbacks are quite clever and funny. My favorite was “Where does that door go?” because the drama built and built as each of the gang went through the new door they discovered at MacLaren’s, but we never find out what was on the other side. The way the actors took it so seriously is what made it funny. I also liked a story where Barney decides to pretend to be the Terminator as part of one of his schemes to pick up women. Both of these stories together made me think that the HIMYM crew could do a really good genre parody episode. They got the music and the over-the-top acting right in this one for sure. It would be pure hilarity. Marshall does get to the hospital, by the way, literally just in time for Marvin’s birth. He arrived just as Lily kicked her father out.

In the second half of the episode, we see that Marvin’s birth has led to Ted and Robin patching things up. They have a long talk in the hospital about how Ted keeps claiming he’s waiting for destiny to lead him to the perfect woman, but he keeps dating women who don’t want the same things he does (like Robin). Robin suggests that Ted try calling Victoria, because she’s the one woman he’s dated who was on the same page. Of course, the last time they spoke, Victoria said that she was just a plane flight away from her German boyfriend Klaus. Robin suggests that Ted call anyway, because the engagement wasn’t definite. Ted takes this advice, and when he calls Victoria, she wants to meet with him right away. And she shows up in her wedding dress, of course. It’s just hours before she is supposed to marry Klaus. Ted and Victoria briefly flirt with the idea of running off together, then Ted remembers how crappy it felt to be left at the altar, so he starts driving Victoria to the wedding. Half way there, though, they decide to run off after all. I found this completely out of character for Ted, because Stella leaving him devastated him so much that I really can’t believe he would ever do that to someone under any circumstances. That really bothered me more than the fact that it’s obvious Victoria is our last placeholder before the actual Mother.

The final major plot of the finale involved Barney and Quinn. They are supposed to be taking a trip to Hawaii, but Barney gets detained because of explosives in his luggage. The explosives are part of a magic trick, but Barney refuses to reveal the trick because of the magician’s code. Oh, and we also learn that when Barney was a kid, his mom (surprise, surprise) banged the magic shop owners who was sort of Barney’s mentor. Anyway, one of the TSA guys happens to be a magician too, so Barney finally agrees to tell him about the trick. Eventually, Barney ends up demonstrating the trick, and it turns out to be a very elaborate device for holding Quinn’s engagement ring. Quinn accepts Barney’s proposal, and when they tell the rest of the gang the happy news, Robin seems a little down. She tries to be happy for Barney’s sake, though. It’s only fair since she did break his heart earlier this season. No need to despair, though, Barnman and Robin fans. We finally get the reveal of Barney’s bride at the end of the episode, and of course it’s Robin. Even the show’s creators have said in interviews that it couldn’t be anyone else. So the next 1-2 seasons (depending on how long the show lasts) will consist of Barney and Quinn breaking up, Barney and Robin finding their way back to each other, and Ted meeting the Mother at their wedding. We’ve reached the home stretch, people!