Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Mad Men "Hands and Knees"

Non Spoiler Review:
Lies, lies, lies! This episode begins with some unexpected news (or maybe not so much), and then heads off into a second, more menacing plot twist. It's seven weeks after last week's episode (as made apparent by the first revelation). North American Aviation, the account Pete has been working to snag since season two when he and Don were in California, has paid off, and they are prepared to work with SCDP on a $4 million contract. That association sparks a serious problem for Don that quickly begins to spiral out of control.

Joan and Roger deal with last episode's indiscretion, and Lane's storyline receives some focus as his father, Robert, comes to town (minus Lane's son, Nigel).

A very tense episode, dealing with the results of several deceptions over the past seasons. The chickens are coming home to roost. We moved from shock to shock over the course of the hour, and by the end, we're wondering how these final episodes will unfold. As with previous seasons, the momentum is building and all the triggers planted throughout the season are being pulled. It should be another exciting finale.

Spoilers Now!
It shouldn't really be a surprise when Joan announces to Roger she's pregnant. Greg is long gone, so it must be Roger's, prompting the two of them to visit a very judgmental abortion doctor. Joan wants to take care of it and assures him she has it under control and doesn't require any further help. 

Later, as she visits the abortion clinic, she shares a conversation with a mother who has taken her daughter there. And Joan instead lies that she's there with her own daughter, as well, rather than admit that she's made the same mistake over and over again. When next we see her on the train ride home, and later at work, we're left wondering if she did take care of it. Something tells me she decided to keep it.

Lane's father is a piece of work. He has come to take Lane home (and not just for a visit). When we see them out on the town with Don at the Playboy club, Lane hits on a black waitress, Toni, and later we find out he's been dating her. When he attempts to bring Robert out for dinner with them, he refuses and is ordered by his father to end his affairs in Manhattan and return home. Then he punches Lane to the floor for his defiance, and his son at last acquiesces.

SCDP's association with North American Aviation (and subsequently the government) results in Betty getting a surprise visit from some G-men doing a background check on Don for security clearance. Betty is forced to lie for him (including a question assuring them that Don is who he says he is). She is surprisingly fair to Don, despite their divorce.

Betty calls Don, who knows nothing about it. He apparently signed an authorization form weeks before from Megan. Don is shaken, but the exchange between him and Betty is quite a different change from their usual banter, as the two of them share his secret. Though angry, Betty is not her usual hostile self, and Don is very grateful to her. It's actually a nice moment between these two if not for the circumstances.

Don is a complete wreck trying to figure out how to deal with the government, so he confides in Pete (the other one privy to his secret). Pete has a friend in the government whom he hopes can help, but Don knows his desertion of the army will come back to haunt him. So he tells Pete to get rid of the North American Aviation account.

Pete is understandably furious, and confides in Trudy how some people go through life making a mess of everything while others just try to work hard and gain success. He's still the junior partner, and he knows without Don, SCDP is dead. And he has a family to consider.

But it may be dead already. Roger and Lucky Strike Lee Garner are out on the town together, where we get the next bombshell—a new board of directors has forced them to drop SCDP. Roger  begs to get the business back, but it's already a done deal. Roger pleads for at least thirty days notice before they pull the business and finally gets a concession. We leave him grabbing his heart medication and later phoning through his Rolodex to try to salvage some new accounts, to no avail. I wasn't sure if this would be heart attack number three, or that Roger is the one jumping out of the building in the opening credits. But he lives another day.

Don and Faye are heading home when they encounter some mysterious men at Don's apartment building. Don immediately thinks they're G-men, and has a terrible panic attack. He later tells Faye the truth, who is very supportive and understanding. Don is tired of running and it looks like he may be facing up to the reality of his lie.

Pete shows up later, finding Faye there, which is an awkward moment for both. After she leaves, he tells Don that his government contact has assured him there has been no investigation yet, and if they drop the account, it will stop. So Don orders him to go ahead and dump North American Aviation.

After Joan tells an edgy Roger the next day that everything has been handled, they immediately go into one of the more tense partners meetings, when Pete announces North American Aviation has moved on, taking the blame for losing the account. Roger is outraged and berates him, but Don and Bert both step up in Pete's defense and force Roger to apologize.

What Worked:
This was a fantastic episode with great interaction between Don and Pete and Betty. It was great to see so many plot points come to fruition here—the culmination of the California meetings years before, coupled with both Pete and Betty sharing in Don's secret all played well together. Don is completely out of control since last season when Betty learned the truth.

Once again, Pete becomes a sympathetic character. Despite his snaky demeanour at times, he has worked his way up the ladder, and to have Don's secrets come back and destroy years of his work was certainly an understandable frustration. For Don to tell him to "Get rid of it" so casually is another knife to Pete's ambition and ego.

Sally has been giving Don the cold shoulder until Don tells her he's taking her to the Beatles concert, which results in a screaming fit and even more amazing, a smiling Betty. With all the mess of this episode, I thought it likely that Sally would get thrown under the bus due to Don's drama, but it was a pleasant surprise to see they actually got to attend the concert.

Lane obviously has some father issues. It was nice to see him happy with Toni, but to be beaten by his aged father was a bit of a surprise. Robert orders him to chose between Manhattan and England, but not both, so I'm hoping he does return.

I'm loving Faye and Don together more and more. I really hope this isn't leading to some breakup or worse. She was very understanding about his deception and dealt with the revelation in a rational, thoughtful manner. But given Don's everything is fine attitude at the end might be too much for her to deal with now that she's sharing in this deception.

Don's panic attacks were very effective. To see him lose control so completely when he's famous for his calm demeanour shows how dangerous this secret is to him. It's been destroying him all these years, and his readiness to flee shows that we may yet find him leaving everything and everyone at some point.

His relationship with Betty is maturing, too. Despite causing her a great deal of aggravation, Betty managed to remain civil and share some concern for what was happening to him. But too many people know his secret now, and that's going to be very difficult for him to manage.

Finally, what was his pensive, almost longing stare at Megan about? Does he think he damaged things with Faye enough that he's about to cast her off in favor of his secretary? Or is he pondering something deeper?

Review: The Tudors "Sisters"

Non Spoiler Review:
New Years celebrations bring some old faces back to court, and copious wine drinking makes for some interesting character interactions. The women of court, and their various relationships figure prominently—the complex dynamics between Catherine and Mary, Lady Rockford, and pleasant surprise, Lady Anne. This all makes for both feuds and friendships to further along Queen Catherine's abrupt rise (and coming fall). Meanwhile Henry's old wound acts up again, and his counsellors get to see hints of the madness to come.

A compelling episode, focusing primarily on the intrigue of court through the festivities and their aftermath. There is more talk of war to come, but for now this episode was about relationships and sexual indiscretions, nothing out of the ordinary for The Tudors. And Lady Anne is even more jubilant and interesting as a divorcee.

Spoilers Now!
We get Lady Rockford and Thomas Culpepper watching Queen Catherine dance (as that all she seems to do these days), commenting on her youth and vigor and the change in the king. Rockford has been plying Joan for information about Catherine and finds out of two men who called on them when they were lowly ladies of no standing. 

Anne of Cleves has been very amenable to her new situation as a divorced noblewoman. She has continued to maintain her relationships with the princesses, much to Henry's pleasure. She has been so easy to deal with, in fact, that Henry invites her to New Years celebrations, which prompts some jealousy from Catherine.

Charles receives Anne and Henry greets her warmly. Anne is the epitome of class and style, honoring the new queen and offering no threat to her position. Henry departs when his leg starts acting up, and Anne and Catherine share some wine. Once Catherine realizes Anne has no designs on the throne aside from being a good surrogate mother to Elizabeth, they get on very well.  Mary is not so forgiving, and continues to snub Catherine. 

Henry's leg wound debilitates him, and Culpepper helps to care for him while continuing to update Catherine on the king's messages in his absence. Culpepper is also bedding Lady Rockford, but she tells him she can arrange a union with Catherine if he desires it. Rockford obviously wants to destroy Catherine, but her motivations are not immediately clear. 

Mary confides in Chapuys that her father should never have divorced Anne, whom she's grown quite fond of. She hates Catherine, and when Catherine later confronts her for her disrespect, Mary declares her frivolous, pointing out the fact that she is still not pregnant and will soon tire the king. Catherine calls her jealous for being unmarried at her age. Ouch. Emboldened by her friendship with Anne, Catherine decides to punish Mary for her disrespect by removing two of her maids from her service. 

A crestfallen Mary confides her sorrow to Chapuys. She fears never to be married or mother any children. The two share a very nice moment as Chapuys consoles the weeping Mary, very much as he did her mother for the years she lived in exile.

Henry appoints Edward Seymour as a general to keep the Scots in line and show a measure of force against his cousin, the king of the Scots. But Henry suffers another serious fit from his ulcer, and Charles must consent to drain it. Later at a meeting of his council, a crippled Henry walks in just long enough to accuse them all of being liars and schemers, mourning Cromwell's death as a mistake for heeding their counsel. The looks on their faces tell they all see this outburst as just the beginning of worse to come as Henry's condition deteriorates.

Catherine is kept in the dark about Henry's malady, of course, which makes her paranoid, and Culpepper has the pleasure of relaying the news and putting doubts in her mind that he's taken a mistress. Lady Rockford takes the opportunity to put her plans into motion to reveal that Culpepper loves the queen. Rockford reveals Joan told her about her secret affairs, and Culpepper could be much the same to her if she so wished. So, with the help of her ladies in waiting, Catherine is escorted to Culpepper to begin her notorious affair.

Anne's appearance was a nice surprise, and her general contentment is historically accurate, remaining in England and being one of the few who did not give the king grief. The treachery and scheming among the various characters in court made for a very soap operish story, but it was fun to watch it all unfold. We get hints of the bitter Queen Mary to come, more nostalgia from Henry about his ex-wives, and a  surprisingly joyous dinner between Henry, Catherine and Anne. Henry's attention on the Scots this week promises some conflict to come.l

The only disappointment is the two-dimensional villainy shown by Culpepper and Rockford. Even Anne Boleyn was a sympathetic character at times, but Culpepper has been rendered irredeemable from his rape and murder last episode. Some measure of sympathy would have gone farther to make his ultimate fall more interesting. While Culpepper is sociopathic, Rockford needs some motivation for her wish to bring Catherine down.

Review: The Walking Dead 77

Non Spoiler Review:
This issue picks up on the awkward moment we last left Rick...caught by his son talking to his dead wife on the phone. But this little moment is only a minor part of the larger action of issue #77, that juxtaposes some relationship drama with the consequences of Rick's earlier decision. 

We do get some deaths here, sudden and unexpected as is typical for this series, and we end with more ominous things on the horizon. I have the sense events will begin to move much faster now that all the pieces seem to be established. This was another decent instalment, but a little more contrived than what we've grown used to from Kirkman.

Spoilers Now!
Rick has been outed as a crazy person, and has to have an awkward father/son talk about why he's on the phone with his dead mother. Despite Rick's argument that it makes him feel better and he knows she's dead, Carl is at first curious, wanting to listen to the phone, and then disgusted, basically telling him to grow up.

Andrea has her first stint in the church tower, and takes Spencer up on a dinner offer. She's still torn up over Dale's death, but they do agree to have a no pressure dinner together. Maggie and Glen, meanwhile, are suffering a lack of romance. Maggie is still feeling traumatized from what happened at the prison, but Glen steps up to the plate and says what she needs to hear.

The sick guy finally succumbs, despite the drugs Glen helped acquire in the city, so we get a very quick disposal of the body by Douglas and the crew. There is a debate to hold a funeral but Douglas does not want to disturb the psychology of the community by introducing death into their lives again. Spiking the head so the corpse won't reanimate, they begin to bury him, only to have Pete show up with a knife, determined to kill Rick for ruining his life. Poor Regina steps up to tell him to settle down, only to get a slit throat for her troubles, and Pete is brought down. Rick decides to execute Pete right then and there, and gets a "Do it" from a furious Douglas. Bang!

And that bang, of course, alerts the bad boys we saw in the city last month that they're on the right track to the community.

What Worked:
Once again, the natural flow of character interactions continues to flesh out the psychological state of the colony. Everything is so tenuous, Douglas can't risk sparking a trauma by introducing a funeral back into their society. It's nice to see Andrea is still conflicted after Dale's death, and hasn't been able to just move on so easily. Spencer seems stable enough (in the context that any of the characters are stable).

I thought Rick's talk with Carl might be more of a confrontation, but it was short and sweet, and completely overshadowed by later events. 

What Didn't Work:
Pete's breakdown played more like a plot device than something arising naturally from the flow of the story. We suddenly find him sitting alone in his new house, muttering to himself about how unfair everything is. Then he spies his handy-dandy kitchen knives and is off strolling through the town hell bent on killing Rick. That seems a bit melodramatic and cliched, especially the overt confrontation at the burial. For someone who conducted himself as an abusive husband in relative secrecy, he goes completely off his rocker now. That just didn't play naturally to me. An argument can be made that all the characters are a hairsbreadth away from a complete breakdown, but this seemed more useful to accelerate the plot than just another horrible thing happening.

The contrived level of that scene robbed the ending of a bit of its punch, but we (and the characters) have the more imminent arrival of trouble next issue. I'm hoping that the community has some backup plan we've yet to see to deal with an attack. If not, I'll have even more to complain about next issue if Rick and Abraham manage to let these hooligans run amok through the town.

Review: The Event "To Keep Us Safe"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Event begins just where it left off—the jetliner reappears over the desert and we're treated to a spectacular crash landing. The rest of the episode follows the disappearance of the jet, and the president and his staff struggling to make sense of what happened in Miami.

This was a much more satisfying episode that provided some surprising revelations I wouldn't have anticipated so early in the series. The twists were coming fast and furious by the conclusion. It was getting a bit tough to keep track of all the plot information. Despite the confusing delivery methods, I'm much more optimistic about the prospects for this series. Like last episode, the writers need to show some restraint in these overwhelming (and, at times, mundane) flashbacks.

Spoilers Now!
The airliner appears and crashes in the Arizona desert, and super-hero Sean manages to save everyone with the help of the air marshall before flames consume the plane. How important is this air marshal's character? Not very, as he ends up dead later.

Luckily, Michael stumbles out too, and manages to tell his not-so-son-in-law that he was blackmailed to pilot the plane because some girl named Vicky (the tourist friend from the cruise) has Leila. Oh, and he'd better  run, as a bunch of black helicopters appear over the horizon, and they're not good guys.

Meanwhile, the president is taken to a secure location while Sophia is escorted back into detention. He meets with Sterling and the vice-president and...

...We get a flashback to thirteen months ago where Martinez is given some big spoilers. A UFO crashed in 1944 Alaska and 97 survivors were recovered, among them Sophia (was that also Michael I saw in the photos?). Tests concluded they were extra-terrestrial, but there is only one percent difference in their DNA and ours, which doesn't sound like much, but chimpanzees are only two percent different. For the last 66 years they've been held at Inostranka because they won't reveal who or why they are here—according to paranoid Blake Sterling (who knows they have a hidden agenda because he feels it in his bones). Oh, and part of that one percent difference? They age very, very slowly.

Sean, meanwhile, has decided to walk into the desert by himself (apparently abandoning the passengers to the black helicopters). He collapses from heat exhaustion, which makes this the perfect moment for a flashback of him and Leila talking about eating squid on their cruise. Sigh. Vicky shows up to go with Nick, as Leila's a big drunk so she's hungover and can't go. Greg then shows up while she's alone, and kidnaps her with the help of DB Sweeney who then kills him (!). Sweeney then takes Leila away.

Problem. Until now the flashbacks seem to be related to the person having them, but here we get one that is not from Sean's perspective, given it contains information he's not privy too. Are we to assume that the flashbacks are unrelated to the characters they usually bookend?

Shawn wakes up in a hospital after being found by a dog and learns he's in Arizona, but of course no one has heard about the crashed airliner. He goes on and on about finding Leila and her kidnapping, so the nurse calls the cops, who inform her he's wanted for Greg's murder. The cops come for Shawn so he runs. Hospital chase!

To kill some time, we get a five years earlier flashback where he's swimming. Aw, this is where he meets Leila! He helps her to learn how to swim, as she's hopeless. And they hit it off swimmingly. Back in the present, Shawn can't outrun the law and is arrested by FBI agents Mulder and Scully.

Martinez goes to talk to Sophia about what happened to the plane, given they detected an enormous electro-magnetic burst when it disappeared. We then get a flashback way back to 1944 during the UFO crash. As a search plane flies overhead Sofia makes the decision to stay with the injured while instructing the able-bodied to get away while they can. Here we're introduced to a character named Thomas.

Martinez was going to use the press conference to announce the existence of the extra-terrestrials. Sophia will only say that she means them no harm. Her people saved his life with the plane. She tells him her people's patience has run out and sending her back to Inostranka would be a mistake. He is not impressed.

Remember Agent Lee? Paranoid Sterling puts him on a special project to flush out the alien infiltrators he believes were responsible for the plane vanishing. Mr. Lee has his own five year flashback back when he first signs up for clandestine services. We see him go into the bathroom after a blood test and rip out a fake vein because he's a cylon—er...alien!

Back in the present he goes to meet a man who turns out to be Thomas from Sophia's flashback (and he hasn't aged a day!). Thomas isn't very helpful as he seems to figure they have waited long enough to act. Lee was the one who suggested they take the plane to save it and gets the coordinates, though Thomas says they're going to use the plane for their own purposes.

Shawn is trying to explain the situation to the Mulder and Scully as they drive him out of the boonies, but they will not believe a word of his crazy. In fact they won't even bother to google Leila or check with the airport on maybe a flight record for him, or even Leila's Facebook page, because that would just be too much work.

They come upon a road block for a chemical spill but Sean realizes things aren't what they seem and it's a ruse to hide the crashed plane.

This was a much more exciting episode, but I must complain again that the show is jumping around too much. The brief bits of back story with President Martinez and Sophia were the most interesting parts, and yet we get such boring filler with Sean. I'm hoping his storyline gets more interesting really fast.

There had also better be a logical resolution to this plane disappearance given no one seems to care that it's missing and the FBI can't be bothered to even remotely check on Sean's facts. I don't care how much power the conspirators wield, in this day and age its a stretch to expect anyone to believe they can completely erase the existence of someone from all kinds of records and social media.

We get a double conspiracy here—the extra-terrestrial side of things, plus another shadowy group that is operating to cover up everything and prevent the exposure of the aliens. There is the question of the alien infiltrators and whether they're working for or against humanity, and the question of what brought them to crash in Alaska in the first place.

There is talk of time travellers rather than aliens to explain the close genetic match. I'm going to throw down on the ancient astronaut theory—Sofia and her people are either ancestors or cousins of humanity—a lost colony perhaps, returning to warn Earth about this upcoming event. That's my theory for this week, anyway. But the second episode succeeded in making me want to find out.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Review: The Tudors "Moments of Nostalgia"

Non Spoiler Review:
We begin The Tudors' final season in 1540. Henry has married Catherine Howard, and the court is enamoured by the young, beautiful queen. As with previous seasons, new plot threads and characters are introduced, and we get a summary of Henry's current religious persecutions through the eyes of one of the longest surviving characters, Spanish ambassador Chapuys. 

Henry is enamoured with his new wife, and we see that the court is, as well, including courtier Thomas Culpepper, among others.

Everyone is looking a little longer in tooth (and weighed down by increasingly bulkier robes), and its evident we're in the final years of Henry's reign (seven more to go, if you're keeping track). 

Though a slow moving, and relatively uneventful reintroduction, the episode did serve to position the characters and plot lines that will mark this final season. Henry is very happy with his nubile wife, but her character and past are certainly going to catch up with her.

The political situation seems to be focused more on France this season (compared to the religious uprising in the kingdom from last year). Henry's increasing tyranny and madness are making him long for a glorious war, and King Francis is looking very appealing, promising an exciting end to the series.

Spoilers Now!
An historical drama such as this makes it hard to reveal actual spoilers, given the real life characters' fates are all known. It's the dramatic portrayal of these outcomes that is the fun part. Henry's ultimate descent into a tyranny and madness has been simmering since his jousting wound (historically thought to have been responsible for his mental instability). His current marriage to Catherine Howard has given him a respite as he can focus on his desire for the beautiful young girl and feel young again.

Catherine has enchanted the court. Among them, courtier Thomas Culpepper, who is overtly smitten with her, and seems to suffer from a bit of a god complex. We're treated to him and his men raping a peasant woman and later killing her husband. Historically, Culpepper is involved with Catherine, so we can see this is going to end badly for both.

Charles seems increasingly weighed down by his responsibilities and the passage of time, coming out of violently suppressing the rebellion of last season. His brief conversation with Chapuys when they mused over the dead, both the good and the bad men, was a nice moment between these hardened characters.

Catherine comes off very nicely. She is both a woman with a past, yet she evokes a lot of sympathy. She seems genuine, seeking the approval of Princess Mary, who rebuffs her overtures. It's Princess Elizabeth who shows her proper grace and respect, that hints at her future political savvy. It was also a nice touch that Henry looks somewhat wistfully at Elizabeth as she departs, thinking of her mother.

Catherine's friend Joan ingratiates herself into her ladies in waiting and is obvious trouble for her. It's just a matter of discovering which players will engineer Catherine's destruction, and how many will be dragged down with her.

On the political side, King Francis has offered his young son to wed Princess Mary, which makes Henry muse over Francis' fickleness, given the first betrothal that went awry in season one. He seems to want a war, and when a garrison in Calais comes under attack, he sends a military message that seems to get the desired result of displaying English power. For the moment they remain at peace, but it looks as though Henry will seek to provoke Francis further.

The Seymours also find themselves losing influence in favor of the Howards, as Catherine's uncle is introduced, and he seeks to achieve higher status than his father and grandfather. The Seymours have delivered a male heir to Henry, so they do enjoy a great position, but they are devious, and will certainly work to undermine Catherine much as how they did the Boleyns.

Ultimately this was a slow start to the season, but comfortable being back among old friends. Many of these characters are reaching the twilight of their lives, and it will be satisfying to watch them all come to their respective conclusions.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Review: Mad Men "The Beautiful Girls"

Non Spoiler Review:
For an episode that started out at a lazy pace, the second half certainly ramped things up. Most of the cast gets showcased one way or another this time around—primarily Faye and Don, Joan and Roger, and Peggy and Joyce. But it's also the minor female characters that receive attention, as well—secretaries Megan, Caroline and Mrs. Blankenship. There are some big surprises that come out of left field, making for another entertaining hour that had me laughing aloud each time I rewatched particular scenes. Suffice it to say, Mad Men topped its John Deere incident.

As we approach the end of the season, it's evident the varied plot threads are beginning to come together into a tighter tapestry. As clues to last season's finale were evident only in hindsight, it looks like this one will be much the same, as there are so many directions the remainder of these episodes can take.

Spoilers Now!
There were several shockers this week. The episode started out more as a catch up on various characters. We see Faye and Don in bed together, and their relationship seems to be progressing nicely. In fact, Don seems at his best since...anytime. He's at ease around Faye in ways he never was with Betty, and he seems genuinely happy.

Greg has finally been called up to go to Viet Nam as soon as his basic training is finished, so that has Joan in a twist. Roger takes pains to alleviate her stress by sending her a massage at home. His affection for her continues to grow as he pines over their happy time together, but Joan isn't really interested in rekindling their affair, reminding him that they're both married.

Peggy meets Joyce for a drink, and Abe (from the warehouse party) shows up (as part of Joyce's matchmaking). But he and Peggy get into a debate about evil corporations and civil rights. Abe is gungho for equal rights for minorities, but can't see any relevance in Peggy's comparisons to women's rights, which prompts her to storm off in offense. When Abe shows up at the office asking her to read his manifesto about corporate evils and how it relates to SCDP's clients, she's horrified rather than flattered. She demands he destroy it or she could be fired if it's published. Abe can't seem to understand why she would be upset, but complies, and we're left to wonder if he's going to show up again to cause some trouble for her.

The story hits its stride when the team meets with Filmore Automotive (who are suffering a boycott for not hiring Negroes in the south). Don is called out of his meeting by secretary Megan to find Sally is there. She had taken the train to Manhattan after walking home from her therapist, and only managed to get that far without money on the kindness of an old woman who brought her in to the office. Don is horrified, and suffers another chilly chat with Betty, who says Sally has to stay with him as she's coming into the city with Henry the next day.

Sally is beaming to be with her father, and she certainly appears a lot more mature than she has in the past, even picking up on some of Betty's mannerisms and acting like a young woman. After ordering her to stay in his office, Don returns to his meeting, which is not going well as the three brothers controlling Filmore can't agree on anything. Peggy finds Mrs. Blankenship at her desk, dead (!) in her chair, prompting Don to be called out of the meeting again, which begins one of the funniest moments in Mad Men history as they attempt to remove the body without alerting the clients just next door in the board room.

After the dust settles, Roger reflects on his own mortality, and Joan agrees to go for lunch with him. They talk about the past and their choices, which is quite bittersweet given Roger chose to marry one secretary when it should have been Joan. On the walk back, we get the second whammy—Joan and Roger are mugged! They lose everything, but get away alive, and end up having a very quick and passionate tryst in the alley.

Don and Sally spend a wonderful evening as father and daughter, but come morning reality sets in as Betty comes to pick her up. Sally converts to brat mode immediately, prompting an embarrassing run through the hallway of SCDP and falling flat on her face in front of all the women in the office. Megan consoles her, and Sally is handed off to Betty, where she offers a chilly "Good-bye" to Don.

Exhausted, Don walks in on an upset Faye who has been put in the position of trying to calm Sally on a couple of different occasions. Childless Faye is not impressed with how it all turned out and made her look like a failure as a woman, but Don manages to console her that her life choices are not an issue at all. "What a mess," he says, as they embrace.

By day's end, the three beautiful girls of SCDP, Joan, Faye and Betty, enter the elevator together and stare forward pensively as the doors close.

What Worked:
This episode was jam-packed with character development. It seemed everyone was getting a moment.

The scene where Don attempts to maintain his composure dealing with the Filmore Autoparts executive, while behind them Pete Campbell attempts to haul Mrs Blankenship's body out from behind her desk rivalled the John Deere incident from last season for laughs. Faye, Ken and Don can see everything happening, and just watching Pete's body language we fill in the blanks of what's being said out of earshot.

Don is the best he's been all season, looking truly happy. Unfortunately he does op for a drink by the end of the episode, after dealing with the death, Sally, Betty and Faye. He has evolved quite a bit, though, as he manages to console Faye and show very much how he cares for her.

Abe's sexism really underlines the uphill battle Peggy faces, when women's rights gets none of the recognition that the civil rights movement has received. Abe's earnestness in trying to impress Peggy just digs him a deeper grave, and he eventually comes across as fanatical and stalkerish by the end. Given how Mad Men sets up subtle plot points, he could be trouble for Peggy down the road.

It was great to see a bit more from Megan this episode, especially the way she got emotional over Sally's meltdown. She is really a great character that has been lurking in the background, and I hope we see more of her. Roger's secretary Caroline, is also proving to deliver some good comic relief.

The atmosphere at SCDP is much less formal than Sterling Cooper, with the secretaries talking back to Roger and Don regularly. This may be a reflection of their forward-thinking firm, or just a sign of the times, but it serves as another contrast with the first season.

The episode ends with the women leaving the office together in the elevator, Faye, Joan and Peggy all weighed down by their respective relationships troubles. It's fitting that Peggy is in the middle. Joan has sold out to a marriage that has proven less than the dream. Faye has gone the other extreme by giving up a family in favor of career. Peggy continues to struggle with her options to find a balance for everything she wants.

Best Lines:
Don asking Faye to stay with Sally: "I would have my secretary do it, but she's dead."

Don to Sally about her French toast :
Don: "What's on this?"
Sally: "Mrs. Butterworths."
Don: "That's rum! Read labels!"

Review: The Event "I Haven't Told You Everything"

Non Spoiler Review:
The much-hyped Event promised to fill the genre vacuum of Lost and provide a mix of West Wing intrigue and X-file level conspiracy. The audience is thrown immediately into the action with an apparent airliner hijacking, and just as quickly are bounced back and forth through a series of flashbacks that attempt to fill in the blanks of what brought the various characters to their current crisis. A lot of flashbacks. 

On the plus side, The Event has a good cast—Blair Underwood as the president, and Zelijko Ivanek (the late magistrar from True Blood), as Blake Sterling, a high level advisor of some kind (it's telling that I'm not exactly sure what his position is after watching the show). Laura Innes plays Sophia, a mysterious detainee at the government Inostranka facility in Alaska. And Agent Lee is introduced attempting to stop the plane from taking off.

Compared to these heavy-hitters, less interesting is Sean Walker (Jason Ritter), who is off on a cruise with his girlfriend Leila (Sarah Roemer). They find themselves embroiled in a grand conspiracy that throws their lives into turmoil. We know this right off the bat as Sean is in the midst of hijacking the airliner at the beginning of the episode. But the love story of these two characters is the least compelling element while receiving the most airtime. We have to suffer through their dinner, their snorkeling, their hiking, and Sean's incessantly delayed marriage proposal, when we really want to be seeing what's going on at the secret Alaska facility or the details of President Martinez's press conference.

The pilot is interesting enough to show a lot of promise, tossing out a lot of plot threads. However the manner of delivery was difficult to endure. Lost pioneered the flashbacks, while Battlestar Galactica became a master of the 48 hours earlier conceit. We get both of these in spades, as the storytelling shifts back and forth from the present to days, weeks and months in the past, and then forcing us to review the previous 30 seconds we just watched after each commercial break. I love non-linear storytelling, but this was overkill.

The episode goes out with a bang, with a healthy dose of sci-fi promising some hints of this event to come. I think the initial conclusions as to what the event is may be too obvious, as the show will undoubtedly be filled with twists and turns along the way. It grabbed my interest, so I'll keep watching, as long as the writers can spend more time in the present action than the flashbacks, and we get a focus on characters whom we actually want to watch. 

Spoilers Now!
The hijacking was enough to snare the audience's interest, but the subsequent flashbacks to fill in the blanks only made this riveting scene disjointed and stretched out to the point I wanted it to move on. Ultimately the pilot really only covers a half hour or so of actual time, which is a real problem.

We get Sean and Leila receiving the bulk of attention, and their love story unfolds too slowly on their cruise—so much less compelling when we have scenes with President Martinez and Blake Sterling talking about the secret Alaskan facility, and the mysterious Sophia sitting in detention with all her secrets. Thirteen months earlier, the president learned of her and now they are preparing to hold a joint press conference.

We get Michael Buchanan (Leila's father), possibly killed, brainwashed or replaced with a double as the pilot of the plane that Sean hijacks. How did Sean find out he was on the plane and the plan to crash it? And how did Sean become such a good action hero, when he's having a major panic attack with Leila's disappearance earlier on the cruise and seems awkward in pretty much every situation?  

The real excitement comes when we see the airliner careening towards the President's press conference in Miami. We're very much used to this Post 9/11 zeitgeist, so the shot of the plane bearing down on the crowd is pretty chilling.

Equally curious is the crazy weather that seems to spring up as it approaches, and the mad rush of the president and his entourage to escape. Then, a crazy wormhole/teleportation thing opens up and swallows the plane—the most effective moment in the episode.

There has been a concerted effort to compare the show to Lost, so similarities to Lost's pilot are worth discussing. Both were action-oriented, frenetic episodes. Lost had it's flashbacks, but the plot was contained to the plane crash and the immediate action on the island. In contrast, The Event uses flashbacks to bring the audience up to speed on a variety of disparate characters, locations and plotlines that have yet to converge, and not even in the same timeline. So here it doesn't really work that well at all. Rather than riding the roller coaster of the action, the audience struggles to keep up and gets pulled out of the scene the moment it gets interesting.

There is a lot of ground to cover to bring us up to speed to where we find the characters at the beginning, and so a longer 90 minutes or two hour pilot might have been more effective to give all the players their appropriate due. We'll see next week if we're still struggling to catch up just to the airline hijacking.

The Event may have overhyped itself by putting all its focus on this future question mark, which risks being a big letdown if it doesn't really come up with something both original and innovative to surprise the audience. Initial thoughts point to an alien invasion or contact of some kind, but I think that might be too obvious a conclusion.

I'm going to stick with it if it continues with the surprises and see where the story goes. 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Review: Mad Men "The Summer Man"

Non Spoiler Review:
We open up with a narrative by Don as he writes in a journal, and it seems the events of the past few episodes have brought him to a crossroads where he's made some significant decisions. The episode charts his progress as he deals with Eugene's birthday and the directive from the Francis family that he is not to attend. Office politics come to a head, as Joan and Peggy are both pitted against the men in creative. We get some further insight into Betty and Henry which shows that that honeymoon is definitely over.

Coming off a couple of crazy episodes, this one was more subdued, but still captivating, allowing Don and other characters to refocus after all the craziness of the last few weeks. Getting this introspective Don episode made for a nice catharsis after the emotionally draining events of The Suitcase.

Spoilers Now!
Don has realized he has a drinking problem. And it seems, as summer hits, he is in the midst of restructuring his life, which seems to include journal writing and swimming. The episode charts him as he is confronted daily with alcohol by his coworkers.

We get to see the Francises as they head off to a political meeting, only to run into Don on a date with Bethany. Bethany is wanting to take things to a new level, considering it looks as though they have one date a month. So she gives Don a special treat in the cab ride home. But Don doesn't regard her as anything serious as is clearly evident in how he muses about her in his journal. In fact, she could easily be a young Betty, and though Bethany seems pleased that she's very similar to Don's ex, little does she know that's exactly what he does not want.

Betty has a meltdown in the bathroom when she sees Don at the restaurant, infuriating Henry who wants her to appear the perfect political wife and not someone who "needs a drink" as she comments. The car ride home is quite bitter. Henry's vindictive side is starting to come out. Living in the Draper household, he reviles Don and his ties to the family. He knows how to punish Betty, and their conversation in the car shows just how much he regards her as a child. By the end, it seems Betty has matured enough to let Don enjoy his son's birthday and not feel threatened, and the look she gives him at the end shows the feelings are still there.

Joan and Lane bear the brunt of the day-to-day operations of SCDP and get little respect for it. Joan is going to be alone soon, and she has no friends at the office anymore. Joey is being a particular ass to her, trying to humiliate her at every opportunity. Though Joey is just on contract, Joan's attempt to have him removed are ignored by Lane and Don and the others. Only Peggy steps up to take her side, as she also suffers daily from the sexism and jokes of Stan, Joey and Danny.

When Peggy confronts Don about Joey's behaviour, Don is very abrupt with her. He doesn't want to deal with it, because Peggy can. Fire him. It's that simple. But it's Joan who doesn't appreciate the effort and curtly tells off Peggy in the elevator "Thanks for nothing". So much for her friends at work.

Don gets to go on a real date with Faye, and he handles it nobly, even refusing to allow her to come home with him. This is definitely a better Don than we've seen in a long time, and as he shows up at Eugene's party unannounced, his nonconfrontational demeanour wins the day even with Betty, and it looks like everyone is happy for at least a moment.

What Worked:
Though Joan got the brunt of the abuse this week, her invective against all the men in creative about them dying in Viet Nam in a years time was chilling and certainly memorable. It will be interesting to see who is left next season once the war gets going—ironic if Joey finds himself in the army now that Peggy has gotten rid of him.

And it was Joey's well-deserved firing that proved one of the highlights of the episode. He started out so likable, even a potential love interest for Peggy, only to throw in with Stan and the boys.  Especially enjoyable was Don's cavalier attitude about it—no excuses, just fire him if that's what she thought best. I'm relieved to see their relationship has continued on a level of respect, when it would be so easy for Don to tell her to just suck it up. He offers her the power and the choice to make the decision she sees fit.

Don and Faye's date provided a great contrast with Bethany. Don has zero respect for the younger one, but it's Faye who is his intellectual equal...with Betty's beauty (an intelliBetty!). She is the perfect woman for Don, and he treats her (and himself) with respect through the course of the evening. While it seems a relationship with Don was inevitable, I do like how it's unfolded, so I hope it doesn't end badly too quickly (this is Don Draper we're talking about).

Most important this week, Don recognized his alcohol problem, and it was a surprise to see it happening so soon. Though he did imbibe a little bit through the episode, several scenes had him watching the other characters as they drank freely around him and muse over how pervasive alcohol is in his life and everyone around him. 

What Didn't Work:
Joan may be upset about Greg leaving, but she seemed excessively bitchy. Perhaps this episode emphasized that she and Peggy can never be friends, but it seemed there was a complete lack of solidarity on her part, despite Peggy working for the team.

Review: Mad Men "The Suitcase"

Non Spoiler Review:
The pace of the season continues to build, delivering another wow episode. This time the focus is on Peggy and Don, as the several plot threads from this season culminate in a fantastic and riveting hour of Mad Men. With the Mohammad Ali fight as the backdrop, this episode takes place mostly throughout the night at SCDP as Peggy and Don are forced to work late on the Samsonite campaign, all under the shadow of some ominous news that is awaiting Don.

This was totally a Don and Peggy hour, with very little to see of other characters aside from window dressing. It was hilarious and heart-wrenching, and easily the best of the season. I'm excited to see what comes next!

Spoilers Now!
Where to begin? Peggy's story lines come to fruition. First it's her 26th birthday, and she must deal with a variety of perspectives from her friends and co-workers. Secretary Megan is complimentary and envious, while Trudy must make a back-handed comment that it's still not too late for her to have children. Mark (remember him?), meanwhile, has planned a surprise party with Peggy's family, but Don's Samsonite account takes priority and she is forced to choose to stay a little late, delay her party, and ultimately cancel in favor of her work.

This comes at no small cost to Peggy. Don doesn't remember her birthday, which is a slight to her. She is continually being ganged up on by the new unholy trinity of Stan, Danny and Joey (Joey seems to have slipped into the boys club now that it's no longer just him and Peggy. All the charm his character had at the beginning has evaporated). Don holds Peggy to a higher standard and wants her to stay and help, causing a harsh argument on the phone with Mark, who ultimately offers to break up with her (as he sits next to her mother!). Peggy's family is equally disgusted with her, and none can relate at all to her life choices.

Isolated, Peggy goes back to work with Don, who has been continually drinking this whole time. The two have several altercations, with Don berating and mocking her for not telling him it was her birthday, just so he can feel sorry for her. Peggy's off to cry in the ladies room again, but eventually marches back to Don's office only to have him playing a tape of Roger's memoirs. Together they share a laugh over the stories he reveals and they head off for a drink and dinner.

What comes next is an intimate series of conversations where they open up to one another about their life choices, and some personal secrets. Peggy's mother thinks Don is the father of her baby. Peggy also was home with her father when he died when she was young. Don confides he never knew his mother and his father was killed by a horse.

Don has been drinking heavily for a good reason this episode, as he's received a message from California and knows that Anne has died. But he puts off returning the call, and after he and Peggy return to the office following the end of the Ali fight, he's intoxicated enough to get sick. Peggy brings him to the ladies room and watches over his rather messy retching.

That's when an equally inebriated Duck arrives, heading to Roger's office to defecate on his chair (but picking Roger's by mistake). Peggy stops him, only to have Don stumble in to the lunch room (white shirt stained with his vomit) and confront Duck, who totally outs Peggy's affair with him. Only when Duck calls Peggy a whore does Don stand up and a wrestling match ensues. Unfortunately, Duck seems to have the upper hand, and Don relinquishes, heading back to his office while Peggy gets rid of Duck. And we're left without the satisfaction of seeing Duck dropped by Don.

Peggy returns, and Don allows her to save face by requiring no explanation. The two sit on the couch and Don falls asleep in her lap. And come morning, Don awakens to an apparition of Anne carrying a suitcase, smiling in approval at his new confidante, and fading away. He gets up and makes his phone call, which is what we expect. Anne is dead.

He looks over to see Peggy watching him, and confesses the only person who really knew him is dead. He then has a messy breakdown and she comforts him. Eventually Peggy heads back to her office for a nap before the start of the day, only to be wakened by the unholy trinity. Later that morning, Don is cleaned up and looking perfect, and as they begin to work it looks as though Don might have written off the night's events as he normally does. But, on the contrary, he briefly takes Peggy's hand to know he hasn't forgotten what they shared.

What I liked:
This episode had it all for me—Peggy and Don's relationship finally achieved a new level. It's been leading to this for several seasons. Their conversations over the course of the episode ranged from the mean-spirited to the truly genuine and heartfelt. Peggy has replaced Anne as his confidante. She's seen Don at his worst. Even his hand touch recalled the first episode of the series where Peggy attempted to come on to him.

They even discussed the fact he never made a pass with her. Don respects her too much. She's burned a lot of bridges for him and must put up with contrite remarks from the likes of Trudy, her family's harsh judgements and peers that think she slept her way to her job. Don has finally acknowledged her sacrifices. 

The conversation at the bar where Don and Peggy slowly revealed certain secrets was compelling, and both stopped before revealing their ultimate secrets (Dick Whitman and the paternity of Peggy's child).

Finally, Mark is history! Now to thin out the Stan, Joey and Danny triumvirate.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Revew: Mad Men "Waldorf Stories"

Non Spoiler Review:
This was one strange roller coaster ride. The firm is up for an advertising award, which sparks a lot of alcohol-induced mishaps. We find out what's up with Ken Cosgrove, and get more characters introduced, including a new art director, Stan, who is giving Peggy no small amount of grief. Roger's relevance to the firm once again takes the stage, and there are some surprising revelations.

Waldorf Stories showed us several of our characters behaving outrageously, and seems to have set in motion several threads that could be leading to big trouble down the road. We also get an origin story of sorts, which really shows the status quo in a new light. All in all, one of the best episodes of the season yet...but very strange.

Spoilers Now!
The amount of alcohol consumed in this episode nearly gave me a hangover. I was expecting someone to keel over from a heart attack at some point, especially with the focus on the flashbacks dealing with Roger and Don. But every character managed to survive the hour intact.

We get a new character, Stan, who is beyond sexist and abrasive to Peggy. Whatever time has passed since last episode, she's had to deal with this new bohemian art director who Don insists is a genius. She's feeling taken advantage of again, and is ordered to listen to him. This results in a final showdown during a brainstorming session at a hotel over the weekend, and Peggy out-bohemians (yes, I made that up) him.

Pete finds out that Lane is hiring Ken Cosgrove in accounts, bringing his business with him. He is understandably angry he wasn't consulted, but a nice scene between him and Lane serves to humanize Pete, which later results in a satisfying confrontation between Pete and Cosgrove that lays out the new rules for Ken.

Don rides the high of his ad award through the course of the episode, but here is the first time the dark side of his persona makes it into the board room and nearly derails the Life Cereal campaign. He's becoming Roger, and Peggy and Pete both watch it with no small amount of horror. Just like Roger's Japanese faux pas last episode, Don is so full of himself he starts rambling off nonsensical slogans.

Don has also been forced to interview Danny, a relative of Roger, who is equally incompetent (he puts his favorite ads in his portfolio, rather than ones he's designed himself). Don at first sends him away, much to Peggy's relief, but later, during the meeting Don inadvertently uses Danny's slogan, forcing them to hire him by episode's end.

Don's award winning streak continues into a weekend bender where he hits on Faye, and picks up two women over a days long blackout, ending with him forgetting to pick up his kids from an irate Betty. Peggy confronts him over the Life slogan and Don's left to try to fix things.

Among these myriad plots, we get Roger's flashback of his first meeting with Don, which, contrary to his story of discovering Don, was nothing of the sort. Roger had nothing to do with Don aside from buying a fur coat for his wife, and it was Don who tracked him down once he learned he was an ad man, basically harassing him to take him to a liquid lunch. When Don shows up the next day for work, Roger has no idea why, and Don tells him he hired him. Roger says nothing, and they go up the elevator together. Wow!

What Worked:
After watching Duck abandon his dog on the streets of Manhattan a couple of seasons back, it was delicious to watch him fall off the wagon at the awards show and publicly humiliate himself. These little scenes showing the detritus of the last three seasons popping up here and there are nice touches.

Don is back on his descent here, despite achieving his accolades. Unfortunately all his humility goes out the window after be beats Ted. And so begins a weekend of debauchery he starts by hitting on Faye.  Watching Don and Roger together on their mutual train wreck was particularly ironic given what was revealed...

The flashback to Don and Roger's first meeting was a doozy. Not only have we been treated to the story told by Roger several times, but now we find out that Roger doesn't even remember the details.  Don manipulated him into achieving his position, which is both admirable and disturbing (given Don's penchant for lying about everything). Roger is constantly trying to justify his purpose (including writing a tedious memoir), and his apocryphal story of discovering Don is just another illusion, which he knows deep down. Getting justification at the end by Don after they win the award was a fitting moment of humility, as Don is truly his protege.

Despite Don's origins with Sterling Cooper, he is extremely hypocritical when chastising Peggy for her ambition or mocking Danny for trying to get a foot in the door at the firm. Don is in danger of losing touch completely with his roots, and this episode showed his current trajectory is becoming Roger in a few years.

Peggy telling Don to "Fix this," was a  great moment. In this episode Don has singlehandedly undone a lot of his female relationships—making a pass at Faye, causing Peggy a lot of grief and managing to piss off Betty even more. The kiss he shared with Joan was a bit disconcerting, and I wasn't sure what to read into that, coupled with the hand holding at the awards show. Ultimately Don is becoming the new Roger.

It's interesting that Pete and Peggy are once again the two characters who are on the outside, seeing the disaster unfolding among their peers. Last season they were tempted by Duck. It will be interesting to see if they can manage to salvage things at SCDP.

Either Roger or Don is going down fast. 

What Didn't Work:
More new employees as SCDP? Stan is so over the top, I'm not crazy about him at all, unless he's just there to spur Peggy to perhaps leave the firm. 

The whole hotel room sequence with Peggy and Stan was a bit odd. It seemed completely contrived to give us another "See how hip Peggy is" moment. But given the abrupt addition of this new character, I didn't really feel any build up to this confrontation. We barely know Stan, but Peggy has obviously been working with him for awhile to build up to her strip down.

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