Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: The Event "Your World to Take"

Non Spoiler Review:
The aliens have a convention and Sophia has to hand out loads of slap to keep everyone in line. Vice President Jarvis is unconscious for most of the episode. Leila and Sean continue to investigate the missing girls, putting a poor family in jeopardy.

Your World to Take continues the trend of filler episodes that reveals nothing new, aside from the horrible mother/son dynamic between Sophia and Thomas.

Spoilers Now!
Sophia is back and happy to see everyone after 60 years. And we mean everyone, as the aliens are apparently having a convention right in Washington D.C. Except a small cadre of top leaders have an issue with Sophia's return, among them Thomas, and another Isabel, who is his girlfriend. A lot of them don't want to return home anymore and are quite happy to stay on Earth and live their lives. The detainees could have escaped at any time, apparently, but Sophia chose not to in order to help those in hiding with their mission to return them home.

Sophia will have none of this staying here business. They have their own version of the prime directive not to interfere (I guess giving a civilization atomic power doesn't count). So she lays down the law that they will be leaving as soon as they can.

Except Isabel and Thomas conspire behind her back to take Sophia out of the picture. This is difficult for Thomas, as he has no backbone whatsoever and is guided only by the more powerful women in his life, including Isabel. She instructs him to kill his mother when they go to retrieve a mysterious portal component that is still viable after all these years. Sophia comments on Thomas' weakness throughout their travels together, admonishing him for spending his time building a financial empire.

As expected, Thomas is weak and can't bring himself to kill his mother, and gives up Isabel. Sophia then goes to see her never to be daughter-in-law. Sophia gives her an option of being shunned from her people forever, or shoot herself in the knee as a show of loyalty. She does the latter, proving Sophia is a bad ass when she wants to be.

Meanwhile, Jarvis is unconscious in the hospital, and it takes Martinez and Sterling the whole episode to get there by the time he wakes up. But his wife warns him not to jeopardize their family, so we don't know how this will play out and if he'll give up Dempsey or not.

Finally, Sean and Leila are having sex, so Sean must be completely recovered from his back alley surgery and gunshot wound hours before, and suffering no ill or side effects from infection, pain killers, etc. He's also still in contact with agent Scully who isn't holding a grudge for ditching her and is happy to help out and let him investigate things on his own (She's obviously learned she's much safer behind a desk than with Leila and Sean). Investigating the unsolved cases of missing children, she points them in the direction of a girl who recently escaped her kidnappers. So they track her down.

The family is understandably reluctant to talk, given their daughter escaped with her life (and looks like an old Hobbit), but Leila begs them and then the girl recognizes the name of her sister, and says she hadn't been altered yet like the others when she last saw her. But the father threatens to call the police if they don't leave.

That's not enough for Sean and Leila, who follow the family to a remote gas station and Leila harasses them in the bathroom, learning that the hospital they were held at was near a water tower, and the medication had a triangle logo on it. A man named Berke comes to kill them and a cornfield chase ensues, in which Sean manages to knock out/kill the guy. The little girl and her mother flee off through the corn, happy to be free of Leila and Sean. The dynamic duo go through the man's papers and learn that he was actually after Leila. Oh noes!

Another ho-hum instalment of The Event. So much of the episode could have been compressed in half the time, but extended travel time was added to every character's arc to get to the appropriate plot device. Do the writers not have enough story to fill an entire season? Perhaps they could have done better with a shorter episode order.

On a positive note, there were very few flashbacks.

Review: The Walking Dead "Vatos"

Non Spoiler Review:
A well-paced and plotted episode that follows Rick and his crew attempting to retrieve the bag of guns in Atlanta, juxtaposed with the goings-on in the survival camp. Things are not what they seem with both groups, and a few red herrings lead to another shocking finale.

Walking Dead delivers the unexpected while characters continue to evolve nicely, including Daryl, who could have become the token redneck in Merle's absence. There is particular attention to detail to avoid plotholes—in this case, that the hacksaw was too dull to cut through the handcuffs, leading Merle to cut off his hand.

Spoilers Now!
Finding Merle gone, Rick and company follow the trail of blood into the building where it appears Merle cauterized his wound, then took off to parts unknown in downtown Atlanta. Daryl wants to continue the search, but guns first, and Glen's plan to get the bag sitting in the street earns him some respect from Daryl.

Unfortunately, the plan goes awry when Glen makes his escape with the guns, only to run into some gangstas who kidnap him. Daryl manages to capture one, and keep the guns, but Glen is gone, and they're forced to interrogate the young man to find out where his comrades are.

Daryl shows some responsibility for having let Glen get taken, so he's more than happy to torture the guy if he doesn't lead them to him. Rick's calmer nature prevails and they are taken to a secure, walled building and meet the gang leader, G, who wants all the guns or they'll feed Glen to his dogs. That doesn't suffice for Rick, who says they'll be back (T-Dog has his gun trained on G, so they have a tense standoff).

Rick refuses to even consider abandoning Glen after he saved his life, and everyone else feels the same way. So they return, well-armed, demanding Glen's return. It looks like a major gunfight will prevail until an old woman wanders in. Surprise. This is an old folks home, and gang leader G is a former custodian. They are led to Glen by the old woman where we learn that the abandoned seniors are being looked after by a variety of former employees and stragglers who joined their crew. They've had a tough go, as there are lots of dangerous people in Atlanta, so Rick and G make nice and share the guns, and the boys are off to get back to the van...only it's gone. Merle has apparently taken it, and perhaps is heading to the camp to exact revenge.

Meanwhile, in survivor camp, Jim is acting strange and digging holes (grave size holes), much to the alarm of everyone else, forcing Shane to step in and order him to stop, handcuffing him to a tree until he refocuses. Jim had a dream, but can't really remember the details. He does tell Lori never to let Carl out of her sight (How could she when her eyes are always the size of silver dollars?). Jim only escaped the walkers given they were chowing down on his own family, so he has issues.

Amy and Andrea are fishing in the quarry, discussing the old days with their father and sharing a bonding moment. It's Amy's birthday and Andrea is frantic to find some wrapping paper for the necklace she got her. Dale is only too happy to help out.

The group enjoys a bountiful feast of fish thanks to the sisters, but beat up Ed is just happy to stay in the tent and brood while his wife and daughter join the cookout. Dale amuses the group with some Faulkner quotes and we're left wondering who is on lookout...

...Because someone comes knocking on Ed's tent, and it's not Carol. Ed has a well-deserved death as walkers swarm the tent, but it's Amy, who has wandered to use the bathroom in the RV that gets bitten as the camp is overrun. Mayhem ensues, and a lot of background extras get killed.

Rick and company arrive (running back to camp from the city), and help defend the area, but it' s a bloodbath, and Andrea has a tearful good-bye as her sister dies in her arms. Jim remembers why he was digging the holes.

What Worked:
It was good to see some good human interaction in the Vatos, when so many of the people encountered represent the worst of humanity.  Most of the main players continue to see their characters rounded out. Andrea's interaction with Dale was a nice touch and hints at where the two characters will go. Even Daryl is showing a sense of honor that his brother lacks. Rick's idealism and sense of duty provides leadership for his small crew, while Shane's more heavy-handed approach creates animosity and fear in the camp. 

The expectations that Merle was returning to camp for some payback played well into the twist that it was the undead who were the greater threat. The invasion was short and horrifying, killing many without warning, and instilling in us that death is forever just around the corner for anyone.

What Didn't Work:
What happened to their lookout and all the little security measures they had going on at the periphery of camp? If next week they explain this, as they did with the dull hacksaw, then it's just a minor quibble.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Review: The Tudors "Secrets of the Heart"

Non Spoiler Review:
It's 1545, and the aged king presides over a divided kingdom where religion remains the most polarising  force. Political machinations begin to coalesce around the heretics in court—the Hartfords and the Queen, while Surrey begins his own conspiracy to ensure he has a say in who controls the country after Henry's death.

This was a very beautifully directed episode. Visually, it was as vibrant and compelling as ever, and a very sombre instalment in which it is apparent this era is ending. The kingdom remains broke from Henry's war, conspiracies thrive behind the scene, and the Catholics in court secretly work to ensure that Henry's reforms will not outlive him.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers successfully pulls off the aged and infirm monarch. In fact, it's hard to believe how young he actually is. The change has been so gradual. Though the characters have abruptly gotten more grey hair and wrinkles since last week, it all contributes to give the whole kingdom a tired and weary feel.

Surrey's plotline, however, does not deliver on the whole season of build up, leaving me curious as to what we're to take from him character. It's unfortunate that this erratic plotting/writing uses up what has been a significant character this season.

Spoilers Now!
1545. Whitehall Palace. Henry is looking much older than last we saw him. Edward, Lord Hartford, advises him Surrey has lost 600 men in a rash attack against the French, including many nobles and gentlwmen he placed in the front ranks. Henry is infuriated and commands Surrey to return and have his conduct examined, while Edward Seymour is sent to replace him. There are also rumours of a French fleet being assembled, while the emperor has ordered English ships to be seized in the low countries. Henry can only reflect on the betrayals of his friends.

Catherine hopes to cheer up her husband, and has dedicated a book she has written, praising him for delivering them from the tyranny of Rome. Henry gently chastises her for being a bit too hard on the clerics in her writing.

Bishop Gardiner arrives to see Henry, asking permission to arrest a heretic named Anne Askew who may have friends at court. We next see the woman preaching in church against the idea of holy communion, and she's arrested and taken to the tower. Sir Richard, recently elevated to the privy council, and an ally of Gardiner, interrogates Anne with the bishop. They ask about friends in court, and monies being sent to her in her support. It is illegal to rack a woman, but they torture her anyway, despite the warden's protests, who even goes to see the king. The king advises that in cases of extreme heresy anyone can be racked, but he is absolved of any responsibility. Anne confesses Lady Hartford (Edward's wife) sent her the money. 

Surrey returns to his cross-examination by the privy council. The council removes him as captain of Boulogne and orders him not to return to France, and he's refused an audience with the king to plead his case. Later, with Charles, Surrey says he was  continually denied reinforcements, and now warns that Seymour will suffer for taking his place, and that the king will most certainly die before Edward is mature, which means Seymour will be governing the realm. Pensive as always, Charles listens to what he says without comment.

Charles advises his son Henry that Brigite is now his official mistress and will be attending court with him, despite that it makes his mother unhappy. But since she's made his life miserable, it's only fair. Henry is quite fine with this, and says whatever makes his father happy, makes him happy as well. Later, Brigite asks why Charles is so pensive, and he realizes that the machinations of court nolonger involve him. People are vying for control over young Prince Edward as they will control the state, but it is all beyond him now. Asked if he still loves the king, he gives no response.

Mary is devastated when informed by Sir Richard that Chapuys died soon after returning to Spain. Sir Richard advises her she still has friends in court, including Bishop Gardiner who share the Catholic faith, as well as him. Gardiner needs to know he has her support in order to ensure the heretics are dealt with and young Edward is not brought up a protestant. She is in complete agreement with him.

In December 1545, Henry addresses Parliament, chastising everyone and warning of divisions in the clergy and the laity. Henry vows to see the divisions corrected, as God's vicar in the realm. Later, Thomas Seymour, who has returned to England, advises Catherine of the king's address. Catherine believes the break from Rome is only the beginning of the reforms, not the end, and believes they must continue to pressure for continued changes in the church.

Edward Seymour is visited by the French ambassador, who speaks of England's dire straits, not the least of which is a bankrupt kingdom, and suggests peace might be negotiated between them. Later, Edward Seymour returns with an offer of peace from France—handing back Boulogne in eight years time in return for payment of two million crowns. The king is pleased with the arrangement. Henry is then advised that Gardiner wants to arrest three of the Queen's ladies, including the Queen's sister, Anne. 

A gathering at court provides the venue for a host of schemes. Catherine advises Lord and Lady Hartford her sister has been arrested by Gardiner. Across the chamber, Mary begins conspiring with Gardiner, and is advised Anne Askew is to be burned, while searches of the Queen's ladies have found suspicious books in their company. Meanwhile, Surrey embarks on a plot to abduct Prince Edward at Windsor so that he can control the fate of the country upon the king's death. But this scheme is quickly quashed and he's arrested.

While Anne Askew is led to the pyre, Lady Hartford gives the executioner a bag of gunpowder to tie around her neck to end her suffering. While they watch the execution, Lady Hartford is advised that Gardiner now wants to see her. The gunpowder explodes, killing Anne quickly before the fire can.

Edward Seymour advises the king that Surrey's plan was to kill the council and assume control of the prince. Henry is saddened by Surrey's betrayal, but always knew he was proud and foolish. In the tower, Surrey is visited by a friend who brings him a knife with which Surrey can pry open the toilet and escape into the river that flows beneath, leaving him to meet with a boat and make his escape. But even this plans fails as Surrey is found out before he can take his leave.

At his trial, Surrey confronts his accusers as failing the king's government. He pleads not guilty, and believes that there is no crime that he can be convicted of. However, Sir Richard and Edward Seymour realizes they do share some common ground in regards to Surrey's mutual hatred of both of them. Though the court is finding little evidence to convict him, Edward tells the forman of the jury the law is whatever the king says it is. Later, the jury finds Surrey guilty.

Charles watches, and appears saddened by the spectacle. Surrey says the king wants to get rid of all the noble blood around him and employs only the low born people. The court reacts violently, protesting the decision, and Charles watches grimly as Surrey is lead out to be hanged and burned.

Catherine consoles her sister after she is released. Later, she notices Mary is less than friendly to her, and Mary admits bitterly to hearing rumours that the king is looking for a new wife given she has not presented Henry with a child. Catherine sees through her vitriol, and admits that she still loves Mary as a dear friend, but something has happened with Mary to make her hate her stepmother.

At a party including the privy council and the bishop, Catherine and Henry play cards, and the two discuss the queen's writing. Catherine thrives to bring books to the English people. Henry wants her to be cautious about encouraging the people to try to read the gospels, which prompts Catherine to encourage him to finish his work by purging the Church of England of its dregs and the vestiges of Catholicism.

Henry is too weary, he does not even seem angry, and he sends everyone away, including Catherine. Only Gardiner remains to hear Henry lament being lectured to by his wife. It's the perfect opportunity for Gardiner to chastise the queen for arguing with him. In fact, those people in the land who have argued similar points have been executed for it. Gardiner says he has proof to put the queen on trial for heresy. Henry admits she could be tried for what she's said, but Henry is also fully resolved to spare her life. Gardiner agrees with whatever Henry desires.

So we have the penultimate Tudor's episode, setting up the final plot points of the series—Catherine's trial. It was a very sombre episode, weighed down by the sense of age and death that has permeated the atmosphere for most of the season.

Charles seems relegated to silent observer, whether privy to Henry's innermost thoughts and unbalanced decisions, or Surrey's treasonous observations. But why would he have any sympathy for Surrey, as is implied? He's not only disagreed with the decision to put him in charge of Boulogne, but he's listened to Surrey rail against the new nobility all season—and finally this episode, to actually consider the king's death (which we've learned over four years is treasonous). So what are we to take of Charle's sympathy?

Surrey's character has been erratic all season. The viewer is privy to his secret meeting to conspire to seize Prince Edward and thereby control the country, yet later we're shown it's all a frame constructed by Sir Richard and Hartford. What? He's guilty! It appears we're supposed to feel sympathy for him, yet he comes across as no different than Hartford—a braggart and generally ignorant oaf unworthy of his royal blood.

All that said, everything else about Secrets of the Heart was very satisfying. The religious schism makes for compelling viewing, comparable to the end of the first season when Henry was first beginning to make his break from Rome. The English reformation was sparked by Henry's desire for Anne, and now the country is in a complete mess as he makes it up as he goes along.  The Hartford/Catherine faction plays a dangerous game with the Gardiner/Richard/Mary faction, and the king is in the middle, now too old and weary to make a firm decision as attentions turn to who will have control over the young prince.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Review: Caprica "The Heavens Will Rise"

Non Spoiler Review:
Another extremely dense episode. If all of Caprica's earlier episodes had kept this pace, then the show might have built up some early momentum. While those storylines that got brief mention last week were expanded upon, my only concern is how much plot is going to be left dangling at the end of the series.

The Graystones embark on their quest to find Zoe, and enlist some muscle to help them through New Cap City (now Rivendale, apparently). Another Tauron character is introduced that looks like she will be nothing but trouble for the Adamas (including a nasty little revelation about Joseph—as if killing his father wasn't enough!). Jordan and Amanda slip up, leading what will likely be a big problem with Clarice next week. Finally, some serious weirdness is going on with the Cylons on Gemenon. That covers about everyone!

This was really exciting, including a bit of a shocking teaser with Daniel that set the pace for the rest of the hour. It was very enjoyable to see both the teamwork with Amanda and Daniel and their new honesty pact. Developments with the STO were surprisingly creepy—they've acquired a lot of Cylons, and they seem to be acting a little off. So much to think about, and only two episodes left. 

Only one big nasty was revealed about Joseph that kind of soured things. I was unsure if this revelation was necessary at all, considering the giant character development he got last week. We'll have to see what comes of it.

Spoilers Now!
While Zoe and Tamara pretty up their cool new heaven, Daniel can trace them in v-world via backdoor programs he installed in the holobands. Amanda wants to go in first as she slapped Zoe before she died, but Daniel admits he did worse—exploiting her fear of fire to get her to reveal herself in the Cylon. Slap-happy Amanda gives him a nice slap for that.

Tamara is abruptly pulled away and enters a black room in which Daniel is waiting. He just wants to see Zoe. But Zoe appears, and he thanks the gods. There's only one, Zoe says, and stabs him. Daniel's thrown out of v-world raging in pain. "She's still mad," he tells Amanda.

Zoe's shut Daniel out now, and he must only enter New Cap City like everyone else, and stuck playing by the rules, so if he gets killed, he's out of the game. Amanda muses that maybe they're supposed to learn from this. She gets a text from Jordan telling her they need to meet, and Amanda thinks it's time (given they're being all truthy with one another) to tell him about her involvement with the GDD.

Jordan tells Amanda they're on their own given the infiltration of the GDD. Amanda still thinks Mar-Beth abandoned the baby. Jordan gives her a rigged holoband to replace with Clarice's so he can get their secrets. He convinces her to get back in there and switch them, so she reluctantly does so, and returns with the special holoband.

Jordan admits Mar-Beth is dead, that he fed them false information. Amanda is horrified that she just had a baby. A baby that will become a terrorist, Jordan says insensitively. He tells Amanda she's done them a great service and she walks off. And someone shoots Jordan! She hurries back to find him at the bottom of the ravine and tries to save him.

Back at the STO's v-world pyramid stadium, Nestor, Olaf and Clarice are running through their final preparations to bomb the game—a fake repair crew will be placing charges that will be set off by the intital martyrs. The explosion will activate the remote Zoe program and the martyr avatars will be uploaded to the virtual heaven. Clarice wants the press release to go out a month later after a suitable time of mourning, at which point there will be jubilation at the knowledge the martyrs achieved their apotheosis. At least that's the plan.

Nestor is feeling guilty and having second thoughts—he understands he could upload their avatars right now if he wanted. It's all just showmanship as the death of the originals won't be going to the heaven. How does Clarice know she speaks for god? She suggests he go to the big game to see for himself, but chastises him as she knows he's not ready to die for his faith.

On Gemenon, Lacie stops a fight between a guard and a trainee after he orders the Cylon to shoot him. Lacie commands it to stop. By your command, it says. They compete for the Cylon's attention, but it ultimately obeys Lacie.

Diego wants to know how she did that, as Cylon's only obey an authorized controller. Maybe he has a sense of decency, she suggests. Lacie manages to get off without punishment by suggesting the STO inspire rather than punish. Later, Mother visits Diego, having heard about the unusual behaviour. She gives a nice little speech about how she prefers mysteries over secrets, and perhaps it's best this remain a mystery. She wonders aloud that with the rigorous training, how any of the new recruits survive at all. Then she gives Diego the late Obal's ring (the murdered conclave member), telling him he knows what must be done.

Fidelia Fizikus pops into the Tauron hangout, greeting Sam. She's been released from prison (after having taken the fall for a job that went bad, apparently involving Sam). She's doing some work for the Guatrau at Graystone Industries. She's excited to be working with the Adama boys again. It's immediately obvious she will be nothing but trouble.

Daniel needs his family back and begs Sam to help him by coming into V-world to find Zoe (and Tamara). Amanda tells Daniel what happened. Jordan is in the hospital, but it seems that her cover is blown. They can't call the GDD either. And the incriminating holoband is apparently missing.

Sam, Eveyln and Grannie Ruth are making dinner, when Willie walks in with an Avenging Angels shirt he traded at school. Sam pulls it off him and sends him to his room. Eveyln tells him the Avenging Angels are everywhere. She wants him to take Graystone up on his offer and kill or destroy the avatar. Joseph needs to move on. "Yeah, move on to you," Sam says harshly, then apologizes, and gets a nasty glare from grandma.

At Graystone Industries, pencil pusher Joseph works late and Fidelia shows up, giving him a big kiss. Joseph protests, and she tells him insensitively he's not married anymore. It was a mistake, he admits. He was married.

Fidelia is taking accounts for the Guatrau, finding some inconsistencies in the Cylon shipments to the government. In addition to the STO ones they're funnelling out, they're missing about one in every twelve Cylons they're shipping. Joseph tries to bluff his way out of it about faulty models, but it's obvious she's not buying it.

Odin is enjoying some Lacie holoporn when real Lacie wakes him up and asks him to be lookout as she walks into the Cylon barracks to figure out what's going on. She enters the chamber full of inactive warriors, but at her instruction they all power up. She speaks to the one she initially stopped from shooting, and it obeys her instructions. Zoe? she asks. She wants it to react if it's really Zoe inside by raising its arm. Slowly the others begin to intermittently raise their weapons, and Odin drags her out. They share a toke and she tells him her friend was Zoe Graystone, a true believer, and then frak for real.

Sam calls Daniel and agrees, for 10,000 cubits. This is at Evelyn's advisement, who seems to be scheming with Sam to get rid of the Tamara avatar.

Amanda tells Daniel the holoband was missing and someone took it. Apparently it's not the Willows, as we see them using the replacement band and Nestor realizes it has a different identification code. The three of them realize at the same time it's Amanda who is the spy, and that they killed an innocent Mar-Beth. Clarice has a moment of horror, and calmly says at last that she needs to talk to Amanda. They still have twenty-four hours before the bombing, enough time to get Amanda and retrieve their holoband that contains all their plans. Has the GDD been playing them the whole time?

Sam, Amanda and Daniel all arrive in v-world on horseback. From their tower, Zoe senses their approach.

What Worked:
The whole creepy Cylon angle on Gemenon felt quite ominous. What's going on with them? Are all the warriors bearing some hint of Zoe's presence in the original prototype? Still no explanation on how Vergis began mass producing them to meet his government quotas, but if they did contain a lingering aspect of Zoe's presence, then that might explain how they are better fighters than the pre-Zoe prototype.

Lacie has seemed erratic and conflicted in her motivations and development as a believer, with the implication that she will ultimately lead the STO. She regards Zoe as a true believer. Is this her destiny, to replace Clarice at some point?

Amanda and Daniel work so well as a couple and it's satisfying to see them tackle the Zoe problem together rather than persuing their own separate agendas.

Who has the STO holoband? Singh? Is it some double-agent that is also working against the Willows?

What Didn't Work:
Okay, I get that Tamara and Zoe have decided to become gods, and they've built a magnificent fortress from which they stand and watch...and that's it. Every scene has them standing on the parapet surveying their world. Do they do anything else? Have coffee? Wander around? Where is everyone? We see no one else except Sam, Amanda and Daniel at the end. Were all the players booted off? Or are they wandering aimlessly around the forests of the former New Cap City?

Daniel and Amanda are now totally honest? Fine. Does that mean Daniel told her about Vergis? All of this must have happened offscreen. But are we  to assume there are no secrets between them?

More offscreen developments—the Avenging Angels. Willie is wearing a t-shirt because he thinks it's cool, but has anyone until now discussed that Tamara is wandering around in there? Evil grandma and Evelyn know that Tamara must still be in there, though they thought she was dead after what Joseph said, but the extent of all this is unclear. How did Willie deal with this news? Wouldn't he want to go into New Cap City and see his sister?

Why, why, why tell us Joseph had an affair on Shannon? After strengthening the character last week, suddenly we get this black spot on him now. No wonder Admiral Adama had issues with his father.

Review: The Event "For the Good of Our Country"

Non Spoiler Review:
We get a conspiracy-focused episode, revealing some further aspects of the assassination attempt, but it ultimately amounts to a lot of people sitting down and piecing things together. Except, of course, Leila and Sean, who manage to get into even more ridiculous trouble.

For the Good of Our Country comes across as filler. While we do get a revelation, it's one that can be seen coming a mile away and lacks any punch at all. Leila and Sean continue to be nothing more than  a wasted twenty minutes each episode. Unless they are building up to a heck of a lot of excitement in coming episodes, The Event could easily be skipped at this point and recapped in a couple of sentences.

Spoilers Now!
Martinez, Vice President Ray Jarvis and Sterling are having a meeting to discuss their next move—namely retrieving Sophia and tracking down the sleeper aliens in their midst. Martinez wants to interview Buchanan personally to see if he can get some answers. 

Michael continues to be very sorry for trying to kill the president and two hundred passengers, but he wasn't thinking straight at the time. But he does remember that he heard a call to go ahead with the assassination at 1:08 PM, about an hour prior to the attack. That is very helpful to Martinez, who seems to know exactly what that means.

And so do we, as VP Ray is very antsy about what Martinez learned in the interview, and when he's shut out of the transcript he flashes back to an hour before the attack when he and Sterling were trying to convince Martinez not to close down the Alaska facility. When Martinez refuses, Ray gets in his car and phones James (Hal Holbrook), who seems to be in control of the situation, and realizes the assassination must go ahead. Ray's been a good public servant, but releasing so many unknown people into their society is unacceptable.

We get to relive Leila's tantrum again, only this time one of the attackers jumps off the roof and manages to shoot Sean. They flee, she steals a car, and they get to a hospital where she proceeds to kidnap a doctor and bring him with them.

Martinez meets with Sterling, advising him that someone in their meeting in Miami gave the go ahead four minutes after the meeting ended. He assures Sterling he knows it isn't him, but they need to go through the transcript records of phone calls from that time.

Ray phones Hal Holbrook in a panic, threatening to bring him down if he's exposed. James assures him nothing bad will happen, but wants to continue the conversation in person.

Two years earlier, James Dempsey meets with Raymond during his campaign. Martinez is proposing a bipartisan ticket and suggests Raymond could reach across the aisle and be his running mate. He wants him to provide balance to Martinez's idealism.

Sterling realizes it's Ray who made the call. Unfortunately, even if they unscramble the call, they've covered up the assassination attempt already, so they can't prosecute Jarvis for that. Martinez and Sterling storm in to confront him, but Jarvis is gone. 

Meanwhile, charm school graduate Leila is taking the doctor to the pharmacy, because drugs, coupled with his Hippocratic oath, will save Sean where a hospital cannot. She takes him inside, leaving Sean in the car. Doctor Hostage orders up a shitload of stuff at the pharmacy, but Leila starts to panic when the cops come in to buy water. Leila couldn't be acting more suspicious if she tried. They leave and return to the car, but Sean's gone. Oops.

Fortunately they can follow his trail of blood to a back alley where they perform emergency surgery next  to the dumpster. Leila need only apply pressure and Dr. Hostage does the rest and sews him up (Applying pressure seems to be the one thing Leila is good at, as poor whipped Sean can likely attest). 

Dempsey meets with Vicky, who wonders how Sean and Leila got away without inside help. He asks if she's ready to resume her work and help him solve a problem—Jarvis. Jarvis arrives for a medical appointment, which is the cover story for his meeting with Dempsey.

Sterling and Martinez are moving to have the Vice President retrieved immediately. When they to the doctor's office they find him gone, having left through another door in the office. Jarvis runs into Vicky, but instead of killing him she kills her assistant. She wants out as Dempsey has played them both. She wants Jarvis to bury him, so both of them can get out alive.

Jarvis returns to his security detail and calls the president to tell him he's on his way to turn himself in. He believed he was working for the good of the country, but he's working for a powerful man. Who? Before he can say anything the van his security detail neglected to notice blows up. 

Dempsey gets an update that it's done, but he knows Vicky didn't come through for him. Dempsey is taking something out of an eyedropper, and for a moment, as he walks in front of the mirror, he goes from old Hal Holbrook to CGI young Hal Holbrook, and then back again!

Are they stretching this out for a midseason cliffhanger? We really learned nothing here, except that the aliens' longevity may be tied to extending life and rejuvenating humans. Is that the source of the conspiracy to keep the aliens secret?

Review: The Walking Dead "Tell It To the Frogs"

Non Spoiler Review:
This was a very emotionally intense episode that finally brings all the characters together, including the anticipated Grime family reunion. The Dixon problem provides the focus of the main plot, as his brother, Daryl, is less than impressed he was left to die on a rooftop in Atlanta, prompting Rick to formulate a new plan that also serves to resolve some lingering plot points.

Coming off last week's lighter tone, this one delivered a lot of emotional punches. As expected, Lori, Carl and Rick's reunion was no surprise, and played out quite genuinely and set up a Shane/Rick dynamic that will be very interesting to watch. Coupled with a great background score by Bear McCreary, the ending provided a riveting, breathless intensity, as we realize the human problems in the survival camp will be more destructive than the undead.

Spoilers Now!
Merle remains on the rooftop, rambling like a mad man before the bolted door is strained by the weight of hungry zombies. This prompts Merle to panic and try to get to the assorted tools sprawled out just out of reach.

At the campsite, Lori is cutting Carl's hair and Shane is promising him a day of catching frogs to eat, as they're soon going to run out of canned goods. It's a very nice rapport and Shane is trying very hard to be a father to Carl. Glen returns to camp, preceding the van, and Amy and Andrea share a happy reunion. But it's Rick's appearance that steals the thunder and provides the shocks for Shane, Carl and Lori. 

Shane fades into the background while Rick and Lori reforge their troubled relationship. She explains she was told the patients would be airlifted to Atlanta but had given him up for dead. He's just happy to be back and is ready to move on.

The next day the camp is alarmed when a walker is caught nearby chowing down on a deer that  Daryl just shot. Daryl is a piece of work, like his brother, but he seems a bit more reasonable (just a bit), given he resolves to rescue his brother after a tantrum and some mild fisticuffs. Rick wants to go with him, which upsets Lori again. But Rick isn't being completely irrational here. Not only does he need to retrieve his guns (as the camp is very low on ammo), but he promised Morgan he would keep in touch with him and the walkie-talkies remain with the bag, as well. He can't bear to lead the father and son into the mess that is Atlanta.

Lori slightly comes around to this, but is still upset with him leaving. Rick asks Glen to accompany them, and T-Bone also wants to come as he feels guilt about losing the key. Rick then asks for Dale's wire cutters, but Dale is less than amenable to this, as they lost all his tools there the first time around, so Rick promises to get them, plus negotiates with Jim that he can strip the van of all the parts he needs when they get back for the RV.

The rescue party heads out and gets into Atlanta with no problem, sneaking into the department store with little resistance. They cut the bolted door and rush out on the vacant roof while Daryl rages at the sight of a hacksaw and severed hand. Merle's disappeared.

That is only a minor bit of drama compared to what happens at camp. It's obvious that chubby Ed is a lazy and abusive husband to timid Carol and daughter Sophia. So when the women wash clothes by the quarry and Shane teaches Carl how to catch frogs, Lori gets angry and sends Carl back to camp. She wants Shane to stay away—really away, as in don't even talk or look at us anymore (which could be difficult in their tiny community). Shane admits Rick is his best friend, too, but Lori is furious because apparently Shane told her Rick had died which is why she agreed to flee with him in the first place. She storms off, leaving Shane to deal with the fallout.

Andrea, Amy, Jacqui and Carol are washing clothes, commenting on the sexist division of labor in the camp. But they do share a few laughs about the good old days when they had washing machines, coffee makers and vibrators. Ed doesn't like laughter or any signs of fun and shambles up to tell them to just do their work, getting Andrea's ire up. Ed doesn't like these college educated women and threatens to drop her on her ass, which gets everyone upset except for timid Carol who just wants to diffuse the situation.

Shane watches from afar as Ed shoves Andrea, prompting a commotion in which Shane appears, drags Ed to the ground and proceeds to pummel him until his face is ground beef. Carol pulls him off and goes to her husband while the rest, stunned, watch Shane walk off.

What Worked:
This episode hit all the emotional markers just right—Daryl's rage, the family reunions and the slow buildup of tension with abusive Ed. The collapse of civilization has driven everyone to the breaking point, and it seems people are a hairsbreadth from losing it at the least provocation. The emotional reactions continue to ring true. The cast is really great at delivering their characters. Even Merle's egregious characterization redeemed itself somewhat, if only for some well done delirious ramblings. 

The survivor camp is a hodge-podge of classes, ages and education. It is held together only by necessity, not for any grander ideal other than surviving. This is shown throughout with the questioning of Shane's authority, and Rick having to negotiate with Dale and Jim to borrow their tools for the trip into the city. This can't last, and I'm curious how long before we get a much smaller group heading off on their own.

The introduction of Carol and Sophia (the actress playing the mother briefly appeared in Frank Darabont's The Mist) provides more background from the comic (though I don't believe her husband Ed was there, if I remember correctly). Ed's unflattering characterization, though, provides the impetus for the tense climax. 

The morale ambiguity of Shane and Lori's predicament made for a very interesting debate. Shane appears sympathetic throughout, especially given how earnest he is in bonding with Carl and providing a father figure to him. Lori becomes a complete bitch to him once Rick is back and we can see how horrified she is with the prospect of keeping the secret from her husband. But then we learn Shane told her Rick was dead, so we again have to rethink his motivations. Finally, his opportunity to unleash his frustrations on wife-beating Ed was a cathartic moment (for us and him), but left the audience cringing by the time it was through.  

The little details continue to keep The Walking Dead above average—the day to day activities of doing laundry, Daryl retrieving his arrows from his kills, keeping stock of guns and tools—all the mundane elements of survival that are usually glossed over. In addition, had Rick simply wanted to return to Atlanta for Merle, it wouldn't have played very true to life, but given he needs to retrieve the weapons and the walkie-talkies in order to warn Morgan about the city, it was a nice batch of reasons that validated such a risky mission.

Carl's chat with Lori about why his father would be okay—because nothing's killed him so far—was the start of hopefully lots more of Carl. The actor who plays him is doing a good job pulling it off. He is the second most important character in the series, after all, but it looks like he has the ability to handle the role.

We've officially left comics continuity—for a little while, at least—so it will be interesting to see if the characters' fates are also up in the air. Though I hope this is not the case, as every death is important to the series as a whole.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: Caprica "Dirteaters"

Non Spoiler Review:
Ha'la'tha promotions for Sam and Joseph prompt pensive flashbacks to the not so good old days on Tauron, providing some shocking glimpses into the Adama family history, and certainly a story that young Willie is never going to hear from his father. Both the Graystones and the Adamas appear to reach turning points that will change both families forever.

The Adama backstory has provided a very significant insight into the motivations of Sam and Joseph, and lead the two of them to change course. Given we only have three episodes left, I hope we get to see some sense of how this will be resolved. Daniel and Amanda also reach a similar turning point. Both of these storylines overshadow some brief—but just as significant—scenes dealing with New Cap City and its Avenging Angels, the GDD, and a smaller helping of Polly Walker that delivers a good dose of Clarice-level crazy.

A very satisfying episode that delivers a couple of tense moments, satisfying character evolution, and plot developments that continue to move at an accelerated pace.

Spoilers Now:
Sam and Joseph are rising in the Ha'la'tha ranks. The Guatrau makes Sam a captain, and Joseph is brought in as his advisor, which warrants a new Tauron tattoo. The Guatrau muses about how far they've come since he took the two orphaned boys under his wing, and prompts a flashback to childhood on Tauron for both brothers.

We get a glimpse of their family life, back when the Ha'la'tha was a resistance movement against the Heraklidean dictatorship. It's time for Joseph's first tattoo of manhood, but brother Sam is jealous of all the attention being doted on it. Sam is the one who acts on his emotions, while Joseph is quiet and thinks. William Sr. is proud of both but asks Sam to allow Joseph his due.

Later, William and Marie Adama, decide to fill in the boys on what's going on. They're part of the Ha'la'tha resistance, and Adamas never start a fight they don't finish, so they show them suicide pills just in case their parents are caught by the Heraklideans. The enemy will attempt to use their children against them to give up their compatriots. 

In the present, Joseph is having a crisis of loyalty. He can't support Daniel's assassination and doesn't see him as a bad man. Later, the two men have a boxing match, and Joseph warns him in a roundabout way to keep his guard up.

In New Cap City, the Willow husbands, Nestor and Olaf, are enjoying the latest fad—trying to confront the deathwalkers, now notorious in the real world as the Avenging Angels, complete with t-shirts.  Zoe and Tamara show up at a bar, Sinny McNutt's, like a pair of gunslingers. Nearly everyone there tears off their bands so they don't get killed, except the guys, who pull swords. Nestor comments sarcastically she looks nothing like Zoe Graystone. But the girls pull out guns, and blow Olaf away as Nestor jumps for cover.

Back at the Willow house, Olaf is shut out of New Cap City and thoroughly pissed. Clarice walks in and tells them to stop playing games and clean up Mar-Beth's stuff so they can keep it for the baby. They'll just tell Amanda she walked off and wasn't cut out to be a mother (unaware Amanda's already placed a  surveillance camera in the room). As Clarice leaves, Nestor comments she should play New Cap City, as they've got someone in there posing as a Zoe avatar. Clarice can't be bothered by their games.

Daniel researches the Guatrau and Tauron history—the two year civil war thirty years before resulted in a genocide against the Ha'la'tha resistance, forcing them to move offworld and become a crime syndicate across the Twelve Colonies. The Guatrau's current corporate acquisitions have all been liquidated or bankrupt, and all the CEO's are dead, except for Daniel.

Back to the flashback, Sam and Joseph witness a man beaten to death in the alley. Sam goes out and looks through his things and takes his gun, despite Joseph's warnings. Sam admonishes his brother for being afraid of everything, and hides the gun under his bed.

Later, the Heraks show up, and the boys are hidden as mom and dad Adama open the door to three soldiers looking for information on who killed the comrade the night before. As they search the house, William tries convince the female commander they know nothing, but then they find Sam's gun. The boys watch in horror from their hiding place as their parents are tied up and tortured. Marie is eventually led out of sight and shot, while William continues to be beaten.

While the soldiers are out of sight dealing with Marie, Sam comes out and unties his father. William tells him to stop, to go get the poison, and take his brother and go. Sam grabs the gun and returns to hiding as William endures more torture. Sam can't pull the trigger, despite Joseph urging him to do so. Finally the gun fires three times, and all three soldiers go down,. But we see that it's Joseph that has taken the gun from his brother and used it. The Herak commander is seriously wounded, but still lives, and watches as William begs Joseph to send him to the soil before the authorities arrive. Joseph does so and shoots his father. 

Daniel goes to see Sam and confronts him about planning to assassinate him. Sam plays dumb, but Daniel has researched Tauron culture enough to have a plan. He asks why he follows this particular Guatrau who acts like a pure Caprican, selling Cylons to the STO but not to his own people. Would his parents put profit above their own people?

He strikes a nerve with Sam, who gets riled at the thought of betraying his parents' memory. Daniel offers him codes, backdoor access and a private transport to help Sam's cause—Sam will get his Cylons if he can find a way to keep Daniel alive.

We see Eveyln and Joseph in bed together, and they seem to have settled in with their new relationship. Joseph is pensive, confessing the Guatrau is selling Cylons to the STO. Eveyln wants him to help Tauron, too, and encourages him to do the right thing. Then she lights a cigarette with a lighter we're all too familiar with from Battlestar Galactica.

Clarice is very critical of Olaf and Nestor's virtual renderings of their new heaven. She wants it to look stellar for the first arrivals in their faux afterlife, not looking like something from the old pantheon. Olaf and Nestor are less than enthused with her criticisms, but she wants statues and stained glass. Of who, they ask. Why, of those of us who were there at the beginning.

Jordan is called in to Singh's office. Jordan confronts Singh about being a traitor, but Singh has called in internal affairs for Jordan losing a confidential informant. He's even doctored the tapes to make it look like Jordan never gave him the file on his informant. Jordan is taken off the case and turns in his badge. Meanwhile, Amanda has her first recording from the Willow bedroom, but when she tries to call Jordan at the GGD, she's informed Jordan no longer works there.

Daniel runs into a kid who is wearing an Avenging Angels t-shirt, seeing Zoe's face. He buys it off him and checks out Sinny McNutt's in New Cap City, asking around about the angels. The girls eventually show up, but a startled Zoe flees, and Daniel pulls off his holoband before he's hurt and can't return.

Zoe and Tamara realize people must be talking about them in the real world. Tamara says they can leave New Cap City and get lost in v-world, but Zoe wants to stay. She's sure they have a destiny. They've become gods there, so why not act like it, she suggest, and build a place where no one can hurt them. With that, New Cap City abruptly disintegrates and reforms into a beautiful vista of mountains, forests and castles.

Sam is preparing his first Cylon shipment to Tauron, which Joseph nearly stumbles upon if not for Willie's delaying tactic. Joseph isn't stupid, though, and guesses what is going on. The brothers have a talk later. Joseph advises him crossing the Gautrau is crazy and Sam should have come to him first. Because what they need is to be smart. Joseph confesses he's forgotten who he was and who he is. Sam needs to stop feeling guilty for what happened to their parents. They're brothers and will do this together.

In the final flashback we see Joseph giving Sam his first tattoo, both brothers swearing to choose their own path and be faithful to themselves as Adama's.

Amanda pops back to see Daniel, who tells her Zoe's alive. Amanda is understandably shocked, but realizes he is talking about the avatar. It's not that simple, he confesses. It's their daughter. He thought she was gone, and now he doesn't understand but he's seen her in v-world. Amanda wants to see her. "Let's go find her," he says.

What Worked:
After much of the season spiralling downward in despair and self-destructive decisions, both the Adamas and the Graystones have found the better angels of their nature and seem to be set upon a path towards renewal. It was very cathartic. Sam and Joseph's vow to one another, and Daniel and Amanda for the first time in some time meeting on common ground to find their daughter.

The Adama family got a much-needed shot in the arm, and even though this series is over, at the very least we got some insight into Bill Adama's heritage. Both Joseph and Sam's motivations and personal guilt provides such a canvas for their current actions and motivations. Finally, Joseph has found himself again, and I hope we get to see some movement on this plot before the series ends.

There was so much happening with the two families that all the other stuff in New Cap City, the Global Defence Department and the Willow household got very brief screen time, despite being quite relevant to the plot. All of the pieces of the puzzle built up over this entire season are beginning to thread together.

The glimpse of Tauron was another welcome inside into an additional offworld colony, and certainly a contrast to the privileged life of the Capricans. The Adamas are the children of terrorists? That provides a whole new dynamic, and a healthy dose of irony given their ties with the STO. 

Three words: A good lighter! Another artifact from Battlestar Galactica makes an appearance. A small, but very nice cameo of the lighter that eventually makes it's way into Lee Adama's hands, post-apocalypse.

What's going on in New Cap City? Has it been completely remade, and are everyone's characters now in World of Warcraft? The discovery of Zoe by her father got very little airtime but it's a huge plot point with the Graystones off to search for her—and kudos to Daniel for telling his wife the truth right away! It was a nice pop culture point that Tamara and Zoe would gain notoriety in the real world, as well, complete with t-shirts. Add to that the fanboy who recognizes Daniel, it was all a nice touch.

Sinny McNutt's is the best name for a bar. Ever.

What Didn't Work:
After so many dry runs with the avatar, Amanda is now checking in with Daniel regularly? Have they worked out their problems or is she finding him a refuge now that she's living with terrorists?

Cylons on Gemenon, and soon on Tauron. Will the Caprican government not notice Cylons popping up offworld, given their refusal to deploy peacekeeping troops to Tauron? Won't that lead right back to their designer, Daniel Graystone? What Daniel and the Ha'la'tha have done is akin to Lockheed Martin supplying new bombers to the Americans, and then some turning up in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Won't someone notice this?

And, of course, we still don't have a real indication of what is going on with Cylon sentience. Obviously either Daniel or Tomas have created much better reacting robots than we saw in the pilot, but the more intuitive Cylon was the result of Zoe being inside the prototype. Once she was removed, it was implied the Cylon was no longer sentient. These new warriors off the assembly-line are not sentient either, but have they fixed the earlier problem to make them better fighters? No one has addressed this yet.

What was the purpose of leaving the female Herak commander alive in the flashback? Sure, she witnessed William's murder by his son, but are they implying she will show up later, or was she just there to provide a horrifying witness to their dedication to the Ha'la'tha cause?

Review: The Tudors "As It Should Be"

Non Spoiler Review:
The siege of Boulogne comes to a conclusion, leading to Henry's eventual return to England, and a kingdom left in the charge of Catherine. Schemes continue in court with both Catherine and Bishop Gardiner, and we bid farewell to one of the series' oldest characters.

As It Should Be is an appropriate title—This episode returns The Tudors to the quality we've been used to, managing to avoid the pitfalls of the last few episodes in favor of a more focused and satisfying story. Battle scenes were filled with suitable spectacle. The actors continue to excel in their roles, particularly Henry and Catherine. It appears now that much focus is being spent on arranging characters and plots for the future and ultimate conclusion of the series. 

Spoilers Now!
Dysentery continues to spread through the ranks. Two thousand dead and more thousands ill. The countryside is empty of food. Surrey has his hands full keeping the army together, as the tunnel construction continues. The Italian builder presses on despite the dangers of collapse.

Henry won't hear of failure, and demands his men fight or they be hanged, forcing the doctor to get the men out of the sickbeds into the trenches. Charles, as always, watches his old friend's increasingly unbalanced outbursts.

Charles surveys the despair of the troops, but has let Brigitte's father go, though he continues to keep her in his tent, ensuring she is well-fed. As expected, Brigitte comes to his bed, and Charles finally finds some happiness in his love life. Through the whole French campaign, Charles has found some purpose again, away from the machinations of course and a loveless marriage.

Harry and Ron run into one another over the course of the siege and share food, wishing one another well in their respective battle tasks. In contrast, the king is enjoying a feast and entertaining visiting Edward Seymour, who compliments Queen Catherine's handling of matters of state. But he advises that the emperor has already besieged the two fortresses he was attacking, enraging Henry with his tunnel builder's lack of success. Siege warfare makes people lethargic, he suggests, so the king decides he wants to explode a charge prematurely before the tunnel is complete . The Italian begs for two days. 

The charge is detonated, and after a moment Henry watches as the towers and wall of the city begins to crumble to the cheers of the soldiers. Harry is buried as the tunnel collapses, and Ron is shot in the first volley of arrows from the French. The English troops are buoyed and begin their assault, and we see Harry pulled from the rubble, alive.

Bishop Gardiner visits Catherine for news of the king. Gardiner has found heretics in the kings privy chamber—the barber and royal cook—requiring her signature to persecute. But she refuses, suggesting she will not arrest people so close to the king without first acquiring his approval. She does advise him she's invited Prince Edward to court to avoid an outbreak of plague near Windsor.

Catherine receives a letter and advises the children of the victory over Boulogne. But Mary seems less than impressed her father will be home soon. All three Tudor children are together in court, which overjoys Catherine. Though she and Mary are friends, Mary seems very pensive around her.

Catherine thinks Edward is old enough to be placed with his tutors rather than his nanny. She then asks to see Mistress Ashley, someone she can trust, as she's from a family of reformers. Elizabeth's mother, Anne, was a Lutheran, she muses, so perhaps Mistress Ashley should bring the girl up in her mother's faith? Both agree, and Catherine advises her their conversation never happened.

Henry receives the French surrender and is elated he has acquired Boulogne, part of his legacy. He surprises Charles with news that they will not be marching on Paris, but returning to England instead, and he will be leaving Surrey in charge of the town. Charles is confused, as this seems to go against the alliance with the emperor, but Henry is satisfied with his victory.

Harry pays his respects to Richard's grave as the army marches out. Charles is smitten with Brigitte and asks her to return to England with him after he confesses his lover for her. She agrees.

Catherine meets Henry's entourage as it arrives in England. They have an emotional reunion, and celebrations continue. Bishop Gardiner is very worried about the state of affairs, as the war has bankrupted the realm and they are at war with both France and Scotland, not to mention a heretic Queen to deal with. He vows to destroy her.

Mendoza, laid up with gout, meets with the king. He is seeking to be recalled to Spain due to his infirmity, but he has mixed news to deliver. The emperor has signed a separate treaty with the French, because their army spent too long under siege and had grown week for an assault on Paris. Henry feels betrayed. After a tongue lashing about the untrustworthy emperor, he gives Mendoza permission to leave and wishes him a long and happy retirement.

Mary is heartbroken at Mendoza's departure. But the old man is confident in Catherine's love for her. Mary confesses she knows Catherine only pretends to be of their faith, and launches into a tirade against her situation—were she a boy, England would still be faithful. She does not know if she'll ever be married or queen, but she swears if she does, she will make England faithful again, doing whatever it takes, burning however many heretics necessary to make the realm Catholic again.

Mendoza shares an embrace as she cries on his shoulder. He gives her his ring, which was a gift from the emperor, who received it from her mother.

Bad news continue to come in from France—Henry is advised that the emperor is marrying his daughter to the Duke of Orleans, and the French are preparing to march on Boulogne. But Henry prefers to celebrate his victory, and wants the entire country to hear of his exploits in France. Unfortunately he suffers another spell and collapses in his chambers.

At last, an episode that strikes the right balance of plot and pacing. There were really only two focuses—court and battle. We got the resolution of the siege and the focus on Catherine and her stepchildren, with no diversions into irrelevant plots and characters. 

Catherine Parr is portrayed wonderfully, striking a perfect balance of fantastic stepmother to the Tudor children while calmly and gracefully scheming to promote her Lutheran views to Elizabeth and undermine Bishop Gardiner.

We continue to get the development of Mary's ultimate character, as well as Elizabeth, two sisters who will become enemies later in life. Even Surrey now has some relevance, taking over management of Boulogne.

Harry and Ron's characters continued to be unnecessary, and it was not surprising that one of them didn't make it out of France. Really, the screen time they took up would have been better served stretching out some scenes from last episode.

Mendoza's departure and final scene with Henry was quite powerful, given both men are now infirm and dying. They've spent the entire series together, and this season above anything is about endings as we watch the characters arrive at their fates

Friday, November 12, 2010

Review: The Walking Dead "Guts"

Non Spoiler Review:
Rick is stuck in the tank, but has the help of mystery voice Glen (nicely played by Steven Yeun), who ultimately reunites him with another band of survivors on a supply run into Atlanta. Trapped by Rick's noisy entrance into the city, they're forced to come up with some out of the box thinking in order to get passed the hordes of zombies surrounding them. Meanwhile, we get a better look at Shane's survival camp and leadership style.

Another gripping episode, this one did not slow the pace set by the pilot at all. In fact, it continues to leave us wanting more and eats up the hour before we know it. Walking Dead continues to establish the rules of this universe, and also presents us with logical and reasoned thinking for our characters to get themselves out of their binds—a novel approach to this type of horror story. 

There's a bit more dark humor injected into this episode, which works quite well in measured doses. Characters continue to be fleshed out, including the introduction of graphic novel heavyweight, Andrea, and more of Shane, Lori, and Dale. The television series continues with pleasing diversions from the source literature, including new characters. Another winner of an episode.

Spoilers Now!
Rick is advised to try to make a break for it, given the zombies are busy chowing down on the horse. Rick grabs whatever weapons he can find, including a grenade (notable in that it was not used this episode and remains a plot device for the future). He succeeds in breaking away, meeting new character Glen, who guides him to a fire escape to the top of a department store where several other survivors are holed up after their supply run went awry.

We get the introduction of Andrea (who is Amy's sister in the camp). I'm a big fan of Laurie Holden, and she doesn't disappoint. She at first pulls a gun on Rick, angry that his noisy shenanigans drew all the zombies to their location. We also get several other characters, including Merle Dixon, a coked up redneck racist who immediately tries to seize control of the situation, beating up T-Dog while uttering racial epithets and electing himself leader. That is, until Rick beats him down and handcuffs him to a pipe. Rick calmly assumes control of the situation, suggesting they try to find a way out through the sewers.

Here we get a breath of fresh air—not only does Rick concede to the wisdom of Glen (to not all pile into the sewer and thereby trap Glen from retreating if he should run into zombies), but they calmly assign roles to everyone for their little scouting operation. The sewer turns into a dead end (pun intended), so Plan B appears to be getting to a construction van a fair walk away and through crowds of undead.

After debating the traits the walkers seem to possess, they come to the conclusion that zombies can smell the living, so Rick gets the idea to hack up a zombie and smear him and Glen with the entrails and just walk through the crowd. They do so, providing a lot of humor as the characters deal with the horrendous situation of mutilating the corpse and dowsing themselves in its entrails. But the plan works, until an abrupt cloudburst washes everything away and they're left to sprint to the construction site, get the vehicle and proceed to rescue the group. Glen is driving a sports car they commandeered in order to draw the undead away, and the rest of the group proceeds out of the city in the van, for what will undoubtedly be an interesting reunion next week.

Dixon, however, is not so lucky, as T-Dog drops the handcuff key and kicks over another bag of plot devices, namely a tool box with a hacksaw, which we don't see again as we leave crazy Merle screaming and locked on the roof.

In camp, Lori and Shane share a tryst in the woods, but when they later hear from the stranded group, Shane is ready to write them all off, despite Amy's protests about leaving her sister. 

What Worked:
Lots of gore! Yet it didn't seem overdone considering the situation. This was more of a character introduction piece, given not much plot was advanced, but it was necessary to get Andrea and Dale and all the newer faces thrown into the mix. Particularly, Glen's character adds some nice bits of levity to some scenes with his pragmatic, but humorous survivalist take on things.

Most important is Rick's development, a stark contrast to Shane who assumes complete control and does not listen to debate. Rick immediately yields to the greater wisdom on the subject of survival and hands authority over to Glen to dole out tasks as they try to search the sewers for escape.

The zombie guts bit is right out of the book, but in this version they've brought in several more characters in contrast to just Rick and Glen in the comics. The scene where they first pay respect to the dead, and proceed to hack him to pieces was a nice bit of grotesque humor. And again, kudos for the rational discussions in thinking their way out of situations.

The introduction of additional characters outside the books is also a nice touch, including T-Dog and Jacqui, given we could rely too much on our knowledge of the fates of individual canon characters. Though part of me wonders how many of these are canon fodder (ha ha). That includes the many faces at the camp, some of whom I guessed from the book, but others who have taken on the same feel as the background survivors in Lost for the first few seasons, and we all know what happened to them.

And the fade out song was a tad better than last week's too, given this was certainly a more upbeat ending than last—a nice little homage to The Omega Man as Glen drives his red sports car through the vacant streets.

What Didn't Work:
I'm currently on the fence with Dixon's heavy-handed characterization, depending how his story unfolds. We get a clear indication he may hack off his arm to escape the handcuffs (shades of Mad Max!), given T-Dog knocked the tools down in front of him. That leaves open the possibility of the crazy man seeking them out for revenge at some point. I hope something more novel happens with this, as he seems a blatant antagonist to be introduced when the series really doesn't need additional ones.

They also avoided any real debate on what to do with Merle, and Rick was left conveniently out of the decision making on that. The situation dictated a quick resolution and then ultimately T-Dog drops the key, so it was a bit of a cop out. The notion of how to handle bad people in this new world is definitely going to come up again, so they probably will devote enough time to that later.

And a final point about Merle, if I haven't beaten this character to death—how did he get to be a part of this group anyway? Why would Shane send him along with that expedition when he is bat shit crazy and coked out of his head? How did they survive the drive into the city with him like that without things coming to a head much earlier? It was the only bit of plot that was overly contrived.

I may be premature, given it's only the second episode, but Carl is a very important character, and he's had maybe two lines? He needs to talk! But perhaps they're waiting for his reunion with dad to bring him out of his shell. 

Review: The Event "I Know Who You Are"

Non Spoiler Review:
Sophia is reunited with some of her people and settles the power struggle with Thomas, while Sterling reminisces about why he finds it hard to trust people, while in the present tracking down their suspicious mole. Sean, Leila and new BFF Madeline try to figure out daddy Michael's crazy folder of secrets, and meet up with an even more paranoid ally to help them out. Hal Holbrook shows up to make some phone calls and prune some flowers.

Another non-event. More running. A lot of waiting at hospitals. Sound familiar? It should. This is The Event. Nothing much is revealed this episode, aside from a few lines of dialogue between Sophia and Thomas that pretty much states the obvious. Sterling's character was the focus this time around, but his backstory remains a bit cliched. After a brief hiatus, I expected something more. Just another run-of-the-mill episode.

Spoilers Now!
Because the agents tracking Sophia are currently missing due to the building collapse, no one knows yet that Lee is the informant, but Sterling reluctantly admits to Martinez they've been infiltrated. Martinez demands he find the mole, so Sterling goes to wait by Lee's bedside, who has been brought in, unconscious, from the site. This allows Sterling some time to muse about why he doesn't trust anyone.

Sterling has a flashback to fourteen years earlier, when he's enjoying time with his new girl and his mean dad calls him up to come in for an important meeting. It's obvious his father is not someone he says no to. He shows his son evidence that she's a Russian intelligence operative. Sterling is horrified, and has to go home to take care of this messy bit of business. When he sees her, he admits that he knows everything, but he also professes his love for her and has bought them two tickets to leave that night to disappear. But she runs the moment she gets the chance, and he watches in horror as his father shoots her. His father tells him to take the gun so they think he handled it himself. So Blake takes the gun to keep his career. Sigh. The drama that is the life of a shady government operative.

Agent Murphy (the guy Lee shoved into the trunk) is found and gives up Lee. Sterling puts together all the inconsistencies in Lee's record including the old Come to think of it, he hasn't aged a day! problem, and they find the radioactive container at the coffee shop that had the isotope in it. So they start a blood test to see if he's an alien.

Sophia and Thomas meet up with another compatriot, Aaron, and make their escape, ending up at Thomas' penthouse. They've been able to make a fortune in investments, as their amazing crazy math allows them to predict the economy. She slaps Thomas for destroying all the trust she'd built and demands he respect her auth-or-i-tay. Why, she's acting like a crazy, domineering mother—"Sorry, mother," Thomas acquiesces.

Meanwhile, Leila's being a complete bitch, with a gun trained on Madeline. They piece together that the plane was hijacked because the president was going to reveal alien existence to the world. Michael's file is the best and only lead they have. We know this because Sean says it with emphasis. Madeline looks in the file and there's a list of girls' names and numbers in Michael's notebook...which Sean can crack if he has enough computer power, because he can crack any code with the amazing power of computers and his puppy dog eyes.

Madeline brings them to Peter, a fellow paranoid conspiracy theorist (times ten!), but one with encrypted software. He refuses to let them in until Leila pulls a Princess Leia and tells him "You're our only hope, Obi Wan Kenobi." Hey, it works. Peter knows right away the government has Michael, as he still has connections, but should just consider her sister is dead and move on. Leila is upset by this.

Peter lets Sean use his miracle computer powers to create certain protocols that take awhile to run, allowing Leila and Sean some alone time. They stare into one another's eyes and mutter irrelevancies with no bearing on the plot. Leila might have asked, " did you get from the cruise to the airport? How did you find out my dad was the pilot? How did you find out they were going to try to assassinate the president?" But she doesn't.

She does, however, have a strange flashback/vision of her mother getting killed and Samantha kidnapped. Is this the writers just taking liberties with her imagination, or is she actually seeing this? Shall I go out on a limb and suggest Leila is going to emerge with additional special abilities other than high maintenance bitch?

We see famous character actor Hal Holbrook pruning flowers (a hint, given horticulture is a sure sign of maniacal villainy). He gets a call from D.B. Sweeney (who must be with his lawyer), and fills him in on Sean and Leila getting away. Hal is not too pleased, but he's able to track them through a traced call to Peter's house. 

Back at the hideout, we find out the women on the list are all girls missing in the last six months, and the numbers next to their name are shell corporations in L.A. Then the cameras pick up intruders, and it's Hal Holbrook's men. Peter, Madeline, Leila and Sean flee. Peter, thinking ahead, had his house wired to blow up, so they get away. but Madeline and Peter disappear in the commotion as well. Leila's being a whiny bitch and just doesn't want to run anymore, so they just walk very fast and Sean has to calm her with the power of his love.

Thomas shows up at the hospital where Lee is and happens to get into the same elevator as Sterling to make some small talk before switching Lee's blood test in the lab. Lee awakens to Sterling staring at him. Sterling tells him his blood test came back as human. And Murphy is the mole, implicated by prints on the container! Aaron and Thomas have done a good job cleaning up the crime scene and implicating poor Murphy. Sterling is relieved he doesn't have to shoot Lee. Murphy is arrested.

Thomas reports back to Sophia, who doesn't have a problem with blame being placed elsewhere. So she decides to start asking relevant questions now. How far along are they in getting everyone home? The nuclear research has progressed enough to create a portal, but not advanced enough to transport everyone all the way, missing a few key components they can recover with her help, those components being from nuclear warheads. 

At the White House, we notice a news bit about the airline passengers recovering (without any reference to the Brazil crash?). Has this all been glossed over?

Sterling talks to Martinez and apologizes for failing him. Martinez is relieved to hear Sterling isn't perfect and offers him a beer. He takes it. Bromance!

Meanwhile, we get to see Samantha is still alive. She is being escorted by her female captor down a hall where's she's taken to a room full of little girls...who all look like old women!

All we really got here was Hal Holbrook likely being in charge of the conspiracy to cover up the aliens' existence. Discussion of Thomas' research into the portal wasn't too surprising, as this seems to be the basis of both of the earlier events that demonstrated their power. A portal to their homeworld or home time?

So...Thomas was able to get in on the Manhattan Project back in the day, but somehow cannot access the components he needs from the nuclear missile arsenal? They've had sixty years to infiltrate society, and no one is in the armed forces? They have, unfortunately, pretty much established an omnipresence for Sophia's people—completely erasing Lee's involvement in the escape and securing his cover, opening up wormholes, killing/resurrecting people seemingly at will. How are we supposed to believe that Martinez and Sterling can possibly get an advantage over them?

The leaps of logic this show takes week to week continues to confound and amuse. I guess the joy of this is just going to be in how crazy each episode gets and what miracle of technology is plucked out of the air to solve a particular problem. As far as I'm concerned it's officially missed the boat in becoming a suitable intelligent replacement for Lost. It's heading more towards cheesy Stargate territory.
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