Saturday, February 26, 2011

Review: V "Birth Pangs"

Non Spoiler Review:
A week later, Tyler is staying aboard the mothership living out a mundane fantasy version of alien Top Gun, but trouble brews when Anna learns his phosphorous levels (and personality, charm, charisma, etc...) are much lower than anticipated, despite Red Rain, meaning her alternate plan needs to kick in if he doesn't work out. As newly anointed head of the Fifth Column, Erica must prove her worth with Eli's lieutenants, requiring a trip to Bangkok that ultimately results in a massive infodump about the Visitor breeding program.

While we get the usual marathon plot antics to push forward the necessary information this week, it's unusually gratifying (gasp!) when we learn the truth behind the Visitors. It's actually a decent twist on the alien invasion that sets this series apart from its predecessor's "We need your food and water" trope.

Characters continues to flounder, though, and I won't even start about Tyler. Erica has found a lot of backbone since last week, so much so that Hobbes looks like a puppy dog around her. Anna had a helluva lot of walking around the mothership to do doling out smack and schemes, misplaced trust and secret reveals. But the revelations this week were worth sticking it out for. Maybe a sign the final episodes will ramp up the quality?

Oh, and guess who's still alive. *sad face*

The Global Fifth Column. Alien invaders are doomed.
Spoilers Now!
Anna greets Tyler after a week aboard, expressing her sympathy for his loss (like she's been too busy until now, but I think she just hates being around him). He's in one of the examination chambers, and Thomas advises he needs to take a final physical examination (hair cut) before deep space flight training. 

Anna is quite happy with the way things are going—destruction of the Fifth Column, Concordia underway, and soon, with Tyler aboard, the next phase of the interbreeding process. As Anna exposits, the examination will ensure his DNA is ready

Jack moves in with Hobbes at the headquarters. It's kind of like the Odd and Tedious Couple. Erica shows up and we get another round of "Sorry about what happened". She hasn't talked to Tyler since Joe's funeral.

But enough of that sappy business. Erica's brought Fierro in on their branch of the Fifth Column. She's hell bent on starting a war with Anna, but first she has to solidify her own power base, as Eli's lieutenants are gathering in Bangkok to talk about the new status quo, and she needs to be there.

Joshua advises Anna that there's a bit of a hiccup with Tyler—his phosphorous levels are not where they should be, and his body seems to be rejecting it. He isn't sure adding extra phosphorous will work, so Anna needs to make some backup plans. And there is a plan...there are alternates, and she chooses a guy from Spain named Raphael, which means Lisa is going to meet (breed) with him and check him out. Anna orders a phosphorous injection for Tyler, and if his levels remain low, he will be no use to them anymore, anway—please be low, please be low! Oh, and Tyler's haircut is a fail!

In Bangkok Erica meets with group of Fifth Column leaders. She starts laying down the law about injuring innocent civilians and all that suicide bombing nonsense, and instead bring the war to Anna. She has contacts on the mothership, which is access they don't have. So there. This seems to lessen their doubts, as long as she presents a plan, otherwise they'll pass leadership on to someone else.

Anna advises Lisa that Tyler is leaving on his first overnight training trip. In the meantime, her new assignment is to meet Raphael and entertain him. Lisa treads dangerously close to questioning her mother and betraying some emotion, considering she's (cough) in love with Tyler, but Anna orders her to do as she's told.

Erica Skypes with the gang, including Sydney (and hopefully the Visitors are not monitoring any signals worldwide with the keywords breeding, Visitor plan, Anna, etc.). They need to know what Anna wants (and since no one ever asked Ryan for his input, and since he's dead now...okay, maybe not). Chad has something to contribute—Anna is stopping the live aboard program, meaning she has what she needs. Erica reveals to Chad that Lisa is on there side, and he needs to go and ask her if she can find out anything.

Next, Sydney says he's reached out to the global scientific community and learned of other boys who have missing DNA segments like Tyler (??), so she advises him to try to locate where those boys are.

Fierro has learned that eighteen years ago, a Doctor Rai treated several pregnant women around the world, and Erica's like, "OMG, that's my OB-GYN!". Many of the babies died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, but several survived. Dr. Rai just happens to be living in Hong Kong which is just a convenient hop, skip and a jump away, so they take off there to see what she has to say.

Anna asks Joshua for discretion as she includes him in a new scheme. She's thinking Lisa is experiencing human emotions. She wants him to lie and tell her his memory has returned and that he knows what it's like to have emotion. Report back to her what Lisa says.

Lisa goes to visit her grandmother again. Lisa confides about Anna's plan for Tyler and now her new Latin beau. Anna is changing her plans, Diana muses. Diana tells her to embrace the can give them power. But Anna must never know of her feelings for Tyler. She must convince her mother she's loyal and obedient for now.

As is so much the case, Chad runs into Lisa on the mothership and wants an interview about being the first daughter. Pulling her aside, he tells her Erica sent him and they're working together. He wants to know why the live aboards have been tortured.

So she sneaks into some security room to review the files on the live aboards and Joshua happens by that room in the corridor (because the mothership is obviously as big as a small bungalow) and spies on her. He tells her he remembers being Fifth Column now, and feeling all those cuh-razy human emotions. He wants to talk about them. Obviously he remembers wrong, Lisa replies. Joshua apologizes, then calls her queen and leaves.

In Hong Kong, the gang meets with one of Cohn's men who tracked down Dr. Rai. She's living under an assumed name. Fierro can apparently get them into her secure apartment as hacking is one of his specialities, and so he gets them fifteen minutes off the building security cameras.

Hobbes can speak Chinese, so that's handy. He gets into the apartment and Erica terrorizes Dr. Rai for a moment before she admits to being the one they're looking for. Then Erica cuts her behind her ear and sees she's a Visitor. With promises of skinning, Rai gives up where her safe is. Unfortunately, before she can reveal the combination, she makes a break and jumps off the balcony, taking a suicide pill before hitting the ground.

Hobbes is liking the new Erica. They find a handy drill and flashlight and get to work on the safe. While they're working in close quarters to break in, they have a moment. Hobbes opens the safe. They grab a holo device and a bunch of passports, and run like hell, with two minutes left on the clock. 

Back in New York, Ryan finds Jack on the street. He has a scratch on his face from the big explosion. He defends his actions, trying to save his baby, blah blah blah. He needs help to get the damn baby away from Anna. Everybody needs a second chance. Sigh. Jack says it's not his job to absolve him, and walks away.

Back at Hong Kong headquarters, they see that Rai visited the same cities over and over again for 19 years. The holo device shows 29 boys in 29 cities, each with a mothership over them. The ships are there because of the boys, and there's a picture of Tyler, as well as others on the data, which means Tyler is expendable. Hobbes assures her they'll keep him safe.

Rai also has some prenatal vitamins—the same ones which Erica took when she was pregnant. Hobbes cracks one open and some crazy tiny bug thingies spread out all over the table. Not good.

Everybody converges for the big infodump of overdue revelations—Hobbes and crew return, and update what they found in China. Lisa phones Chad and sends him information that will explain everything about the live aboards and he heads to the hideout to report in.

Here we go...Anna chose the live aboards who are genetically exceptional to steal the best DNA of the human race, which explains (according to Sydney) why the Visitor skeleton's DNA and Malik's DNA are quite far apart...there's thousands of years of evolution between the two samples. The Visitors are using human DNA to fast track their own evolution. Sydney's analyzed the robot bugs, which were programmed to go after anything with the Y chromosome (those robot bugs are damn big to be crawling through cells and stealing DNA, and must hurt like HELL!). 

Joshua reports to Anna that he saw Lisa looking through medical files but he doesn't know which ones. Lisa meets Raphael and gets to first base right away. But then she gets all hot and cold (like Katy Perry's Hot N' Cold) and pushes him away. He has to go. Raphael appears confused.

Anna is not impressed and has a little chat with her rebellious daughter. Lisa demands to be told what her plan is for her. Anna goads her, then gives her a smack. Lisa punches her back, then apologizes. Anna tells her not to be sorry. It's just her breeding skin fueling the aggression, but she's not queen yet, she adds with a little rough chin squeeze. And she'll do as she tells her. 

Later, confiding in Joshua, Anna believes the problem with Lisa will be more serious, but they can't proceed without her. But she has a Plan C, and tells him she needs to show him something...there's a queen egg in stasis that she had preserved from her last batch. If Lisa fails, it's her alternate.

Anna wants him to hatch it, but their experiments on growth acceleration have proven a failure so far (what what what? Last season's surviving soldier eggs grew up pretty damn fast!). And all of Anna's other eggs are grown to adulthood (so that's why we don't see any Visitor babies running around). But, there's that yackity hybrid baby that's lizardy enough she might be useful to experiment on, Joshua thinks aloud. Great idea for Anna (and us). She orders him to start experiments.

Erica consults with the global fifth column, filling them in that the Visitors have been foraging for the best DNA across the universe to advance their species, and now they're doing it on Earth. See how smart I am, she says, and they're willing to follow her as leader. Anna is about to welcome the final live aboards. Once she gets their impressive DNA, she'll have what she needs to proceed with their plan.

Tyler is back and has proven to be a capable pilot. Joshua has initiated the experimentation on the hybrid which survived the first aging experiment (which must have taken all of twenty minutes given it's only five minutes later), but her body has healed itself of its chronic pain as a side effect. Ryan just happens to be there (?) and asks to see his daughter...AGAIN, so Anna is happy to oblige, and when he sees a kid that's a few years older (and much quieter) she says "Mommy!" and runs to Anna.

Welcome back, Ryan, she says. Oh, and thanks for neutralizing the Fifth Column. As a reward, he can spend a few hours with his new pre-adolescent daughter. Anna remains pleased. But Ryan needs to be eliminated, as his cover with the Fifth Column is no longer viable.

Lisa sees Tyler upon his return, telling him she missed him, but he's more interested in flying shuttles now than icky girls. She tells him not to hold in his emotions. It's okay to be sad (about his dad dying and all). But Tyler doesn't want to feel anything anymore. He just want to be a shuttle pilot, and walks away.

Lisa returns to Diana, admitting she was right. She wants to be with Tyler. Diana recognizes the good in human emotion. She advises Lisa to trust no one, then gives her a grandmotherly hug, because her mother never did. Lisa gives her a communication device so they can keep in touch, and leaves. Diana smiles. *sniffle*

Anna's suddenly so trusting, and then she's not. Joshua is a traitor who just happens to have amnesia that's making him loyal, yet she comments how she trusts him implicitly with all the key elements of the invasion. Is he lying? He seems eager to turn in Lisa until he gives her that last "My queen," bit. Was that a signal, or am I reading too much into the dialogue?

Most important this week—no more damn baby. It looks like they're taking the starchild route of the original series, so we could be in for another growth spurt. But what's all this talk about the problems of growth acceleration? Anna had her surviving eggs grown to adulthood real quick last season before she killed them to prove she didn't have emotion.

Obviously the big reveal of the master plan is the main event this week. Birth Pangs could be a metaphor for the entire series, but the plan actually made a lot of sense given all the stuff the Visitors are doing. Whoever is the lucky boy to breed with the queen, Tyler must have been the best of the 29 to have his city chosen for Anna's mothership.

I must have grown dead inside to brush off all the dubious pseudo-science and gobbledygook about how everyone arrived at their answers—global scientific network, vast DNA databases, etc. This was the most information we got on the Visitors in the entire series, so a lot to take in, but it had me interested when Anna, Joshua and the Fifth Column were tossing theories and facts back and forth. Which meant for less heavy sighs and eye-rolling at the dialogue. Even Diana was surprisingly subdued without her daughter to play off of.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Review: Being Human (USA) "It Takes Two to Make a Thing Go Wrong"

Non Spoiler Review:
Despite what we saw last week, Sally remains unsettled, with the new found engagement ring being the object of her focus, and thoughts begin to turn to revenge against Danny. Rebecca returns for another round of troublemaking for Aidan, and Josh's sister pops up again, just as his love life starts to get back on track.

After a strong week, Sally was maneuvering dangerously close to annoying territory again, but she does have some manner of an epiphany when she meets another unsettled ghost. There's lots of potential monster stuff with her abilities waiting to be explored. Josh, meanwhile, is becoming much more interesting after Ray's drama, and his storyline continues to move forward, on par with Aidan's now. He's much more fun to watch trying to experience life rather than crawl around in depression at what he's lost.

Coming off last week's strong showing, this was a decent follow up. Emily's characterization was a bit much to take (and I can sympathize with Josh for cutting her out of his life), but it was balanced nicely with a more charming take on Nurse Nora. 

Spoilers Now!
Aidan's narration muses on the differences that separate monsters and humans—the monsters have pretty much the same needs as everyone else. Josh is being stalked by Marcus, while Rebecca lures another victim to a hotel room. Danny tosses the engagement ring into the river.

But the ring remains with Sally. Aidan wonders how that's possible, but she seems to think it's her ring, and it's a charged object. Josh comes downstairs, dressed more dapper than usual, and gives Aidan some mail. It's a DVD of Rebecca, seducing the same victim we saw in the opening.

The three of them watch her have sex and then kill the man, while an embarrassed Aidan tries not to get aroused by the vampiry seduction scene. The other two are horrified as she puts on a bloody show. Sally didn't even know she was a vampire. Is that what they do, she asks. Josh asks if he's into that sort of thing. Aidan suggests someone's just trying to mess with him. But Rebecca has a serious hold over him, and he finds it difficult not to watch again when they leave.

Josh runs into bitchy nurse (who's name is Nora, apparently), and now she's significantly less bitchy and rather charming. They exchange friendly chit-chat but he's still quite awkward. At least she's not out for his blood anymore, and he suggests they go for dinner the next day. She gives a vague yes for an answer.

Aidan pops in to see Marcus, where Rebecca is currently hanging out again, and asks what the two of them are up to. Marcus calls it a video postcard. Aidan says it won't change his mind, but Marcus muses how interesting it is that he kept the DVD. Aidan says Marcus really shouldn't want him back, given Marcus would be nothing all over again. He strikes a nerve. After he leaves, Marcus comments that he thought Rebecca had more of a hold on him. 

Aidan joins Josh for lunch, who is still struggling over whether he's having a date with Nora or not. Aidan helps him interpret her comment, but he's proud of him for trying to achieve a more normal human life.

Suddenly...Emily appears! She's broken up with her girlfriend and is pretty devastated with nowhere to go. She guilts her brother into giving her a place to stay until she gets back on her feet, and though Aidan appears okay with it, Josh reluctantly agrees. 

Sally continues to obsess over the ring when Danny shows up—again with the plumbing. But—surprise—Aidan's there, and proceeds to strangle him, telling him he won't get away with killing a girl. Chomp! 

This, of course, is just Sally's daydream. But her freaking out is causing poltergeist activity in the house—again—and Josh, Aidan and Emily arrive to a shaking home that Aidan explains away as the trains.

Josh and Emily catch up on the front step. He apologizes for the things he said last time but she told their parents she had talked to him. When she goes inside, he notices Marcus is watching from across the street. 

Aidan suggests Sally get rid of the ring because it's causing her so much grief, but she's decided she wants to make Danny suffer. Her attitude is shifting towards revenge, but the ring is all she has left. She disappears, dropping the ring at Danny's apartment. He's sufficiently freaked out, and when Bridget comes over he thinks it's her that's messing with him. Evil Danny comes out and roughly grabs her arm.

Aidan watches the vampire DVD again. But Sally appears, talking to him about messing with Danny. She's feeling very satisfied, but Aidan's warning her to be careful about what she gets herself into. She asks if he's still in love with Rebecca and he admits he feels responsible for her. 

Josh is having Nora over for dinner so he wants Emily out for the night. Emily has been spending her time drinking mostly vodka the entire time she's been there, and greets Nora at the door. Nora isn't too phased by the forward sister, though.

Aidan and Emily go out to a club with Sally in tow. Sally runs into Lindsey, fellow ghost from the 90s. She encourages Sally to get revenge on Danny. She hangs out at the club to torture her own ex who comes there all the time scouting for chicks. She wants to ensure he never finds happiness.

Lindsey shows Sally that she can make people see and think horrific things (as she does to her ex). It took her years to learn, but for the past fifteen she's been able to do it. Sally asks about her door, but Lindsey has no idea what that means. She says good-bye and heads off to exact more vengeance, leaving Sally to ponder her actions.

In comes Rebecca, and Aidan has a chat with her by the bar. She concedes she can't go against Bishop because he made her, but she admits that Marcus brought her there to talk to him. She really has no choice and can't disobey them. The two of them go outside together and make out, but when she suggests they go back to her place, Aidan says he needs to find Emily and get her home. Marcus, meanwhile, has followed Emily out of the bar for a cigarette.

Nora is impressed with Josh's cooking, but he answers all her questions with very little detail. He does admit he met Aidan when he rescued him in a fight. Enough chit-chat—they start to make out. The doorbell interrupts their moment but it's Bridget. She's brought the ring back, saying she thinks it belongs there. Sally, who's home and standing behind Josh, notices the bruises on her arm.

Nora is ready to head home herself at this point, but as they share a parting kiss, a beaten and bloody Emily comes in. They rush her off to the hospital. Aidan arrives shortly after they leave and Sally fills him in. He heads off after them. The end.

The Verdict:
Though Bishop was absent, the plot to get Aidan to return to the fold continues, with Rebecca being used as bait again. Aidan's back and forth is making him come off as weak, given we're struggling to figure out his past and put his actions into context. What we need is a good flashback episode to put things in perspective. But we did get some input from Josh about Aidan saving him when they first met.

Whiny Sally was back, but at least she got a look at the vengeful ghost fate should she continue on her path. Sally's role in the house remains a bit awkward, given she's currently only a disruption and not really contributing. In fact, I'd still like to know what she does 24 hours a day, considering she can only be torturing Danny a portion of that time.

Overall, this week remained an entertaining installment, and I'm impressed at the full-on serialized nature of the series, given it looked to be heading back to more episodic shows. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review: Spartacus: Gods of the Arena "Reckoning"

Non Spoiler Review:
The penultimate episode of Gods of the Arena plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy, bringing to conclusion several threads of the last few weeks, and setting up a final act that should be quite a bloodbath. Fallout from Gaia's death leads Tullius to make an offer of rapprochement to Titus, but with a price (of course). Batiatus must make a decision about his marriage, and Lucretia takes action on several fronts to secure both herself and her husband, leading to disaster.

Reckoning brought a more intimate story focused nearly entirely on the Batiatus family and the ludus. It had plenty of action, as the gladiators are forced to pair up to determine ranking throughout the episode. The heartache and schemes within the villa play out as the competitions do outside. Crixus and Gannicus finally meet in combat to determine their fates, while Ashur is robbed of his hold over Dagan.

So much personal drama made for a riveting hour. The course of the miniseries has struck a good balance of delivering over-the-top action and spectacle, with more intimate and thoughtful episodes. Some events were predicted, but others did not play out entirely as expected, with some surprising relevations and absolutely horrifying results by the bittersweet end.

Spoilers Now!
Melitta's dreams betray her true feelings for Gannicus—a passionate encounter, but one that's abruptly discovered by Oenomaus and ends with a sword through Gannicus' throat and her imminent death. She wakens to Naevia summoning her to attend to her mistress.

A crestfallen Lucretia requires all of Gaia's things collected and removed. Titus has ordered all trace of her stripped from his house, including the performance of rituals and salt to cleanse whatever lingers of her memory within the walls. Melitta offers her domina some solace, and suggests they only tell Titus they performed the ceremony. Lucretia is grateful. But Melitta seems to be growing increasingly at ease with deceit.

Batiatus complains to Solonius about his present situation and impossible choice. Solonius regrets leaving so early, but the fault remains with Tullius. Behind them, the final games of the old arena are being played out (absent House Batiatus). Solonius reveals the magistrate has granted him a minor role in the upcoming opening games. One certainly more trouble than it's worth (uh huh). Batiatus takes this news well, considering, but his thoughts are more concerned with his marriage and his father's ultimatum. Solonius suggests it might be best for Lucretia to find another husband, if he intends to continue to run the ludus. The look in his eyes seems to be saying like me.

Crixus' prowess in battle is soaring since his victory, while Dagan and Ashur have had a falling out after the latter offered up Dagan (and his ass) to the Romans the night of the orgy. Dagan is starting to understand their words, and advises Ashur he will soon not need him to translate. Doctore and Titus watch them spar, commenting on Dagan's promise as a future champion.

The two old friends walk together, Titus lamenting the schemes of the earlier night, and absolving Doctore of guilt for doing as commanded by his wayward son. He decides to have a competition to weed out all the weak gladiators his son has brought to the ludus, including Gannicus, whom he does not regard as a champion until he proves himself. Those who fail will be sent to the mines.

When Titus asks Naevia if the salt has been scattered, she deceives him, as instructed, but Diona is bitter and suggests her mistress keep her own lies. Naevia cautions her to keep quiet, but Diona turns on her, telling her it's her fault she was offered up to the gladiators for sport, and their long friendship is over. 

The competition commences for several days of pairings. Gannicus stands on the sidelines, his mind on Melitta, and lacking the drive we first saw in him at the beginning. Titus reviews his men, while his son arrives and comments that his father is proceeding as if he's already made his decision to leave. Titus is steadfast, and refuses to give Lucretia any benefit of the doubt. Batiatus is given an ultimatum of two days, when the rankings are established for the gladiators. He either dissolves the marriage or he will call him father no more.

Lucretia complains to her husband that Titus has already made his decision so there's nothing more she can do to ply him, but he reveals that her fate is in his hands, and he must prove he's worthy to call him father. Batiatus is delaying for time to convince Titus of her worth, but it only leads to an argument between them. Lucretia protests she has born everything demanded of her, but Batiatus speaks too quickly that she hasn't born him a child. Oh, snap. She storms out and he regrets speaking so rashly.

Melitta is up late praying for guidance from the gods while her husband wakens and joins her. She is growing increasingly pained with the weight of secrets they've been condemned to keep within the walls, but Doctore's perspective is quite different. He has only found purpose and meaning for his life since coming to the ludus and its honorable house. Switching their usual roles, this time it's Doctore who cites their duty in serving their masters, and he suggests they pray together.

A contrite Lucretia joins her husband and father-in-law on the balcony in the morning. Titus has no patience for her or her apologies, and simply asks for his wine to be filled. Lucretia graciously complies. They watch Crixus take his turn in the competition, but Naevia announces Tullius has arrived. An enraged Batiatus and Lucretia learn Titus invited him to meet and make amends.

When the old man leaves, Lucretia tells her husband she'd do anything to give him a son. He says it's too late for such dreams, given their answer must be delivered tomorrow. Below, Crixus defeats another opponent, and Lucretia seems to get an idea as she meets his eye. She suggests they do whatever they must to rid themselves of their problem.

Tullius has brought Titus a gift of honey wine. But Titus is not going to be bribed to forget the death of a Roman woman in his house. The House of Batiatus has brought much honor to Capua over the years, and yet they were absent in the final games of the old arena. Tullius offers a presence in the new games, but he wants Gannicus in exchange. He asks him to consider.

Naevia comes upon Diona weeping. Diona apologizes for what she's said, but confesses she has no desire to continue living as a whore in the ludus, having lost all her innocence. She wishes the next man she's forced to lie with kills her.

It's Gannicus' turn to fight Barca, and barely wins, given he takes a hit while distracted by Melitta on the balcony. Doctore berates him for allowing himself to let his guard down.

Ashur, meanwhile, tells Dagan they are to fight, and he realizes he's the weaker of the two. If he falls, he will be sent to the mines. His former friend says nothing to alleviate his concerns.

The two begin battle, and Dagan is clearly the superior. On the ground, Ashur asks for some mercy, but when the other lets down his guard, Ashur delivers a blow to his groin and then puts out his eye. Dagan is dragged away, while Ashur gloats his victory.

Titus asks his son to accompany him to town to have words. They arrive at sunset in the now abandoned arena. While they're gone, Lucretia directs Melitta to bring Crixus to her. Gannicus takes the opportunity to have a chat with Melitta as she visits the gladiator quarters, and she begs him to stop pining for her. She remains ever devoted to her husband.

A confused and nervous Crixus is escorted to Lucretia's chamber, who questions him on the number of sons produced by his father and grandfather. Impressed with the tally and the legendary prowess of the Gauls, she tells him he will do as he is told, and never speak of this again. Reluctantly and repulsed by the notion, she instructs him to impregnate her (apparently she'll grow far more amenable to sex with Crixus in years to come—perhaps all he needed was a haircut). 

Meanwhile, Titus reminisces of his own childhood and falling in love with the blood and sand of the arena. His dream for his own son to share in it has never materialized, and he holds him now accountable for his actions. As he rambles on about fighting him at every turn, Batiatus looks through the debris to find a particularly suitable head-bashing size block of wood, and walks up behind his father.

His back turned, Titus declares he will always love his son no matter what his decision, and advises him of Tullius' offer, but his response will be without meaning if his son is not by his side. He beseeches him one final time to stand with his family, but Batiatus will not turn from his wife. Embittered, his father tells him he prays he finds peace in whatever life he finds.

Batiatus raises the piece of wood and walks up to Titus...and presents it as a memento of days past, then leaves the arena and his father.

Lucretia is in the baths as her husband arrives home and joins her. Both are pensive. He could not kill his father. She admits she was wrong to push him to such thoughts. He states his choice is to remain with her, and they will leave the house together the next day with just the clothes on their back. But they will have each other. Very sweet.

Doctore informs Titus that only Crixus and Gannicus remain to fight one another, but his master advises him of the imminent sale. Oenomaus attempts to speak on his friend's behalf as a deserving champion. But if he pulls out of the bargain, the house will be excluded from the games, Titus points out. Doctore advises it's a heavy price, but usually the honorable one always is. Titus opts to let the contest decide...if Gannicus falls, he will be sold.

Doctore brings the heavy news to his friend, and with that on his mind, Gannicus begins his battle with Crixus. Lucretia and Batiatus announce they're ready to leave, but Titus wants him to see the final competition, both men he is responsible for bringing into the ludus.

Crixus strikes some serious hits on Gannicus, given the latter continues to be distracted with Melitta, who manages to appear at the most inconvenient moments with wine for the spectators.

While everyone's attention is on the match, Naevia has led Diona to escape, giving her some money she's taken from Gaia's things. Diona is frightened, but Naevia tells her she fades more every day and must go to make a new life while she has a chance. Diona is grateful, and promises to see her again some day. She flees the house.

As Melitta brings Titus more water for his worsening cough, Gannicus catches sight of her again. He decides to give up at that moment, and Crixus takes him down to the ground, forcing the former champion to offer up surrender. Crixus realizes he threw the fight, but Gannicus tells him he is now champion, as it should be. He can't remain in the same house as Melitta.

Batiatus is astounded Crixus won. But then Titus begins to choke and collapses. The medicus tells him he has a fever, very dangerous for his age, and they need to procure herbs in Capua. He, Batiatus and Doctore head into town while Lucretia watches over him, with instructions by the medicus to give him a little wine to soothe the fever.

Titus refuses to have any more of Tullius' wine and wants it removed from sight, so she passes it off to Melitta, who asks for permission to see Gannicus before he is sold. Lucretia grants it, understanding she wants to say good-bye, and she takes the wine away with her.

Gannicus broods alone in his cell as Melitta comes to him, bringing him wine and two cups (uh oh) to share a final drink with her friend. Gannicus needs to be more than a friend, and he refuses the bitter wine. She pours herself a drink as he tells her he can't remain within the ludus and always in her presence. She understands his reasoning and admits the situation is for the best. Then she confesses to being weak and, by the way, her love for him (!). Then they have sex.

Lucretia sits at Titus' bedside, as he weakly comments how his son has given up everything for her. She tells him she truly loves him. Titus asks her to promise him she's not the serpent he thinks she is. Lucretia says she's not...she's far worse.

Then comes an impressive confession—Lucretia never cared what he thought of her. But considering how low Titus considered his own son, a man she loves—that could not be tolerated. And so she began poisoning his wine, intending only to mimic an illness that would force him to the coast for better health. She did it the first time to get him to leave for Sicilia, and Batiatus flourished when freed of his father's shadow. But when he returned, she began again to poison him back to the coast. But this time it was not enough. A more permanent solution was required, something more potent she added to Tullius' gift to end the old man for good. Batiatus will never forgive Tullius' treachery, and he will strike back hard against him, and Gaia shall be avenged.

Both Titus and Melitta abruptly cough up copious amounts of blood. A horrified Gannicus tries to save her, while Titus reaches out to grab Lucretia, falling from bed and crawling along the floor until he finally dies at her feet. Melitta fades in Gannicus' arms. 

Lucretia leaves the room only to find a group of slaves and Gannicus carrying Melitta's body. The wine was poisoned, he says. Lucretia is absolutely horrified when she sees it's Tullius' urn. She gathers herself together and tells Gannicus Oenomaus must never know she came to his cell. She sends him back to the ludus while the rest clean up Melitta. 

The men return to the villa to find Melitta's body laid out in the foyer, and Doctore falls to her side in shock and despair. Beyond, Batiatus sees the crowd around the bed chamber, and the look on Lucretia's face. He enters the room and looks upon his dead father.

It would be so easy for many writers to go too far with Lucretia and Batiatus' villainy and have them turn their schemes against one another. But they've kept their marriage and devotion sacrosanct. Even her fling with Crixus has its genesis in her wanting to bear her husband a son.

My only critique this week was how the tragedy of the love triangle unfolded a bit too quickly. It was certainly an inevitable conclusion, and given Gannicus was about to be sold the next day, I guess some allowance can be given for Melitta's abrupt change in disposition and willingness to cheat on her husband (foreshadowed by her idea to lie to Titus). But she seemed to indulge in her desires a bit too readily after playing coy for several episodes.

Poor Gannicus has little left to live for, having surrendered his status, losing his love and forced into multiple lies. One more episode remains to remove the final obstacles of Vettius and Tullius and set the status quo for season one. Most of the questions raised at the start are nearing resolution. The only real ones left to deal with are Solonius' final betrayal, Ashur's injury and Gannicus' fate. It remains to be seen what Diona's role in all this will be, but it would be odd if the writers just send her on her way out of the story. Like the finale, Kill Them All, The Bitter End should be suitably cathartic.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Review: V "Siege"

Non Spoiler Review:
Siege plays out like a series game-changer, with Anna gleefully (whoops, that would be emotion) cornering Eli Cohn and the Fifth Column thanks to awful Ryan's treachery. A whole lot of people are put in jeopardy as scheme number two is set in motion to get Tyler to move aboard the mothership for good. Some die. Baby cries. There's talk of the human soul. And Jack gets kicked out of his rectory after being laicized by the Pope (which isn't near as interesting as it sounds).

Unfortunately, the events of this week would have been suitable for last season's finale, and rather than finding any excitement in the climax, it felt more like about time. Siege highlighted how wasted the series has been, taking a season and a half to do what was accomplished in the four hours of the 80s miniseries. There's so little emotionally invested in these characters right now, they could mow down half of them and spark no feeling from me (which means I'm a Visitor, I guess).

I'm finding some joy in the farcical behaviour of the FBI, personified by Paul and Chris, which brought a few humorous moments. Meanwhile, the Visitors have slipped so easily into cheesy super villainy, Anna might just as well put on a cape and stare out the window of the mothership all day scheming. Somehow I don't think the writers intend to be so self-satirizing, but it seems Diana is speaking for us when she comments to her daughter "Why do you keep doing this, coming down here to gloat, doing this dance we do..."

Spoilers Now!
One day later, the world is waiting for news on Marcus. Karen and Chad debate the issue, and she suggests actions like these are going to lead Anna to lose her cool and forget she's of peace. That's very insightful, given that Anna is on the mothership by Marcus' bedside, vowing (so vindictively, I might add, she might as well be Scarlett O'Hara swearing she'll never be hungry again) to hunt down the Fifth Column and make them PAY. Grrr...

Then she goes to Ryan who can't get the baby to stop crying. Just in case we've forgotten, Anna reminds everyone she'll need her Bliss. In exchange, she wants Eli Cohn this time and instructs Ryan to meet and kill him (perhaps it would be more efficient if she outlined all her requests at once, rather than one per episode). Ryan admits the Fifth Column must know he sold them out and won't let him get close. Anna suggests he'll find a way. It's so easy to be her.

Erica's been raked over the coals by the FBI for the shooting fiasco, and she's been taken off duty for the time being, which allows her more fun time with the family. But first she needs to give Cohn a head's up to keep a low profile. Hobbes is certain that Ryan sold them out. And apparently this conversation has already happened offscreen, as Erica tells him to bring Ryan in so she can at least look him in the eye first before they kill him. Wow. What difference one episode can make.

Jack receives an official papal decree that he's been laicized and must move out of the rectory within the week. Jack asks to give one last service, but Travis won't let him and demands his collar. It's just ordinary Jack now.

Ryan's back to his old days of tracking, which means jumping on cars and stuff, and kills one of Cohn's men (there goes the double agent theory). But he runs into an already armed Cohn and several men waiting for him in his building. They taser him and beat him up a bit.

Erica's enjoying happy time with Joe and Tyler when she gets the call from Cohn that Ryan tried to kill him and is in his custody. Erica wants to talk to him first. Cohn agrees, but Ryan is going to die, regardless. Outside Cohn's building, an additional tracker has followed Ryan to Cohn's base and advises Anna of the Fifth Column's location. She has an even better idea—call the FBI anonymously to report the location of the Fifth Column, and the Visitors' hands will be clean. Like clockwork, A.D. Paul gets the tip and he and Chris head down to the site.

Given Erica is a prime suspect, they avoid calling her to tip them off, but Erica's already arrived to see about the Ryan situation. Beaten and tied up, Ryan gives his sob story about his sick baby, and he came for Eli not Erica. He warns her to leave or she'll be dead like the rest of them.

Cohn's men alert them that the FBI is on the way and are surrounding the building. Eli has the area under surveillance and Erica is adamant she won't get in a firefight with her colleagues. She knows what to do to avoid a bloodbath and get them all out of there. She apparently has figured out the FBI is on to her already, so she'll pose as a hostage (Oh, my god. No one's ever done that!). That would clear her and buy them all time, Cohn muses. He has to punch her a few times in the face, though, to make it convincing.

Outside, ever diligent Chad has already arrived to report on the situation, just as Erica is brought out onto the balcony as a hostage so she can wave her cell phone and look all battered for an astonished Paul and Chris. On V cam, Anna is surprised to see Erica there, too, but that gives her an even better idea to work the situation—get rid of Erica and Joe, and Tyler's emotional ties will be severed. Thomas will handle it, and Anna instructs Lisa her job will be to get Tyler to cooperate and on board the ship for the next phase of the invasion. 

Tyler and Joe's football game is interrupted by a call from Lisa advising him about his mother. As planned, Joe heads down there to find out what's going on, saying he'll call Tyler as soon as he knows anything. Meanwhile, defrocked Jack is leaving the rectory when he sees the news about Erica, and he takes off there, too. 

Paul apparently trusts Erica now as they speak on the phone. She says Cohn has an idea to get them all out without anyone getting hurt, but everyone has to keep calm (I think I somehow missed where she explained what she was doing there in the first place. I think). Meanwhile, Thomas gives Paul a V device to see inside the building, allowing them to pick out all the Fifth Column snipers—Hey, that would really have come in handy last week for the Concordia gala...seeing through buildings and finding snipers and stuff.

Joe arrives and pushes his way through the police barriers to get an update from the FBI. An agent, a friend of Erica's, tells him they found a hidden entrance into the building that the Fifth Column doesn't know about. Once they have the go ahead, they'll do everything they can to get her back safely. The agent is abruptly called away and leaves that very set of blueprints (complete with marked out passage) with Joe (!).

Erica and Cohn share a brief and heartfelt conversation about family and how important it is (given they have so much time on their hands at the moment). Then who should be brought in, but Joe! They found him in a bricked up tunnel in the basement. But Erica's never heard of the agent who gave him the map. Was it a sleeper V? Erica puts it all together, and figures the V's want both her and Joe killed.

Anna is advised everything is proceeding as planned, though the FBI has called off its attack on the building. Anna says Marcus has another asset on the ground—Hobbes—who will take care of everything if the FBI doesn't move in. She sends Thomas down to handle it (how that must suck for the chief engineer to have to do all Marcus' errands too).

Cohn watches the FBI lock in on targets that they can't possibly see (using Anna's tech). But he has another ace up his sleeve and makes a call. Random people in the crowd get the signal and pull off their jackets. It's a flash mob—but with suicide vests. Paul calls off the attack on the building as these new men take hostages and head inside.

Erica is infuriated and decides it's time for a moral debate about involving civilians. Hostages are the only way to ensure they all live right now, Eli says. Cohn is willing to die if he has to, but Erica and Joe must escape with his own second-in-command who knows all of Cohn's worldwide contacts (let's call him Fierro, as I think that's what they called him). Oh, and he's drafting Erica as leader of the Fifth Column because he's seen in her that she recognizes this is a fight for their families. He tells her to live to fight Anna another day and take his people out there with her. 

Jack shows up at the police barricade, but they won't let him in and Chris decides to come over to yell at him for putting Erica in jeopardy. So he calls Hobbes, who won't show up either given his high visibility. But Hobbes is intercepted by Thomas, who has a job for him. Apparently they have his girlfriend Sarah (who was supposed to have died five years ago). Thomas has her voice recorded, and orders him to detonate a bomb in the crowd, or he'll never see Sarah alive. That seems to be sufficient to convince Hobbes to betray his friends.

Remember Ryan? Erica comes to say good-bye. She says she'll do everything she can to help the baby, but she'll never forgive him. He apologizes, but it's too late for that, she says. Erica then says good-bye to Cohn. Fierro will blend in with the hostages as they walk out. Finally, she gets to Joe, and he says they have so much time to make up for, and kiss. Aw. That can't be good.

Chris then gets the call from Erica that Cohn wants to release the hostages and he'll surrender himself. He assures her no one will fire as long as Cohn's men don't. 

Erica slowly leads everyone out, but Hobbes is on site and removes the explosive device, ready to set it in the crowd. Cohn, meanwhile, arms all the suicide vests and blows himself and the building up first. With absolute mayhem, the FBI moves in, creating a firefight with the snipers who are apparently still on the roof (or some roof. Somewhere). Erica tries to get Joe and the hostages to safety but he's shot in the leg. Chris drags Erica away, and Joe is gunned down in a hail of bullets. She pulls free and goes to him (this scene needed some slow motion). Hobbes puts the device back in his pocket, considering they don't need any more stuff blown up, and slips away. Anna watches it all with a smile (Ack! More emotion). 

In the aftermath, Fierro has managed to walk away in the commotion. Tyler runs over, as he got tired of waiting for his dad to call, and since apparently no one has a medic for Joe, the three of them just huddle in the rubble. Chris watches sadly and comments that they were wrong about Erica. She's clean. (So...I guess they'll just forget all the surveillance footage of her and Jack). There's no doubt that she's off the hook as Paul literally announces he will kill the paperwork on Erica Evans.

Anna gloats to Diana that the Fifth Column is destroyed and soon the human soul. "Why the need to prove herself to her?" Diana asks. Anna says her attempts to fuel human emotions in her will not work. Diana counters that she thought it was working so well. "You'll have to try harder," she says. "Oh...I will," Diana sneers. 

Anna emerges from her space elevator thing, which just happens to be in the middle of a corridor, and Lisa just happens to be strolling down that corridor in the kilometres-long mothership and sees her mother walk away. Lisa decides to see what that's all about and descends into the pit and looks around.

"I'm your grandmother!" Diana says. But she can't tell anyone yet. "How do I know I can trust you?" Lisa asks. "We share the same enemy. Your mother," Diana declares.

Tyler decides to leave for the mothership now that dad's dead. Erica needs him, but he says people killed his father, so he's going to the V's. If Erica had stopped the Fifth Column maybe Joe would be alive. So there. Erica slaps him (Yay!). He leaves. Not her best day.

Jack, Chad and Hobbes hang out at the headquarters as Erica shows up. Joe's dead. Tyler left. Eli left her in charge, so her first act is to declare they go on the offensive. They strike first from now on. They're all in. She tells Hobbes she should have listened to him about Ryan. She's kept him caged, but not anymore. He says she's got him (until Sarah gets trotted out again). They have an army now. Very inspiring. This should have happened last season.

It's a crime that an actress like Elizabeth Mitchell, who delivered such emotional performances in Lost, has to struggle through these horribly written and contrived scenes. But at least she gets to cry twice.

Speaking of contrived, Hobbes is working for the Visitors...or not...I don't really know, given we hadn't heard about this since Marcus met with him. Apparently through the miracle of Visitor technology (plot devices) they've dug up his missing girlfriend after five years and that's enough to soften Hobbes' heart (when we all know he's super crushing on Erica).

The scariest notion is that Ryan has survived the explosion. The lack of a final scene with him, much less a body, promises that Anna will get to hold that screaming baby over him again someday. And maybe the FBI should have put their police cordon a few blocks away from the building and the snipers, just so that all the spectators didn't get showered with bullets and debris when it all went to hell?

The only gem this week was Anna's chat with her mother, which is starting to become more and more like alien Dynasty with the snappy barbs and Jane Badler's virulent sneer (never mind the evening gowns). It's all great fun, and now that Lisa's stumbled upon her, it's sure to get campier. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Being Human (USA) "The End of the World as We Knew It"

Non Spoiler Review:
The End of the World as We Knew It is an appropriate title, given all three characters receive some life-changing news. Picking up the following day, Aidan must deal with a vampire priest working out of the hospital. Josh is facing his next change with clingy Ray, and Sally has an epiphany thanks to the plumbing.

Being Human really hit it's stride with this episode. Josh and Sally's arcs got some nice resolution while Aidan, though not front and center like past weeks, had his own interesting subplot, but one that pushes along Bishop's storyline, which could be the big arc this season. The various plots wove well together, with humour and exchanges that really fit the moment this time. Best of all, no whiny Josh or Sally. Definitely one to watch and a game changer for the series.

Spoilers Now!
Sally narrates the opening, commenting on the various rituals surrounding death. Aidan spends time with patients as they die at the hospital, watching them experience their last moments, which he can't do himself. When this particular patient is placed in the morgue, he abruptly awakens. He's been made a vampire, and his maker instructs him on how to feed on his first victim.

Josh is busy scrubbing out blood from his clothes from his night of vampire bashing while the plumbing in the house is acting up yet again. Aidan is complaining about the commotion to Sally, but she protests her ghostly powers are not responsible. She's not upset about Danny anymore.

Ray confesses he flooded the toilet, so Aidan takes the opportunity to remind him to maybe leave after the night's full moon. Josh comes downstairs more skittish than usual, and Aidan notices his bloody knuckles. Josh explains he and Ray ran into some drunks who were spoiling for a fight, and Ray makes a big deal about the bloated degenerates who picked the wrong night to run into them. Aidan offers Josh a ride for when he transforms later on, but Ray says they're turning together. Josh isn't so enthused.

At work, Aidan treats a new patient who's been bitten by the recently resurrected vampire he watched die the previous day. That vampire has been brought in, too, mistaken for a drug addict. Aidan talks to the crazed man, asking who turned him. He recognizes Aidan as one of them, but leaps up and runs out at super speed before anyone can pursue.

Danny comes over to see to the problems at the house, but the plumber is having difficulty with the old pipes. Bridget is with him, and she goes over to the spot where Sally died. They're getting all smoochy despite hanging out by the stairs where Sally is watching. Bridget tries to get all psychic and commune with Sally, convinced she spoke to her, but Danny is tired of her constantly bringing her up.

The plumber snaked all the drains and only found a hair clog in the shower, which doesn't explain the whole system backup. But he did find something else in the drain—Sally's engagement ring. Both Danny—and Sally—are a bit shocked to see it, but it's Sally who has a flashback...

Back when she wasn't dead and engaged, she dropped her ring down the sink, getting Danny very upset—who in these flashbacks is extremely quick to anger. Because she took the ring off he accuses her of cheating on him. He won't let it drop and pushes her against the wall. She bounces off the wall and falls down the stairs (!). Danny looks down at her in shock, but just sits at the top of the stairs.

When Sally comes back to the present, the drain abruptly clears out. She believes the house was trying to tell her how she died (and it's not even the the mid-point of the episode yet!).

At the hospital, a priest, who is obviously a vampire, squeezes into an elevator full people. He's having a lot of difficulty restraining himself from all the warm-blooded bodies, but manages as the doors open and everyone disembarks—except Aidan standing in the back. They go to the chapel to talk.

Aidan is surprised that Father Gates is a real priest. Six years before, he was dying of cancer and concluded there was no afterlife. A doctor, who happened to be a vampire, offered him another option to dying, but he believes it's God who saved him. Aidan doesn't care what he believes, but forbids him to turn anyone in the hospital. Gates informs him that Bishop is the one who brought him there, and Aidan doesn't get to make that call. So there.

Fuming, Aidan goes to see Bishop. Apparently Bishop turned Saren, the man in the opening, because his family had a lot of money. He's a pragmatist—being a vampire they need wealth and resources to handle things, keep stuff secret, pay people off, etc. Bishop is only turning the willing, useful and influential these days. Having a priest is also handy to use religion to control people. When they have the numbers and the power, they will no longer have to hide. It's evolution.

Aidan is outraged that Bishop is moving in on his space and they come to fisticuffs. Aidan gets the worst of it, and Bishop advises him that his time of playing human is over, and by the way, his pet wolf Josh has a taste for vampires, and he better muzzle him or they will.

Bitchy nurse from last week sees Josh comforting a patient and bitches him out for bothering them when he should be working. But Josh was just providing some comfort to the old woman by discussing her absent son and scores some minor points with the nurse given he came in on his day off (re: future love interest).

Josh has bigger things on his mind as he heads off to the cabin in the woods and meets up with Ray. He just wants the night to be over with and can't get all psyched up about it like Ray does. But Ray's got big dreams. Like creating a pack of wolves—a gang safe from vampires. Josh doesn't want to ever get into a fight like that again. He's done with the scrapping and the inner wolf. Ray gets frantic and says they can take their bromance slower if he wants, but Josh admits he thinks it's time Ray was on his way.

Ray doesn't handle rejection well. Josh says he's grateful for everything, but can manage without him. The wolf isn't him. It's an infection. And changing together might not be a good idea. So he heads out. Ray pleads with him that it's not safe out there. Then he spills all the beans and admits he's been looking for him for two years, because...Ray is the werewolf who attacked Josh on his camping trip.

Ray had attacked two backpackers, killing Josh's friend, but was scared off before finishing off Josh. Ray's been tracking him ever since out of guilt. He had to see what his life was like. Josh really loses it—his family, fiancee and future are all gone. Ray should have killed him. But Ray protests the wolf is a gift. He thought if he helped Josh and needed him, he'd let him into his life, his job, his home—all the things Ray used to have. Josh isn't in the mood to hear it, and their little heart to heart is interrupted by their impending transformations.

Aidan comes home to weepy Sally, who explains the pipes were her fault. She was trying to tell herself the truth all along—Danny killed her. She remembers it all now, and explains Danny's hair-trigger temper. Aidan's furious given all the times Danny has been there, going on about Sally. He heads out to exact some revenge, but Sally pleads with him not to. She doesn't know what she'll do yet.

He goes to Father Gates instead, trying to convince him to abandon his ways before he becomes a monster. Aidan admits to killing so many people that their faces are a blur—too many to remember. Father Gates thinks that's liberating, not scary. When the church is empty, he says, he can feel God with him. Aidan tells him he's stopped feeding, and the hospital is a place he can use as a refuge from the vampire life, where he can help people move on to the death he can never have. But Gates has a bit of a god complex himself and suggests they could end it right now if he wanted, and pulls a piece of wood off the pew.

Sally is at Danny's apartment, and she's able to wreak a lot of havoc on the place with her poltergeist powers. Cut to the wolf boys, who are in the midst of transformation and have an all out knockdown fight. Aidan gets that Gates is completely crazy, tackles him at super speed, and goes to work on Gates' face.

Ray wakes up in the woods by the cabin in the morning. Josh tosses him some clothes. He doesn't blame him for the first time—he was out of control. But he should have stayed away the second time. Josh doesn't feel sorry for him, though. Ray tells him he knows what he is and accepts it. Josh doesn't. Just give it a few years. This is as good as it gets. Josh walks away to Ray's shouts that one day Josh will come looking for him.

Apparently Aidan's yanked out Gates' fangs and the priest goes crying to Bishop. Bishop consoles him, admitting Aidan can be an animal at times. Unfortunately, fangs don't grow back (that's the one flaw in their evolution). But not to worry, they'll take care of him, he says mysteriously, and Marcus leads him away.

Danny comes home to a big mess. The house is trashed and there's a spiral debris pattern on the floor, at the end of which is the ring. Both he and Bridget are freaked out.

Josh is back to work, feeling a little down again. But this time bitchy nurse actually gives him a smile.

Back home on the front steps Sally is sitting with Aidan as Josh calls them in for dinner. Considering neither Sally and Aidan eat, Josh just wants them to enjoy a delicious meal together. Aidan had filled Josh in about Danny already, and Sally tells them there's nothing more to say. Sally asks what happened with Ray. Ray's gone, Josh says, and adds to Aidan that the degenerates he rolled are gone too and that won't be happening again. Oh, and Ray is the one who infected Josh, he adds for a shocker. Who wouldn't want to meet their were-dad, he says. And they're a happy family for the moment.

The Verdict:
There were some thoughtful ideas presented this week—from Father Gates' defence of vampirism as part of God's plan, to Ray's semi-sympathetic situation and the ominous prediction that Josh would end up like him after some years of living as a werewolf.

The final scene returned the series to a good balance of humor arising out of their easy interaction around the table. A nice wrap up to an otherwise emotional hour.

My only real critique is the sudden day and night switch of Danny from boring guy to extreme sociopath in the flashbacks. It was a bit too much to accept that he could fly off the handle so easily and yet Sally would have remained with him up to that point. Plus there was no surprise if you're a fan of the British series, as Sally's murder was expected.

They will have to deal with Danny at some point, given he's their landlord, but Bishop's grand plan seems to be the major arc of the season that's slowly gathering steam. There's also a danger here in treading too closely on ground covered in True Blood, with vampires revealing their existence, and most recently in season three, with Russell's plot to take over the world. It remains to be seen how far-reaching Bishop's plan is, as well as who he might be answering to himself.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: Spartacus: Gods of the Arena "Beneath the Mask"

Non Spoiler Review:
Beneath the Mask finds another powerful Roman passing through Capua, prompting a renewed scheme to win his favor and a spot in the opening games—this time under the nose of Titus. It's an interesting parallel with Missio, given the similar plot and ultimately bad things that ensue (even worse this time around!). Tragedy hits very close to home for Lucretia, whom we also learn can throw a really good party.

Another densely packed Spartacus that makes you feel you got your money's worth. Pretty much all the storylines got a share of the spotlight. In addition to the primary Batiatus plot, we get Doctore's struggle for his men's respect, Barca coming to terms with Auctus' death and rapprochement with Crixus, more on the Melitta/Doctore/Gannicus triangle, Titus and Batiatus' father/son travails, Ashur and Dagan's first combat, more of Solonius' subtle treachery, emotionally scarred Diona (now in animal costume) name just a few. Phew!

Gannicus and Melitta's story does get a tad predictable and soap operish, so I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I'll reserve judgement for its conclusion. The Celt remains the wild card, as he's been doing very little for a couple of episodes now, except brooding and towing the line for Batiatus. Here we see him pushed to the limits of his own personal honor and he seems about ready to snap.

This week brought a welcome focus on Lucretia. Her marriage is about to be put to the test, and we learn some things about their relationship that, coupled with the dramatic events this episode, are going to chart Lucretia's course for years to come.

Beneath the Mask was easily the raunchiest Spartacus yet that pushed all the boundaries—the most full frontal nudity I've seen on episodic television, and a full blown orgy. There are sufficient decapitations in the arena, including a beating heart ripped out and tossed at the camera. Along with the various dramas and tragedies unfolding within the walls of the ludus, there are some great moments of black humour—including Ashur's ongoing self-serving mistranslations for Dagan—and perhaps the most laugh out loud line of the miniseries to date, regarding Batiatus' attitude towards Thracians.

Spoilers Now!
Father and son attend the morning games, watching as a gladiator armed with net and trident defeats his opponent. Apparently this is the next big thing in gladiatorial combat, but old-school Titus thinks it's ridiculous. Hearing the crowd go wild, though, convinces him to take his son's advice, and he agrees reluctantly to train one of the men in that fighting style.

But it's also Ashur and Dagan's big day to fight. Doctore outfits blades to both men, but his pep talk amounts to a comment that they may bear the mark, but have not earned that honor. If they live, then they shall be accepted into the brotherhood, but if they die, it will prove they were worthless to begin with. As always, Ashur must translate for Dagan, but says anything but the truth to him.

Dagan makes short work of his adversary, but Ashur loses his helmet and is nearly finished, if not for his friend taking down his opponent for him. Ashur cuts the defeated man's head off and assumes credit for the defeat to the roaring crowd. 

Tullius rises to introduce Vettius' newest champions. Batiatus fumes that they are denied a spot in the opening games in the arena, and must fight again in these early scuffles, but Tullius, as ever, warns his son to be humble among those of higher station, otherwise they will never regain favor.

Lucretia and Gaia walk about the market, as Titus frowns on them attending the games, but his daughter-in-law is more than happy not to be forced to endure the old man. Gaia is musing about leaving Capua, given she needs to find a husband and gain some financial security. Her friend is upset at the notion, especially now that she has to deal with Titus. 

Gaia suddenly recognizes a Roman—Petronius. Unfortunately, he doesn't recognize her, though he is quite interested in Lucretia when introductions are made. He has heard of the House of Batiatus and the stories of the pleasures to be had in their house. Lucretia is shocked to think that their reputation has spread all the way to Rome, thanks to Varis.

Gannicus watches the other gladiators train. He hasn't been fighting these days and grows increasingly solemn given the burdens he's carrying. Titus asks to speak with him to see if this so-called champion measures up to his own expectations of what a gladiator should be. Titus explains a champion is more than his victories. When asked what Gannicus' heart beats for, he answers the honour of the House of Batiatus. But that's only because he expects it's what Titus wants to hear, and the old man isn't fooled.

The Syrians return to the ludus, with Ashur gloating of their victories in the arena. Doctore rewards them with coin, but Ashur says his friend is questioning why he received twice the amount as Ashur. Doctore is wise to his deceitful translations, and tells him to inform Dagan it's because he is twice the man as Ashur, and if they did not require him to translate, he would never have gotten sword in the first place.

Gaia grows annoyed with Petronius prattling on about the pleasures of the House of Batiatus. Lucretia is nervous that the rumours will spread to Titus. Batiatus returns and Gaia explains their meeting with this latest man of status who is interested in sampling the ludus' offerings with promises of bringing along acquaintances of equal position. With Petronius' support they could get back into the games again. Batiatus agrees, but it will require some subterfuge with his father.

Gannicus asks for a word with Melitta. She reluctantly complies, worried of arousing suspicions. But they are friends, he says, and must still speak or arouse suspicions anyway. He admits his thoughts of her still linger, despite his loyalty and friendship to Oenomaus. Always practical, Melitta advises those thoughts will  fade with time.

Later, Doctore lies with his wife and laments the disrespect the men show to him, Gannicus included. Melitta tells him he will need to show the men they must obey, even his friend. But as they have sex, her mind wanders to Gannicus.

In the morning, Gnaeus is told to begin training with the net and trident, given his swordplay is lacking. When he balks at that, Doctore whips him and demands he do as commanded. The men stop and take notice. Gannicus comments on Doctore's new attitude, but the other pairs him with Barca for the morning. Gnaeus and the others all comply.

Titus watches the training, noting Gannicus is showing fire now. After another coughing spell, Batiatus suggests his father return to the coast while Lucretia grabs more honey wine for him. His son suggests they go together to the coastal city of Neapolis to procure new recruits from the slaves. Titus considers this, and agrees. 

With his father out of the way, Batiatus instructs Lucretia to see to Petronius and his guests while he's gone, and to find Solonius' help in case they need male authority to manage a house full of guests.

Crixus visits Barca, trying to make amends by offering his pets some of his bread. Crixus speaks of his life in Gaul and losing his family in battle. Now his dream is of honouring the dead in victory. Auctus was the first life he took in battle and he will not forget him. Barca admits they were really Auctus' birds, but they're all he has left of him now, and he accepts the bread.

In Neapolis, father and son review some new offerings, but find none worth purchasing. When he's offered a Thracian slave, Batiatus jokes he would never buy one, as they are too hard to train and aggravate the Gauls.

As Lucretia and her slaves ready the villa, Naevia attempts to speak with Diona, but she is a shadow of her former self these days. Lucretia wants Melitta by her side, and not dislodged by any requests. She is still quite protective of her slaves, except for Diona, who was too new to enjoy her protection. In exchange for keeping Melitta out of the fray, Lucretia asks for something in return. Given his loyalty to the old man, she wants Doctore to swear to keep the orgy from him (otherwise other secrets of what have transpired within the walls of the villa may be revealed). Melitta agrees.

Solonius is greeted by Lucretia and Gaia, but he's not happy with all the scheming going on, despite having agreed to help out his friend. Together they greet Petronius and his party, welcoming them to what will be a spectacular orgy of the senses. Lucretia regrets Batiatus' absence as she speaks to the guests, but places everything within the walls at their leisure. Unfortunately, it's Diona and another gladiator who are the first act of the evening, adorned in animal horns.

Melitta sends Naevia to the pantry to be kept out of jeopardy. All the gladiators are standing on display, including Doctore, who is feeling this whole affair is dishonoring them. But Melitta tells him to move beyond his pride and accept what they must do this evening.

Batiatus and Titus share a drink at the Neapolis tavern and comment on his childhood. Batiatus has always obeyed his father's wishes, even abandoning a career in the military in favor of  running the ludus. For these sacrifices Titus allowed him to chose his own wife, something he now regrets.

But Titus is no fool, he says, and declares he knows why his son brought him there—to find common ground far from the disagreements of the ludus. Um, sure, Titus. Very perceptive. Titus has enjoyed their little sojourn and now wants to return home immediately rather than wait until morning, preferring his own bed. 

Back home, everything seems to be going well and the revellers are enjoying themselves, until Tullius unexpectedly crashes the party. He starts off chatting with Petronius until Solonius comes over for a private word. It's apparent he warned Tullius of what was going on, but didn't expect him to show up. Tullius warns him off or lose his favor, and Solonius slithers off.

The next stage of the night begins as Lucretia brings out masks to allow her guests to live like the gods for the evening. Tullius takes his mask of Jupiter and wants to challenge Gannicus to prove his skill, but again, not with wooden swords. Lucretia nervously agrees and calls for steel, while Doctore warns Gannicus to indulge him, but show him no insult, or it will bear unfortunate consequence for everyone. 

The two men fight among the guests, and Gannicus fairs well at first, but ultimately does as he is told and submits to Tullius under Doctore's watchful eye. Tullius begins to land several cuts and taunts the man with insults until Gannicus allows him to beat him to the floor. With sword raised above him, Gannicus makes the missio sign. Tullius is about to ignore the signal until Lucretia yells for him to stop and questions his honor for seeming to ignore the rules of the arena. Tullius backs down and continues gloating while Gannicus is taken away to the medicus.

Melitta follows, sympathetic for what he had to do, but Gannicus says he did it for his master. But that's not all. He tells her he can't ignore what he feels for her, and asks to know if she feels the same. Despite her protests to the contrary, they kiss, and she leaves.

Tullius is neither drinking nor participating, which vexes Lucretia. Gaia offers to seduce him to avoid trouble. Lucretia is grateful, but Gaia is also seeking a husband, so she does her best at seduction. Things are going well until Gaia suggests he not tell anyone of the night's festivities, and he wonders if he does it for herself or the House of Batiatus. She admits Lucretia is like a sister and Tullius eerily swears not to speak of it as long as she delivers a message to them...

The party disperses and Petronius is very happy. He will send word to discuss the opening games with Batiatus. As the house empties, Solonius muses over the evening. She thanks him for his help, but it's obvious he's got a major crush on her as he departs and Lucretia orders the villa restored to normal for the morning.

Tullius finds her alone, and tells her he once dreamt of Gaia's touch as a younger man, but her words tonight have put him in a difficult position. Lucretia is very nervous at what he might say, so he tells her Gaia holds her reply and to go to her and hear it. Lucretia finds Gaia's red wig and comes into the room to find her friend dead, her head smashed in. She screams.

Come morning, Titus is enraged as he learns what's transpired and all the treachery involved. He and Batiatus argue, but Titus is infuriated he provoked Tullius yet again—and now a Roman citizen is dead in his house. Lucretia wants vengeance, emboldened by her loss to talk back to him. Tullius' life for Gaia's. Batiatus agrees with her, but Titus absolutely refuses retribution and she'll do as she's commanded. Titus declares they will say Gaia fell to her death off the balcony from too much wine, and he orders them to see it done.

Titus takes his son aside, knowing the truth now of why he was spirited to Neapolis. He sees how his son and daughter-in-law feed off one another, and it's time she was removed. With no dowry, no name, and no heir, the marriage is a disaster for the family, and Titus vows to put him on a proper path—Batiatus will dissolve his marriage or be gone from the house with her. 

Lucretia goes out to the balcony as the sun rises and sees the guards about to throw Gaia's body off the cliff. She stops them, kisses her, and walks away as they drop her over the side. Lucretia is out for blood.

Another tense hour of machinations gone awry. It's sad to see Gaia go, but on one hand I'm a bit relieved she died the way she did, as there was always the implication she was working for her own ends to gain a husband and might have betrayed her friend. At least here she makes a noble sacrifice for Lucretia and Batiatus. And I don't doubt she will be avenged by a stronger, nastier Lucretia.

Lucretia's transition into the more conniving, savvy woman we see in season one continues as she orchestrates the party herself (with Solonius eager to please her). Again we get her sincere concern for her slaves' protection, but she's also willing to sacrifice some (like Diona) in favor of those closer to her. And just as easily will lean hard on Melitta to ensure her husband is protected from Titus. 

It's difficult not to sympathize with Lucretia given the insight we get into Titus' contempt for her and the insecurity of her situation through all these years. We know Batiatus doesn't opt to throw her out of the house, and their Macbeth/Lady Macbeth teamwork is one of the unique aspects of their relationship, so it will be intriguing to see what they do (aside from the obvious death of the elder patriarch). There's a lot of vengeance to be exacted on Tullius and Vettius, and the final falling out with Solonius, who's a little too loose-lipped with everything he's been entrusted with.

I'm a little disappointed with the Doctor/Gannicus/Melitta love triangle, as that story seems to be the low hanging fruit of all the storylines. Of course, now that I think on it, it's likely Doctore that kills Gannicus, to result in the hardened and cold man we see in season one. Secrets never stay hidden on Spartacus, so it will undoubtedly be epic when these pieces of the bigger puzzle come together. 

There was so much to like about Beneath the Mask, which managed to give everybody a little screen time and still serve up bloody battles and copious amounts of sex and nudity. Given the similar plotlines from this week and Missio, we have a lot of competing noblemen in play—Vettius, Varis and now Petronius. Considering next week is named Reckoning, it's going to be nasty.
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