Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: Camelot "Lady of the Lake"

Non Spoiler Review:
Several plotlines compete again as Arthur and his men begin training with Gawain, and the fallout from Guinevere's wedding begins to get noticed by Igraine. The main thrust comes when Merlin must acquire a true sword for Arthur, while Morgan gets a visitor at the castle just as all her magic using catches up with her.

Lady of the Lake carries on some of the erratic and problematic behaviours from last episode, so I'm fearful that this going to be a trend and the writers might be struggling with a direction. Merlin (and Joseph Fiennes) behave in such a weird manner I'm almost wondering if he's under a spell (which I doubt is the writers' intention). The quest for the sword does provide an interesting spin on the Lady of the Lake mythos, but the journey to get there is extremely contrived and messy.

Everybody's acting so CRAZY! Morgan gets a visitor from her past as she struggles for her life, but even that leaves us wondering what's really going on, too. I'd like to think there is an over arching plan that will explain away these problems, but I'm not very confident in that. And finally, Arthur's beginning to fizzle as an inspirational figure. So this isn't encouraging four episodes in. I'm hoping this is just growing pains as the show moves towards its halfway mark. 

Spoilers Now!
The day after the wedding, Arthur is moping around the grand hall, which does not go unnoticed by Igraine and Merlin, who suggests she may be able to offer her son some motherly advice. Arthur wants Gawain to start training the men immediately so everyone can be just as pissed off as he is.

Gawain manages to best Arthur pretty easily and breaks the sword (!). So he suggests a swordmaker named Caliburn can make him a new one. Merlin seems to take the broken sword all in stride, but takes Arthur aside and warns him off his desire for Guinevere. Then he sets out in search of a new sword fit for a king.

Morgan prepares to venture to Camelot with new BFF Vivian to present a wedding gift to Guinevere, but she's suffering from pains that began last episode. When she collapses on the trail, Vivian demands they return so she can care for her. When they get back to Uther's castle there's an old nun waiting for them. Morgan is incensed and demands she be removed immediately. "What have you done?" the old woman says before she's sent away.

Igraine chats with Guinevere and in a friendly manner warns her off flirting now that she's married for fear of undoing other men's lives. But when Guinevere runs into Arthur it's the king who won't let go of their little tryst. She tells him it didn't mean anything to her, otherwise she couldn't have married Leontes. She's his champion's wife now. He goes off in a huff.

Morgan awakens feeling much better and ravenous. The nun, Sybil, remains outside the gates and Morgan tells Vivian she was the woman who taught her at the nunnery. Her eyes begin to bleed. Vivian lets the nun in and Sybil pretty much takes charge, ordering everyone to their rooms. She demands to know if Morgan performed a summoning. Morgan is taunted by visions of Uther and Lot, and finally collapses.

Merlin goes to see the swordmaker but Caliburn isn't a friendly sort at all, and more than a little volatile. The king can come for his own sword if he wants, he says, as he's a master bladesmith. But when he learns it's Merlin, he's more amenable. And when he finds out it's for the new king, he whips one up.

Caliburn gets chatty and wants to know what it was like being a sorcerer, but Merlin says he gave it all up, even though having magic powers was like an extra emotion. Caliburn continues to pester. Is he scared? Or he just enjoyed using magic too much?

Merlin walks off in a huff, and sits down to make the fire rage with his magic, obviously enjoying the high he's getting from sorcery, but Caliburn's daughter walks over and asks what he's doing. Merlin's furious for being discovered and physically threatens her, but Caliburn warns him off. He introduces her—Excalibur (uh oh). He suggests Merlin dine with them and he'll have his sword by morning.

Merlin wakes to Caliburn polishing the new sword. The best he's ever made. Almost indestructible. But Caliburn wants to give it to the king himself. Merlin doesn't want him near the king as he seems to have a vision of Caliburn killing Arthur. No deal. Merlin demands the sword but they get into a fight instead. When Caliburn brings up Merlin's family, the sorcerer sets him on fire and kills him. Excalibur runs over, calls him a murderer and runs away with the sword.

Merlin takes after her, apologizing, but she runs into the lake and tries to take a boat across. So he uses his magic on the water to freeze the lake and walks over to her. She falls off the boat with the sword and thrusts it and her hand through the ice, but she's trapped. Merlin grabs the sword but can't free her, and Excalibur drowns underneath the ice.

Sybil sees an apparition of the young Morgan and Igraine. Then Morgan wakes up and appears to recover. Sybil says she was reborn while Morgan says it's because she's strong. But she's not out of the woods yet and has another seizure, this time transforming into Igraine! After the shock and horror wear off, she realizes she can feel that Igraine is in pain.

Meanwhile, Igraine tells Arthur she saw how he looked at Guinevere, but there will be other girls for him. He makes a snarky comment about saying the same to his father, and gets a slap across the face. Many died because Uther couldn't be denied, she tells him. She won't let it happen again.

Gawain's less than honorable fighting techniques offends Arthur and the knights. He's able to disarm Arthur quite easily, so Arthur eventually learns the lesson, and coupled with his growing bitterness at being denied Guinevere, lectures his troops. They fight for peace, but combat is a means for honor, protection and justice. 

He wants to fight Leontes and the two have an intense sparring match. Leontes eventually gets the better of him, and Arthur tells the troops to understand when they've been beaten by a better man, but never to give in—he fights dirty and brings Leontes down. Gawain gives him a slow clap and says he can do business with that kind of king. Guinevere is not impressed and tells him they can't keep doing this. It's finished, she says. She has what she wants.

Merlin is looking worse for the wear as he sits at a tavern contemplating what he's done. He ends up  insulting the patrons and gets beaten up.

Recovering, Morgan finally asks why Sybil came. The nunnery was attacked and burned and she was the only survivor. She was drawn there for Morgan, who left them to get the crown, and who doesn't have it yet. Morgan tells Vivian to make up a bed for her, as far away from her chambers as she can find.

Merlin returns to Arthur, battered and bruised, and presents the sword. Everyone's in awe of it. Merlin says Caliburn was dead so he road many miles until he came to a lake. When he stopped, out of the mist a woman called him and stretched her hand out of the lake clutching the sword. She slipped back into the water and said it was the Sword of King Arthur. Excalibur.

The Verdict:
This was quite the uneven episode and I'm not really sure what the writer's were shooting for. Ultimately we got an interesting twist on the Lady of the Lake that's tainted the sword with Merlin's darkness. All pretty cool. But the set up just didn't work for me at all.

Caliburn was B.A.N.A.N.A.S. Merlin seems to know/not know him and vice versa. What was going on here? Caliburn, despite his crazy, made the best sword of his life over night. Then he decides it's his job to taunt Merlin into a rage, freak out about him attacking his daughter, then decide to have him for dinner. All the while we get the insight that he might just kill Arthur if he meets him face to face.

Merlin and Morgan are being set up as two sides of the same coin. Magic is addictive and he's pretty ashamed when he's caught using it. But does that warrant pulling a knife on Excalibur? On to Morgan, who may or may not be cured, and the introduction of Sybil, who is the weirdest nun ever—she's okay with Morgan taking the crown, but not the magic part. Why does Morgan turn into Igraine? What was exactly wrong with her and is she cured?

Sadly my endurance for Joseph Fiennes acting is wearing thin after these last two episodes. He's okay as far as calm Joseph Fiennes moments, but angry Joseph Fiennes looks like he's about to have a stroke.

Another quibble. There's no sense of a kingdom beyond the walls of Camelot. Arthur isn't receiving envoys or offering up any decisions yet, nor does he carry himself at all like someone who commands any power. Right now Camelot feels like a frat house for a bunch of guys playing soldier. Are there no decisions to be made for the land, or does he actually have to go out and unite the various warlords? They seem to have forgotten that the last couple of weeks.

Finally, Arthur's continued immaturity is really detracting from the character. Where's the nobility? The boy can speak Latin and quotes Cicero, and here we get him advising his knights to fight dirty when necessary. Is that what the Knights of the Round Table are becoming? I'm hoping this is just part of the big plan, but there continues to be this ongoing contradiction—all this magical stuff hinted at in the background, but when it comes to Camelot, it's grounded in the mundane. There needs to be a grander sense of what they're fighting for and the country being built around them.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Review: Outcasts "Episode 6"

Non Spoiler Review:
Episode 6 jumps right into the middle of a crisis—three XPs are two days missing, leaving a pregnant wife about to give birth, and three other children waiting for their mother's return. Jack struggles to find out what happened to them, but is keeping secrets about the true nature of the mission they were on. When one of them is found alive and returned home, everyone is elated, but what follows is an increasingly ominous revelation of what exactly returned to Forthaven.

Probably the weakest episode so far, this week seemed to meander on and on with the mystery (an ongoing problem these last couple of episodes), but takes forever to get to its conclusion. I realize the running storyline addressed this week requires build up over the course of this season, but what's becoming increasingly clear is that Outcasts is indulging in a classic science fiction cliché, that for me just isn't working. The political side of things is much more interesting, as Julius raises the stakes, and his schemes seem to be moving along towards an inevitable confrontation. So a mixed bag again this time.

Spoilers Now!
Three expeditionaries are missing after performing some secret mission for Jack (and, apparently Julius). As search parties spread out, they see a flare but turn up dead ends. Jack is feeling responsible and brushes off Tates' questions, but the president suspects Jack is running his own operation against the ACs. 

One of the missing is single mother Josie, and Stella takes it upon herself to look after the three children while their mother is gone. Meanwhile, Marie, wife of one of the missing men, is about to go into labour, and she's the only pregnant woman in Forthaven at the moment (so lots of pressure there). Tate and Stella both want to ensure she delivers a healthy child.

Josie appears wounded outside the gates and is brought inside to a happy crowd. She explains they were ambushed by ACs and only she got away. Everyone applauds her return, but she's acting a bit vacant and stunned, and when she's brought back home to her children they notice her odd character right away.

Marie goes into labour as another man, Mark, is found, and he reveals that it was Josie that tried to kill them. Stella leads the team that goes to arrest her (in front of her children) and Tate and Stella interrogate her to little success. Josie just wants to see her children. Tate wants it all kept quiet until they find out what's really going on. They suspect she may have just snapped considering she left a husband back on Earth to come to Carpathia. 

Mark is in hospital as Julius comes to see him and reveals he knows about Jack's black op against the ACs. Mark can offer little explanation except to say Josie went crazy and suddenly killed Brian (Marie's husband).

Meanwhile, Rudi addresses his troops after apparently discovering the black op launched against them. He tells them they will be precise in their revenge but will not act rashly. They'll target the XP leader and deal a fatal blow to Forthaven. Two ACs head out and soon find Brian's body and the photos of his wife.

Stella receives a radio message from Josie who says she's miles outside the community. But she's still in her cell. Tate is now quite open to the idea of weird things happening given his own visions of people who shouldn't be there, so he sends Cass and Fleur to check it out, while he and Stella debate what exactly is happening. Stella is taking the logical route, thinking hallucinations are a result of their society under pressure. Tate's not so sure.

He goes to watch Josie in her cell, and she seems to be interacting with someone unseen. Then he goes to see her children and talks to them about their mother's behaviour. The youngest child seems to know matter-of-factly that this woman is not their mother.

Julius gets debriefed by Jack. The mission he asked him to undertake is still incomplete (assassinating Rudi), but he wants to find out why Josie attacked her own men. Julius wants assurance Jack is on his side against Tate to correct the flaws in their society. Jack is less sure about going against Stella, and Julius himself isn't certain yet if she will be friend or enemy when it comes down to making a choice.

Cass and Fleur arrive at the area where the radio broadcast came from, just as all the power goes out in Forthaven. That's due to the ACs, who have dug under the wall and gotten into the settlement. Alarms go off and faux Josie escapes, while Marie goes into labour. Cass and Fleur run back to town. Nearby is a seriously wounded Josie, but they don't see her.

Tate, with the children, rendezvous with Stella, who is dealing with the crisis. Julius wants to be involved in things, of course, but both Stella and Tate brush him off. Faux Josie somehow finds her children in all the commotion and makes off with them.

Real Josie manages to get on her feet and heads towards Forthaven. Meanwhile, Marie's pregnancy is seriously more complicated...either the baby survives or the mother, and Stella opts to make the difficult decision to chose the baby and let Marie fight for her life.

Cass and Fleur draft Jack and his men to help maintain order inside the settlement. Cass spots the ACs and manages to warn Jack, saving his life. They bring down both intruders, and arrest one survivor.

Real Josie stumbles up to the gates, only to be nearly shot, as everyone thinks she's run off with the kids. She's thrown in the brig with the AC and treated like dirt by Jack. But Stella realizes something else is going on, and asks Cass to break her out after Jack refuses to listen. So he does so, heading off to the rocks with real Josie in the hopes of finding a place that the children might go to. And so they do find the children, who realize this is their real mother.

But the XPs catch up, and hot-headed Jack is about to shoot Josie despite Cass saying it's all wrong, when faux Josie appears at the top of the hill. She stands in silence and looks at them, then seems to just walk away out of sight.

Cass advises a stunned Jack they should keep it all between themselves and reports back to command. Tate suggests they all just imagined the other person, and tells him goodnight. Julius pops in right after, declaring the previous night's attack warrants a massive response against the ACs. Tate refuses. Julius pretty much threatens that he should side with him on this, but Tate throws back Jack's secret operation to assassinate Rudi. Of course Julius denies any knowledge of that, and he's sorry Tate chose that path.

Marie is told of her husband's death, but she and her baby both survived, so Stella can take some solace in that. Meanwhile, Julius contacts CT-10 again, saying he will be ready to overthrow the government with the help of Jack, and he's also confident Stella will be onside when they arrive.

The lights come back on as Stella joins Tate at the bar. They're still debating whether there were two Josies. Tate knows it wasn't a hallucination. What if something destroyed the hominid species, he suggests. They're not alone here.

The Verdict:
Despite the tension of the episode it felt so drawn out any drama was seriously deflated. Perhaps it was just a pacing problem, but it felt like this week was two hours long. Add to that an unsatisfactory ending—despite the mystery of the faux Josie, which itself is an ongoing plot with the phantom kids and dog, there was no explanation about where faux Josie went and why no one went after her. They just cut back to the goings on at Forthaven.

There were some good bits—following up last week's diamond-mania, it was nice to see Cass toss one of them into the garbage before they headed out on the search. As well, the the characterization is usually pretty good here. It's just the actions that produce some eye-rolling moments...

It's debatable already how fit Tate is to be president. I'm happy with how Stella is being handled, but Julius is seriously crossing the line of believability in how he can maintain his power grab without being found out. Still, Jack's behaviour was the most egregious. What is the power structure in Forthaven that allows him such free reign...and not only that, but to act so gun crazy? That just didn't seem realistic at all. Add Julius' more overt machinations in dealing with Tate, Stella and Jack, and the political schemes sometimes are a bit hard to swallow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review: Game of Thrones "The Kingsroad"

Non Spoiler Review:
With introductions out of the way, The Kingsroad sends multitudes of characters in disparate directions. Bran's fate is up in the air as Ned prepares to return to King's Landing with Robert, bringing Arya and Sansa with him. Tyrion has opted to join Jon on his trip to the Wall. While Catelyn deals with the disintegration of her family, she begins her own investigation into what happened to Bran. Finally, in Pentos, Daenerys gets settled in as wife to Drogo, and learns a thing or two about how to manage her new (and hopefully less doggy-style) position.

The Kingsroad introduced plenty of ominous aspects as Cersei rises to greater heights of villainy. The direwolves suffer the brunt of their responsibility as protectors to the Stark children, and Ned's sense of honor is forced into increasingly odious actions in the service of his king.

While the influx of new characters aren't as furiously paced as last week, there are some new ones that don't get any real identification, but are sure to figure prominently. A lot happened this week, and the series is moving briskly (given the rapidly growing direwolves) to get plotlines in motion. It's another hour jam-packed with drama, backstory and fantastic visuals. It's fast become my favorite show this spring.

Spoilers Now!
A month has passed. The Dothraki make their way across the grasslands, while Daenerys gets some empathy from Jorah about her new situation. Viserys has accompanied them rather than remain at Pentos, as he wants to stay to ensure he gets his army. Jorah is apparently a wanted man back in the kingdoms (by Ned Stark) for selling some poachers into slavery. Viserys muses that he would never punish him for such nonsense.

Joffrey comes to find Tyrion in the morning, who is asleep in the stables. The king is making ready to ride back home. Tyrion tells his nephew he should first visit Lord and Lady Stark and extend his sympathies about their son. Joffrey doesn't care, but Tyrion tells him he will, and slaps him three times, then sends him on his way. Sandor, the shield to Prince Joffrey (also known as The Hound), tells Tyrion that the prince won't forget that.

Tyrion then joins his siblings for breakfast and they discuss Bran. Tyrion reveals the boy may live, which prompts an odd reaction from Cersei, who suggests the boy shouldn't linger in pain. But she turns her attention to her brother's decision to go to the Wall, which she thinks is ridiculous. Cersei departs with her two youngest children, leaving the brothers to talk. Jaime says the boy will be crippled if he lives and deserves a good death. Tyrion disagrees and would be interested in hearing what Bran has to say if he wakens. Jaime suggests his brother doesn't know what side he's on, but Tyrion counters that he loves his family.

Catelyn remains by Bran's bedside as Cersei arrives to pay her respects. She says she lost her first son to a fever and recounts how devastating it was. In fact, she never visited the child's crypt. She promises to pray everyday for Bran's recovery.

Jaime later comes upon Jon at the swordsmith, and speaks to him about going to the Wall. He says he's grateful to have strong men guarding them. Jon replies humbly that they've guarded the kingdom for 8000 years. Jaime suggests he may not be ready to give up his life for the Night's Watch, and almost seems to be dissuading him. 

Jon then goes to see his sister Arya, who is packing for the trip to King's Landing. The direwolves are growing fast, and she's trained hers, Nymeria, quite well. Jon has brought her the sword he had made as a gift and the two say good-bye.

Jon finally goes to see Bran, facing a lot of bitterness from Catelyn. He tells him he's going north with Benjen to join the Night's Watch and invites him to visit when he recovers. Catelyn tells him to leave, and he does so as his father arrives, but says nothing to him.

Catelyn is not happy with her husband for leaving with two of her children. Seventeen years earlier he road off with Robert, and came back a year later with another woman's son. Now he's off again. He had a choice, she says.

Jon says goodbye to Robb, then rides off with the king's entourage. They come to the fork in the road and Ned tells him he's a Stark even if he doesn't have his last name. Jon asks if his mother is alive, and Ned promises to talk about her the next time they see one another. Then he rides off to join the king's party while Jon and Benjen head north.

Ned and Robert talk later at camp, and we find out it's a woman named Willa who is Jon's mother. Ned apparently impregnated her while south with Robert—they were at war, and no one knew if they were coming home. 

Robert then presents him with a message brought by a rider. Princess Daenerys has wed a Dothraki. Robert bitterly recounts how Rhaegar Targaryen killed Ned's sister and now he worries that a Dothraki army will cross the Narrow Sea. There are still those in the kingdoms loyal to the Targaryens who can supply ships. Robert's certain war is coming.

On the road, Tyrion continues to try to turn Jon off the Wall—several of their company are rapists and criminals forced to join the Night's Watch, though some chose castration rather than serve on the Wall. Tyrion doesn't believe in all the nastiness that supposedly lies on the other side. We find out that Tyrion's father was Hand of the King to the previous ruler, and it was Jaime who killed him, while Cersei married the new king. Tyrion says he does his part for the honor of his house—he has his mind, while his brother has his sword. Later on, they finally arrive and look upon the vast expanse of the Wall.

Robb tells his mother she needs to tend to her duties and not sit by Bran all day. But their conversation is interrupted when he spots a fire outside and leaves to investigate. Then an assassin arrives to kill Bran (as a mercy, he says), surprised to find Catelyn there. They fight, and she's thrown down, but Bran's wolf rips the man's throat out and saves him, then goes to lie down next to Bran.

Daenerys has become intrigued by the dragon eggs, and they bring her some solace as she endures rough sex with Drogo. The Dothraki equivalent of her handmaids tell her there are no dragons left anywhere. One of her ladies, Doreah, is a former prostitute, and Daenerys asks her to teach her how to please Drogo.

Catelyn goes to the tower that Bran fell from and finds a long, blond (Lannister-like) hair on the floor. She summons Robb and three others—Luwin, Theon Greyjoy and Rodrik Cassel, suggesting someone is trying to kill Bran and he was thrown from the tower. She believes the Lannisters are behind it, given the assassin's dagger was too expensive to belong to him. She doesn't trust anyone to warn Ned, so she will go south herself but she agrees to let Rodrik accompany her. For now, Bran's life is in the hands of the gods, and she can do nothing more for him.

Daenerys is schooled in the art of seduction by Doreah, who tells her not to behave like a slave. In their tent, she can be in charge of him, and if Drogo wanted a Dothraki wife, then he wouldn't have married her. Later, she tries her new tact and succeeds in seducing him. He seems impressed.

Sansa and Joffrey share a walk together, and come upon Arya jousting with the butcher's boy with sticks. Joffrey doesn't like the fact that he's pretending to be a knight, and tells him to pick up his sword. Sansa warns Arya to stay out of it because she doesn't want anything interfering in her future marriage. Joffrey cuts the boy's face and Arya strikes him with her stick. Joffrey threatens to gut her, but her wolf attacks and bites his hand. She takes his sword and Joffrey pleads for mercy, and then she tosses it in the river and runs off to find her friend. Joffrey yells at Sansa to go.

As everyone searches the woods for her, Arya sends off her wolf for her own safety. The Lannisters find her and bring her to the king before advising Ned, so he returns angry that he wasn't informed immediately. Robert wants the business done quickly while Cersei wants Arya punished—Joffrey lied and said she attacked him. 

Cersei calls out Sansa to ask what really happened. Sansa says she doesn't remember. Arya attacks her sister and Cersei demands she be punished. Robert says children fight, and so it's over. He challenges his son by asking if he allowed a little girl to disarm him, then tells Ned to discipline his daughter and he will do the same with his son. 

Cersei speaks up again and wants the wolf killed, but there's no trace of Arya's. There's another wolf, Cersei suggests, which has Sansa in tears. Robert tells Ned to get her a dog instead and they shouldn't have direwolves as pets. After Ned asks if that's his order, Robert walks out. 

Ned tells the girls to go to their rooms and he'll do it himself. As he walks through the camp he passes Sandor returning with the body of the butcher's boy, who tried to run away. Ned then goes to Sansa's chained up wolf and kills it as mercifully as possible. At the same time, Bran wakes up.

The Verdict:
A very compelling episode that further rounds out many of the players, The Kingsroad shines some nasty light on Robert's family and the unpleasant people the Lannisters surround themselves with. The backstory we do get builds on the intrigue—specficially how Robert attained the throne from the mad king and Jaime's hand in his murder. In addition, the Stark family can trace its lineage back 8000 years, as long as the Wall has been in place. And the dragons were hunted to extinction (Or were they? I'm wondering if I'm reading too much into the ongoing focus on the dragon eggs).

Daenerys got some needed focus this week, and she appears much more likable and interesting now that she's actually engaged in conversation. I'm impressed that with such a large cast, even the Stark children and many of the minor characters are managing to get some play. Though the group that Catelyn summoned at the end had no introduction whatsoever.

Jon and Tyrion continue to be two favorites and I'm curious to see what adventures they have on the Wall. In contrast, it seems my Lena Headey is going to be one of the main villains and she doesn't lack for viciousness. That leads me to my first theory—I wondered if she might be Jon's mother (given her story about her child dying and never seeing him again), but I had doubts by the end of the episode. But then I started to wonder at the blond hair of Robert's children—could they all be Cersei and Jaime's? Could Jon and Tyrion be half-brothers, perhaps? It might be a stretch, but that's what popped into my head after some of the odd bits with Jaime and Jon following Cersei's story. But I'm sure the theory will change by next week.

Review: Camelot "Guinevere"

Non Spoiler Review:
Camelot's third episode breaks out into several directions—Guinevere and Leontes prepare for their wedding day, prompting some impetuous actions from Arthur. Leontes and Kay set off to find Camelot a champion to inspire others to their king's side, while Morgan decides to have her brother and Merlin over for dinner and wine.

I found this week to be less cohesive than the first two-parter, but likely because this was more of a stand alone episode. Some of the behaviour of the characters had me scratching my head, though—while Morgan's motivations became apparent, I really questioned some of the bad decisions someone (supposedly) of Merlin's caliber could make.

Guinevere picked up in the latter half, with an interesting twist on the classic love triangle. I like the choice of new character introduced. There's indication of potential conflict between several others brewing. So a fair episode, but I'm hoping next week is an improvement.

Spoilers Now!
Guinevere and her cousin Bridget are preparing for the big wedding day, though she's having cold feet wondering if Leontes is the one. But their estate is suddenly attacked by bandits and they're forced to flee to Camelot.

Arthur walks among his people who are assembling at the castle, a little overwhelmed by all the requests he's getting for an audience. Leontes comes to get him as his new bride is seeking refuge there. Merlin doesn't want to give them sanctuary, but Arthur insists, so Merlin decides to teach him a lesson and tell Guinevere she and Leontes can have the wedding at Camelot.

Morgan is doing some housecleaning at Uther's castle, opening up his former torture chamber. She wants the room cleaned of its accoutrement's except for one pair of shackles. She meets a servant, Vivian, who served Uther. Her family was brought as slaves there by the Romans centuries ago, and stayed. She respected her father, Vivian says. Morgan seems to like her and wants more of a woman's touch at the castle. She tells her to chose who to keep and get rid of as far as the staff.

Igraine helps Guinevere and Bridget get settled in. She picks up on Guinevere's nerves so gives her a pep talk about eventually having a family and falling in love with her husband. She's hoping the wedding will raise everyone's spirits.

Leontes and Kay speak of the recent deaths in their ranks and suggest recruiting a well-known warrior might inspire their recruitment efforts. Leontes knows of one. Vivian then shows up with an invitation from Morgan to Merlin and Arthur for a feast at Uther's castle. Merlin is suspicious, of course. Arthur accepts. 

Merlin tells him he doesn't accept anything without consulting him. Arthur informs him he's the king and wants to get to know his sister better. If he can't unite his family, he can't unite the country. Merlin doesn't like all this hands-on approach, and tells the boy everything he is now is because of Merlin, and he shouldn't forget that.

Kay and Leontes find the warrior Gawain at an old monastery, but he wants nothing to do with fighting for kings anymore. It looks like they'll return home empty handed, but Kay's literacy in reading Gawain's book inspires him, and he wants Kay to teach him to finish it if he returns with them.

Morgan welcomes the pair to the redecorated castle. They enjoy their feast and speak of Arthur's plans as king. He feels he must get to know his people. Later, Morgan comes to see him in bed and they speak of their father. He's glad they can start over. Morgan accidently scratches him with her ring, drawing blood. She lets him sleep.

Then she joins Merlin for another drink, only she's spiked his wine and Merlin foolishly drinks it. Arthur is also up and about—spying on them from the door, then walking out. Merlin, in his delirium, has a vision of Uther's murder. Then he passes out. 

An angry Merlin wakes up in shackles while Morgan takes some toenail and beard clippings and mixes some potions. He goads her about murdering her father, but she says he made her stronger and she's grateful. He refuses to use his power to escape because he's strong enough not to. The magic she's using will cost her, he warns, then challenges her to prove her ability by transforming into her young girl form, which Merlin recognizes as Morgan as a child.

Merlin eventually breaks free on his own accord and readies to leave, while Morgan sees him off. He asks what she wants, but she tells him all in good time. She's learned to be patient. He warns her off magic again, but she dismisses him, though suddenly feels a shot of pain.

Arthur returns to Camelot and wakes up Guinevere, convincing her to meet him on the beach. Arthur pleads for her to not marry Leontes. But she continues to deny their feelings, until Arthur asks they indulge in their passions just this once. So they have a tryst on the beach and Guinevere tells him that must be the one and only time.

That leaves the problem of her wedding night now, so on the way back to Camelot they find a dead stag, and resourceful Guinevere collects some of its blood.

Back at Camelot, the men have a party to celebrate Leontes, while Igraine sees to Guinevere. Arthur sends her a sea shell as a wedding gift, which does little to alleviate the tension. Then Leontes asks Arthur to preside over the wedding, which makes for an awkward affair for both, as Igraine notices the looks the two exchange. Meanwhile, Morgan uses the ring she scratched her brother with to cast a spell that allows her to see through his eyes—eyes pining for Guinevere.

On the wedding night, Guinevere tosses some of the deer's blood on the bed while Leontes gets up in the night. Problem solved. But she gets up later and looks out morosely over the sea.
The Verdict:
Not a lot was really happening, but the lack of action wasn't the problem. It seemed many of the plot points were just plain lazy. My big problem was how easy Merlin got drugged by his wine. I mean, seriously? After all the bits and pieces Morgan took from him, he must know she's going to use some kind magic on him (as the doll in her chamber foreshadows).

Everyone around Arthur seems to be a bit lackadaisical when it comes to royal protocol. Even the peasants give him barely a wave of acknowledgement when he passes. Maybe I've watched too much of The Tudors, but a little bit of respect might go a long way. He's not an ordinary person any longer. Perhaps that's something that's going to be expanded upon in weeks to come as he begins to bear the weight of the crown.

Gawain seems pretty likable right off the bat. He should bring an interesting dynamic in the Arthurian friendship, given things with Leontes are going to be a bit awkward from this point forward. His arrival hopefully means fleshing out the brotherhood of knights.

How far is Merlin going to let Arthur off his leash when it comes to making decisions? There's a sense that Merlin is Arthur's Karl Rove, and is ready to shut Arthur down (and even punish him) at the merest disagreement. That's seriously going to backfire in a bad way if Merlin's other bad decisions this episode are any indication.

There's the question of what Morgan did to Arthur in bed. My first thought was the scratch was a spell that sent him off in pursuit of Guinevere. But it appears it was just to be able to see through his eyes. Having Guinevere betray Leontes for Arthur, rather than vice versa was a pretty good twist, given I'm not entirely sold on the three of them at the moment. This triangle has been set up without any time to gel with the audience, so there's really little invested in them right now after only three episodes. Arthur's pining is just coming off as a youthful crush, and Guinevere as a flaky bride (and unworthy queen).

Unless it's all misdirection—perhaps Lancelot is not Leontes, but someone to be introduced after Arthur and Guinevere eventually wed to give Arthur some of his own business by seducing his wife? Just a thought.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Review: The Event "Strain"

Non Spoiler Review:
Jarvis' second assassination attempt is much more fruitful, and as the president is rushed to the hospital, Sterling struggles to prevent the VP from ascending to the top job. Meanwhile, the super-weapon is in Murmansk, but we see even Sophia's lackeys make mistakes. And Sean and Vicky get to Russia in five seconds.

This episode felt overly long given we had to sit through meetings and hospital bedsides while characters reviewed surveillance video and watched heart monitors. Sophia did nothing, in fact, aside from make some phone calls, pay a visit to Buchanan and look at maps. All of this could easily have been absorbed into earlier episodes. This season is too damn long.

Spoilers Now!
Jarvis nervously watches Martinez take sugar in his coffee while the staff discusses the water samples from the ice cores. The water appears to be from Northern Siberia. Then Martinez suddenly collapses (spilling coffee everywhere). He's suffered a stroke and is in dire straits—they need to control the bleeding or perform brain surgery. He's still semi-conscious, though, and tells Sterling he thinks Jarvis was behind it all. He can't become president.

Sterling tells Peel they can't let Jarvis take over, and fills him in on all that's happened with the assassination. To take him down they need proof he's responsible for the stroke. Sterling just needs time.

Sophia watches reports on the president's condition. She feels bittersweet about it all. Once Jarvis is in power, she'll be able to get help in delivering their weapon on a large-scale. Buchanan hasn't reported in, though.

When it looks like Leila is going to be taken in to Sophia, Buchanan kills the guard and the two head home to catch up on father/daughter time by hiding the body. He tells her no more phone calls and gets her to clean up the blood. It might have been nice to have a conversation about his other daughter whom both seem to have forgotten, but unfortunately Sophia decides to pop in. Leila tries to brush her off, but she wants to see her father. Buchanan cleans up and comes out to see her. All she wanted to ask was that they can't find Louis (the guard). Totally pointless scene.

In France, Vicky and Sean are on the train as he tries to convince her to go to Siberia. He bats his puppy dog eyes and convinces her immediately. Then he uses his Internets to find Corina Bogdonov—which is the name of a ship in Murmansk.

In Murmansk, the super-weapon frozen body is cut open to expose the organs. It's over ninety years old. The lungs are filled with some kind of liquid. Unfortunately, the scientist has a convenient accident and cuts himself with the scalpel. They won't let him out of the chamber, though. That is, maybe they might...

Sterling and Peel review the surveillance footage and watch Jarvis spike the coffee (amateur!). But Jarvis arrives saying he is reluctantly going to assume the presidency after speaking with the cabinet. Peel buys them a couple of hours delay and then continues reviewing the footage where they see Jarvis take the empty sugar packet (the only evidence.)

Jarvis goes into his office and gets a call from Sophia. She assures him Martinez will die very soon after lapsing into a coma, and it will be undetectable. Jarvis realizes (as Sterling and Peel do at the same time) that the president's coffee was spilled on the carpet. But the room is already being cleaned and those samples are contaminated by the cleanser anyway.

Vicky and Sean arrive in Murmansk within a few scenes and find the ship, waiting for an opportunity to sneak aboard, which shouldn't be a problem. Sean still wants to know why she's helping him. Why do you think, she counters. He doesn't understand her. Sigh.

They get on the boat and find it apparently deserted, until they look inside and see dead bodies. There are two convenient bio hazard suits so they go inside and investigate, where they find the old corpse and Sean notices the lungs are missing.

They do find someone alive so Vicky interrogates him. He says it was the Spanish flu they extracted and so Encyclopedia Sean explains it killed 15 million people in World War I. The guy doesn't know where the lungs are, so they must be on the way to the airport with the courier. The flight is going to the U.S.

The cabinet meets, but Sterling wants to present the security footage as evidence, but Peel disagrees that it will be convincing enough to get rid of Jarvis. For now they'll have to play along. So they do, and Jarvis is made president.

Sterling then goes off alone to sulk when he notices he has a coffee stain on his cuff. And at that moment Martinez decides he's had enough with this damn show and goes into a seizure.

I don't really view the Spanish flu as a super weapon, unless Sophia plans on weaponizing it further. Of course, The Event's version of the Spanish flu seems to kill people instantly if the ship's crew are any indication.

This episode was a Strain—to watch.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Review: Hanna

Non Spoiler Review:
Hanna is a film by director Joe Wright, starring Saoirse Ronan (from The Lovely Bones) as Hanna, Eric Bana, and the always stellar Cate Blanchet. I can't say that I remember seeing any of Joe Wright's previous movies, but he seems a very capable director if Hanna is any indication. I was initially interested in this film given the screenwriter, Seth Lochhead is from Nanaimo, British Columbia. If the Bourne Identity were turned into a fairy tale starring an adolescent girl, this could be it.

We meet the eponymous Hanna in the opening scene tracking a buck, but quickly realize she's not a normal child, and in fact has been trained by her ex-CIA father (Bana) to be an über-assassin. She's been raised in the forest all her life, taught by Bana pretty much everything, until she realizes she's ready to go out into the world. Bana offers her the choice to signal the outside with a transmitter, which will set in motion a chain of events to carry out their revenge against the film's wicked witch villain, CIA operative Marissa (Blanchett).

Hanna really kicks off when she's on her own, fleeing her pursuers and experiencing the world outside her forest for the first time. It's very much like a fairy tale odyssey (complete with enchanted forest, evil witch, mad huntsmen, and a Grimm gingerbread house). 

Hanna is Jason Bourne if he were a teenage girl. The big reveal for Hanna's backstory might be a bit eye-rolling for some, but that aspect is the engine to focus on the character and the action. There are lots of chase scenes and an unusual number of Germans running. The supporting cast of hired muscle are suitably creepy, and Hanna meets some interesting people along the way.

A big plus for Hanna is its indie/non-Hollywood feel. It very much had the sense of a foreign film and the European and North African locales were engaging and not your typical fare. It plays out at a frenetic pace, with fantastic visuals and a lot of shaky cam (or, I should say, sprinting-alongside-the-running-actors-cam). Scattered amid the craziness are more serene, silent moments as Hanna samples her first experiences of her new world. The film score by the Chemical Brothers is amazing, and is as much a part of the action as the characters.

Lola? Is that you?
Ronan really breaks out of her zone here and presents a believable heroine. Cate Blanchett (whom I love) plays out a bit two-dimensional. There's the whole witch/wicked step-mother aspect to her role, but perhaps just a bit more insight into her would have helped flesh out her motivations. Or possibly it was just that Southern accent that grated on me.

Like the Bourne Identity, if you accept the initial conceits presented in the film, you'll have a fun time. I felt I had experienced Hanna more than I watched it—the varying elements worked so well together. Its only failing was in not bringing anything new to the table, but just electrifying a storyline we've seen in various states before. But I walked out energized and satisfied with that.

Review: Outcasts "Episode 5"

Non Spoiler Review:
A new episode, with a new stranger walking into Forthaven. That's unusual, given there shouldn't be any strangers. This one creates a ruckus by tossing around diamonds like cash. That sparks a mystery to find out who he is and a journey to the forbidden areas of Carpathia. Cass and Fleur continue to be the dynamic duo always off on their weekly adventures, but this time Stella and Jack get to spend some quality time together, too. On the political side of things, Julius ramps up his game against Tate, who is mired by all the secrets coming out about his administration.

While offering intriguing tidbits on a variety of fronts, the plot seemed to drag out extremely long this time around. After sitting through a lot of teases of information, not a lot was revealed, leading to a disappointing conclusion. The saving grace was an ominous final scene.

Spoilers Now!
On a rainy night in Forthaven, a mystery man enters the bar (where Lily now works), sits down and orders whiskey, paying for it with a bag of diamonds he got by the ocean (which is, apparently, a closed zone rife with radiation dangers, as Tipper informs him). His name is Pack, and he quickly manages to insult Jack, prompts a bar brawl, then runs off into the night to be pursued by Fleur and Cass. Unfortunately, both are somehow knocked out.

Stella advises Tate that the jawbone is definitely hominid, which means it would be the most insane discovery in human history. But Tate tells her to take it with a grain of salt, given there were human fossils on the last transport. And, by the way, he doesn't know how or why, but his kids are back (!). Stella has little time to absorb that little tidbit when she's informed her people are missing, and so she goes to interview Lily and Tipper.

After getting the lowdown, she and Tate realize that Pack could be short for Patrick, as in Patrick Baxton, the first man to step foot on Carpathia 11 years ago, went insane, tried to kill everyone, and escaped in a vehicle that subsequently exploded in a fireball due to Carpathia's crazy radiation. Stella wants to find out and go to the ocean—despite it being in the control zone and against Tate's wishes (could he have secrets there, too?). But she wants to learn anything more she can about the fossils.

Jack, meanwhile, is not happy his people are busy looking for bones, and tells Julius that as he reports about all the diamonds Pack was spreading around. Julius advises him to keep it quiet (as knowledge is power) and it looks like the two of them together are going to be bad news.

Stella enlists Jack to head off in search of the others, but Baxter has already led Cass and Fleur to the ACs (which are always everywhere, I guess). They seem to know him and will let them pass if they give up their weapons, so Fleur reluctantly agrees, and after they pass, Baxter tosses the guns down the cliff. They have little choice but to go with him.

Stella and Jack encounter the ACs later, and Jack's man is killed, leaving the two of them to wait until nightfall until moving on. While they're hunkered down, Jack wants to know what's the big deal with the ocean. Stella wants to see the coast to see if life started there. He tells her she thinks too much.

At camp, Fleur confronts Baxter about being the first man on Carpathia, asking what really happened. He confesses the first man was actually an AC, who walked around for awhile to ensure the surface was safe. Baxter followed. But the AC died of a virus very quickly as his immune system wasn't updated. Baxter realized then the planet didn't want them.

As Fleur recounts, the story was that he killed his CO and took off in a plane. But he says nothing to confirm or deny that. They soon arrive at the site of his plane crash, where he said his legs were shattered after he ejected. Apparently his dog brought him wood for flints for his legs, though Fleur reminds him there are no dogs on Carpathia. He says he'll take them on to the sea where he wants to have some human beings around him again when he dies.

The settlement is going diamond crazy, using the few Baxter brought to trade and going off in search of their own. Tate cracks down on restricting people's movements outside the perimeter. Julius says he agrees with the lock down and is more than happy to speak to the people if Tate wants him. Tate allows him, but warns him off any talk of a universal spirit.

While Tate chastises the people for falling to avarice, Lily is mugged and has her diamond stolen. Tipper blames Julius, and seems to see through his rise to power.

At the ocean, Cass and Fleur are elated to see a beach again. Baxter watches them run off and play in the surf, and smiles.

Stella and Jack are getting close, but Jack gets bitten by a fly and appears to have an allergic reaction. She treats him and he recovers.

Baxter walks down the beach, with his dog running around him. He walks into the water and collapses. Fleur and Cass drag him out but he's dead. They opt to leave, though they don't know the way back.

Jack and Stella arrive after they're gone. The radiation levels are nearly zero, oddly enough. Jack finds the diamonds everywhere in the sand and Stella finds another fossil. She sends up a flare which does alert Cass and Fleur, and soon everyone is reunited again.

While Jack gathers diamonds, Stella finds skeletons among the rocks, but they have to leave as the tide is coming in. Stella decides to leave them there, lying together as a family. Later, Jack wonders why there are no other advanced species on Carpathia aside from flies and trees and such. There seems to be a big chunk of fauna missing. Off in the distance, a dog runs around the rocks.

When Tate denies Julius a portfolio on council he threatens he can get two thirds majority to overturn it. Tate says if he wants to remove him as president he's not going to make it easy for him. Stella reports back to Tate and discusses the proto-human fossils and the more supernatural hallucinations he's suffered, but realize all they have are questions (like us!).

In his quarters, Julius pulls out some kind of transmitter and announces himself as Alchemist to CT-10. Tate has violated his mission and has no ambition beyond utopian ideals, he says. He will ensure neither he nor his supporters will be in a position to offer resistance upon their arrival—they being another transport ship we see approaching—CT-10.

The Verdict:
There's a lot of Carpathia mysteries being bandied around this week—more visions, the radioactive ocean (or lack thereof), the hominids, Baxter's backstory—a lot of questions with few answers to be found at the end, so it was disappointing to get that after enduring a very leisurely paced episode.

It felt a bit of a cheat that Baxter got very little explanation, especially the murder of his CO and escape. So we're left with more unresolved mysteries. And again, the ACs seem to be experts on everything outside of Forthaven.

I did find it odd that the diamonds would have such an effect on the population, given they're not an essential item in the context of a day to day struggle establishing a colony on a new planet—diamonds would have no purpose outside of industrial use, and no value aside from trinkets, especially given the original settlers have been away from Earth for fifteen years. Who would even care about them?

Cass and Fleur's relationship continues to gel, and it's obvious he has a thing for her. But more important, Jack gets some time with Stella, to hopefully counteract Julius' influence. Stella remains a big wild card because everyone seems to be vying for her support and she doesn't carry all the baggage that Tate does.

The ending brought a big surprise and the promise of the arrival of another large group of people, which left me wondering what Tate's original mission was, and how closely he and Julius see things. Is civil war coming? What kind of ideals are represented on the approaching CT-10? So, a bit of an off episode in many ways, and pretty damn slow, it felt, but likely essential in setting up all these pieces. As long as they pay off.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review: Game of Thrones "Winter is Coming"

Non Spoiler Review:
After much hype and anticipation, HBO's most ambitious endeavour launches with the premiere episode of Game of Thrones. Winter is Coming carries a lot of weight on its shoulders introducing both the world of Westeros, and a host of characters whose numbers rival Lord of the Rings, in just over an hour. In fact, I had to watch it twice just to catch most of the detail.

Winter is Coming begins eerily enough as three members of the Night's Watch ride off into the frozen northern lands beyond a ginormous wall, investigating problems with the Wildings. What they find promises to be much more sinister. Lord Eddard Stark, warden of the north, must deal with that, as well as the King of Westeros, his old friend, arriving to ask a grave favor of him that will change the lives of his family. 

I've not read the books by George R. R. Martin, from which this series has been adapted, so I'm going into it blind. As such, this first hour was a challenge as far as picking up who each character was, multi-syllabic family names, and how everyone fits into the greater storyline. An arduous task, but I'm sure further episodes will continue to flesh stuff out.

The series is stunning, from beautifully rendered opening credits, to the scenery itself—dark and dour winter vistas for the north, to the gleaming capital city of King's Landing, and the island tropics of Pentos. It looks and feels like a livable world rather than something cobbled together with sets and CGI backgrounds.

This is an exceptionally good cast, from Sean Bean and Lena Headey (two genre favorites) to equally well-cast secondary characters like Tyrion and Jon. There are numerous background characters I'm sure will get larger play as the series progresses. 

From the early trailers my initial impression was this would be a more secular fantasy series, but I was pleasantly surprised to see hints of supernatural aspects introduced that I'm anxious to see developed. I'll definitely be watching this one faithfully, and hope it's a hit from the start.

It's not for everyone though. If you love a dense novel or epic movies, this will certainly satisfy. But Game of Thrones won't be something for the Two And A Half Men crowd at all (something tells me they won't have HBO anyway). Here's hoping for a long and successful run.

Spoilers Now!
Three riders of the Night's Watch cross through a gate beyond a giant wall, into a wintery landscape in search of Wildings. But one of them comes across an encampment full of dismembered bodies. When he tells the others he's met with disbelief and he's warned that if he deserts he'll be executed. The bodies have vanished when they return, and the commander and the other are suddenly killed (and decapitated) by a large man with blue luminescent eyes, leaving just the one survivor to flee.

Later, a band of men hunt down the deserter and it falls to Eddard (Ned) Stark, Lord of Winterfell and the Warden of the North, to perform the execution. He's made aware of the capture as he watches his youngest son Bran practice his archery under the tutoring of his two brothers, Robb and (as we learn later) the bastard son Jon. It's his tom boy daughter Aray who shows up her brother's archery, though. Ned brings his sons along with him to bear witness to the execution. Lady Stark, Catelyn, is not happy her ten year old must go along, but Ned tells her winter is coming. She also gives Jon a nasty scowl which shows she has no love for Ned's bastard.

The deserter knows his life is forfeit for abandoning the wall, but tells them it was the White Walkers, though no one believes him. They've apparently been gone for thousands of years. Stark carries out his task and heads home to Winterfell. 

En route, they come across a disemboweled deer. Further along is a dead direwolf, impaled by one of the antlers, and still suckling her pups. This is unusual, as direwolves only live on the other side of the wall, so somehow ended up south (not a good sign). The boy wants to keep the pups and begs Stark to take them. Jon suggests there are five pups, one for each of his children. Stark acquiesces, if only that they care for them as long as they live. Jon then finds a sixth, the runt of the litter, a puppy for himself.

At King's Landing, capital of the Seven Kingdoms, Queen Cersei and her brother Jaime look upon the funeral of Jon Arryn, the Kings Hand (or advisor), commenting on the possibility of Jon having told King Robert, her husband, something incriminating. He comments she worries too much.

Cat muses to her husband as they chat in a garden that she still feels the outsider despite having five children. But she brings news that a raven delivered a message from King's Landing that Jon Arryn is dead (Ned was very close to him, and Cat's sister appears to have been his wife). The king rides to Winterfell with the queen. Stark knows what he's after if he's riding that far north.

King Robert Baratheon is actually an old friend to Ned (who helped him ascend the throne). It's a month later and Bran watches from the walls as the king's party approaches, getting admonished by his mother for climbing. No more climbing! she warns (another bad sign).

The king and his family arrive, including his son Joffrey, wife Cersei and her brothers. The Stark children assemble to greet them—Arya, Sansa, Robb, Rickon and Bran. While Sansa makes eyes at the king's son, Robert and Ned share a warm embrace and joke with one another.

Arya wants to know where the imp is, and is overheard by the queen, who wants to know where their little beast of a brother is. The imp in question is the queen's other brother, Tyrion, who is whoring and drinking. Jaime finds him and summons him to their sister for the dinner festivities that evening.

Robert wants to immediately visit the tomb of Ned's sister. Stark asks about Arryn. The king explains he died suddenly and he now needs him at King's Landing as the new Hand of the King. Ned helped the king win the iron throne, and if Stark's sister had lived they would have been bound by blood. So he suggests they join their houses via his son and his daughter. The king is seriously not over the death of Stark's sister, though. The Targaryens who killed her are gone, Ned says. But not all, the king adds. 

Across the sea is Pentos, where a nervous and lonely looking blond woman is greeted by her brother. This is Prince Viserys Targaryen, and his sister, Daenerys. The two of them have taken refuge in Pentos, as Viserys has a claim to the throne of Westeros. They have been the guests of Magister Mopatis for a year, and her brother says he will repay him for his hospitality when he gets his throne. Viserys is a piece of work, and a bit overly gropy as a brother. He comments he needs her to be at her best, as the history of his reign begins today.

She's to be married off in order to get her brother an army. And the groom in question is Khal Drogo, a Dothraki king. He and his entourage arrive to introductions, but the Dothraki are men of few words and they accept the offer and ride off.  

Mopatis tells him Drogo will supply his army to Viserys in exchange for the marriage, and he'll be able to retake his father's throne. But Daenerys doesn't want to be married. She just wants to go home. They go home with an army, her brother counters. And he has no problem telling her he'll willingly sacrifice her to become king.

Lady Stark is also speaking of marriage with her daughter Sansa, though Ned hasn't said yes to the king yet. She's excited at the prospect of becoming queen someday and begs her father to say yes.

Jon is not allowed to attend the feast, but his uncle Benjen arrives, who commands the Night's Watch, and Jon is excited at the prospect of going to serve on the wall. Even though becoming a member of the Night's Watch means giving up pretty much your entire life, Jon's okay with that. Tyrion overhears the chat and after Benjen leaves introduces himself to Jon. He wants to see the wall, too. He asks if he's Stark's bastard. He offers advice to never forget what he is and wear it as an honor. All dwarves are bastards in their father's eyes, he says.

At the party, Ned talks with his brother about the man he beheaded. They comment on the direwolves south of the wall, talk of the walkers, and now Ned to be named Hand of the King. Winter's coming, he says. Meanwhile, Lady Stark tries to chat with the queen, but she's a bit frigid and arrogant when it comes to northerners. She does talk with Sansa and tells her a beauty like hers shouldn't stay hidden in the north forever.

The Starks chat in bed about the possibility of him going south. But they're interrupted with a message from Lady Stark's sister, who says she's fled the capital because Arryn was murdered and the king's life is in danger. She says the Lannisters killed him and are conspiring against the king and that means Ned would be in danger, too. Cat begs him not to go south (as apparently his brother and father did once, for a different king).

In Pentos, Daenerys and Drogo are married during a reception of fights to the death, sex, snakes and weird food. Drogo gives no attention to his new wife, but prefers to watch the festivities. Her brother is impatient for his army, but Drogo will go to war only when the omens favor it. She's presented a gift of fossilized dragon eggs from a man from their own country, Jorah, who served their father. Drogo presents his new wife with a horse and places her on it. Her brother tells her to make him happy and the two go off to the cliffs where Drogo plans on spending their wedding night.

Stark has said yes to the king's request. The king is grateful and they all go off hunting together. But Bran has taken to climbing walls again and goes up to watch them depart. However, he happens upon the queen and her brother having sex in the tower. They discover him and Jaime grabs the boy. Cersei says he saw them, so Jaime casually pushes him out the window. "The things I do for love," he says.

The Verdict:
I was pretty much sold by the opening credits. The creators have managed to achieve a real fantasy world on par with The Lord of the Rings. There's a sense of real cultures and traditions, architecture and history, from the few samples we've seen. It's also promising to be very dark. As a Game of Thrones newbie, I'm unspoiled, so have only investigated so far as to grab a better peak at the map of Westeros and figure out how to spell character names.

I could continue to rave about the first hour, when that can really wait until the plots begin to unfold in coming weeks. This first episode gave a simple story of Ned's choice, around which circles the introductions of most of the main players. I get the impression Ned's profound sense of duty is ingrained enough in him it will spell doom to many around him. And King Robert doesn't have that sense like he's going to be sticking around for long—there're just way too many people vying for the job.

Lots of questions beg answers. The political machinations that brought Robert to the throne, and his history with Ned. Who is Jon's mother? What exactly is to be kept out of the south by that hundreds foot high wall? Who had the technology to build it? What kind of evil is waiting to emerge into the south? I have no idea how long the northern threat will stew before becoming a big problem, but it seems the Targaryens will be launching their claim to the throne just as the Lannisters do.

And a shout out to those amazing opening credits. HBO never fails to impress with its openings, whether it be Six Feet Under or Carnivale. Every little detail is there to effectively map out the world.

I'm hooked.

Review: The Event "Cut Off the Head"

Non Spoiler Review:
Cut Off the Head gave a hint of what might have been, had the writers been on their game about a dozen episodes ago. Plot wise, things moved along at a relatively brisk pace without the usual taunts and teases we're used to.

Sophia opts to continue her space queen villainy and search for a super-weapon that will help winnow the human population down to a manageable level for her people. Martinez isn't having the best week—dealing with his wife's refusal to be DNA tested, Jarvis trying to make himself useful, and Sophia opting to have him killed. Finally, Dempsey's story arc comes to a climax and sends Sean and Vicky on the next leg of their world tour.

Character remains a problem. Sophia's behaviour has become so egregious that it's just not believable that she could have ever been genuinely sincere about wanting to live in peace. There are too many secret plans and weapons lying about to be overlooked. So that leaves the question if the writers have decided to make everything black and white and paint the aliens as completely villainous now (aside from a likable few like Lee). If so, what was the point of everything?

Spoilers Now!
The FBI storms a lab where a man is extracting ice samples. He's one of Sophia's agents and he sends all his research off to her before he's caught. She tells him he can't leave any sign of what he was working on, so he destroys the lab and jumps out a window to his death.

Sophia has a confab with her followers about efficiently making room for their 2.5 billion people. She's been working on a super-weapon (during all those off hours, I guess, when she was either being detained for 60 years or when Thomas was in charge and she had no power...) She also wants to disrupt the government so that they stop pestering them. Cut off the head...meaning the president.

Sterling briefs the president on the dead man at the lab who was studying ice core samples, which is all they can determine. Martinez thinks Sophia is going to go on the offensive. Jarvis suggests they not fight this war alone, and consult other world leaders for help. Martinez doesn't really want his opinion (as he shoots knives out of his eyes at him), which makes for an awkward moment in the war room, broken only by Senator Lewis needing to see him. 

Lewis has the results for the White House staff and everyone who took the tests came back negative, but his wife is still a hold out. She's not prepared to allow her task to be compromised, so she dug into the First Lady's past and found inconsistencies—people who don't exist and dates that don't add up. Lewis loves conspiracies and suggests Sophia could have seen some promise in him and placed Mrs. Martinez close to him to encourage his rise to the presidency. Pish posh, says Martinez. Lewis leaves, but comments the First Lady doesn't seem to have aged a day since a photo taken several years before.

Jarvis gets a phone call from Sophia. She tries to convince him that it was Martinez who escalated the situation, so she suggests they avoid more bloodshed by working together. She wants to meet in person. Oh, and make him president.

Sean breaks in to the fiery chateau as Dempsey and his entourage depart, and manages to find Vicky in the burniest part of the house and gets her out. He resuscitates her, and Dempsey walks up, pleased he met yet another challenge and suggesting they have a talk.

Leila cuts herself so she can get taken to the community's hospital and gets to stay there awhile to rest and lurk around. She sneaks in to see Simon (keeper of important plot points), who's tied to a bed. She tells him she had nothing to do with what her father did and wants to know what he was going to tell the government. He gives her the genocide story, says they're looking for some kind of weapon in Siberia and gives her the name of a Russian woman she needs to find to stop them. "Warn them!" he commands, and sends her away.

Jarvis meets with Sophia but he pulls a gun on her instead. Go ahead, make me a martyr, she says. She says her people are coming and human population will have to be reduced. The destruction they've wrought is only the beginning—some countries will be destroyed, but those who cooperate will be spared. She wants him to take an active role in the new order. She can negotiate terms of their coexistence with him, but not with Martinez. Food for thought.

Martinez seems to trick up his wife on some of their past vacations, which makes him start to believe Lewis' accusations. So he goes to the senator to confide in her and keep this news between the two of them.

Jarvis then goes to Sterling suggesting the VP would be a good choice to talk with Sophia and negotiate a treaty of coexistence. Sterling is outraged.

Sophia's people have analyzed the ice core data to pinpoint the weapon's location. Then Sophia gets a phone call from Jarvis, and he's ready to accept her proposal to save his country.

Leila manages to sneak a phone call to 911 saying she's being held by the Washington Monument terrorists. But her guard kicks the door down and the phone's GPS isn't working so it can't be traced. They get into a big fight and she lamps him (with a lamp) across the face and runs out with the phone.

Dempsey tells Sean to forget all that creepy little girl aging juice—he had the best intentions at heart—the aliens have been coming to Earth for thousands of years, and he's part of a tribe of sentinels who have been trying to protect them. And Sophia is their greatest threat. His sentinels can see the tapestry of history (?) and it's shown that someone outside their group might be able to stop her...that being Sean. 

Sean thinks he's an evil crazy old man. Dempsey isn't offended, but has to point him in the right direction. Sean has the best chance to stop Sophia, Dempsey says, and then shoots himself in the head. Sean and Vicky run off with Dempsey's bag of tricks.

Then, guess who calls Sean but Leila! Sean's like "" And she's all "Sean! Sean! Sophia's going to destroy the world find a Russian woman who's name I'm about to give you I can't talk long!..." She gives him a big infodump on all the nasty Sophia's up to then she's conveniently cut off by her dad, who's so not impressed right now.

Martinez confronts his wife with a file on her and her family. But he didn't read it, because he needs her to tell him. She starts to break down and admits she always wanted to tell him as the years went by. Her parents are not from Cuba—they're illegal aliens, but not the extra-terrestrial kind...Dominican. She's sorry for creating such a scandal if it comes out. He's quite elated, but she gives a creepy look when they hug.

Meanwhile, in Russia, Sophia's people have found the weapon and pull out what looks to be a frozen corpse.

Jarvis is in the hospital for a checkup that allows the alien doctors to slip him a poisonous bag of sugar for the president's coffee (kind of an overly complex way of getting him a sugar packet). Prior to the debriefing, Jarvis drops the packet next to the president's coffee and then the meeting gets underway.

Next week—What's Sophia's super-weapon? I'm guessing a super-virus!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: Camelot "The Sword and the Crown"

Non Spoiler Review:
As Arthur deals with the weight of his responsibility after the death of his foster mother (who doesn't even warrant a name!) Merlin attempts to plan against King Lot's forthcoming attack. Arthur meets the girl from his vision. One guess who she is. Oh, and there's this sword stuck in a rock, too.

One of the challenges of an adaptation such as this is getting all the expected stuff out of the way. Arthur needs to be crowned, get his sword, and the respect of the people in order to get on with things. So this week served that purpose and set events in motion while further fleshing out the ensemble cast. 

There are some nice developments with Igraine and Leontes, and some unexpected deaths. But the real intrigue is with the powerhouse that is Morgan and her mysterious late night goings on in the woods. She's easily the most compelling character, so the writers better be careful, or Arthur is going to get overshadowed by his big sister.

Spoilers Now!
Arthur struggles with the death of his foster mother and asks to be left alone. He goes down to the beach where he suddenly sees the girl from his vision (clothed this time). She's angry to see him, as she likes to swim in peace, but he tells her he's burying his mother, which garners some sympathy, and they walk together. He explains King Lot killed her, and she informs him her own family has fought against the warlord, as well. Then he spies his foster father, and Arthur rushes off with a quick goodbye to this mystery woman.

Ector is consulting with Merlin, who is feeling responsible for allowing all this to happen, but they all agree to fight for one another against Lot. Ector especially wants to avenge his wife.

Meanwhile, the object of their revenge is lying in bed in Uther's castle and enjoying his new alliance. Morgan lightly runs a knife down Lot's sleeping body, then departs for the woods and communes with something in the forest about Uther's boy. She assures it Arthur's spirit is broken and it's nearly the time

Work is proceeding on cleaning up the overgrown mess of Camelot. Merlin is schooling Arthur on how to persuade the people to believe in the idea of King Arthur—he needs to do the impossible. There just so happens to be a sword stuck in a stone at the top of a waterfall. The people believe it belonged to Mars (the peasants do love their pagan heritage). Anyone who's tried to pull it out has died, and whoever does will be king of all of Britain. Arthur has his doubts, but Merlin assures him he can believe in himself and besides, everything pretty much depends on it.

Lot's turned Uther's castle into a debauchery as Morgan rejoins him in the throne room. Envoys are sending gifts to them, but she wants them sent back as they will only deserve such respect when the boy is gone, she says. But Lot tells her they were seen leaving Camelot, so they've apparently won. She's not impressed with his new complacency and prefers he plan for battle.

Kay gets an idea to help Arthur ascend the problematic cliff using a rope. Merlin tells Leontes to prepare the beacon as Arthur reaches the summit. Leontes seems to think he's sending Arthur to his death but Merlins says if he doesn't succeed they have nothing anyway. Meanwhile, a crowd appears to watch the challenge. Instead of pulling, Arthur gets the idea to push down on the sword  (hearing Merlin's voice in his head), and so it comes out easily. He falls back off the cliff into the water below. Leontes rushes off to rescue him.

Ector meets Igraine for the first time and she's very gracious about the death of his wife and her care of Arthur as his foster mother. A rider arrives telling them someone is trying to pull out the Sword of Mars. They arrive just as Arthur is brought out of the lake. Merlin retrieves the sword and tells them to light the beacon that the new king has come. 

Lot and Morgan watch the fires on the horizon, realizing everyone will follow Arthur. Morgan is furious with him, but he berates her for speaking to him in such an equal manner, and proceeds to threaten to rape her in front of the entire crowd. Clever Morgan turns it back on him and challenges him to do the deed to show everyone his supremacy, and of course he can't. So he leads her off with a better idea. Lot takes Morgan to the hills, tying her up and leaving her there to think overnight about the nature of their alliance and where the true power lies. 

Igraine begs Merlin to use his powers to heal Arthur, who is bedridden and unconscious, but he won't. And what use is he, then, she says. She sits by his side and tells her son she can teach him how to be a king if he forgives her her mistakes.

As night falls, Morgan tells the mist she searched for it, and they didn't come. Come morning, Lot finds her still alive, and she tells him they understand one another now, so he cuts her down. The people are rallying to Arthur, so Lot has run out of patience. They attack him today.

Arthur awakens in the morning, and a proud Merlin presents him with the sword. Arthur's feeling pretty proud himself, too. Arthur suggests Merlin put the sword there, creating the legend knowing someday someone would pull it out. Merlin gives him his Me? Immortal? look, and assures him the sword has been there hundreds of years. Together, they go out to greet the assembled masses who have heard of his exploit. Merlin tells him now is the time to be crowned.

But Morgan rides into Camelot and warns them that Lot is coming. Why tell them, Merlin asks, but she ignores his question and turns to leave. Then he grabs her, getting a strange vision of her in the woods. She wishes him good luck and departs.

The coronation is underway as Merlin appears with the sword and presents it to the king. Arthur is crowned king of the Britons. He gives a peppy speech to establish a new way of ruling at Camelot, then calls up Leontes, Kay and Ector and knights them—Kay as marshal of England and Ector as his champion. Merlin is pleased. From the crowd, Morgan's little girl persona watches.

At the evening celebrations, Arthur sees his mystery lady and gets her name. Guinevere, of course. They talk privately, going off to look at the beach from the ramparts while Merlin watches. Igraine comes over, telling Merlin he took Arthur from her twenty years before, but looks no older. Merlin continues to deny any notion he might be older than he looks.

Guinevere wonders if they could jump off the cliff into the water. Arthur takes her up on her suggestion and the two climb up on the edge, teasing one another but both backing down. Leontes comes out and Arthur introduces them, but they've been friends since childhood apparently. And guess what, she's his betrothed! Congratulations, Arthur says. Awkward. Arthur returns to the party substantially morose.

As he's moping, Arthur notices strangers among the crowd, recognizing too late they are the ones who killed his mother. Suddenly they reveal themselves and begin hacking up people. A battle ensues in the hall and Lot storms in, making his way to Arthur.

Ector orders Arthur to be taken away and heads off Lot, but the warlord disarms and mortally wounds him on his spear. Ector's dying, and slowly walks forward up to Lot who doesn't see the knife he's hiding. Ector manages to stab him, and both fall dead. Arthur and Kay run in as their father dies. Merlin orders Lot's body to be put on display in the courtyard.

After the battle, Morgan is alone in the hall. She picks up the crown and places it next to the throne where she sits down. Merlin enters. She admits she tried an alliance with a man, which has proven the wrong choice. Men are not her way to this. She'll find another way to gain the throne. A stunned Arthur and his brother enter and he asks her why she needs to take the crown. He'll place her castle under his protection in gratitude for her warning, he says. For her, she counters, the crown is everything.

As she walks out, Merlin asks her what she saw in the night. He knows what it is, but does she? Don't go near it, he warns. Later, she walks out into the woods, disrobes, and a black wolf emerges from the darkness. She needs more, she says. "Tell me what I'm to do."

The Verdict:
This episode moved along some key elements—namely a sword and a crown, but with a couple of twists. Interesting that it's called the Sword of Mars and not Excalibur. Then there's the surprise reveal that Leontes and Guinevere are to be wed. So is this Lancelot, then? Or will that character, in fact, show up at a later date?

I'm pleased with the involvement of Igraine, and the surprise death of both Lot and Ector means she'll play a bigger role in the goings on at Camelot. Though the other knights are getting little play at the moment, and it will be necessary to flesh out the background cast of characters in order to really give the show life (much like the many players in Spartacus).

There were some nice touches with Morgan, who has her own sense of honor despite craving Uther's crown. The bit of sympathy she has at Arthur losing his foster mother (given her own mother's death) shows she's not a heartless harpy. And also very clever in the way she unmanned Lot in front of his subjects.

Arthur is growing on me. In the initial trailers I wasn't struck on him at all, but he's starting to pull off the role. And my prejudice against Joseph Fiennes is slowly dissipating, as well. But Arthur does need to start behaving kingly given his big sister is already stealing a lot of thunder on screen.

Of course, the subtle magic and mystery of the forces at work behind the scenes proves most intriguing—Merlin's secrets, and Morgan's quest to use magic to further her ends. What is the hidden force in the woods and will it emerge as a demonic power? Will the show delve into Merlin's own demonic bloodline that is hinted at in some Arthurian legends? 
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