Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: American Horror Story "Murder House"

Non Spoiler Review:
The house is put on the market as the Harmon's attempt to rearrange their lives for another move. Unfortunately, things aren't so easy. Ben gets a lot of focus this week when all his bad behaviour with Hayden comes back to haunt him. Vivien, on the other hand, discovers her house is on the Eternal Darkness tour in Los Angeles, so sets about investigating some of the history to her home. 

Murder House was surprising in the huge amount of backstory it revealed about the house's original builder, as well as Constance and Moira. In fact, I almost wonder if it gave away too much so early. I'm used to these seasons long mysteries in line with Lost. Then again, there's a ton of ghosts in the house, so we're in no danger of running out of murder stories for this 90-year old mansion.

If all that wasn't intriguing enough, Ben's involvement with Hayden runs right off the tracks and culminates in an incredibly shocking ending. I really enjoyed Murder House, even though it was the more human foibles of the Harmons that drove the plot this week rather than the scares of the house itself.

Spoilers Now!
1983. Young Moira is cleaning when the man of the house makes a pass at her. She's given in to his advances before, but regrets it, so now he tries to rape her. Who walks in with a gun but Connie (as a coolly CGI de-aged Jessica Lange), shooting the mirror first, then Moira (in the goddamned eye!). She says he broke her heart for the last time, and shoots her husband dead. Connie sits on the bed, takes off her earrings and breaks down.

Vivien and Ben are in the midst of a fight about their financial advisor who screwed up their money. Ben's been keeping it from her that all their finances are tied up in the house. Once they sell it they can free up their funds, but they don't have money to move somewhere else in the meantime. Ben suggests a studio apartment, but his office is based out of the house now.

In another wise move, Ben suggests she's having PTSD and they just need to get her a therapist that their insurance will cover. Vivien asks him not to make her feel like she's crazy. She'll meet with the realtor and hopes they can sell the place without too much of a loss. But she warns him not to lie to her again or they're through (Are you listening, Ben? No.).

Vivien has coffee with Macie the realtor. Macie suggests she might want to adjust her expectations. She said she'd kill to live in that house given her own living accommodations are pretty tiny. Vivien's two steps ahead of her, though, and called other realtors. No one would take the listing. Vivien tells her to do whatever it takes to sell the house. In return she won't sue her for gross criminal negligence.

Moira comes upon Connie in the Harmon's house, stealing silverware. Connie calls Moira a thief of biblical proportions. Moira screams she doesn't want to be there anymore and misses her mother. Connie agrees she doesn't want to stay in this world of death and regret either, but Moira apparently can't move on. Connie adds she made this mess for herself. Moira tells her she needs to pay for what she's done, but Connie retorts she does every goddamned day.

Ben sees a new client who can't understand why her husband is divorcing her for being so boring. His mind wanders and he appears to have a vision where he's standing out on the lawn with bloody hands. He tries to wash the blood off and comes in to see Moira scrubbing the floor, cleaning up his mess, she says. She says she's discrete and saw nothing. He tells her he's done playing games and fires her.

This doesn't appear to be a vision anymore, as Vivien walks in with his hands on her, so when he tries to explain that she's been coming on to him, his wife finds it hard to believe (given she sees Moira as an old woman). Moira understands the stress they're under but is willing to forget the whole thing as she needs the job. Vivien suggests it might be better if she leaves, so Moira loses it on her and tells her she'll press charges if Ben tries to fire her with unjust cause, or lays a hand on her again.

After Moira leaves, Vivien thinks Ben's indiscretion in Boston has really screwed him up and he's acting out and being paranoid. And they have to get out of the house without a lawsuit, she warns.

Ben seems to think Moira stole his tape recorder he uses in his sessions. His next patient is already waiting in his office but he had no one on his schedule. It's Hayden. She just wants to talk. She's annoyed he left her in Boston without a word. She didn't have the abortion and has decided to keep their baby, and she's moving there, and he'll be paying. Dumbfounded, Ben protests that he doesn't have the money. She starts to freak out, but the doorbell rings and the LAPD shows up. Hayden leaves.

The cop is with missing persons. Sally Freeman (his boring patient) has gone missing and Ben is the last one who saw her. Moira walks in and out of the room and the officer can see her as a young woman, too.

Vivien is picking flowers when the Eternal Darkness tour drives by pointing out their murder house, so she goes on the tour herself, arriving at her own house—That's when the guide provides us with a flashback to Dr. Charles Montgomery, who built the house in 1920 for his wife Nora. When he fell on hard times he developed a Frankenstein complex and a drug addiction. His shrew wife berates Charles for their struggling life and bills, and he insults her for doting on their child and dressing him up like a girl. Nora tries to solve their financial woes by pimping her husband out to perform abortions and make some money to support the family. Two dozen girls went under the knife, but the guide explains their reign of terror climaxed in 1926.

Vivien sees blood between her legs and runs off the bus into her house. Later on at the doctor, she's told everything is fine, just some spotting. The bleeding stopped when she went into the house. The doctor tells her not to move to another home while she's pregnant as it's way too stressful. High levels of stress hormone could lead to a spontaneous abortion. Ben faints.

Connie spies Tate in the house as she walks the dogs. She gives him a friendly wave, but Tate doesn't wave back. The realtor notices her walk by as she puts up the For Sale sign.

Larry intercepts Ben on his run to talk about his girl in Boston. Larry also wants a thousand dollars to start his acting career.

Ben still searches for his recorder and gets increasingly paranoid. He has a vision of him on the grass with a shovel, and Connie asks what he's doing. He says he keeps waking up there. She warns him the soil is soaked with pesticides so not to dig there. Moira watches from the window.

Vivien gets a visitor but is reluctant to let anyone in. The girl says she wants to look at the house (It's Nora from the flashback—another ghost). She seems to know all the details of the house but doesn't recognize the modern conveniences of the kitchen. Vivien makes tea for her, and says she's pregnant. Nora reveals she had a child once, and we see she's got a hole in the back of her head. When Vivien turns around she's gone.

The LAPD shows up, saying they found Sally, who tried to commit suicide. And she had his recorder. The cop plays the recording and Ben hears Sally yelling at him for not paying attention to her and suggests maybe she should kill herself for someone to listen. Ben tells him he's not guilty of anything. Except being an ass, the cop says.

Vivien looks at apartments with Violet. She chides her mother for not dealing with anything, given they uprooted her to start over and now wants to do it again. She happens to love the house. They kicked ass there. It's the place where they survived the home invasion. But Vivien doesn't agree. Violet threatens to run away so they'll never find her.

Ben's medical test following his fainting shows a laudanum compound in his system—it causes retrograde memory loss. He blames Moira for drugging his coffee. Prove it, she counters. Hayden shows up at the house again, pissed he left her waiting. She starts yelling for Vivien to talk to her. Ben tries to calm her down. She wants to tell his wife together, and kisses him.

They walk outside, intent on finding somewhere quiet to eat, and Larry smashes Hayden with the shovel and keeps hitting her until Ben throws him to the ground and tries to strangle him. Larry shoves him off and Ben goes to Hayden, who's dead. Larry tries to calm him down by saying all his problems are solved, and Ben's hands are clean. Ben FREAKS out. Larry suggests he just has to clean it up before Vivien gets home. Larry finds the hole Ben had already started digging and says he could really use that thousand dollars. Ben stumbles into the kitchen and throws up. Larry does a great job digging the grave with one hand. He even finds Moira's skull down there and she watches from the window and cries.

Ben starts building a gazebo over top the grave site. Connie stands with Moira at the window, telling her now she's stuck there forever, poor girl. When it's completed, Vivien comes out to the new gazebo with lemonade and admires his handiwork.

Later, Vivien sleeps and Nora sits on the bed, reaching out to her stomach.

The Verdict:
Murder House offered another series of revelations about the mansion. The abortionist backstory with the original builder really shines a light on all the baby imagery, and one can only imagine all the experiments he conducted on his aborted fetuses given the winged pig we saw him working on. But what eventually happened with Nora and their child?

Then there was the revelation around Connie, showing she was a resident in the house, too. Connie's backstory (and very well done CGI Jessica Lange, I might add) was another great scene (but do I really have to continue going on about how great Jessica Lange is at this point?). So Connie and her husband must have moved in shortly after the 1978 prologue. Yet Adelaide was in the neighbourhood already, so did they still live next door?

Moira's character is really tragic. She's certainly paid for her infidelity with Connie's husband. But what kind of ghost is she? How is she able to interact with the world, or is the house itself allowing the spirits within to have some sort of tangibility? We haven't seen Moira or Nora beyond the confines of the property.

Then we get Nora, a new ghost, and quite a piece of work. But her dead self seems a lot tamer than the one we see in the flashback who drove her husband to perform abortions. I'm getting nervous that the house is already overflowing with ghosts, so I hope the writers have a good handle on this (I have visions of the end of Insidious, where random ghosts were spilling from the closets). 

This Ben-centric episode was one massively slow moving train wreck, up to the shocking shovel in the face. I suspected his descent might have been drug induced, but was it all a conspiracy leading up to killing Hayden (and allowing the Harmon's marriage to survive so they stay in the house?).

On another note, where is the dog? He was barking up a storm the moment the Harmon's stepped into the house in the first episode, but I'm hard-pressed to recall if it's been seen at all since, especially during the mayhem of the home invasion and especially now with all the ghosts running around.

Finally, I must commend the writers for creating so many obstacles in the way of the Harmons moving. There was really nothing unfathomable about the reasons, as they were all very real financial and personal problems that would lead someone to stay there (especially given they don't yet realize there's supernatural shenanigans going on).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Review: The Walking Dead 90

Non Spoiler Review:
Nicholas' attempted coup gets resolved very quickly, but it's the aftermath that illuminates a lot of cracks in the community as everyone deals with the fallout from the day's drama. As expected, Nicholas was not the story itself, but the engine to reset the status quo. 

This was a very talkie issue, but really hammered home the differences between the sheltered members of Alexandria and Rick's hardy band of survivors. 

Rick continues to reveal further facets of himself with both Carl and Andrea. The final scene felt very fulfilling, a little bit expected, and perhaps inevitable. Despite the good feelings it elicited, it won't last, of course, given this is The Walking Dead, and Kirkman has hinted that all is not well.

Spoilers Now!
Nicholas surrenders, fully expecting to be shot. But Rick tells him he's not going to kill him or his cohorts, and to just go home, though they'll be keeping an eye on him. He chides them all for taking for granted the virtual paradise that the community offers, given they've never had to fight for their lives like Rick and his group.

After the tense standoff, Rick goes to see Carl, who is actually fine enough to go home, so the two of them leave the doctor's house. Carl asks Rick if he would be sad if he had died, which shocks his father. Carl has been trying to deal with everything by not being sad, so Rick tells him to allow himself to let it all out, and leave it to his father to be the strong one.

Abraham and Holly are going to bed, commenting on the pent up frustrations among the townsfolk. She suggests the community is a powder keg, and while she does like Rick, there comes a time when certain people have to go. And she thinks Abraham is a much better person to make decisions. "You think so?" he muses (yikes!).

Maggie has a bit of a breakdown after the standoff, and tells Glen she can't take this anymore. She's lost the sense of security she had with the town, and can't deal with another round of chaos.

Nicholas shows up, and Rick sends Carl inside. Nicholas isn't there to fight, but to apologize. He explains that his ego got the best of him. He had been a failure before the apocalypse and resented having to dig ditches again. He tells Rick he was completely right but assures him he's not crazy. Rick responds rather indifferently.

Nicholas departs as Andrea arrives, and Rick commiserates with her about the feelings he had when Nicholas pulled his gun. He just wanted to kill him. Not that he had to, he just wanted to. That's his normal reaction to conflict these days. Despite his efforts to build a better life for them, he's unsure if he's capable of living it. He feels he died a long time ago.

Andrea has been inching closer on the couch during the conversation. She tells him it's time he came back to life and kisses him.

The Verdict:
I really enjoyed this month for its subtle but very important developments. Another big character issue, these last few have been leading to this union for awhile. I'd been wondering if Andrea and Rick would find themselves drawn together (if not her, then Michonne), and it finally happens in a really sweet way, which means disaster is sure to follow. 

Rick's confessions over the last few issues have painted a thorough picture where he is at these days. With both him and (perhaps) Carl reaching a turning point in their emotional development, they could either head towards better days or get run off the rails very quickly should other events intercede.

One of these variables is Abraham. In hindsight, Abraham's quiet musing on the status quo has been building very subtly with throw away comments here and there. But at this juncture it still appears to be premature to count him as the new dissenter stirring rebellion. That will amount to quite a betrayal for Rick, considering he's relied on the man for so long now.

I'm most concerned for Maggie and Glen. Glen's paranoia about his time being up some months back, coupled with Maggie's history of emotional fragility makes me wonder if either of them are on the chopping block in the near future. 

It seems like it's been awhile since a major threat from outside has hit Alexandria. There's enough brewing right now among the characters to cause sufficient problems, but I feel there has to be something up Kirkman's sleeve that's going to come out of left field, especially with all the talk of dwindling food supplies.

Review: American Horror Story "Home Invasion"

Non Spoiler Review:
The episode begins with a disturbing flashback to 1968, then brings us up to date on Violet's surprising new friendship with Leah, who is suffering the after-effects of Tate's scare from last week. There is ongoing drama for the Harmon family, including a shocking call for Ben from Boston. Surprise visits from Connie bearing gifts lead to some odd results. And a variety of disparate plot threads merge for a horrific evening in the house for Vivien and Violet.

This show is just so much fun and Connie continues to deliver zingers and engage Moira in some venomous verbal sparring matches. While Ben's weaknesses make him hard to cheer for, he manages to evoke just enough sympathy from his horribly bad decision to continue to draw some sympathy.

Home Invasion is a frenetically paced episode that gets the blood pumping right up to the insane conclusion, answering a few questions along the way, and opening up a whole bunch of others. It manages to keep the energy from the first episode and continues to pile on the intrigue and disturbing elements. In fact, I find myself agitated after watching it, so it's certainly working.

Spoilers Now!
In a flashback to 1968, the house serves as home to several nursing students. When Maria and Gladys stay at home while their sluttier counterparts go out on the town, a stranger knocks on the door, claiming to be injured and bleeding from the head. Maria can't seem to find a wound, and then it's apparent he's batshit crazy and knocks out Gladys, then dresses Maria in her nurse uniform and ties her up. After a diatribe about what's going to happen to her, he appears to leave. For a moment, pious Maria thinks she's safe and her prayers have saved her, then he stabs her repeatedly in the back.

Back in the present, Ben has another session with Tate. The younger man taunts him by talking about his sexual fantasies about Violet. Tate jerks off a lot to make his visions go away. He also says Violet told him about the girl in Boston. Ben ends the sessions and then gets a phone call—from the girl in Boston. She's pregnant.

Violet is hanging out at the skater park with none other than Leah, who has turned into a chain smoker to cope with her experience. She knows Violet saw it too, and what attacked her wasn't human. Violet claims it was just a mask. Leah's hair is turning white, and she feels she's stared into the Devil's eyes.

At night, Tate appears to be standing over Violet's bed. The alarm goes off and Ben runs downstairs to find the door open. He follows a noise to the basement and discovers Adelaide laughing and rolling a ball across the floor. He ushers her out. When they're gone, the ball rolls back.

Vivien and Ben return to bed, but she's upset, worried that her pregnancy is going wrong. He assures her that's all very normal to feel that way, and can't seem to stop behaving as the psychiatrist when it comes to listening to her problems.

Ben's client the next day is Bianca, who fears being cut in half by an elevator. She's aware that they're living in the murder house, and wants to know where the murders happened. After the session, Ben calls Tate's mother to advise he can't treat him again, except Bianca is still in the house. He ushers her out, too.

Connie is baking cupcakes with Adelaide, and adds a special ingredient to cause violent stomach upset and (sometimes) internal bleeding. She gets Adelaide to spit in it, too.

Ben goes for a run to try to get the stress of his Boston girl out of his head, and runs into Larry again. Larry claims to be considering taking up an acting career. When Ben tries to get rid of him, he protests tha he may have killed his family, but he was never unfaithful. Larry advises Ben he's going to have to lie. So Ben tells Vivien a former client in Boston tried to kill herself and her parents are begging him to go there for a few days. Vivien understands.

Connie shows up with cupcakes as a gift for Violet. She wants to give them to her herself, but she's not home, so Vivien takes them. Connie comments she's with child, which alarms Vivien, and she wants to know if she can sense anything else about the baby, so Connie invites herself for coffee. Vivien takes one of the cupcakes and eats it. Connie comments that she never turned her back on her children—she had four, but three of them had Downs or other maladies. Only one was a model of perfection but she lost him to other things. She says the baby is fine as she gets up to leave.

Ben walks in, ready to depart out east. Moira is also there, and Connie directs her to clean up the mess. The two have a history, as Connie comments she even employed her for a time, and there's certainly no love lost between them. Connie leaves them with a parting comment about the promise of a new child and how heartbreaking it is when that's broken.

Ben leaves, and Vivien wants a girl's night with Violet, but she doesn't want to. She leaves the cupcake, and Violet sarcastically comments her mother is eating for two now. She has nothing good to say about her having another baby, so her mother leaves angry after Violet sends a parting shot that she's weak. Violet puts the cupcake outside her door.

Vivien tries calling Ben, but he's currently with his former fling, Hayden, who is apparently going to have an abortion. She just needs his support while she has it. Then she freaks out when he checks his phone and starts crying.

Vivien is watching TV as the doorbell rings and she sees a woman outside (with a very similar head wound) saying she's hurt and needs help. But she won't say what happened, so Vivien is much smarter than Maria and doesn't open the door. The woman gets very agitated and starts banging on the door. She tries to call 911 but her phone has disappeared. The woman has gone from the door, but there's someone else moving inside the house. The doorbell rings again. Violet can't find her phone either, and there's someone in her room too.

Later, Violet and Vivien are downstairs, and their captors are two women (one of whom is Bianca), and a man. They seem to be fanatics about the murder house and want to reenact the nurses' murders from 1968 by paying tribute to the original killer, Franklin. Violet won't wear the nurse's dress they give her.

Violet doesn't take no guff so starts a fight, and in the melee she runs out and is saved by Tate, who's also in the house. He tells her to get them to the basement. Bianca and the second girl, Fiona, go off in pursuit.

Meanwhile, the other man has tied up Vivien, but she sees Adelaide is also inside the house and standing behind him. She tries to subtly direct her to get help.

Violet puts on the nurse dress in the bathroom upstairs. Bianca walks in eating the cupcake. As it turns out, she's the one who stole the cell phones. But she suddenly gets very sick and runs off. Fiona tells Violet to get in the tub (as Franklin drowned Gladys there). Violet mocks her for not doing her research, because that's the wrong tub—the house has been remodelled and the original one is actually in the basement.

Meanwhile, Connie is entertaining a young man who wants to be a model. She's interrupted by Adelaide, who says there's a bad man next door. She shoes her away, but her daughter comes back to interrupt her again. Connie puts her in the closet, which is a room full of mirrors for her to look at herself. Adelaide screams and Connie returns to her business meeting.

Bianca is throwing up and tries to find Fiona as she gets increasingly worse. Tate hacks her up with an axe, leaving her to stumble down the corridor leaving a trail of blood.

Vivien puts on the nurse uniform, then tries to escape again and manages to bash the man's head in with the ashtray (they bought it on e-bay from the original murder). Violet takes Fiona to the basement, but the lights go off. Tate tells her to come over to the bathtub. Fiona looks inside and sees Gladys.

Vivien is searching for her daughter, and runs into Violet coming up from downstairs. They both flee the house. Connie suddenly hears the two of them screaming as they run by her house. And at the abortion clinic, Ben waits with Hayden. He finally checks his phone and see he has 13 missed calls.

Vivien's captor wakes up and makes his way downstairs where he sees Fiona with her throat slit and Maria and Gladys standing there beside the tub.

Next we see Moira and Tate standing over the two dead bodies, and Connie walks in. She asks if it was Tate's handiwork. It was them, Moira says. They have to get rid of the bodies, Tate says, "if you want him to keep treating me." They get shovels and bleach.

Ben returns home and the police investigate the crime. Bianca was found chopped in half several blocks away. The attackers were obsessed with recreating famous LA murders, so they assume Bianca's cohorts went after her and killed her when she couldn't go through with it.

Violet told Vivien Tate helped her escape, but Ben wants to know how he got into the house in the first place (It shouldn't be too tough given Moira, Connie, Adelaide, three murderers and a host of ghosts all managed it). Violet is glad he was, given her father wasn't. She leaves them with a parting comment to her mother that she thinks she's very brave.

Ben apologizes for not being there. Vivien decides she wants to sell the house.

The Verdict:
Home Invasion was quite the riveting episode and managed to continue the momentum from the pilot. The first half with Ben's sudden phone call had this erratic energy to it that effectively conveyed the chaos he was having to juggle managing his growing number of lies.

What was Ben thinking? Hayden's B.A.N.A.N.A.S.! And OF COURSE crazy bitch didn't have the abortion, so you know that's going to come back to bite him in the ass. Compliments to Dylan McDermott who still manages to exact sympathy from me despite him being such an ass. He really conveys how vulnerable and powerless Ben is when it comes to controlling his desires for other women.

I was particularly impressed that this week's threat (the home invasion) wasn't supernatural in itself, and just a bunch of crazies exploiting the reputation of the house. It's really setting a nasty trend for Ben's judgement when two of his clients have managed to ingratiate themselves into his home and damage his family.

Violet  is not so easily defeated, however, and she got a chance to show her stuff. Nothing like a home invasion to reforge the broken bonds between mother and daughter. But why was Connie so adamant that she get the cupcakes?

Speaking of the cupcakes, they played out a good deux ex machina, but it's interesting that Vivien never got sick, whereas Bianca was pretty much taken out of commission by them alone. Could Vivien's crazy demon baby be what saved her?

Connie's punishment for Adelaide was INSANE, and a thoroughly disturbing scene that shows just how evil she can be. Adelaide is showing some empathy for the Harmons in her attempts to warn her mother, but what is Connie's stake? Despite her ongoing threats to Moira, the two of them, as well as Tate are all working together for some larger conspiracy regarding the family to keep them in the house.

The 1968 scene reveals another set of murder victims (and adds to the ghost roster). Did the house remain abandoned after that until the ginger boys were killed in 1978? Did the nurses ever find all the little jars of baby bits in the basement that we later see in 1978? The murder prologue is an effective bit and I hope it continues, though a whole season will certainly rack up the ghost population if there are 90 years of murders in that house.

Finally, I enjoyed the very end when Vivien gets to speak what's on everyone's mind at this point—Move! Obviously that can't happen, so the writers had better have a valid explanation for why the Harmons remain.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: Paranormal Activity 3

Non Spoiler Review:
Paranormal Activity 3 is set in 1988 (except for a very brief prologue in 2005). Katie (Chloe Csengery) and little sister Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) are living with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and her new boyfriend Dennis in quite a lavish late 80s house. Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) videotapes weddings for a living. Kristi starts talking about her imaginary friend Toby after a shower of dust from a minor earthquake reveals an odd shape in the bedroom caught on camera. Dennis is intrigued and sets up his equipment throughout the house to see what he can find. As expected, he finds a lot, and the mystery of Toby, along with the greater storyline involving the girls, their mother, and future Katie's experience, gets filled in.

Full disclosure—I did not see Paranormal Activity 2, but loved the first film for its effective chills. So I felt I could go into this prequel without worrying too much about what transpired in the previous one. To its credit, someone unfamiliar with the trilogy can still enjoy this one without feeling they've missed out on too much (and can then go on to enjoy the first with a different perspective).

I enjoyed the late 80s feel of the movie, though the family house seemed a bit overly extravagant for a single mother. Like Micah in the first, Dennis is extremely likable and the audience certainly feels sympathy for him having to investigate the mystery with little help from his girlfriend, who would much rather just ignore everything before it's too late. That being said, he is basically an 80s version of Micah, so there's nothing different that really stands out about him. The child actors do deliver some convincing performances, as well.

As far as scares, there's nothing new and exciting that will leave you sleeping with the lights on. For me, the first film's three-toed footprints in the powder and attic door askew really can't be topped for chills, and nothing here creates the same effect for me. But the long, silent camera pans succeed in building anticipation for the inevitable shocks.

However...there are some big criticisms.

First, Toby's manifestations tend to be increasingly more powerful. While the first movie really had only one big moment when it dragged Katie out of bed, this one had Toby exhibiting a lot of strength without any real explanation—lifting up a child, as well as the entire contents of the kitchen. Yes, this isn't a movie based in reality, but at least some rules should be followed, in my opinion, and the more subtle actions can be far more eerie than blatant showboating on the part of the entity.

There are HUGE discrepancies between what is seen in the trailer, and what we get in the movie. The scenes of Kristi jumping off the landing and walking up the stairs, a psychic making an appearance, and the house burning down as was mentioned in the first film—none of those are actually in the movie. So when it abruptly ended, I was left scratching my head trying to figure out where those scenes might belong. That may not bother some people, but I really hate getting lead on by a trailer.

This franchise is heading towards another sequel, which can explain why they've changed their mind about the ending. But given what I know of the first movie, there are too many lingering continuity problems. I would have preferred they focus more on this one rather than future installments and tied things together better.

But Paranormal Activity 3 does succeed in delivering some creepiness. Perhaps not as strong as the first, depending on what scares you. For me, the scenes where Toby's size and presence was hinted at in the room was more eerie than creaking doors and flashing lights. If you're a fan of the series, it's worth seeing in the theatre for some chills, and you'll leave with a very good sense of what is going on with the family and how Toby got there. Newbies can also enjoy the novelty of this particular found footage entry, but it's ultimately just another chapter in the Paranormal Activity franchise.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: American Horror Story "Pilot"

Non Spoiler Review:
FX and the creators of Glee have brought what could be a groundbreaking series in the genre of television horror. American Horror Story assembles an amazing cast, including Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott, Connie Britton and Denis O'Hare, to deliver something unlike anything seen on television since Twin Peaks.

The pilot introduces the Harmon family, on the heels of husband and father Ben's marital infidelity, and his wife's miscarriage, picking up and moving to Los Angeles to start their life over. They get an awesome deal on a 1920s mansion, which has suffered a string murders and suicides (both mentioned in passing and shown in the teaser). Once moved in, Ben and Vivien meet an assortment of odd and frightening characters, and their lives begin to be affected by the darkness within the house.

The first episode delivered a promising series premiere, and I was riveted by the characters and the direction (jittery cuts, great musical choices and sudden, unexpected horror). It's got a very stylistic look and a jarring opening credits sequence. The Harmons are extremely flawed, but they all (at least for the moment) are kind of likable, and I can cheer them on to whatever kind of happiness they might find in this demonic mansion.

American Horror Story feels inspired by David Lynch, but with some Marilyn Manson influence thrown in. It's got a very strong and enviable ensemble cast, with a healthy mix of old-fashioned scares, coupled with very disturbing elements, and a tension that remains elevated for the whole hour.  If the pilot is any indication, it will easily become one of my top three favorite shows (the others currently being Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead). I highly recommend it for any fan of the genre. 

Spoilers Now!
In 1978 two ginger boys prepare to wreck the ruins of an old abandoned mansion, but are warned by a little girl with Downs Syndrome outside that "You'll die in there". Defiant, they go on a smashing spree with their bats, ending in the basement where they find a wall full of jars with various body parts. Ginger One loses his brother for a moment, and when he shines the light on him, his throat is slit. Then an evil looking child-thing runs out of the shadows and kills him, as well.

Next is Vivien Harmon, getting an examination months after a horrible miscarriage, and reluctantly agreeing to take some hormones to get her body back into shape. She returns home and hears noises, thinking there's an intruder. She grabs a knife and calls 911. Only she finds her husband having sex, and she slashes his arm.

When next we see Vivien, she's much less adversarial and travelling with her husband (and psychiatrist) Ben and daughter Violet, across country from Boston to Los Angeles to start over following his infidelity and her miscarriage. They get shown the 1920s mansion in question which was owned by a couple of fancy gentlemen who meticulously restored every detail. Unfortunately, as the realtor is loath to mention, they're dead from a murder-suicide in the house, which is why the place is on the market for a song. Violet immediately suggests they take it. Ben also plans to operate his practice from out of the house, too.

Moving in, the family's not back to normal at all. Vivien is frigid towards Ben, and Violet resents the focus on the miscarried son. Violet's first day at school goes awry when Leah, the fanatic anti-smoker, freaks out and picks a fight with her for having a cigarette.

Vivien notices the wallpaper is peeling, and it's actually covering a mural of a hellish scene. She's startled by the grown up Downs girl telling her she's going to die in here, and neighbour Constance walks in, apologizing for Adelaide barging into the house.

Constance embarks on a monologue about her life as a failed actress from Virginia, and a career ruined by the birth of her mongoloid. Vivien's not impressed that both just walked in uninvited and tries to shoe her off. But Constance brought her sage to cleanse the house of bad spirits.

Vivien later walks through the house into the attic with her sage, only to find a disturbing black rubber kink outfit that scares the hell out of her. Ben finds it amusing, but gets rid of it at her request and puts it in the trash.

Ben sees his first client, Tate, who has dreams of walking through school and killing his classmates (to save them from the world, he believes). He comes across Violet in the bathroom cutting herself, and tells her she's doing it all wrong if she wants to kill herself.

That night Ben gets up in his sleep and goes downstairs to light the fireplace. Vivien comes down and asks what he's doing. He asks if he's in a dream.

Vivien gets a visit from an older woman, Moira, who announces she's the housekeeper and has worked at the house for years. Vivien's not keen on it, but Moira comes in for some tea and manages to win her over. She found the bodies of the previous owners and cleaned up the mess, she explains. Ben comes in, but he sees Moira as a beautiful young woman and finds it incredible that Vivien wants to hire her given his penchant for infidelity. When Moira leaves he tries to make out with his wife again, but she pushes him away.

Tate is now hanging out with Violet and they commiserate about cutting themselves and their horrible lives. He learns about Ben's affair, as well as the miscarriage. Ben discovers them and tells him to leave. He forbids his daughter to go near him. 

Coming out of the shower, Ben walks in on Moira pleasuring herself. That prompts him to do the same and it's apparent he's still struggling with his compulsion for other women. He looks out the window and sees a deformed man looking up at him. He rushes outside but can't find any sign of him.

Vivien finds Adelaide in the house again and thinks she opened all the cupboards. The girl can see the two dead gingers behind her. Later, Constance comes by to bring her home and Vivien tries to convince the girl to stay out of her house. Adelaide protests the twins did it, not her. After an awkward conversation, they go to leave, but the dog snaps at Adelaide. Constance tells Vivian never to touch her child again.

Ben tries to report Tate as a dangerous student, but gets a visit from sexy Moira who cleans his office and attempts to seduce him. Violet happens by and sees her father with the old woman. He runs after her.

Vivien continues her project to remove the wallpaper from the disturbing mural. Ben makes another attempt to seduce her, but she turns him away again, so he flips out and they have a nasty knock down, drag out argument. She's trying to figure out how to forgive him for having sex with one of his students. He says he was hurting from the miscarriage as much as her, and instead of relying on him she got a dog. They haven't had sex in a year. He believes this place is their second chance. She gets physical with him and they end up having angry sex.

Violet gets in another fight with Leah at school but manages to do well for herself and burns her hand with the cigarette. Her mother notices she was in a fight, but Violet has no interest in confiding in her. She suggests her parents just get divorced rather than drag the family across the country, but Vivien says they still love one another.

Getting ready for bed, Viven sees someone in the rubber suit in the doorway. She appears to think it's Ben. When he says nothing, she decides he's just getting his kink on and has sex with him (!). The kink man says nothing and keeps the outfit on the whole time.

Except Ben is down in the kitchen lighting the gas stove. Vivien seems to see his face as the man is on top of her. Connie pulls Ben's hand away from the fire and tells him now is not his time, and "Enjoy the house." She directs him to go back to bed. Later he crawls back into bed with Vivien, who is still awake. She tells him she loves him.

Violet wants to get rid of Leah, so Tate suggests they scare her to death so she never touches her again. Violet approaches her and tells her she's got drugs (given Leah is a cokehead). Tate will cover the terrifying part.

Leah gets led down into the basement, and finds Tate waiting for her. A strobe light goes off and Tate starts acting crazy. Except he appears to be both on top of Leah and beside Violet. Amid the flashing light both girls can see the demon child trying to strangle Leah. It sees Violet and reaches out to her with a clawed hand. Violet gets the lights. Tate is still in his chair and Leah has a nasty gouge on her face and runs out. Violet is furious and wants to know what he did. She kicks Tate out.

Ben is out jogging when he finds himself pursued by someone in a suit. He eventually catches up to him and it's the man watching him in the window from before. He's seriously burned and declares "Your family is in danger!" His name is Larry Harvey, and he warns him he has to get out of the house.

He has brain cancer, and was already in jail—for murdering his family. He used to live in the house, and after six months heard voices. He killed his wife and two daughters by burning them alive. He doesn't remember how he got out of the fire, but he was seriously maimed. Larry asks if Ben's been sleepwalking, and suggests he read the transcript of his case. Ben threatens to have him committed and warns him to leave him alone. Larry smiles to himself as Ben runs away.

Moira catches Connie in Vivien's bedroom trying on her earrings. Moira tells her to leave, but Connie comments on the old whore acting the part of a moralistic prude and says when things go missing, they always blame the maid. "Don't make me kill you again," Connie tells her as she leaves (and apparently steals the earrings).

Vivien comes home to find a nervous Ben after his encounter with Larry. She tells him she's pregnant. Ben's elated, but Vivien looks worried.

The Verdict:
I'm hooked. There was so much to talk about after this premiere, it's tough to sort it all out. As I mentioned, I'm liking the Harmons, even Ben, despite their enormous flaws and damage. Ben and Vivien feel like a real married couple with a host of problems, and their big fight this week came across as quite genuine.

The whole cast is fantastic—Six Feet Under alumna Frances Conroy as (older) Moira really shines here, as well as Denis O'Hare as crazy Larry. We get such an over-the-top, engaging performance from Jessica Lange, Constance could already handle her own spin off. Her scene with Conroy was an amazing showcase for these two great actresses.

The opening teaser with the kids shows this horrific creature living in the basement. That in itself is creepy enough, without the rubber suit guy and a number of ghosts. I'm questioning some scenes which could be real or dreams. Was Vivien really so willing to sleep with the kink guy with no questions asked? It was almost as though she was tempting fate by not even talking to who she thought was Ben, perhaps as a way to punish him or get revenge. Now she likely has a demon baby in her tummy.

Adelaide appears to be friendly to the creature in the house. Is she good or bad, because right now she's playing the mischief-maker. How much does Connie know? What other murders have transpired there (at least seven by my count this week). What's the significance of all the baby photos in the opening credits and the jars or baby pieces?

Moira's appearance is one of the more bizarre aspects, and the most overtly supernatural character, given there's really no other way to explain what's going on with her. It's surprising how easily she ingratiates herself with the new owners (and that Ben and Vivien don't talk about her appearance at all). It remains to be seen how long they'll stretch out that before it becomes implausible. Connie's cryptic threat about killing her again leaves us with tantalizing questions.

Red hair appears to be a running theme (Moira, the ginger twins, Vivien), so it must have some significance. Fire is also popping up pretty much everywhere, as well as baby-related imagery.

That's really all I can comment on this week, given I'm already raving about the series and anxiously anticipating what could be in store for a full season if it can maintain this level of quality. I really hope American Horror Story finds success, given there's really no precedent for a true horror story for an ongoing series. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: The Walking Dead "Bloodletting"

Non Spoiler Review:
Rick and Shane deal with the fallout created with Carl's injury, leading to the introduction of several new characters. But Carl isn't the only one suffering, as T-Dog's wound from last week causes him some grief, as well. With an urgent need for medical supplies, it falls to Shane to embark on a dangerous mission.

A more character-driven episode highlights the relationships between Rick/Shane and Rick/Lori. Daryl is continuing to reach new heights of coolness. Most exciting is the introduction of the Hershel farm, a major plotline from the early graphic novels, and a fresh infusion of new blood. There are few plotlines diverging from the book again (Sophia's disappearance, for one), but that's making it interesting. 

Bloodletting achieved a good balance, with enough character development to further advance the relationship between our band of survivors, while allowing some action to end the episode. Andrew Lincoln really shone this week.

Spoilers Now!
Bloodletting begins with a pre-apocalypse flashback, where Lori waits for school to get out and confides in a friend how pissed off she gets with Rick, given he tries to be so reasonable all the time. She regrets getting married so young, and it's evident they're having some marriage problems. They're interrupted by Shane pulling up in a police car to let her know Rick's been shot and he's in surgery. Shane feels it's his fault. Carl comes out of school and Shane watches as she tells him about his father.

Rick runs across the meadow carrying Carl. Behind, Shane is pushing along another man, the shooter, Otis. He's told them to take Carl to Hershel, and they approach a farm house, where a young woman watches from the porch. She calls for her father. 

After hearing what happened (and confirming Carl wasn't bit) Hershel takes them inside to examine him. He and his daughters look after Carl and tell Rick they need some room. Shane tends to a stunned Rick who is second-guessing all his decisions. Otis explains the bullet went through his buck, which actually slowed the bullet down and saved Carl's life. But it's broken up into pieces inside him. Rick has the same blood type as his son, which is fortunate, as they'll need a transfusion once Hershel manages to extract the fragments.

In the woods, Lori has heard the gunshot. She knows Rick wouldn't risk a shot to put down a walker so is very concerned. Daryl tells them to continue working their way back to the highway and assures Carol they'll find Sophia.

T-Dog's wound has become infected. Dale needs to get them some antibiotics so suggests they look through the cars some more. Unfortunately, they come up empty-handed, though T-Dog scored some cigarettes. As they sit, he suggests the two of them leave together, as the rest think they're the weakest in the group. T-Dog suggests that the others will eventually target them, but Dale reminds him Daryl went out of his way to save him several times. T-Dog just wants them to take the RV and go. Dale realizes he's feverish and beginning to get delirious.

Hershel explains Carl's out of danger for the moment, but he has internal bleeding and there are more fragments to get. Carl needs to be immobilized and must be put under. They need a respirator, as well as a lot of other surgical supplies. The high school had a FEMA shelter five miles from the farm, but it was overrun. Shane volunteers to go for the supplies. Otis offers to take him there, given his responsibility for the whole mess. His wife doesn't want him to go.

Andrea is suddenly attacked as they make their way back to the highway. Out of nowhere, Maggie rides in on a horse, kills the walker, and asks for Lori. She tells them Carl's been shot and takes Lori with her, giving them all directions to the farm.

The rest get back to the RV to explains things to Dale, though Andrea's even more furious with him now after yet another attack. Carol refuses to leave to rejoin Rick and Lori. Daryl suggests they go to the farm in the morning, but leave supplies and directions for Sophia should she get back to the road. Dale tells Glen to get to the farm so they can reconnect and see what's going on. He also has to get T-Dog there for medical attention. That's when Daryl saves the day again and reveals he had his brother's stash of drugs from his motorcycle, which has some painkillers and antibiotics.

Rick muses on the serenity of Hersel's farm, and the old man explains they lost friends and neighbours, including his wife and step-son. His daughters were spared and he's grateful to God. He's hoping they can ride it out in peace until there's a cure. Rick explains there won't be a cure given they've already been to the CDC. Hershel says he's seen that all before, but it's just like any other plague as far as he's concerned. It's just nature restoring some balance.

Maggie returns with Lori, and she and Rick sit by their son's bedside. Lori's not so understanding regarding Otis, however. She asks Hershel to explain about the surgery, and it comes out that he's a veterinarian. She's horrified. Rick, already weakened by two transfusions, has to sit down and is pretty much of no use to anyone at this point, though he seems to feel he should go after Shane given they're overdue. Lori and Hershel tell him he's being foolish. She lays down the law that she can't do this alone and he's not leaving.

At the high school, Shane and Otis find the area swarming with walkers. Shane finds some flares in a police car, so they use them to draw the walkers away from the supply trailer. They get all they need, but when they leave they're quickly surrounded and have to make a run for it. Pursued by a horde, they flee into the high school behind a tenuously locked gate.

The Verdict:
Carl's shooting allowed for some great bromance between Rick and Shane to show the strength of their friendship. Despite Shane's turmoil and some of really bad decisions he's made in previous episodes (i.e. pointing a rifle at Rick), it was refreshing to see him automatically default to his close bond with his partner.

The writing continues to be mature and avoids some standard dramatic pitfalls. Lori could have bitched out and blamed Rick for getting her son shot, but the two of them kept it together. It could have been so easy to paint Otis as a gun-crazy buffoon, but his character was very sympathetic and likable (and smart—he's a volunteer EMT, as well, for Pete's sake!), and after the initial shock, there was no animosity from Rick or Shane, either.

The casting for the Hershels appears to be very fitting, though we only have the father and Maggie to get a sense of so far. Maggie's ride to the rescue kicked ass and there's no doubt she'll be a favorite. And can Daryl get any more awesome? Whether it's shooting walkers in the head with his goddamned crossbow or producing an entire pharmaceutical supply from his missing brother's bike. What's Kirkman's plan for him? And how soon before Andrea falls for him?

Finally, still no sign of Sophia and she's apparently not at the Hershel farm. But kudos for following up on T-Dog's inevitable infection from last week. I can't think they'd kill him off soon, either. Like he said, he's the only black guy left, and granted, he's not a character from the books, but I doubt Kirkman would be getting rid of him so quickly given he went to the trouble of keeping him with the group.

What was the deal with the missing dead baby and what appeared to be fresh blood? I wasn't sure if Kirkman was implying people shot themselves, or if a walker stole it, or if it's something more recent. It's probably nothing important, but like last week's civil defence broadcast, I'm wondering what these short bits are leading to, if anything.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: Terra Nova "The Runaway"

 Non Spoiler Review:
A young girl arrives at Terra Nova, having escaped the Sixers. But what is she hiding? While that simple narrative isn't terribly compelling, nor the child actor (Newt would beat the crap out of her), it did provide the engine for driving several of the greater elements of the series. There is more of Mira and her backstory, and talk of the others who have grander plans for the colony, but they stop short of providing that bit of revelation we really need at this point.

This week was the better of the batch since the pilot, but Terra Nova still struggles with an uninteresting weekly plot in favor of its bigger mysteries. Most of the characters aren't really interesting me aside from Mira. The Shannons have been set up as this Disneyesque family to provide the fulcrum of the show, yet it's still failing to make me care at all for the five of them. But on a positive note, Jim was somewhat less of a dick. 

Spoilers Now!
Security finds a little girl sneaking around outside the gate, so she's brought inside and examined by Elizabeth. The girl is terrified, but Taylor wants to talk to her. Elizabeth manages to gain her trust and the girl reveals her name is Lia and she was fleeing the Sixers.

Her grandmother lives in future earth, she explains. And she also calls Taylor the bad man. He remembers her from when she was a baby, prior to the exodus of the Sixth Pilgrimage. They explain to her that the portal doesn't go both ways so she can't return to the future and visit her grandmother, which upsets her. 

Taylor thinks it's an opportunity to get intel on Mira. He suggests Lia stay with the Shannons, so she's integrated into their brood, but Lia doesn't seem to impressed with Zoe (like us).

Washington is ambushed by Sixers in the jungle, and Mira steps forward to ask what they've done with her. The Sixers later appear at Terra Nova with Washington as prisoner, and Mira demands the girl back. Taylor knows she's been tipped off by their insider. Then Mira decides she doesn't want the girl, and Taylor warns her about ever coming back to his gates again. They turn over the prisoners and leave. It's all rather contrived.

Taylor tries to convince Lia that Terra Nova is a happy place. Lia explains Mira never lets them stay in the same place for very long so Taylor suggests they look at some maps at some point to see where her camp was.

The B story is Maddie learning about medicine at her mother's side in the infirmary, but it's evident early on she just doesn't have what it takes to stomach the field and its many bloody maladies. 

Taylor and Jim investigate some Sixth Pilgrimmage members who didn't go off with Mira, suspecting some of them might be insiders. Malcolm steps forward to defend one of his men, Stanley, and accuses them of conducting a witch hunt.

Jim, Washington and Reynolds are then called to investigate a break-in at a house. Something was stolen from the beneath the floor, and they find out it was Mira's old place. Jim confronts Lia about taking something, and they realize she was sent to infiltrate Terra Nova. The item in question is a sealed container that Taylor and Jim can't seem to open.

Lia says she doesn't know what it is, but Mira has her brother and says she'll hurt him if she didn't get the box for her. Taylor has her detained until they figure out what's going on. The Shannon's are sad about Lia's betrayal. But Josh finds a note from her that says she had to.

Reynolds apparently is from the 18th Century because he wants to declare his intentions to court Maddie. According to the commander, he has to call at her house and talk to her father about his intentions. She accepts, and the two enjoy a walk together.

Jim goes off into the jungle to find Lia, but gets caught in a trap and taken prisoner by Mira. She says the boy was never in danger. She explains Taylor pissed off a lot of people in 2149 and they want him gone. Terra Nova isn't about starting over, and he'll see soon enough (she's learned enough from the school of villainy to not give away everything yet). She tells him to do what's right for his family and be smart, because they'll take Taylor down eventually. She has a daughter in 2149 named Sienna, and if she does her job they make sure she sees her again. She let's him go.

Jim returns with Lia's brother and they're happily reunited. Taylor's wondering why Mira would let him go at all. Jim doesn't confide in what she told him. Taylor gives the box to Malcolm to try to figure out how to get it open. He locks it away in his lab.

Lia thanks the Shannons for all their help and is off to stay with a new family who is more interesting.

The Verdict:
The Lia storyline did give a push to much of the show's mythology, with talk of the conspirators in the future, the mystery box, and the insider. Mira got some further development and it's hard not to like her given she doesn't reek of crazy like Taylor does. Maybe it's because she reminds me of Tina Turner in Beyond Thunderdome.  Perhaps this is all building to a season finale where Taylor is overthrown and Jim must choose sides.

Yet Mira stopped short of actually giving Jim (and us) any new information, which is the shot in the arm that the show really needs at this point, rather than continued focus on the daily tedium of the Shannons. If she really wanted to foment some discord and give Jim his doubts about Taylor, why not throw him a bone and actually tell him why they want him removed? Instead she falls back on the usual tease of "You'll find out!" The question is if viewers have the patience for an extended mystery.

Maddie's courting story is turning increasingly strange now that Reynolds seems to have no social skills whatsoever. Taylor must have recruited him from the Amish or something, because it all just doesn't make sense. On the other hand, it might be a sly way of implying Taylor's bigger goals for the colony by establishing some very traditional values? I'll actually be pleased if this is the direction of things and the Shannon's slowly get on to the fact that Taylor might have some puritan ideals for Terra Nova. But, at the moment, there's little evidence for this aside from Reynolds.

So it's gotten better, but the quick cuts and short scenes continue, when we really need some juicy character development moments that go beyond dinner chatter with the Shannons or Jim casually threatening Reynolds or Malcolm. Show us what's in the box!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Review: Terra Nova "What Remains"

Non Spoiler Review:
This week on Terra Nova, a scientific outpost falls victim to a mysterious disease which causes those inflicted to act irrationally. When the Enterprise crew arrives, they, too fall victim—oh wait, this isn't Star Trek. I could be forgiven for the mistake, given this episode takes most of its plot points from Star Trek's 'Naked Time' (and more recently, ST: The Next Generation's 'Naked Now').

It might have made a difference had this disease been a bit more threatening, but there was never really any sense of urgency given the memory loss was played more for character interactions than threatening Terra Nova as a whole. Again, the storyline charts a straight line from beginning to end with no twists whatsoever. Jim continues to be a dick. We do get more of Lt. Washington and Mark Reynolds, and Josh's plot to get his girlfriend back from the future begins to progress.

Terra Nova's larger mysteries (involving the true nature of Terra Nova and the rift) are getting teaser play, while the plot of the week just isn't strong enough to provide a good draw. I'm still hoping it improves.

Spoilers Now!
At a science outpost it appears all is not well, as the customary pre-credits red shirt is busy chasing a large bug outside the safety of his lab, and promptly gets eaten by a dinosaur.

Back at Terra Nova, Elizabeth and Taylor are going to investigate the lack of communication. This pisses off Jim, of course, because the last thing he wants to do is be alone with his kids while also having to entertain Reynolds for dinner, who is courting his daughter. Elizabeth also seems to have misplaced her wedding ring and asks him to look for it.

At the outpost, Taylor and Elizabeth find things in a fine mess, as well as cryptic notes. There are survivors, two of them strapped to beds, and a woman who can't seem to remember much and talking nonsense about a snowstorm several years before in Detroit. They find the late scientist's final log, and he speaks of having to tell someone about the pathogens but can't remember who. They find his remains outside so Taylor puts the place under quarantine for the time being.

Jim gets Elizabeth's wedding ring from the infirmary, and meets Zoe coming in as she's caught a cold. He makes a big deal about never catching a cold, which means he will do so this time. When Elizabeth advises Jim of the situation she notices him sneezing on the vid (oh noes!).

Josh has managed to get his guitar, so is hanging out with the other rabble-rouser rover-stealing teens and drinking and watching shooting stars. Josh thinks they should tell someone about the calculations at the falls (you think?), but he ends up making out with Skye instead. But...he's still thinking of Kara, so kiboshes that. Skye says she might know a guy who could help him to get Kara there. Skye introduces Josh to bartender Tom. Apparently a message can only be sent when the portal is open, and Tom is the man to get messages through. Tom wants to know if he can trust Josh. 

Maddie appears to have bored the hell out of Reynolds, so he leaves for the evening, leaving Jim to commiserate with his daughter on his own past bad dates with her mother. He's worried about his wife, though, so wants to go visit the outpost himself, but Lt. Washington won't disobey Taylor's quarantine. So Jim goes to Malcolm to get a rover, and he decides to come with him, given it's his science team. 

They arrive at the outpost at night, but find it empty, and Lt. Washington's voice trying to raise Taylor on the comm. Jim tells her he's there, just as Elizabeth comes out and shoots them both with a sonic cannon. She only recognizes Malcolm, not Jim.

After calming her down, Malcolm says she seems to have reverted back to her time in university when they had started dating. He's examined her notes, though, so knows of the pathogen. The first stages are memory loss, with the final stage being full on catatonia. But he believes he can cure it with Elizabeth's help.

Malcolm tries to bring Elizabeth up to speed on where they are, but keeps her marriage to Jim a secret. Unfortunately, the ovarsaurus are chewing on the power cables, so knock out the power to the complex.  Jim goes outside to chase them away. He finds that Taylor has cut the cables himself, and has reverted back to a time before Terra Nova—Somalia 2138. He wants to know where his wife and son are. He knocks him out and leaves, taking his motor bike towards the colony.

Elizabeth finds that someone in the lab was experimenting with gene therapy. Malcolm starts suffering from the virus too and flirts with her, but Jim tells him to keep his hands to himself, then explains the situation with Taylor. He's trying to make his way back to Terra Nova, and if he does, he'll infect everyone.

With the comm system out, they have to warn them, so Jim volunteers to go. Elizabeth notices he isn't showing any symptoms despite being exposed at the same time as Malcolm (hmm).

With her parents missing, Reynolds comes back to check on Maddie. So she goes to ask Lt. Washington what's going on. They happen in on Taylor having taken her hostage, so both of them are caught.

Malcolm and Jim are attacked by the ovarsaur, and Malcolm is increasingly confused about where he is, forcing Jim to knock him out. That leaves Elizabeth to find the cure on her own, so she and Jim look through the records and discover one of the scientists had an Alzheimer's-type disease that he might have been trying to cure through gene therapy.

She finds some notes she made, naming her children (and Jim) and figures out they're married. He produces the wedding ring but she doesn't remember (even the plot devices aren't working on this show). She's wondering why Jim is still fine, and realizes he has been chewing on a plant that Malcolm gave him for his cold and has blocked the pathogen. Elizabeth analyzes the plant but can't find anything to explain the cure. Then she realizes his cold is blocking the virus from infecting him. He thinks this is an opportune time to give her a cold and kisses her.

Washington tries to convince Taylor the war is over and manages to explain what Terra Nova is. His wife is dead, however. He's about to kill himself so she shoots him with a sonic gun. Taylor wakes up in the infirmary and Elizabeth is already back there. He has his memory back, though. She's created a vaccine out of an inactive virus so he won't suffer a cold. Zoe's even feeling better too!

Mira meets up with Tom in the jungle. He's given her medicine and power cells. He tells her that the next time she's able to establish contact with 2149, he needs to get a message through for a kid who wants to buy passage for his girlfriend. He gave him a job in his bar, and he's Jim Shannon's son. Mira plans to take advantage of that opportunity.

The Verdict:
Jim's machismo is not making him even a little bit lovable. The writers are really trying to make the Shannons a fun couple, but it's just not working for me. His continued insecurities with Malcolm only makes him come across as a bully. And one that has no problem disobeying orders either.

Since when does someone catch a cold that fast? It appeared less than a day went by since his exposure to Zoe before he was getting the sniffles. 

Josh's subplot with bartender Tom does answer my question (kind of) from last week, with the news communication to the future is possible when the rift opens again. Does that also allow for someone to travel back? Has anyone tried? He's working with Mira, so he could very well be the insider everyone's looking for. Unfortunately, that final scene was more interesting than the entire episode.

There's little else to say about this one! Boo.

Review: The Walking Dead "What Lies Ahead"

Non Spoiler Review:
After what seemed a very long wait and a summer of controversy with AMC replacing showrunner Frank Darabont, The Walking Dead at last returns for its second season. Beginning shortly after the destruction of the CDC, the survivors leave Atlanta hopeful they can find refuge at Fort Benning. On the way the RV breaks down, beginning a series of events that puts everyone (of course!) in jeopardy.

The survivors also begin to show strains in their relationships, as Shane comes to a decision about his future given the ongoing friction with Lori, while Andrea holds Dale accountable for forcing her to escape from the CDC with him. Rick must face the consequences of his decisions again when he attempts to find a balance that will ensure everyone's survival.

A great premiere episode that maintains all the tension of last year and delivers great character moments, gore and shocks. Having followed the books, I'm very excited at where the next few episodes will go, and while the ending was anticipated, it delivered a very well-executed shock.

Spoilers Now!
Still in Atlanta, Rick continues to try to contact Morgan via the walkie-talkie and updates him on their situation and plans. He's troubled by what the scientist told him (though stops short of telling Morgan), and advises they're going to try to reach Fort Benning 125 miles away, hoping to see him and his son there some day.

On the road, Shane teaches Andrea how to clean her gun in the back of Dale's RV. But their convoy reaches a traffic jam of vehicles and the RV breaks down at the most inconvenient time. While repairs are made and others go searching for supplies, Andrea stays inside trying to put her gun together. Shane finds a van full of water bottles and there appears to be plenty of supplies to stock up on from the dozens of vehicles, so the group has a moment of elation.

Dale and Rick spot walkers approaching and quickly realize it's a large horde. They take shelter under the cars. T-Dog cuts himself on a broken door while trying to take cover, and a walker comes into the RV forcing Andrea to hide in the bathroom. It tries to break in and Dale tosses her a screwdriver from the roof and she violently kills it.

Daryl manages to save T-Dog from a walker and covers them both with corpses, while the rest of the group watch the zombies file passed until most appear to be gone. But Sophia screams when she sees a lingering zombie and runs off the road into the woods with two in pursuit. Rick takes off after and manages to catch her. He gets her to hide while he leads them away, and tells her to make her way back to the highway. He manages to kill both, but finds Sophia gone. Rick and Daryl go off searching for her while the rest continue gathering supplies.

Andrea is pissed with Dale for taking her gun. He doesn't think it's a good idea given her death wish at the CDC, and Shane seems to agree, for the fact that the rest of them don't have proper training.

While waiting, they hear a civil defence message on a car radio which implies the signal was coming from within 50 miles. But they now have enough gas to double back and take a different route.

Meanwhile, off exploring on his own (bad Lori!) Carl finds a bunch of axes in a car and wants to keep the hatchet but Shane doesn't have any patience for him and tells him to give them all to Dale. Lori isn't impressed with him snapping at her son, so he admits his meltdown at the CDC was a mistake and he's leaving the group, planning to just slip away when he has a chance. He doesn't want to make it any harder on Carl than it already is.

Daryl and Rick kill another walker, seeing it fed recently given there's flesh in its teeth. They cut open its stomach but find no evidence it was Sophia. They return empty handed but promise to start searching in the morning. Carol asks how Rick could have just left her in the first place but Shane supports his decision. But it's evident the rest of the group aren't as agreeable with his choice.

Come morning, they begin a search with everyone, and Rick distributes the hatchets Carl found as he and Shane don't want people firing guns off in the woods. Dale remains with a bandaged up T-Dog to continue repairs. Carl wants to go with them, so Lori and Rick agree.

Andrea tells Dale she's not going out without her gun, and says he needs to stop being paranoid about her. He forced her to save his life, not the other way around. She wanted to die her way, and he took that choice away from her. She's not his little girl, she tells him, and certainly doesn't have any gratitude for what he did. Everyone else overhears their tiff and Dale is left hurt.

The group comes across a tent in the woods. It just has a dead man inside who killed himself. They hear some bells so take off in that direction and come upon a church. There are three zombies inside which they manage to dispatch easily, and they realize the bells are just an automatic church recording.

Shane and Lori have another conversation about him leaving, unaware that Andrea is sitting nearby and listening. Lori doesn't want him to just disappear given what it will do to everyone and Carl. He's the one who's losing them, he says. Andrea comes out when Lori goes inside and Shane sees she's overheard it. She wants to come with him to start over somewhere else. Neither of them belong in the group, so she asks him to consider it.

They split into two groups, with Carl going with Rick and Shane and the others heading back to the road. Seeing how Andrea and Carol are both treating them, Lori defends Rick to the others and tells them they have to stop blaming him for Sophia's disappearance. If they want to take off on their own they're more than welcome.

Dale tells T-Dog he had the radiator fixed yesterday. If the others know they're mobile, they'll want to move on, so he's just guarding against the arguments for the greater good for as long as he can.

Rick takes a moment to pray in the church. He's not a religious man, but asks for some sign that he's doing the right thing. As they trek through the woods, Rick, Carl and Shane see a buck. Shane plans to shoot it, but Carl is fascinated and steps up to have a look. The buck doesn't move to run. In awe, Rick and Shane watch Carl approach closer and closer. Rick seems to think that's his sign. Then the buck and Carl are shot.

The Verdict:
The church setting this week allowed for a lot of prayer and reflection on the nature of god in The Walking Dead. It seems their world is absent of a god, or at the very least has one with a twisted sense of humour.

This episode was all about making choices to save the group versus the individual, and the reality of their tenuous situation. Heading off to Fort Benning seems the best logical move, and getting stranded on the highway was a very effective and tense sequence, introducing the zombie horde (something not talked about until well into the graphic novel).

The strain is beginning to show on Rick, and next week is certain to put the pressure on. I realized watching him talk on the radio to Morgan how it echoes his future habit of talking on phones without anyone on the other end. 

The Dale/Andrea dynamic got some energy with her pointed remarks to Dale. The whole gun thing all rings true to her behaviour at the CDC, but I wish she'd get out and shooting soon. Having her overhear Lori and Shane makes me realize the rest of the group must have been privy to the two of them being together on some level prior to Rick's arrival. Dale, on the other hand, is certainly showing his fatherly side, both in trying to control Andrea, as well as the entire group by lying about the state of the RV. How long before that comes back to bite him in the ass?

T-Dog seemed to get quite a nasty cut, and when we next see him he looks okay (infection, anyone?). He got the short end of the stick this week, with very little to say aside from bleeding over everything. But it was nice to see Daryl rescue him without a second thought. Daryl's quickly become a favorite.

After watching the promo trailers for the Hershel farm, Carl's shooting wasn't a surprise, but it was a really well done and twisted scene, playing on Rick's joy at getting his supposed sign and immediately driving the knife into the audience for a fitting conclusion to the first episode. Everything worked this week and I'm excited for a longer season and the introduction to more characters from the graphic novels.

Where's Sophia? I'm wondering if she's made it to the Hershel farm already or if her disappearance will be stretched out across further episodes. Carol's a loose cannon, so the group dynamic will certainly suffer the longer Rick's held to account for his tactical decision.

Some lingering questions: How did the people in the cars die? There seemed to be a lot of corpses just sitting there, but wouldn't they have reanimated regardless of being bitten (given of what is known of the virus in the graphic novels?). Of course, that plot point might not be carried over to the series as we've yet to see someone just die naturally, but one wonders how people would simply have expired in their vehicles. And what was the purpose of the civil defence broadcast? It seemed to be casually thrown in and immediately forgotten.
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