Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Non Spoiler Review:
It feels odd writing a review of The Hobbit given it's taken so many years for it to get off the ground and on screen. But here we are, with an unexpected journey and three movie arc once again. After much negotiations and juggling directors (Peter Jackson to Guillermo del Toro and back again), Jackson finally returns to Middle Earth. 

Also returning is Ian McKellen as Gandalf (could it even be considered that he wouldn't?). Martin Freeman (Hot Fuzz) takes the role of young Bilbo (from Ian Holm in Lord of the Rings). Cate Blanchet and Hugo Weaving also reprise their roles as Galadriel and Elrond. There are a host of dwarves, among them Aidan Turner (Being Human) and Richard Armitage as Prince Thorin, and of course Andy Serkis is Gollum. This is a much more relaxed and quiet Middle Earth than we're used to. And as Elrond even comments, they've been at peace for decades. Unless you're a dwarf, things are pretty good, and especially so if you're a Hobbit.

It will be years before we can reflect whether the decision to make a trilogy rather than a two-parter was a wise move, but the immediate question is if the first chapter can stand on its own merits.

The movie opens with Ian Holm reprising his role as old Bilbo, planning for his party we saw in Lord of the Rings and finishing his written account of his grand adventure. There we get a long flashback to the fall of the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor at the hands claws of the dragon Smaug. As the actual story begins, we find young Bilbo enjoying his leisurely Hobbit-life in the Shire which is brought to an end by Gandalf's decision to involve him in the quest of a band of thirteen dwarves to reclaim Erebor and its treasures. With his house overrun by rowdy dwarves, Bilbo opts to leave behind his quiet existence to go on an adventure. Meanwhile, one of Thorin's mortal enemies long thought dead learns he still lives and hounds them on their way.

The reviews I've read appear to be unusually harsh, but a lot of that is likely due to the decision to make a trilogy out of two movies, as well as the now infamous 48 fps. I saw it in IMAX 3D and thought it looked stunning. However, full disclosure—I do have an HD television with a high frame rate, so I'm completely used to the visuals that everyone is complaining about, and I noticed nothing out of the ordinary, aside from a couple of instances—one such scene during a rainstorm where it seemed like the characters weren't getting wet.

The Hobbit is definitely lighter in tone, but certainly not to the extent that I had feared. Yes, there are two songs (one of which is a decent, poignant ballad), and the extended dinner scene everyone is bitching about is really the only case of outright lightheartedness. The story of the dwarves is serious and relevant. They are a displaced people in search of a homeland (roaming from Erebor to Moria, and dispersed through Middle Earth in the years since). A contrast is drawn between Bilbo's love of the quiet life of his homeland and the dwarf diaspora who have none.

The cast was fantastic. Ian McKellen, of course, needs no more accolades. He's allowed to play a far more lighter Gandalf the Grey. Rhadagast may have been a tad over the top, but nothing excruciating. Even the dwarves, which could easily have become silly, all manage to provide some gravitas where necessary, and the noble heir apparent Thorin shines as a true leader in seeking to bring his people home. It's Martin Freeman who really claims the role of Bilbo, though.

At three hours, I was enjoying being immersed in Middle Earth again, revisiting Rivendale and the Shire, seeing younger versions of characters and figuring out who was related to whom in Lord of the Rings, while knowing full well what lies ahead brewing in the darkness for them.

As far as the overall plot, there were a couple of questionable decisions. While I really love that Ian Holm returned as old Bilbo, I doubt the necessity of showing Frodo again. I realize Jackson wanted to firmly tie The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings to make a complete epic, but the beginning seemed almost too overt (ie...Frodo noting that he was rushing off to meet Gandalf's arrival for Bilbo's party).

While a lot of the first act of the film is Gandalf assembling the dwarves and Bilbo on their quest, it is broken up with some effective flashbacks detailing the fall of Erebor as well as Thorin's battle with the white orc. I've read a little of the differences between the book and Jackson's interpretation. And while some are bored by the elements of the White Council or Radaghasts's investigations of the Necromancer, I found all these things quite compelling. As a fan of the machinations of Game of Thrones, watching Galadriel, Sauroman, Elrond and Gandalf debate the threat of this strange Necromancer, and the alarming appearance of an artifact that shouldn't exist, really wove a dark thread through the film, hammered home when Bilbo crosses paths with Gollum and claims the One Ring.

One other criticism was the Goblin king, which did feel very out of place. After Lord of the Rings showed us animalistic hordes of goblins, we get a large and sloppy goblin king who speaks in the King's English and manages to rattle off a bit of a song. This ends up in an outrageous chase scene which was the only instance I really noticed the special effects looked fake, and managed to stretch my suspension of disbelief in their survival (yes, I realize this is Middle Earth and they're about to face a dragon). A little more restraint here and there would have benefited a lot.

I thoroughly enjoyed An Unexpected Journey. While not as dark as The Fellowship of the Ring, it was still quite serious for the most part, and just as effective as the first installment in the trilogy. I definitely recommend it be seen on the big screen, and as someone familiar with the frame rate, I can attest that you get used to it very quickly. If Middle Earth, Game of Thrones, or anything else remotely epic is not your thing, then don't attempt to put yourself through it. The second movie will very much determine the necessity of a third film (beyond the cash grab), but for now The Hobbit is finally on screen and will fit nicely with my Lord of the Rings set. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead 105

Non Spoiler Review:
Issue 105 focuses entirely on Negan and Carl, as the cult leader takes him under his wing to show him how things are run in his home. A terrified Carl witnesses firsthand how Negan maintains his rule while awaiting a decision as to his own fate.

It was quite a fresh take for the series to leave Alexandria and show us more of Negan. I can't remember an issue that didn't feature Rick, so this one could very well be the first. Carl steps back into the forefront for the first time since getting shot, and we get some insight into his psyche beyond the cold shell he projects.

Spoilers Now!
Negan extends his hand to Carl, offering to show him around. Carl asks what he's going to do with him. Negan is vague, considering that the boy is quite a bad ass, but he wouldn't want to ruin the surprise.

Entering the compound, Negan is greeted by one man who asks if the gunfire should be a concern. His wife Molly needs some of the medicine they brought back, so Negan informs him he's earned enough points to have his pick. 

Negan is advised by another man, Carson, there's a problem with one of his wives, Amber. Everyone kneels as he passes. Carl is brought to Negan's harem, where Amber has recently volunteered to be his wife, though she already has a husband, Mark, who she's been cheating with. Negan asks her to choose whether to stay or go, so she opts to stay, which leads Negan to tell Carson to prepare the iron.

Negan then chats with Carl alone, ordering him to take off his bandages. Carl does so, getting Negan's horror at his face, which makes him cry. That upsets Negan, but he's interrupted by another of his men who brings in Lucille he forgot in the truck. Negan insists Carl keep the bandages off to make him look bad ass. Then he tells Carl to sing him a song as part of his punishment for the men he killed. Carl sings You Are My Sunshine while Negan swings his bat.

Carson advises the iron is ready, so they go down to the main area where Negan makes a speech about the need for rules. Amber made the choice to be his wife, but the price is total devotion. As a result, her husband Mark gets the hot iron on the side of his face. Then Negan tells Carl it's time to figure out what to do with him.

The Verdict:
Issue 105 gave us a focus on Carl we haven't seen in quite some time. Absent his father, it was a novel perspective. Negan also got some humanity, though in small doses. He appears to follow his own code, but is always within a hairsbreadth of flying off the handle.

I'm wondering if Kirkman might really surprise us and leave Carl with Negan for an extended amount of time. What would happen to him with a new mentor in the absence of his father (and what would this do to Rick's sanity losing his son?). Negan appears to already see Carl as a potential protege so that would make for an interesting twist.

Negan's installation is a doppelganger of the Hilltop and Alexandria. He's firmly running a cult of personality and an iron (pun) rule. He appears to have successfully set up a system of points to run his society, as well as some checks and balances against dissent. How stable is it all? If Carl should kill Negan (not that I think that's going to happen, at least for quite awhile), where would the power flow?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "The Coat Hanger"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Coat Hanger is definitely one of the best episodes of the season, and certainly one of the strongest from both series. Lana gets some shocking news, while she and Kit attempt to get Thredson to confess. Arden hatches an experiment to flush out the aliens. Jude finds the tables have turned completely. Eunice continues her reign, while Father Timothy's ambition clouds his judgement.

Much of my criticisms of the last few weeks have been made right with this one. The pacing and the suspense, the twists and the character development were superb. It hit all the right notes, including the revelation of the present-day Bloody Face. 

I'm really excited to see how this all turns out, given there are a few fantastic character pairings. It's evident that only a few are likely to survive the finale, and I already have my bets on who isn't going to make it. Fortunately there is an Angel of Death waiting for them.

Spoilers Now!
Johnny Morgan (Dylan McDermot) is visiting a psychiatrist to help curb his compulsions. He's had impulses since he was a child, resulting in him bouncing from foster home to foster home. He reveals he started by skinning a dead cat, then learned that killing them was even better. His thoughts told him to retrace his roots—to find the house where his father lived, and to skin women. Unfortunately he doesn't have the medical training his father had so made a mess of his killings. The psychiatrist has had about enough, but he tells her his name isn't Morgan. He's Thredson. The son of Bloody Face. Later, one of the psychiatrist's patients arrives at her office to find her dead. She turns around to find Bloody Face still there. 

Back in 1964, Lana is brought to see Eunice, who announces that she appears to have conquered her sexual perversion but unfortunately she's pregnant. Eunice wonders if Lana was really raped, given she hasn't mentioned Thredson since she arrived, but informs her she will have the baby. She's not their first unwed mother, so their staff will have no problem finding a home for the child. Dealing with that shock, Lana realizes she won't get anywhere by defying her, and opts to faint instead.

Jude wakes up to Father Timothy standing over her. She's strapped in to the bed with a head brace, and he explains she's come unhinged and killed a man. He feels guilty for placing too much pressure on her running the asylum. She's being blamed for Frank's death.

Leigh (!), very much alive (though with bandaged throat), gives testimony to Jude's attack against him and Frank, even taking him hostage, with additional statements from Eunice, Timothy, Arden, as well as the Mother Superior. All of Jude's accusations about the Nazis and the Devil come out, including her alcoholism. Leigh does his best performance to admit to his culpability and regret for all his 18 murders. He promises to try to forgive Jude for stabbing him and carry on his own road to redemption. Father Timothy takes particular notice of his insight.

Timothy informs Jude she's been committed for life to Briarcliff and has been stripped of her vows. Jude screams after him as he leaves her. In her office he looks through the box of her things, finding the red satin slip. Eunice walks in on him. She's been busy packing up Jude's belongings and comments on her shocking choice of apparel, wondering who Jude might have been pining for. Eunice admits Jude told her that Timothy wants to be Pope, but agrees with the idea he belongs in Rome. She's there to serve him, too.

Jude finds no sympathy among the nuns formerly under her heal. Timothy stops them from tormenting her and brings in a visitor—Leigh. Timothy thinks she'll find his visit more medicinal than any pill. Flashing back to 1963 Jude had Leigh similarly strapped down in bed for days to reflect on his behaviour. She refused to forgive him them. Now Leigh kisses her forehead and forgives her. Timothy hopes they'll both begin a journey together.

Lana is locked back in her room after having secretly taken a coat hanger while working in the bakery. She later goes to see Kit telling him they have to kill Thredson before he's discovered and freed. Kit needs him to confess, and she thinks she might know a way. Lana goes to the room where Oliver remains bound and gagged, bringing him some water. She shows him the medical report about her pregnancy. 

He's elated at the notion of being a father, but Lana tells him she's getting rid of the monster he planted inside her, and shows him the coat hanger. Thredson his horrified. He can't bear that his child might die or be raised in foster care. Kit will take the fall for his crimes and he promises to change so he can raise the baby. He begs her to help him. 

She asks why he chose Donna as his victim. Thredson explains he saw her at the library and liked her skin. The other victim, Allison, was a secretary in his dentist's office and he always fancied her. And Wendy? He killed her because she gave her love to Lana.

Thredson sees that Kit has been recording the confession. He accuses Lana of lying about the baby, but she taunts him that she already aborted it with the coat hanger the night before. She adds she'll pocket a knife at bakery duty and kill him later.

Arden investigates the tunnels where Grace was taken, trying to find some evidence of what happened. He spies strange footprints in the dirt. Meanwhile, Kit hurries back to the infirmary and hides the tape recording beneath the bathtub, but Arden finds him. He wants to talk about his abduction story. He gives Kit a drink, but his friendliness confuses Kit. Arden admits to have seen what he saw, and shows him an imprint of the alien foot. 

Arden confesses they took Grace and asks if Kit had sex with Alma before she was taken. And he knows he had relations with Grace prior, as well. Arden suggests the aliens are dabbling in eugenics, and he wants Kit to help him to bring them back. If Kit's life were threatened, the aliens would return to save their specimen. He hopes Kit will cooperate, but he's not asking for his permission. Surprisingly Kit agrees on the off chance he could see Alma again. He and Arden drink to their experiment.

In the chapel, Timothy visits a praying Leigh. He's grateful for the opportunity to rehabilitate himself. Timothy thinks Leigh could be his miracle if he should be turned towards Christ. And as he ascends to the heights of the Church he would carry forward his dream of rehabilitation for others. He baptizes Leigh, but when he surfaces Leigh in turn plunges Father Timothy's head into the water.

Lana finishes her shift at the bakery and steals a knife, but is discovered by an orderly who takes it from her. Lana is escorted back to her room to lie down, but still has her coat hanger which she fashions into a weapon. She goes to Thredson's prison but finds him gone. Terrified, Lana searches the corridors, but runs into Eunice. She accuses her of letting him out. Eunice takes the coat hanger from her, but Lana tells her it's already done. Eunice can sense the abortion was unsuccessful, and reveals it's a boy.

Back in the common room, Lana attempts to figure out what to do, but she's shocked to see a dishevelled Jude wander in, much to the stares of nuns and inmates. A contrite Jude sits with her, telling Lana they didn't do any more to her than she did to Lana herself, and asks for a cigarette. Jude apologizes for all that she's done to her. She was immoral and criminal and promises to make it up to her by getting her out of there. Lana doesn't trust anyone, much less Jude. She promises to earn her trust and goes to the record player and stops the song, breaking the record to the cheers of the patients. 

Arden injects potassium chloride into Kit's heart to stop it beating. When he needs to revive him, Arden will inject atropine and adrenaline. Kit's heart stops. The lights in the lab begin to flicker. Arden rushes to the source of the flashes in the locked chamber where he kept his beasts, only to find Pepper sitting with Grace. "The baby is full term, and I'll look after her," she says, revealing a very pregnant Grace. Arden asks who brought her there. Meanwhile, in the lab, Kit remains on the table under the flashing lights.

A janitor walks into the chapel to find Timothy crucified like Christ above the altar. As he runs out the Angel of Death appears. Timothy asks her to help him. "I'm here," she says.

The Verdict:
I'm retracting all my criticism of stunt casting from my last review. I was really impressed (and surprised) that Ian McShane didn't die after last episode's throat stabbing. His return really rocked the boat (though his scene with Timothy in the chapel was confusing—I wasn't sure if it was all Timothy's daydream until the end). The icing on the cake was the return of Frances Conroy as the Angel of Death.

The Coat Hanger was free of all the whacky stuff and focused on moving events and characters forward in a more restrained but equally gripping manner in line with the Anne Frank two-parter. Instead of a series of crazy events we got a set of very effective and impactful scenes—crucified Timothy, Arden and Kit toasting, Grace and Pepper, Jude smashing the record, Lana and the coat hanger, Leigh kissing many good scenes.

Timothy finally got some needed focus. He's truly a victim of his ambition, blindly seeing how Leigh's redemption could elevate his position, while equally intrigued by Jude. But he's extremely naive, and easily manipulated by Leigh into a final, chilling scene (with a little bit of Silence of the Lambs thrown in).

It's great to have Dylan McDermot back, coming on the heals of Frances Conroy's appearance, too. And a nice reversal of roles from his character of last season. I didn't find the reveal about modern-day Bloody Face a surprise at all. How this part of the plot will resolve is still up in the air for me. Unless we encounter an old Oliver or Lana by the end of the series to bring it all together.

The dynamics are in a very exciting place right now. I want to see Jude and Lana team up to get out of Briarcliff. I want to see Kit reunited with Alma (or in lieu of that, Grace). How will it all end? I'm thinking Jude can't survive—the cost of her redemption in perhaps saving Lana. She's certainly being painted as a Christ figure, especially with her crown of thorns while strapped into her bed this episode.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Review: Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome

Non Spoiler Review:
Ten years into the war with the Cylons, eager graduate Ensign William Adama is assigned to the Battlestar Galactica, and his first mission—as raptor pilot ferrying a mysterious civilian. It's quickly apparent that their mundane assignment is more than it seems, and Adama finds himself involved in a mission critical to winning the war.

Blood and Chrome has had an extremely difficult time getting to air. First promoted as webisodes acting as a back door pilot for a series on SyFy, then implied it would go straight to air, and back again to YouTube, it now looks like this is as good as it's going to get for the Battlestar Galactica franchise. SyFy doesn't know what to do with it, and all indications are it will not be going further than airing on the network early in 2013 as a movie. But one can hope.

The pilot is written and produced by David Eick (also executive producer) and David Weddle, among others, so its Galactica lineage is pretty much intact. William Adama this time around is played by Luke Pasqualino. Rounding out the Galactica crew is Ben Cotton as Coker, with Lili Bordán as Graystone Industries' Dr. Becca Kelly.

Pasqualino does a good job pulling off a cocky young Adama that grows better as the series progresses. He's not the first—we got a glimpse of a slightly older version at the close of the war in Razor. While he certainly doesn't act like the admiral we're used to, there's nothing in this character that contrasts wildly with his future version. He comes across with similarities to Starbuck at this point (though with a respect for command).

The story gets into the fray pretty quickly, so it doesn't lack for action. And early on there's a stunning space battle with the Cylons to rival anything on Battlestar Galactica. The opening montage bringing the viewer up to date with the Cylon rebellion was effective, and calls back to Caprica's conclusion quite well. What we get is a war-weary crew in which an eager-to-fight Adama is introduced, forced to come to terms with the reality of wartime versus his idealized fantasy.

Blood and Chrome is a nostalgic return to the Battlestar Galactica we're used to, from the viper dog fights (complete with Bear McCreary drum beats) to the interiors of the ship. Aside from the sometimes distracting use of lens flares to help cover up the effects, it's all very familiar and a great start to what I hope will be a successful addition to the Galactica franchise. The movie succeeds in reintroducing a cast of characters in an era ripe for exploration. Hopefully further missions are on the way.

Spoilers Now!
In a letter home to his father, Ensign William Adama justifies his decision to join the fight against the Cylons. While in combat training, he takes some unorthodox measures in taking out his Cylon raiders. It's all a holoband simulation, which he passes easily. 

En route to his first assignment he flirts with new crew mate Jenna, but it's the sight of the Battlestar Galactica that really gets his attention. On the flight deck he sees war hero Deke Tornvald. As he reports for duty, his eagerness to get into the Cylon War (now in its tenth year) is off putting to some of his comrades. Instead he's assigned to pilot a raptor mission rather than fly a viper.

Disappointed, he meets his co-pilot, Coker, who is less than impressed with him. Coker is busy cleaning out the blood of his previous pilot and thinks Adama is wet behind the ears, calling him Husker (even though Adama is from Caprica City and not a farmer). Coker, with 47 days left in his tour, also appears to enjoy a drink or two on the job.

In the CIC the two of them are briefed by Commander Nash. Nash notes Adama has some interesting Tauron family connections—the Ha'la'tha mob. Though his grades weren't stellar he's a natural pilot. To cool off his cockiness he's assigning him a raptor milk run—they're to take cargo to Scorpion shipyards and return with spare parts—a four-day round trip, given he can't spare a jump ready ship.

Adama and Coker clean up in the showers prior to their mission. Adama wonders what Coker is planning on doing when his tour is done, as he can't see anyone not wanting to fight for their survival. Seeing Tornvald, Adama goes over to meet him and speak of his admiration for the pilot, but the tired war veteran, echoing the same weariness as Coker, says it's all meaningless. Another attractive woman also catches Adama's eye.

Afterwards, Coker wonders why Adama's father didn't use his mob influence to keep his son out of the war. Adama's not about to use his family's influence. At least he had a choice, Coker says. They get a pittance of ordinances due to low supplies, but then they find that their cargo is the same woman Adama met, software engineer Becca Kelly.

When they're in space and out of range of Galactica, Becca gives Coker a new set of orders directly from the admiralty—a rendezvous with the Battlestar Archeron two days in the opposite direction near Cylon controlled space, as well as wireless silence and strict adherence to her orders. Adama seems pleased at the change in plans.

Later on, Adama is reviewing Cylon battle footage, but his holoband malfunctions, and he's surprised when Becca says she can likely fix it. She reveals she was an employee of Graystone Industries (the makers of holoband technology). She worked on Cylons, she clarifies, designing the upgrade on their brain technology. Adama seems shocked at that, and points out she helped improve the machines that are killing them. Kelly is already very aware of that fact and she sits in silence as he goes to the cockpit.

When they approach the rendezvous coordinates they find multiple DRADIS contacts—the Archeron has been destroyed. As they fly through the debris field to investigate, Kelly is disheartened to see the destruction, but they're quickly alerted to three enemy contacts, and one raider bears down on them.

As all three raiders close in, Adama kills one, but runs out of missiles, so he takes drastic action to outmaneuver them, leading them through the debris of the landing bay, and then deciding to fly through the Archeron's jump drive, which is still active. As the raptor slips through the small opening, the remaining raiders are destroyed inside.

Coker begrudgingly compliments him for his flying skills. Becca instructs them to send out a hail on a particular frequency and it's immediately answered with new coordinates within Cylon space. Coker balks at that, but she reminds him they answer to her on this mission, and Adama agrees. Coker doesn't need to be court-martialed with just two months of service left.

As the raptor approaches their destination, Adama wakes up Becca, who talks in her sleep and calls him Ezra. She explains it's Ezra Barzam, a famous colonial marine Adama's heard of who killed a platoon of Cylons. He was an inspiring man—and her husband.

They arrive at a dense asteroid field and Coker picks up colonial transponders, and two vipers emerge demanding a password with weapons locked. At the last second Becca supplies it, and they're escorted into the system which hides a fleet of colonial cruisers, including the Battlestar Valkyrie, reported lost. In fact, all of the vessels present have been thought destroyed.

Docking with the cruiser Osiris, Becca reports to its commander Ozar. She's preparing to get Becca further on to her mission objective. Adama wants to go, but she quickly tells him he's too green and can sit this one out, despite dispatching with three bandits earlier. Becca pipes up that Adama and Coker have taken her this far and she'd like them along.

The mission is to the former resort ice moon of Djerba, which was taken over as a staging ground for the Cylons early in the war, and is so deep in their space it's now relatively unguarded. Colonial marines have already been inserted, and the mission is to get Becca to her operators and let them take her the rest of the way to her objective. Ozar stresses this mission is vital to the success of the war and wants volunteers only. Coker realizes that means a one-way trip.

While prepping, Coker encounters a friend reported dead—viper pilot Jim Kirby. He brings him up to speed on his wife, who apparently had his son while he was gone.

The Osiris makes the combat jump to Djerba and prepares to launch the raptor and its fighter escort. However a Cylon basestar jumps in, and while it hasn't seen the Osiris yet, Ozar realizes they'll pick them up soon enough. Rather than abort she advises the crew they're about to engage the Cylons and orders the vipers and raptor launched. The basestar is alerted to their position while the Osiris brings its guns and nukes to bear on them.

The raptor and its two viper escort make an intense drop into Djerba's atmosphere while in pursuit by raiders. The Osiris takes a beating from the basestar and is too damaged to fire off its nukes. Ozar decides on a suicide run and detonates them manually, setting them off while the ship crashes onto the surface of the basestar. Both ships are destroyed

Coker picks up the nuclear explosion and loses DRADIS contacts with both the colonials and the Cylons. Adama does some fancy piloting while Coker and the two vipers manage to destroy some of their bandits. Both vipers, including Kirby's, go down, but Adama jettisons and ignites the raptor fuel to take out their last pursuer.

That leads to a crash landing which puts their raptor out of commission. Coker decides he's had enough and wants to repair the ship and leave. Becca insists they complete their rendezvous with the marines, and Adama agrees, telling him to stop his bitching and behave like a soldier. Besides, the marine extraction team remains their only way off planet.

The three make their way to the transponder signal in an ice cave, only to find dead bodies that haven't been killed by gunfire. Coker and Becca fall into a hole, leading Adama to jump down after. But they realize they're not alone. Something is alive in the walls and bites Coker. A serpent emerges and the three try to fight it off, but with little success until someone else arrives and kills it.

Their savior is Xander Toth, one of the marine sergeants (and the lone survivor). He explains their group had camped out in the cave while he went out on patrol, only to return to find them all dead from the serpents. The Cylons have been experimenting with new lifeforms, combining mechanical and organic parts.

It's evident Toth isn't mentally stable, and he won't say how long he's been surviving on his own, but he's clear that a storm is coming and Becca will have to wait until morning to get to her mission objective, despite her protests. He's also noted a Cylon patrol in his travels. At the first sign of Coker's defiance he forces him unconscious and threatens to kill him when they protest. Clear that they're at his mercy for the moment, they agree to his plan to take refuge in a safe place he knows of. The four of them make their way to a ridge which reveals an abandoned ski resort below.

Toth explains the Cylons took it in the initial attack and used it as a supply depot for spare parts. The crew retires for some rest, with Toth standing guard. Adama stays in the same room as Becca, who notes he reminds him of her husband, then goes on to reveal that the military built him into a larger than life war hero for recruitment purposes. He never died taking out a Cylon platoon, but in a friendly fire incident, and they ensured he lived on in V-world to encourage enlistment.

Adama makes his moves on her, but she tells him he'll regret it. Afterwards Adama is woken up to Coker's piano playing in the main foyer, and they enjoy a drink together. Coker can tell Adama hooked up with Becca and thinks it's all dubious, but that topic is interrupted by one of Toth's tripwires going off in the distance. Cylons approach.

Toth gets killed, while Adama and Coker split up to deal with two Cylon soldiers, one of whom corners Becca in the cooler (which itself appears to store dismembered body parts). It scans her dog tags and pauses, allowing Coker time to come in and shoot it. The Cylon gives off a wounded scream as they finish it off. Becca explains that it can feel pain.

Coker decides he's had enough of the mission and demands that Becca tell them where they're going, pulling a gun on both. She confesses it's to a Cylon transmission array. Their surprise attack is one of the last offensives that the colonial fleet can muster against a superior enemy. She's carrying a virus in the dog tag around her neck that she'll upload to the Cylon network. It's designed to lie dormant until they trigger it to shut down their defenses.

Coker appears content to have the details of the missions at last. They make their way to the automated array which is supposedly unguarded if they don't trip the internal defence systems. They meet no resistance, and Becca begins to upload her virus. Coker watches, then notices a schematic of a battlestar appear onscreen. He abruptly shoots her in the shoulder, to Adama's horror. Coker tells him she's a traitor giving up military secrets.

Adama refuses to believe it, but Coker saw the Cylon scan her dog tag and let her live. They realize the location of the ghost fleet is being uploaded and that's why the Cylons destroyed the Archeron, so she would be taken to where they were. Becca shoots Coker and trains her gun on Adama, explaining they can't win the war and must negotiate. She believes the Cylons value life more than they do and are just defending themselves. Adama tries to reason with her but she shoots him in the shoulder as he approaches.

Becca is about to finish him off but finds she's out of bullets. Wounded but mobile, he takes the gun and proceeds to smash the control panels to stop the upload. He then takes the seriously wounded Coker and leaves Becca behind. Once free of the array they rest in the snow, and while Adama activates the transponder for their rescue it's looking like Coker won't make it. He asks him to take care of a photo of his wife. Come nightfall a raptor appears for them.

Back at the array, Becca hears "Are you alive", and turns to face a somewhat humanoid-looking Cylon (with a familiar female voice). It informs her that though she might be more enlightened than others of her species, they don't hate her any less, and breaks her neck.

On Galactica, Commander Nash visits a recuperating Adama, asking him to sign off on his report. Adama realizes it says their mission was a complete success, but knows it's a lie. He realizes Nash new the truth all along, and the admiralty wanted her to upload the data. Nash reveals when the Cylons attacked the ghost fleet it was long gone, and they inflicted major damage on the Cylons in five sectors. Adama doesn't see the big picture, wondering about the sacrifice of the Osiris and the Archeron. Nash explains the public won't support the war if they don't give them hope. They can have their heroes while he and Adama fight the real war.

Adama signs off on it, and Nash informs him he has a shiny new viper waiting for him for a special ops task force. All it needs is a call sign. Coker arrives, a little worse for the wear, but has survived. While he doesn't know what his long term plans are, he says he'll stick around for the remaining weeks of his tour.

Adama writes home to his father, admitting the nature of the war is different than he expected. He finds himself welcome among Deke and Jenna and he muses that when the war is over he'll remember the men and women who fought with him most. With his viper christened as Husker, he launches out into space with the rest of the squadron.

The Verdict:
Blood and Chrome managed to live up to the long wait to see it brought to screen. It successfully delivered a first mission storyline with what could be a great supporting cast should we get more movies in the future. While Caprica explored themes of life after death and virtual reality, this series looks to delve into the morally ambiguous nature of war.

It was evident right away that the series has managed an effective bridge between the world we see in Battlestar Galactica and the more pristine, pre-fall days of Caprica. The majestic fly by of the Battlestar Galactica at the start, complete with original music (the Colonial Anthem) sealed the deal that the creative minds behind this had gotten it right.

A little bit of the Battlestar mythology got filled in, from an unexpected (sort of) Tricia Helfer cameo, to the Galactica in its prime. Character introductions were delivered well, which is always difficult in a pilot. Pasqualino comes off as a good choice as Adama, and the others are all pretty likable, including Coker and Jenna. Though Coker was starting to grate on me after awhile with his constant bitching about the mission. It just didn't ring true given the circumstances—abandoning the mission certainly doesn't honor the lost men and women on Osiris that he claims to respect.

For a moment I thought Caprica's Global Defense agent Jordan Durham had sought a career in the Colonial Fleet when war broke out, but here Brian Markinson is playing Silas Nash. Xander Toth is also played by John Pyper-Ferguson, who was Tomas Vergis on Caprica.

I realize many fans have a major hate for Caprica, but I loved the show and wished it had the chance to grow beyond its flaws. Here the references to the prequel series really rounded out the continuity and legacy of the franchise—the Ha'la'tha mob, Graystone Industries—all contribute to the detailed world building in the prequel series.

The movie did indulge in a bunch of typical military cliches. I admit it wasn't a big surprise that the Osiris would be making a suicide run. It's a wonder the colonials can endure this ten year war given what must be extraordinary losses in personnel and hardware (including the Archeron).

Toth  was also the standard crazy lone surviving soldier. And he served his purpose to get the group to their refuge and was quickly killed. Kirby came and went, too, and seems like a waste of screen time to introduce and eliminate so quickly (except to say that war is hell).

Adam behaved a bit ridiculously at times. While I can forgive his bedding Becca so easily, Adama's blind jump into the darkness of the cave was just pure stupidity. Instead of throwing down a rope to try to retrieve them, he opts to leap down into the unknown and risk (fatal) injury too, leaving them all stranded? While he might be a green recruit, his frustration with the truth about the mission seemed very naive. The colonials obviously won a great victory against the Cylons in manipulating Becca and sacrificing a few along the way.

As for Becca, she fulfilled the role of the sympathizer, though it wasn't entirely clear if her Cylon sympathies came from working on them at Graystone Industries, or for how the military treated her husband's death. On one hand it's not hard to think many colonials would want to negotiate for a peace given the damage they're suffering, but the relentlessness of the Cylons to eradicate them would seem to counter that attitude. It seems the admiralty must have been manipulating her for quite awhile in order to set up such a complex deception.

Aside from those questionable choices, the pace really made for enjoyable viewing. I was hooked within the first few minutes. The opening vistas of colonies under attack and old school battlestars, basestars, vipers and raiders were beautifully rendered (albeit with some reused stock footage from The Plan). There are plenty of effective action sequences, and insight into the various ships of the colonial fleet, like the Osiris, something we've not had the opportunity to see before.

The only other criticism I have is the lens flares, which are there to obscure all the green screen, though this was only in a few instances, and exteriors didn't seem to suffer from it as much. However, I'm impressed by how it all looks. The Galactica and Osiris interiors don't feel as CGI as I thought they might, and it's all quite an achievement. Here's hoping Blood and Chrome gets to see further missions.

Thoughts and Questions:
The Cylons love to tinker with mechanical/biological hybrids, this time coming up with a cybernetic python, and a precurser to the skinjobs. The dissected humans in the resort also don't bode well for what they might have going on behind the scenes. It's got me wondering if this ice planet might be the same one we saw in Razor?

Is Graystone Industries still around? Delivering a virtual apocalypse to the Twelve Colonies likely proved the death knell for the company considering the drop in shares Graystone suffered for his daughter being a terrorist. Is it a Graystone Industries development that the Cylons appear to feel pain, or did that come with their evolution? It was certainly not present in the early prototypes seen in Caprica. The proto-Six we see here was a nice little touch, and called back to the baby killing scene in the pilot miniseries.

The Cylon War has been raging for ten years. It looks like colonials are required to serve at least two tours of duty. Nash references Operation Clean Sweep—apparently a tactical failure that cost a lot of ships. Where is Cylon controlled space relative to the colonial systems? Where did the Cylons get their basestars?

The Tauron mob still wields significant influence if Joseph Adama could have spared his son a tour of duty in the fleet.

The holoband network still exists in some form, and is used in mission briefings, as well. But is it as expansive as it was in Caprica? Becca mentions her husband was brought back as a recruiting agent in V-world, but one would think the Cylons would have compromised that network pretty quickly (especially since we saw them present in Sister Clarice's V-world church at the end of Caprica).

The timeline is getting sketchy if one thinks too hard about it, but if it's taken for granted that the 40 years since the armistice reference is a bit of a rounded off number, then it could still conceivably work that Adama can have a couple of years in what will be a 12 year war (according to Razor). When looking at Adama's character throughout the franchise, it's interesting now to consider that his entire adolescence was spent during what must have been at times an intense war setting (if the vistas of Caprica being bombarded are any indication). That would frame his entire perspective, so it's no wonder that he had difficulty finding a footing in peacetime (as episodes of Battlestar Galactica alluded to).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "Unholy Night"

Non Spoiler Review:
It's an American Horror Story Christmas, complete with serial killer Santa courtesy of Ian McShane (Deadwood). As Eunice enjoys her new authority at Briarcliff, Arden reaches out to Jude, who feels she has a renewed mission from God. Lana finds another ally at the asylum.

A much more restrained and even hour coming off the erratic nature of last week. While entertaining, it felt like a lot of set up for future episodes, with the Christmas narrative (and Ian McShane as the killer-of-the-week) providing the glue. For some reason a great actor like McShane didn't blow me away as I'd hoped it would. Perhaps because he felt like stunt casting, much like Frances Conroy last week. 

Plots felt like they were in a relative holding pattern. However, it was still enjoyable and a suitably discomfiting Christmas story, with some convincing twists and ongoing developments for Lana, Jude and Kit. 

Spoilers Now!
Christmas, 1962, a girl comes downstairs to find serial killer Santa, Leigh, playing with a toy train in her living room. He gets her to take him to her mom and dad, so she wakes them up and he ties them up downstairs. He chose their house because of their garish Christmas decorations, he explains, and finally shoots them both.

Eunice has carols playing in the common room and announces Christmas is back. Though Jude tossed out all the ornaments due to an earlier infamous seasonal celebration at the asylum, Eunice has them improvise, which includes dentures and ribbons cut out of patients' hair. 

Frank is devastated that he shot Grace and prays over her body. He vows to make things right and wants to call the police about Kit, Sister Felicity and the monster. Arden doubts he wants to bring in the authorities given Frank shot an unarmed woman. 

Eunice sits down by the fire and Jude sneaks up behind her with a knife to her throat, revealing she now knows the Devil is at work through her. Eunice throws open her closet full of canes with her devil powers, but Arden interrupts them by coming to the door. Eunice instructs him to have Jude taken away. Jude warns him he can't see the Devil is in front of him. 

Arden cautions Eunice of their other problem, Frank. But she shouldn't discount Jude either. Eunice has it all under control and goes to see one of their patients—Leigh. 

Flashback to 1963, Jude is preparing the patients for a group photo for the newspaper. Leigh is complaining about his handcuffs, but she won't release someone who killed 18 people in one night. She intends to have him front and center shackled and under control to ensure the public knows what they're keeping from them. But as the photographer arrives Leigh bites off the face of one of the orderlies and provides a better photo.

Eunice is happy to provide a Santa Claus suit, despite what happened the previous year. She's later visited by Arden who has come with a gift of his own. Eunice opens it to find ruby earrings. They belonged to a Jew who was constantly complaining about her stomach problems, he recounts. He would later learn she had swallowed the earrings every day so she would never lose them. She died from internal bleeding as a result, and Arden retrieved them, thinking he would meet someone who was worthy of their beauty. Eunice is ecstatic. Arden isn't impressed—he was hoping she would throw them in his face in horror. But there's no glimmer of the innocent girl he knew. Eunice reminds him he's either with her or against her. And God can't help him if he's against her.

At the convent Jude's Mother Superior doesn't know how to help her get back into Briarcliff. But Jude feels she's been reborn as a soldier in God's army and won't let the Devil have Eunice. Mother Superior vows to do what she can. 

Jude then gets a visit from Arden. He suggests they got off on the wrong foot from the beginning. Though their ideologies differ, he believes they're both committed to Briarcliff. He admits she's right about Eunice, and he has no medical explanation for it. He confesses he doesn't believe in God but he does believe in evil. He's seen it up close. Her purity had meant so much to him, but her light's gone out. He begs Jude to help him. She agrees to do it for Eunice as long as he follows her every instruction.

Kit wakes up to Lana's voice, who has found him sharing the hospital ward. She's been in there herself throwing up. She realizes no one knows he's there either. Lana takes out his IV of drugs and tells him Thredson is the murderer and they have to stop him before he does it again. She promises to come back.

Arden lets Jude in through the bakery while Eunice hosts the Christmas party. Jude asks him to bring her to her office and lock the door. 

Father Timothy presents a star for the Christmas tree. He's pleased Eunice has renewed Christmas at Briarcliff and is impressed how she's stepped out from under Jude's shadow. Even Leigh seems to have found his soul, he notices, as he's wearing his Santa Claus outfit.  Frank climbs the ladder to place the star on the tree. That's when Leigh tips it and slashes him with the star. Frank starts beating him up and Eunice directs him to take Leigh back to solitary. Arden advises her a matter requires her in her office.

Frank locks up Leigh and runs right into Eunice, who slits his throat. Leigh watches from the door and delights when she gives him the razor to go on a rampage.

Lana gets to a phone but finds Thredson behind her. Her capture was in all the papers so he came for her. He was forced to kill off Bloody Face because of her, cleaning up all evidence of his existence. But since she betrayed him he plans to kill her, and her skin will be the start of a new Bloody Face. As he drags her to the door Kit comes in and knocks him out. Lana wants to kill him, but Kit reminds her he's all that stands between him and the electric chair. Lana wonders why Briarcliff never turned Kit in yet. She sends him back to the infirmary before they realize he's gone, but they've secured the room with Thredson in it, vowing to bury him.

Leigh shows up in Jude's office instead of Eunice, who locks the door behind him. Arden trusts his loyalty is no longer in question. As they listen from outside, Arden excuses himself to dispose of Grace's body, which he takes through the tunnels in a cart. But he's abruptly ambushed by flickering lights and aliens, only to wake up and find Grace is gone. 

Jude tries to flee but Leigh taunts her with all the things he'll do to her, reminding her of the torture she inflicted on him. Leigh throws her into the closet and finds all the canes that she beat him with. He thinks it's a sign for retribution, so takes one to whip Jude. But Jude manages to get her letter opener and stabs him in the throat. 

The Verdict:
These two last episodes felt like a double-header of stunt casting over genuine plot development. However, if Frances Conroy makes a return appearance to impact the narrative I'll change my mind. McShane was quite disturbing and a successful Santa killer, but felt a little like a train on an inevitable collision by the end of the episode. So it came as no surprise that he didn't last beyond Unholy Night. I don't even want to think what happened to the little girl that was noticeably absent when Leigh had the parents tied up in the living room.

It was a great episode for one-liners and zingers, including Arden's disturbing story of the ruby earrings. I admit he had me fooled with his apparent turnaround. But what exactly does he believe is going on with Eunice? He's been witness to some extraordinary abilities which is beyond what he can dismiss with science. So perhaps his natural inquisitiveness is wondering how he might exploit the Devil's power. Will Grace be back from the dead?

One of the established conceits is that everyone seems to be able to come and go at Briarcliff without much notice, including Jude and Thredson. It's looking like the tables may be turning and he'll end up as Lana's secret prisoner, which is a twist I like. It's refreshing to see her and Kit finally on the same page. Her stay in the infirmary lends more credence to my theory that she's suffering morning sickness, and pregnant with Oliver's baby, one that will grow up to be the future Bloody Face.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead "Made to Suffer"

Non Spoiler Review:
The mid-season finale is upon us, as Rick's group makes a daring rescue attempt and escape from Woodbury. Michonne has her own plans which opens up a whole can of worms for everyone. Daryl learns his brother is alive, Andrea is faced with conflicting loyalties, and the prison gets some additional visitors.

Made to Suffer lived up to the hectic pace established over the course of this season, covering a lot of ground by the first half. But the conclusion was suitably intense, and ended on a gripping cliffhanger with a sufficient number of revelations, as well as some welcome additions to the cast.

There's really no way the series could have topped Lori's surprise death without playing a bunch of cards, but it doesn't need to prove itself at this point. I have complete confidence in the second act of season three, not only with what will happen with the Governor, but with some long-awaited character arrivals.

Spoilers Now!
A walker is drawn to the sounds of screams in the woods, but a man emerges from behind a tree and kills it, running into Sasha, another of his group. He's caught sight of a tower beyond the trees and directs the rest of his party to follow. They're in the midst of fending off a growing herd of zombies, but one is bitten as they make their escape.

They emerge from the trees to find the prison, and enter via the broken wall. Sasha won't let the injured woman come with them because she'll eventually turn, but he won't leave anyone behind and they all walk in together. 

In Woodbury, Andrea has promised Milton to help cremate the body of his experiment. The Governor is pleased the town is starting to grow on her. After she leaves, he goes to see his daughter who is chained up in the closet with a cowl over her face. He sings to her but gets frustrated when all she wants is the bowl of raw meat. He locks her back inside. 

Rick and his crew lay in wait outside of Woodbury's gates, but Michonne shows them a route inside and takes them to the hospital where she was first questioned. There's a knock on the door and a man enters, declaring he saw movement from inside and no one is supposed to be in there. Rick takes him down and demands to know where his people are. Daryl gags and knocks him out when he doesn't know who they're talking about.

The Governor wants to remove the threat of the group at the prison and let the biters move back in. He suggests to Merle that his brother could be their inside man to get them access. Merle wants assurances nothing happens to Daryl. As for Maggie and Glen, the Governor orders them taken to the screamer pits before Andrea happens upon them.

In the prison, Axel and Beth, Carl and Carol are seeing to the baby. Carol isn't keen on Axel flirting with Beth, so takes him aside to tell him to stay away from her. He apologizes for not being around women much, and thought Carol was a lesbian until she sets him straight. 

Glen gets the idea to rip off the dead walker's arm that is sharing their captivity and proceeds to break off a sharp piece of bone that he gives to Maggie for a weapon. When Merle comes for them, they make their move and kill the one guard. Rick hears the gunfire and they leave the hospital. Maggie has the weapon trained on Merle but reinforcements arrive and disarm her. 

Rick's group gets to the building and hear Merle as he prepares to lead out his prisoners. Rick tosses tear gas and in the mayhem grab Maggie and Glen. A gunfight ensues, alerting the Governor and Andrea. Another woman found the man in the hospital, who explains there are intruders in the town. The Governor wants everyone to remain calm while they see to the problem. 

Rick's group take refuge in another building while Michonne leaves them behind. Rick says she's on her own and Glen explains Merle did this and fills them in on what's going on. Daryl wants to see his brother, but Rick needs him with them. Daryl agrees.

The Governor is starting to panic and instructs Andrea to see to the residents and ensure they are all safe. She wants to help given her fighting experience, but he brushes her off. Merle is in charge of the search for the terrorists

Rick makes his break for it amid some tear gas and gunfire. Andrea emerges, ready to join the fight. She sees someone (Oscar) wearing a prison jumpsuit. The Governor runs off and tells her to get off the street.  Daryl lays down cover fire to give them a route to escape. As they make their break over the fence, Rick seems to think he sees Shane for a moment. Rick kills the man and realizes it's not him. However Oscar is shot, and Maggie shoots him in the head when she realizes he's dead. 

Carl, Hershel and Beth hear some yelling from the catacombs, so Carl informs them he'll go check it out. He comes upon the boiler room, and a walker, which he quickly takes care of. Inside he finds the new arrivals in a desperate battle with walkers. He orders them to hurry up and follow him. Their wounded member is slowing them down and Carl wants them to leave her. 

Carl brings them back to the cell block as the wounded girl, Donna, dies. Carl says he'll handle it, taking out his gun, but he's told they take care of their own. The leader, Tyreese, takes out a hammer and is about to bash in her skull. But Carl, joined by Beth and Hershel, locks them in the cell and informs them they'll be secure with food and water. Sasha is furious, but Tyreese calms her down, explaining they're in the safest place they've seen in weeks. He tells Carl they don't want trouble. Beth wants to help them, but Carl explains he did.

Michonne breaks into the Governor's residence and sits waiting. She hears movement behind a door and kicks it open, finding the Governor's fish tanks, among which are her two zombies she was forced to kill. There are sounds from the secured closet, so she opens it and lets out the girl. Michonne tells her it's okay and unchains her, then takes off her cowl. She realizes she's undead and is about to kill her when the Governor arrives, pleading with her not to hurt her. He holsters his weapon, offering up himself instead. Michonne impales the girl and then faces the rage of the Governor as he jumps on her. The two wrestle to the ground and knock over the tanks. She grabs some glass to stab him in the eye and is about to finish him off when a shocked Andrea stops her with her gun. 

The two have a standoff but Michonne finally lowers her sword and turns away, walking out. Andrea sees to the Governor. She then notices all the decapitated heads in the aquarium while he cradles his daughter. She joins him.

After the doctor sees to his eye, Andrea asks why Michonne was there and why they were fighting. He explains she came to kill him. And the fish tanks? He says he made himself look at them to prepare himself for the horrors outside. Milton and Merle arrive. The others escaped over the wall. Merle suggests he'll take a group to the prison in the morning.

Rick gets beyond Woodbury's gates and waits for Daryl. Michonne meets up with them, but Rick is in no mood to chat, given how she left them. He pulls his gun and takes her sword. She tells him they need her, either to get Daryl or to get them back to the prison. 

In the arena, the Governor has called the town together. He addresses them that he'd thought they were passed the days of fear but he's failed them. He won't tell them they're safe now, because he's afraid of terrorists who want what they have. And one of those terrorists is one of their own. He declares Merle led them here and let them in. 

The Governor brings out the captured terrorist and pulls off his cowl—Merle's brother. The two lay eyes on one another (as does Andrea). He asks what they should do with them. Andrea is horrified as everyone calls for blood. 

The Governor tells Merle he wanted his brother. Now he has him.

The Verdict:
I called it wrong with the Tyreese reveal, but I much prefer this graphic novel version, complete with his daughter (I assume). Here's hoping for another strong addition to the ensemble cast. But seriously, his cogent take on Carl's actions and his act of kindness against an infected member of his own party already positions him as one of my favs.

Shane's quick but welcome cameo was an added touch to show that Rick's mind is still in turmoil. But do we really need to worry about who's in control when we get some more amazing Carlness. I'm sure Lori would be proud of her little sociopath man. He handled the Tyreese situation very well—saving them but ensuring their group was safe from them for the time being. Could Rick be trusted to make such a rational decision at the moment? I just wish the series had kept the additional children for Carl to interact with because that was a huge part of the graphic novels. But who knows, maybe some more refugees are on their way next season.

Michonne's first confrontation with the Governor didn't disappoint. I hadn't expected he would get disfigured so quickly. But her actions have set in motion quite a dark chain of events for all concerned. Her behaviour with Rick remains curious as it seems she very much sees that group as a safe place, otherwise she would have abandoned them right away and not put up with Rick. Her character has been very nebulous so far, and I know this likely is intentional on the part of Kirkman, but at the moment (being completely objective) she appears more erratic than the Governor.

One tiny quibble—after all that broken glass and what must have been extremely zombie contaminated water all over the floor, neither the Governor (with glass in his eye), nor Michonne (with sliced open hand from shoving glass in his eye) gets infected?

Though we didn't get Andrea's reunion with the rest of the survivors, she at least has an inclination who these terrorists are. How long will she look beyond the Governor's eccentricities? Merle earned his comeuppance in lying to the Governor about Michonne's death (placing a lot of blame for the situation squarely on Merle), but was the Governor getting revenge, or did he truly believe he was in league with Daryl and the terrorists? A little bit of trivia—this is actually the first time Daryl and Merle have been together in the series (hallucinations don't count).

And...WTF!—did they need to red shirt Oscar in the very episode they introduce Tyreese? How ridiculous coming on the the loss of T-Dog. Come on Walking Dead writers, it's looking like you have a saturation point of black male leads that you dare not exceed (i.e. one). Oscar had a lot of potential. They could easily have kept an extra prisoner alive (just like the graphic novels) to sacrifice instead.

Aside from that blatant point, I feel like Walking Dead has reached a comfortable place. Rick is at the prison. Michonne is firmly established. Tyreese is introduced. The Governor is disfigured. After three seasons of waiting for many critical events, here we are at last. I am content.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "Dark Cousin"

Non Spoiler Review:
A new supernatural agent makes its influence known to the principles at Briarcliff, while Jude struggles with her purpose in life and reaches an epiphany. Lana's circumstances take an interesting turn, and Kit makes a radical choice to get to Grace.

Frances Conroy becomes another season one alumna to take a role in Asylum. I hope it's a recurring one, otherwise it comes off more as stunt casting if it's a one-shot.

Dark Cousin was a crazy ride, even for American Horror Story, but a little too crazy this time. So much so that plot and character suffered as a result. While it made for a fun and sometimes breathless episode, some major plot lines appear to have been cast aside in order to get characters back into their proper places at Briarcliff. As such, much of the great storytelling from the Anne Frank two-parter comes undone.

Spoilers Now!
Grace is feverish and bleeding in the infirmary, and the nurses talk among themselves that Arden likely did it to her. Grace has a vision of a woman in black coming towards her. This angel of death sprouts wings as she leans in to kiss her. Grace says she's ready, but one of the nurses does CPR and brings her back.

Eunice visits Arden to inform him Grace nearly died because of his botched sterilization. Arden angrily tells her he performed no such procedure, and demands she address him with respect, given he's now head of the institution. He gives Eunice a slap, who warns him he'll die if he touches her again. He does, and she throws him across the room.

In the kitchen, one of the patients, Miles, is hearing voices, and he cuts his wrists open on the meat slicer. Eunice is summoned to deal with the mess as he's taken to the infirmary, but she sees he's painted a word in blood on the wall. She recognizes it as ancient Aramaic. She demands to know if he summoned her. He doesn't know why he wrote it, so she sends him off to the infirmary and orders the wall scrubbed.

Miles gets a visit from the dark angel, who claims she's there to help, as that's what he wants. She kisses him and Miles dies. But Eunice appears, and the woman is startled that she can see her.

Eunice orders her to leave. The angel asks who she is that she can look upon her and recognizes something else resides in her—a fallen one. A cousin. The angel can detect the real Eunice begging for release, but the Devil quiets her. Both have work left to do and the angel warns they'll meet again.

Grace wakens to Arden standing over her. He's found an infection in her likely caused by a botched hysterectomy. He won't be the one to take the fall for her dying, so is determined to cure her to set the record straight.

Thredson has sex with Lana, who endures him in silence, but the angel appear to her, too. After he's gone, the angel is about to kiss her, but Lana has second thoughts. She's not ready yet.

Thredson appears to have an abrupt change of mind and says they need to talk. He believes they've reached an impasse and offers to cut her throat or strangle her. Then he opts to sedate her but she hits him with Wendy's photo and struggles to get the syringe out of his hand. She stabs him in the leg and begins to strangle him with her chains, takes his keys and frees herself. 

She escapes the house and runs off down the road, stopping a car and jumping in. She tells the man to drive. The man thinks she had a fight with her boyfriend and wonders what she did to deserve it. He refuses to stop the car and let her out, as he's angry about his own wife's infidelity and suggests she brought it on herself. He pulls out a gun. Lana sees the dark angel in the back seat, but she doesn't want death after all she's been through to escape. Then the driver shoots himself in the head and the car crashes. Lana wakes up with Eunice looking over her. The driver is dead, but Eunice assures her she's safe in Briarcliff again after her adventure.

Kit is trying to get his confession taken off the record, but his lawyer doesn't see much hope, and Grace's testimony won't mean anything. He's also informed she's sick and might not make it anyway. Kit opts for a radical solution and kills the man with his hole punch.

Back in Sam's hotel room, his dying breath reveals one of her nuns killed him. She tries to call the police but sees a vision of the angel coming for Sam in the mirror. 

Flashback to 1949, Jude is woken from a drunken night by a member of her band explaining she missed her gig. Unfortunately he's kicking her out of the group. He also gives her a card from a detective who wants to talk to her about a hit and run, wondering if she saw anything. Jude packs up and leaves in a hurry, but gets into another drunken car accident—this time at the foot of an angel statue. One of the nuns comes over asking if she's okay. 

Back in Sam's room, Jude's had a drink from the bottle by the bed and gets a phone call from Eunice who taunts that she's her conscience. She explains Sam was investigating Jude's hit and run case. Jude is horrified, but Eunice reminds her she was in her head (during the exorcism), and suggests Jude should start running now. Eunice left the bottle for her, as well as something else—a razor. 

Jude makes her way to a diner where she cleans up in the bathroom and contemplates slitting her wrists. She thinks better of it and goes out to find the dark angel sitting in her booth. Jude laughs and says she jumped the gun. The angel tells her she just comes when she's called. Jude wonders why now and not before—when her husband had left her on their wedding after he'd given her syphilis and learned she'd never have children. Or the night she ran over the little girl. God had revealed his plan for her, the angel replies, and she deserves some peace for her efforts to find meaning in life. Jude admits she's ready but needs to do one last thing.

Jude goes to visit the parents of Missy, the girl she killed. She's about to confess to Missy's death when a nurse arrives home. It's Missy (!). Jude is thoroughly confused, and admits she thought she died on the street when she was a girl. Jude explains her death was one of the reasons she took her vows and has recently been struggling with them. The mother explains Missy came home with a few broken bones, and while her husband wanted revenge, the monster who left her on the road had to live with himself all these years. 

Lana wants to speak to Jude, but Eunice informs her she's in charge. Lana spills that Thredson murdered Wendy and the other women. Eunice orders her back to bed and suggests she's confused. Kit is innocent and Oliver is Bloody Face, Lana goes on. Eunice professes to believe her, but explains no one knows she's there and tells her to take her medication. She's safe now. 

As she leaves Lana in her cell, Frank tells Eunice Kit escaped custody. In fact, he's returned to Briarcliff via the tunnels, pursued by Arden's creations. Grace is on the mend and has gone to the bakery to get out of her room, where Kit finds her. He plans on taking her away with him, but one of the expendable nuns finds them and starts crying for help. Arden's monster kills her and attacks them. Kit manages to kill it but Frank arrives and pulls his gun. Grace rushes between them and is shot. 

The angel appears. Grace says she's ready and dies. 

The Verdict:
It's easy to say I enjoyed Dark Cousin just for the usual shocks and twists, but I can't give this week a free pass. It really felt that Murphy ran off the rails trying to get Lana, Kit and Jude back to Briarcliff after the more subtle machinations of the last few episodes.

What was sacrificed was plausibility (which is saying a lot, I know, when we're dealing with aliens and demonic possession). How logical was it that Lana would be delivered right back to Briarcliff after the car crash? Was Demon Eunice behind it, and if so she doesn't show a great deal of omniscience about other matters, appearing somewhat surprised that Thredson was Bloody Face. I thought there would be more to Thredson's capture of Lana other than rape and an abrupt escape. Where does he go from here? Will Eunice reach out to him? 

It was all over the top fun, but nothing else. One shouldn't think too hard on how Kit managed to escape custody after killing his lawyer, and the ease with which everyone comes and goes at Briarcliff. Did Jude not check if Missy lived? After all the flashbacks to newspaper clippings, did she not actually READ them in all these years? 

Jude certainly appears on the path of redemption, and removing the big blot on her character (Missy's death) goes a long way of turning her into a potential heroine of this season. I did enjoy the daggers daddy Hank was shooting her, apparently realizing she was the hit and run driver.

Frances Conroy as the angel of death was a nice bit of casting given she's Ruth Fisher, but I don't know what purpose she's serving unless she appears again. And particularly odd was that Jude was fine having a chat with her knowing full well she was a heavenly being—the first time we've had any indication that Jude has come face to face with the supernatural (aside from aliens).

Will we ever get answers to what happened to Grace? Are medical procedures so willy-nilly at Briarcliff that no one can pin down who performed a hysterectomy on her? It all felt like weak writing trying to resolve plot threads at the expense of the great Anne Frank two-parter. Hopefully this is just a blip in the season. The series runs a fine line between camp and outright farce and it felt really close to the latter this time, leaving me wondering what it was all for if everyone finds themselves back at Briarcliff again.
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