Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: Alcatraz "Cal Sweeney"

Non Spoiler Review:
Cal Sweeney is a charming bank robber who's really quite dangerous. It appears he's been operating for awhile in the present by the time he gets on the Alcatraz team's radar. His flashbacks raise plenty of questions of what transpired in 1960, particularly around a dinner party the warden hosts for Tiller.

Cal Sweeney was heavy on the mythology, and those tidbits were (as usual) the most compelling elements. I didn't find the present-day crimes that interesting again, nor the usual explanation of what motivates the particular felon of the week. Though, to be fair, Sweeney's robberies (and his capture) appeared to get a more complex handling this time around. So the strength of the show remains in what's revealed in the 1960s stuff. But this was definitely one of the strongest episodes to date and the mystery (conspiracy?) has definitely become the show's strength.

Spoilers Now!
Cal Sweeney is a charismatic bank robber who is is also viciously violent when necessary. In prison he ran contraband into Alcatraz and took a young prisoner, Harlan, under his wing. Tiller tosses his cell and takes a small metal box that belongs to him and uses it to extort a share of his operation. Frustrated, Harlan gets him a gig working a birthday dinner at the warden's house for Tiller. 

In the present, Rebecca finally asks how Diego has two PhDs and runs a comic book shop. He explains he got them for his parents, and was subsequently blacklisted by his peers for a controversial crime paper that referenced Gotham City as a model. His relationship with his parents is complicated. They're then called in to a case dealing with safety deposit box robberies. Diego immediately knows it's Cal Sweeney. In the 50s stealing from boxes (and not the vault) was less serious given it wasn't a federal crime. Sweeney's method relies on seducing bank tellers and using them to get inside the safety deposit box room.

Sweeney later shows up at William Barry's house, one of the owners of the stolen boxes, and he claims to be from the bank attempting to get a list of what was stolen from his box. That includes his will and deed to his house, as well as an expensive blue sapphire necklace which is of interest to Sweeney. He wants to know where he met his wife and the whole story around its purchase.

Diego and Rebecca get to the house (the last one on their list), running into Barry's wife arriving home at the same time. Unfortunately Barry is dead. They return to the Alcatraz records room and look through Sweeney's archives, which are all mysteriously burned. Then they track down some of his bouquets to his tellers to a flower shop, where he's identified by the owner as a frequent customer. They locate the teller where he's sent the latest flower arrangement, determining that bank will be his next target.

He's already there. The bank is locked down as he's emerging, so he opts to take everyone inside hostage as the police arrive. Diego figures that old bank buildings like that one will share common air vents with nearby buildings, so Rebecca goes in unarmed and confronts Sweeney, telling him she's there to break him out.

Rebecca manages to gain his trust that it serves her purposes to get him out, so manages to escape with him (unbelievably easily, as usual) during a crowd of hostages that emerge from the bank, with Sweeney concealed. She takes off with him in a police car as Diego gets Hauser to follow.

Sweeney isn't going to let her drop him off, but takes her hostage instead. She wants to know what he took from the bank, but he has no idea. He isn't supposed to open the box and gets annoyed that she keeps asking. She runs the car into another parked vehicle given they didn't have seat belt laws in the 50s and Sweeney's knocked out and captured.

Back to the flashback. At Tiller's birthday party, the warden's sister attends, who seems to be quite a hoot. Also, Dr. Beauregard is there, as well as Lucy. Her clinical psychology ideas don't go over well with the more practical men. She has theories on removing troublesome memories in order to correct behaviour.

The warden gives Tiller a pen, then Tiller gets coffee spilled on him so Sweeney can confront him in the bathroom about getting the box back. Tiller wants fifty percent of his operation, but he's also given the box away already. Sweeney gets rough so Tiller stabs him in the leg with the pen. He tells him to stay there until the party's over and someone will take him back to his cell to stay in the hole for thirty days.

Back at Alcatraz, Harlan reveals his true colours—he knows that Sweeney lost his family when he was 10, and the only thing that didn't burn was a tin box, which he returns to him, and taunts him about not having a single memento of his past (so Sweeney's been stealing mementos from safety deposit boxes so he can get the thrill of other people's memories. Sigh). It was all a set up so he could take over Sweeney's operation. Sweeney crushes the box before he's taken away to the hole.

Rebecca explains to Diego that Sweeney only opened one box at the bank and took a key, which Rebecca now has. Hauser immediately comes in and demands it. She agrees as long as he explains what it's for. He says okay, then takes it and tells them nothing.

Hauser goes into another area of the control room and announces he has another one, in addition to the one they got from Sylvain. Molecular analysis of the keys might reveal some insight into how the prisoners jumped. The scientists scan them and find they've been laser cut, which wasn't around in the 60s. Hauser wants the island examined for signs of any chambers that they might open.

In the final flashback, the warden brings Harlan down into the bowls of Alcatraz to show him a particular room sealed by a heavy door, telling him his future just got brighter.

The Verdict:
The mythology gets a big kick in the pants this time, and even the felon of the week has a more mysterious (though still unbelievable) tale. It's quite a stretch to think these criminals all act out some singular trauma of their past that gives each their thing. It's all very comic book villain.

For some reason Lucy stuck out like a sore thumb at the dinner party. She doesn't look like she's from the 60s at all, plus her entire demeanor was out of place. Does that mean she's a time traveller back to that era? Similarly, Dr. Beauregard seems plucked from the 60s in his appearance in the present. That all leads me to believe he's been brought forward, and Lucy's been travelling to the past.

There were a lot of clues and questions raised—particularly Lucy's research on removing memories, something that appears to figure prominently in all the timelost felons (the compulsion to retrieve the keys without knowing what they are or why). Could she be brainwashing them and setting them on their particular missions? But that would seem to contradict her close friendship with Hauser (unless her goal was to guide them to the keys in the future to get them for Hauser). Confusing. Tiller's back with his hands in things, and it looks like new character Harlan will be another player with whatever lurks in the mysterious room the warden shows him.

In addition to all this Hauser drops a clue about Diego's past—he drove when he was 11, but not after. There are also hints about his problematic relationship with his parents. What if his infatuation with Alcatraz actually isn't a coincidence at all?

Diego continues to outshine his costars. Even the warden and Tiller, Harlan and the warden's sister were more interesting than the flat Hauser and Rebecca. That's not too much of a problem yet given I'm getting into the mystery. If the writers could just make the crimes and the felons more believable, because it's laughable how easily Diego makes an intuitive leap, discerns the identity of the prisoner and his modus operandi, then the quick manner in which he gets rounded up and carted off to neo-Alcatraz. It's obvious the prisoners are plot devices rather than fully fleshed characters, and that's really the big flaw in the story right now.

Review: Being Human (USA) "All Out of Blood"

Non Spoiler Review:
Things get messy for Aidan, Josh and Sally as events pick up nearly a month later coming up on a second full moon. Nora begins to rebel at the notion that she's a dangerous animal that needs to be caged, Sally finds a potential exit in the form of a nurse who can see dead people, and Aidan has struck up a relationship with Julia while learning that his bagged blood supply has suddenly been cut off.

There were a lot of interesting character and relationship dramas going on, but the writing wasn't up to snuff. Sally was back to being a whining bitch, to put it mildly. Her continuous snarky comments to Josh and Aidan's particular dilemmas made for zero sympathy for her own situation. The new character, Zoe, was nothing but sarcasm, and the actress who played her wasn't up to the task of making her remotely likable.

It definitely didn't work. Little plot advanced otherwise, and it was all overshadowed by this atmosphere of bitterness that made a lot of scenes unpleasant to watch. By the end I thought all three should just move out on their own.

Spoilers Now!
A month later Josh brings Nina to two storage lockers he's rented where they can both change and be locked up tight (with Sally's help). She's not enthused about being caged, but for Josh, it's also about research as he brought a video camera to record the transformation and perhaps learn more about their condition.

Aidan's sleeping with Julia. She apparently did get the job at the hospital. Between her and his duties for Suren he hasn't been home very much, so at the hospital Sally and Josh ask him what's going on with his life. Unfortunately for Aidan, hospital security has suddenly been beefed up because they suspect someone's been stealing blood from the blood bank. Which he has, of course. So Aidan has his supply cut off.

Sally wanders by the nursery and finds an odd sight—ghosts lined up to wait to see a particular nurse, Zoe, who is letting them see the newborns. She learns that she's the reincarnation nurse (still human, but one who can see ghosts), who has a talent to match up ghosts with a particular kind of child, a sickly one who could use their energy to boost their own. It all sounds rather horrific for the child. But Zoe has the final say of who can reincarnate, and she tells Sally to get to the back of the line.

The household is getting crowded. Aidan's down to his last bag of blood and is having difficulty controlling his urges when having sex with Julia (who is staying over). Nina's beginning to experience her heightened sense of smell the night before the change. At breakfast when everyone is together Sally announces she's moving out given she's decided to be reincarnated. Everyone pretty much brushes it off as a silly idea (or maybe, like me, they just don't care about her anymore). Julia comes downstairs and Josh recognizes her as his Julia, his ex. Awkward. And what a coincidence.

Josh walks with her alone and apologize for leaving her the way he did. Julia is extremely bitter and doesn't want to hear his explanation given he just ran away from her. She leaves, so Josh confronts Aidan about his urges and how he doesn't approve at all of him seeing his ex. Aidan promises he'll end it.

Sally visits Zoe again at the hospital. She learns Zoe was a baby when a ghost came to her and tried to possess her. She scared him away and ever since she's been able to see them. They chat together and Sally explains she could be a good pairing for an infant. Zoe is extremely dismissive and suggests she wait on her door, but Sally replies she passed it up in order to save her friends. The nurse decides to come over to meet her roommates to see if Sally is a good soul. Zoe, however, thinks Josh and Aidan are just normal humans who can speak to the dead. The visit doesn't go well, as Zoe learns about Sally's murder and her own attempt to kill her fiance, finding Sally dishonest in general.

Sally returns to the nursery when Zoe isn't there, seeing if she can find a baby. But the dark shadow appears. She tells it to leave the baby alone and it seems to go. Angry Zoe shows up. Sally admits she was right and suggests the thing would have just followed her if she went into a baby. Zoe finds some sympathy in her cold heart and decides she'll listen to her problem and try to help figure something out.

Aidan breaks up with Julia and dismisses what they had as just sex. Craving blood, he goes to see a human who prostitutes herself out for vampires to feed on. When he finds himself unable to stop, her bodyguard pulls him off.

Nora abruptly refuses to get locked up in the storage locker. Josh tries to reason with her but finally has to say she's a killer and can't be allowed to run amok on the full moon. Then Julia meets Nora at the hospital. Despite Nora's assurances that Josh had a good reason for leaving, Julia warns her that it's only a matter of time before he leaves her too. This gets Nora's dander up, coupled with her own wolf instincts that are growing more intense every minute. Nora ends up stalking her, but comes to her senses and realizes how dangerous she is. She joins Josh at the locker where Sally locks them both up.

The Verdict:
After a promising start this season, Sally's plot seemed thrown away into a ridiculous I see dead people nurse managing a reincarnation game at the hospital. Despite the abilities Sally's been able to manifest, she is apparently unable to get passed a human nurse at the hospital.

And baby reincarnation? Why not call it for what it is—possession? We're told a ghost can bond with a week baby to make it stronger, and this is a good thing? It doesn't sound very nice for the victim—er, baby—who is now a composite soul.

The Julia revelation was an interesting twist. Quite coincidental, so one wonders if she was brought in specifically for Aidan by the powers that be. It's hard to believe it's all just happenstance. If it's purely coincidence, it does feel contrived as a ploy to create additional conflict between Josh and Aidan. This household doesn't need more drama right now. It needs to actually address last season's lingering issues which I don't believe have been talked about very much at all (especially given we're now two months passed them).

I left this episode wondering why these three are together anymore. At best, Aidan seems to be using Sally and Josh as his last tether to humanity. Josh is completely engaged trying to salvage his relationship, and Sally just wants to depart to the hereafter. After this, I would really love to see her go. Again, I fall back to comparing her to Annie, who actually contributes in the UK version and despite her flaws is someone to root for. Sally's bitterness (which I'm assuming is mostly due to how she's written, though the actress' delivery of some of those lines doesn't help either) has ruined the whole character for me.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Review: Spartacus: Vengeance "Fugitivus"

Non Spoiler Review:
Following the fall of House Batiatus, Spartacus, Crixus and their group of freed slaves have taken refuge in the sewers beneath Capua while reigning terror above. Capua is in fine tizzy, given Spartacus is the bringer of rain and slayer of Theokoles, the shadow of death, and all that. That prompts a response from Rome, with newly minted praetor Gaius Glaber dispatched to deal with the uprising. He brings with him a very reluctant Ilithyia.

Struggles abound within the ranks of the fugitives, as Crixus' Gauls and Spartacus' followers compete for power and differing agendas. Questions arise whether Spartacus will let his desire for vengeance overtake the greater safety of the group.

After such a long wait (made easier by the most excellent Gods of the Arena), Spartacus returns with a new direction and a new lead. Andy Whitfield's spirit is very present in this episode, but Liam McIntyre rises to the very difficult task of succeeding him, managing to deliver his version Spartacus, and one that is surely to develop over subsequent weeks. While the casting was a bit jarring at first, it was helped by the long stretch between seasons, and in fact, it was Liam's distinctive voice that was more noticeable than the appearance, given his tone and manner of speaking is so different from Whitfield's. But overall it did not prove a big distraction from the story at large. I have confidence he will only grow more at ease in the role.

The season appears more Rome-focused, and brings the introduction of powerful players vying to quash this troublesome rebellion for their own ends. The pace is frenetic, with a fantastic second half that is pure Spartacus—sex, blood, intrigue, action and great character moments. Coming off the heals of the well-crafted Gods of Arena, season two's premiere has left me with no doubt that the series is in safe hands and on course for an epic run.

Spoilers Now!
It's some weeks after the fall of the House of Batiatus, and young Capuan noble Seppius (in the hopes of gaining standing) has dispatched mercenaries to rid them of Spartacus and his rebels. That doesn't work out too well, as Spartacus kills all eight men and takes their stuff, but not before carving a message out for a certain someone.

That would be Gaius Claudius Glaber, the man responsible for bringing the Thracian to Rome in the first place. He's since been promoted to praetor, but the scandal in Capua is staining his reputation. His senator father-in-law, Albinius, orders him back to Capua to restore order and destroy the rebels, given it was his name left on the dead.

Furious that the whole matter is beneath his new station, he acts out his frustrations against his wife, Ilithyia (now pregnant), by ordering her to accompany him to Capua (and the scene of her own scandal—the murder of Licinia, the evidence of which he hopes to see buried). She is adamant she won't go, and insists all the witnesses are dead, but he'll hear none of it. He has little choice given Albinius' comrade in the Senate, praetor Varinius, supports Seppius, so if the latter catches Spartacus, that victory will be used to embarrass Glaber. He orders her to get ready to leave.

The freed gladiators and slaves have taken refuge in the sewers, including Varo's widow Aurelia, and Mira, Spartacus' confidante and lover. Mira suggests they move to the mountains for better prospects of food and safety, but it's clear Spartacus is driven by revenge against the Romans. German gladiator Agron remains a close ally of Spartacus and is driven by revenge for the death of his twin brother Duro during the massacre. He and others are hostile to the Gauls under the control of Crixus who see no use for filling their numbers with hungry and weak house slaves who don't know how to fight. But Spartacus and Crixus themselves are not at odds, and both are seemingly working together to kill Romans.

Crixus searches for information on his lost love Naevia, whom Lucretia sold prior to their escape. His search has produced a name, Trebius, a slave trader who frequents a brothel. Neither he nor Spartacus have seen Doctore since the ludus fell, and feel he has disappeared, absent a purpose.

Capua has worked itself up into a fine mess. Not only is the populace terrified by the rebels, but the gladiatorial games totally suck, given all the big lanistas are dead, and the good gladiators running amok.

The new magistrate (succeeding his murdered cousin Sextus) is not impressed given the crowd needs distraction. His daughter Seppia is a bit of a rebel herself, talking up her brother Seppius' failure to capture Spartacus and the loss of his men. He shows up to face his father's chiding, much to his sister's glee.

From the stands, Oenomaus watches the games, then departs, only to be set upon by a few men who recognize him and want the reward for their capture. He dispatches them all with relative ease.

Spartacus commiserates with Aurelia, who is longing for her absent son. Given the talk of moving east, he remembers her brother lives there, and that she might join her son. He produces coin he stole from the Romans to buy her and her son passage beyond the Republic (fulfilling his vow to Varo to see his family cared for). He sees her off, then he and Agron join Crixus on the attack on the brothel.

Needlesstosay, Crixus creates mayhem in the brothel, but Trebius is seriously wounded by his whore.  Agron is equally hostile, given he's the slave trader who sold him and his brother to Batiatus. Crixus does manage to coerce information out of him before he dies that Naevia has been sold to villas in the south.

Spartacus is skeptical that they can find Naevia among so many farms, plus they would be exposed in the open. Crixus finds his caution ironic given he's been leading them into constant battle with the Romans. Trebius gloated that soldiers from Rome were on their way, and Glaber is leading them.

Come morning, Glaber, his subordinate Marcus, and their men arrive in the city, heading to the abandoned House of Batiatus. Glaber is taking it over given it can conveniently house his men. Ilithyia is mortified to have to stay in that house, still full of the blood of those who died, but Glaber lays down the law that they remain until Spartacus falls. So she sets her servants to clean the place.

But the house isn't empty. She sees the mask that she wore when she unknowingly had sex with Spartacus. And then she sees a ghost and screams. Everyone comes running and look in amazement upon Lucretia, a little worse for wear and thinking everything is just as it was when her husband was alive.

Ilithyia wants her killed, but more sensible Marcus suggests to Glaber that Capua would see her survival as a symbol of Roman vigilance against the rebels. He sends Lucretia to be cleaned up, and Ilithyia to find out what secrets she knows. Lucretia bears the scar of her wound that nearly ended her life, but no answer as to how she survived, and her memory is sketchy enough to believe Licinia is alive. She takes particular notice that Ilithyia is pregnant.

The fugitives are in a panic about the arrival of the Romans. Spartacus tells them this was always fated to be, but Doctore arrives to interrupt his speech, warning that there are enough Romans to end them all. Glaber will address the town in the morning, and he suggests they use the distraction to flee. Spartacus wants him to stand with them, but Oenomaus tells him Doctore is nolonger his title. There is only one place for such an animal without honor, and departs.

Spartacus and Crixus disagree on their course of action. Crixus wants to flee south, given their house slaves and gladiators are not an army fit to face the Romans. Spartacus' desire for vengeance is driving him to stay and fight.

Mira and Spartacus lie together discussing the situation. Mira realizes he's always hoped they would send Glaber, and that's why he sent Aurelia away. She urges him to follow Crixus south and not lead them into a massacre. Finding Naevia and fleeing far from the Republic is the best course for them all.

In the morning, Mira tells Crixus that Spartacus' thoughts were towards caution, but he was gone by the time she was awake. He's already in Capua, concealed among the crowd as the magistrate attempts to calm the citizenry.

The people are quite skeptical of the assurances of the magistrate and Seppius. Glaber steps up to compete with Seppius for the crowd. He assures them Spartacus is but a man and Batiatus' wife stood against him and lives...and reveals Lucretia to a shocked and elated crowd that sees this as a sign of the gods. Seppia teases her brother that he's been eclipsed by Glaber.

Lucretia catches a glimpse of Spartacus (equally shocked to lay eyes on her) and starts to freak out, but Ilithyia manages to calm her down. Glaber isn't finished. He produces a beat up fugitive who was found attempting to flee Capua—Aurelia—and promises she will reveal where they are hiding before she's killed. Spartacus is horrified.

Glaber basks among the crowd's cheers. As Lucretia and Ilithyia walk off, she sees Spartacus a second time, and Ilithyia does too. Spartacus then launches after Glaber, prompting chaos and panic in the town square as he's set upon by the Roman soldiers. Crixus and his men abruptly appear to save him. Agron grabs Aurelia. Lucretia and Crixus both lay eyes on one another, and that prompts a flashback to him stabbing her. The rebels manage to run off after Crixus convinces Spartacus he can't win this.

Back at their hideout Mira is furious with him for being so reckless, and they need a leader, not an angry boy. He thanks Crixus for saving him, but Crixus punches him out for his foolishness, pointing out that killing the praetor would result in Rome sending a real army against them, something they will never be. 

They're interrupted by Agron, summoning them to Aurelia's deathbed. Her last breath is a curse against Spartacus, asking him to never seek out her son because he brings death in his wake. A harsh lesson, but one Spartacus takes to heart. They will go south, he agrees, in search of Naevia. They must stand as one or fall divided. They will free the slaves who cross their path along the way, and when their numbers grow to legion he vows they will face Glaber again.

The Verdict:
Andy Whitfield is sorrily missed and I kept picturing him in every scene. However, McIntyre does a fantastic job here, a commanding presence and radiating authority as one would expect from Spartacus. His acting skills are not in doubt, and I'm very confident he will make this role his own.

The new characters with more Roman political machinations looks promising. I'm especially pleased that Glaber has moved into the ludus, at least providing some continuity to the first season. It's odd enough to see all the gladiators walking about freely in civilian garb, so the familiar (albeit bloody) walls of the Batiatus household are a comforting tie.

I'm already liking Marcus and he appears to be a sensible character to counter Glaber's more megalomaniacal elements, and Seppia and Seppius look to be equally strong (and somewhat incestuous) foils for one another. It's been awhile since we've seen Ilithyia, but she certainly made up for the absence, and her scenes with Lucy Lawless promise a lot of fun this season.

Despite the long shot odds that Lucretia could possibly survive her wound(s), I'm really happy to have Lucy Lawless back and rocking it as the dazed and confused widow. She brought several great shocker moments when Ilithyia, Spartacus and Crixus all laid eyes on her. She's also one of the few keepers of secrets left alive, which has left me predicting that she will really figure in the future when Gannicus shows up—she knows transpired between Gannicus and Melitta in Gods of Arena. How soon before she uses that to drive a wedge between Oenomaus and Gannicus, given the opportunity?

My only critique this week is the relatively glazed over escape from Capua that Spartacus and Crixus make after their brazen attack at the market. One would think Glaber's men would not get lost in the scuffle and manage to eventually overtake them. Oh well.

The premiere concludes on a satisfying note—Spartacus realizing his own quest for vengeance cannot supersede the good of the group, though it took Aurelia's tragic death to hammer it home (very reminiscent of Diona's execution at the conclusion of Gods of the Arena). Hopefully Crixus comes to the same conclusion regarding Naevia. But heading south appears to be the best choice.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Review: Being Human (USA) "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?"

Non Spoiler Review:
Aidan has his hands full dealing with new vampiress Suren and bringing her up to speed on the Boston situation. Coming off her traumatic nightmare, Sally joins Steve and some new friends on an excursion to blow off some steam. And Nora and Josh are forced to confront their relationship problems.

This week was a good one, with compelling plots all around—Aidan, Josh AND Sally, which is a nice change from last season where they all seemed to play second fiddle to vampire politics. As far Sally goes, she did slip back into her annoying mode AGAIN. But it wasn't enough to ruin the episode. 

The Suren plot has taken the American version away from the British storylines for now, so I'm happy that their paths are now completely different. She looks like she'll be an interesting addition to the cast. The season is showing a lot of promise. If it staves off the grating tendencies of Sally, and some of the forced humor, it looks like we're in for a good run.

Spoilers Now!
Aidan escorts a withered and cloaked Suren to her new home where she feeds on many human volunteers to rejuvenate herself. Elsewhere, Josh wakes up in the woods with a shoulder wound and Haggeman's rifle next to him. He gets back to the car but finds it empty and all covered in wolf scratches. Even further elsewhere, Nora wakes up in a yard under some leaves and lots of blood on her face. She makes it back to Josh's house as he gets home, and the first thing he seems to notice is the gigantic scratch on her arm she's had for a month (only now, awesome boyfriend that you are). 

Self-centred Sally immediately interrupts to tell him about her night, and that's when Nora realizes she can now see the ghost. She confesses she's a werewolf. But Sally's also invited some friends over, including Steve and two others, Dillon and Phil, who are two dead frat boys making a ruckus in the kitchen. While Nora cleans up, Josh confronts Sally about her ghost friends, so she explains about her traumatic nightmare, how she went to talk to Steve about it and he was there with friends, so she brought them all over to chill.

Aidan then returns, wondering what the hell is going on. Josh finally gets a moment to decompress about turning Nora, and casually adds the Dutch vampire tried to kill him, but Nora's wolf chewed him up (!?). Aidan is obviously alarmed at that.

He returns to business to bring Suren up to speed now that she's back to her old self. The first thing is to find someone in the police department they can rely on with Bishop gone. She points out to him she's not the gullible fool she used to be, so he needn't worry. In a flashback 80 years before, she apparently massacred a lot of people and had to be taken away, but that's really the only hint we get about what's transpired (aside from Aidan sporting a moustache, which is what likely drove her mad).

At work, Josh and Nora finally discuss their situation. Of course he's all "You should have told me!" She counters that he didn't ever want to talk about the werewolf stuff, which is why she didn't tell him in the first place. Even worse, she's afraid she can't eat chocolate anymore because of her canine tendencies. He decides the best course of action for them is to go to a first year mixer together (?).

At the hospital, Aidan runs into new character Julia, interviewing for her residency. Suren abruptly summons him and introduces him to sultry Cecilia, a cop who wants to be their security, and wants to be turned. Aidan balks, given he already has cops lined up who aren't vampires. So he says she'll have to turn Cecilia herself given he's off the blood. Suren suggests that he doesn't want them looking into Haggeman's sudden disappearance, does he?

So Aidan attempts to turn Cecilia but opts to kick her out instead. It's been too long since he fed, so he lacks the kind of control necessary to turn her without killing her. Suren realizes Aidan's of no use to her so sends him away. 

The boys take Sally on a rage, which entails going to a frat party where they can take over the bodies of people and have fun. Drunk and high people are easier to get into, though some are impossible to take over, Steve explains. He doesn't do it anymore given it put him on a dark path and he warns her about how addictive it is (yes, it's exactly like crack cocaine, as we are reminded numerous times). Sally wants to try out this awesome new super-power, but finds it's not that easy to take over someone, unless you're the drunkest girl. She manages to get into her, ends up gorging herself on food and beer and becomes that girl at the party.

Sally's pretty excited until Dillon (in another body) suggests they put the bodies through a work out and hook up. He obviously died before the no means no campaign, so, Steve saves her by yanking Sally out of her host. Dillon is furious and Steve tells him he needs to stop taking over people. They get into a big fight and Steve utterly vaporizes Dillon's soul (yes, this is what he does).

At the mixer, Nora gets drunk and says lots of awkward and confusing things about eating squirrels and miscarriages, and makes a scene. Josh realizes he shouldn't have dragged her there (well, yeah). Afterwards they have their cathartic talk and conclude they're together because they love one another, and not because they've been forced into it by circumstances. They seem to decide to take it one day at a time.

Aidan returns to Suren to find she's turned Cecilia. He admits he's never turned anyone since he last saw her because of what he did to her. She wants to know why he took the job, so he explains he promised her mother he'd make her a success so she'd set him free to live how he wanted.

Nora and Sally talk about their respective dramas. Sally looks like she's coming down from her drug experience. She also thinks that Dillon is gone gone. His energy is no longer there. She never knew they could do that to each other (us either). Nora has a flashback to killing Haggeman. She does remember. And it's good to know what they're capable of, she muses

Aidan's hanging at a pub when Julia walks in. She didn't get the job, but they hit it off and leave to have sex. But wait. He's just dreaming. So sad.

The Verdict:
A strong follow up to last week, with more promising flashbacks of bad stuff. Why is Boston apparently so important in the grand scheme of things to warrant the vampire queen and her daughter personally taking it over?

What's Julia's role in all this? She's obviously been parachuted in as some kind of love interest, but Aidan looks to have fallen for her pretty quick. I didn't really care for the fake out at the end, though. Nora's revelation was strong enough to have led us out without Aidan's daydream. Speaking of which, I was initially going to say how annoyed I was that Haggeman's death happened off screen and vaguely referenced, but they redeemed themselves by showing Nora remembered it all. The whole shooting was brushed off pretty quickly, as well. One would think a vampire as old as Haggeman would be a decent shot.

Nora and Josh have reached an epiphany at last, and can hopefully move forward. His questionable decision to cart them off to a party the day after she turned into a werewolf was a bit much even for him.

Poor Sally. Just when I was starting to tolerate your personality, off you go again being that self-centred girl. Yes you were on the ethereal version of crack cocaine, but still, you need to tone it down. I'm hoping Stevie will be a calming force on you, despite the fact that he's somehow able to destroy ghosts with apparent ease. Yes, we get that possessing people is a slippery slope to addiction, given it was hammered into our heads all episode.

The notion that one ghost can end another is problematic for me. I could accept those nefarious dark shadows from the other side as maybe capable of doing that, but just run-of-the-mill ghosts destroying each other, especially one as wimpy (and relatively recently deceased) as Steve? I hope they put some thought into this new super-power because it could quickly become another easy plot device to use in a pinch.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: Alcatraz "Kit Nelson"

Non Spoiler Review:
Kit Nelson is a child killer with a weird modus operandi. Diego and Rebecca get on the case. The crime brings up some bad memories for Diego, who has his own secret past. More mysteries are raised at the neo-Alcatraz facility.

It's interesting how straightforward the first three plots have been. The show has taken no pains to create an elaborate case for Rebecca and Diego to break. The two of them do, however, seem to make vast intuitive leaps to solve it. So I'm on the fence right now as far as these episodic elements go.

The whole think wasn't bad, if not terribly gripping. Diego gets some further development to explain why he's so freaky around the crime scenes, but Rebecca and Hauser remain pretty flat. There's a trend developing that the last five minutes of the prisoner drop off bring the surprise of the week, and this time is no exception. 

Spoilers Now!
Diego is monitoring the police bands for clues to new Alcatraz appearances when he hears about a missing child, Dillon. That would be due to the childkiller, Kit Nelson, who is currently residing in the present. He had it rough in Alcatraz, even among the hardened felons, who beat him up a lot because of his particular choice of crimes. He also used to leave a chrysanthemum behind as a token.

Diego finds Hauser and Rebecca with a still comatose Lucy, and tells them he's pretty sure it's Kit Nelson who's back. He and Rebecca get on the case and talk to the frantic mother. The missing boy has a brother, and recognizes Kit's picture as someone who brought candy and was in their bedroom the previous night.

Nelson has taken Dillon fishing, which is going fine until he wants him to go into the water and hold Nelson under for as long as he can. When Diego and Rebecca manage to track him down, they're gone, because now Kit and the boy are at the movies.

Diego and Rebecca check back with the mom about Dillon's hobbies and favorite places. Hauser abruptly cancels the amber alert given Nelson always returns to the scene of the crime and he doesn't want it surrounded by a police presence. Diego, who has been acting uncomfortable and weirder than he usually does, balks and seems to take it personally, so goes off to investigate some hunches himself, and finds Nelson at a diner with Dillon. He alerts Rebecca.

Nelson eventually leaves with Kit, so Diego confronts him as Rebecca arrives, leading to a stand off that Nelson wins and takes off with the kid. Diego makes some grand intuitive leaps after they find expensive cigarettes in Nelson's effects within the always bountiful Alcatraz room full of clues. Nelson worked for a company that made bomb shelters, which means he has perfect hiding places for his crimes.

In the flashback, the prison doctor tended to Kit's wounds, but he doesn't give him any sympathy either. While in the infirmary, Kit talks with Madsen (Rebecca's grandfather), who's there giving lots of blood. The warden has decided to segregate him from the prisoners. But he's also received a letter from his father, who wants to visit. Nelson doesn't want to talk to him, but the warden insists.

The visit doesn't go well. His father advises him his mother is dead, and brings him a dead chrysanthemum. She knew that Nelson had killed his brother when they were children, but wasn't prepared to lose both of her boys, so protected him and told everyone a lie about him dying of fever. His father now wants to hear him confess, but Nelson repeats that scarlet fever killed his brother.

The warden also wants him to confess to killing his brother, so he throws Nelson into a tiny dark cell. Nelson at last admits to murdering him and left the chrysanthemum given it was his mother and brother's favorite flower. The experience was so profound he kept trying to repeat it. The warden leaves him in the cell. 

Nelson and Dillon are in a bomb shelter, but Dillon manages to make a run for it. Rebecca, Diego AND Hauser all converge on the area at that moment, too, and Hauser kills him. Later, a frustrated Hauser outs Diego about being traumatized as a child (something that keeps the victim frozen at that age all their life), and because of that he's spent his entire life becoming an expert on Alcatraz. But Hauser needs an adult, not a child. After, Diego attempts to explain what happened to Rebecca but she lets him off the hook and tells him she doesn't need to hear it.

Diego pays Dillon a visit and gives him some comics. Diego admits to being taken just like him, but he was able to get away, too. And that ability to get away is kind of like a super-power.

Hauser brings Nelson's body back to neo-Alcatraz, to the original doctor (!) who we saw in the flashback to 1960. He puts on a record and gets to work.

The Verdict:
I'm ambivalent about this one. While Diego is growing more interesting, Hauser seems to be overly playing surly shadowing government operative. I hope Diego's mystery abduction pays off. If it's some lame thing I'll be pretty disappointed. For now he's the most interesting character, though.

The weekly criminal plotline really lacks tension for me. They're all rounded up pretty easily with Diego's amazing powers of deduction and the strings of coincidences that manage to bring everyone together at the appropriate moments. Maybe this won't be the regular weekly pattern once the main plotlines start to get moving, but the felons need to present a serious sense of threat because Hauser is able to dispatch them without a lot of effort.

I'm not getting the point of the personal storylines of the criminals in the flashbacks, aside from tying it in to what's going on with the experiments. Are the writers trying to say something in particular about what drives each of these criminals? So far, these particular brands of sociopath are nothing that we haven't seen on any other crime show before. Aside from depicting the warden as a bit of a sadist, I'm not really getting anything out of these vignettes.

There's also a big question of how these criminals are adapting to life 40 years later. They seem to be taking it all in stride (especially Cobb from last week). I, for one, would be f.r.e.a.k.i.n.g. if I woke up decades in the future, but everyone here is fully functional and able to move around in our modern society. Maybe that's all part of the mystery.

Once again, the final five minutes are what makes the episode. Did the doctor disappear with the other Alcatraz denizens or did he make a separate trip? He appears to be a man out of time, rather than someone who just doesn't age. And it looks like all the prisoners are necessary for whatever grand plan they're engaged in, whether dead or alive.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead 93

Non Spoiler Review:
Issue 93 kicks off a new storyline, A Larger World, and deals exclusively with Rick coming to terms with his next course of action. After imprisoning Paul, he, Michonne and Abraham scout out around the community for signs of an impending attack. Along the way, Rick has a bit of an epiphany on how to proceed next.

While not the most compelling issue in awhile, I can see Kirkman needed to show Rick's mindset changing, while also raising some valid questions that he might not be suited to leading anymore. There's also the question of what's going through the heads of everyone else around him as he hands out orders and directives. 

More communities and civilization means more options for everyone, so I'm excited for this arc and where it will take the characters and the series.

Spoilers Now!
When it looks like Rick is warming to the idea of beginning relations with neighboring communities, he punches out Paul and has him taken away, where he later attempts to get the truth out of him. Unfortunately, Paul sticks to his story, and is surprisingly understanding of Rick's behaviour.

Rick warns his inner circle that Paul's people might be preparing an imminent attack, so sets them to various tasks—counting ammo, manning the walls, and even Eugene getting to use his brain musing about alternative defensive techniques and making their own bullets. This later gives him the confidence to try to convince Rosita (still languishing after Abraham) he's the best man for her.

Rick, Michonne and Abraham then head out to look around the neighborhood for signs of their potential enemy while Andrea keeps lookout to provide cover. On the way they encounter some walkers and only after dispatching them does Rick seem to come to an entirely different conclusion about how they should proceed.

Killing walkers has become second nature, he realizes. He doesn't even break a sweat anymore. With that he decides they'll take Paul up on his offer. Either he's telling the truth and benign, or lying and a threat—in which case they'll kill them all and take their stuff.

The Verdict:
As mentioned, this did feel a bit slow, especially with the anticipation of seeing what kind of civilization might lay beyond their walls. But I think Kirkman's intent was to show how Rick is no longer suited to run things. He may be a good military leader, but is he suited for peacetime? From start to finish I was cringing at some of his choices and wondering just how much he's going to screw things up this time (and how long everyone else is going to put up with it). The question now is if Paul will actually trust Rick or if he's ruined it for the whole community by his bad decisions.

There were some further advances on other subplots—Eugene getting some focus finally. Abraham managing a snarky "Maybe you're not a good leader, Rick." It also served to remind the reader of several of the players as Rick named out everyone's specific tasks.

Rick's final conclusion that they can just take everything from them, if it comes to that, really mirrors his attitude when they came into the community, so I'm wondering if that's an intentional call out, given Rick does run the town now. The exposure to additional settlements and larger populations means Rick won't be as big a player anymore. Or will he? 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Review: Alcatraz "Pilot / Ernest Cobb"

Non Spoiler Review:
Alcatraz is the newest series from producer J.J. Abrams (Lost), featuring none other than Hurley himself, Jorge Garcia as Diego—trying not to be Hurley. Also starring is Sarah Jones and Sam Neill. The premise centers on the closing of Alcatraz on March 20, 1963, which we quickly learn did not happen as history records. The entire facility is mysteriously empty, while in the present a former prisoner abruptly appears in his old cell. The shadowy government agent Hauser (Neill) seems to know the prisoners will be returning, and his agenda crosses path with detective Rebecca (Jones) and Alcatraz expert Diego as they must deal with the arrivals of the lost criminals.

This was a pretty decent and entertaining introduction for a new genre show. It certainly bears the weight of Lost's legacy by presenting a group of characters we get glimpses of through flashbacks, as well as an overarching series of questions, so it's ripe for comparisons. However, this was not as amazing as Lost's movie style premiere, and the greater mysteries of who or what caused the Alcatraz disappearances is what really drives the plot over the characters for the moment. I didn't find them entirely compelling yet, but it is early to make a judgement on that. I'll stick around to see how things begin to gel, as already it appears that the stories of each prisoner returning will blend between episodes, rather than fall into the trap of murderer of the week.

Spoilers Now!
In 1963, Alcatraz officially closed, with all the prisoners transferred off the island. But that's not what really happened. On March 20, two guards arrive to find the dock empty, and the entire facility abandoned. Three hundred and two men (guards and prisoners) have disappeared.

In the present, Alcatraz is a tourist destination, and a man, Jack Sylvane, wakes up in a cell. Given the facility is no longer a prison, he walks out, albeit confused. He finds  cash and a ticket, so is able to take the ferry back to the mainland. On the way he peruses a book on the inmates, remembering both his time at the prison as well as the nasty deputy warden, Tiller, who made life miserable for him.

Detective Rebecca Madsen is about to be assigned a new partner given she lost her previous one in persuit of a felon. She's called in to investigate a murder (the aforementioned warden Tiller, who had since become a federal agent). But government man Emerson Hauser shows up to shut her down and take over. 

She leaves, but does her own private investigation, learning the fingerprints belonged to a Jack Sylvane, and the murder victim was the former deputy warden. Dr. Diego Soto, an author and owner of a comic book store, also comes up in her search, given he wrote the Alcatraz book, so she goes to meet him.

Jack Sylvane was a WWII vet who robbed a post office. He later murdered a prisoner in the shower and was sent to Alcatraz. Given Jack died thirty years before, it's impossible that his fingerprints are showing up now. She then visits her sort of uncle Ray who knows a lot about Alcatraz and the dead deputy warden, given he used to be a guard. Sylvane's transfer and death are all signed off on and confirmed by official documents. 

Diego and Rebecca team up and go to the island to do some investigating, and pretty easily rummage through a records room until the lights go out and they're both knocked out. They wake up to Hauser and another woman, Lucy. They're still at Alcatraz, but in a fancy control center deep beneath. 

Hauser runs a special division dealing with criminals of particular interest to the government. He shows them camera surveillance of the murder, and a very young looking Jack Sylvane. Lucy explains he disappeared from Alcatraz in 1963. Gasps! The official documents are all bogus. 

Hauser brings them along in pursuit of Sylvane, who has retrieved a gun from a locker and knocked out the attendant. He goes to the house of Barclay Flynn to take a mysterious key, then shoots him and manages to get away before Hauser shows. Hauser seems to think Sylvane is being used by someone.

In a series of flashbacks, Sylvane endured the abuse of the deputy warden Tiller, and while in the infirmary, was told by a fellow prisoner that something big was about to happen. He also got dumped by his wife, who ended up marrying his brother. In the present, Jack shows up to see him and meets his nephew. His brother nearly has a heart attack when he sees him, and Jack learns his former love had died four years earlier. 

Rebecca later arrives to find the son tied up, who explains Jack took his father to find his wife. At the cemetery Rebecca catches up to him and he's brought in. Hauser warns there will be a next victim, given Jack Sylvane was just the beginning. Rebecca realizes Hauser knew this was going to happen. He's been waiting a long time for it, he explains.

Hauser brings her and Diego into a room that shows photos of 246 prisoners and 46 guards. The official story of Alcatraz is a fabrication. And we see that one of the guards from the prologue was a young Hauser. 

All the criminals are coming back and no one will be able to find them because they no longer exist. Rebecca then sees a photo of her grandfather (who she'd thought was a guard, but turns out to be an inmate). And the criminal she pursued who killed her partner? That's him. Hauser apparently knew this and wanted her in all along, but she'll have to prove herself. She wants in. Rebecca wants Diego as her partner. He's eager to join. It's all top secret, of course. Their task is to find the men, as well as who took them.

Hauser takes Jack Sylvane to a facility in the wilderness that houses a new, high tech Alcatraz. Hauser is eager to throw him back into prison given Tiller was his friend. And he won't be lonesome for long.

Ernest Cobb
Prisoner Ernest Cobb, responsible for 16 shooting deaths, is now in the present enjoying his freedom, and his passion for shooting people randomly. He manages to kill three at an amusement park.

Tommy Madsen, Rebecca's grandfather, got life for murder, but Diego's book only has one paragraph about him. That's all he could find, he tells her. They're called in to investigate the shooting and rendezvous with Hauser. Diego pegs Cobb as the culprit, and he usually does three shootings in three days before going underground. Rebecca finds a shell casing from Cobb's vantage point to start their investigation on finding the weapon.

Lucy interrogates Jack about where he's been for fifty years and if he might be working with Cobb. But Jack doesn't know. He just woke up at Alcatraz. She wants to know about the key, but he claims he doesn't know about that either, and their body scans show he's telling the truth.

Rebecca attempts to track down the rifle Cobb used, and manages to find him on the security footage from a gun store. They identify a room key in his hand so trace the hotel, but it all turns out to be a ruse, given Cobb is in a room across the street waiting for them. Lucy pulls open the curtains and gets shot. She's in a coma. Rebecca is upset, given she relates it to her previous partner dying. Hauser is furious and lays on the heavy to get Jack to come clean about what he might know.

Diego and Rebecca continue their investigation and rummage through the Alcatraz records and find a letter from Cobb's long lost sister that he never received. She's been dead for years, though, so can't be his next target. 

Cobb carries out his second attack and kills three people. Rebecca figures he's going to use a building downtown to shoot from, and one he could only see from his cell back in 1963. They find him and manage to take him in (though Hauser shoots him in his trigger hand to be sure). 

Hauser takes Cobb to the new prison where both he and Jack recognize one another. In a flashback, Cobb's penchant for insubordination and getting thrown into solitary prompts the warden to bring in a doctor to treat him. It's Lucy, looking exactly the same.

The Verdict:
Alcatraz managed to avoid a pitfall of becoming a prisoner of the week show, given it looks like the storylines will intermingle as more return. For the moment, the secrets are more interesting than the players (yes, I'll compare it to Lost again, which had both awesome characters and intriguing mythology). Rebecca is rubbing me the wrong way, just in the way she appears to want to be the cool detective, and poor Garcia looks like he might be stuck as Hurley forever. There's nothing in his character that couldn't pass as him.

I don't find the flashbacks particularly effective at all, save for the final one with Lucy (which did end the episode on an exciting note). Certainly not all the returning prisoners can be kept as ongoing characters, but Jack Sylvane elicits oodles more empathy than Cobb. He could very well become a major character himself, given the mysteries surrounding the experiments during his internment.

The plot did seem to glaze over some elements—Hauser's constant exposition explaining everything to Rebecca and Diego, and the ease with which both Jack and Cobb get rounded up. Did all the prisoners return at different times? It seems odd that every one could appear back at Alcatraz and leave the island without arousing any suspicion from the tourists and authorities.

All that said, there was nothing in the premiere that wasn't the normal growing pains of a new series, and Alcatraz certainly beats out a lot of other series premieres for quality (um, Terra Nova, you listening?). 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Review: Being Human (USA) "Turn This Mother Out"

Non Spoiler Review:
Being Human's American version returns for its second season, catching us up one month after Bishop's death (that makes it conveniently the next full moon). Aidan is dealing with all the fallout from his mentor's murder, having to handle a bunch of tweaked out vampires in need of a leader. But it doesn't take too long before vampire politics asserts itself.

Meanwhile, Nora still has that nasty scratch that's making her very paranoid about the coming full moon, which means she's annoying Josh with constant talk about what his transformation is like. Finally, Sally's high school reunion brings her back to her alma mater to see what everyone thinks of her now that she's dead.

All in all a fair return for the series. Josh and Sally continue to play second string to Aidan, and their domestic situation remains unclear, but the final minutes really ramped up the game for next week, setting what looks to be an even darker tone for the season.

Spoilers Now!
A month after Bishop's death, Aidan stops a street vampire from feeding on the locals, and brings him back to chow down on bagged blood. He's trying to help everyone now that Bishop is gone and the family is wandering around aimlessly looking for direction. There are rumours that she's coming. That would be Mother, queen of the vampires, whom Aidan is hoping will straighten everything out.

Nora is crashing with Josh and things seem to be going well, though she's constantly asking him about werewolf details to the point that he feels she can't get passed it (though it's really because she has that scratch on her arm and the full moon is imminent). 

At work, Josh finds a vampire chowing down on one of the patients. Aidan is furious, but Bishop's progeny are fearing Mother is coming to cull their numbers. Aidan goes to see the council, which includes Haggeman, who has apparently developed a fondness for him. He encourages Aidan to accept his responsibilities and not ask a lot of questions when she arrives. 

When Mother makes her appearance, Haggeman announces the council is fully behind Aidan taking over Boston with her blessing. As far as Bishop's orphans, Aidan says many are confused and scared, so he recommends mercy. She refuses and orders them culled. And the best person to lead Boston is her daughter, with Aidan as her second. In return she will overlook his heresy and would possibly grant him freedom if all goes well. There's some shock at the table at this announcement, as it seems her daughter has some history (she's cuh-razy!) that no one wants to speak aloud. Mother later tells Haggeman that Aidan can't fail, and he can't have any distractions in his life, either. Which means no wolf.

Meanwhile, Nora's beginning to experience cravings for raw meat as the full moon approaches. She quizzes Josh on the change, but he's had enough of it. He begins to question if the whole werewolf thing is too much for her to handle.

Sally has a high school reunion coming up and Nora thinks she should go to find out what people are saying about her. At school, Sally runs into a young, former classmate, Steve, who had committed suicide. He suggests she try sleeping to help pass the time of eternal wandering. And he can't move on either, as apparently suicides don't get a door.

Sally has a go at another late classmate, a real bitch who is just as full of herself in death as she was in life. But her dressing down allows the girl to have an epiphany and she gets her door. Sally is even less impressed.

Powerless to help the wayward vampires, Aidan urges Bishop's progeny to leave. Then he confronts Josh about being too hard on him regarding all that's happened in the last few months. In order to be truly free he'll have to help run Boston, and may become something he won't recognize. If that should happen he needs Josh to remind him of what they started here.

Bishop's children show up to talk to Mother, but that quickly turns into a desperate attack, and Aidan is forced into defending her. She really doesn't need defending, though, as she quickly dispatches the remaining vampires. Having shown his loyalty, Aidan takes Mother into the woods where he digs up a coffin that houses her daughter.

Sally returns home and tries sleeping. She dreams she gets her door, but it's not so pleasant as the bright white tunnel turns dark and a shadowy form rushes towards her.

Nora drives Josh into the woods for his change and they reiterate their commitment to one another. She watches him go and nervously looks at the rising moon. She hears Josh's yells of transformation in the distance, but she hasn't changed. She's relieved. But only for a few seconds, given she suddenly begins to transform and runs off into the woods herself. Semi-wolf Josh can hear her calling for him, so he comes running. And then he's shot by Haggeman.

The Verdict:
There were some rough entries last season, but this week kicks things off to a promising start. While Sally and Josh's storylines didn't make for the most compelling viewing (sound familiar?), everything did resolve nicely into a tense final five minutes. Nora seems to be taking the whole infection thing a lot better than I would, but there's always next week to deal with the fallout.

There's a lot of ominous stuff implied with Sally's doorless situation, and I imagine the powers that be will be exerting themselves in the living world to show their displeasure that she's still hanging around. The scene of the shadow rushing towards her in the tunnel was nicely effective. I also hope Steve isn't just a one-off and comes back to provide some companionship for her (given Aidan and Josh seem to be busy with their own lives).

There still appears to be a lot of tension between Aidan and Josh that didn't get much screen time at all this week. Given it's the season premiere, it's a bit tough to recall everything that transpired between them last year, so it could have been given more play, what with all sorts of hungry vampires showing up at the house looking for Aidan (and Nora sleeping over).

The introduction of Mother (and now what seems to be a crazy daughter) will take the series in a different direction than its British cousin, which is a good thing. I was impressed with the vampire queen, so I'm curious as to what her daughter's story is. Haggeman also seems to be a lot chattier than he was last season. I'm guessing he's going to come to a bad end given his assault on those close to Aidan. Or will he remain to replace Bishop as the mentor figure in his life?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: The Tempest

Non Spoiler Review:
My first introduction to Julie Taymor was her stunning Titus, one of my favorite movies of all time. Ever since I've been comparing her other works to that and they've come up short—Across the Universe was a hodge-podge of randomly great songs with nothing to tie it together. So I was looking forward to a return to Shakespeare, and the trailer appeared promising. But the film never seemed to get any play anywhere, and I've only since managed to track it down.

The Tempest, of course, deals with the sorcerer Prospero, who is banished to an island after having his dukedom usurped by his brother. Raising his daughter Miranda along with the beast Caliban and the captive spirit Ariel, Prospero creates an elaborate plan to bring together the malefactors who wronged him, while his daughter falls in love with the duke's son.

In this case, Helen Mirren is cast as female protagonist, Prospera, and delivers her usual high calibre performance. As does Felicity Jones as Miranda. The rest of the cast is all capable and no one struggles with the material. Russell Brand and Alfred Molina appear as the comedic duo Trinculo and Stephano, accompanied by Djimon Hounsou as Caliban. But there are no memorable performances like that of Jessica Lange and Anthony Hopkins in Titus

Visually the island is a mish-mash of beautiful and barren locales, and Prospera's sorcery is given life with an assortment of CGI spectacle that tends to stand out (in a bad way) when it appears. The manifestations of the spirit Ariel are kind of okay, but again, nothing truly unique.

It all fell flat for me, and I'm not sure if it's simply because the play itself does have its slower bits—long talks about taking over Milan, and stretches of Caliban interacting with Trinculo and Stephano. I wanted something a bit more engaging, and really only found that when Mirren was on the screen. I also wondered by Taymor wouldn't continue her gender-bending route and go with a male version of Miranda? Why go only half way, except to be able to cast Mirren, it seems.

I'll damn The Tempest with faint praise by calling it a nice movie, which is really all I can say about it. It didn't raise any emotions in me one way or the other, or the need to replay and listen to some well-delivered scenes, despite being a big fan of Helen Mirren. So I'm disappointed that this wasn't the stellar rendition of The Tempest I'd hoped for from viewing the trailer.

If you're a fan of Shakespeare (or Taymor), then check it out to tick it off your list. But so far nothing she's done has compared to Titus in my books. Taymor works well with violent material, so she should tackle MacBeth, which really hasn't been given a fair rendition since Polanski's version.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Review: American Horror Story "After Birth"

Non Spoiler Review:
After Birth brings an end to the Harmon family's first season in the murder house, and it doesn't disappoint. The pace is frenetic, as usual, and we're immediately delivered a few shockers within the first fifteen minutes. Then the plot meanders into some interesting territory, but it never lets up and offers a decisive conclusion to plenty of the story arcs. 

The finale left me with mixed feelings. It had everything necessary for a very satisfying end to the first season. Only subsequently have the writers confirmed that successive seasons will be about completely different people and locales, meaning this was an extended miniseries. Does it mean we'll never see another Jessica Lange diatribe or the Harmons again? I hope not. We'll just have to wait and see. Regardless of what comes, this freshman season concludes on a very cathartic note.

Spoilers Now!
Nine months before all hell broke loose, Vivien was preparing to leave Ben, despite their talk of moving to L.A. for a fresh start. She just can't forgive him, and a new house isn't going to fix it. Yet Ben persists and tries to convince her how amazing this house is and how great it will be. She says no. Then he uses all his manipulative psychological power to change her mind. He begs her to just come see the house. We all know how that turns out.

In the present, Ben calls out to his wife in the empty house, but he doesn't find her. He pays a visit to Connie, who's been looking after the baby, and a little reluctant to give him back to Ben now that Vivien's sister is coming out from Florida to help look after him. 

Connie's a bit rattled, and warns him that the house will kill the baby just like it did his wife and likely his daughter (whom she doesn't appear to know is dead yet). After all he's seen she asks how he can be so blind. That's when he sees the Langdon family photo that includes Tate, and sparks an epiphany and a flashback to when he spoke with Tate's mother on the phone (a vocally disguised Connie). He demands to know where he is, and she explains he's dead, and now Ben is paying for his sins. He warns her to lock her door and pray he doesn't come back.

Vivien is getting used to death and having coffee with Moira. It's hard for her to spy on Ben from afar, but he can't see her unless she wants him to. She watches her husband tend to the baby in the kitchen. And she doesn't want him to know she's in the house otherwise he'll never leave there, yet it's still difficult for her to see them go on with their lives.

And by the way, Moira isn't her servant anymore and she doesn't take orders from ghosts. Vivien suggests she call her by her first name and Moira suggests she not torture herself and leave Ben be (to tom cat around now that he's free of her, she politely muses).

Ben leaves the baby in his crib and says goodbye, then lays out all manner of documents and keys with notes before sitting down to try to blow his brains out with his gun. But he can't. Vivien takes the gun from him and tells him he can't leave their son. She wants him to take the infant and go. He wants to be together with her, and he knows he's not the baby's father. He then apologizes profusely for everything he's done. Vivien tells him not to be a drama queen and she forgives him. Just take the baby and never come back, and raise their child and be happy. And Violet?

Their daughter appears and Ben needs to apologize again for not noticing she was dead. She and her mother both press him to leave, because he's in danger every minute he's in the house. Ben finally concedes, says his goodbyes, gives Vivien one last kiss, and they're gone. 

Ben takes the baby downstairs but is stopped by Hayden. It's an ambush. The murdered home invaders throw a rope over him and string him up over the chandelier as she watches. He's tossed off the stairs and hung.

Later, Marcie is back showing the house, this time to the Ramos family, who have a son. She does an awesome job selling the home, even with the somewhat full disclosure that there were deaths there. The wife died in childbirth and the husband hung himself in grief, she explains. Marcie kept the dog. Their son Gabriel thinks it's a great house. And so they move in.

Connie gets a visit from her two favorite cops who are trying to solve the Harmon deaths and the missing baby. In a series of flashbacks we see she found Ben's body. Connie explains she entered the house after not hearing from him for some time. She then went to find the child but he was gone, too. Meanwhile, ghost Ben was reunited with Vivien and Violet (and they appear to be completely indifferent to the fate of the living baby). Connie has enough of their saccharine reunion and went searching in the basement, finding Violet's body. She then came upon Hayden with the child, but before they can get into a scrap, Travis slit Hayden's ghost throat and handed him over to Connie with a tender smile. So the cops think Violet is on the run with the boy, and that's all Connie says she knows. After they leave Connie goes in Addie's mirrored closet to retrieve the baby.

After the Ramos family has settled in, Gabriel finds Violet rummaging through his music collection. She seems much less depressing these days. But Tate is standing in the doorway watching and getting angry.

Miguel and Stacy Ramos get hot and heavy in the kitchen, while Ben and Vivien watch and muse how nice a couple they are, and they can't have a baby in this house given all that's happened. Moira suggests they'll need some help, given the number of angry and vengeful spirits in the house looking to do harm. Others are innocent and don't want to see more suffering.

Later on, Miguel goes for a sleepwalk to the oven (à la first episode Ben) while Stacy is terrorized by the rubber man. Gabriel gets a visit by Tate who explains Violet is his girlfriend. He's about to kill him but finds it difficult having to look into his eyes. Violet shows up and tells him to put down the knife. She never said goodbye to him, so they share a final kiss, which gives Gabriel time to flee, then she disappears herself. Tate is very sad.

Mayhem ensues. Vivien tells Miguel to open his eyes to what the house is truly about, while Moira and Larry's wife help add to the scares. Miguel can't hear Stacy screaming as she flees the rubber man, running into Beau, the dead nurses along the way, even the goddamned exterminator. Miguel gets treated to a disemboweled Black Dahlia and everyone meets up in the basement as the rubber man corners Stacy. It's Ben in the mask, and Vivien puts on a good act saying he's a perverted bastard and rips his stomach open with a knife. Ben shoots her in the head and both Harmons collapse to the floor, then sit up and tell them this is what the house does to them. Run! The Ramoses flee the house as the Harmons watch from the doorway. They decide they have to keep others from moving in.

Ben cleans up around the place as a desperate Marcie continues to reduce the price. Tate shows up and wants to talk to him, but Ben informs him he's a psychopath and he was incurable from the start. But guest what? Therapy doesn't work anyway. Tate wants to be forgiven, but Ben won't fall for his act anymore. Tate persists that he's sorry, so admits to his murders of the students, burning Larry, killing Chad and Patrick, and raping his wife. Ben can't absolve him of anything but Tate just wants to hang out sometime.

Vivien is playing her cello, looking the most at peace she's ever been. She hears a baby crying and in the basement finds Nora and the stillborn twin. Nora thinks she's the new nanny, and has quickly grown tired of the crying baby. She thinks he's a weakling and when she sees Vivien is able to quiet him down, her need for a baby isn't so important anymore. Nora isn't sure she has the patience to be a mother. Vivien shows the infant to Moira and asks her if she'll be a godmother. Moira's delighted.

The Harmons and Moira are decorating for Christmas. Ben lights the tree and they share a moment as one happy family, all of them at peace for the first time. Violet notices Hayden and Tate watching from the window. Hayden tells him to grow a pair because she's never going to talk to him again. He promises to wait forever if necessary.

Three years later (!) Connie walks into her hair stylist's to get a make over, given she's been so preoccupied with...her baby. Well, it's actually the child of cousins who died and she's taken him in. He's changed her life. She muses dreamily that all the hardships she's faced through her life have been leading to this sole purpose.

Reinvigorated, Connie heads home, but finds blood all over the floor and an empty cookie jar. Following the trail to the nursery, she finds the dead babysitter (throat slit) and her grandson sitting in the chair with bloody hands. He laughs and she sighs, "What am I going to do with you?"

The Verdict:
The pace of this series has never been an issue, and this episode was no exception. We get a series of satisfying flashbacks (yay, Travis!) that bring us up to speed, and then Ben is quickly dispatched. After Birth delivered on all my expectations offering closure on pretty much everything and ending on an ominous but fitting note for me.

Enter the Ramos family to provide a quick bit of comic relief as the Harmons go all Scooby Doo Mysteries to drive them out. But how are they going to keep the house empty? Won't property taxes, development, or whatever, eventually bring someone there? 

My other eye rolling bit was the immense peace everyone achieves when they're dead. Ben and Vivien become the perfect couple they never were in life, happily decorating the Christmas tree with all their angst forgotten. It was a nice ending for them, but I question how easily each could put their violent deaths and all the history behind them. Moira achieved her family, and I loved seeing them all together for that last scene, with a perfect rendition of Little Drummer Boy. But no Travis? No burned little girls to join them for Christmas? Or Beauregard? That would have been an awesome bit to see such an eclectic bunch hanging out while Hayden and Tate watched bitterly from the sidelines. We can't have everything, I guess.

The three year jump came as a bit of a jolt, but Jessica Lange's (perhaps) final monologue was immensely satisfying and suitably melodramatic, leading to that excellent final scene as we see the mischievous Antichrist (extremely well-cast). A funny and horrific moment to go out on, considering television's worst mother is raising the plague of nations.

My disappointment comes with the future direction of the series. Each season will be its own contained story, with a completely new house and family next year, according to interviews with the creators. After investing in these amazing characters and actors, I'm sad to leave them behind (especially Jessica Lange and her storyline with the child—who wouldn't want to see the series devoted to following the Antichrist being raised by Connie?). It seemed they were giving this particular plot major focus in the final episodes. I'm doubting that will be the case now, though. So that comes as my only major criticism.

The finale felt like a finale. But it was effective. If this is all I get of Connie, the Harmons and the murder house, it will be a fulfilling twelve episodes to return to in the future. This series has lived up to all the hype and expectations for me, answering its major mysteries. While I expected future seasons to delve further into the origins of the evil in the house and more on the Montgomeries and little Thaddeus, I can take what I got. This bunch of characters will really be missed, but I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with for the second season.
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