Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "Garden of Bones"

Non Spoiler Review:
Baelish arrives at Renly's camp with an offer for Catelyn, while Robb engages the Lannisters on the battlefield. Tyrion continues his machinations at court, with attempts to divert Joffrey's growing madness away from Sansa. Gendry and Arya arrive at Harrenhal ahead of another surprising visitor. Daenerys gambles with the fate of her people, and Stannis and Melisandre set in motion a very dark scheme.

Another jam-packed episode, bringing in some new characters that will surely figure prominently in the future. So much has transpired, it certainly feels like we're well into the season rather than just the fourth episode. Events are continuing to darken, especially with a rather unsettling ending that promises some nasty stuff ahead. Not to mention some very disturbing Joffrey scenes.

While the major players go about their schemes and battles, we continue to get some short, but very important scenes with nameless characters commenting on the happenings around them—this time a couple of Lannister soldiers, as well as the perspective offered by Ros in her adventures in King's Landing. With such a large cast, it's a very important humanizing aspect of the series that I applaud the writers for continuing to indulge in.

Spoilers Now!
The Lannister soldiers debate the merits of the kingdom's best swordsmen (including a wry comment about Loras and Renly's special relationship). Something spooks the horses and they're killed by Robb's men as they attack the camp. They win the battle, and one of Robb's vassals, Roose Bolton, muses the officers will provide good intel (via flaying, which is a method favored by his house). Robb doesn't want to give them an excuse to abuse his sisters. Robb then helps a nurse, Talisa, tend to a wounded Lannister soldier whose leg is cut off. She skeptically asks what he'll do once the king is overthrown, but he has no plans for what comes after. Talisa says she's from the free city Volantis but won't give up her last name. Robb tells her the boy was lucky she was there, but as she rides off she adds the boy was unlucky Robb was there. 

Joffrey has Sansa in his crossbow sights, telling him she needs to answer for Robb's latest crimes. The court is being told a host of lies about the latest battle that Robb feasted on their flesh. Joffrey explains his mother insists on keeping her alive, so he needs to send Stark a different message. He has her beaten and stripped in the throne room, but Tyrion enters, demanding to know what's going on. He berates the knight of the kingsguard, Meryn Trant, as well as Joffrey that she's to be her queen and must keep her honor. He calls him a half-wit, and adds that the mad king did as he liked, as well. Meryn warns him not to threaten the king. Tyrion advises Bronn that the next time Sir Meryn Trant speaks to kill him. Tyrion offers his hand to Sansa and apologizes for his nephew's behaviour. Quietly, he asks for the truth—does she wants an end to the engagement? She coldly replies she is loyal to her one true love. Tyrion muses she might survive this yet.

Bronn suggests it wouldn't hurt for Joffrey to have a new diversion. Later, the Hound gives Joffrey Tyrion's name day present. Inside his chamber are Ros and Daisy waiting for him. Rather than enjoy them himself, Joffrey wants to watch them together—and he wants Ros to hit her. Tyrion will need to get his money's worth, he explains. Joffrey readies his crossbow and offers Ros something heavier to use—a sceptre—and instructs Ros she will bring Daisy to Tyrion's chambers to show him what she's done, or the same thing will happen to her. 

In Renly's camp, Baelish has arrived. Baelish explains to a skeptical Renly he still has many friends at court and that Ned erred in not supporting his claim. If he marches on King's Landing he could face a protracted seige—or open gates.

At night, Baelish is greeted by Margaery, who escorts him to his tent. Baelish wonders why she doesn't share a tent with the king. She comments he seems quite interested in her marriage and asks why he's never married. But he's been unlucky in love. She explains her husband is her king and her king is her husband and bids him goodnight. 

Catelyn is furious when she sees Baelish, blaming him for treachery in Ned's death. He confesses his love for her and suggests fate has given them a chance. She pulls a knife on him and orders him out. He asks if she wants to see her girls again—both are healthy and safe for now, but he fears for their lives if they remain in the capital. The Lannisters want to trade Jaime for the girls—he's bringing these terms to Catelyn, not to Robb. He also hands over Ned's bones from Tyrion, as an offer of good faith, then leaves her with much to think about.

Stannis' entourage greets Renly and Catelyn. Melisandre explains Stannis has taken as his sigil the fiery heart of the lord of light. Renly mocks how he's found religion in his old age. Melisandre declares he's the lord's chosen. Catelyn tells them they're brothers and they should put their differences aside. Stannis wonders why she's standing by the pretender given Ned supported his claim. Renly points out the entire realm denies his claim, and no one wants him for his king. A man without friends is a man without power. Stannis tells him he has one night to reconsider—if he comes to him before dawn he'll retain his seat in the council. Otherwise he'll destroy him.

In the Red Wastes, one of the riders returns on a different horse. It was given to him by the Elders of Qarth, three days ride east, and who say they would be honored to see the mother of dragons. Jorah only knows that the desert around their walls is called the garden of bones.

Daenerys' group arrives at the gates of Qarth and are greeted by the head of a council of thirteen merchants. Her reputation has preceded her, and they want to see the dragons. She wants food and water for her people first. He wants to appease some of his more skeptical friends about the veracity of her dragons, but Daenerys suggests they're being insulted. So he recommends she return where she came from then. Negotiations take a turn for the worse as she claims they'll die if they're not let in. He calls her a Dothraki savage and begins to leave. Daenerys calls on the thirteen and declares when her dragons are grown they'll take back what was stolen and lay waste to armies and burn cities. Qarth will be burned first.

Another of the thirteen steps forward, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, and wants to let her in. He believes a few Dothraki can be allowed in without dooming the city, and points out he's a savage himself from the Summer Isles. The other merchants won't agree, so Xaro invokes a law that allows him to vouch for her and her people. They're welcomed into the city. 

The soldiers holding Gendry and Arya arrive at the imposing fortress of Harrenhal, which has stone melted by dragon fire. The soldiers take a prisoner every day to kill, so come morning the group is reviewed and one is picked by the Mountain and asked where the brotherhood is, and which villages aided them. He's subjected to some interesting torture involving a rat and fire, and eventually dies. At night Arya performs a ritual as she falls asleep by reciting the names of all those she wants to kill.

Gendry is taken next but doesn't know of any village or brotherhood. He's about to be tortured again when Tywin Lannister and his men arrive. He asks what's going on with all the prisoners. He's told the cells are overflowing. Practical Tywin suggests they need able bodies and skilled labourers. He frees Gendry asking what his trade is. He's a smith. Tywin then recognizes Arya is a girl. She explains it's safer to travel that way. Tywin agrees, and tells them to get the prisoners to work, and to bring the girl—he needs a new cup bearer.

Tyrion is visited by Lancel with Cersei's demand to release Pycelle. He asks why she sends him and not come herself. Arrogant Lancel offers him no respect. He says she must have great trust in him allowing him in her chamber during the hour of the wolf. Tyrion wants to know if he was knighted before or after she took him into her bed and wonders what King Joffrey would say to that. Lancel gets frantic and begs for mercy. Tyrion tells him to obey his sister and keep her trust. No one ever need know as long as he keeps faith with Tyrion. He wants to know what she's doing and who she sees. Tyrion agrees to release Pycelle but won't have him on the council. 

Davos and Stannis are on their flagship. Stannis muses how Davos was initially a smuggler (and he took some of Davos' fingers as punishment for his crimes, despite having helped him in the rebellion). Stannis wants him to be a smuggler again—this time bringing Melisandre ashore. No one must know and they'll not speak of it again. Cleaner ways don't win wars, he adds. Davos takes her to the beach, but the passage through the cliffs has been barred. She disrobes and reveals she is pregnant. She lies down and gives birth to a shadowy creature that disappears into the night.

The Verdict:
Magic has been used so sparingly that when something wild happens it's certainly unsettling. How in the loop is Stannis about Melisandre's plan? He doesn't seem to have bought into the religion, yet he has to accept she can accomplish some pretty scary stuff. On one hand he's very rigid in his morality, but he suddenly appears to throw that out the window by having her give birth to an abomination to carry out his bidding—that just doesn't seem to make sense with his character. Perhaps he doesn't have a clear idea of what methods she's going to use.

Daenerys' scene solidified her character growth as a leader with her little gamble, and here's hoping all those little dragons survive the journey and grow up to do her bidding. Despite her bloody heritage, she seems like another viable candidate for queen.

It was good to see Robb back in battle, and he seems to have found a potential love interest (one that will cause alliances with House Frey some trouble, no doubt). She looks to have some secrets (possibly her family is on the Lannister's side?). 

Another great Tyrion scene brings back Lancel Lannister, and I wonder how important he will figure in the schemes at court. But Tyrion's other plot with Joffrey has certainly backfired. And poor Ros and Daisy—the latter unwittingly caught the attention of Tyrion last week by helping to snare Pycelle, and now she could be dead, or at the very least, seriously maimed. Not to mention Ros, who having just come to terms with the murder of a baby in front of her has to participate in Joffrey's deprivations. I hope we get to see Tyrion dealing with his responsibility in this. 

Yes, Joffrey's evil has reached new levels. I'm throwing down that I can't see him surviving the assault on King's Landing. His character has just reached such levels of madness that it's untenable to have him ruling through another season. His head will end up on a pike by the finale, I'm guessing.

Harrenhal lives up to its reputation, and the twist of having Tywin Lannister arrive and put both Gendry and Arya to work is priceless. Who were the interrogators, and are we to take anything from the odd questions they were asking the prisoners? Is this a plot point that will be brought up again, or simply some background goings on in the war? Baelish was right—Harrenhal sucks.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: Mad Men "Far Away Places"

Non Spoiler Review:
Mad Men throws out a surprisingly experimental episode that traces three different stories—Peggy's troublesome Heinz pitch, Don and Megan's derailed trip to a rural Howard Johnson hotel, and Roger and Jane's unsettling evening with some college types. It takes awhile to sort out exactly what's going on, but it really makes for another tense hour.

The writers had fun teasing the viewer with the nature of time—we got things from a variety of perspectives and finally figure out just what's going on and where it's all coming together halfway through. There's also a welcome appearance from Jane, and Michael's backstory is an eyeopener.

It's still unclear what the ultimate course of the season is going to take, but the characters (like us) this episode are having a hard time figuring their way along. Additional praise to the Howard Johnson set, which really helped set the mood for Don and Megan's story.

Spoilers Now!
Peggy is fretting on her Heinz presentation, while Abe's having trouble managing a relationship with her continued distractions with work. Don and Megan have to miss the presentation, which leaves Peggy on her own. Peggy makes her pitch, but the Heinz exec wants her to stop giving him what he asks and give him what he wants. Stan and Ken struggle to save it, but all he cares about is if Don signed off on it. Peggy gets confrontational and says she thinks he likes it but just likes fighting about it. He isn't impressed with her hard sell so Ken offers to take him to dinner and get him out of the room. Stan is impressed with her suicidal move. Pete comes in afterwards to tell her she's off the business.

Peggy leaves for the day and goes to the movies, sharing a joint with a stranger next to her and ends up giving him a hand job (!). She returns to work, finding Michael's father has paid an unexpected visit. She introduces herself, and Michael quickly ushers him out. Peggy falls asleep on her couch and is woken up by Dawn at night.

Then Peggy answers the phone from a somewhat frantic Don, asking if she's gotten any calls. She tries to tell him the presentation didn't go well, but Don says he has to go. While she and Michael work late, she asks about his family. The man isn't his real father, he explains. His father told him he was born in a concentration camp, which is impossible (he adds), and his mother died there, so he was found in an orphanage. Peggy later phones Abe, asking him to come over to her place. She also relays Michael's story and asks if it could be true. Abe says it's possible.

In the morning, Don comes into work to find Roger wanting him to join him on a trip to a Howard Johnson in the country to review their service. Don isn't in for the whole bachelor style trip Roger has in mind, so suggests he take Megan and Roger can bring Jane. That doesn't fly with Roger.

Roger and Jane's marriage is quite icy these days. They attend a dinner with weighty philosophical talk that bores him, and then the group reveals they're going to take LSD, which Roger hadn't been paying attention to. He just wants to go home, having indulged Jane, but she convinces him to stay. Most of the group take it, including Roger, who then notices he has been given a card that shows his name and address and that he's taken LSD, ending with please help me.

Roger goes and gets a drink and starts tripping (he hears music coming out of the liquor bottle when he takes off the cap). Roger looks in the mirror and sees Don telling him to go sit with his wife because she wants to be alone in the truth with him. The sober professor advises him not to look in mirrors. Eventually he and Jane go home and sit in the bath and Roger thinks he's watching the world series. Jane muses that her psychiatrist, Catherine (from the party) told her she knows their marriage is over and Jane is just waiting for Roger to say it.  She admits she never cheated but she knows he never fell in love. He really did like her in the beginning, he admits as they lay on the floor together.

In the morning, Roger tells her she's beautiful. They both enjoyed the night. He figures he'll just check into a hotel for awhile and she can take her time, but she doesn't know what he's talking about. They're leaving each other, just like she said. She protests she didn't mean any of it. Roger repeats what her psychiatrist said, and Jane remembers what she revealed. She comments that it's going to be very expensive. She doesn't want a kiss goodbye. 

Don tells Megan about the Howard Johnson trip for the weekend and drags her away from the Heinz presentation. On the road, she wonders how Heinz went and feels she abandoned the team, but Don (of course) doesn't feel guilty. They check in, but Don has taken over every aspect of the trip and isn't letting Megan make any decisions (including what to order for dessert). Don attempts to brand the hotel for the campaign, and she gets annoyed that she doesn't get to work but he does. She's confused when she's supposed to be working and when she's his wife. Don insults her mother so he tells her to call his mother, which prompts Don to walk out. He tells her to get in the car, so he drives off without her when she refuses. 

Don returns to the Howard Johnson but can't find Megan. All he hears is that she was talking to some men in the restaurant and they went to the parking lot together. He finds her sunglasses. He spends the day looking for her but there's no sign, so he calls Peggy asking if anyone called her, and then her mother, but no one has heard from her. Megan never comes back that night, so Don keeps searching.

Don remembers when Megan and Don were driving Sally and her brothers to their new house after vacation, and what a sweet moment it was. Don snaps back to reality and returns home, finding the door bolted. Megan tells him to go away. He's sorry, but she doesn't care, given he abandoned her there. She took the bus home. They get into a fight and fall onto the floor together (mirroring Roger and Jane). Don thought he lost her. He tells her it was a fight and it's over. 

They return to work in the morning, seeming having made peace. Bert calls Don in telling a client left unhappy because he has a little girl running everything. It's time he gets back to work. Don says it's none of his business. Bert tells him this is his business, and Don is done at playing love. Roger pops in and announces it's going to be a beautiful day.

The Verdict:
This experimental episode was a nice change of pace, and kept one guessing as the storylines crossed halfway through. Seeing only one side of each story at a time kept the tension high (Don's frantic phone call). The LSD scene was a new adventure for the show, as well, and was quite funny and disturbing at the same time. Especially with the ominous tone from last week, I keep expecting some tragedy to spring out of left field at any moment.

A shout out to the set design again this week. The Howard Johnson served as the backdrop to a lot of the episode's drama and it really set the tone. The technological generation gap was very evident in Don's frantic struggle to locate Megan via phone booth, which gave it a great sense of isolation.

While Megan might have come off whiny, I found she had some valid points. Don certainly doesn't treat her job with any seriousness at all, and drags her off at the least provocation so he can dote on her and treat her like a child. It's understandable she would rebel against that. But it's very clear he's worried about ruining this relationship. Megan's youth is something he's continually struggling to understand. It's interesting we get treated to yet another physical fight between the two of them, with Don chasing her down like a little girl.

Meanwhile, the LSD trip provides Roger his exit from his loveless marriage, in contrast to Jane, who feels closer to him once it's over (despite having revealed the troublesome information about her psychiatrist). How will his new found freedom affect Roger in the office?

Michael's backstory was an odd bit thrown into the mix, but it certainly added quite a bit to his character (and makes sense why he was so agitated by everyone looking at the crime scene photos a few weeks back). He's certainly struggling with his own past and all the baggage that comes with it. It makes me wonder if Peggy's going to fall for him, given it seems her relationship with Abe has run its course.

Everyone seems to be trying to emulate the old Don, including Peggy, and she's failing miserably, like Pete last week. I'm still wondering what direction her career will take. Will Don return to his old form? Can he even do that now, and if he does resurrect his old self, will it mean sacrificing his relationship with Megan?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead 96

Non Spoiler Review:
Rick deals with the fallout from his kill and gets filled in on the current situation that prompted Ethan to attempt to assassinate Gregory. Meanwhile, Andrea, Glen and Michonne seem to have different perspectives on the Hilltop and its denizens.

Part 4 offers up an explanation of the political situation and the introduction of a new and unknown threat. The last couple of issues have moved along briskly after quite a slow build up, but the storyline offers huge potential. 

Spoilers Now!
The townspeople are horrified Rick killed Ethan. Jesus needs a moment to explain the situation, but Rick won't put down his weapon as Kal and Eduardo rush up. Carson takes Gregory inside and Jesus gets Rick to stand down. He assures him he's not in trouble, but this kind of thing doesn't usually happen here.

Rick wants to know who Negan is, so Jesus explains he's head of a cultlike group called The Saviors, who showed up shortly after the Hilltop went up demanding half of all their supplies in exchange for keeping the area free of the dead. Gregory isn't good at confrontation, so agreed, but the arrangement has continued. Jesus defends Gregory's leadership, though there is no confirmation on the actual numbers of The Saviors.

Carl asks if they kill the bad guys would they share half of their food with them. Rick agrees with that, though he doubts they'd need half. Jesus considers the idea. Rick later walks over to the funeral for Ethan, but gets punched for interfering. Jesus defends him and takes him away, telling the others Ethan deserved to die.

In the morning, Glen is quite impressed with the Hilltop and sees it as full of opportunity. Andrea finds them to be very weak and pathetic. Michonne is terrified of them and sees Gregory as a cult leader.

Gregory is recovering, so asks to talk to Rick. Rick has little to contribute at the moment, aside from fighting, so offers to rid them of the Saviors in exchange for supplies. As a sign of good faith, Gregory stocks them up with supplies to get them through winter.

Jesus tells Rick he'll be there to help him when he goes after Negan. The crew heads back, and Rick observes there's a reason he's their leader, given the way he sees thing. After the different perspectives offered by Andrea and Michonne, he's seen the future in the Hilltop—a way to rebuild civilization and start living again.

The Verdict:
I'm curious to see how Kirkman takes this storyline with Negan. As I mentioned last issue, there's a danger of treading close to a Governor 2.0 with A Larger World. But all indications so far seem to imply this is more of a cult rather than a gang.

That theme is playing out everywhere—first with Jesus' introduction that seemed to indicate he was coming off as a cult like leader. Getting to the Hilltop, Michonne made the comment that she saw the inhabitants as blind followers too. Who's the real villain here? I imagine when we do get to see Negan he might not be what we suspect. And Jesus has become a far more benign character, and potential ally, than how he was first introduced.

After such a slow build up, Rick and Gregory's agreement was signed and sealed in a matter of a few panels, which leaves Rick to start investigating the Saviors further, I imagine. Rick sees the potential of the Hilltop and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the community reacts to the prospects of someplace else to seek refuge. Will people start to immigrate? And are there additional communities in the surrounding areas yet to be visited? A Larger World definitely has a lot to offer, and a real game-changer for the series.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "What Is Dead May Never Die"

Non Spoiler Review:
Season two gets a few additional secondary characters as we catch up with the final king in waiting, Renly, along with his new wife and 100,000 man army. As Catelyn attempts to make alliances on behalf of Robb, Balon Greyjoy's scheme becomes clear and forces Theon to make a decision. Tyrion sets in motion a few clever plots that bear fruit. Bran struggles to interpret his dreams. Events on the kingsroad come to a head for Arya and Gendry.

What is Dead May Never Die was probably the strongest of the lot so far this season. Tyrion continues to steal the show, and his scenes with Varys were brilliant and funny. Especially interesting was the dynamic set up between Renly and his new wife. We've now seen all the king contenders, and Renly is the obvious choice for benevolent ruler. But part of the theme of this week (exemplified by a great bit of dialogue between Tyrion and Varys) is where power springs from. Could Renly hold onto power simply from the love of the people?

Spoilers Now!
Craster tosses Jon into the midst of the sleeping Night's Watch, ordering them gone. Mormont tells Jon to wait outside and later gets the explanation that he's killing all the boys. But he realizes Mormont already knows, and is told the Wildings serve crueler gods that demand offerings. Like it or not they need men like Craster to survive. Jon explains he saw something take the child. Mormont suggests they will see it again. They leave at dawn, and he warns him not to lose it again.

In the morning Sam manages to get to see Gilly, and gives her a thimble his mother used for sewing, and the only thing he has of hers left. He tells her to keep it safe until he comes back.

In Winterfell, Hodor goes to retrieve Bran for his lessons. Bran wakes to Summer standing over him and staring at him. He explains the same dream he's having to Luwin, that he's seeing through his wolf's eyes. Nan had told him stories about magical people who could live inside animals, but Luwin suggests they're all gone from the world, and just dreams. Bran protests his dreams are true. Luwin shows him a link of Valyrian steal from the chains he carries that signifies he was schooled in the secret mysteries. Luwin confesses he got no more out of it than a thousand other boys. Perhaps magic once existed, but dragons, giants and forest folk are all gone.

Renly has a new wife, Margaery Tyrell, and is holding a tournament as Catelyn and her entourage arrive. Loras, the Knight of Flowers, yields to the victor, who reveals herself as a woman, Brienne of Tarth. She asks for the honor of a place in his personal guard. Loras is not pleased at that, but Renly agrees.

Catelyn is announced as envoy and greeted warmly by Renly, who presents Margaery. He swears the Lannisters will answer for Ned's murder and will bring her Joffrey's head when he takes King's Landing. Brienne tells her she should kneel, but Renly dismisses her eagerness. Loras is equally disrespectful, suggesting Robb should have come himself. Renly goes off to walk with her among his troops, assuring her the war is just beginning.

It's obvious Renly's soldiers adore him as he treats them with respect. Catelyn suggests the war is a game to him, because winter is coming and his knights are of summer. He has Brienne escort her to her tent to rest.

Theon wants to know why Yara didn't reveal who she was when he arrived, but she counters that she wanted to see who he was first, and she got a good idea of that. Balon arrives to reveal his plans—while Robb is fighting the Lannisters in the south, the north is ripe for the taking. Winterfell may remain defiant for awhile but the rest will be theirs. He orders Yara to take 30 ships to attack one of the northern cities, while Theon will take one ship, the Sea Bitch, to raid fishing villages. Theon suggests it's wiser to wait and pledge fealty to Robb, and they'll get Casterly Rock in return. Balon repeats they are iron born, not subjects or slaves, and they take what is theirs.

Theon replies Balon gave him away at the behest of Robert Baratheon, his last boy, and now he's cursed him because he comes home. Balon storms out. Yara warns him to make his choice as their ships sale with or without him.

Shae is getting tired of staying inside. Tyrion suggests she might be brought into the castle kitchens and pose as a scullion, a kitchen wench. He warns her Cersei can never know about her. But Varys has a suggestion where she could prove useful.

Sansa shares dinner with Cersei and her other children, Myrcella and Tommen. Myrcella asks when the marriage will be, so Cersei explains after the war. Cersei presses Sansa to answer her daughter's questions. Tommen asks if Joffrey will kill Robb. Cersei muses he might, and even if he does Sansa will do her duty. But Tommen doesn't seem to be as bloodthirsty as his older brother.

In her quarters, Sansa is visited by Shae, her new handmaiden. Sansa gets uppity when Shae wants instructions of what to do. Given Shae's foreign, Sansa tells her in this city she doesn't have time to explain to her how to do her job. Shae asks if she wants her to leave, but Sansa orders her to just brush her hair.

Tyrion chats up Pycelle and asks if he can trust him. Perilous times require new alliances that must be sealed with matrimony, and the queen mustn't know, so Pycelle agrees to silence. Tyrion reveals he's brokering an alliance with House Martell for Princess Myrcella to wed its youngest son. 

He then meets with Varys and explains he plans to marry Myrcella off to Theon Greyjoy. Varys is less than impressed, given Balon loathes the Starks, but assures him he won't tell the queen.

He tells Baelish he wants to marry Myrcella to Robin Arryn of the Vale. Though she tried to kill him, he doesn't hold a grudge, and needs Baelish to broker the agreement. Tyrion offers him Harrenhal as an incentive, but Baelish suggests it's cursed. He'll be lord of the Riverlands and can tear it down if he wishes, Tyrion replies. He served the Lannisters well in the succession. However, the queen mustn't know.

Loras and Renly share some time together, but Loras is humiliated Brienne was made a member of the king's guard. He tells her there's another Tyrell that requires his attention—the reason he got his father's army. And his bride is still a virgin two weeks after their wedding night.

Renly downs a lot of wine and his wife is brought to him. Renly can't get aroused so she asks if her brother should come in and help, or she could turn over and pretend she's him. Renly is horrified but she tells him there's no need to play games. He should save his lies for court. Their enemies want to tear them apart so the best way to avert that is to get her pregnant. She'll let him decide however he needs to do it, as he's a king.

Cersei is furious with Tyrion for selling off her daughter to Dorne, given the Martells loathe them. She warns him he won't get away with it. He counters she can't stop it, and if the city falls Myrcella could be raped anyway.

Baelish next confronts Tyrion that he made him look like a fool by offering Myrcella to Martell. Tyrion explains he now wants Baelish to help in Jaime's release, by sending him to see his beloved Cat. Bronn returns with news he has found Pycelle and raids his quarters. Tyrion confronts him that he told the queen, so Pycelle tries to implicate Varys to no avail. Pycelle explains he always served House Lannister since the days of Arryn. Lord Arryn knew so Pycelle let him die. Tyrion is disgusted and orders Pycelle thrown in one of the black cells.

Theon prepares a letter to Robb warning him of the invasion, but then burns it. In the morning he's reconsecrated in his faith to the drowned god and is welcomed back into the fold by his sister and father.

Varys later chats with Tyrion that their mutual friend is doing well in Sansa's service. He compliments Tyrion for a well-played move with Pycelle. Tyrion doesn't mean to follow Ned Stark to the grave. Varys offers up a riddle about a king, a priest and a rich man, with a sell sword paid to kill two of them. Who lives, who dies? They debate the answer. Who truly killed Ned? Power resides where men believe it resides, Varys says. A very small man can cast a very large shadow.

Yoren sits with Arya late at night as she can't sleep. She asks how he sleeps having seen so many horrible things. She closes her eyes and still sees her father dying. He reveals when he was young he saw his brother killed on their doorstep. He can't picture his brother's face anymore, but he can still vividly see his murderer. One day he came back into town and Yoren killed him, and his horse got him to the Wall.

A trumpet sounds, and Yoren wakes up his men, telling them to get armed. He sends Gendry and Arya out of sight and orders them north if things go wrong. One of the boys finds Gendry's horned helmet and takes it.

The men pour out of the keep as Lannister's men demand the bastard. Yoren refuses to comply and is killed. Gendry rushes out as everyone engages the men. The men in the cage call for Arya to free them, so she does. Arya is knocked down by one of the soldiers who take her sword. The survivors are ordered rounded up and taken to Harrenhal. The blond boy who took the helmet lies wounded. He needs to be carried, so the soldier kills him. They demand Gendry or they start taking eyes. Arya tells them they already have Gendry, and shows them the helmet lying next to the blond boy.

The Verdict:
After all the talk of Renly and his vast army, he finally gets reintroduced this week with new wife Margaery. He certainly appears to be the most obvious choice for king given his easy treatment of his subjects. But Varys' riddle raises the question of whether being loved can keep him in power (especially with Catelyn's added warning about his army in winter).

He has the ideal marriage with Margaery (who sees her chance to be a queen). But he doesn't seem to be doing anything with his power or army at the moment. While Catelyn continues to come across as a bitch, she raises a valid point that only the northerners seem to care that winter is going to come and the war will be raging in much different conditions.

What is the significance of Harrenhal? It's come up a couple of times this week, with the implication it's cursed. Now Gendry and Arya will be heading in that direction, and Baelish has been offered it as remuneration for his loyalty.

I really want to believe that Theon has some secret plan to warn Robb of the impending invasion, but it doesn't look good, as he seems to have chosen his loyalties. I'm holding out hope that it might all be a grand scheme to do right by the Starks.

Once again, Tyrion steals the show, and his banter with Varys really provided the laughs this week. His set up of his niece was hilarious (including Vary's eye rolling at the notion of Theon Greyjoy). But the two of them have formed a great relationship, including Shae's installation in Sansa's orbit that is sure to provide information, as well.

Myrcella Baratheon jumps to the forefront after being in the far background all season. Is her role going to expand? It's easy to forget the lone Lannister daughter in Joffrey's shadow. And she and her younger brother don't seem to share their mother's utter hatred of the Starks. With Sansa now under the watch of Shae, the palace intrigue continues to be one of my favorite bits.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: Mad Men "Signal 30"

Non Spoiler Review:
Two weeks after the serial killer murders, Pete is taking drivers education. He and Trudy are hosting an intimate dinner completely centered on Don attending. Ken has a secret. Lane manages to bring in a prospect for SCDP, but struggles with closing the deal himself, versus letting the more seasoned veterans in the office take it over.

Signal 30 was an interesting episode that set an ominous tone right from the start. I was fully expecting a shocking event—a death—and that anticipation hung over the entire hour. Did it happen? There was definitely quite a moment in the final act that still has me wondering at the fate of a couple of characters.

Once again, Lane and Joan are show stealers when they get on screen together. I really enjoyed their camaraderie. The party scene was also quite interesting in how Don dealt with socializing. A lot of great moments this week.

Spoilers Now!
It's August, and Pete is taking driver's ed at a local high school (complete with scary crash films, from which the name of the episode is derived), but is enjoying eyeing up the cheerleader sitting in front of him. He's finding prolonged time at home is driving him crazy, prompting him to fix the leaky tap. He finally chats up the cheerleader who muses about the recent Texas university shooting (the killer's name just happens to be Charles Whitman), and how her parents might not let her go to college because of it. Pete suggests they should go visit some botanical gardens in the Bronx his family helped build. However, later on a new handsome male student arrives (who is actually nicknamed Handsome), and she immediately turns her attention to him.

Lane's wife wants to associate with other English ex patriots in the city, but Lane would prefer to just stay home with her. But they do go to a pub and watch Britain win the World Cup, where he meets new friend Edward and his wife. At SCDP, Joan is back and heading the partners meeting. Lane announces that he's managed to strike up a relationship with Edward at Jaguar, who are shopping for a new agency. 

Pete immediately tries to rain on Lane's parade by sarcastically warning him they'll need to hire so many more people to handle that account, but Lane counters this is a $3 million one, so he has no problem with that. The partners suggest he's best to handle the dinner and they can bring them in later if he wishes. Roger offers some tips on how to get through the meeting—not to drink much and let him talk, allowing Edward to connect with him. However, Lane tries the tricks but can't seem to hit the right notes to establish a rapport.

Ken is meeting with someone when he runs into Peggy at a diner and kind of gives her a brush off without an introduction, which she calls him to task for later. He admits it was personal—the man might be interested in publishing some of his short science fiction stories. His pen name will be Ben Hargrove.

Pete and Trudy are having a dinner party, and it's essential Don come, so Trudy manages to get Megan to agree, with the suggestion Don already accepted. He tries to get out of it but she'll hear none of it. Ken and Cynthia are also coming.

The evening isn't all that bad, as it turns out, and talk turns to Ken's side hobby writing science fiction, which Cynthia chats up to the rest. They want him to talk about some of his stuff, so Cynthia does a poor job explaining the story of The Punishment of X4—about a robot who causes the death of everyone—the robot had no power to make decisions, Ken explains. 

When the women take the dishes the tap explodes in the kitchen. Don takes over and fixes it to their delight, as Pete struggles to get the toolbox open. At the end of the night Megan drives Don home. Drunk Don gets her to pull over so they can fool around.

Given Lane's failure to bond with Edward, Pete wants to step in, with him, Don and Roger taking him for dinner. Edward is open to having more fun than a boring dinner. He intends to give them the business, but just wants to ensure he can have fun with them (something Lane may not share). Roger invites them to a party, which is just a brothel. As Edward and Roger get lucky, Don is playing it cool. Pete goes off with his own girl, but can't seem to get turned on by her until she calls him her king. The madam is thinking Don is a cop. He admits he grew up in a similar place so she joins him and they chat the rest of the evening.

Edward is happy with his night out and is dropped off. Pete and Don share a cab. Pete thinks Don was behaving like a nun and suggests Don might be looking down on him for cheating on Trudy. Defensive, Pete warns him to wait until his honeymoon is over. Don counters that had he had Megan to start with he never would have looked elsewhere. Pete gets home to the country and has a shower.

Rogers calls Ken in to ask about his writing (thanks to Pete) and warns him his attentions are divided. His job should satisfy his every need and tells him to stop. Ken says he will.

Lane gets a call from his wife, then storms into the partners meeting and sends Joan out. Edwards' wife called Lane's and informed her about his activities (given she found some incriminating evidence). He doesn't believe Edward wanted that. Pete says he was doing his job. Lane is furious and says it's his account. Pete retorts that their need for him disappeared the day he fired them from Sterling Cooper. Lane has enough of the insults and challenges  him to a fight. As the others watch, Pete rises to the challenge and the two box. Lane knocks him down after they spar a bit, and lets him know that's his last piece of advice. 

Joan and Peggy eavesdropped on the goings on in the board room, and afterwards Joan goes in to see Lane with some ice. He asks her what he truly does there, and she assures him he's essential. But she can do it all, he counters. She tells him he's different than them and that's a good way to be. She fixes his hair and he kisses her. A little shocked, she gets up, but just opens the door, then goes back and sits down. He admits he continues to humiliate himself and apologizes.

As gossip spreads through the office Ken tells Peggy that Pete told Roger about his writing. He's done with it. Peggy is sorry to hear that. A bruised Pete leaves, but has to share the elevator with Don. Pete tells him he has nothing now. Ken continues to write. Pete sits in the class watching his favorite girl make out with Handsome.

The Verdict:
From the opening crash film, I was fully expecting a drunk driving accident connected to Pete and Trudy's party. When Don and Megan pulled off the road to fool around, I was certain the moment they moved their head we'd see headlights (or a train) in the rear view mirror. So it was quite a good fake out. That then left me wondering about Pete, and the sudden mention of his rifle that he keeps at the office. Given his humiliation, was he going to off himself? Might he still?

All that aside, it was a great twist and the real prize of the episode—Lane's knockout punch—made all the more fun given it came out of left field. Follow that up with more classy Joan. I loved it. The new Don also continues to impress by maintaining his fidelity with Megan. Is it a complete change? Or is he still in danger of slipping up?

Roger even started out rather likeable by offering Lane what appeared to be sage advice, but then he showed his bruised ego by deciding to rob Ken of the same dreams he's lost as a failed author. Nice to see Ken ignored it.

Both Roger and Pete are struggling to hold onto their influence. Both do so by bringing down those around them. Pete sees his power coming at the expense of everyone else, but at the same time he wants to become Don, only to find his idol is now a different person and doesn't offer his approval. Pete's suffered some serious humiliation now, so it will be interesting to see the direction his character takes this season.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead 95

Non Spoiler Review:
After a very slow build up getting to the Hilltop, part three of A Larger World abruptly breaks out of the gate as introductions are made with the powers that be, only to be interrupted by a would-be assassin. Rick is forced to action, and the results are a bit surprising.

Getting a peak inside the Hilltop (at last) lived up to most of my expectations. And Kirkman didn't waste any time throwing the group into a weird series of events. Some parts appeared contrived to get Rick in the necessary position, and I'm a bit doubtful about the reactions of some of the citizens.

While the storyline risks treading on some familiar waters, it has lots of potential. There is a real sense that the focus is changing for good this time. 

Spoilers Now!
Rick still has doubts about walking inside the Hilltop, but Carl basically tells him they're good people, so he acquiesces to trust Jesus (who let's them keep their weapons as a sign of good faith). They're spotted by two guards on the wall, Eduardo and Kal, who think it could be a man named Negan until Jesus tells them to stand down.

The settlement (composed of a lot of trailers, a water tower and a large manorhouse) impresses Rick's group, who see a functioning civilization of 200 people. At the main house, they're introduced to Gregory, who takes no humility in letting them know he's pretty much responsible for everything there and the leader of the community. He asks to meet with Rick on his own.

They're quickly interrupted by a man named Wesley who tells them Ethan is finally back, but missing his fellow travellers, David, Crystal and Andy, whom he says are dead. Gregory demands to know if it was Negan. Ethan explains Negan told him they weren't meeting their end of the bargain, still has Crystal and wanted a message delivered to Gregory—so he stabs him. Rick takes down Ethan and is forced to kill him, while everyone else stands around doing nothing.

Their medic, Carson, arrives to tend to Gregory, while Michonne, Andrea, Glen and Carl arrive to see Rick covered in blood, and the rest of the townspeople staring at him.

The Verdict:
It was all a bit of a coincidence that Rick's crew arrives at just the time to stop Gregory's assassination, and I felt it a stretch that the citizens would by in large behave like sheep just standing around. We've yet to meet Negan, so he could be a terrifying individual who has everyone in an appeasing mood, but Kirkman continually runs of the risk of creating Governor 2.0 with this storyline.

Gregory looks to be a problem with his self-importance. We've had examples of various leadership styles in the Governor and Douglas. It will be interesting to see Gregory's backstory and where he comes from, and if this is a person Rick can work with (considering we've endured issues and issues of Rick not trusting people).

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "The Night Lands"

Non Spoiler Review:
Attention turns to Arya and Gendry on the Kingsroad, while in the north, Jon and Sam are faced with an ethical decision in Craster's lodge. Back in King's Landing politics and machinations continue, as Tyrion spars with both Varys and Cersei and begins to secure his own position, in stark (haha, pun intended) contrast to Ned's naive tenure as Hand of the King. The key to victory is sea power, and Theon returns home after many years to face off with his father, while Davos negotiates to secure a navy for Stannis.

With a shift in focus away from Robb, The Night Lands furthered intrigue and schemes, adding even more variables to the coming attack on King's Landing. Other plots and characters were serviced, as well—notably rounding out Gendry's character a bit more, and introducing the Greyjoys, who are all quite the piece of work. 

At this point, it goes without saying that the sets and location shots are stunning. Pyke is brought to life, just as much as King's Landing or the beaches of Dragonstone. Even Daenerys' brief scene in the Red Wastes hammers home how isolated and desperate their situation is. As usual, even the most minor character gets a bit of the spotlight with clever dialogue. Robb and the majority of the Stark's absence aren't even felt given the compelling introduction of the Iron Islands and catching up with Arya.

Spoilers Now!
On the Kingsroad, Arya is asked by some of the prisoners to get them water. She doesn't take kindly to their threats and goads them with some swordplay through the cage, though one of them, named Jaquen H'gar, is much more eloquent and seems out of place with the other criminals. Gendry warns her she should be scared of them. Then soldiers arrive, and she fears they're looking for her.

Yoren greets them and is given a royal warrant, but explains his men belong to the Night's Watch, so are beyond their reach. He doesn't take kindly to threats and disarms the two soldiers and sends them home to tell their masters they didn't find what they were looking for. The soldier calls out to the rest they are after a boy named Gendry and offer a king's reward if he's turned over. And they'll return with more men.

Tyrion finds Varys keeping Shae company. He's aware his father didn't want her to come, but is good at keeping secrets for his good friends. Tyrion warns him if he threatens him again he'll be thrown in the sea. He knows how the game is played, unlike Ned Stark. Varys isn't so concerned about his threats, given he's managed to survive this long.

At the council meeting, Cersei has received Robb's peace terms. Tryion wants to send Ned's bones back, at least as a gesture of good faith. The envoy did see Jaime so she asks him to tell her brother he hasn't been forgotten. Meanwhile, Pycelle has received a raven from Castle Black—the Wildings are following Mance Rayder and Mormont needs more men to man the wall. The dead are rising with the cold wind and Mormont claims to have been attacked by one. Despite the others mocking the superstitions, Tyrion warns that Mormont doesn't lie. He advises them the Night's Watch is the only thing separating them from what lies beyond the Wall.

Sam stops Ghost from bothering one of Craster's wives, Gilly, and asks if she's all right. She says they shouldn't talk but tells him he's very brave. Sam brings her to Jon, because she does, indeed, want help. She's pregnant, and wants to go with them when they leave. Jon says it's not possible. She's worried that she may have a boy, but won't tell them why. She runs off and Jon is angry with Sam for wanting to take her with them. They're going north, and who would deliver a baby?

In the Red Wastes, one of the horses returns absent its rider, but with Rakharo's head in the bag. Jorah suspects one of the other Dothraki. His wife is distraught and Daenerys attempts to  console her. 

Theon is on a ship to Pyke and arrives expecting fanfare, but there is no one there to greet him. A woman finally arrives to take him up to the castle. She knows who he is, and on horseback he manages to feel her up promising she can spend the night with him.

He greets his father, Balon Greyjoy, for the first time in nine years, but Stark had him longer than Balon did. Theon wishes to explain his proposal from Robb, but Balon mocks his attire, saying he's dressed as a whore. The Greyjoys believe in the iron way (taking things by force) rather than the gold way. The Starks have made him theirs, and Balon will not hear him talk of Robb as a brother—his true brothers were killed by the Starks.

Balon reads the proposal. If he destroys Robb's enemies, Robb will make him king of the Iron Islands again. Then the woman who brought him walks in and Theon is mortified when he realizes it's actually his sister Yara. Balon says she would lead the attack rather than Theon, given she took over her elder brother's ship, and has since commanded and killed men. But Balon burns the proposal, as he has his own ideas. He will take his crown—by paying the iron price. No one will give it to him. Theon warns he'll never stand a chance against the Lannisters, but Balon muses that he never mentioned the Lannisters.

Baelish has to deal with a distraught Ros, who is still upset about the baby's murder. He subtly warns her not to become a bad investment that he would have to dispose of.

Tyrion has dinner with Slynt, asking about Littlefinger's brothel and the killing of the baby, which has spread through the city. He assumes the order came from Cersei, and of course he's heard the rumours. It was also Slynt who gave the order to slaughter Ned's men in the throne room. Tyrion enrages him by commenting his honor was already bought, so Janos reacts angrily and calls him a dwarf. Bronn is standing behind him. Considering he betrayed the last Hand of the King he isn't comfortable with him being about. He orders him put on a ship bound for the east watch, and then on to the Wall. Janos demands his men help, but Bronn is now the new commander of the watch, and they take Janos away. 

Bronn sits down with Tyrion, who asks if he told him to murder an infant girl, would Bronn do it without question? Bronn muses that he would ask a question—how much? Tyrion seems pensive.

The Watch recruits are considering the offer the soldiers made for Gendry. Arya wants to know what the soldiers would want with him. Gendry says no good ever came from asking questions—like Lord Arryn before he died, and Stark before he died. That piques Arya's interest, and he says they were both asking about his mother who worked in a tavern. And who was his father? He's a bastard, for all he knows.

Gendry asks why she thought they were after her...and he knows she's a girl. Gendry's not stupid. She admits it, and he assures her he won't tell. She confesses she's Arya Stark and she's being taken home to Winterfell. Gendry says Joffrey is a liar about his father being a traitor. Gendry teases her by apologizing for behaving in such a way before a highborn lady.

Davos Seaworth and his son meet with a pirate, Salladhor Saan, to enlist his aid in Stannis' war. He offers him the opportunity to plunder King's Landing. Salladhor will sail—all 30 of his ships—but wants to have the queen. Davos can promise gold and glory, but can't promise the queen. But he believes Stannis can win.

Cersei is furious with Tyrion exiling Janos, but he counters that she's losing the people and will find it difficult to rule over them when winter comes. Slaughtering babies doesn't help. But Tyrion realizes it wasn't her who gave the order—Joffrey didn't even tell her. She balks that everything has fallen on her as he and Jamie don't take it seriously. 

Tyrion continues to make quips, but she says none of his jokes will match his first one—when he was born, and ripped their mother open on the way out. She died for the sake of him, which is no bigger joke in the world. She leaves him with that. 

Stannis and Melisandre learn of the Salladhor deal. Stannis realizes he can't defeat Renly in the field, nor can he take King's Landing without his men. Melisandre tells him he must give himself to the lord of light. She offers herself to him, even though he has a wife who is sick and weak. She promises him a son, so they have sex on the council table.

At night, Jon sees Craster taking a newborn baby out into the woods, so follows and finds a shadowy figure retrieve it. It looks to be a White Walker. Craster appears behind him and knocks him out.

The Verdict:
What to say about Balon Greyjoy, aside from everyone's worst fears are true. But what is his game? Throwing in with Stannis or the Lannisters? Who will he betray? And when faced with the choice, will Theon choose loyalty to the Starks over his own family? Yara is also an interesting addition, given she's a powerful woman in a very misogynist society who has managed to rise among her male peers.

Getting some screentime for Gendry was overdue, and he and Arya make a great team. I'm curious as to who this Jaquen is, given he obviously warrants some attention. I wasn't sure if Arya's storyline would prove interesting, but now I'm certain it will be just as exciting as all the others. And surely her wolf must show up again at some point.

Craster's made some deal with the White Walkers, which explains why he's managing to survive in the wasteland. I get the impression all the events beyond the Wall are going to be on a slow burn for a lot of the entire series, so I guess we'll just have to be patient with that.

There was some great, snappy dialogue this week—Tyrion's comment about Shae's fish pie? And the light/dark banter with his sister and the death of their mother. He seems to believe Mormont's report about the White Walkers, which is a vast change from his earlier mocking tone last season. I guess the zombie head hasn't reached King's Landing yet. It was amusing that he's being chided for putting his faith in Mormont, when he was doing the same thing to the commander last season.

This season is really pushing this slow build up to what must be an epic battle for King's Landing. The only piece we haven't seen yet is Renly, with his vast army coveted by all sides. It's interesting that only he and Daenerys present as true rulers of the seven kingdoms. I'm wondering if Daenerys' only course of action would be to marry into one of the other families. That is, of course, if she and her dragons make it out of the Red Wastes (another plot I'm guessing we'll have to be patient with).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review: Mad Men "Mystery Date"

Non Spoiler Review:
Set against the backdrop of a serial killer making headlines with some gruesome murders, Mad Men delivers an uncomfortable episode. It was a good one, but the type that made you feel you needed to shower afterwards, as many of the characters behaved, or were wrapped up in the unpleasant goings on around them.

Craig has returned on leave, but has some surprising news for Joan, while Peggy has to work late and bonds with Dawn. Michael oversteps himself, and Don has a nasty flu that causes some interesting side effects. Meanwhile, Sally is left in the care of evil grandmother Paulina while Betty and Henry are away.

Some big plot points were hit as well, and probably not in the way initially expected. The characters all seem out of sorts trying to come to terms with the state of their lives. Paulina really stole the show, though, with her vile portrayal of messed up grandma Francis and likely leaving a lasting effect on fragile Sally.

Spoilers Now!
Don is sicker than a dog, and on the elevator up to SCDP he and Megan run into a lovely woman named Andrea, a former freelancer for Sterling Cooper, who chats up Don until he introduces her to his wife. It all doesn't go over well with Megan, who asks how many times is this going to happen. She's having trouble letting go of the continuing stream of girls Don's been with (especially knowing he was married at the time). She reminds him he's got an appetite and he can't blame Betty for that.

Michael and Stan present a new shoe campaign to Don. Michael had wanted to do a Cinderella theme, but Don dismisses it as a cliche. Later on, Michael aces the presentation, but as they're mingling afterwards, he goes on to pitch the Cinderella idea, and the client opts to go with it. When they have a drink later, Don is furious and warns him never to do it again.

Meanwhile, Joyce shows up to show some crime scene shots to Michael, Megan, Peggy and Stan. A serial killer murdered a bunch of nurses and it's the talk of the town. Michael thinks it's disgusting they want to see the photographs.

Joan is preparing the house for Craig's visit and she's had enough listening to her mother's advice about men. Craig returns home and gets to see his baby for the first time, but he needs to tell her something—he has to go back for another year. That night at a family dinner with both their parents, Craig's mother is upset about him going back and it comes out that he actually volunteered for another tour. Craig and Joan have a big fight afterwards.

Roger forgot about a campaign he needs for Mohawk, and Michael has disappeared for the weekend. He needs Peggy to work something up for them. Peggy takes pleasure in having Roger begging for help, so takes $400 in additional bribe money. 

Don goes home sick, but Andrea shows up unexpectedly at the apartment wanting to talk. He's furious, but she boldly walks in. He sends her away and falls asleep, but wakes up to her again and they have sex. Andrea gets ready to leave and says he'll still love it again because he's a sick man. Don strangles her, kicks her under the bed and crawls back under the covers. This is, of course, all a fever dream. Megan wakes up Don in the morning. She had been sleeping next to him the whole time. But his fever has broken.

Working late, Peggy finds Dawn sleeping on the couch afraid to go home due to the race riots. She invites Dawn to stay with her for the night, and they bond over a beer. Peggy really wants another woman to confide in and comments how she started out as a secretary, too, and seems to draw parallels with their mutual situations. Peggy wants to know if she acts like a man and Dawn admits she has to a little. Peggy doesn't know if she still wants to be that person. They go to bed, and Dawn sleeps on the couch, but there's an awkward moment when Peggy pauses to decide whether to leave her purse on the coffee table. Dawn is gone in the morning and leaves Peggy a thank you note.

Given Henry and Betty are delayed out of town, grandma Paulina is forced to look after Sally, who hates her. The feeling is quite mutual, and Paulina revels in subtly torturing her. After teasing her with tidbits about the murders, Sally finds newspaper articles about the serial killer that terrifies her, so asks to sit with Paulina at night. Paulina succeeds in frightening her further, so in order to sleep gives Sally some pills. Betty and Henry return home in the morning, with groggy Paulina on the couch and Sally sleeping underneath.

Joan tells Craig that she's thought about it and wants him to go...go and never come back, because she doesn't need him anymore. She's glad the army makes him feel like a man. And he's not a good man (reminding him of their premarital rape). He angrily walks out promising to never come back. Joan, the baby, and her mother have a nap on the bed.

The Verdict:
This was an ugly episode, watching everyone behave less than stellar, but, as usual, engaging, with some good bits. So far this season the major characters have been struggling to deal with how the world is changing around them, and Mystery Date continues that trend. First, Peggy—how far has Roger fallen that Peggy (with her feet on the desk) can negotiate terms for working late. But her talk with Dawn betrays that she could be tired of it all. Does that mean a change is in store, or was it all drunk talk?

And poor Dawn. She's just happy to have a job, but is pulled into all the machinations at SCDP because Peggy needs to vent and have a normal girlfriend at the office. Yet Peggy hasn't moved beyond her own prejudices yet.

Don's dream murder was an interesting outlet for all his pent up frustrations and fears with his appetites. Megan has a valid concern, given she's privy to all his infidelities and now she's the wife. No wonder she keeps trying to vamp it up for him to ensure his eye doesn't wander.

Don also has to deal with upstart Michael, who gave his own twist on the standard Don Draper client sell. He's fun to watch, but I wonder what direction his character will take—can he survive the season without stepping on too many toes?

Joan's marriage didn't end in the way I thought. Craig's departure was unexpected and he seemed rushed out the door, but is there more to it? Does he suspect the child isn't his, or was it all just him trying to be a real man and going back to fight? I could likely be reading too much into it. But I'm pleased Joan will be back in full form again absent his domineering personality (and she left him with some good parting shots).

Evil Paulina really steals the show. She manages to both elicit a bit of sympathy (with insight into her own upbringing) while continuing to sow discord everywhere and be the absolutely worst role model for poor Sally (who is likely on the road to a lifetime of drug addiction). 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Review: Being Human (USA) "It's My Party and I'll Die if I Want To"

Non Spoiler Review:
The heavily uneven season comes to a climax with Aidan and Suren having to deal with Mother. Nora springs some more convenient supernatural secrets on Josh, that prompts him to take action. Sally has had enough of her crazy and decides to try to get to limbo and maybe make amends for all the horrible things she's done.

Once again, everyone is involved in their own independent story lines, with no bleed over whatsoever, aside from a scene where everyone catches up on what they plan to do. Ultimately, all three end the season within their own plots.

I can't say I'm going to miss the show at all. Season two really turned into a chore to get through and stumble over unlikable characters and their selfish choices. Unless there's a big writing turnover, I doubt season three will be any better.

Spoilers Now!
Suren explains to Aidan she came back to the fold to protect him, given Mother would never have rested before she hunted him down. But that doesn't stop him from scheming to get her back at any cost, including enlisting Henry to kill Mother, who is having a reception at her lake house. Mother is leaving Boston, likely for years, but is making an announcement. Henry's been put on guard detail.

Josh gets a message Nora is in the hospital. The eclipse prompted a change at work (she got her job back) and she has a concussion from falling down the stairs. Nora has another tidbit about werewolves she neglected to mention but conveniently reveals—the curse is in the bloodline, so if he kills his maker, he cures everyone he ever made (pressure!). But she asks him not to because she doesn't want him to become a murder.

Sally fills Aidan in about limbo, while Josh returns home and lets them know he's killing Ray with Haggeman's gun. Aidan reveals he's going to kill Mother too, so Sally offers to help. Sally possesses Ray's wife to draw him out into the country. While waiting, she and Josh say goodbye, given he won't be able to see her if he's successful. She sees reaper, who knew she would slip up and start possessing people again.

Aidan's plan fails, and Mother was expecting him. At the reception, she announces Suren as her successor, and brings out a beaten up Aidan for Suren to kill. Suren balks at doing it, of course, but Mother insists she rid herself of distractions. Aidan tells her to do it. Suren accuses her of wanting everyone to witness her failure again. Suren says she can't, but Mother understands and embraces her. Then she kills her daughter. Aidan manages to free himself and nearly kills Mother, but is dragged back, and taken out to the grave where Suren was buried for the last eighty years. He has no regrets, because he tells Mother she'll have to live on knowing she killed the only person who loved her. He's buried.

At the hospital, Sally asks her mother to shred her, as she needs to go to limbo and thinks there's a way out for all the ghosts she's doomed there. Rena doesn't want to, of course, but Nora walks over and (conveniently) finds out how Sally helped Josh, so she runs off to find him. Sally and her mother bicker, and then Rena's door suddenly shows up, so she offers it to her daughter. Sally won't steal it though, and ultimately just shreds herself and disappears.

Ray shows up on the road and Josh forces him to the cabin where Aidan is supposed to meet him. But when Nora catches up Ray runs off. He gets the leg up on Josh and takes him down. Nora has her own gun and arrives to stop Ray from killing him. Josh tells her to shoot him and save herself. There are two gunshots.

In the house, the radio turns on and Sally calls out for Aidan and Josh, and needs their help (because shredding herself to limbo was a bad decision).

The Verdict:
There's little more to say on this. The storyline has turned back to the UK version (with Sally trapped in the afterlife and talking through the radio). But their way of going about it made little sense. Why does Sally seem to think she can be this expert on the afterlife? She relies on everyone for (bad) information. Why did Rena even need to show up, unless to set up some kind of rescue for next year? How did Sally just shred herself?

No one is in any real tangible danger. Julia has been swept out of the way for a Josh/Nora reunion next year. With the added benefit that Nora is now the fount of werewolf knowledge.

So many characters have come and gone, we've never had a chance to really connect with them, so their deaths lack any meaning—Suren played one note all season. Who cares if she's gone for good. Even Henry got pushed to the back burner again, ready to be pulled out for convenience next year. And considering everyone's decisions this week could mean all three would never see one another again, it was all addressed in a very casual manner as if they were just going out for the night. Sally was leaving (possibly for good), Aidan was likely going to have to go on the run forever, while Josh and Nora had a chance at curing themselves. Yet we get no slow motion/musical queues/montage good-byes, which is a standard trope for this series even for the most mundane event.

It's been a lacklustre season, devoid of any charm or warmth. I highly recommend anyone not familiar with the UK version to check that out and see how real fully developed characters interact.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review: Spartacus: Vengeance "Wrath of the Gods"

Non Spoiler Review:
Glaber and Spartacus face difficult choices in deciding how and when to strike back at each other, with pressures both from Rome and among the rebels who are running low on food. Ashur's actions begin to catch up with him, while Lucretia and Ilithyia struggle to ensure their futures. As it's the season finale, all of this comes to an outrageous conclusion that actually manages to pale the ending of season one.

Right from the start it's evident that very few characters are safe, and by the end the series has changed so drastically that next season is going to be an entirely new slate. Make no mistake—there are major deaths, some well-deserved, some tragic, and others that came right out of left field. 

Vengeance has been the theme of this season, and vengeance is what we got. We say good-bye to a lot of familiar people and places. It took me a bit to process it after it was over, but I'm immensely satisfied. It's going to be tough to leave behind so many beloved characters, but this series has never been about keeping people safe. 

Spoilers Now!
Spartacus surveys the valley from the cliffs of Vesuvius as the rebels make camp in the barren rocks. Mira and Spartacus appear to have come to some peace with the end of their relationship. Gannicus and Crixus alert them that Nemotes and his men have decided to try to breach the Roman barricade.

Below, Ashur's arrogance taunts Tarsus, but a dispute is interrupted by the Germans attacking. They're taken down by the Romans, and Ashur is about to behead Nemotes as Mira's arrows lead the way for the other rebels to attack. Ashur is shot in the shoulder and Spartacus engages the Egyptian. Roman reinforcements arrive, so Spartacus rescues Nemotes and begins retreat. One of the soliders hurls an axe that misses him and kills Mira. He takes her back up the slopes.

Mira dies and Spartacus takes his grief out on Nemotes and his rash attack, but the German counters he led them to their deaths and she at least met hers as a warrior. Spartacus realizes he's right and declares Glaber will come to them eventually and they'll stain Vesuvius with their blood. However, Spartacus is finding it difficult to come up with tactics to fight against the Romans. Gannicus reassures him that he now regards him a brother and is happy to fight alongside him.

Back at the temple camp Glaber is brought one German survivor, but given he can't speak their tongue, he kills him. He vows to stay his hand until they begin to starve, given taking the mountain would be very costly.

Meanwhile, Lucretia and Ilithyia are journeying to Vesuvius to meet him. Ilithyia is happy she can find some solace in Glaber again, but she treasures Lucretia's friendship and promises a husband for her when they're in Rome. Lucretia grimly explains that Glaber has already promised her to Ashur. Ilithyia assures her they'll rid her of the burden when they get to Vesuvius.

Ashur wants his mercenaries to swear a new oath of brotherhood, making them the first recruits in his ludus. They're interrupted by the arrival of Ilithyia and Lucretia. Glaber seems pleased to be reunited with her, so she presses him to end Spartacus' life so she can return to Rome and have the child. It would require the loss of many men to take the higher ground, he points out. Ilithyia tempts him to agree to accelerate his plans. She lingers a little longer to give him Seppius' bracelet, explaining her slave saw Ashur give it to Seppia, sparking her vengeance. Glaber muses Ashur has served his purpose, but so has Lucretia, who knows secrets he would not have revealed. He wants to put their unfortunate past behind them and seize a glorious future.

Lucretia plays along with Ashur's advances before rejoining Ilithyia. Glaber confronts him, asking if he thinks him a fool, showing him the bracelet. Ashur denies any knowledge, but Glaber draws his sword, prompting Ashur and his men to do so. Ashur laments the end of their association and suggests they take their leave. Glaber offers the mercenaries 1000 dinari each for their service. They immediately abandon Ashur, so he makes a stand but the Egyptian puts his sword to his throat. Glaber opts to test the depths of his loyalty.

Spartacus prepares Mira's body and is alerted to the arrival of Ashur on the path. He comes bearing a message from Glaber—he's grown weary and would return home to Rome and offers terms of surrender. If they lay down their arms they'll be allowed to live as slaves again, but Spartacus' life is the cost of the bargain. Nemotes steps in and says he doesn't want to die, but if so he'll do it as a free man. None of them will take the deal, so Ashur has his answer. Ashur is about to leave, but Crixus refuses to let him go so quickly, and would see him punished for all he's done. 

Ashur taunts Crixus for cutting down a defenceless man, so he's given a sword. Ashur protests that there is no honor in fighting, given he's wounded in the shoulder. Naevia steps in and says she won't have Crixus soil his name for her, so she'll take vengeance herself, given she has greater claim on his life. Crixus reluctantly allows it.

Ashur and Naevia battle as Crixus painfully watches. He brings her down, but she refuses help. Ashur finally has his sword to her throat, gloating how he had her. When it seems she's doomed, she elbows him in the groin and follows up with her sword. She cuts his neck and he bleeds out slowly. Ashur shouts that it makes no difference, his death will not heal her scars. She agrees it won't erase the memories, but it's a start, and lops off his head after several swings. Naevia admits Crixus was right—that it was no easy task to cleave a man's head in one single blow. He promises to teach her.

Spartacus puts Ashur's head on the path as a reply to Glaber. Then Spartacus gets an idea—something the Romans won't see coming. At the temple, Tarsus brings back Ashur's head and Glaber plans to take Vesuvius at dawn.

Back at the ludus Lucretia tosses the red wig over the cliff. Ilithyia joins her, pleased they will soon leave this place. Ilithyia struggles with having to push her off the balcony as Lucretia comments how she saved her from tragedy. Lucretia turns at that moment and startles Ilithyia, and they see her water has broken. Lucretia tells her it's the sign from the gods the child must be born within the walls and leads her inside.

The rebels have woven vines together to provide ropes down the cliffs—enough for four men. Agron, Crixus, Gannicus and Spartacus will make the descent. He gives the rest a final pep talk, that the Romans believe the Roman way is the only way, and that's their fatal flaw.

They begin their climb down the shear cliff face, where Roman guards stand watch below on the path. They take them, head to camp and began to kill everyone there.

Tarsus joins Glaber on the temple wall. He's musing about his future, rising above others in the Senate. Then he spies a fire in the woods at the camp, and Spartacus lights the catapults to bombard the temple. Oenomaus sees the signal from the cliffs and they make their move. Glaber gets his men to advance into the woods, finding the four gladiators ready to fight. They charge and engage but are suddenly met by Oenomaus and the rebels from behind.

Lucretia has summoned the medicus, but Ilithyia fears something is wrong, so Lucretia goes to find something for the pain. Ilithyia hears a cry and sees Lucretia covered in blood, holding a knife. She kills Ilithyia's other slave telling her intent was always to see the curse on the house lifted. Now no one need come between them, she says. Lucretia explains she's but a vessel carrying a gift of the gods for the House of Batiatus, and she'll see it unwrapped.

Glaber orders his troops to fall back as Spartacus and his men pursue. Oenomaus saves Gannicus from the Egyptian, but the two mortally wound one another. Gannicus steps in and kills him, but Oenomaus tells him he goes to his wife, and they'll greet him in the afterlife as a brother. He dies in his arms. 

Lucretia emerges with a baby in her arms, while inside Lucretia crawls across the floor screaming to her. Quintus always wanted a son, and he shall have one, she explains as Ilithyia tries to reach her. She falls back over the cliff with the baby as Ilithyia watches in horror. Then Ilithyia collapses on the sand and dies.

Glaber secures the temple, but the rebels are already scaling the walls. Tarsus is killed. Spartacus and Glaber finally battle. Glaber refuses to die at the hands of a slave but Spartacus says he's a free man and shoves his sword into him. The Romans have finally learned their place before them. With that, the men have taken back the temple and Glaber tells him he's won nothing. Rome will send legions in his wake and one day soon he will fall. Perhaps, but not this day, Spartacus says, and shoves his sword into his mouth as memories of his wife pass before his eyes.

Spartacus tells his people that Rome can send their legions and they'll face them, and all will follow Glaber in death. Now they become an army, he tells Crixus. The rebels shout his name.

The Verdict:
Wrath of the Gods ranks up as one of the best of the entire series, and left me breathless and dumbfounded in places. Mira's death wasn't unexpected at all, nor was Ashur's, but it was immensely satisfying to watch him fall. Oenomaus brought  a very sombre moment, but at the same time a beautiful closure for his arc.

Most shocking was the culmination of Lucretia's plan. It all made a twisted sort of sense, but watching her fall back off the cliff with the baby was one of the most stunning moments of the series. That leaves Ilithyia, who I had assumed was alive, though I've just read an interview with the creators and they've confirmed she's dead, too.

There was little to critique given the epic scale the writers delivered. There's always the head-scratching questions of how fast the rebels can travel on foot down the mountain to the temple, or from Capua to Vesuvius, plans that need go exactly as planned, and for my own satisfaction I'm just going to assume that at some point in season one Batiatus hosted a two-day seminar on the operation, loading and aiming of catapults.

It's an interesting note that Crixus is the only original actor left since the beginning of the series. And the entire cast of Romans is dead, but given the shift in focus for the rebels, apparently Julius Caesar and Marcus Crassus will be appearing next season. Nevertheless, the shining star of this year was Liam McIntyre, who has certainly put his stamp on the character.

Spartacus has his vengeance, as does Naevia, and even Lucretia. The season wraps up very nicely with a broad new direction ahead. Glaber's parting words were very ominous, given Rome will indeed send legions, and the inevitable defeat of Spartacus is something always hovering over the series. But they will now rise above the small band of rebels and become an army fighting on a larger tapestry. It's sad to leave behind the arena and Capua, but everything and everyone received a proper send off. 
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