Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: Mad Men "Christmas Waltz"

Non Spoiler Review:
As Christmas approaches, Lane's financial woes push him into some very bad decisions. Pete has managed to secure a renewed attempt to get the Jaguar account, but no one seems to be giving him the respect he wants. Joan gets some bad news that prompts an interesting afternoon out. Paul Kinsey returns.

Christmas Waltz was one of the best of the season, focusing mostly on SCDP goings on, and very referencial to past events, including Kinsey's appearance in one of the more surprising moments. However, Joan's scenes overshadowed everything, and are easily some of the most memorable of the series to date. It was really a pleasure to watch her get some focus and show why she's one of the big stars of this show.

As we approach the end of the season, I'm wondering how much Jaguar will figure in the plot developments, given it received so much focus. It could provide a nice balance to the loss of Lucky Strike at the end of last season.

Spoilers Now!
Lane is in trouble with the tax man for avoiding taxes in Britain when he paid for his partnership at SCDP. To avoid jail he has to come up with some cash. Lane devises a scheme, so meets with Walt, their banker, asking to extend SCDP's credit by $50,000, given no one is paying their bills on time. He gets the extension. Then Pete announces that Lane's friend from Jaguar is nolonger with the company, and they've asked SCDP to pitch a campaign, courtesy of Pete's persistence. Some in the office still aren't keen on Jaguar, but Pete remains excited about it.

Harry has lunch with Paul Kinsey, who is now a Hare Krishna. He convinces Harry to stay for a prayer session which Harry ends up getting into, helped by the fact of the attractive Lakshmi encouraging him. He and Kinsey have lunch, where Paul admits he's in love with Lakshmi. The movement saved his life when he was at rock bottom and he wants to make a life with her but not in the movement. She won't leave unless she knows she won't end up on the street again, given she has a shady past. Harry figures he's asking him for a job, but Kinsey actually gives him some writing he's done on spec for Star Trek and asks him to read it and pass it along to NBC.

At the partner's meeting, Lane announces they have a surplus of $50,000 so they can distribute Christmas bonuses this year, including to the partners. Don wants to wait until the Christmas party. Lane wants the bonuses now for morale. Pete adds Jaguar would like them to test drive some of their cars to get some perspective, so asks Don to accompany him. Bert comments Jaguars are lemons and is not enthused about the potential account.

Roger is drunk because it's Pearl Harbor Day and manages to irritate Joan. Roger tells her not to worry given he'll cover her expenses for the baby, but Joan doesn't want his help and if he's not careful won't even be a family friend, she adds.

Don and Megan watch an experimental play that has a message against advertising, which annoys Don and creates a bit of friction between them. Meanwhile, Lane goes in late and forges Don's signature on a cheque for himself so he can pay his bill. Harry asks Peggy to read the script to get her second opinion because he feels it sucked. Peggy has more of the tough love approach when it comes to being honest with Kinsey and suggests he should tell the truth.

Joan gets served divorce papers in reception so she tears a strip off the receptionist and smashes a model airplane. Don witnesses the blow up and takes her aside, getting her out of the office and offering to test drive the Jaguar as Pete asked. The two of them have fun posing as a married couple and Don writes a cheque for the car when the salesman won't let them both drive it together, then heads off with Joan. They end up at a bar for a drink. Don isn't impressed with the vehicle, but she says it's because he's happy.

Joan explains Dr. Harris wants a divorce. They discuss the years they've known one another, and Don adds that Bert always told him she was the one person at the agency never to cross. And he's the one man who has never given her flowers. He offers congratulations that she's getting divorced. No one realizes how bad it has to get for that to happen, he muses. The two of them dance as the bar fills up. She tells him he's irresistible and Don realizes he should go. He can drive and suggests she stay to take advantage of the single men in the bar. 

Lakshmi comes to see Harry at work. She confesses she felt a bond with him when he was chanting and seduces him into sex on his desk. Afterwards she says she did it for the movement and adds that he's disgusting. She only came there because she doesn't want him shaking Paul's devotion by giving him false hope for his teleplay. Harry asks her to let Paul go. But he's their best recruiter. She warns him to stay away and let Paul be happy in Krishna. 

Harry has lunch with Paul, saying he loved his script but he can't give it to anyone over at NBC for legal reasons. Harry agrees he has a future. He gives him an envelope with $500 and a ticket to Los Angeles. He wants him to leave the Krishnas and try his future in California. If he goes back to Lakshmi he'll never be strong enough to leave. Paul agrees. Harry's the only person who has actually done something for him, he says.

Don drives home trying out his new wheels. Megan is waiting for him as he arrives drunk and is furious, demanding to know where he was all afternoon. Megan berates him for not caring to call and insists he eat dinner with her. She tells him he still has his work and loved it before he ever met her. 

Lane's wife is excited about travelling home for Christmas, which would add to their financial pinch of which she is blissfully unaware, so he tells her that Edwin left Jaguar and the firm can't pitch to them without Lane. He asks her to stay with him for Christmas. She agrees and adds she's proud of him.

Roger delivers Joan some flowers that were left anonymously at reception. But from the note it's obviously from Don.

Pete announces Mohawk is on strike and is suspending all work for the time being. So there will be no bonuses, Bert adds. Lane protests. Bert says the partners will defer until the end of January then. Lane addresses the staff about Mohawk, and then explains they will forgo their share in order to reward the staff. Don takes the opportunity to rev everyone up about Jaguar, telling them to prepare to take a great leap forward because the next six weeks they'll spend on winning the account. Every agency is defined the moment they got their car, and the world will know they've arrived. Everyone is excited. Lane is not.

The Verdict:
I really enjoyed this one, and had a big smile on my face during all the Joan and Don stuff. It was easily some of the best of the entire series, building on their relationship over five seasons.

In case we were wondering if Dr. Harris suspected the paternity of the baby, we know now, and it's Joan who has been rebuffing Roger's attempts to keep her financially secure.

The return of Kinsey was another bit of Mad Men quirkiness tossed in, managing a Star Trek tie-in to boot. It was a nice cap to the character, sending him off to parts unknown in California in search of a dream. Being abandoned by the rest of creative on their move to SCDP was a serious scar he's had to bear. Now just to find out what's happened to Sal.

Megan is in a difficult position. Unless she finds success in acting, she's stuck at home being the next Betty Draper while Don disappears at work (especially since he seems to have found his passion for advertising again). While their marriage appears pretty successful so far, it could slide off the rails if Megan's sense of self-worth collapses. And from the look on Don's face when he was driving home, there's a lot of issues about the women in his life mulling around up there. He still sees Megan's career choice as a personal slap in the face to him.

Finally, Lane appears to have passed the point of no return. I find it difficult that his scheme could work, especially with someone like Bert around with tons of time on his hands to look into the extra $50,000. He's dug himself in pretty deep, and the bit about Edwin being shipped back to England is really foreboding. That would be a sad way to end things with this great character, so I hope there's some resolution in sight for him.

As usual, Pete gets no respect. And in this case I agreed with him.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "The Prince of Winterfell"

Non Spoiler Review:
The imminent attack on King's Landing is a pall over The Prince of Winterfell as armies are on the move and the fallout of the conflict affects Robb, Theon and Tyrion's familial and personal relationships. With little idea of how to repel Stannis' fleet, Tyrion faces an attack from Cersei. Robb suffers a betrayal from someone close, while Arya realizes she must act. In the north, Jon is offered a chance at redemption. Theon continues to struggle to gain the respect of his subjects.

Given the hype over next week's Blackwater, this one was a quieter, more intimate affair, touching on everyone's storylines to set up for what's coming. Game of Thrones continues to balance its action with well-written, gripping drama. Everyone's bad decisions are catching up with them and odd alliances are forming. Surely some of these characters can't last the next couple of weeks. It's all quite a dark mess, but certainly enjoyable.

It's hard to pin down a best episode of the season now, given the amount of great scenes and dialogue thrown at us the last month. My only real critique is Jon's characterization, which at this point now seems to be pointing to a singular conclusion. But then again, the series has no qualms for pulling the rug out from under our expectations.

Spoilers Now!
Yara arrives at Winterfell with a handful of riders, informing her outraged brother that their father has ordered him home so they can have a chat. She mocks him for killing the Stark boys, who would have made valuable hostages, and now he's the most hated man in the north. Winterfell is hundreds of miles from the sea, and their power comes from their ships. He assures her they've killed all the ravens, so Robb Stark won't find out about his brothers' deaths. He will keep Winterfell.

Yara tries a different tact. He was a terrible baby, she admits, and she wanted to strangle him, but when he looked up at her he stopped screaming. She asks him not to die so far from the sea. 

Jon is brought to Mance Rayder's Lord of Bones, Rattleshirt, who has no need of him, given he's also captured Qhorin. Ygritte explains he's Ned Stark's son and Mance will want to see him, so that ensures his safety for the time being. She tells Jon they're even now. Jon is brought to Qhorin, admitting he couldn't kill her. The others were looking for them, but the Wildings found them before they found Jon. Only Qhorin survived, and the weight of their deaths is on Jon. As they're led to Mance, Qhorin explains he will be marching on the Wall unless Jon can stop it, so Qhorin starts a fight with him to make it appear they think he's a traitor.

Back at the Night's Watch camp, Sam and Grenn are digging latrine pits and ponder at Jon's fate. Most think he's dead. They suddenly unearth a vault from the First Men. Inside is an old Night's Watch cloak full of dragon glass (obsidian). 

Robb has confided his future wedding commitments to Talisa. It was a promise made when he thought he could save his father. She asks why he doesn't just go home, but he vows they will never be safe until the Lannisters are defeated. Riders arrive revealing Jaime escaped in the night. Back at camp he asks his mother to explain herself. Catelyn tells him she did it for the girls. Returning him to King's Landing might get her children back. Lord Karstark is furious and calls her treasonous. Robb isn't sympathetic either and has her taken away, ordering her guarded day and night. He sends men after Jaime.

On the trail, Brienne has the captive kingslayer. She has zero respect for him but she won't be provoked to anger despite his constant taunts. She suggests one day they might find out who is the better fighter, but for now they set off in a boat.

Tywin is outraged to learn King's Landing is two days away from attack, and there are urgings for the king and Cersei to ride west to safety given Stannis will execute them all. Arya listens to them debate the conflict. Robb is too close to Casterly Rock for Tywin to support King's Landing, but the Greyjoys have done them a great favor given Robb sent a splinter force to retake Winterfell. Robb doesn't know enough to be afraid, which makes him very dangerous, Tywin muses, so decides they'll ride at nightfall for a sneak attack, while Clegane maintains a garrison at Harrenhal to root out the Brotherhood. Arya will stay on with Clegane as his servant. Arya attempts to find Jaqen, but fears he's gone off with Tywin's men. 

However Jaqen finds Arya, and asks for the final name. She needs Tywin dead right now, but that's something he cannot do. He never promised when he would kill. Only death. So she names Jaqen himself. He counters that it's no joking thing and demands to be unnamed. She promises to unname him if he helps her and her friends escape and will obey him if he does this thing, so he instructs her to walk through the gates at midnight.

A troubled Tyrion is trying to plan the defence of King's Landing. Bronn tells him he won't find the answers in books. Varys arrives, complimenting Bronn for reducing thievery. In a city under siege, food is worth more than gold, he explains, and thieves love a siege, as it makes them the richest men in town when it's over. Varys suggests some extreme measures will be necessary. Stannis knows the strengths and weaknesses of the city. Tyrion figures Mud Gate is where he'll land. 

Later, Cersei shares a drink with her brother at dinner. Joffrey is planning on fighting, but she says he's not ready and his place isn't on the battlefield. Sadly, it's not on the throne either, her brother counters. Cersei is well aware that he wants to send Joffrey to die. But Tywin explains he needs to be out there.

Cersei asks him why Varys is so dangerous—because he doesn't have a cock. Perhaps she's dangerous too, he adds. She explains he's as big a fool as every other man, and reveals she has Tyrion's whore, suggesting he hide his whores more carefully. If Joffrey is hurt, then she'll suffer every wound he does, and if he dies, Cersei will devise the most painful death for her. To prove her threat, she has the whore brought in. It's Ros. Tyrion manages to conceal his relief and goes over to her, telling her to be brave and vows to free her. Ros asks not to be forgotten. Tyrion then promises he will hurt his sister—one day when she thinks she's safe and happy her joy will turn to ashes, and the debt will be paid. Cersei is still quite sure of her position and smiles as he leaves.

Tyrion rushes to find Shae and is relieved to find her in their quarters. Shae assures him she won't let people hurt him. He expects he will have to kill for her before it's all over. 

None of the ravens Robb has sent have returned. Roose assures him his son is only days away from Winterfell. Theon wouldn't dare to hurt the boys—they're his only hope of escaping the north. Robb wants his son advised that any iron born who surrenders will be allowed to return home, except for Theon.

Talisa interrupts and consoles him. While he's feeling the weight of a crown, she admits she was raised to be a lady. When she was twelve her parents attended a wedding and she was left with her little brother. They went swimming and her brother was found face down in the water. A slave pushed her out of the way and saved him. After that she decided she would not waste her years or live in a slave city again. Robb confesses he doesn't want to marry the Frey girl, and she admits she doesn't either. But he needed that bridge to cross. They kiss and have sex.

Gendry, Hot Pie and Arya wait for Jaqen to arrive as they hide by the walls. Arya is willing to trust him, and finally walks towards the gates as she promised. They find the guards are hanging dead. 

Stannis' fleet is a day's sailing from King's Landing. On the eve of battle, Stannis muses to Davos that Rob and Ned were the heroes of the previous rebellion, and all the rest were forgotten. Renly got Storm's End and never fought a day in his life. The city starved, and Stannis had to eat horses and cats and rats, but he promised to hold it for Robert and he did so. Only Davos slipped through with a boatload of onions to save the starving city. Stannis held Storm's End and he gave it up because Robert asked. Now he's the rightful king, and when he sits on the Iron Throne Davos will be his hand. Davos is honored, given he's such a lowborn man.

Varys admits to the king he has heard nothing from the north since Theon captured Winterfell. Joffrey wants to strike against the north, but Tyrion reminds him Stannis is coming to King's Landing. Joffrey is anxious to fight him, too, and has little grasp of the threat to the city. When he's gone, Tyrion asks to converse with Varys as two honest and intelligent men. Tyrion never expected to have any real power, however Varys assures him he's been a good Hand—he enjoys the game and plays it well. If Stannis breaches the gates the game is over.

They discuss Stannis' ruthlessness, how he will burn his victims in the name of his new god. Then Varys adds that he heard Daenerys Targaryen still lives in Qarth and has three dragons. If what they say is true it will be years before they're grown, but there will be nowhere to hide then. One game at a time, Tyrion says.

In Qarth, Jorah has found a ship that leaves the next day and wants to flee with Daenerys, but she won't abandon her children. He points out they are dragons and they'll die in Qarth if they stay. She suggests he sail and leave her to go to the House of the Undying herself. The dragons are the only children she will ever have, and she wants to be taken to them.

Theon has had enough of the hanging bodies on display, but Dagmer suggests they leave them up a few days more. Theon wants to give gold to the farmer for his troubles, but Dagmer killed him and his wife to keep them silent. Luwin suddenly notices Osha in the shadows as Theon and Dagmer converse, then looks at the burned bodies a little more closely.

Osha explains they got to the farm and then doubled back, walked through the streams to fool the hounds, and made their way to the tombs beneath Winterfell, as they are the last place they'd think to look. Luwin tells her she's right. And Theon burned the farmer's boys. Both agree they mustn't know as Bran will blame himself, only the young lord is listening as Hodor and Rickon sleep.

The Verdict:
Catelyn's betrayal of her son's authority was a profound moment, and I'm pleased that Robb acted to punish her. There was absolutely no excuse for what she did, though it's certainly in her character to do so. Interesting that she presumed to lecture Robb about his love life and responsibilities one week and is ready to undermine the war effort with her own family concerns. I hope there are further repercussions for this, because Catelyn needs to be brought down a peg. Ned would not have approved.

Brienne has grown quickly to be one of my favorite characters and I'm looking forward to what she can accomplish. I hope shes not one that will be made cannon fodder too quickly, and if she gets to kill Jaime in battle, all the better.

Speaking of cannon fodder, Theon has likely sealed his death warrant by remaining at Winterfell. I somehow doubt he will meet his death at the hands of Robb, but probably locally (perhaps Osha?). Yara's little reminiscence was a touching moment, but the entire Greyjoy clan better get a serious comeuppance.

So much for Tyrion and Cersei's bonding moment. This week brought a tense scene between the two sparring siblings full of juicy rejoinders. Though by the end of it I was pretty sure it wasn't Shae she'd captured. I do hope poor Ros makes it out of this one, and her pitiable "Please don't forget me" remark was a sad commentary on her traumatic time in King's Landing. Tyrion definitely owes her a favor for all he's put her through. And his threat to his sister was a chilling moment that is sure to foreshadow something ominous down the road. On the other hand, Tyrion and Varys make a great team and I'm anxious to see what they can accomplish together. Has Tyrion actually made a decision to use the wildfire?

Jaqen continues to be singularly a plot device in action (at least so far). It's a bit much considering how Arya needs to get out of Harrenhal and he's successfully delivered her and her friends. Can she get to her brother in time? And more important, will Arya be reunited with Robb and Catelyn this season? I have no idea. But what I would like to see is an appearance by Nymeria, who must surely be popping up again.

And speaking of dire wolves, where is Ghost? Will he be providing a rescue for Jon? We learn Jon's mistakes have gotten the entire party, save for Qhorin, killed. Things are really sliding out of control for his character and the only real way for him to achieve redemption is to man up and plant a sword in Mance Rayder when he gets the chance. Will we get to see this defining moment for Jon that would end the threat of the Wildings this season, or is it something that's going to stretch out into next? And was that a giant's skull the Lord of Bones was wearing?

Daenerys got a small moment that didn't really accomplish much, but it was her off screen reference by Varys that grabbed more interest with one of the more ominous lines of the series—one game at a time

Next week is the big one. If the hype is to be believed it will be one of the more spectacular hours on television. This one certainly served up the tension, and as I mentioned above, I love the juicy dialogue and scenes we've been getting between characters. Game of Thrones continues to succeed in managing the epic scale of things by balancing out the action with these equally compelling bits.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "A Man Without Honor"

Non Spoiler Review:
With an attack on King's Landing coming within days, Tyrion and Cersei share some harsh truths about their situation. Jaime Lannister makes an appearance and an impression on Catelyn. Daenerys learns what her role has been in Qarth. Jon makes more ridiculous decisions. A desperate Theon takes off in pursuit of the Stark boys, while Arya shares some verbal sparring with Tywin. Sansa wakes up to a new reality.

What really stood out this week was the incredible number of amazing scenes between characters. The dialogue was superb. It was easily the best of the season in this respect—Cersei behaving unusually introspective with both Tyrion and Sansa, more banter between Arya and Tywin, Catelyn and Jaime, Theon and Luwin, Daenerys and Jorah—it was one of those episodes that carried itself just on the merits of its dialogue.

In other respects, A Man Without Honor was a very dark hour. Invasion is imminent. Characters are lost and at their most desperate. My only critique is the boring Jon Snow arc the last two episodes. He's really behaving like a fool, so I hope there's some greater reveal about what's going on with him, because right now he should have his ass kicked out of the Night's Watch.

Spoilers Now!
Theon is furious with the ineptitude of his soldiers who let Osha escape with a cripple and a half-wit, and brings Luwin along on the hunt after the fleeing Starks, promising to punish (but not hurt). Luwin urges him to abandon this course, given Robb will have sent a force north, but Theon is confident his sister will come with reinforcements, and as Ned always said, 500 men could keep Winterfell from 10,000. Meanwhile, Bran, Osha, Hodor and Rickon approach a farm, but Bran insists they don't go to them for help given it will subject them to Theon's wrath. Osha points out they can't outrun hounds forever.

Jon awakens with Ygritte, who continues to goad him when she finds out he's a virgin. She also tries to tempt him with her freedom beyond the Wall, never having to answer to anyone. She also threatens to tell the other Night's Watch he slept with her, and it will just be her word against his. She suggests he might as well have sex with her. It's all a ruse to let his guard down so she can make another run for it. He follows after, but when he catches up he's surrounded by other Wilding warriors and has been led into a trap.

Tywin believes an assassin attempted to kill him using a wolfsbane dart. His soldiers have been hanging men to find out, but believe it was a member of the Brotherhood Without Banners. Tywin tells them to burn the villages and farms and let them know what it means to choose the wrong side. Arya brings in dinner, but Tywin offers it to her instead, and tells her to sit so he can enjoy her company. He muses it will be his last war, and one that will establish his legacy in coming months. As he stares out the window, she has opportunity to try to stab him, but doesn't take it. 

He goes on to tell the story of Harren the Black, who constructed the greatest fortress ever built, with the intent to hold off any attack. That only applied to land invasions, as he could not foresee Aegon the Conqueror would arrive with dragons and burn Harrenhal with his men in it. Arya reminds him Aegon came with his two warrior sisters Rhaenys and Visenya on the dragons Balerion, Vhagar and Meraxes. He muses that she reminds him of his daughter, given she doesn't behave like other little girls. He asks where she learned those stories. From her father, she says. A well read stone mason, he asks, and has never met one. She inquires at how many stone masons he's met, so he tells her to be careful how far she pushes him with her sass. He sends her to the kitchen, and reminds her commoners say milord, not my lord, and if she's going to pose as one, she'd better get it right. She explains her mother served a lady and taught her to speak properly. He warns her she's too smart for her own good.

Sansa crosses path with Sandor Clegane, and thanks him for saving her. No thanks are necessary, he says, as it gives him joy to kill people, and while her father might have told her killing was his duty, he lied. Killing is the sweetest thing there is. Seeing she's horrified at his attitude, he adds that she'll be glad of his hateful things when he's all that stands between her and her beloved king.

Xaro promises to call a meeting of the council to get to the bottom of the theft, but Daenerys doesn't trust any of them. He was responsible for her care, so he can't let it go unanswered. Jorah returns and is apologetic for not being there for her while he was searching for a ship. Daenerys explains Doreah is unaccounted for, and is disconsolate that she led her people out of the Red Wastes to their death. He regrets leaving her alone with these people, but she asks him who are her people exactly. She's all alone and Westeros doesn't even know she's alive. Is it him alone she should trust? She tells him he's grown too familiar with her. But no one can survive without help, he says, so she orders him to find her dragons.

Jorah finds the masked woman, Quaithe, and asks what she knows about the situation. She says he loves Daenerys and asks if he will betray her again. He declares he never will. The thief, she reveals, is with her now.

Daenerys and Kovarro are in the council chamber with Xaro. The Spice King admits it's best if her dragons die and wouldn't tell her if he knew anyway. The warlock Pyat Pree speaks up that he will help her and will take her to the House of the Undying where he has put them. When he learned she was coming, he made an arrangement with the king of Qarth, who procured her dragons. Xaro admits he is the one, and addresses the council to say they would keep Qarth sealed from the world, so he struck a deal to make him king. The Spice King reminds him he isn't a king and no alliance with Daenerys or Pyat changes that. Then Pyat's mirror images step forward from the shadows and kill all the members of the council. He says Daenerys will be with her babies forever. Horrified, Daenerys and Kovarro flee, running into another of Pyat's doppelgangers. Jorah show up and kills it, but the warlock calls out that her dragons wait for her. The three of them escape.

At Robb's camp, Alton Lannister returns with Cersei's answer to Robb's terms, and explains she tore it in half. Robb thanks him for delivering his message with honor and instructs his lords to give him his own pen. They have too many prisoners, Lord Karstark reminds him, so he's put in with Jaime Lannister while the men build a new cage, with Karstark's son, Torrhen, to watch over him.

Talisa asks for a moment, explaining she's out of essential supplies. Robb is going to the Crag to negotiate terms of surrender, so he offers to take her along so she can speak with the maester herself about what she needs.

Theon and his men arrive at the farm but find no sign of the boys. Theon is getting desperate to find them so he doesn't look like a fool. Dagmer finds some walnut shells that shouldn't be there. The farmer swears he doesn't know where they are. Theon sends Luwin back to Winterfell so he won't have to witness what must be done.

Sansa has a nightmare about her near rape, but wakes up to a bloodied bed. She's begun to menstruate, which means she can now bear the king's children. Shae comes in to find her trying to cut out the stain, so they conspire to flip the mattress, but another handmaiden arrives and is off to tell the queen. Shae follows and threatens to kill her, but when she returns, Sandor Clegane is already there.

Cersei is aware of the news, and speaks with Sansa, offering her some revealing advice. She recounts her own pain of childbirth while Robert was off on his hunts, and how she delivered him babies when he returned. Only Jaime was there with her. Joffrey has always been difficult, she explains. She may never love the king, but she will be devoted to her children. Despite Sansa's protests, Cersei tells her the more people she loves, the weaker she'll be. She should only love her children. As for Joffrey, she can try to love him. 

Alton is put in Jaime's cell, who doesn't recognize him as one of his distant cousins. Alton explains he once squired for Jaime, which was the greatest day of his life. Jaime seems to recall after a bit, and comments that he was a good squire, and very similar to his own first time, when he squired for Barristan Selmy in a fight against the kingswood outlaws. He speaks of Barristan's prowess as a fighter, and only through chance was he able to prove himself when one of the outlaws attacked him. He admits he would have been useless at anything else and isn't suited for imprisonment.

Alton asks him if he's attempted to escape, and Jaime reveals only now has he had an opportunity, and that unfortunately means Alton must die. So he beats him to death. When Torrhen comes in to investigate, Jaime strangles him with his chains and escapes. 

In the morning, Catelyn is alerted that Jaime has been caught. Lord Karstark wants him killed for murdering his son, so Catelyn must talk him down. She promises him justice, but he demands Jaime's head when Robb returns. 

Tyrion has received a message that Stannis is five days away with 200 ships. Cersei seems less concerned, given their high walls that will rain fire from above. Tyrion reminds her it's just him, her and Joffrey to figure out what to do, and Joffrey needs to act like a king. Cersei shoots back that he gave him whores to abuse. Tyrion admits he was wrong. Cersei laments she can't control him and confesses she hoped he'd be like Jaime, but realizes their incest may have come with a price. Tyrion points out the Targaryens wed brother and sister, but half of them went mad. She beat the odds with two decent children. Cersei cries. Tyrion looks like he might console her, but both say nothing.

At night in Robb's camp, the men are getting rowdy over Jaime. Brienne suggests the drunker they get, the worse it will be, so Catelyn takes her to Jaime's pen. Jaime is his usual cocky self and she chides him for forsaking every vow he ever took. Jaime says he swore so many vows that they surely contradict one another at some point. She adds he's a man without honor. Jaime admits to never being with any woman but Cersei, so in his own way has more honor than Ned, who fathered a bastard. Did she pretend to love the baby, he asks. But he can see that she hated the boy, given she can't conceal her feelings. She demands Brienne's sword.

At Winterfell, Theon addresses the crowd, telling them what would happen if they don't serve him. He unveils two burned bodies of boys. Luwin is distraught. Theon appears to have some sense of the horror he's committed.

The Verdict:
Jon needs a slap for being such an idiot. But his level of ineptitude is such that it now has me questioning if this was the plan all along—either Qhorin using him to mess up so much that they could get him into Mance Rayder's camp, or that he and Jon conspired together on this. I hope that's the case, because Jon really can't be that unbelievably useless and I'm getting tired of this meandering storyline.

Lena Hedley shows us some of Cersei's softer side, coming to terms with how her actions have brought the Lannisters to potential ruin. Her motherly chat was quite touching, considering how awful she's been to Sansa, but it really made the two bond on a level they've never reached before—as women promised to their kings. Cersei also figures her incest has caused Joffrey's insanity, like the Targaryens, and Tyrion does provide some brotherly counsel that she beat the odds by having two other wonderful children (who, unfortunately, are in the wrong line of succession). I almost expected a hug at the end, but we didn't get that.

While in Harrenhal, Arya's growing fondness for Tywin is causing her to slip up on her charade. She pulls out a few saves, but it's obvious to the old man that she's a highborn girl. Yet he allows her to continue it given he's enjoying her company (and a reminder of a young Cersei). It's an interesting comparison, given Arya hasn't reached the point where she can do her own dirty work (unable to make a rush to kill Tywin with the knife) and needing Jaqen to be her silent assassin. Tywin's suspicion that the assassin was after him will heat things up for her. He obviously can't suspect she's a Stark, but who does he think she is?

Daenerys had probably the most character revealing scenes in the series, showing just how far she's come from her first appearance in Pentos. Definitely a compassionate but strong queen in the making, she's now behaving as such, but being wrapped up in Qarth's coup has thrown her off balance. I'm pleased to see that Doreah is unaccounted for and might turn up. But how to get the dragons free, and the ultimate motivation for the House of the Undying remains to be seen. The Qarth plot continues to play out at the periphery of the series, but I'm actually finding it interesting enough, due completely to Daenerys and Jorah's chemistry.

With Robb away, Catelyn got to have some great leadership moments, and the return of Jaime Lannister after a very light season for him was welcome. I have no idea what happens to his character, but I wonder if Catelyn might keep him alive but cut off a hand or something (it's what I'd do). And it would certainly end his career at the one thing he's good at. The conversation he had with his distant, noble cousin was a chilling commentary on how nasty he and the Lannisters can be.

It's unusual to have so many tight episodes taking place within a few days of one another, given they tend to have lots of time in between (allowing for those ravens to get their messages out). So not enough time for the Bolton army to reach Winterfell yet. 

Stannis' ships are just days away for the ultimate battle for King's Landing. And still no plan to defend the city that doesn't involve risking burning it to the ground. I'm really interested in how Joffrey will figure here, and if it will mean his overthrow when things get desperate—while I still ponder if Sandor might do the deed, it would certainly make an interesting twist if Cersei were to kill her son. Highly unlikely, though.

Finally, the reveal at the end of the two boys, while shocking, just doesn't seal the deal for me. Having seen those two farm kids running around, and Theon's desperation to show his strength, and the idea of having major deaths occur off screen makes me believe the Starks are still at large and Theon's conspired to cement his position as ruler.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Review: Mad Men "Dark Shadows"

Non Spoiler Review:
Dark Shadows was a heavy-handed episode, requiring little probing to uncover the themes. It was all jealousy and vindictiveness and revenge. The Drapers, the Francises and the players at SCDP all engage in backstabbing and, as Roger sums it up, every man for himself.

As Thanksgiving approaches, the focus is back on Betty, who is still grappling with her weight, and realizes it's not just the food that's the problem. Sally and the boys are enjoying their time at Don and Megan's, and Sally is in the midst of doing a family history project which provides Betty an opportunity to sow some discord. Roger is back trying to woo new clients, which requires Jane's (Semitic) help. Michael and Don begin to compete for pitches.

It remained a satisfying episode, despite that we've had quite a string of these dark chapters showing the underbelly of the characters and their life in Manhattan. While Dark Shadows didn't highlight any future direction for this season, it remained a good one, with more enjoyable stuff for Sally, while updating the status of where some characters are at. 

Spoilers Now!
Pete has an acquaintance at the New York Times who is going to focus an article on up-and-coming ad agencies, which provides SCDP a chance to get some publicity. Meanwhile, creative is working on a campaign for Sno Ball. When Don stays late he happens upon Michael's work folder and is amused by all the man's ideas. That prompts him to brainstorm himself, and comes up with a pitch based around snowball's chance in hell. When creative meets to banter around all the ideas, Don starts to feel that his ideas aren't getting the same attention as Michael's, but they finally decide to go on the two pitches—Don and Michael's, and when they present them to Pete, Ken and Harry, they find Michael's the funny one, but still think presenting two options is best. Michael comments that it's good to see Don can still come up with ad copy despite being away from it.

Bert presses Roger to get back into finding clients, so has set up a meeting with Jewish wine maker, Max Rosenburg, for him to have dinner with. That requires Roger's Jewish wife Jane to seal the deal, only Roger has to remind him that they're getting a divorce. Roger goes to Michael to secure some ideas for the dinner—similar to what he asked Peggy to do on Mohawk. Michael needs financial encouragement, as well, so Roger has to dole out some cash to bribe him to do the extra work (that Roger will take credit for). Michael realizes how much Roger hates Pete.

Roger calls Jane to try to get a favor out of her. She offers a deal that he buy her a new apartment, given the current one has all their memories (plus his mother is her landlord). He concedes.

Betty and Henry pick up the kids from Don and Megan. Sally is in the midst of a family tree project for school, and Megan is busy teaching her some of her acting skills from class. Betty runs up to get them and is let in by Sally, so takes the opportunity to look at the Draper's marvelous apartment. She spies Megan getting dressed through the balcony window, then she comes out and they have a tense hello. When they get home, Betty goes straight to the fridge and sprays whip cream in her mouth, then quickly spits it out. Betty's been attending Weight Watchers, and has only lost half a pound, but confesses to the group she had a bad week and realizes it's not just food that is the problem.

Megan's friend is trying out for a part in Dark Shadows. Her friend is annoyed that Megan makes light of the bad script, and comments that she's got an amazing life where she doesn't have to struggle to make ends meet while she indulges in her acting passion. Megan is offended, but admits she's very lucky.

Sally has questions about the family tree she's working on (where to put Megan and Henry). Betty finds a note in Bobby's homework—a love note from Don to Megan. So she tells Sally not to forget Don's first wife, the one she had before her—Anna Draper. Betty comments she's surprised Don never mentioned it to her and leaves Sally to consider that.

Michael can't keep a secret, so reveals to Peggy he's doing some work for Roger but isn't supposed to tell. He wants to look smart at the meeting. Peggy says she doesn't care what he does, but is angry that Roger went to Michael over her. She confronts Roger in the elevator telling him her work for Mohawk was great, and at least she kept it secret. She tells him he's not loyal. Roger explains it's every man for himself.

The kids are back at Don and Megan's, but Sally is cool to her father and seriously bitchy to Megan, calling her a liar. Megan questions why she's being so nasty. Sally asks who Anna is. Megan wants to know who told her about her, and explains it wasn't her place to say. She concedes Anna and Don got married to help one another and never had any babies, a long time ago. Sally orders her not to tell her father.

When Sally is asleep Megan tells everything to Don and that Betty obviously told her. Don is furious and moves to call Betty. He adds Megan shouldn't have said anything at all. She tells him if he calls her he'll be giving Betty the thrill of knowing she poisoned them from 50 miles away. Sally is listening at the door. Don realizes she's right and apologizes for his reaction. In the morning, Don is woken up by a phone call from Pete who says they're not even mentioned in the Times article. It quickly turns into a blame game, and Don snaps to Pete not to wake him and throw his own failures in his face, and hangs up. 

Sally comes out. Don apologizes to her and admits it's his fault. Betty doesn't care about hurting her, she just wants to hurt Don and Megan. Don goes on to explain Anna was a friend but she died. And they married one another so she could own a house. Sally agrees to apologize to Megan. 

In the cab to the Sno Ball meeting, Don leaves Michael's idea in the car. Sno Ball thinks Don's pitch is great, and Harry informs the team when he returns to the office. Michael is mortified to learn his creative didn't get shown to the client. Peggy is amused.

A proud Betty tells Sally she got an A plus on her family tree, then asks if Megan helped her and if she asked about Anna. Sally cheerfully informs her that they did, and Don showed her pictures and they spoke very fondly of her. Betty sends her to watch television.

At Roger' client meeting, Jane charms the wine maker. Max' handsome son Bernard shows up. Jane finds him very attractive. Roger sells them on a good pitch, though he admits he did engage his creatives in anticipation of the dinner. Afterwards on the drive home, he asks Jane if she'll call Bernard, and to remember everyone thinks they're still married. He wants to see the apartment she picked out and tells her he's missed her and kisses her. They end up having sex. In the morning, Jane is depressed that she wanted the new apartment because she didn't want the memories of the old one, and now he's ruined this one. He gets everything he wants and he still had to do this. He admits she's right and he feels terrible, leaving her.

Pete has a daydream where Beth shows up in his office naked under a fur coat. On the train home, Howard is excited about spending the weekend with his fling in the city, which infuriates Pete. He suggests he should go to Howard's house and screw his wife all weekend. Howard just laughs and thinks Pete is jealous.

Michael confronts Don in the elevator (where all the big conversations are had these days), congratulating him on his successful pitch, but commenting his wasn't even presented, so they have no idea what they might have chosen. Michael muses he has a million great ideas so Don counters that's fortunate he works for him. Michael says he feels sorry for him. Don tells him he doesn't think about him at all.

Megan prepares Thanksgiving dinner for Don and her friend. As Don goes to open the balcony, she warns him there's a smog emergency and they can't open the doors. He looks out at the grey haze over Manhattan.

At the Francis dinner, everyone comments on what they're thankful for. For Sally, it's that she's doing well in school. Betty says she has everything she wants. Then she looks down at the few morsels she's allowed herself for dinner and savors each bite. 

The Verdict:
Sally shines again, this time with the help of Megan's coaching, able to turn the tables on her mother and fire back a damaging shot with little effort. Too bad Don and Megan won't be privy to how she dealt with Betty's questions. Either Sally is going to go completely off the rails as a teenager, or she'll grow up extremely well-adjusted.

Betty's peek into Megan and Don's life was a bitter pill to swallow. It's everything she ever wanted. That's mostly Don's fault for robbing her of her dreams and turning her into the woman she's become, but it was a very effective moment. She still has a relatively loving relationship with Henry, but he's certainly not the dynamic man she wanted in her youth.

Beth's brief reappearance indicates that plot line isn't done with and will have some probable repercussions for Pete.

The atmosphere at SCDP continues to be as toxic as the obvious metaphor of the smog over the city. What a stark contrast to the first season's very rigid power structures. Now Michael and Peggy have Roger over a barrel and can have arguments in the open with their superiors. Perhaps this backstabbing, every man for himself attitude is what is ultimately going to drive the final direction of the season and backfire against the firm. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "The Old Gods and the New"

Non Spoiler Review:
The episode kicks off with Theon's successful overthrow of Winterfell, leading to events spinning out of control. Theon's treachery prompts a response from Robb, while a send off for Myrcella in King's Landing shows just how tenuous Joffrey's reign is. Jon is given some responsibility that might be too much to handle. Daenerys attempts to secure allies and ships to cross the Narrow Sea. Arya's situation at Harrenhal grows more tenuous as Baelish pays a visit.

Probably the most tension-filled chapter this season, several characters are placed in jeopardy and there will be some serious repercussions for behaviours and bad choices. It was all a mix of demonstrations of loyalty and nobility contrasted with brutal treachery. On the political end of things, the Lannisters get their eyes opened to just how hated they are.

The remainder of the season is going to be all about escalation. The writers continue to successfully juggle the wealth of storylines and make it all come together each week. And they still manage to give pretty much everyone their due. Arya and Tywin remain the big surprise, as their scenes together are some of the best.

Spoilers Now!
Luwin frantically scrawls out a message and gets it off by raven before soldiers break through the door. Theon arrives at Bran's bedchamber announcing he's taken and occupying Winterfell. Sleepy Bran asks him why. Theon explains he's a Greyjoy and can't fight for Robb and his father both. Bran simply refuses to tell the people he's yielded Winterfell and says they'll fight him and throw him out. Theon points out his yield will keep his people alive and that's what a good lord would do. As Theon leaves, Bran asks if he hated them the whole time, but gets no answer.

Bran announces to the courtyard he's surrendered Winterfell. Theon explains Balon is now king of the Iron Islands. He orders a raven sent to Pyke informing his father of his victory and his sister to bring 500 men to supplement his forces. Luwin obeys, while Osha steps forward and asks to serve Theon. She wants a spear in her hand again. Theon dismisses her outrageous request. As Osha joins him, Bran asks why she would turn on him. She replies that it's his dream, and she's not about to let the ocean swallow her as well. 

Sir Rodrik is led in, thoroughly disgusted with Theon's betrayal and spits on him. Theon orders him taken away, but Dagmer warns he must pay the iron price, or they'll never respect him. Theon abruptly sentences him to death but Luwin urges him not to make a hasty decision given he's worth more alive than dead. The Stark's will pay for him. Theon reminds him to address him as Prince Theon, or he'll be next. Rodrik is taken to the execution stone as Bran begs him to stop. Rodrik is defiant and tells Theon he is truly lost, goading him into performing the act himself. Theon does so, but makes a horrible mess of it to the horror of all watching.

In the north, Ghost seems to be having a mind of his own rather than following along with Jon and Qhorin Halfhand. The Wildings sleep during the day and do their killing at night, Qhorin explains. They take out some Wilding guards, one of whom is a girl, Ygritte. Qhorin advises him not to trust her or put much faith in her interrogation. She suggests they burn the other bodies given they will rise. Qhorin says she must be killed, so Jon agrees to do it.

They leave him to his task, but she sees he's never killed a woman before. She puts her head on the stone for him and tells him to strike hard or she'll come back and haunt him. His sword falls on the rock instead. That gives her opportunity to knock him down and flee, prompting a long chase over the rocks until he manages to catch up and bring her down. The sun is going down and his friends are out of sight. Jon ties her up, but they ultimately have to camp for the night given they can't find Qhorin. She wants to light a fire, but he's adamant they don't. She calls him stupid but brave as they fall asleep together.

Tywin is frustrated by the ineptitude of his bannermen, particular Amory Loch, who has mixed up messages between houses and sent a message to one loyal to the Starks by mistake, given he can't read. He sends him away just as Lord Baelish arrives (with a stunned Arya in the room). She has to clear the table and serve wine as Baelish explains his mission.

Baelish talks of his travels to Renly's camp and rumors of dark forces at work there. After the Lannisters and Starks, the Tyrells command the largest force but have not declared for anyone yet. Loras wants revenge on Stannis, while Margaery wants to be queen. While Tywin wants them punished, Baelish suggests they do so only after Stannis and Robb are defeated. Then Baelish catches sight of Arya and seems to pause. Tywin sends her away as Baelish agrees to ride to Highgarden to meet with the Tyrells. He also adds Tyrion has brought a proposal to Catelyn Stark regarding her daughters.

On the shores of King's Landing, Princess Myrcella is sent off in a boat to Dorne, while Cersei watches, accompanied by her brother, the king and Sansa. She tells Tyrion that she hopes he finds love with someone so deeply that she can take her from him and he might know what loss feels like. Joffrey chides his younger brother for weeping. The group begins their return to the palace, but the city streets are crowded with hungry citizens who begin to hurl insults, and a cow pie, that hits Joffrey in the face. Infuriated, he demands they be killed, which prompts a huge riot and the Hound carries Joffrey away as Cersei, Sansa and Tyrion attempt to follow. The priest who gave his blessings on the shore isn't so lucky, and is literally torn apart. Sansa and her ladies are cut off and she flees into a tunnel followed by some men. 

Within the palace walls Tyrion calls Joffrey a vicious idiot for letting the people starve and calling for their deaths. Joffrey is too angry to reason with, so Tyrion strikes him and asks of Sansa. If she dies they'll never get Jaime back. Joffrey refuses to send his guards in search of her.

Sansa is about to be raped when the Hound finds them and kills all the men, taking her back. He returns her to the palace and tells them to see to her cut and put her back in her cage. Then he adds a comment to Tyrion that he didn't do it for him.

In Qarth, Daenerys awaits to present her case to the head of the council, while Xaro chides her for not taking his offer. The condescending merchant finally appears, and she asks for ships to cross the Narrow Sea, promising to repay the debt threefold when she retakes the iron throne. He points out she can't retake what she never had. She doesn't have an army or powerful allies. She explains Mopatis from Pentos gave her three petrified dragon eggs thought dead, but she dreamed they would hatch in a great fire, a fire that left her unhurt. She is no ordinary woman—her dreams come true. He admires her passion but is ultimately a businessman and refuses. 

Arya cleans Tywin's table and finds a note there regarding Robb. Tywin asks who taught her to read, then muses about the difficulty he had with Jaime teaching him to read. Arya explains her father was a stone mason who taught himself to read, but he's dead. Loyalty killed him. Tywin thinks she's a sharp girl, so she asks him if he knew his father. Tywin grew up with him and watched him grow old, he says. He loved them and was a good man, but he nearly destroyed their house. While Tywin reminisces, Arya takes the note and goes to fetch wood for the fire. 

She runs into Amory Loch on her way to the armory, who sees the note and takes it, despite that Arya claims Tywin gave it to her to deliver to the armory. He doesn't believe her, so she flees and gets away, then desperately searches for Jaqen. She tells him she needs her second choice now, and at last convinces him to go after Loch. Shortly thereafter Tywin's door opens to Loch, who abruptly falls dead.

Robb notices Talisa in his camp and finds her far more flirtatious than their initial meeting. However Catelyn and Brienne make their appearance and he introduces them. Talisa excuses herself, but Catelyn sees her son is smitten and warns him he's inherited his father's responsibilities, promised to another. Robb realizes that, but they're immediately interrupted by news of Winterfell's defeat.

Catelyn and Robb try to digest the information of Theon's betrayal and Rodrik's death (and Catelyn can't help reminding her son she warned him not to trust the Greyjoys). Robb initially wants to march the army back north, but Roose Bolton wisely counsels him they have a war to win, and he doesn't have to do everything himself. Roose suggests his own bastard, Ramsay can rally the remaining soldiers in the north and retake Winterfell, promising to bring Theon's head. Robb agrees, but insists that Rickon and Bran's safety is paramount, and Theon is to be taken alive so Robb can take his head himself.

At Winterfell, Osha visits Theon again, wanting to be of service, suggesting there are other ways to serve than with a spear. She takes off her robe and Theon sends away the guard. She explains it comes at a price—she wants her freedom, so he promises her she will have it if she serves him well.

As Theon sleeps, Osha sneaks outside, only to be stopped by the guard on her way to the godswood. She says Theon has offered her up to the rest of the men and quickly kills him as he falls to her seduction. She whistles for Hodor who brings out Rickon and Bran, and they head off into the night with their dire wolves following. 

Back at King's Landing, Sansa is tended to by Shae. Sansa can't understand why someone would want to kill her and would willingly give them her own food. She hates the king more than them. Shae tells her never to say such things out loud in case the wrong people hear her. Sansa trusts her, but Shae advises her not to trust anyone.

Daenerys and Xaro walk back to her quarters, while she laments that none of the merchants will risk their business interests and support her. Xaro tells her the path from poverty to wealth isn't always pure and honorable. When they get to her lodgings, they find the courtyard full of the bodies of her people. Xaro tells them to bar the gates as Daenerys runs up to her quarters to find her dragons gone and her servants dead. Meanwhile, a man carries the dragons up the steps to a tower.

The Verdict:
There was a great tie in with responsibility and the lack thereof with both Jon and Theon's executions. We have Ned's dutiful and flawless execution of his Night's Watchman in the first episode to compare with his later brutal death, and now Theon's horribly botched one, done only to prove his authority. Meanwhile, Jon demonstrates that he's not yet ready to handle the responsibilities of a ranger by lacking the mettle to go through with Ygritte's.

I'm relieved Robb made the wise decision to not return his army to Winterfell and let Roose Bolton handle it. I don't doubt they can retake the city, but given the Boltons' manner of punishment, things don't bode well for the Iron Island conquerors, least of all Theon. So his days could certainly be numbered. I can't see an escape for his character unless he manages to get out of Winterfell before it goes down.

I wonder how large the Greyjoy rebellion will play out in the grand scheme of things—is it just a minor plot point? It could play a larger factor in the greater war, or it could all come down to Theon leading his family to destruction by bringing Yara to Winterfell just in time to face defeat. Certainly a suitable punishment for his character. Meanwhile, Osha doesn't let us down by playing off Theon's horniness and getting everyone out safely. Odd that she didn't chose to kill him before she left.

How likely is it that the Tyrell's will ally themselves with Tywin? It's very difficult to believe what Baelish is proposing given his motivations are clearly for his own position, and how willing Tywin would be to remove Cersei and/or Joffrey to accommodate. But the scenes at Harrenhal have been surprisingly some of the strongest stuff. The relationship between Arya and Tywin is quite charming (and sometimes chilling). Did Baelish recognize Arya? It appeared he caught a glimpse of her. My only real critique comes with Jaqen, who behaved very much like a deux ex machina managing to dispatch Arya's troubles in the nick of time.

The uprising at King's Landing and the way it came out of nowhere was quite effective. Cersei's wish for revenge on Tyrion is pretty ominous, and it seems Shae has learned the ropes quickly too, given her counsel to Sansa. Ironically, Myrcella is likely the only Lannister in a safe place. I'm still wondering how far Tyrion will go to fix the situation there. Who is he willing to sacrifice? He still wants Jamie back, so his loyalty to his family appears to be his priority. But what happens when that and the well being of the kingdom comes into conflict?

It's convenient that Daenerys has pretty much been freed of her responsibilities to the Dothraki and can do whatever she needs without hauling them along. Does the House of the Undying have her dragons? Yet Xaro's comment that she might have to do dishonorable things to succeed implies he could be involved himself.

What is the nature of the rising dead in the north? Ygritte makes mention that the dead Wildings must be burned. Does that mean the White Walkers have performed some magic on them? And what happens to members of the Night's Watch who might die there?

With all the betrayal we saw, loyalty and nobility does shine through in some surprising places. Osha has remained true to Bran with a scheme to free them, and the Hound obviously has Sansa's best interests at heart (and not Joffrey's, given the king refers to him as dog). Could the Hound ultimately become the new king slayer this season?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead 97

Non Spoiler Review:
Attention returns to Alexandria, as the population await the return of Rick and his crew. Eugene and Abraham go exploring for bullet-making supplies. Maggie's got a secret. And on the road, Rick encounters followers of Negan.

The storyline is kicking into high gear and moving briskly now compared to previous issues. There was a good balance of action, plot development, and some character stuff, making for a dense issue with the promise of lots of twists and turns to come.

There are more and more hints that Kirkman could be making a big paradigm shift in what this series is about. I could be misinterpreting some of the foreshadowing, but it's a really engaging storyline, nonetheless.

Spoilers Now!
Meanwhile, back at home, everyone gathers for church service and prays for the safe return of Rick and his crew. And Carl? He's missing, of course, and Maggie (hopefully) assumes he's with Rick. She's also experiencing some nausea.

Abraham visits Eugene, who has been researching the phone book for possible locations of equipment to make bullets. But he can't help but rub in that he's now with Rosita, only she doesn't feel the same way.

As for Rick, the van is on the way home, only to be halted by an ambush of bikers who order them to stop in the name of Negan. Andrea and Michonne dispatch all but one with ease, leaving Rick to order the survivor to return to Negan with instructions that they will now pay Rick half their supplies, and he'll protect them instead. After he's gone, Carl has regained some memories, particularly of a similar event on the road (when he was nearly raped, and Rick butchered the attackers), giving Rick mixed feelings about his son's memory returning.

The group gets back to Alexandria and bring everyone up to speed, the majority of whom are excited and agree that they can provide protection for the Hilltop in exchange for supplies. Maggie reveals she's pregnant. Andrea and Rick decide that the future is starting to look pretty hopeful and perhaps they could try out a relationship. While keeping the perimeter clear, a particularly rotted walker is discovered.

Abraham and Eugene go exploring for supplies, with Eugene subtly taunting him that he's Rick's lapdog. Meanwhile, some armed strangers are watching them from behind a building.

The Verdict:
Given my occasional complaint that the storyline was moving slowly, Kirkman brought Rick and Negan on a collision pretty quick. I have a sinking feeling that Rick's hubris is a bit out of control and he's horribly misjudged Negan. His manner of dealing with his followers was pretty brutal (but that's who they've become, I guess), but I don't doubt it's going to backfire (and perhaps against the Hilltop rather than Alexandria). This other group spying on Abraham and Eugene could be entirely unrelated to Negan, or part of his group. Hard to tell at this point.

Eugene is the other interesting variable this time as he seems eager to sow discord at every opportunity with Abraham. I don't believe he has a particular agenda, but just a need to show his worth now that he seems to be doing something for the community, and having Rosita staying with him appears to have fluffed his ego.

That wasn't the only character drama. Finally some movement on the Rick and Andrea kiss, too. It seems odd they've not talked about it in all this time. How will Maggie's pregnancy turn out? Her stomach problems had me initially musing about non-zombie maladies in general. We haven't really seen any of the characters come down with a serious disease like cancer or diabetes. It would certainly be tragic to survive the apocalypse only to succumb to cancer. Given how impressed Glen was with the Hilltop, I'm wondering if he might now want to move his family there?

Also of note was the rotting zombie Abraham and Eugene discover, which calls back to a similar curious walker they found on the road a ton of issues back. That makes me wonder if Kirkman could be winding down the zombie apocalypse—that the walkers have a lifespan before they just rot away. That's an interesting development, if, in a few years we find the survivors existing in a world with far fewer walkers and simply managing the situation. That would be quite a change in direction, but one that would flow logically with all that's gone before. Regardless, I'm back to anticipating each issue to see where it all goes (especially coming up on the 100th).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: Mad Men "Lady Lazarus

Non Spoiler Review:
Lady Lazarus revisits Pete's marital infidelities, but illuminates his misogynist motivations as he's presented with an opportunity with a lonely housewife. As the creative team works on a Cool Whip campaign, a secret Megan is harboring begins to infect the office (and Peggy), leading to a surprising outcome for SCDP.

Lady Lazarus refers to the suicide-themed Sylvia Plath poem. The Megan situation brought plenty of tension, and it's not what one initially thinks it could be, but there continues to be this ongoing string of death imagery that casts an unsettled tone over everything. Don and Roger again debate the generation gap, which has become the primary theme for this season. There was plenty of good drama, and a great fight between Don and Peggy, ending on yet another catchy and memorable musical montage.

Spoilers Now!
Pete shares the train with Howard, who tries to sell him life insurance but ends up talking of his affair in Manhattan. Pete's only comment is if he's worried he'll get caught.

With Don present Michael sells a pitch to Chevalier Blanc that hinges on using a song similar to the Beatles. Don asks Megan what song will fit the campaign rather than the others in creative, and he can't understand why people now want songs rather than jingles.

The next night Pete gets off the train and Howard's wife Beth meets him, explaining she locked her keys in the car and Howard wasn't on the train. He drives her home, and she says he's staying in the city given they got an apartment, though she knows what that means. She mentions Pete's awful driving, too.

He gets her home, but she laments Howard likely doesn't care if she's alive or dead. He boldly goes in with her but she protests she wants to be left alone. So Pete kisses her and they end up having sex. As much as she liked it, she says it can't happen again.

Megan gets a mysterious phone call, then later sees Don off on a client dinner. Peggy thought they were working late but Megan tells her Don has asked her to attend the dinner. Unfortunately Don calls Peggy looking for Megan so she explains she went to meet him at the restaurant. Don says he never called and is, in fact, at home. He phones Peggy again, but she doesn't answer and leaves given she doesn't want to be put in the middle of them.

Megan returns home explaining she went out for a drink with friends. The next day Peggy asks her what it was all about and doesn't want to be put in that position again. It turned out she had a callback for an audition for a Broadway show but didn't get it. Megan didn't tell Don because she doesn't want him to know she still wants to be an actress. She's finally realized she wants to quit. That makes Peggy furious given people are killing to take that job and she doesn't even want to do it.

Peggy goes on to her creative meeting for Cool Whip with Don, Ken and Stan. She's only further irritated when Megan joins them. She and Don have come up with a charming husband/wife bit for the campaign that everyone (but Peggy) thinks is adorable, and they're to present it to the Cool Whip chef at their kitchen.

However, Megan wakes Don up in the middle of the night to explain where she was and that she misses acting. Don isn't very alarmed that she lied, but tells her sometimes they don't get to choose where their talents lie. She claims she felt better failing the audition than succeeding with Heinz. She's never tried as hard at acting as she did at advertising and she no longer wants to do it. Don's upset that she wants out of the business, but says he understands and doesn't want to keep her from her dream.

In the morning, an uneasy Don speaks with Joan about Megan quitting. Joan suggests the girls take her to lunch, but she'll take care of everything. Megan announces in creative that she's leaving but has difficulty saying good-bye. She hands over her work to Peggy, who asks if she's sure about it. Joan tells Peggy she didn't see it coming, and thinks Megan will ultimately be a failing actress with a rich husband. Peggy thinks she's good at everything and feels guilty for being too hard on her. Joan reminds her Don met Betty doing a print ad and that's the kind of girl he marries.

All Harry can think is how nice it will be not having to watch what he says around Megan. Pete doesn't care and is bitter about women in general and why they get to control everything. Pete had contacted Beth and wanted her to meet him in the city but she asked him not to call again.

Don sees Megan off for lunch, then thinks about following, however the other elevator door opens and he stares down an empty shaft, which proves unnerving. He goes to have a drink in his office (rather than report it to maintenance!?). Ken marches in to tell them they found a song for Chevalier Blanc, which sounds nothing like the Beatles, and Michael is aghast that it's thirty years old.

Pete finds Howard on the train home again, so he lets him know he decided to get a new policy and already contacted his broker. Howard wants the chance to sell to him, so invites him over to discuss it at dinner. They arrive to a shocked Beth who feigns an introduction. As Howard goes upstairs Pete grabs another kiss and wants to meet her again. Pete ends up staying for dinner, though Beth claims she has a headache.

Without Megan, it falls to Peggy to fill in for her at the Cool Whip meeting, but Peggy isn't on her game as much as Megan was. The two lack the same chemistry—Peggy comes across as an angry wife while Don is just passive aggressive. Ken and the others watch the awkward pitch, and the chef is disappointed and excuses himself. Don chides her for not knowing her lines, and when she balks abruptly exclaims she felt threatened by Megan. Peggy protests that she defended her all the time and accuses him of taking out his anger at Megan on her.

Pete waits in the hotel room for Beth who never shows, and angrily leaves after smashing a glass.

Roger and Don discuss Megan's departure. Roger thinks she just wants a baby, but Megan has said Don's kids are enough. Don doesn't want her to end up like Betty, so she should do what she wants.

Don goes home, and Megan has recommended a song for the campaign before heading off to acting class—the Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows. He puts it on and it's far superior than Ken's choice. The episode ends with the song playing out over Peggy and Stan working late. Megan is enjoying her acting class. Pete sees Beth picking up Howard at the train station. She draws a heart in the condensation on her window. That just enrages him. Don doesn't like or understand the music at all and turns it off.

The Verdict:
Megan's departure wasn't entirely unexpected, though I'm pleased to see it was in this form, and not something related to the marriage. Don has certainly grown enough to realize his role in making Betty unhappy by robbing her of her own life, so he's wisely not going to make that mistake with Megan again. 

The plot was capped quite nicely with Megan providing the perfect music for Don at the end, despite Ken's horrible attempts to chose himself. Don's bickering with Peggy was a great (and funny) contrast to the initial amazing pitch. It seems Don can only be honest with Peggy, and not his wife. He certainly revealed his emotions to her, and she's come a long way that she can tell Don to shut up in front of Ken.

Pete's little fling really illuminated his character and his need to dominate women. He continues to attempt to emulate Don and fails miserably, frustrating him to no end. Beth was a bit of a kook, and it looks like she used Pete to get back at Howard as much as he was using her, but she remained in control of the situation despite all of Pete's best efforts. I get a sense that if Pete were to suffer a serious humiliation he could opt to off himself.

Don and Roger continue to struggle to understand the new generation they're selling to. After seeing Don grapple with the Beatles song (and even younger Ken not getting it), I'm wondering if SCDP can manage itself in this new era. But we got another great musical send off for Lady Lazarus, complete with archetypal brooding Don in chair with drink image.

Finally, the sense of impending doom continues to hover over the series, this time with Pete's (lack of) driving skills leading me to think he was heading for a nasty accident, as well as his discussion of life insurance. But then we get the elevator shaft scene with Don that was pretty chilling itself. Obviously it  brings a lot of stuff to mind (including the opening sequence), but very symbolic of being cut off from Megan. I'm pretty certain this means someone is going to die, and if not Pete, I now wonder if it could be Megan. It would definitely take Don's character in new directions if he were to lose her like that.
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