Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "Dark Cousin"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead "When The Dead Come Knocking"

Non Spoiler Review:
Maggie and Glen suffer a brutal interrogation by the Governor and Merle, while Michonne brings information about Woodbury to the prison. Andrea helps Milton with one of his experiments.

And so the penultimate episode of the first half of the season begins to put a lot of key players in place. As such, it played out a little more slower than we've been used to since the beginning of the season. That's not to say there wasn't a few action bits and surprises, but it was a much more psychological and emotional hour this time as we see further into the twisted psyche of the Governor. Things are certainly feeling ominous for next week.

Spoilers Now!
In Woodbury, Glen is tied to a chair, beaten and interrogated by Merle, who blames him for escalating the situation, and for leaving him in Atlanta. Merle is pleased to hear T-Dog is dead, but when no other information is forthcoming, he suggests Maggie will help him out. 

At the prison, Michonne stairs down Rick as the others come up to the fence. The walkers begin to take notice of her so she sets about killing the group around her. She finally passes out from her injury but Rick manages to get her inside and retrieve the baby formula. He sees she's got a gunshot wound, not a bite. As she's being tended to, Daryl brings Rick aside to show him Carol alive and well. Michonne watches the happy reunion from her cell.

Michonne reveals the supplies were dropped by an Asian guy and a girl she saw in town, both of whom were taken by the man who shot her. She fills them in about Woodbury and the Governor, and thinks they could slip their way through the town's defences to rescue them. She had overheard Glen mention a prison, so that's how she found them.

Rick organizes a search party with Daryl and Oscar. After Hershel sows up Michonne's wound, she joins them, too. Rick says good-bye to Carl, sorry that his son had to carry out the task of shooting his mother. They discuss what they should call the baby and Carl wants to name her Judith.

The group parks on the road and walks the rest of the way on foot to Woodbury. The woods are full of walkers so they take out as many as they can without guns before being forced to flee to a cabin. As the walkers pile up outside, Rick discovers someone is sleeping there. Startled, the man appears crazy and demands they leave or he'll call the cops. Rick manages to get his gun away from him, but then he rushes for the door, forcing Michonne to kill him. Rick opts to throw the body out the door to distract the walkers while they flee out the back.

Merle brings in a zombie to torment Glen, who is still strapped to his chair. Glen is forced to fight it off and manages to kill it with broken pieces of the chair. Merle brings the Governor up to speed about their identity and relationship with Andrea. He decides he'll talk to the girl himself instead of Merle.

The Governor cuts Maggie free and takes a seat. He explains they'll take her back to her people and dismiss it as a misunderstanding. He just needs to know where they are but she won't give them up. He suggests her people are dangerous (forcing Merle to cut off his own hand). She won't cooperate, so he asks her to stand up and take off her shirt or he'll bring Glen's hand in to her. She does so. And after a tense few moments when she thinks he's about to rape her, he leaves. 

The Governor has Andrea help out Milton with one of his experiments. An old man dying of prostate cancer has agreed to help Milton in testing if memory survives the reanimation process. It's Andrea's job to terminate the walker when he's finished. Milton hasn't witnessed a transformation—he was an only child and his parents died when he was young, and he telecommuted with work when the outbreak happened.

The old man dies and eventually begins to reanimate so Milton begins his experiment, including removing the restraints so the man can use his hands to signal that he understands. But the walker immediately tries to eat him. Andrea saves Milton and kills it.

The Governor brings topless Maggie to see Glen. Unless they give up the camp he'll shoot him, so Maggie confesses and reveals they're from the prison and number ten. The Governor is aware of it and is impressed the few of them managed to clear the whole place.

By nightfall Rick's group arrives at Woodbury's gates. The Governor now wonders where Merle's allegiance would lie if Daryl is out there searching for Glen and Maggie. Merle confirms it's with Woodbury. The Governor sends two of his men to scout the prison, while Andrea comes home and explains Milton didn't find what he was looking for. 

The Verdict:
Maggie's near rape was one of the more disturbing things to watch so far this season, and I'm happy they didn't go there. It was enough to see the pleasure the Governor was enjoying by inflicting such emotional damage on her and Glen. It contrasts wildly with the tenderness he appears to show Andrea, but hammers home how much danger she's in should she find her loyalties at odds with him. The writers have done a good job creating a mystery of just how crazy the Governor is, and which aspects of him we've seen are real or put on.

The death of the poor guy in the cabin was an interesting moral snapshot on Rick and Michonne's survival skills, and also an interesting contrast with the Governor. I wonder if Rick will feel any guilt about causing his death. It all happened so fast that no one really had a chance to consider what they did.

Are Milton's experiments leading to any pertinent information about the walkers that we don't know already? Morgan's wife (episode one) appeared to retain some sense of memory to continue to come her old house. Whatever the case, was this the experiment that had required the use of the generators?

At this point it seems everyone is overdue for a big sit down to discuss everything they know. I'm unclear how much Michonne is aware that she's now with Andrea's group, much less that Daryl is Merle's brother. Surely she overheard enough of that in Woodbury and now at the prison to make some connections. Andrea also knows enough about the zombie infection to make Milton's head explode, considering she got the big PowerPoint presentation at the CDC, but she didn't even bring that up to him.

Apparently the Governor took Merle's word for it that the prison couldn't be cleared out. That's a bit of  tenuous logic, if that's all that kept them from taking it over. But it might reflect on how well Woodbury can defend itself against actual aggressors. Perhaps all that wandering in the wilderness has actually given Rick and his crew the tactical edge to lead a successful assault against Woodbury.

Next week is bound to be an intense one, with several meetings and reunions raising questions of potential loyalties—Merle and Daryl, Andrea and her old friends, and very likely Rick and the Governor. Given the way events unfold in the graphic novels, this cliffhanger could go several ways, all of which should prove to be a very intense finale.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "The Origins of Monstrosity"

Non Spoiler Review:
After a few weeks absence events are caught up in the present-day Briarcliff. Meanwhile, Father Timothy comes face to face with what his alliance with Arden has wrought. Eunice spreads some mischief in the power vacuum left by Jude, while the latter gets an opportunity to make things right. Oh, and there's Lana trying to stay alive in Thredson's dungeon.

With a focus on Oliver's madness, this episode was quite eventful, revealing plenty of past events and filling in mysteries along the way. With the status quo significantly overturned at Briarcliff, it seems that Eunice will be moving back to center stage with what appears to be a Faustian agenda.

Zachary Quinto definitely shines in The Origin of Monstrosity and I'm looking forward to seeing where he takes this character. Both he and Jessica Lange are becoming the central actors on this show, so I hope he remains for next season (Jessica Lange has already been confirmed). The series continues with a high level of quality from week to week, never managing to fail in delivering its now familiar outrageous level of entertainment. I'm happy to say season two has managed to become my favorite already.

Spoilers Now!
In the present day, 911 gets a call to come to Briarcliff explaining they'll know who they're dealing with when they see it. The cops find three dead people dressed as Bloody Face and hanging by chains from Jude's staircase. The voice on the phone sounds suspiciously like Dylan McDermott.

Back in 1964 a mother brings in one of her disturbed children. Jenny apparently killed the only friend who would hang out with her, though she claimed she was killed by a bearded man. Her mother found a lock of the girl's hair in Jenny's pocket. Jude is reluctant to accept a child, despite wanting to help. She suggests prayer instead.

At Dr. Thredson's home, Lana wakes up in what appears to be a bed full of Wendy mementos. But Oliver has created a bedroom for her in his basement where no one will hear her scream. He's disposed of Wendy's body, given Kit has confessed to the murders already. He's made her a delicious breakfast.

He confesses he was left by his mother and grew up in an orphanage. Lana tries to appeal to his sense of being abandoned and appreciates his act of kindness. He studied psychiatry to understand his own disorder, but when he was in medical school he saw his first female corpse, the same age of his mother when she abandoned him. He realized he was missing his mother's touch, but the corpse smelled of formaldehyde and didn't have warm skin. He needed someone more lively to quiet his craving. But now that Lana is there that's all behind him. He calls her mommy.

Sam phones Jude to tell her the woman claiming to be Anne somehow got it right. Arden was an officer at Auschwitz. He has the original documents but needs Arden's finger prints to establish a match. Jude turns around to find Jenny, who informs her her mother has left her at Briarcliff.

Father Timothy has been called in to perform last rights for a woman who has TB. He finds her in a horrific state, but recognizes it's Shelley. He has a flashback to 1962 when he arrived at Briarcliff after the church bought the property. It was housing the remaining TB patients. Timothy meets Dr. Arden, who explains these are the incurable ones. At its height they incinerated hundreds of bodies in the crematorium. Unfortunately, the end of his tenure means the end of his research into an immune booster. Timothy is curious and asks what he needs to continue his work. Arden needs human trials, but it's difficult to find volunteers, despite it being the greater good.

Shelley dies. Timothy storms into Arden's office declaring Jude was right about him. Arden reminds him they agreed it was all in the name of progress. He's given their wasted lives meaning by producing results in his experiments unseen in science. He escorts Timothy to show him what they've produced...the next stage of human evolution. When the Russians nuke America, Arden explains, he has improved the species to survive the radiation. Timothy is horrified, but Arden says they're in this together and if he exposes him everything in Briarcliff will be illuminated. That gives Timothy pause. The real threat is Jude, Arden points out.

Eunice is looking after Jenny in the bakery. She explains her mother is scared of her. Eunice knows she killed her friend because she's the Devil and knows everything. Jenny was born with the gift of authentic impulse, something that should be encouraged. All Eunice ever wanted was for people to like her, which was a waste of time, she remembers. The only place she thought she would be safe would be with God, but there is no God. Eunice suggests Jenny just needs to learn how to defend herself, and gives her a knife.

Timothy assigns Jude to another church in Pittsburgh. She protests Arden has turned him against her, but he won't hear her out. Eunice comes to advise her Jenny's mother has picked her up, but finds her packing. Jude is back in her civilian clothes, but muses there's something she can do to save her from Arden's depravity, and instructs her to get cognac from the kitchen and two glasses.

Thredson gets an angry phone call from Kit in jail saying the cops have a tape of his confession, and is none too happy. Kit realizes he framed him. Thredson comes downstairs to vent to Lana but finds she's been working on trying to saw through her chains. He straps her down to the bed and decides he has to kill her. 

Eunice dances around the room in Jude's red slip. When the phone rings, she impersonates Jude and finds out it's Sam Goodman. So she shows up at the hotel instead, claiming Jude doesn't know she's there.

Meanwhile, Jude appears in Arden's office, toasting his victory with a drink. He will only drink if she does, aware of her alcoholism, so she agrees. He leaves his prints on the glass. Jude then goes to the hotel room, finding the door open and the phone ringing. She answers the phone, but it goes dead. Goodman is bleeding to death in the bathroom. He whispers that it was her nun.

Eunice brings Goodman's evidence to Arden, explaining he was meaning to expose him, though she's taken care of it. He's infuriated when she calls him Hans. She's also hidden some evidence in case he tries to double cross her. Arden defends his actions as those of a misunderstood visionary. Eunice confesses this is the beginning of a new era, and he just needs to trust her with his entire soul.

Jenny has killed again, this time her brother and sister and mother, claiming the bearded man murdered them too. She used the knife Eunice gave her.

Thredson warns Lana not to scream as he prepares to cut her, and reveals he saw her before Briarcliff, back when she was pitching her story about Bloody Face. He saw in her that she was the first person who could understand him. She tells him he deserves a mother's unconditional love. He pulls off the mask and cries, kissing her breast and declaring "Baby needs colostrum" (which I had to look up).

In the present the three hanging victims are teenagers, but the police find another—Leo (missing his arm). They learn that there should be another woman (Leo's wife) and then hear her phone ringing. It's still in Leo's hand. Bloody Face is on the other end. He only killed the imposters, he explains, and hangs up. He's standing over Theresa on his table.

The Verdict:
This week brought insight into the origins of various characters' dark paths, specifically Oliver Thredson. Quinto dances carefully between madness and eliciting a modicum of sympathy for Oliver's childhood. Lana's intelligent enough to survive her ordeal, but I wonder if she'll begin to develop Stockholm Syndrome (see my theory below).

We see Eunice's suffering early years, as well. But at this point it's unclear if we're looking at the Devil or Eunice's persona, or are they now an amalgamation? We know there is definitely a supernatural force at work, so I'm assuming this all isn't in Eunice's head.

It's unclear if Jenny was just a one-shot character to allow Eunice some mischief, or if she will actually come back in the future, but she gets her particular origin at Briarcliff, with what looks to be a successful career as a serial murderer.

Timothy doesn't seem all that black and white either, given he showed sympathy for Shelley once he recognized her. His own agreement with Arden appears to have been made for the betterment of humanity, but it's obvious both men have different visions of that.

Echoing their agreement, the episode concludes with Eunice's Faustian offer to Arden. What is her ultimate goal for Briarcliff, aside from spreading dissent? Does she have some apocalyptic end plan  that uses Arden's new species as her own?

Back to the present, the mystery of Bloody Face continues. After this episode I've developed a wild theory that he's the son of Lana and Thredson. And that voice sounded a heck of a lot like Dylan McDermott's (given he's been cast to appear at some point this season).

It would be a surprise if Jude is out of the asylum for good and perhaps even the church. But there have been so many glimmers of vulnerability and concern coming from her these past weeks I'm wondering if her character will actually be redeemed when all is wrapped up.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead "Hounded"

Non Spoiler Review:
Hounded focuses on Rick's deteriorating mental state, while Maggie and Glen make a supply run into town that yields interesting results. Michonne is hunted by Merle, as Andrea and the Governor grow closer. 

What started off as a low key, introspective episode ended with plenty of ground covered (literally, in some cases). The Governor and prison storylines draw closer as characters begin to intermingle far sooner than I would have expected. But season three has already established an aggressive pace and doesn't look like it will let up. As Walking Dead approaches its midseason break, it looks like Rick and the Governor might be meeting sooner than later. 

Spoilers Now!
Merle and three of his men are tracking Michonne in the woods but find three walkers arranged in a pattern to mean go back. Merle is amused. Michonne jumps out of a tree and kills two of them while Merle manages to shoot her in the leg and takes off in pursuit, but ultimately loses her.  

A woman is on the phone with Rick and claims she's been trying to find someone else since it all started, but won't reveal where her group is. Rick pleads with her to take in him and the others. They can pull their weight. But she has to talk to her people first and promises to call back in two hours. 

Rick returns to the cell block to check in on the rest who are having dinner. He explains he cleared out the boiler block and just wanted to check in on Carl. He doesn't stick around to answer any questions.

In Woodbury, Andrea thinks the escapism of the fight isn't the right kind of escape they need. The world is already violent enough. She wants to contribute and work the wall, given she's a good shot. The Governor agrees to get someone to teach her to use a bow.

Andrea teams up a female archer on watch. As a walker approaches she can't get a hit with the arrows, so Andrea takes it upon herself to jump down and kill it personally, against orders. The Governor berates her for disobeying and tells her they don't need her on the wall. She confesses she liked the fights. He suggests he's growing on her too.

Back in the boiler room, Rick gets another cryptic call, this time from a man. He asks Rick if he's killed anyone and how many. Rick admits to four, including Shane, who tried to kill him. The man asks how he lost his wife (given he has a boy and a baby). Rick doesn't want to talk about that, so the line goes dead.

Hershel comes down to see him and tries to tell him Lori was sorry for all the things that happened. Rick says the prison isn't safe enough, and he got a phone call from someone with their own group and wants to talk her into taking them in if she calls back. Hershel finds that all very dubious and suggests he sit there with him, but Rick won't have it, so he leaves him alone.

Michonne ambushes Merle again, slicing up the other man, Neil, and nearly killing Merle. The fight draws walkers, and Michonne manages another escape after splitting open a zombie and getting its guts spilled all over her. Merle is ready to return to Woodbury and say their mission was a success, since they messed her up bad and she's heading for the red zone anyway. And they'll tell the Governor she's dead. Neil wants to keep going and won't lie about it so Merle shoots him in the head.

Daryl, Oscar and Carl sweep the lower levels. Daryl tells Carl the story of his own mother who liked to smoke in bed. When he and his friends heard sirens one day, they chased them down to find his house had burned to the ground and his mother dead. Carl confesses he shot Lori before she turned. The group encounters and kills a walker, but Daryl finds Carol's knife in its neck. 

Michonne limps off, but more walkers file by without noticing. The zombie remains on her have left her invisible to them. She makes her way to a small town but hears a vehicle approach and hides. It's Glen and Maggie on a supply run. They find ample baby formula and are about to load up when Merle finds them, prompting everyone to pull their guns. They recognize each other and Glen confirms Daryl is alive. Merle wants to be taken to him and he'll call it even on everything that went down in Atlanta. Glen refuses and says Daryl can come out to meet him. Merle manages to snare Maggie as a hostage and orders them all into the truck while Michonne watches them drive off. 

The Governor and Andrea enjoy a drink in his back yard, discussing life in general, which turns into a kiss. After an afternoon in bed, their tryst is interrupted when Merle returns to debrief him. He explains they lost all three guys but he managed to kill Michonne. The Governor asks for her head and sword, but Merle confesses they were all torn up, but he has something else—a guy from the Atlanta camp. From the looks of them they must be set up pretty good.

Rick gets another call. This woman calls him by name and says she should talk about how his wife died. He demands she explain how she knows his name and hangs up. She calls back. They know him and he knows them—Amy, Jim, Jacqui are the ones he was talking to, and now it's Lori. Rick breaks down and confesses he loved her but couldn't put it back together. He'd wanted to make them all safe before he could let her in again. She tells him he has Carl and the baby now. Rick returns to the cell block and picks up the baby for the first time.

Daryl tries to get up enough courage to see what's inside the room. He finds Carol in there, still alive. Rick takes the baby outside, but notices something by the fence and walks over. Michonne is staring back at him among the walkers, carrying the baby formula. 

The Verdict:
Walking Dead hasn't let up the pace. Rick's psychological scenes contrasted nicely with the showdown between Merle and Michonne. What could have been an uneventful story just with that stuff, ended up advancing things significantly—sending Maggie and Glen into the Governor's hands and Michonne to the prison.

It's easy to forget that Rick's not only dealing with the death of his wife, but the fact that it's Shane's baby that caused it all. It's quite a big step for him to accept it.

The level of coincidental meetings was pretty heavy this time around—Michonne and Merle both intercepting Glen and Maggie at the same time? Then Michonne finding the prison? It seems that Rick's little corner of Georgia is extremely little, as everything seems to lie within a 10 kilometer radius. Given Michonne was on foot, Woodbury must be quite close to Rick's group. It's surprising how everyone has avoided one another this long (and Rick missed Woodbury during their winter wanderings). What is the red zone Merle was talking about, and does the prison lie within it?

It looks like we'll see a reunion between Rick's group and Andrea soon, as well as Merle and Daryl. Daryl's reaction is what interests me the most given how much his character has evolved. I can't see him betraying Carol and Rick at this point. In contrast, Merle seems to have sealed his fate and an inevitable confrontation with the Governor as soon as the latter lays eyes on Michonne alive and well.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead 104

Non Spoiler Review:
As Rick deals with dissent due to Negan's visit, a far more dangerous situation has arisen as the marauders have picked up a stowaway. Meanwhile, Jesus has tracked their released prisoner back to Negan's sanctuary.

Issue 104 was a surprise with an unexpected twist right off the bat that changes everything for Rick (that's not an exaggeration)! Finally we get to see Negan's stronghold, and it doesn't disappoint. 

After a very brief respite, things have gotten very heated and interesting again.

Spoilers Now!
Negan departs with a few parting words speaking to his generosity. Rick is eager to close the gates after them, but Denise demands to know what he said to Rick. He in turn tells her he's no longer in charge anymore, and if she has a problem with that she can hit the road, as can anyone else who questions their new overlords.

He sets them about taking stock of what they need before Negan returns for his next tribute. He returns home, calling up to Carl that they need to talk.

Dwight has made his way to an outpost in the hopes of taking a car the rest of the way to Negan's base. But the men there say they've already noticed he's been followed, and have taken steps to apprehend Jesus. Jesus is taken prisoner, and Dwight realizes Rick had planned to scout out Negan's forces to retaliate. They get back on the road and arrive at Negan's home base—a factory that has been barricaded with impaled walkers. Dwight realizes too late that Jesus has slipped out of the back of the jeep. He and his men agree not to mention it.

Negan's entourage returns home, but he has a hidden passenger—Carl with a machine gun, hiding under the mattresses. They all rendezvous and he greets Dwight with some disdain. As the men unload the supplies, they find Carl, and he fires off some rounds, killing at least two. Negan is furious, but tries to talk to Carl. Carl only wants Negan for killing his friend, and fires off another barrage, but loses control of the weapon. Dwight gives him a kick, but Negan calls him off, telling him that's no way to treat their new guest.

The Verdict:
That was an unexpected development. Not only do we get a peek at Negan's formidable home and operations, but Carl is now his prisoner. I'm really not looking forward to the dark depths Kirkman could take this storyline, but it certainly shakes up the status quo.

Rick doesn't even find out this tidbit, yet he's stuck dealing with his community questioning his leadership—a leadership he's publicly given up. For his part, Carl has undergone another significant development—he's killed at least two people and injured a whole bunch in just this issue. The only ray of hope here is Jesus, who remains incommunicado and perhaps in a position to save Carl. 

From what we've seen, it will take a huge effort to unseat Negan—Rick's forces and the Hilltop's at the very least. Carl does note they don't have a lot of guns, so that might bode well in their favor when the inevitable battle comes.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "I Am Anne Frank Part 2"

Non Spoiler Review:
Jude consults a Nazi hunter with her suspicions about Arden, but new revelations turn up about Anne's story. Thredson makes attempts to help Lana and Kit, while Grace has a surprise visitor. 

Jessica Lange gets another great scene as Jude's bad decisions catch up with her. The story gets advanced quite significantly with some twists and turns (though one that I could see coming from a couple of episodes back). I'm anxious for next week just to see the fall out from all this, as it was quite a shake up for the status quo.

The conclusion to Anne Frank was suitably frenetic, disturbing and messy, like watching a train wreck in slow motion. It's left several characters in quite the state—what happens next is completely up in the air.

Spoilers Now!
On Mother Claudia's recommendation, Jude visits Nazi hunter Sam Goodman. Goodman is a concentration camp survivor himself. She explains what she knows about Arden, and Goodman believes her story, filling her in about Operation Paperclip—how Truman's agents recruited the best Nazi scientists and created false biographies for them. The SS have a tattoo of their blood type on their upper arm, so Arden should have one, but he warns her not to do anything until he's completed his research.

At Briarcliff, Anne brings Arden at gunpoint to Jude's office but finds Eunice there. Arden sends Eunice to find her, but Frank, the guard, comes in and pulls a gun on Anne. She wakes up in her room from being sedated, but Jude is looking over her. Arden was rushed to the hospital. She asks if Jude saw the thing with no legs, but Jude already searched and found nothing in his laboratory.

Eunice interrupts, announcing a man in her office who wants to see his wife. He claims Anne's name is really Charlotte, and they have a son. Jude admits Anne was very convincing. She put the tattoo on her arm herself after having her baby and became infatuated with Auschwitz. Dr. Thredson has been listening in and suggests it's post-partem psychosis. Sending her home might be dangerous, though Jude disagrees.

Anne is brought to her husband, but refuses to accept her name is Charlotte. He shows her their family photo and she slowly seems to remember them. They leave the asylum, with Thredson maintaining she shouldn't be discharged, then turning the matter to Kit's sterilization. Jude ignores him.

Eunice comes for Kit, but reveals Jude has changed her mind given his signs of true redemption. As for Grace, she tells her the sterilization is proceeding in the morning for her. Grace freaks out and finally gets to sleep, but is woken up in the night by a bright light outside her door. It's time for her alien abduction.

The next day in the common room, Thredson tells Lana they're leaving the next day after dinner and to wait for him by the staircase. Carrying an ominous little suitcase, he then goes to meet with Kit, who pleads for him to help Grace. But she's not his patient. As part of his therapy, he wants Kit to confess describe on tape what he thinks happened with the murders, and then he'll play it back for him in his own words to hear. He needs to feel Kit's sincere. Kit begins confessing about killing his wife.

In a white alien operating room Grace is being told not to fight it as it will only make it worse—by none other than Alma. An alien proceeds to cut into her.

Jude leaves a message for Goodman that her information is all a mistake. Arden overhears that and asks what information she's talking about. He's aware she got an opportunity to look around his lab. Jude says it wasn't all that interesting. Arden plans on pressing charges against Jude—he got shot on her watch and she sent the woman home with a slap on the wrist. Jude attempts to be diplomatic and wants to start anew with him. Arden suggests she grovel. Barring that he has no option but to call Father Timothy and demand her dismissal.

Arden returns to his office and undresses to look at his leg. Eunice appears to tend to him. He's a bit disconcerted but allows it. She also wants to apologize for her behaviour the night of the storm. He's fine with not talking about it again. He also thanks her for what she did to protect him—she hid Shelley in the woods. Eunice suggests that she is a suitable replacement for Jude as his strong right hand.

At an elementary school playground, a young girl hears breathing and finds Shelley at the bottom of some stairs. Everyone freaks out and runs away as she crawls out, her face continuing to change.

Jude is alerted to Anne's return to the asylum. Her husband was afraid to leave her alone and she's just gotten worse, trying to hurt the baby. He wants to consult Dr. Thredson so she agrees, and sends Frank to get him. 

Thredson has rendezvoused with Lana, instructing her to just do as he says and walk (he has her carrying boxes) with him passed the guards. Frank catches up with him as they get into his car, saying he needs to see Anne Frank, but he doesn't notice Lana in the passenger seat. Thredson tells him he doesn't work there any more, and as a matter of fact, never did. He drives off.

Meanwhile, Arden goes to taunt Anne in her cell. When he leaves, he runs into her husband, who recognizes him as the man she shot, and he apologizes profusely. Arden says it's all fine, but suggests he has the solution to his problems, and one that would get Anne home right away.

Jude prays for guidance but is interrupted by Frank. He tells her Lana is nowhere to be found. With yet another setback, Jude recounts a story from her lonely childhood when she kept a baby squirrel for company. It died because she'd forgotten to feed him, so she prayed and prayed. Her mother found it and threw him in the garbage. Jude cried that God didn't answer her prayers. Her drunk mother laughed and said He always answers their prayers, but it's rarely the answer they're looking for. Jude realizes it's over for her. Frank tells her not to blame herself. She never had a chance, given they wouldn't accept a woman as strong as her.

Anne is taken to Arden's lab where he begins the lobotomy. Jude cleans out her room and gets dressed in civilian clothes and goes to a bar. She's approached by a man who offers her a drink.

Kit finds Grace in the common room bleeding between her legs. He calls for help, but two detectives march in announcing he's under arrest for the murder of the three women. They have Thredson's recommendation and his taped confession. Grace pleads for them to stop, shouting everything Kit said about the aliens was true, and she's alive. She saw her.

Thredson tells Lana to make herself at home in his apartment. She wants to go to her house, but he warns her she's safer there given they'll find her missing at the asylum. He has an appointment with the police in the morning, and with her evidence they can shut down Briarcliff. He offers her some wine and goes to get it ready.

Lana looks around the living room, seeing the phone and deciding to call her friend. Thredson cuts it off, warning her no calls. He can't afford to let anyone know she's there until tomorrow. He tells her she'll win a Pulitzer for telling his story. They toast to taking down Briarcliff, but she notices a rather fleshy looking lampshade that unnerves her. He offers her a mint and the dish is the top of a skull. She asks to use the restroom.

Out of sight she tries to find a door out, but they're all locked except for a room full of body parts and instruments. It's his hobby room, he explains. He mainly makes lamps—out of skin. He pulls a latch and she falls into a trap door.

Lana wakes up on the floor chained by her ankle. Wendy's body is next to her. Thredson had her on ice to keep her fresh, as he wanted her around longer so he could continue his therapy with Lana. He instructs her to kiss the corpse and adds that she shouldn't worry about Wendy biting her, given he sewed her teeth into his Bloody Face mask, which he puts on.

Jude wakes up in bed with her one night stand and sneaks out. Anne's husband comes home to his wife and son. Anne has been suitably domesticated, and has most of her holocaust items in the trash. She's never been happier, she says coolly. A few clippings remain on the wall, including a photo of Hitler with Arden standing behind him.

The Verdict:
I had hoped for more of a mystery regarding Bloody Face given Thredson seemed such a logical choice. But at the same time Zachary Quinto gets to play a serial killer now, so that's good too. While it appeared relatively obvious that Thredson was framing Kit and leading Lana to her (eventual?) doom, the early hints were very successful in ramping up the tension as we watched the disasters for Kit and Lana unfold.

Is Lana a goner now, or is she somehow going to get out of that mess? I got the impression that Thredson wants to keep her around long enough to write a story about him. And why, after all the attempts to wreak havoc at Briarcliff, did Thredson want Anne to remain there rather than go with her husband?

It seems odd to spend the time bringing in the Nazi hunter character for just one scene. Arden's SS past can't be finished yet, especially with Shelley wandering around (thanks to Satan Eunice dumping her off at a school). But we were left with a potential tell tale clue—a tattoo on Arden's arm remains to implicate him.

Was Anne really Charlotte? If so, why was Arden so adamant about eliminating her? Anne Frank's bizarre soap opera/science fictiony flashbacks were a nice touch and contributed to the idea of her delusions. I was half expecting her husband to be part of Arden's conspiracy to distract from his guilt, but it appears now Charlotte was genuinely crazy, even if that makes for some extraordinary coincidences (Arden's incriminating photo). It was a sad end for the character, too, but certainly fit into the disturbing horror aspects of this season.

More alien experiments, this time on Grace. Was she sterilized, or has something else been done to her? If Alma is alive, whose body did the police find?

Anne Frank was a satisfying conclusion to this two parter. It's left Jude, Lana, Kit, Shelley and Oliver all seemingly out of Briarcliff. Something needs to happen to start to bring it all back together. This week felt more surreal than any previous episode. Even Lana asks is this real, followed by Thredson's remark he was never really there, which prompts some questions about what is actually happening. I might be reading too much into it but it reinforces one of my worries that this season turns out to be some crazy person's dream. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead "Say The Word"

Non Spoiler Review:
Rick must come to terms with the events of last week, while Daryl and Maggie go on a supply run for the baby. Woodbury is in the midst of a celebration, but Michonne uses the opportunity to find out more of what the Governor has going on behind the scenes.

After a frenetic four episodes, Say The Word allowed for a bit of a reprieve, but that's not to say it was uneventful. More disturbing aspects of Woodbury continue to be revealed and mysteries raised. Rick has reached the breaking point, and he and the others face the fall out of Lori and T-Dog's deaths.

Fans of the books continue to get rewarded with the accelerated introduction of some events and characters. And the episode ends on a suitably cryptic note.

Spoilers Now!
Andrea is enjoying a Woodbury street party, though Milton isn't impressed the Governor's using the generators for cold drinks. Michonne isn't impressed at all. While the people celebrate, the Governor is at home, combing the hair of his daughter—who is a walker. He has her thoroughly bound and hooded to put her back in her room. But daddy still loves her, he says. He catches sight of Michonne staring at his window from below.

At the prison, Rick is in a fugue while Carl takes the baby to Hershel. She needs formula soon, so Daryl and Maggie volunteer to go on a supply run. Rick grabs a hatchet and disappears inside the prison, embarking on a revenge-filled massacre of the walkers inside.

The Governor addresses his town, reminding them they started with nine people and now have a place they can call home. Today they celebrate that and remember those they lost. Meanwhile, Michonne sneaks into his house to get her sword. She rummages through his journal which has a list of names, and then pages and pages of lines. Hearing noises from an adjacent room, she starts to open the door, but the Governor, Milton and Merle come in, forcing her to hide.

Milton is complaining about all the fuel they're using for the party. He wants to finish his experiment which is requiring a lot of power on its own, so asks the Governor to postpone his big plans for that evening. The Governor won't, and suggests Milton enjoy himself and start his experiment over in the morning. The three leave, while Michonne has made her escape through the window and finds herself in a fenced in area with a cage of walkers. She breaks open the lock and lets them spill out, getting some exercise in slicing them all up. But one of the townspeople with a bucket of meat for the walkers happens on the scene.

Michonne is brought to the Governor. She asks him about Penny, one of the names in his journal that was crossed out. He replies that he loved her, but she suggests he says that about all the girls. Michonne wants to leave, Andrea wants to stay, so he assumes she wants him to kick her out to make it easy. But he instead suggests she fits in, and he was planning to return her sword. However, now she's broken the rules, which invites anarchy. As a compromise he'll keep a lid on her outbursts if she joins his research team. She quickly grabs the sword and holds the blade to his neck, backs away and leaves. Merle comes in asking how that went. The Governor wants to see Andrea and sends Merle to have the research team get more grist for the mill

Andrea defends Michonne for taking something that is hers. She wonders why the Governor has captive biters, but he won't get into that, preferring to tell her Michonne had her sword to his throat. They're not barbarians in Woodbury, he says, and needs her to talk to her friend.

So Andrea does, suggesting she needs to calm down a bit. Michonne is anxious to get out of town—anyone who comes to Woodbury never leaves. Andrea thinks they need the respite the town offers, refusing to believe that things aren't as they seem. 

Glen digs graves for their fallen. Axel and Oscar offer some help and their sympathy for his loss. Rick is still inside, so Glen goes off in search, finding a trail of dead walkers and finally a crazed Rick who refuses to listen to him. He continues off on his way. 

Merle and his men visit an open pit that has caught some walkers they haul out in a net. Milton finds something of interest in one biter's eyes so doesn't want it killed, and they proceed to extract its teeth.

Daryl and Maggie break into a house that served as a daycare. She finds plenty of supplies, plus an opossum Daryl kills for dinner. They return that night and the baby gets some formula courtesy of Daryl. Rick, meanwhile, has made his way to the boiler room where he finds the remains of the pregnancy but no Lori. A walker sits further on, gorged and unable to move. Rick puts his gun in its mouth and shoots, then proceeds to stab its stomach.

Michonne seems to have won the argument and she and Andrea prepare to leave, but Merle stops them and suggests he needs to arrange an escort given it's close to curfew. Andrea protests that the Governor told them they were free to come and go as they liked. When Michonne thinks she's been proven right, Merle finally opens the gates for them prompting a change of heart in Andrea. She doesn't want to just scrape by outside again, plus she's afraid Michonne will disappear on her if they leave. Andrea doesn't want an ultimatum, but Michonne is going one way or the other and walks out. Merle closes the gates with Andrea watching her depart.

That night the Governor is only too happy to have Andrea remain, and brings her along to the culmination of his festivities—the arena that Michonne discovered earlier. The crowd gathers and the lights come on to show several walkers chained to posts, and two fighters (including Merle) entering the area to spar in the middle of them. Andrea appears mortified as they watch, and more so when the chains are loosened and the area made smaller so both have to fight off the walkers, too. The Governor explains it's a way to blow off steam, but he quietly tells her it's staged and all for show. People need entertainment, and it's teaching people not to be afraid. Merle succeeds in beating up his opponent and winning.

Come morning the graves have been filled for Lori, T-Dog and Carol. Daryl leaves a Cherokee Rose. Inside the prison Rick hears a crying baby and a telephone ringing. He goes over, picks it up and says hello.

The Verdict:
Say The Word brought more great bits with the Governor—bringing out his daughter this week, as well as his gladiatorial games. I was impressed that they chose a more subtle route by having it relatively nonviolent. With Andrea present, having a full on death match just wouldn't have been possible and have her remain in Woodbury. But it sets the stage for more bloody outcomes in the future.

I wasn't entirely clear on everything in the Governor's journal—Penny appears to be his daughter. But what is the significance of the other names? Why does Michonne believe their arrival was anticipated?

Fans aware of the after effects of Lori's death got a healthy dose of crazy Rick, and the ringing phone was a good way to end this episode. They still manage to surprise—the Lori-stuffed zombie was a particularly gruesome denouement to the character. The symbolism of this pregnant walker to contrast with last week's pregnancy isn't lost either.

Maggie and Daryl were a refreshing pair up. I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking zombie daycare when they were making their way through the house. However, the graves seemed kind of pointless given at least two are empty (and if we assume someone had the thankless task of gathering up T-Dog's remains). Is Carol trapped somewhere inside the prison or has something more ominous happened to her?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "I Am Anne Frank Part 1"

Non Spoiler Review:
I Am Anne Frank is quite a wild ride, but a different sort from the crazy stuff of last week. In a psychological, more talky episode, a stranger is brought into Briarcliff claiming to be Anne Frank (not really a spoiler, considering it's the name of the episode). Her time in Auschwitz leads her to accuse one of the asylum's employees (guess who) of being a war criminal. Kit and Grace grow closer. Meanwhile, Thredson vows to help Lana get out, but that involves some very unorthodox treatment. 

If the American Catholic League has avoided fits of apoplexy up to now, they certainly won't after this one. This was a big character-building episode, bringing interesting (and disturbing) insights into Thredson, Grace, Kit, Jude, and Lana. Some revelations of a greater conspiracy emerge and build on the mysteries we've seen so far. I was pleasantly surprised to see actress Franka Potente (Run, Lola, Run) in the role of Anne.

Four episodes in I'm really loving this season and all the various aspects of horror it's exploring. Any doubts about American Horror Story managing to recreate a similarly compelling storyline as its first season have been put to rest. I admire Ryan Murphy for the pure ballsiness in tossing the Anne Frank into the plot so I hope this resolves in a satisfactory manner.

Spoilers Now!
Jude's informed of a new addition to the asylum dropped on their doorstop. The young woman killed someone for insulting her for being a Jew. Jude isn't insensitive but has no patience when she doesn't answer her questions. 

In the kitchen, a beaten down Kit visits Grace. He's been thoroughly examined by Arden trying to search for the implants. She claims to believe his stories about the aliens, but he wants to hear Grace's tale of woe. So she recounts waking up with her sister at home on their farm to find her father being murdered. She fled into a closet, fooling the killer to run out of the house in pursuit. But she found her stepmother dismembered in there, too. Her sister blamed her for the murders. 

Lana visits a curious Thredson, who wonders where she was during the movie. She explains she went to the bathroom, but he doesn't believe that for a minute. He promises he won't tell Jude. She assumes Shelley made it out given no one has found her. Thredson realizes Lana doesn't belong in the asylum and was right to try to escape. She accuses him of hypocrisy given that according to his psychiatric bible she has a mental illness in her homosexuality. He wants to help her and convince the others that he's cured her. She explains there is no cure. Unfortunately he won't be there much longer, so if she wants help she has little time left.

Later in the common room she finds the new girl writing in her journal. Lana warns her that if they catch her they'll throw her in solitary, but gets nothing in reply. Then Dr. Arden arrives and the girl immediately recognizes him. She accuses him of being in Auschwitz and starts freaking out, demanding that he remembers her—Anne Frank (!).

Jude mocks the proposition that she is the genuine Anne Frank. Anne explains she was sick and too ill to tell anyone her name after they liberated the camp. She was nursed back to health by the Brits, became a thief and pickpocket (plot point!) and met an American soldier who brought her to the States. She married him but he died in Korea, the same year her diary was published. She wanted to contact her father but he had a new family and new life, and because of the diary people were paying attention to their plight. She could do more good as a martyr than alive. Jude declares her story is indecent, but Anne accuses her of the same, having a Nazi war criminal working there.

Anne then explains Arden was known then as Hans Gruber (Yes, Hans Gruber!...Yippee ki yay), and she saw him when she arrived in Auschwitz. He seemed kind at first, saving some Jews while others got herded away. But when (and if) the girls he took came back, they would be changed and would not reveal what happened. Jude still refuses to believe it, but Anne shows the numbered tattoo on her arm.

Thredson tells Kit he doesn't think he's crazy or evil. But he does believe his psyche forced him to concoct his elaborate alien abduction story to deal with his murders. He doesn't believe he should die and will lie to the courts to save his life, but only if he works with him in the time he has left to face what he's done. Thredson recounts two of Kits murders (a woman murdered prior to Alma). Kit needs to accept the truth in order to be cured.

Kit speaks with Grace later, wondering if he was crazy and made up all the aliens. Thredson is starting to make sense. Grace concludes self-doubt is a sure sign of sanity. He grabs her throat asking if he's a killer, but she doesn't care, she'll be with him anyway. They end up having sex in the kitchen and are caught by the guard.

Eunice has taken the liberty to choose a cane befitting their indiscretion. Jude is impressed with her initiative, but decides Kit and Grace should be sterilized to prevent further encounters and the chance of a murder baby. Jude is then alerted that Dr. Arden is being questioned by two detectives, so she leaves Eunice to write up the paperwork. Instead, Eunice gives him Grace's file, suggesting that she's not the innocent girl she claims.

Jude arrives in Arden's office, interrupting the discussion. Apparently Arden has been accused of roughing up a prostitute, which he dismisses as a lie. The hooker claimed to have discovered an assortment of disturbing pornography and Nazi memorabilia, which certainly piques Jude's interest. Arden storms out at the notion he's guilty of anything. Jude remains to talk to them, and the detectives explain they're actually with homicide, not vice, and seem to be interested in the method of the Bloody Face murders.

Lana has a daydream that she gets an award for her exposé on the asylum, and her assertion that she did what she had to to get out of there. That makes her decide to work with Thredson to do what she must to get out. So she begins aversion therapy to train her body to be repelled by triggers (in this case women). But one of the images is Wendy, a photo Thredson got from her house when he was there. He then wants to move on to the conversion part of her therapy that she might enjoy. He brings in fellow patient Daniel, whom Thredson believes will help with her treatment. He disrobes and Lana regards his physique, but doesn't feel anything. Thredson doesn't stop there, and asks Lana to touch herself while looking at and groping Daniel. Unfortunately Lana ends up getting sick. Thredson sadly concludes aversion/conversion therapy won't work with her. 

Father Timothy wants to talk with Jude, who explains the situation with Arden. He warns her that her obsession with Arden must stop and he certainly doesn't believe he's a war criminal. Jude realizes the Anne Frank story sounds outrageous but she protests she's trying to protect him and Briarcliff. Timothy suggests her job is getting too much for her and brings up she's been drinking again—he was advised by several employees of her behaviour the night of the storm. He suggests she reflect and pray on it before saying anything further.

Meanwhile, Arden continues his experiments on Shelley (who is looking like she's had a few healthy doses of radiation). She shouldn't worry that she'll die, he muses, given she'll likely live forever after he finishes with her. Arden gets a call from Timothy warning him they're on to him, and if he has any housekeeping to take care of, he better do it now.

Jude consults with her Mother Superior, confessing she's slipped by drinking the communion wine. She also reveals her belief that one of Briarcliff's employees is a war criminal, but the monsignor won't pursue action. Mother Superior knows someone who might help her, but Jude doesn't want to go behind Father Timothy's back. Mother Superior tells her Timothy is not the reason she's on her path and she has a higher calling from God.

Kit is brought back to his cell near to Grace, but he accuses her of lying to him—she killed her stepmother and her father. Grace finally confesses that her father sexually abused her, and when she told her stepmother she gave her candy to keep quiet. So Grace cut her up with an axe and then her father. Kit finds he's not repulsed by the story, but admires her. 

Thredson visits Lana in the common room offering his apologies. He's sorry for being unable to help her, and wishes he'd spared her the aversion therapy. He gives her Wendy's photo and explains he's leaving at the end of the week. He doesn't know how yet, but promises he'll take her with him. 

Kit comes to Jude claiming to confess his crimes. While he doesn't remember killing those women, he  realizes he must have. The creatures can't really exist. He needs to be forgiven. Jude is touched and says God forgives all things. He wants her help to find God. 

Arden has caught Anne and brings her to his lab. While he mocks the notion that she's Anne Frank, her lies have caused him embarrassment. She continues to accuse him of atrocities in the concentration camp, so he warns her she's about to find out what goes on in his lab and locks the door. Anne pulls a gun (she encountered the detective on the stairs and pocketed his weapon). Someone comes to the door so she shoots Arden in the leg and demands the key. Arden gives it to her and she opens it, only to find a monstrous, legless Shelley on the floor begging her to kill her.

The Verdict:
Of all the stunt casting of historical characters, I think Anne Frank tops the list as most original. This week was a very intriguing episode addressing Arden's past (with a damn good actor to portray young James Cromwell—or maybe that was CGI like we got with young Jessica Lange last year—I"m not sure). While his past seems to be catching up with him, I'm wondering what Anne's fate will be. I hope she's not killed off, but higher powers (Father Timothy) are involved in what could be a larger conspiracy at Briarcliff. Do Arden's experiments serve Timothy's ambition?

This week brought a far more humanized Sister Jude than we've seen. She seemed positively motherly in a couple of scenes and—gasps—a bit sympathetic? Her Mother Superior obviously has a fondness for her potential. But is the change permanent?

Speaking of changes, what's going on with Kit? Is he lying in his confession to Jude? He swung wildly from his forgiveness of Grace's lie to feeling guilt for his murders. We still don't know all that Jude remembers of seeing the alien, or what  the detectives discussed with Jude about Kit. Have the police found a new Bloody Face victim (Wendy?) and realize they might have the wrong man in Kit? Is Arden now a suspect? It's interesting that Thredson's account of the two murders implies that Kit would have killed a girl already prior to us seeing him with Alma in the first episode. 

Arden represents one side of the mad scientist, but this time we get a new perspective on Mr. Spock Dr. Thredson. The comparisons to Arden are obvious, though Thredson (for the moment) appears to have altruism as his motivation for embarking on chilling therapy for Lana, oblivious to any moral debate on what he's doing. Interesting that Thredson expresses his concern for Lana but treats her as a test subject rather than a human being. Did Arden start out with a similar perspective in his youth? Thredson's moral code makes it acceptable to lie to his superiors and save Kit's life as long as Kit accepts his treatment (just like Lana). Not too much of a stretch that he could be a serial killer and justify his actions accordingly. It's also a bit creepy he managed to take Wendy's photo from their house, implying he was there long enough to have a thorough look around the place. Even if all of this is a red herring as far as Bloody Face, a lot of the shine came off Oliver Thredson this week.

A far more chatty episode gave us plenty to think about, including the prospect that a lot of what's going on could be in everyone's head. Hopefully next week doesn't conclude with Anne being crazy and delusional about her identity.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Review: Dark Shadows

Non Spoiler Review:
Tim Burton presents a lush adaptation of the 1970s cult soap opera Dark Shadows with all his favorite toys—Johnny Depp as the vampire Barnabas Collins, Michelle Pfeiffer as Collins matriarch Elizabeth, Helena Bonham-Carter as Dr. Hoffman, and Eva Greene (Camelot) as Angelique.

The story focuses on 18th Century Barnabas Collins, turned into a vampire for spurning the desires of the witch Angelique in favor of his love Josette, and imprisoned for two hundred years before being accidentally unearthed. He finds his family's fishing business a pale version of its former glory, and the contemporary Collins very much in tatters, as well. He vows to restore the family fortunes while adapting to the 1970s and finding a lookalike of his former love in the Collin's new governess, Victoria.

It took me awhile to catch this one, due particularly to the reviews that this was now a comedy rather than a darker, serious interpretation. I was pleasantly surprised that it leaned more towards gothic dark comedy with a mix of camp rather than overt laughs—for the most part. But it is definitely Tim Burton at his most self-indulgent.

Burton has a record of hits and misses—more often than not he achieves some great cinema (Willie Wonka, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland...). But Dark Shadows is a mixed bag of tricks. It looks stunning, which goes without saying with Tim Burton. The performances are all very apt with the material, and it does a decent homage to the television series by attempting to address the myriad story lines that formed the basis of the soap opera. Unfortunately, it doesn't really know what it wants to be, and without its heavy star power to pull it off, it wouldn't be worth watching at all.

There are plenty of witty one liners that gave me a laugh, but on those occasions when it overshot its mark and slid into full blown slapstick it started to lose me. I would have preferred a serious and horrific take on the story rather than go for 70s camp. Though if they needed camp, the 70s setting was at least the right choice and gave Burton a great palette to work with.

Burton attempts to give everyone a storyline, and so shortchanges everyone. They're all wrapped up quickly, sometimes with a blink you'll miss it line of dialogue. And the climax becomes more of a spectacle than concluding the story for the majority of the characters in a satisfactory manner. In order to do the narrative justice, Burton needed a much longer movie, or run the risk of cutting plotlines—a no win situation.

Ultimately I enjoyed it, but am none the worse for not catching it in the theater. As always, I appreciate Tim Burton's influence in most his films, and Depp, Carter and Pfeiffer are personal favorites I'll not tire of either. Dark Shadows' classic story lines are curious enough to see brought to life in such vivid detail here, but if you don't share those particular tastes, it will definitely fall flat. I was entertained, but was left longing for a dramatic horror period piece. 
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