Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Review: Mama

Mama is a horror film I've been anticipating for awhile based on its creepy trailer, and I'm pleased to say I wasn't disappointed. Following a market crash, a man murders his wife and takes his two young girls into the woods to end them all when he's abruptly stopped by something in a secluded cabin. Five years later his brother, the artsy Lucas, and punk rocker girlfriend Annabel, are notified the children have been found. Lucas manages to gain custody of his feral nieces, despite the efforts of their aunt. But far more threatening is the story behind the mysterious mama that kept the girls alive in the woods.

Mama stars a (a goth) Jessica Chastain (Coriolanus, Tree of Life) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones), with the children being played by two very capable actresses—Megan Charpetnier and Isabelle Nélisse. Guillermo del Toro executive produces and presents, and Mama certainly fits nicely with his calibre of horror as seen in such films as Pan's Labyrinth or The Orphanage. Andrés Muschietti directs, and he's also responsible for the short of the same name.

Mama feels like an independent endeavour and that works on many levels. The theme of motherhood plays out here with Chastain, who wants nothing less than to be a mother, and is suddenly thrown into caring for two wild girls. Her journey is a good contrast to the other maternal figure we get in mama herself. She also rocks the black hair. Unfortunately that comes at the expense of more of Coster-Waldau, who fades to the background for a lot of the movie.

Mama doesn't insult the audience. The sense of dread builds up slowly, with a constant tension arising in the most mundane things, like a child's odd drawing or a crudely made doll, leaving the audience to wonder what inspired it or where exactly the teeth came from that are sown into it. The director realizes that horror doesn't need an extravagant budget—the two girls crawling around on all fours with catlike movements is far more unsettling than a CGI monster. He's also not afraid to avoid the Hollywood ending that usually knocks the wind out of similar films. As someone who is quite desensitized to plenty of horror movies it made me jump in a few scenes.

The biggest criticism is a challenge that comes with all of these genre movies—there's the willing suspension of disbelief when dealing with horror. All of us go into it with a certain amount of supernatural goings-on we're willing to put up with without getting yanked out of the experience and leaving feeling it was all ridiculous. The director has to keep that juggling act going and not get out of hand for the climax. Granted, Mama succeeds where the majority fail and Muschietti keeps it relatively reined in. But I was left feeling it could have been more subtle given how well the first three quarters went. That's more wishful thinking than a serious thumbs down. At least Mama doesn't go into overdrive like Insidious, which started out just as promising.

There are additional minor quibbles that don't detract from enjoyment of the film at all, but do provide some amusement. The moment Jane Moffat's evil aunt character shows up onscreen you know it won't end well at all. She's also the voice of Mama, incidentally. The whole psychologist plot doesn't really go anywhere, either.

Mama is a recipe for success—smart horror, child characters that are likable (!), a small and interesting cast and a pretty strong mystery to tie it all together that will allow most to overlook the flaws. Its chills rank up there with recent good horror entries—the first Paranormal Activity, The Fourth Kind, and hearkening back to something like The Descent. It could even appeal to those who don't normally go for the genre given its broader themes. Get out and see it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: Spartacus: War of the Damned "Enemies of Rome"

Non Spoiler Review:
Spartacus' army has grown by leaps and bounds, and so has his reputation, reaching kinglike proportions. Rome is forced to respond. With their losses mounting and their armies spread thin, the Senate approaches the wealthy Marcus Crassus to defeat the slave rebellion.

Enemies of Rome is a fair reintroduction of the new status quo following the big reset in last season's finale. Familiar faces among the rebels are countered by a whole new cast of Romans, most notably the powerful House of Crassus. Its patriarch makes a good first impression and (unlike Glaber) is certain to be a formidable nemesis for Spartacus.

The series is working on an epic palette with large scale battle scenes and a (CGI) cast of thousands. Considering a television budget it looks quite stunning so far, and is sure to be a spectacle as we see armies clash along the way. As the series enters its final season, the premiere gets things off to a great start.

Spoilers Now!
The Romans are engaging a formidable rebel army as Spartacus rides into battle and breaks through their ranks with his fellow former gladiators in tow. The Roman commander Cossinius calls a retreat and escapes with his tribune Furius. 

Senator Metellus (and all of Rome) can't understand how the rebels are winning. They've been loath to even consider that lowly slaves could route their armies, but Cossinius and Furius remind him they added thousands to their ranks by liberating the mines, and slaves across the Republic are believing in the legend of Spartacus. If reinforcements are not dispatched they might find them at the gates of Rome. Metallus frets they've not got the men given their forces are stretched thin elsewhere, though Cossinius suggests another who might be able to fund the initiative himself—Marcus Crassus. Metellus reluctantly agrees to return to Rome and entreat his aid.

In Rome Marcus Crassus indulges in battle with his gladiator and slave Hilarus while his son Tiberius looks on. Metallus thinks it unwise he takes counsel from a slave, then informs him of their need for reinforcement—an expensive thing in troubled times. They need 10,000 men. In return they would offer Crassus a command under Cossinius and Furius. Crassus would prefer they offer it themselves, though he surprisingly finds the terms agreeable. Metellus admits he thought me might try to extort a title but Crassus is all about honor. Tiberius is surprised at his father's choice, as well. But Spartacus must fall, Crassus tells him.

Spartacus remains cautious about celebrating their victories though Agron and Crixus see their numbers increasing and prefer to indulge in wine and women (or in Agron's case, Nasir). Gannicus later joins Spartacus to make his report of the earlier battle. Spartacus wants him to take his rightful place to stand as a leader with him and Crixus. Gannicus doesn't see himself as one. He asks who Spartacus will turn his wrath upon once they've laid waste to the Republic given the men who killed his wife are gone. Gannicus confides he once loved a woman while a slave to Batiatus, and he had his vengeance as Spartacus did. He confesses that the woman was Oenomaus' wife. Despite his freedom, he was still shackled until Oenomaus freed him with his forgiveness. Spartacus says no one is left to give him such words. He couldn't save his wife, but he can fight to see a day when they will be free. 

As Crassus makes his preparations, his wife Tertulla wants him to give Tiberius a position in the army. Marcus reminds her he hasn't earned a place yet, and lacks a strategic mind. She goes on to warn her son not to give his father cause to further doubt him. 

Agron oversees the training of the new slaves who have joined them. Spartacus notices some starving men and follows them to a tent where one of the new arrivals has killed a horse and is using it to feed the people. Spartacus goes unrecognized and reminds him a horse is a valuable asset. The other explains it was wounded, and without a plan to clothe and feed the people they have to take matters into their own hands. Spartacus notices the children flocking to the remains of the horse he casts away. As one of his soldiers comes up and exposes his identity, Spartacus tells the shocked man he has freedom to speak his heart. The soldier advises him Romans have been spotted on the trail.

A group of soldiers come upon Naevia who question her presence so close to the rebel encampment. But it's a trap, and she springs the ambush upon them. They're successful in killing them and find a message that reveals 10,000 men led by Crassus are on their way.

They debate their next move, and Spartacus suggests they attack Cossinius and Furius before the advantage is lost and they're forced to fight multiple armies. The message reveals they've taken rest at a villa, though they don't know the exact location. Spartacus makes a strategic guess where it must be and suggests a few men might penetrate their defences without notice. Agron, meanwhile, has another task with their army.

Crassus continues to hone his skills in sparring with his slave despite Tiberius criticizing his choice. Crassus respects Spartacus' military success and when Tiberius laughs at the notion of giving a slave any due he orders his son to test himself against Hilarus. The boy is bested easily and Crassus sees a lesson sorrily needed. 

Returning to his own training Crassus knows Hilarus is holding back, so orders him to try to kill his master so he can truly be tested in battle. Hilarus points out if he's victorious it will mean his death for killing his dominus, equally so if he falls at his sword. Crassus puts his mind to ease and instructs his son Hilarus is to be rewarded with his freedom if he succeeds in striking him down. Doubt is a man's true enemy, and he wants it removed. The two battle, and Crassus is nearly defeated, but is patient. He grabs Hilarus' sword by the blade and kills him with it. As Hilarus dies Crassus assures him his service will be remembered, and promises to honour him with a monument.

Cossinius is alerted the rebel army is gathering in the north, so decides to engage them before Crassus arrives. As the bulk of their army departs the villa, Spartacus, Gannicus and Crixus watch until most of the men have left. They attack as Cossinius and Furius prepare to rejoin their army. They make short work of the smaller force remaining at the villa, and Cossinius offers to accept his terms of surrender. Spartacus has none and decapitates both Cossinius and Furius, leaving their heads on pikes to demoralize the Roman army.

Crassus is advised of their deaths with the news that their men are scattering already. Metellus suggests that his message passed too close to the rebel encampment and was stolen by the slaves. Regardless, sole command of the army is now Crassus', as well as the title of imperator. Tiberius realizes his father planned it all. His father explains he knew Spartacus would act as he did because it's what he would have done.

In the rebel camp, Spartacus' mind is on another matter. Winter will be upon them with hunger and cold, as well as Crassus. They need supplies and shelter. They need a city to hold them. 

The Verdict:
War of the Damned looks to be a suitably epic conclusion, bringing us a formidable (and dangerously honorable) adversary in Marcus Crassus. There appears to be the usual family politics at play, as well, with Tiberius' story likely to grow more prominent. Crassus' wife is a dead ringer for Ilythia—distractingly so. I wonder if this was intentional.

Spartacus must cope with his own growing legend and it seems there are already doubts spreading among the people, including Naevia (Of note—we see she has learned to cleave a head from shoulders—a call back to last season's finale).

While we get to see the familiar character moments of Agron, Nasir, Crixus and Naevia, I'm sure others like Saxa and Nemetes will move to the forefront to fill the absence of the likes of Oenomaus and Mira. It's on the Roman side of things where absences are really felt—namely Lucretia and Ilithyia. For the first time we get inside the household of true Roman power rather than the more provincial goings on in Capua. It's too early to tell, but I'm optimistic the House of Crassus can deliver because Lucy Lawless was one of the pillars of the series.

As always, Spartacus' plans come off without much difficulty, and how fortunate Cossinius and Furius chose to remain behind with their guards while the army departed. Hopefully Roman ineptitude is at an end with the much more strategic Crassus on the way.

Proving the series is more than sex and blood, the best scene of all was the one between Spartacus and Gannicus, where the latter gives voice to the obvious—that Spartacus' revenge should be quelled, and without anyone left to break his chains, what end will satisfy him?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "Madness Ends"

Non Spoiler Review:
The end is here, and we leave the 60s to join an extremely well-preserved Lana in the present, interviewed for her life's work as an author and investigative journalist. Johnny is there, too, among the crew, waiting for his opportunity to meet his mother. In a series of flashbacks, Lana recounts the fates of Briarcliff, Jude, Kit and Cardinal Howard, and finally a reckoning with her son.

The last couple of episodes have have gotten us accustomed to a variety of styles and time jumps, and this is no exception. Asylum brings us to the 1970s for a beautiful set of scenes to resolve the lingering plot lines. Kudos to the costuming and colourful settings that added a new layer to this sprawling season.

The biggest critique for some may come in the realization that Asylum is ultimately Lana's story and not Jude's. It's all seen through Lana Banana's perspective in this finale. Does everything get wrapped up neatly in a bow? No. But unlike many endings, I believe most (including myself, who is hard to please) will be satisfied with what is a cathartic resolution. Madness Ends is an apt title.

Spoilers Now!
Four months earlier—Johnny breaks into the ruins of Briarcliff as he listens to an audio book of his mother's story. As he imagines seeing his mother and father, he's interrupted by the arrival of Leo and Teresa so hides in the solitary cell. As Leo sticks his hand in to take a photo he pulls on the Bloody Face mask and slices his arm off with a machete. And that's how Leo lost his arm.

Lana has had six bestsellers and is about to be honoured for her work as a television journalist. She's also in a comfortable relationship with a woman named Marion, and is being interviewed about her career, starting with the early years. But she doesn't want to talk about the Bloody Face saga. He's become a household name in the years since, and she doesn't want to give him any more publicity. She moves on to the infamous Briarcliff expose instead. Lana admits it was ambition that got her back into the asylum. She moved into television rather than pursue writing, as she needed something people could see. That would be Sister Jude.

Back in 1970 Lana was ready to bring a camera into Briarcliff to shock the public, and she brings her crew in through the secret tunnels. Her intent is to rescue Jude and get it all on tape. They move through the asylum which is full of squalor and decay with patients left on their own. Eventually an orderly walks in on their filming so Lana interviews him. He claims there are too many to take care of and they do the best they can. She demands to see Jude. 

Lana succeeded in shutting down Briarcliff, but it wasn't the ending she wanted. While she would have loved to have led the defrocked nun out of the asylum, that's not what happened. Jude was long gone, but she did find something else interesting...

Lana goes on to see Kit, who saw on the news she shut down the asylum. But she's brought her camera crew with her to capture their reunion. She wants to know who Betty Drake is and if she's there. Kit agrees to talk to her in private.

Lana explains she had gone through the records at Briarcliff and found the file on Betty Drake released into Kit Walker's care in 1970, just months after she saw him at the book signing. Kit explains he couldn't shut the place down, but he could save Jude, and she never belonged there. He had started visiting her after Alma died and saw that there was still a spark of life in her. He knew she wouldn't last long if he didn't get her out. Briarcliff was happy to have one less patient to care for, so he brought her into his home.

He did it for his kids. He needed to be there for them, and the only way to leave Briarcliff behind was to find someone to forgive. But Jude had to detox first, and after that things went well for awhile. The kids adored her, though Jude had her bad days when she flashed back to Briarcliff. On one particularly violent outburst, Kit was about to send the kids outside, but they went to Jude instead and calmed her, leading her into the woods. Something was different when they came back—Jude was different. He knows the kids are special.

Jude got better and stayed with them for six months. One day when they were all swing dancing her nose began bleeding. As she rested in bed with the two children, she gives them some final advice. To Julia—never let a man tell her who she is or make her feel less than him. To Thomas—never take a job just for the money. Find something that he loves and do something important. 

Kit comes in with dinner, but she doesn't need it. She sends the kids outside to play but Kit tells her he won't leave her alone. But Jude isn't alone. She's here for me, she says. The Angel of Death stands at the foot of her bed, asking if she's sure she's ready. Jude is sure. She kisses her. 

Lana tells Kit she knows who she was talking about.  

Back in the present, the interview resumes after a break (where Lana is brought a water by Johnny). Her next expose after Briarcliff was controversial—Cardinal Howard. At the time he was a rising star. He had avoided her requests for an interview so she cornered him on his way to Easter Mass. She was prepared to run a report on Dr. Arden's experiments they had uncovered. Everything that happened at Briarcliff happened under his authority, and the police found human remains in the woods. She calls on Timothy to answer for the missing patients under Arden's care. Timothy fled the interview. Afterwards he slit his wrists in the bathtub and Lana suffered a lot of public outrage blaming her for his death.

Lana muses that he was a particular kind of liar, one who believed his own lies. Then she comes clean about her own lie—her baby she claimed died in childbirth is alive. When she breastfed the child for the first time she sent it away, praying someone else could give him the mothering he needed. She admits in the 70s she suffered remorse for giving him up and attempted to track him down. On a playground she found him, being taunted by several other kids. So she goes to his rescue. Unfortunately he still reminds her of his father. That was the last time she saw him. She couldn't be his mother in any meaningful way, but she always wondered how he turned out. Johnny listens to the interview as she talks. 

She never had children, but Kit asked her to be godmother to his kids. He got married to a girl named Allison. Thomas grew up to be a law professor at Harvard and Julia was a neurosurgeon. Kit developed pancreatic cancer at 40. He wouldn't have his children looking after him, so lived out his days in his home. In the last months Lana visited him and said he was the most at peace she had ever seen him. But one night he disappeared without a trace, and no one could explain what happened.

As Kit sat alone in his house the aliens came back for him. No clues were left. And no funeral. The kids insisted there was no reason to mourn.

As the interview concludes the reporter is quite pleased with how it's turned out. As they leave Lana returns to her empty living room, pulling out two glasses, and asking if she can pour him a drink. She knows her son is there.

Johnny walks in, announcing her great life is about to end. He cut the throat of the guy who brought donuts and came in with the rest of the crew. That doesn't surprise Lana, though. She knew him the moment she saw him—The police had come to her when he'd first begun his murder spree, revealing he was responsible for the death of five people, including the ones who owned Oliver Thredson's old house. She told them she didn't know who he was, but they warned her he might be coming after her.

Johnny reveals that day on the playground he realized who she was, and saw her on television. He also found Thredson's confession tape on eBay, where she recounted how she would never love their child. 

Lana explains she gave him up so he'd have a shot at a life. That only enrages Johnny. He takes his gun and puts it to her forehead. He wants his father to be proud of him. Lana says Oliver was the monster, and that's not him. She slowly takes his hand and tells him he's the sweet little boy she met on the playground. Johnny breaks down as she lowers the gun in his hand. She tells him it's not his fault. It's hers. And as he looks up at her she puts the gun to his head and kills him. 

1964. Jude is escorting Lana out of the asylum after she asks about seeing Bloody Face. Jude can see the ambition in her, and as they exchange banter, Jude tells her she's in for heartbreak and sacrifice as a woman with a dream of her own. If you look in the face of evil, evil is going to look right back at you. Both women stare at one another. Lana is sent on her way, and Jude briefly glances at the statue of Mary as Dominique plays.

The Verdict:
Lana proves she's a survivor. While her methods were self-serving—fame and acolades—she did bring down Briarcliff and Timothy. In the present she's managed to be at home with her homosexuality without worrying about sacrificing her career for it. And she's steadfast enough to end the threat her son poses.

I don't know how I feel yet about Jude's end. It was a beautiful wrap up in many ways, having her end up with Kit and a grandmother to his children. The music accompanying the scenes of her and the kids heading to the woods and her death were the best part of the episode. But aside from that I was left wondering what tied this to anything else from her past. She always seemed to have some unfinished business (namely destroying Timothy), but that all fell to Lana.

I had my wish list of arcs I wanted wrapped up. Arden's ghost (and the remains of his experiments) came back to doom Timothy, even though he didn't meet his end at Jude's revenge. Why did Pepper get enhanced by the aliens only to have her die off screen? We never learn just what the aliens really want with Kit, and I would have preferred seeing his grown up children in some sort of world-affecting role (beyond lawyer and neurosurgeon) to really make that all matter. The aliens remain a plot device to resolve loose ends—taking Kit, healing Jude, resurrecting the dead...

But I can't fault this ending. Lana proves she and Jude weren't that far apart at all. That final scene in 1964 was a perfect ending. I had my reservations about the new story lines for season two, wondering how it could possibly match up to season one. But it surpassed it with a more epic tapestry of characters and events beyond the more intimate events of last year's murder house. The returning cast excelled in new roles, and I was gripped by the journeys of redemption brought to us by Jessica Lange, Evan Peters and Sara Paulson. The unrelenting build up of madness, violence and despair was purged in a very satisfying finale.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "Continuum"

Non Spoiler Review:
Continuum is all about change. Jumping ahead, we find Kit in an interesting new family arrangement, but one that does not last for long. Jude remains trapped in Briarcliff but as much in her mind when reality and fantasy begin to blend together. Lana achieves everything she ever wanted.

Coming off such a hopeful episode as last week's Spilt Milk, Continuum is virtually its polar opposite, showing a series of events that continue to bring despair to the survivors of Briarcliff. Another batch of characters are shuffled off, winnowing down the core cast to a select chosen few.

Continuum was another moody period piece. There was more set up this time to lead into the finale and the time jumps kept coming. It was a disquieting episode, but that's what the show is all about. I'm looking forward to how it all ends for Asylum's core trinity—Jude, Lana and Kit.

Spoilers Now!
It's 1967 at the Walker's home, and from the photos on the wall it appears he, Alma and Grace have made a happy life together with their two children. Hippie culture is in full swing, and Grace is busy trying to sketch one of the aliens. Kit arrives home, excited for an upcoming anti-war march. Alma is concerned about Grace's obsession with the aliens, something Alma doesn't talk about at all. She wants Kit to spend more time with Grace so she's not so concerned with the past. 

Grace is doing it all for their children, she explains, who need to know where they came from. She confides in Kit that the night she lost control and killed her family is what really makes her afraid, not the aliens. He's sure she's a different person now. 

Their night is interrupted by the what Alma believes is the reappearance of the aliens. Grace rushes in to get Alma while Kit grabs his rifle as they see bright lights outside. A Molotov cocktail comes through the window. It turns out to be Billy Marshal and his friends. The police are less than sympathetic, accusing Kit of polygamy.

Later, Grace and Alma are having issues with who is spending more time with Kit. Alma hates and fears the aliens while Grace is grateful for what they gave her, and believes they're ultimately benevolent. Alma reminds her she was married to Kit before he brought home an axe murderer.  

With tensions high in the house, Kit leaves Alma's bed to sit with Grace, who is still sketching in the living room. She thinks something has changed and doesn't want to live in fear or isolation anymore. That's when Alma puts an axe in her back, to Kit's horror. Grace is dead, so he takes out the axe and sits back down in shock as his daughter calls for him. He tells her he'll be there in a minute.

It's 1968, the eve of the assassination of Martin Luther King. At Briarcliff Pepper and Jude are playing Candyland. She's back in general population. Timothy comes to ask a word with her. She remarks that Jude is dead and she's been renamed Betty Drake. He explains he's leaving Briarcliff and appointed Cardinal of New York. The Church has donated Briarcliff to the state to use as an overflow facility. He reveals he's arranging for her release, as he doesn't want to leave her behind. Jude believes it's false hope, but he makes her a promise. 

In the bakery Pepper and Jude see several new patients led in, and one of them is the Angel of Death dressed like a prisoner. Jude is horrified, thinking she's come for her. This mortal version of Death tells her she wants to see her—she's a drug dealer, and heard it was Jude who knows how things are run around there. She urges Jude to cooperate with her new business plans.

Jude confides in Pepper that she hopes Timothy is true to his promise, but Pepper warns her that he's nothing but a liar. They look down at more new arrivals streaming into the asylum, one of whom is Alma. 

Jude returns to her room  to find Death is her new roommate. Jude asks why she's tormenting her now when she's so close to getting out, but Death points out there's only one way out of Briarcliff. The next day in the common room Death stabs one of the male patients who had forgotten to give her his pills. 

Jude has nightmares of the Angel of Death coming for her, and wakes up to beating another woman in her room. She's strait jacketed and taken to her old office to see the new administrator, Dr. Miranda Crump. She chides Jude for not liking all five women she's roomed with in the last two months. Jude asks of Father Timothy, but Miranda informs her he was appointed Cardinal two and half years before. Jude points out she just talked to him. As for Pepper, she's told she passed away. Miranda shows her the file. Pepper died in 1966. 

1969: Lana's book is Maniac: One Woman's Story of Survival, and she's giving a signing at a book store. As she reads it's apparent she's embellished the story by bringing in an additional victim that Thredson shared with her. She suddenly imagines Thredson accusing her of lying and defends herself as a writer—to tell the essence of truth. Then her conscience brings out Wendy, who chastises her for making her asexual and hiding their true relationshiop to avoid any controversy. They declare she's only interested in fame now. 

Lana continues on with the signing, impatient with her assistant for not finding her almonds. Kit arrives and she's delighted to see him. Lana's heard about Grace and wanted to write but it's been so crazy, she claims, and explains how she's sold the film rights to Hollywood. He goes for coffee with her.

She's not been back to Briarcliff. Leigh killed seven nuns after escaping, and that's her next book. Kit is angry she's writing about another maniac. She's become a cheap celebrity rather than a reporter. But she defends the life she's built for herself writing about lunatics.

He warns her to be careful when she talks about those lunatics at Briarcliff, as his wife was an inmate. He goes on to explain how he visited her there. Alma was amazed he survived in such a place, but she couldn't. She died of a heart attack. Kit promised to try to make it right. Lana is sorry to hear that and realizes everyone is gone but the two of them. But Kit points out Jude is still there. Leaving Alma's bed he saw her in the common room. Jude was watching the Flying Nun, which she thinks is her life story, and vows to fly out of Briarcliff. 

Lana realizes Timothy lied to her, but Kit wants her to get the place shut down. Lana doesn't have any sympathies for Jude anymore—she made her own bed. Lana is called back to the book signing and leaves him. 

In the present, Johnny shows up at the same bookstore, asking for a first edition, but the old woman tells him they're going out of business. She's the only store in town with a signed copy of Maniac. It's true, but it's her mother's personal copy and she isn't parting with it. Johnny reveals Lana is his mother. The woman doesn't believe it—she knows her story and Lana's baby died at birth. Johnny just wants to see it, so she shows him the signature inside the cover. Then Johnny demands the book because it's his fate to have it. He explains his dark plan to meet his mother and kill her. She hands the book over.

The Verdict:
The time jumps, started last week, were a lot to absorb over the course of the hour, especially given Jude's fluctuating mental state and the question of what we were actually seeing as reality. When she first appeared she seemed to be pretty cogent, but that doesn't look to be the case, given the reappearance of the mortal version of the Angel of Death. Her grim reaper persona has been seen by too many characters not to be accurate, so is this all Jude's hallucination? It could very well be the case given how she woke up to the other woman she was beating up. Or is the angel appearing for some additional purpose to help Jude?

Lana's personality switch comes off as an odd choice given last week was all about how her drive for fame cost so many lives. She seemed to have more depth than that. Perhaps her older, present-day self (which must certainly be coming next week) will have achieved more balance (and sympathy). I get the feeling that both she and Johnny will have their reckoning and neither will survive it.

It's unfortunate that Pepper died off screen, if that's truly the case. I kind of hope that the aliens rescued her for another purpose in helping Jude. Otherwise that just leaves Kit to save her and make things right, which works very well in the grander context of the story to have these two manage to get out.

It would truly be a surprise if Jude does survive all this, but she's really the only one who can stop Cardinal Howard's rise to power and give him his comeuppance. Unless he manages to get back into Briarcliff at some point she'll need some avenue of escape. How foreshadowing is Jude's declaration that she'll fly out of Briarcliff? Does that mean a jump (out of a window)?

Finally, will the alien storyline come to a satisfying conclusion? I'm hopeful that it will all come together next week, with a suitable revelation as to the identity of Kit's two children in the present day.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead 106

Non Spoiler Review:
As Negan debates a suitable punishment for Carl, the focus returns to Rick, who is frantically trying to find out where his son is. Jesus returns with tactical information, leading him to assemble a crew to face the Saviors.

This month was filler to bring us up to date on Rick, with some additional subplots for the characters we haven't seen in awhile. Whether those particular scenes are going to pay off in this arc or another, we'll just have to wait. 

At least Kirkman isn't dragging his heals as things get on the move very quickly, and the scenes between Carl and Negan are always tense and interesting.

Spoilers Now!
Mark is led away as Amber asks after him. Only it's Dwight (formerly ironed himself) who tells her to shut up and leave him alone. 

Back in Negan's quarters, Carl asks to wrap up his face, but Negan forbids it as he's not done with him yet. So he asks for Carl's input on a suitable punishment—death, iron perhaps—but Carl suggests Negan just jump out a window to save him the trouble of killing him. That gets a laugh and Negan wonders if he can think of a punishment any worse than what's already happened to Carl. But he'll try.

Meanwhile, Rick is at his wits' end looking for Carl. He and the others have been searching the neighbourhood for him to no avail, though Rick quietly suspects that Negan has kidnapped him. Spencer watches from the gates, wondering why they're bothering to search with no clue where to look. The older Erin tells him he's just bitter about Rick taking his girlfriend and suggests he not let it drive him crazy.

In other domestic news, Eric suggests to Aaron that they might consider leaving town and making a go on their own given the new political situation—or at least make preparations. Aaron won't hear of it, having enough of barely escaping with their lives on the road looking for other survivors. He suggests their new trading relationship might actually be a step back towards civilization. 

Jesus has made his way back to town and pays Rick a visit in his house at night. He explains he found Negan's fortress, and learns from Rick that Carl is missing. All he can say is he heard gunfire as he was starting on his way back. Rick notes Abraham's machine gun is missing. 

Jesus leads a search party of Rick, Michonne and Andrea towards Negan's installation, but Rick doesn't really have a viable plan other than talking to him to ask for his son back. Jesus also warns that the perimeter is guarded by chained and impaled walkers, making it nearly impossible to get through. Rick suggests he knows how to get by without the roamers noticing. 

Their planning is cut short when Negan's truck intercepts them. Coincidentally, Negan was on his way to Rick to let him know about his guest. Rick demands to know where Carl is, so Negan tells him he can't wait for him to see what he's done to his boy.

The Verdict:
With a lot of set up, next month will give us the answer to Negan's tease about what he's done to Carl (hopefully). I have visions of Carl being outfitted with some eyepiece accessory or worse. Kirkman has been successful delivering a different kind of megalomaniac from the Governor. He's a fascinating character to watch, especially interacting with Carl. It's equally conceivable he could either kill Carl at the drop of a hat or make him his second-in-command.

Dwight gets a little more play here, too, and he's carrying his own baggage with Negan. Was that also his (ex)wife with Amber? It seemed as though he might have been ironed for the same reason as Mark.

There was a specific callback to Rick's special walker invisibility cloak—covering himself in zombie guts. Is this going to eventually be the way he (or Jesus) sneak into the stronghold to save Carl?

On another note, we get a few character bits with Aaron and Eric as well as introducing new citizen Erin (at least I think she's new) and grumpy Spencer. It's tough getting decent updates on the sizable cast that don't interfere with what's already going on each issue. Usually they're only brought out en masse when something serious is afflicting the community, which leads to a problem in developing an attachment to anyone aside from the core. But Erin looks interesting, and hopefully the town's inhabitants get some further depth in issues to come.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "Spilt Milk"

Non Spoiler Review:
As the episode title suggests, this week deals with Johnny Thredson's particular fetish. Events accelerate a lot, with Lana at the head of the parade being as plucky as ever. Father Timothy's hubris has returned, and he now has a problem with Jude, who in madness has achieved a clarity that threatens his position. There are explanations galore, an incredible amount of developments, and a generally awesome episode overall.

Spilt Milk was a tense outing—the music (Philip Glass) and camera angles were more experimental than usual, creating a Hitchcock feel. This felt more like a series finale, covering a huge amount of ground—and time. Considering there are two more left, it looks like we're in no danger of seeing the remaining plot threads wrapped up in a satisfactory manner.

This was really Lana's moment and it worked on so many levels as she faced her demons. After ten episodes of emotional, physical and sexual abuse of its characters, we got a very cathartic hour.

Spoilers Now!
Johnny Thredson is getting high in his apartment (which is Oliver's old place) when Pandora the prostitute shows up. She's had her baby three weeks before and he's interested in her triple-Ds—i.e. her breast milk, which she is more than willing to provide for the right price. Johnny admits to having mommy issues. She never loved him, or his father, he claims, and every time he thinks of her he wants to do bad things. Pandora tries to calm him down. 

Meanwhile, Thredson wakes Kit up to spend some quality time with his baby. Grace, Pepper and the baby are in the common room as Kit comes to see her. She's named him Thomas. Pepper warns Thredson she knows everything he's up to, so he orders her taken to hydrotherapy. He leaves Grace and Kit to enjoy their miracle

Grace only remembers pieces of what's happened. When she was shot she saw a bright light, but she realized she wasn't in heaven. The aliens put the baby inside her but she assures him they aren't cruel. Time works differently there. Unfortunately they make mistakes, and Alma didn't make it. The only link between both women is Kit. He's special and so is their baby. He'll change the way people think. Kit just wants to be a good father and asks her to marry him. She says yes.

Father Timothy arrives to introduce her to Sister Colette, who's there to take the baby to a home for lost children. Grace vows they won't, but they forcibly take the child. Thredson arrives to suggest he might be able to help.

Mother Claudia finds Lana in the kitchen, revealing she's taking her out of there. Jude has asked her to make it right. Claudia gives Lana her patient file, showing everything she needs for her exposé. Lana realizes Claudia wants Briarcliff brought down, too. A cab is waiting for her but they have to hurry. Lana retrieves Thredson's confessional tape that she's had hidden in the kitchen, then tells Jude she's coming back for her.

Thredson wants the tape and will ensure Kit keeps his son. As they speak on the spiral staircase, Lana is coming down dressed in her old clothes and she hears them talking. Thredson suggests they could frame Dr. Arden for the murders and save each other. He just needs to make Lana listen to reason. Kit notices Lana so tries to distract Thredson as she passes them.  

Lana makes it outside where Claudia awaits at the taxi and hands her the folder. Thredson emerges just then, seeing her in the car. Lana puts the tape against the window and gives him the finger as the cab pulls away.

Thredson rushes home, only to find Lana there with a gun. The police have the tape and will be there very soon. He's been exposed. Thredson muses he knew it would happen one day, but is actually relieved. He was right. She was the one. She agrees that he'll pay for everything he did to her, Wendy and every other woman he murdered. Thredson goes to make himself a drink in defiance of her order for him to sit down.

Lana wants to know what he did with Wendy's body. Thredson confesses he put her on ice just for her. Then he'd realized she could come in handy for practice, and admits to having sex with the body in order to conceive with Lana. What he couldn't burn he cut up. 

They hear the sirens, so Thredson has a refill. He realizes she won't keep the baby but Lana believes he'll fry in the electric chair anyway, so would never see the child. But he's clearly insane, he points out. At worst he'll live his life in prison. So he has no use for her anymore and reaches for a gun placed nearby. Lana shoots and kills him.

Later, Lana mourns at the cemetery. They found a lot of Wendy's ashes in the furnace. Lana tells her two friends she has decided to move to New York once she tidies up some loose ends. Her drive to get her story caused all this misery, she realizes. She was going to do anything to get it. Her friend gives her the name of a doctor to take care of her other little problem. Lana emerges to the crowd of media, asking about her reported homosexuality among the sensationalist claims about Briarcliff. All she tells them is to read her book. 

Back in Briarcliff Jude defies the nuns, telling her fellow patients not to take the pills, as it turns their brains to mush. Timothy is reading Lana's exposé in the paper which has led to reporters camped outside the gates. Brother James arrives to inform him of Jude's disturbance. 

Timothy comes to see Jude who is hanging out at the jukebox. He unplugs it. She sees the irony in him relinquishing his virtue to the Devil. But he is not renouncing his vows. He has too much to offer to the church, he claims. Jude confesses to having impure thoughts about him, but would have done anything he asked. She believed in his fantasy. Jude shouts of her disillusionment and shame she feels now that she sees through his naked ambition. He orders her to shut her mouth, but she admits she's more sane now that she's mad as she ever was in charge of Briarcliff. Timothy has her taken away to solitary. 

Kit is given his release papers. He learns Lana killed Thredson, as well, and so his innocence has been proven. He wants to see Father Timothy before he leaves and demands his son back. He informs Timothy he's going to let Grace out and advise the orphanage they're coming to pick Thomas up, otherwise he'll be talking to the reporters. Timothy refuses to release an axe murderer, so Kit points out Grace is dead, according to her death certificate signed by Arden. If anyone ever asks, Grace died at Briarcliff. No one has to lie. 

A cab takes Grace, Kit and the baby back to Kit's old house. The house is a mess from how he left it, but Grace is happy to be free. But there's someone in the bedroom, and they find Alma with a baby.

Lana consults with the doctor about aborting her child, telling her the story of the pregnancy. As the doctor proceeds, Lana begins to have flashbacks to all that's happened to her. She can't go through with it. No more death, she says.

Lana has given the police information on all the disappearances at Briarcliff. She wants them to get her back in there as only Jude can substantiate everything she's said and is being held against her will. Claudia was transferred to Puerto Rico as soon as she started making noise. The cop asks if Bloody Face is the father of her baby. Lana replies it doesn't have a father. 

She manages to convince them, so the police show up in Timothy's office with a court order giving them access to his patients. Lana is with them. He tells them it's impossible—Timothy found her dead in her room, hanging herself with her bedsheets two weeks earlier. He had her cremated given she committed suicide.

Lana and the police leave him. Meanwhile, a tray of food is delivered to the patients, one of whom remains locked away in solitary—Sister Jude.

Lana has the baby but has asked not to see it. The nurse brings him to her anyway because he's allergic to the formula and wonders if she would breast feed him. Lana finally holds him and feeds him. He calms down, but it takes all her effort not to lose it. 

The Verdict:
Wow. After last week's double cremation, off goes Oliver Thredson and Lana actually escapes for real. And Kit. And Grace. After so many false hopes Lana's walk to the cab was a very tense and effective moment. Spilt Milk was beautifully shot—the scenes outside the asylum were bright and full of color, letting us see just how gloomy Briarcliff has been all season. 

I've read some criticisms about the treatment of women this year, but here we see a lot of strength—Claudia rebelling against the authority of the church, Lana achieving everything she set out to do, and Jude's endurance. It was also satisfying to see the relationships that have developed and sustained themselves after such a series of tribulations—Lana securing Kit's release, promising to come back for Jude, who herself saw fit to provide her freedom. Even the police were overly cooperative. So often the characters have been knocked down with no allies on the outside. Spilt Milk was all about renewal and hope restored.

As for Johnny's claim he was denied his mother, we see that wasn't the case (at least initially). Where is the old and grey Lana now, as chances are she would be a famous author at this point and must have thought what became of her child. Will she be the one who puts an end to him?

Some observations—the date on Timothy's newspaper was mid-January, so not much time had passed since Leigh's appearance and Lana's release. Then at least six months transpired by the end given her pregnancy came to term. What's happened with Alma since we last saw her in her bedroom? What happened to Pepper? 

As I've mentioned previously, the alien plot really needs to come home with satisfying closure. It looks like Alma has her own child with Kit, too. What's the significance of his bloodline? That looks to be the key to the whole mystery. I'm left wondering about who Thomas really is with the notion the world will listen to him. Ryan Murphy hasn't been afraid in the past to weave real life people in his stories so his identity could be the final twist.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review: The Sound of My Voice

Non Spoiler Review:
Written by the talented Brit Marling (Another Earth) and Zal Batmanglij (who also directed), Sound of My Voice stars Christopher Denham, Nicole Vicius and Marling. Denham and Vicius play Peter and Lorna, a couple from diverse backgrounds who want to make a documentary exposing a new cult leader who is gathering followers in Los Angeles. Together they manage to pass the initiations and meet Maggie, gaining access to her outrageous claims and participating in her bizarre cleansing and survival rituals. Is she telling the truth, or playing everyone for a fool? Starting out as skeptics, Peter and Lorna are forced to come to terms with the often convincing, charismatic Maggie, as much as with their own relationship.

Like Another Earth, The Sound of My Voice was gripping from start to finish—both in the unfolding mystery revealed in curious and enigmatic tidbits, as well as the believable characters. There's an underlying sense of danger, both from the implication that the cult could be violent, as well what may happen if Peter and Lorna are discovered. Marling again proves she can carry a film, delivering a convincing performance of a magnetic cult leader, who seems convincing even when making the most ridiculous requests and claims. The undercover couple also bring a believable struggle of skepticism versus belief that begins to wear on their relationship.

Though it's a low budget independent film, it doesn't come across that way onscreen. It's a very intimate, character-driven piece so doesn't require a lot of flash. It's a tense and unnerving movie in places, and the music contributes to a very edgy, ominous tone (though there's one musical addition that succeeds in delivering a jolt of humour where one wouldn't expect it).

However, like Another Earth, The Sound of my Voice is equally frustrating. Having grappled with the former film's abrupt ending, I fully expected something similarly enigmatic here and wasn't disappointed. It left me annoyed at first, but the more I thought about the film as a whole, the more I appreciated all the facets of the plot and the ways it was open to interpretation.

I would have loved more revelation and detail thrown in to give me some closure. What I got was enough to grip me throughout the movie and left me to ponder it the rest of the evening. It's likely one of those movies worth a rewatch to see what you missed the first time. While I enjoyed this, as well as Another Earth, I leave with a caution to Marling's next endeavour. It's fine to create an elaborate and interesting plot when one doesn't have to resolve it in any thorough way, so it's debatable when this moves from cleverness into bad writing. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Commentary: 2012's Five Most Memorable Genre TV Moments

The 2012 television season was another great showing for genre shows. To choose the best memorable moments is a tough one, but I've managed to select five of the more notable scenes over the past year that were a standout.

I've based these entirely on my own emotional WTF reaction as I was watching them, so these top five in particular left an impression after it was over. I realize now that most are—and easily all could have been—character deaths, so I've tried to mix it up a bit. Bear in mind there are massive spoilers below, so only proceed if you've seen the series in question, or just don't give a hoot.

In the interest of being concise I chose a top five over a top ten, but I've sprinkled a few honorable mentions here and there.

Massive Spoilers Begin...

Sister Jude's drunken movie night.
Nor'easterAmerican Horror Story: Asylum
Season two of American Horror Story quickly cut itself a new path from its first outing, along with it, Jessica Lange as Sister Jude. Starting as the vindictive matron of the asylum, Jude acquiesces to hold a movie night—no small feat considering many of their endeavours turn into bloody messes like their group Christmas photo a few years earlier. Unfortunately, the Devil in the form of Eunice entices her back to her old binge drinking ways, leading to an inebriated Jude stumbling into the common room full of patients to slur her way through the introduction to Sign of the Cross, then break down in a monologue lamenting the death of the girl she believes she killed in a hit and run. It was humorous and disturbing, and another opportunity for Jessica Lange to prove she can do anything.

Obviously American Horror Story provides weekly doses of outrageous material, so it was a tough one to pick from, and since I didn't want the entire list to be character deaths, I chose the movie night given it made me laugh every time I rewatched it. This scene would come a close second to The Name Game's musical number but for the fact that episode aired the first week of January, so missed out on the 2012 list.

Lane's suicide.
Commissions and Fees,
Mad Men
Lane Pryce was one of the more beloved characters on Mad Men, the one who never seemed to get a break, stuck in a loveless marriage and always overlooked as the unnecessary partner at SCDP, despite that he was single-handedly responsible for its creation.

So when his debt incurred from helping the struggling firm forced him into the bad decision to temporarily skim some cash from the company funds, we all knew this would end badly. Circumstances led him to desperate measures to cover his tracks, but of course Don found out and refused to give him another chance. Fired, humiliated and faced with deportation, Lane attempted a couple of pathetic and failed attempts at suicide, including in the Jaguar his wife unknowingly gifted him (and incurred more debt). He finally succeeded in hanging himself in his office, leading to a disturbing and sad reveal as Joan, Pete, and the other partners discovered him.

For Don, it was even more horrifying. This was the second time he's led someone to kill themselves (by hanging), first by ignoring his brother's attempt to reforge a relationship with him. The shock on his face at what his decision caused capped a very morose episode. Even more ironic is that SCDP was subsequently awash in cash, and absent Lane it will be interesting to see how season six proceeds.

I have two additional honorable mentions that come in close to warrant inclusion—first Peggy's emotional scene with Don announcing her resignation in The Other Woman, and Megan's show stopping rendition of Zou Bisou Bisou in A Little Kiss'. As always, Mad Men delivers a season of memorable moments.

Opie's death.
Laying Pipe,
Sons of Anarchy
Since Donna's murder in season one, Opie has seemed like he's living on borrowed time, finding it difficult to even act like he cares about his new wife or even his children anymore. With his father's death courtesy of Clay, and watching his best friend Jax slowly giving in to the club's darker ways, Opie's had a big target on his back.

Faced with Damon Pope's harsh terms for payment of his daughter's death courtesy of Tig, Jax is put in the untenable position of picking who will die in prison—Tig, Chibs or Opie? When Opie purposely got himself arrested to protect Jax inside, it didn't come as too much of a surprise that something terrible was on the horizon. It was nonetheless heartbreaking to watch him get beaten to death in front of Jax, allowing him to escape the cancerous life of SAMCRO.

The fallout has had profound impact on the series, particularly pushing Jax on the path of Clay and orchestrating ever darker machinations to destroy his enemies. Opie was Jax's childhood friend, his right hand, and Jax's intended VP and eventual leader of SAMCRO. Without him Jax seems on a path to destruction.

Lorie's death.
Killer Within, The Walking Dead
Killer Within started out quietly enough, coming on the heels of a string of eventful and frenetic episodes. It felt like we were in for a more character driven and subdued hour. After months on the road managing to scrape by, Rick and Lori have never mended their bad blood over Shane, and now that she's certainly carrying Shane's baby, it's a constant reminder to Rick what he's had to do to keep them alive.

The two endure a cold but diplomatic conversation before some walkers get let out, throwing the prison into chaos and splitting up the survivors. Lori goes into labor and in the course of a few minutes decides she needs to have a C-section in the boiler room, something she won't survive. Before we know it Lori has given Carl a final mother/son pep talk and Maggie slices her open. And that's the last we hear of her. 

With the baby delivered, Carl takes charge and puts a bullet in his mother's brain so she won't resurrect, and he, Maggie and the baby make their way outside where Rick and the rest have been battling walkers. Rick collapses in horror. It's all worse considering the way he's treated her since the start of the season, and he never even got to say good-bye or have any kind of closure with her. To add insult, he goes to her body, only to find that she's been entirely consumed by a walker in the boiler room.

Readers of the graphic novel anticipated her death down the road, but not in this manner, so it came as a shock to new viewers and fans alike. While she was a love her/hate her character, she went out in a memorable way, leaving Rick on a questionable mental footing and viewers wondering what's next for Carl.

The death of pretty much everyone.
Wrath of the Gods, Spartacus: Vengeance
Given the story of Spartacus and its bloody first season and prequel, it was no surprise that there would be a great battle wrapping up season two. Every character was poised to have some resolution. But as Wrath of the Gods progressed they started dropping like flies in a relentless string of deaths that was hard to keep up to, much less mourn.

Some were long-deserved and others heartbreaking—Ashur (at the hands of Naevia, who seemed to barely escape death herself), noble Oenomaus, and Mira, as well as a host of secondary soldiers and rebel characters we barely got a chance to know. While some could be seen coming (Mira had a target on her the moment she and Spartacus broke up, and as soon as Oenomaus lost his eye, it was questionable how well he would manage in the future), others were true shockers. Spartacus' war of revenge against Glaber came to a glorious end as he murdered him after defeating his forces, with Glaber's last words warning them of their ultimate fate—Rome would send legions in his wake.

But the singular moment was Lucretia revealing her master scheme to her dearest friend—to steal Ilithyia's baby for her dead husband by literally cutting her out of her was one thing, but then she walked to the cliff ledge while Ilithyia struggled to crawl after. Used and abused all season, Lucretia revealed this was her plan all along. It was just desserts for Ilithyia, who had betrayed her enough times in the past. Lucretia wasn't just taking the child, she was taking the child into the afterlife for Batiatus. She lets herself fall over the cliff with the baby as Ilithyia watches in horror and drops dead herself.

There are no Roman characters left alive by the end of it, and a leaned down core of rebels taking the series into its third and epic final season.

Honorable Mentions:
Annie's unfinished business.
The Warchild, Being Human
With all the originals dead and gone but Annie, it fell to her to find her unfinished business (which just happened to be saving the world). In an exciting culmination of the season's storyline as well as four years of Annie's struggles, she opts to kill the baby she's been sworn to protect, saves the world by eliminating the old ones, and goes off into the afterlife where her friends are waiting for her. As sad as it is to see her go, she got a wonderful send off, and the writers have managed to introduce a compelling new set of characters to carry the series into its fifth season. The one thing that would have secured this episode in my top five—guest appearances by Mitchell, George and Nina.

Deb kills LaGuerta.
Surprise, Motherf**ker!, Dexter
With LaGuerta putting the pieces together about Dexter and the Bay Harbor Butcher, there was no viable solution to his dilemma that didn't result in her death. When it came to the chilling moment and Deb discovers her brother about to kill LaGuerta, she has to save him or kill him. Deb opts to shoot LaGuerta. Sad to see a major character (even one who could be as unlikable as LaGuerta) end on such a note, but how this point of no return choice affects Deb's character next season (as well as her relationship with Dexter) we just have to wait.

With American Horror Story's second season wrapping up, the second half of Walking Dead, the premiere of Game of Thrones, Mad Men, and a host of other great series, 2013's memorable moments will offer an equally difficult task to sort through.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Review: American Horror Story: Asylum "The Name Game"

Non Spoiler Review:
On the heels of his near death experience with Kit, Arden gets informed of the new status quo by none other than Pepper. Eunice makes some additions to Briarcliff and basks in doling out Jude's punishment. Timothy conspires to rid the asylum of the Devil, while Jude just struggles to survive.

As the series heads towards its conclusion plot lines are in full gear, and one thread comes to an end, prompting the return of the Angel of Death. Like any great American Horror Story episode, this one had the perfect mix of humour, one-liners, disturbing and chilling moments.

In the category of Is there nothing Jessica Lange cannot do? we get a surprising and totally awesome musical number that tops her previous drunken movie night moment from earlier in the season. The Name Game really rocked it out this week and maintains the winning streak of episodes that I hope continues for an epic conclusion to the series.

Spoilers Now!
Arden injects Kit and pounds on his chest, managing to resuscitate him. But he lies to Kit the aliens never came. Flashback to what really happened—Arden took Grace to his private lab, noticing she bore no sign of her bullet wound. He's not pleased that Pepper insists she's charged with protecting Grace, especially notable that the aliens appear to have given her the power of speech and increased her intelligence. She's protected, Pepper explains. His X-rays will not be allowed to penetrate Grace's body, and in fact, the aliens laugh at his meagre experiments. Defiant, he suggests an emergency C-section, but the tools fall out of his hand. Pepper explains she was framed for murder because the judge only saw a freak. If anything happens to Grace, there won't be anyone else to blame but Arden, and he'll understand what being a freak is like. 

Father Timothy is alive and recovering in Eunice's care. Leigh is on the run and the subject of a  statewide manhunt. Timothy remembers seeing the Angel of Death, who told him he has more work to do—the Devil is at Briarcliff in his favorite young nun and he must cast her out. Timothy doesn't believe he's strong enough, but the angel explains it's his moment. Eunice puts him to bed and leaves him to pray.

In the common room, Eunice has brought in a jukebox to spite Jude. She dedicates the first song to Judy Martin (her real name)—Put a Spell on You. Kit comes in, sharing an embrace with Lana, who takes him to talk in private. Before she can tell him Thredson's on the loose he walks in and comes over to see them both. For the moment Thredson can't make a move against either—Lana is safe until his child is born, while Kit has Thredson's taped confession hidden. But he reveals to Kit that Lana is pregnant, and Sister Mary Eunice has offered him a full time position at Briarcliff. She's also adept at untying slipknots.

Later, the guards wake up the ward for a room search. Lana berates Eunice for hiring Thredson. Eunice disagrees and has her taken to hydrotherapy. She then searches Jude's room and brings out a cucumber, prompting her to have Jude sent for punishment—electro shock, courtesy of Arden. Eunice takes delight in increasing the settings to the strongest jolt.

As Eunice cares for Timothy she notes his wounds are healing too quickly—someone like him deserves to be canonized. Timothy uses the opportunity to make a completely vain attempt to exorcise the Devil, but Eunice is too strong and throws him on the bed, straddling him and revealing the red slip she's wearing underneath her robes. It turns out he's never been with a woman, so she's very successful in seducing him. Arden watches from the door, disgusted.

A disoriented Jude shows up in the common room. Lana realizes seeing her like that doesn't make her feel any better. Jude makes her way to the jukebox and tries to pull the plug. Lana comes over, saying it's Lana Banana, asking her if she knows her name. That prompts Jude to select The Name Game...which turns into a full on colourful dance routine with Jessica Lange vocals, all in Jude's head. When it's over Lana still struggles to communicate with her, explaining her name is Judy Martin, but does she remember?

Eunice follows Arden with his wheelbarrow of food into the woods to feed the subjects. He's jealous and bitter with her seducing Timothy, so he shoots the creatures in the head, informing her the experiment is over. Eunice is amused by his tantrum. Arden puts the gun to his eye but can't pull the trigger. He admits he can't bear to have lost her. She tells him he's being pitiful and as he begs her to have pity on him she walks away and leaves him there. 

In the bakery, Jude continues to struggle to get a grip on reality. Timothy arrives and has come to unburden himself, offering his apology and his regret. He admits the Devil is inside Eunice and Jude's right. He's failed in casting her out and she's destroyed them both. His virtue is gone. He needs to know if he should confess and walk away from their dream. Jude manages to utter he should kill her.

Thredson goes to see Arden for sodium pentothal, but finds his office empty. As he searches he hears screams and stumbles upon Grace in the adjacent room about to give birth. Pepper informs him she's crowning.

Eunice comes into Timothy's room as he prays, and mocks him by finishing his prayer. She's found his innocence intoxicating and wants another go. She realizes he wants to kill her and that's why he's praying for strength. She taunts him further that he can't kill her, and instead they will rise through the hierarchy of the church together. Timothy belongs to her now, body and soul. He follows her out, saying he would rather die than let her sully the church. Eunice flies into a rage, but the Devil appears to let her have a moment to speak. The real Eunice tells him she's sorry. Timothy asks her to let go of him, so she does, and he throws her over the staircase. Eunice looks up to see the Angel of Death as blood flows from her head. "Take me," she says. "I'll take both of you," the angel replies.

With the body in bed, Timothy gives her last rites. Arden is bitter as he hears she fell from the fourth floor. Arden wants her cremated, but that is a pagan practice, Timothy informs him. The very cells of her body were corrupted, Arden points out. Timothy acquiesces and will assist, but Arden wants to do it himself. 

Kit, bound in a straitjacket is brought to Thredson, who has a way to get the incriminating tape. He takes him to see Grace and her baby. Thredson concludes Arden has been up to something quite extraordinary, and Grace claims it's Kit's son. Kit tells him where to find the tape, so Thredson goes looking for it, but all he finds is a book under the bathtub. Lana shows up to mock him that she's the only one who knows where it is now. If he does anything to anyone, she can get it to the police.

Jude recites the name of the inmates to herself, getting some memory back. Mother Claudia has come to see her. However, Jude remains in a fugue, telling her she wants to say good-bye as Timothy is taking her to Rome where he will be Pope and they'll be married. He killed Eunice. Claudia asks her to rest her mind. Jude points to Lana and explains her name is Lana Winters and she doesn't belong there. Help her get out. 

In the crematorium Arden has one last look at Eunice. He crawls on top of her and starts the furnace, and the two of them go into the fire together.

The Verdict:
Even though The Name Game is one of my new favorites, there was plenty of crazy and hasty plot developments. Eunice's death, while necessary (given it was doubtful an exorcism could ever save her at this point), came too conveniently. Having her be able to momentarily shake the Devil to speak to Timothy was definitely contrived.

Arden's departure on the heels of Eunice's death was a surprise. I'd anticipated a more epic demise for him, so in this case it didn't entirely work for me either. He was suffering a lot of ego shattering events, but it still didn't feel convincing that he was the type of man who could be so smitten with Eunice's innocence that he would abruptly end his experiments and opt for suicide. It seemed Eunice, Arden and his test subjects were all wiped off the map in the interests of cleaning the slate before the end of the season.

Thredson's return to Briarcliff is stretching this storyline out a tad, as well. It's been an ongoing string of brinkmanship between Kit, Lana and Oliver and it remains to be seen who can hold out and win the game. Their scenes are enjoyable, but the rounds and rounds of catch and release are frustrating.

Pepper's expanded role is a nice surprise, including her extreme slap down of Arden, who was in desperate need of being brought down a few levels. I hope she's one of the few who will get a happy ending. Given so many of the patients aren't there for any actual crime they caused, it would be fitting for her to end on a high note. The alien plot line remains as the one piece that needs to really get a solid explanation, otherwise it will all fall flat. At least without Arden and Eunice, there is more room to flesh this one out. But without a particularly interesting twist or revelation, I'm still dubious about this storyline (especially given how the radiation subjects were quickly disposed of here).

It goes without saying the impromptu musical number was probably the most memorable scene to date, a healthy mix of song, dance and outrageous (super-shaking patients) moments. I was laughing out loud and it made my week. Poor Jude doesn't look like she can get out of this bind without some heavenly aid. I definitely believe she won't be surviving this, though I'm sure she'll get to redeem her character in a final sacrifice (though I still wonder if the aliens did anything to her the night of the nor'easter).
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