Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Review: Mad Men "The Better Half"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Better Half finds Peggy caught between Don and Ted's creative rivalry, while at home the rising crime in their neighbourhood is causing tensions with Abe. Visiting Bobby at camp, Don and Betty reminisce about the old days. Roger finds his parenting skills are not welcome. Pete decides to seek some career advice.

One of the best of the season, The Better Half fired on all cylinders—every storyline was interesting enough in its own right—Joan, Pete, Roger, Bob, Ted, Peggy, Abe, Betty, Don, Megan—that's been a rarity. Don's arc remains the primary focus, but it didn't overshadow so much of the episode as it's been doing this season. Well overdue is some attention to Betty. While she's a very love her or hate her character, she's lacked a lot of focus this year, but here she plays a critical role in whatever transition Don is undergoing.  

Spoilers Now!
Don and Ted continue to debate the margarine campaign. Pete recommends they direct their creative on the taste alone while Ted is more about the price. Don calls in Peggy to ask her opinion, and admits she would decide based on the price. Peggy wonders whose opinion she's supposed to go with, but Ted acquiesces that they go with Don's. Don replies by telling him to go with what he's most comfortable with. After they leave, Pete notes the exchange. Harry doesn't care. He's still bent on being a partner once the dust settles but that doesn't mean he hasn't been putting out feelers to other agencies, something he recommends Pete do, as well.

Don pops into Peggy's office, subtly hinting she should offer an educated opinion when asked. There is a right and there's a wrong. There's you and there's him, she counters, and she's not in charge of turning the merger into a collaboration. Ted's interested in the idea, while Don is interested in his own idea. Ted never makes her feel that way. Don says Ted doesn't know her like he does.

At a campaign fundraiser, a very fit Betty waits on Henry to make a phone call, but she's propositioned by one of his colleagues, Stu. Henry rejoins them and they leave. In the car Henry is angry that everyone seemed to be watching Betty through the evening, including Stuart flirting with her. Betty claims she didn't notice, but he asks what he said. Betty confesses his proposition. Henry ends up kissing her.

Peggy comes home to find Abe was stabbed on the subway. The police officer tells her his story is lacking detail. He sends the police on his way, leaving Peggy to ask him what happened. Abe is irritated they're looking for an excuse to round up blacks and Hispanics and he wonders why she's siding with the police and the fascists over him. Peggy suggests he might be in shock, but he gets angry. She admits she's sick of living there and wants to sell, and goes off to bed.

On the set, Megan is now playing twins, but is having difficulty making them different. At home, Megan and Don share dinner. While she's worried about her part, Don tells her tomorrow is another day.

Pete meets with Duck about some potential job prospects. He already got Bert Peterson a job. Pete wonders why he didn't get himself a job if he's so successful with others. Duck points out Pete has no place in the management structure, and he wonders what happened with Vicks. Duck admits he was very much like Pete in the past, and was desperate. Duck learned his family is the source of his confidence, so Pete had better manage his, or he won't manage anything.

Don is off to visit Bobby at camp, and at a gas station finds Betty, who is lost. Henry is coming the next day. Don suggests she follow him. Don watches Betty and Bobby, who is elated to have them both together. 

In the evening, Don finds Betty sitting outside her room and shares a beer with her. They discuss Sally, and Henry says she reminds him of Don. Bobby reminds her of her father. All the teenagers are in revolt, Don muses. Betty admits when she saw him she forgot how mad she was with him. She goes inside, but leaves the door open. Don follows. He says he's waiting for her to tell him to stop, but they spend the night together. She's as beautiful as the day he met her, he tells her.

They wake up in the night, and Don admits he missed her. She's happy in her life, and just wants to enjoy the moment. She can see how different he is. She loves how he looks at her when he's like this, but she can only hold his attention for so long. For him sex doesn't mean he's close to someone. He would have felt just as close if they had just lied there together. She asks if it's the same with Megan. "That poor girl," she says. "She doesn't know that loving you is the worst way to get to you." Don wakes up to find Betty gone. He goes in to the dining hall and sees Betty sitting with Henry. Don says hello and leaves them to sit by himself. 

In the Fleischmann's presentation, Peggy touched Ted's hand when she passed him the board in front of the client. He makes an issue of it with her afterwards, and she tells him she thought they had forgotten about the kiss. He admits he hasn't, and she does too. But they can't act on it. She never realized he felt that way. 

Pete talks privately with Joan asking her advice about his mother. He asks if his attention to business has been waning. He confesses his personal life is a mess. He doesn't want to put his mother in a home. 

Megan has her co-star Arlene over for wine and admits that since she's started succeeding, Don's had issues with it. He's gotten used to her not being around. She feels very lonely. Arlene kisses her, but Megan tells her that's not how to make her feel better. Megan suggests she's taking advantage of a private moment. Arlene's husband is her boss and she wonders if she'll be punished for it now. Arlene persists again, calling her a tease, but ultimately decides to leaves. She tells her to just learn the lines and let the wig do the work. No hard feelings. 

Someone threw a rock through Peggy's window. Abe tries to minimize it but she wonders if they saw him talk to the police. She's scared and doesn't think Abe is able to protect her. He admits she's right and tells her to put the place on the market. 

Margaret leaves her son with Roger for the day, but the next morning Roger gets an irate phone call from her, who thinks it's outrageous he took her son to Planet of the Apes. She calls him a child and tells him his grandfather days are done. She'll only let him see him if her mother is there.

Joan is off to the beach—with Bob. They discuss Pete and she admits he's the only one who hasn't broken a promise to her. She tells him about Pete's mother. Roger shows up, creating an awkward moment. Joan tells him they're leaving for the beach, and whatever Roger wants can wait until Monday. He leaves. Bob didn't realize they were friends.

Peggy is woken up by more breaking glass. She gets out of bed and goes to the window with a spear, only to be surprised by Abe, whom she stabs in the stomach. On the ambulance ride Abe is in a fugue, but tells her she's a scared person who hides behind complacency. Despite her apology for the accident, he goes on to say her activities are offensive to his every waking moment. She will always be the enemy. She asks if he's breaking up with her. She gave him a great ending to his article, he says.

Don comes home to find Megan on the balcony and tells her he missed her. She misses him all the time. She doesn't know where he's gone, but she's here. She keeps trying to make things as they were but she doesn't know how. Something has to change. Don admits she's right. He hasn't been there.

Back in the office on Monday Roger gives Joan the present for her son. He can't drop in on her, she says, and it's too confusing for Kevin. His father is Greg—everyday Greg is some hero out there, and she'd rather he be the man in Kevin's life. She thanks him and sends Roger on his way. 

Bob tells Pete he's learned he may be in need of a nurse for his mother, and he gives him a reference for an army trained registered nurse who brought his own father back to full health. Pete takes it. Bob asks him not to blame Joan. He has his well being at heart.

Peggy goes in to explain to Ted that Abe got stabbed, though he'll be fine, but it's over between them. Ted's sorry to hear that and assures her she'll find someone else who will be lucky to have her. Taken aback by his reaction, she thanks him. He asks if she's ready to get to work. It's a brand new morning. He walks out and says good morning to Don, who asks how Fleischmann's went. Full speed ahead, Ted replies. Both shut their doors, leaving Peggy alone.

The Verdict:
I really loved this one, and I wish there were more like it in that so many characters had their moment in the sun. Ted and Don's rivalry has Peggy in the middle, and her struggle to balance everything out between the two men in her life spilled over into her personal life, to a hilarious end of her relationship with Abe. I almost thought she might have killed him, but that would have thrown way too many complications into her storyline for the writers to have to deal with. It was sufficient to have him betray his true thoughts about her as he languished from his wounds. It all ended with a beautiful parting shot of broken Peggy being cast aside by the two important men in her life. At least her options are wide open now (though I just had a horrible thought that Pete's are, as well).

Harry doesn't need any more reasons to add to the list of why we hate him, but throwing out the dumb as Peggy comment didn't help matters at all. I hope one of the surprises at the season's end is him being fired rather than achieving partnership as he seems to think.

Pete had a lovely little moment with Joan, and even his exchange with Duck wasn't that acerbic as it might have been a few years ago. It was interesting to see Duck again and more at peace with himself. Added to the mix was Roger's outreach to Joan that was quickly rebuffed in favor of Bob. On this count I'm on Roger's side as far as his daughter's ridiculous over-reaction to Planet of the Apes. But what is Bob's game with everyone? I still don't know if I trust him now, given how he moved to ingratiate himself with Pete, unless he's trying to get into everyone's good books for job security. But I could be reading far more sinister motives than he warrants.

It was great to see Betty back in a position where she's happy and has regained so much that she lost. She completely held the power in her encounter with Don, and she can certainly be the woman she's been wanting to be with Henry in his campaign, a role she always wanted with Don.

Betty has learned plenty about her failed marriage and expressed how difficult it is to love Don. It was a pleasant, nostalgic moment, particularly the two of them with Bobby. But Betty drew the line with how far it was going to go, which was another reminder that he can't control everything anymore. For the moment it seems it's pushed him back to reality with what he has with Megan. Hopefully that will last, but I remain skeptical if Don has changed these last few episodes.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

Non Spoiler Review:
After several years wait, Star Trek: Into Darkness returns to the universe of its successful reboot, bringing the crew of the Enterprise back to Earth after an egregious violation of the Prime Directive on the part of Kirk, and a shocking terrorist attack in London by a fugitive named John Harrison. Starfleet finds itself on the defensive against an immensely powerful enemy bent on spreading wanton destruction.

Star Trek reunites Chris Pine (Captain Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhura) and Karl Urban (Bones), the four of which get the most screen time. Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) round out the main cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch delivering a formidable villain. J. J. Abrams (Star Trek, Cloverfield, Lost) again directs, and writers include Damon Lindelof (Prometheus, Lost), Alec Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.

It's difficult to discuss a lot of the movie without spoiling critical plot points, particularly John Harrison's identity that has been the subject of years of speculation, so I'll save much of that for my spoilery rant at the end. Like its predecessor, Into Darkness moved at such a frenetic pace I was willingly dragged along in my enjoyment until the hangover the next day when I began considering the myriad plot holes.

First, the movie looks great—beginning with a beautiful rendition of the planet Nibiru, the vistas of 23rd Century Earth, and some fantastic effects sequences ending in a numbing climax. But that's no surprise given what we've come to expect from Abrams. The Enterprise bridge is as bright as ever (but not as many noticeable lens flares this time around). The flaws don't really come in the technical aspects, though I noted that the battle scenes moved a little too fast to really appreciate what was going on (and what was being blown up). .

We're told the crew has bonded since last we saw them. Key word being told, given we have experienced only four hours of these characters together. They gel pretty well, but I'm left wondering how much of our association with them is based on our assumption of how they should interact. It's a given that Kirk and Spock are tight, even to the most oblivious movie-goer. Just like Holmes and Watson. We go into any story already knowing that. In contrast, an ensemble like Harry, Hermione and Ron is a genuine relationship that evolved over the Harry Potter franchise and was not taken for granted.

That same factor applies to the villain. And I can't get into it in detail in the non-spoiler portion of the review, but would we appreciate Benedict Cumberbatch's role had we not been able to draw upon what has gone before in Star Trek lore? Something to consider.

Into Darkness was surprisingly heavy on Star Trek canon. Abrams wisely carries on the storyline he began in the first movie, particularly Nero's destruction of the old timeline (though the effects of that are way beyond reason) and the new consequences arising out of the destruction of Vulcan. For me as a fan, I quite enjoyed all the references, mentions of characters like Christine Chapel, and the easter eggs visible in the backgrounds of scenes. But for other moviegoers without the baggage of previous films in the saga, I would think the final act in particular would lack as much emotional punch when Into Darkness' pretty much becomes a homage to what's gone before.

Into Darkness attempts to deal with themes of terrorism and the importance of the rule of law over vengeance. It's relatively successful in achieving that. I almost wonder if Kirk's reckless demeanor (which has grown completely unbelievable given how he flouts the rules and regulations of Starfleet) could turn him into the same sort of villain he faces in the movie when he's older. One plot development that is well overdue is the level of threat the villain delivers. Usually it's a given that the heroes will always save the day before too much is lost, but there was a sense of real sacrifice here that added to the weight of the story immensely. Added to that, I loved that it became apparent that what was shown in the trailers was not entirely what we got (take a note, Prometheus). That left plenty of expectations thrown out by the final act and an equal number of surprises.

Unfortunately, Into Darkness is heavily flawed. There are so many ridiculous additions that can only be attributed to the reckless writing of Damon Lindelof. He tackles scripts without worrying about unimportant things, like how to end them in a satisfactory manner. Here (and this is not a spoiler given it's in the trailer) the Enterprise is hiding beneath the ocean of Nibiru in order to conceal itself from the primitive inhabitants. Never mind that this would fly in the face of every bit of rational engineering given the size of the ship, but no reason is offered, aside from the magnetic field of the planet. Nor does it even pay off later on in the movie. They just thought the Enterprise rising out of the ocean would look cool. This reliance on visual spectacle in lieu of an actual story to grab the audience's attention seriously damages the film.

I have the same critique for Into Darkness as I did with J. J. Abrams' first kick at the can—the complete disregard in making technology believable. On one hand there are very practical, tangible sets like the engine room, full of pipes, tanks, stairs and railings. Then we get extraordinary technological leaps that immediately took me out of the moment. We get near instantaneous transwarp travel from Earth to Kronos and back, equally instant communications technology where Kirk can call up Scotty in a San Francisco bar on his communicator with the Enterprise deep inside Klingon space, and characters that can teleport across light years. Did they once consider if a civilization can transport across vast distances, there's no need for starships and the threat of war hinted at is pretty much eliminated if you can beam a few weapons of mass destruction in the midst of your enemy.

Now swing the pendulum completely the other way to ridiculous lapses in technology—a shuttle craft can sneak into a top secret dry dock simply by sliding in with the rest of the convoy. Or characters can conceal their identities and get assigned to starships without any problem.

So I'm left struggling with how I feel about the movie. I enjoyed it immensely as I was watching it. It's certainly action-packed with a final act full of tension and consequences measuring up to the hype. But it wasn't a good movie by any means. Predecessors like Wrath of Khan and even The Motion Picture conveyed big ideas and emotions while Into Darkness misses its mark by relying on Star Trek canon to carry the story rather than an original plot. The writing is weak and lazy, without any attempt to tackle heavy science fiction themes. But this is where the Star Trek franchise is now. We'll not see writing equal to something like District 9 or even The Avengers come out of the current production team. But it remains entertaining as long as you leave your critical thinking in the parking lot.

Let the spoilers begin...

Spoilerific Rant:
This rant could have gone on for quite awhile, but I've edited myself. I blame Damon Lindelof for the mess of continuity and believability we get, after seeing some interviews where he makes such cavalier dismissals of his storytelling style. Logic just isn't a factor he cares to deal with.

A starship the size of Vengeance sits in Lunar orbit (where there must certainly be colonies and bases) and manages to fly straight on an impact course to Earth with no defences to stand in its way? Where are the starships in Earth orbit—there were enough of them docked at the space station at the beginning. And how does the Enterprise suddenly end up drifting into Earth orbit minutes after being at the Moon? The only saving grace was that the trailers didn't reveal it wasn't the Enterprise crashing into San Francisco Bay.

Nor does Benedict Cumberbatch's Khan stand on his own merit. He's a great actor, but why even cast him in this role. You can't get whiter than Cumberbatch. His effectiveness relies purely on the audience's previous knowledge of Wrath of Khan. Had he not been Khan, but just an everyday terrorist, would we have gotten enough insight into him to be a memorable villain? They also significantly powered him up to the point he can survive multiple phaser hits, starship crashes, and conveniently his blood can revive the dead.

I confess to being thrilled by some fitting uses of continuity—Section 31 (a Deep Space Nine reference), Carol Marcus' introduction, and plenty of others. Unfortunately there were a whole bunch of new aliens but not any familiar ones aside from Spock and the Klingons (who remain familiar enough in this incarnation). And as a fan I certainly enjoyed the reverse Wrath of Khan sacrifice with Kirk and the new take on all its aspects, but as soon as Bones trotted out the dead tribble to inject with Khan's blood it should just have started screaming plot device. I was under the impression the rebooted series was to have a broader appeal and not indulge Star Trek fans like me. Why not tell an original story rather than revisit the best of Trek?

I loved the addition of original Spock (and Leonard Nimoy must stop saying he's done his last appearance as Spock. It's about as genuine as a Cher farewell tour), but that opened another can of worms. Old Spock indulged young Spock's questions about Khan, but where will he draw the line? Might he not suggest Starfleet continue to search deep space for a few other interesting objects like V'ger and the Humpback Whale probe to avoid some problems for Earth in twenty years? And maybe the giant amoeba creature or the doomsday machine that are also crossing into the galaxy? They killed millions. Ah, yes, and then there's the Borg. In fact, the Guardian of Forever would make a great fix it for the Abrams reboot. Something for old Spock to consider, perhaps.

I could go on, but my disappointment is ultimately from what the movie could have been had it relied on its ideas to wow the audience rather than set pieces. I was entertained and left feeling quite excited by it. But it's mindless popcorn fun now, which is sad, given the science fiction lineage Star Trek has carried for decades. That said, there are always possibilities. Star Trek may get passed into other more capable hands now that Abrams has the whole Star Wars franchise to diminish further.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Mad Men "The Crash"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Crash is this season's experimental episode, as Jim's doctor arrives to give everyone a boost to handle a weekend creative session on the Chevy campaign. Don continues to pine for Sylvia, which completely diverts his energies from the account, leaving Sally to babysit her brothers while Megan runs off to a play.

Despite the breakup, Sylvia continues to weight heavily on Don (and the show). This week's episode started out odd and grew increasingly bizarre to the point that I was ready to throw in the towel. But the second half really saved it by showing some great moments among creative, further Don flashbacks, and a scary moment for Sally and her brothers.

The Crash wasn't one of the best by any means, but it shows some transition in Don and the consequences those around him are beginning to feel as a result of his affair. It's still unclear where we're going to end up at the finale, but now Mad Men at least feels like it's going somewhere.

Spoilers Now!
Don hovers outside of Sylvia's apartment, listening to them inside and leaving his cigarette butts on the floor. He later sits in a meeting with Ted, Jim and Roger. Ken arrives, walking with a cane as a result of a drunken joyride Chevy took him on after dismissing the new creative for the campaign. With nerves fried, Ted and Don berate him despite that he nearly got killed. It appears the agency has signed up for three years of endless creative with Chevy. Jim just likes the fact they're paying them.

Dr. Rosen is on the phone for Don. It's actually Sylvia, angry with him for loitering in the hallway after Arnie saw all his cigarette butts. Arnie thinks she's smoking again. She asks him to just try and be happy that he got away with it. She wants to be able to trust him now that it's over, but now she wonders how she ever trusted him at all. If he ever cared, he has to stop. Don is feeling emotions too and just wants to talk about a few things, but she won't hear of it. Sylvia tells him he loved Megan once, and hangs up.

Don throws the phone, then begins coughing. He flashes back to a similar coughing fit when he and his stepmother were living in the brothel. They order him to sleep in the cellar until his fever breaks, but one of the prostitutes, Amée, takes him into her room to care for him instead.

Jim interrupts Don's nap to let him know Frank has died. As a result Ted won't be able to work with creative over the weekend to come up with a new campaign for Chevy. Peggy wants to attend the funeral but makes herself available. Jim brings his personal doctor to the office to check over everyone, including Don, and give out some shots—his specialty energy serum, which he explains is a complex vitamin dose. Jim Cutler tells him they need 72 hours of uninterrupted creative focus. 

Afterwards, Don begins coughing again, and while on the stairs spies Peggy consoling Ted in her office, with her hand on his arm. Don starts to lose his grip on reality, thinking he knows Ted's secretary from somewhere other than work. He goes on to tell Ken that he needs to be in the pitch meeting to deliver it. Ken, wired on the shot, begins tap dancing and declares he's just Chevy's toy, then walks away without his cane. Don returns to the creative meeting where the majority of them, aside from Michael and Peggy, are high on the doctor's vitamin juice. Don gives them a pep talk but Peggy isn't buying it. 

The memory of Amée seems to inspire Don. He returns to find everyone back from the funeral. There's a young girl named Wendy reading their fortunes. Peggy asks Don if he's slept, but he wants her to remember a soup account they did at Sterling Cooper in 1959, but she doesn't remember. Don realizes it's Saturday. Peggy tells Jim he's made a mess of him.

Don goes to his office to find Wendy in there. She explains he was getting some ice for their drink to watch the sun set. He tells her he's on a deadline. She listens to his heart with a stethoscope and says it's broken. 

The kids are with Megan for the weekend as Don calls to advise her he's still at work. She has to leave, as she is supposed to be at a play. He promises to be home soon. Megan asks Sally to babysit her brothers. 

Don returns home but only hovers outside Sylvia's door again and lightly knocks. He hears music inside from the radio and falls asleep with his ear against the door.

Stan is wounded in some office shenanigans, so when Peggy tends to him in her office he starts making out with her, despite her asking him to stop. She protests she has a boyfriend, but the two begin kissing. He explains his cousin was killed in action. She suggests he has to let himself feel loss, not dampen it with drugs and sex.

Sally comes out of her room to find a black woman in the house who tells her she's just visiting. She informs her she's her grandma, though not really. She just raised her daddy. She was looking for a serving plate to make him fried chicken. She calls her over to give a hug to her grandma Ida and wants to know who else is in the house. Sally has never heard of her. Ida asks if her father is Donald Draper. Sally goes over and gives her a hug and tells her her little brothers are there too. Ida asks when they'll be home. 

Don finds the soup campaign he was looking for in archives, and it mirrors Amée giving him soup when he was sick. His fever had broken and she asked if he liked girls. She then proceeded to seduce him, telling him not to worry, she'll do everything. The soup campaign says "Because you know what he needs".

Ida is rummaging through the house as Bobby comes out asking who she is. Sally explains it's grandma Ida. Ida says she once gave Don a gold watch, and she got him a new band for it. Bobby tells her there are several in the drawer. While she's gone Sally calls the police but Ida grabs the phone and explains they were playing a joke. Ida tells her she hurt her feelings and she's going out for some air, and when she comes back they had better be sleeping. 

Don types up a new pitch and calls in Peggy and Michael to hear it. His message is what holds people together—a history. If the strategy is successful, he says it's way bigger than just a car. It's everything. Peggy wonders if he's been working on Chevy at all. He has to go and leaves. Peggy finds Jim at the door of Stan's office, watching Stan have sex with Wendy. Peggy says she's going home.

Don arrives at the apartment, muttering the lines he'll pitch to Sylvia. But he finds Megan, the police, Betty, Henry and the kids. Betty tells him he left his children at home while an elderly negro woman held them hostage and robbed him blind. She came through the back door, which was left open. She robbed a bunch of places in the building, but the police think they caught her and need him to ID his things. Betty continues to berate him. Don collapses.

In his flashback, Dick witnesses Amée berated by her pimp for holding out on him, and she admits she took Dick's virginity. His stepmother proceeds to beat him and calls him disgraceful. Don wakes up. Megan empathizes with his reaction and apologizes for leaving Sally with the kids. In the morning Don heads down in the elevator, only to have Sylvia get in at her floor. She asks how he is. Busy, he replies. They say nothing the ride down and he gets out. 

Don calls Sally to tell her he's okay. He assures her Ida fooled plenty of adults too, but Sally realizes she doesn't know anything about her father given how easy she believed her. She did everything right, he says, and Don confesses to her he left the door open and it was all his fault. 

Don and Jim go in to see Ted, who is back in the office. Don learns Wendy was Frank's daughter. Ted is irate at the Chevy work from the weekend which is mostly gibberish. Don tells Ted he'll need to do this himself. Every time they get a car this place turns into a whorehouse, he says, and leaves.

The Verdict:
The Crash was messy and awkward, but I'm assuming that was the whole point. I'm left very confused by the overall craziness of it—from Ken's car accident and the unusually nonchalant way the others dismiss him when he could have been killed, to Sally's bizarre encounter with Ida, which could have been as much drug-inspired as everything going on at the agency.

Don's loosening grip on reality got a jolt with the entire office being high on speed. He's far more wrapped up in Sylvia than I thought. Did the threat he put his children under break through to him at last? Probably not. I don't really get the cold shoulder he showed Sylvia in the elevator as any more than Don exerting his authority rather than actually moving forward.

Stan and Peggy's scene was a nice acknowledgement of their attraction for one another. Whether this goes anywhere, though, is doubtful. Peggy seems hooked on the idea of staying with Abe.

Are we to take anything from Don's persistent coughing? Is he going to be diagnosed with something potentially life threatening in the finale? Either that, or the affair will be blown wide open, as well, as Sylvia made a valid point—Don should be happy that he got away with it.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones "Second Sons"

Non Spoiler Review:
As Tyrion and Sansa's nuptials become one of more memorable weddings in King's Landing, Cersei has a heart to heart with Margaery and Joffrey finds an opportunity to humiliate the couple. In Dragonstone, Melisandre returns with Gendry to demonstrate the power of his royal blood. Arya learns news of her family from the Hound, and Daenerys faces off against the Second Sons, the powerful allies of the Yunkai.

As the season builds to a climax, we see the first of a few weddings on the calendar, and Tyrion and Sansa's was a mix of humor and unsettling moments. The momentum continues to build for something significant to happen within the Lannister family, but there were additional ominous signs that the Starks, and even the Greyjoys will feel the touch of the lord of light's wrath.

Second Sons was an enjoyable episode, more talky than action-oriented. This late in the season I'm excited to see what happens with Arya and Clegane, as well as a new character thrown into Daenery's orbit.

Spoilers Now!
Arya awakens in the woods and grabs a rock that she holds over the Hound's head. He's awake, and tells her he'll give her one try. If he lives he'll break both her hands. He dares her to hit him but she doesn't. Back on the trail she remains silent as he goes on to explain she's lucky she's not alone out in the wilderness. Despite her claims he's a monster, he assures her his brother is far worse than him. And he saved her sister from similar men. He suggests she ask Sansa if she ever sees her again, given he saved her from being raped. Arya thinks he's taking her to King's Landing, but he informs her he no longer serves the king. He's taking her to the Twins to reunite with her mother and brother (who will pay a ransom for her). Her uncle is there to marry one of the Frey girls.

Daenerys, Jorah and Selmy watch mercenaries arrive in Yunkai—the formidable Second Sons, led by a man called the Titan's Bastard—two thousand men that Selmy warns will pose a threat. Daenerys suggests they speak with the Titan's Bastard about fighting on the right side.

The captains of the Second Sons arrive in her camp—the Titan's Bastard, Mero, Prendahl na Ghezn, and Daario Naharis. Mero immediately insults her and Missandei, raising Jorah's ire, but Daenerys is unfazed by his crudeness. She suggests his two thousand men can't defeat their eight thousand, so they could fight for her instead. Their contract is their bond, he explains, and if they break it no one will hire them again. Daenerys points out they won't need another contract. She gives them two days to decide. After they leave, Daenerys informs Jorah she wants the Bastard killed first should they engage them in battle.

Melisandre and Gendry disembark at Dragonstone where she brings him to meet his uncle Stannis. Gendry is escorted away to be cleaned up while Stannis asks what she means to do with him. He already knows, she says. When he asks why she would see him pampered given her dark plans, she replies that if the lamb sees the knife, it panics.

Davos continues his reading lessons, and is visited by Stannis who explains Melisandre has returned with Robert's bastard. Davos realizes she will sacrifice him given he has Stannis' blood in his veins. So did Renly, Stannis counters. And he must triumph, or the night that never ends will devour everyone. They all must do their duty. He reveals he came to free Davos if he swears never to raise his hand against the priestess. Davos swears as much, but not that he might never speak against her. Davos points out that Stannis knew he would counsel restraint and that's why he told him about Gendry. Stannis explains he saw a vision in the flames—a great battle in the snow. And Davos saw what Melisandre gave birth to. He can't deny her god is the real one. 

The Second Sons debate Daenerys' offer. Daario is reluctant to dismiss Daenerys, claiming he fights for beauty. They realize they can't beat the Unsullied on the battlefield, but they just need to deal with her and kill her in her sleep. The three of them draw coins to decide who will do the deed and Daario wins.

Tyrion greets Sansa in preparation for their wedding. Shae remains silent and he asks for a moment alone. He confesses he never asked for the marriage. And Sansa doesn't need to speak to him as a prisoner anymore as he knows how she feels. And he promises he will never hurt her. They walk out to the sept of Baelor.

Margaery muses that she and Cersei they will be sisters soon. Cersei replies by bringing up a familiar song called The Rains of Castamere, regarding the late House Reyne that was the second wealthiest family in Westeros. Margaery is familiar with it, and as Cersei points out, the Tyrells are very similar to the Reynes. Lord Reyne's ambition was well known and he built a grand castle larger than any at Casterly Rock. He rebelled against Tywin and House Reyne was slaughtered. A family similar to the Tyrells in their ambition. If she ever calls her sister again, she warns Margaery she'll be strangled in her sleep.

Joffrey stands with Sansa as she enters the sept, revealing it's his duty to give her away to her husband. As a slight, Joffrey removes the stool set out for Tywin, and as he has to lay the cloak on Sansa he can't reach her shoulders, prompting some laughs in the crowd. Sansa kneels for it. 

Melisandre rejoins Gendry in his quarters and gives him wine. He's still nervous as to her intentions. The lord of light willed that he be here right now, she explains. Death is coming for everyone and they can stop it. She proceeds to seduce him and when she has him in bed she binds his wrists and ankles, then drops leeches on his chest. Despite his screams, she tells him there is power in his blood and he has so much. 

Stannis and Davos walk in. She explains Davos wanted a demonstration. As Gendry begs, Melisandre finally removes the leeches, taking them to Stannis who drops each in the fire as he names the usurpers he wants dead—Balon Greyjoy, Robb Stark and Joffrey Baratheon.

Tyrion gets very drunk at the wedding feast. Olenna muses on the complicated relationships her grandchildren will have with the Lannisters once Loras marries Cersei and Margaery weds Joffrey. Loras gets up and leaves. Meanwhile, Tywin is disgusted with Tyrion's behaviour. Sansa excuses herself, as does Cersei. Shae stares at Tyrion through the crowd as Tywin goes over to his son and points out he's rather drunk, reminding him Sansa needs a Lannister child as soon as possible. Tyrion tells his father he has nothing to worry about, and Tywin has stated on many occasions his son's whoring is infamous. Tyrion spies Loras watching from above, and raises his glass to him. Loras wanders over to Cersei, who is staring out over the bay. She has no patience for him either and walks off when he tries to talk to her.

The only one who seems to be enjoying himself is Joffrey, who finds Sansa and congratulates her, telling her she will soon have a Lannister baby as she always wanted. He suggests he will pay her a visit after Tyrion passes out and perhaps even have Loras hold her down. Leaving Sansa horrified, Joffrey announces to the guests it's time for the bedding ceremony, and wants everyone to gather to carry the couple to their chambers. Tyrion declares there will be no bedding ceremony and when Joffrey ignores him he slams his knife in the table, announcing he will be fucking his own bride with a wooden cock if he continues. As the crowd is silenced, Joffrey is enraged and Tywin intervenes, assuring him his son did not mean to threaten the king. Tyrion laughs and admits to being quite drunk. He stumbles to Sansa and escorts her out. 

In their chambers they share an awkward exchange. Tywin has commanded he consummate the marriage, so Sansa has a glass of wine and undresses. When Sansa reminds him she's fourteen, Tyrion tells her to stop. He won't share her bed, not until she wants him to. And if she never wants him to? Then now his watch has begun, he muses, and passes out.

As Daenerys bathes in her tent, she chats with Missandei. The former slave can speak 19 languages, among them Dothraki. She notes Daenerys speaks Dothraki reasonably well, despite what Drogo may have told her. Daario abruptly appears, garbed in Unsullied armor, and puts a knife to Missandei's throat, warning her not to scream. He removes his helmet.

Daenerys demands he let her go, so he does so and she then asks why he hasn't killed her. He doesn't want to, he says simply and offers her a bag containing the heads of his two former captains. He explains they had a difference of opinions over her beauty. Daenerys asks why she should trust him. They ordered him to murder her, but he always has a choice, so they drew their swords and he drew his. She rises and steps out of the tub. Missandei wraps her in her robe as she asks if he will fight for her. Daario swears the Second Sons are hers, as is his life and heart. 

Shae arrives in the morning to find Sansa in bed and Tyrion asleep in the chair. She finds no sign that they consummated their marriage as she pulls back the bedsheets, and shares a look of satisfaction with a hungover Tyrion.

North of the Wall, Sam and Gilly find a cabin that appears empty. As they prepare for the night, Sam thinks the baby should have a name. She doesn't know many boy's names. She asks if his father was cruel like hers. A different manner of cruel, he answers. The ravens make a commotion outside so Sam goes out to investigate. The godswood tree is full of ravens, but they are abruptly silenced as Sam spies a white walker approach. Sam warns him away but it grabs his sword and shatters it, then throws him back, coming for the baby in Gilly's arms. Sams draw the only weapon he has left—the obsidian blade—and stabs it in the back. The walker screams and explodes in a pile of ice. Sam and Gilly flee as the flock of ravens take to the air.

The Verdict:
Second Sons delivers a suitably awkward wedding for Tyrion and Sansa, and it was enjoyable from start to finish. It was interesting that among all the terrible moments we get the added information that Sansa is 14. That may have been stated in seasons past, but it provided an added shudder when considering the horrible things Tywin is enforcing on his children.

Cersei has lost any patience in maintaining a facade with the Tyrells, and it seems more likely she may move to kill her father on her own accord.

It looks like Edmure's wedding could be next if Robb is already at the Twins. Will we finally see Arya reunited with her mother and brother after two years? Surely it must be on the agenda, as I doubt there would be such momentum towards this only to have them miss one another. Though I have the suspicion she and the Hound will be on the road together for awhile yet.

Sam and Gilly's scene was a charming bit of character interaction, but it served primarily to show us what we've all been suspecting—the obsidian can kill the white walkers. It's looking like all the northern plotlines—Sam, Jon and Bran—will converge on Castle Black.

Poor Gendry's predicament shows that women don't just have it bad in Westeros, but anyone lowborn. Will Gendry be kept alive to supply her with blood to fuel her spells? Stannis has a good point that Davos can't remain on the fence about his religion given he saw what Melisandre birthed. How quickly will this curse on the three houses reveal itself? Considering we've seen numerous examples of the one true god's power, there's definite trouble ahead for all three families (hopefully Joffrey is the first on the receiving end of it).

Daenerys' encounter with the Second Sons has added more forces to her arsenal. Daario does seem like a convenient character to insert into the storyline at this point, plus being probably the handsomest man in Essos. While it looks like Missandei and Daenerys will grow closer (their scene about her rough Dothraki was pretty funny), there's plenty of testosterone to deal with among Jorah, Selmy and Daario. That brings up another point. Will Daenerys wed again? Given her claim to the throne, politically it would be wise to join with another house to secure her power. But would she consider having another child that would not be of royal blood? I'm getting way ahead of myself by presuming Daario would be anything but a quick diversion on the path to Westeros, whether he even makes it that far, but it's something to consider if she would take another husband now that she has the choice.

The violent story of The Rains of Castamere is a particularly ominous one given that's the title of the next episode. The song has also figured prominently this season, too. Coupled with it being the penultimate chapter (in which bad things invariably happen), one or more major houses could be facing serious threat. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead 110

Non Spoiler Review:
Rick and Jesus prepare their people for the coming war, finding resistance among their ranks. Jesus desperately tries to reach Hal before he can warn Negan. Ezekiel attempts to appease an abrasive Michonne.

Not too much exciting happened with Issue 110, aside from furthering the tension leading up to the war. We also got to see Michonne and Ezekiel thrown together and some more insight into this particular character.

The conflict best be happening quickly given the increasing number of people aware of the plot.

Spoilers Now!
Alarmed at Hal's absence, Jesus rushes off to try to catch up to him, despite his forty-five minute heady start. He reaches him on the road and Hal challenges his right to lead the Hilltop into a war against Negan without consulting everyone. Despite Jesus' rationale, Hal already sent up the flare to alert Negan's men, who arrive wondering what they want. Hal loses his nerve and Jesus is forced to lie to say they'll be short on their tribute in the coming week. Annoyed his time is wasted, the man punches Jesus and tells him to get working on ensuring there's a suitable tribute in the days remaining. The altercation is enough to convince Hal the error of his ways and he agrees with Jesus, but whether the latter forgives him remains to be seen. 

Rick is dealing with a similar pacifist attitude from Eugene, who is uneasy about his bullet factory being used to kill humans rather than roamers. Rick tells him he better come to terms with it soon as there is little time left before they'll need plenty of his bullets.

Gathering his supply team, Rick reveals that they're actually going to the Kingdom. With Carl, Michonne and Andrea in tow, they arrive at the other settlement and are greeted by Ezekiel. While Carl thinks thinks his over the top demeanor is cool, Michonne has zero patience for the posturing of their king and draws her sword, prompting him to draw his. But Ezekiel keeps his calm and admits Michonne's sword is bigger.

In private with Rick, Ezekiel assures him Dwight has better reason to keep his word to them than to Negan, and he's impressed how quickly Rick has organized his people in comparison to Gregory. He's confident Dwight will kill Negan and leave their community open to their attack. 

They enjoy a feast and Ezekiel offers an olive branch to Michonne to clear the air. He admits his theatrics are just that—to give his people something to look up to. The tiger he raised as a cub in the zoo and rescued during the apocalypse, but it has given him a mythos to exploit. His name really is Ezekiel, though. That appeases her and they agree to start over.

The Verdict:
Issue 110 continues the build up, and brings the main characters to meet Ezekiel. I'm surprised Hal managed to survive. Something told me that Jesus might just kill him to ensure there's no chance of him betraying the group given the stakes are so high. Hopefully things get underway soon.

The pacifists in the group offer another variable that could swing things the wrong way when bullets start flying. The Kingdom still remains almost too good to be true, so I'm hesitant to fully trust Ezekiel, even though he seems to be very genuine. There remains the unsettling possibility that once Negan is dispatched, Ezekiel could rise up to fill the power vacuum.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones "The Bear and the Maiden Fair"

Non Spoiler Review:
The Bear and the Maiden Fair sees the Starks en route to the Twins for Edmure's wedding, but Robb gets some surprising news. Arya has had enough of the morally grey Brotherhood Without Banners. Ramsay has even darker surprises for Theon. Melisandre sails to King's Landing with Gendry. Sansa, Shae and Tyrion all receive advice on how to handle their relationship problems. Jon and Ygritte continue south while Bran announces a change in plans to Osha. Across the sea, Daenerys makes the leadership of Yunkai an offer they can't refuse.

Season three has really given us some amazing scene pairings, and here we finally get a one on one with Tywin and his grandson. Good and evil has never been black and white for Game of Thrones. Whether viewing the ethically ambiguous Brotherhood, Jaime's compelling evolution, or Daenerys' strategic goals in the east, it's interesting how the series can succeed in shifting audience loyalties over the course of the season.

In stark (pun!) contrast to pretty much every episode, Game of Thrones brought (dare I say) a somewhat happy ending. It was an episode where a lot of things seemed to go right for several characters. That means, of course, plenty is about to go horribly wrong.

Spoilers Now!
Tormund leads his men towards Castle Black, but Jon isn't sure how far away they are from it. He confronts Orell about cutting them loose on the Wall. Orell explains Ygritte understands the way things are—people are loyal when it suits them and kill each other when it suits them. She understands that, but Jon doesn't, which is why he'll never hold onto her.

On the march, Orell continues to question Ygritte about her feelings for Jon. She should be with one of her own, he says, and professes his love for her. She loves Jon, she admits. But pretty won't make her happy, Orell says, and warns her she won't love him after she finds out what he is.

Weather is delaying the Stark's journey to Lord Frey. Catelyn warns he will take that delay as a slight and it was Robb he wanted, not Edmure. Robb dismisses it, suggesting Edmure is the best match he has. When they're alone, Robb contemplates his battle plans while Talisa writes her mother. She isn't aware her daughter is a queen, but just one of many surprises, she teases. She asks him to come with her to Volantis one day when it's all over, so he promises. Her mother would love to meet him and her grandchild, she adds. Robb is shocked but elated. 

Sansa seeks Margaery's shoulder to cry on. She realized she was a stupid little girl with stupid dreams. Margaery wants her to be happy but they all must make the best of their circumstances. Tyrion has not mistreated her and he's been kind—far from the worst Lannister. Margaery plans to teach her son a great deal, and Sansa's son might be the lord of the north and Casterly Rock someday. Sansa is horrified at the thought of having sex with a dwarf. Margaery suggests she's heard Tyrion is quite experienced and she might be pleasantly surprised. Sansa asks how she knows so much, and Margaery coyly answers her mother taught her. 

Tyrion commiserates with Bronn about his new betrothed. Bronn tells him all he has to do is get a son in Sansa and continue to bed Shae. Tyrion wastes too much time trying to get people to love him, and he'll just end up being the most popular dead man in town. 

Tywin visits his grandson in the throne room after being summoned. Joffrey wants a report on the meetings of his small council. Tywin advises him he's welcome to attend, but Joffrey protests he's busy. Joffrey also wants to know why he's not using the small council chamber. If Joffrey wanted to attend he would now have to climb all the stairs in the Tower of the Hand. Tywin walks up the steps to the Iron Throne and tells him they could arrange to have him carried if he wished.

Joffrey then inquires about Daenerys and her dragons. Tywin confirms it's apparently true but points out when he was Hand of the King under Aerys, all the skulls of the Targaryen dragons were in the throne room, and the most recent was the size of an apple. Curiosities on the far side of the world are not their problem, he dismisses. The experts told them they need not be concerned. Joffrey protests, but Tywin informs him he's being counselled. He assures him he will be kept abreast of all important matters from now on, then excuses himself.

Daenerys arrives at the Yellow City, Yunkai.  Jorah and Selmy advise they will hide behind their walls rather than meet them on the field. She knows there are 200,000 slaves in the city...200,000 reasons to take it. She advises Grey Worm to take her terms of surrender to the slavers of the city. 

A leader of Yunkai goes out to her camp to meet with her and offer terms of peace. Daenerys greets him with her dragons. He explains their empire was old before any dragon stirred. If blood is her desire, blood shall flow. But he offers her a gift of gold and more on the deck of her ship, should she wish it. She will have as many ships as she requires, and all they ask is that she makes use of them to sail to Westeros where she belongs and leave them in peace. She will give him the gift of his life and those of his masters, but she wants every slave released in Yunkai, and they will be given food and property for their years in servitude. If he rejects her offer, she will show them no mercy.

He reveals they have powerful friends who will make a slave of her, as well. He instructs his men to take the gold but the dragons fly down to chase the slaves away. It's her gold now. She tells him to consider her gift to him and sends him away. Selmy warns her the Yunkai won't bend. She asks who his powerful friends are, but Jorah doesn't know, so he's tasked to find out. 

Tyrion offers a gift of golden chains to Shae, but she's obstinate about his forthcoming nuptials. She suggests they still go across the Narrow Sea, but he has a duty to his family and his feelings have not changed for her. He promises to buy her a good home and any children they might have will be well-provided for, but she doesn't want children who can never see her father or will be killed in their sleep by Tywin if he found out. He assures her she will always be his lady, but she counters she's her whore and she will be nothing when he's tired of her. 

On a ship in Blackwater Bay, Melisandre shows Gendry the site of the battle as they look up at King's Landing. She asks him if he ever wondered where his strength came from. She admits her mother was a slave and so was she until the lord of light raised her up. He was born in Fleabottom, he explains, but she reveals his blood is noble. His father was Robert Baratheon. That's why the gold cloaks wanted him. And as he considers the revelation, she tells him there's power in a king's blood. 

Beric attempts to make amends with Arya, but she thinks they're traitors. He obeys the command of his god. Her god is death, she says. They're interrupted by the arrival of Anguy who has spotted a Lannister raiding party. They're eager to ambush them, but Arya wants to get to Rivverun. Beric assures her they'll take her there, but they need to do this first. She calls him a liar and hopes the Lannisters kill them all. She runs off and flees into the woods, only to be grabbed by the Hound.

In her quarters, Brienne is visited by Jaime, who isn't leaving until the following day. Bolton is going to the Twins for Edmure Tully's wedding while she is to remain at Harrenhal with Locke. He owes her a debt. She tells him he gave his word to Catelyn. If he keeps it, consider the debt paid. He swears to return the Stark girls to their mother. She says her good-bye.

The maester, Qyburn, is riding with him, hoping the citadel will give him back his chain upon Tywin's recommendation. Roose sees him off and Locke tells him safe journey and mocks him as he rides off. He promises to take care of his friend. 

Theon is untied and laid out to have his wounds tended by three women. He asks where his captor is, but they assure him no one is there but them. He begs them to help him but they proceed to disrobe each other and succeed in seducing him. Ramsay interrupts and hits him, and as Theon tries to crawl away his men enter, with the intent to remove the one thing Theon values.

Ygritte is stunned to find something as simple as a windmill. He assures her Winterfell is much more impressive. Jon admits to her that they won't win. Six times the wildlings have attacked the kingdoms and they've all failed in thousands of years. They lack discipline and training. She assures him Mance is different. If they attack the Wall they'll die, Jon persists. If they die they die, she says. But first they'll live.

Meanwhile, at Bran's camp, Osha resents that Jojen does none of the work. She thinks he's filling Bran's head with black magic. Jojen explains he's helping Bran understand what's happening to him, then informs her they're not going to Castle Black as Jon isn't there. Bran needs to find the raven beyond the Wall. That's all he has now, and he believes he fell from the tower for a reason. Osha rants to them about life beyond the Wall. She had a man once but one night he disappeared. He came back as a pale dead man with blue eyes and tried to kill her. She managed to stab him in the heart but he never noticed. She had to burn the hut down with him inside. She didn't ask the gods what that meant. She knew. The north is no place for men to be. She promised Luwin she'd get them to Castle Black and no further.

On the road, the maester tends to Jaime's wound. He asks why the citadel took his chain. Qyburn confesses he was too curious. The only way to understand disease was to understand the inflicted. He performed experiments on dying men. Seeing he's being judged, Qyburn inquires how many men Jaime killed, versus how many lives he saved. Jaime considers he saved the entire population of King's Landing.

Jaime asks if he got a raven to Brienne's father in Tarth. Qyburn explains Selwin Tarth offered 300 gold dragons for his daughter's return. Locke wouldn't take it given he thinks Tarth has all the sapphires in Westeros. Brienne will be their entertainment for the night. Beyond that they don't care very much. Jaime tells his guards they must return to Harrenhal as he's left something behind. When he's refused, Jaime suggests they think they'll get a reward, but explains that when Tywin sees him he'll tell him they're the ones who chopped his hand off. Or he can say they saved his life. They return to Harrenhal.

They arrive at the keep to find it quiet, and he rushes to an assembly where the men are watching Brienne fight against a bear with a wooden sword. He confronts Locke and tells him he'll pay her ransom. Locke says gold doesn't matter. Watching the fight makes him happier than all their sapphires. The bear strikes and disarms her, so Jaime jumps in, ordering her to get behind him. Jaime's escort starts firing arrows into the bear, reminding Locke that Bolton told him to bring Jaime alive. Jaime gets them to pull Brienne up. She reaches down for him, and Jaime tries to climb as the bear attempts to get at them. She pulls him to safety. Locke insists the bitch stays. Jaime says he's taking her to King's Landing unless he kills him, standing his ground and asking which is more important to Lord Bolton. Locke's men stand down. Jaime announces they'll be on their way. And sorry about the sapphires, he adds. He and Brienne make their way through the crowd.

The Verdict:
This was a positively upbeat episode, and one of the very few I can remember that had a somewhat happy conclusion for several characters. It was a nice little respite before the usual catastrophic season endings.

This week lulled me into a likely false sense of security with Melisandre, as she was quite amenable with Gendry as they looked upon the Red Keep. I was thinking she might be prepared to sacrifice him in some dark ritual, but now I'm wondering if her intent since the failure of Blackwater Bay is to dump Stannis and attempt to place Gendry on the throne in order to further their goal of converting the realm to the one true god? That's a bit less ominous if that's the case.

Though I've mentioned it before, I'm thoroughly enjoying Daenerys' storyline. While I initially chafed at the slow burn of her arc so far removed from Westeros, the growth of her army and allies has proven a compelling story in itself. Who are the mysterious allies of the Yunkai, and will they pose a threat to her?

It's ironic that Joffrey seems to be the only one concerned about her dragons. Daenerys knows the value of establishing herself as a conqueror (and liberator) prior to her crossing of the Narrow Sea. Does Tywin truly think she's not a threat?

It's about time House Stark had a new heir, as they're running short on viable candidates. As for Sansa, she continues to evolve into more of a mature character rather than the foolish girl she admits to being. I believe Arya's association with the Hound will prove interesting, and perhaps a friendship over time, once she begins to hear what's happened with Sansa. The Brotherhood has proven they lack any moral authority at all, and if Melisandre and Thoros are any indication, their one true god sucks, as well.

I had an interesting thought at the conclusion (as my initial impression was that Brienne and Jaime might both die in the bear pit). Will Jaime make it back to King's Landing and be the one who ultimately plants a sword in his father's back? Given Tywin's exchange with his grandson, I feel the momentum for the death of the Lannister patriarch is continuing to build. Jaime has become positively saintly in his behaviour of late. I love how Game of Thrones can completely turn a hated character around. But that doesn't bode well for his longevity.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Review: Mad Men "Man With A Plan"

Non Spoiler Review:
Man With A Plan juggles the integration of CGC into the SCDP offices, prompting Don to fluff his feathers like a peacock and assert his dominance at work and home. In the midst of all the jockeying for power, Joan and Pete suffer their own crises.

I enjoyed seeing the mish-mash of characters put together, the new faces and interesting pairings—Jim and Roger for one—and everyone in fear for their jobs. Don was outright nasty, but at least he was put in his place several times and anyone hoping for a bit of payback for how he's treated people won't be disappointed.

It was a pretty decent episode, but one thing Man With A Plan lacked was any mention whatsoever about fallout from either Don or Ted's arbitrary decision to merge the firms. Are we to believe no one had issues with it? Mad Men has gotten a shot of adrenaline the likes of which we haven't seen since Sterling Cooper fell apart. As we enter the final stretch of the season there's bound to be another shocker lurking, but unless it deals with Don and Sylvia's infidelities, the direction still eludes me.

Spoilers Now!
Don overhears a major blowup between Sylvia and Arnold as he goes down in the elevator, noticing Arnold's suitcases packed at the door. SCDP is in chaos as CGC moves in. Peggy and Ted arrive together. She introduces him to Stan and Mike, as well as their coworker Margie, but the latter is certain she's going to be fired. Joan attempts to organize all the new employees with their secretaries. All the creatives are in one office on a temporary basis and Joan's alternate from CGC, Moira, attempts to work with her and doesn't appear to respect her superior position. As Joan shows Peggy her office, both are genuinely happy to work with one another again. However Joan begins suffering a pain in her side.

At the new partners meeting, discussions begin on their excess personnel and the merging of accounts from both firms. Jim and Roger have acquired Fleischmann's Margarine. Meanwhile, Pete, Ted and Don decide to fly out to appease Mohawk Airlines who don't want them working on a competing highway campaign. Ted is a pilot and offers to fly them out. 

Pete gets an urgent phone call from his landlord. His mother is at his apartment demanding to see his father. Pete goes home and reminds her he passed away, but she's suffering from dementia and remains confused. After he calls in his brother, he's informed it's now his turn to look after her, so she's forced to stay with him.

As creative prepares to meet over margarine, Don gets a call from Sylvia who wants him to come over. She needs him, so he meets her at a hotel. Sylvia rants about Arnold and their son, but Don doesn't want to hear about them. Instead he dominates her and orders her to look for his shoes, get back into bed and not to go anywhere while he leaves for work. Sylvia is intrigued enough to play along.

Meanwhile, the integrated creative department waits on Don for their margarine meeting and Peggy explains his secretary won't say where he is. Don shows up forty minutes late just as it's wrapping up, so he's annoyed Ted proceeded without him.

In bed, Sylvia gets a call from Don asking if she's still there. He tells her she won't know when he's coming back and she'll wait there. He has a new dress sent to the room. Don then goes to offer an olive branch to Ted and discuss the merger themselves, only to get him drunk. Ted can't handle his alcohol, and Peggy is perturbed with Don.

Joan thinks she has food poisoning, so Bob offers to escort her out so no one will know. He waits with her at the emergency room. She starts worrying what's going to happen to her son if it's serious. She knows it's not food poisoning. Bob gets creative and gets her seen quickly by the doctor.

Sylvia is wearing the dress when Don finally shows up. Continuing his domination, he informs her they're not going anywhere and to take off the dress.

Ted goes to visit with Frank in the hospital, confiding that Don seems more interested in him than the work. Frank suggests Don will tire himself out and Ted should be patient.

In the morning, Peggy sees Don in confidence. She had hoped that Ted would rub off on him, not the other way around. He could have just tried to hire her back, she says, though Don shoots back that the merger wasn't about her. She tells him to move forward.

Pete is worried about his job as the staff cuts continue, but Harry assures him he'll be fine. His mother demands his attention again and calls him away as he prepares to head to the Mohawk meeting. His secretary informs Ted about the rescheduling, but Ted is furious everyone takes their meeting times so lax. Don agrees and decides both will go, despite a rainstorm that Ted assures him is no problem for flying. Ted gets the plane above the clouds and tells a nervous Don to relax. Don took Sylvia's book and tries to read rather than appreciate the view, and adds that no matter what he says to Mohawk, Ted is the guy who flew them up in his own plane. Pete returns to work to find that Don and Ted are gone and the meeting went very well. Furious he was left out he berates his secretary.

Bob shows up at Joan's home to see how she's doing, with a gift for Kevin. She's fine, as it was just a cyst on her ovary, so he leaves them. Her mother thinks he's adorable. Joan suggests he's worrying about his job. Her mother reminds her every good deed is not a part of a plan.

Don returns to the hotel to find Sylvia getting ready to go home. She tells him it's time it's over. She dreamed he died in the plane, Megan cried on her shoulder and she went back to Arnold and told him she was home. Don suggests that means she missed him, but she says it means it's time to really go home. It's over between them. Don tries to change her mind, but she leaves. They ride the elevator up and she gets out on her floor without a word. 

Roger and Jim continue to negotiate who goes and stays. Bob is elected to be fired, but Joan stands up for him and points out he knows a lot of accounts. They opt to keep him and move on down their list.

Pete's mother wakes him up to tell him they shot the Kennedy boy. He thinks she's confused and means John F. Kennedy. At the Drapers, Megan weeps at the news reports of Bobby Kennedy's assassination as Don stares off into space.

The Verdict:
I enjoyed Man With A Plan only because Don got some overdue payback. Had he continued on without this dressing down, it would have made for a frustrating episode. I think Peggy's curt admonishment will have far more effect on him in the long term than Sylvia's brutal dumping and Ted's scare tactics. Hopefully this will mark a renewal for the character as the season comes to a close. But on a positive note, this could mean no more Sylvia (fingers crossed).

With Bob hanging around the background for so long, is his ultimate purpose to be a love interest for Joan? I was pleased to see she's softened enough to subtly repay his kindness by sticking up for him. And her brief exchange with Peggy was quite satisfying, seeing these two women back together and in no way competing with one another.

The Bobby Kennedy angle came as a surprise at the end, as it didn't dominate the episode as I would have expected. But coming on the heel of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, I guess the writers thought it could stand on its own as an appropriate cap to Don's vexing day. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones "The Climb"

Non Spoiler Review:
Jon and Ygritte attempt to scale the Wall. Tywin negotiates with Olenna over the new marriage match while in Riverrun, Robb hears the terms of rapprochement with Lord Frey. Jaime and Brienne learn of their fate, as Theon tries to guess the identity of his captor. The Brotherhood receives a surprise visitor from the south, which does not bode well for Gendry. 

The Climb brought another series of effective pairings, particular Tywin and Olenna's tense but hilarious exchange over the matter of Loras and Cersei's infamous tastes. That was countered to great effect by the horrific final exchange between Varys and Baelish, and a chilling shot that is sure to linger with viewers. 

While events continue to grow more ominous, Game of Thrones enters the final stretch of this season with plenty of storylines to juggle, and a growing amount of characters in jeopardy.

Spoilers Now!
Sam and Gilly struggle to keep warm north of the Wall, with a few days march until they reach it. Once their fire is going, Sam shows her the obsidian he found at the Fist of the First Men. He comforts her with talk of the Wall and the safety of Castle Black.

Arya is practicing her archery. She's good, but not as good as she thinks she is, chides Anguy. He counsels her on her form as Arya spies someone approaching, and the Brotherhood goes to meet the new arrivals. Melisandre greets Thoros, announcing she comes as a friend. She reminds him the high priests gave him a mission to turn King Robert from the false gods. He failed, he explains, preferring whoring and drinking instead.

Melisandre is brought to Beric, and she sees the evidence of his fatal wounds. She informs Thoros he should not have such power. He counters he just asked for their god's favor and he responded as his will. Thoros admits his faith had faltered by the time he came to Westeros, until the Mountain killed Beric, and he uttered the old words out of habit, only to have the man resurrected. He knew then their god is the one true god and all men must serve him. Melisandre asks Beric what he saw on the other side. Beric counters there is no other side. Only darkness. They have someone she needs.

Arya doesn't like any of it, and as Thoros asks Gendry's forgiveness, he's taken away. Despite Arya's protests, Beric explains the lord of light needs the boy. Melisandre gives Thoros gold in exchange, leading Arya to utter her disgust. Melisandre assures Gendry he's more than any of them can ever be. He will make kings rise and fall. Arya accuses her of being a witch. Melisandre sees a darkness in her, and in that darkness eyes staring back—brown, blue, green. Eyes she'll shut forever. We will meet again, Melisandre says, and rides off with her new captive.

Jon, Tormud, Orell and Ygritte arrive at the Wall, preparing for their climb. Only Tormund has climbed it before. Ygritte's waited her whole life to reach its summit. She compliments Jon that he's a proper lover, and his secret is safe with her—he's loyal and he's brave. He never stopped being a crow. The Night's Watch and Mance Rayder don't care if either of them live or die, she explains. But she warns him never to betray her. Jon promises. 

The Wildlings make their climb as Jon struggles. The ice cracks and causes an avalanche, killing several and leaving Tormund and Orell holding on to the ropes of Ygritte and Jon. Orell wants to cut them lose and severs the rope. Jon swings to an outcropping and saves himself and Ygritte as the rope falls. 

Theon is woken by Ramsay's taunts of further torture. He tells him to figure out where he is and who he is. Theon manages to guess he's held at Karhold, and that his captor is a Karstark. He suggests Torrhen was his brother and his father is Lord Rickard Karstark. Ramsay announces he's correct and he wins their game. Ramsay then says he never asked if he was a liar, and proceeds to slice open his finger. He's torturing him because he enjoys it.

Osha and Meera aren't getting along, prompting Bran to chide them both, and orders them to make peace. Jojen begins to struggle in his sleep, so his sister rushes to his side. She explains the visions take their toll on him, and he's in the midst of one. He wakens, revealing he saw Jon Snow on the wrong side of the Wall surrounded by enemies. 

Frey's sons arrive at Riverrun with an offer to continue their alliance on the condition Lord Frey receive a formal apology. Robb agrees, as well as handing over Harrenhal in restitution once the war is over and they have no further strategic need. The final condition requires Lord Edmure to wed one of his daughters. He wants the wedding to proceed quickly, rather than wait for the end of the war. 

Edmure says no, but Blackfish threatens him to obey. Robb agrees. If he refuses, their alliance is dead. Edmure thinks he may be able to have a daughter of his choosing, but Robb has no time to haggle and suggests he can make amends for his failed battle. They're lost if they don't proceed with the marriage. Edmure reluctantly concedes, and Robb promises to remember what he's done for him.

Brienne and Jaime are brought to eat with Roose. Brienne explains her orders from Catelyn, but he informs her that Lady Stark is now Robb's prisoner. Jaime wonders why he's not sent him back to Robb. As soon as he's well enough, Roose will let him ride to King's Landing as long as he swears to tell his father the truth—Roose had nothing to do with his maiming. Jaime thinks it all sounds suspicious. Brienne won't be going. Roose is charging her with abetting treason. 

Olenna dines with Tywin, telling him that a wedding between Loras and Cersei is impossible, given she's much too old, for one thing. He brings up her grandson's nocturnal activities, which she is quite aware of. Tywin offers her the chance to clean his name. Her easy going nature about it offends him. She counters that the stain of brothers and sisters is a stain that is much more difficult to wash out. Enough people find it convincing enough to kill Lannisters and Tyrells. If the rumors were true, Tywin counters, then House Tyrell is throwing their prized flower into the dirt with Joffrey, who would not be king at all. Olenna agrees, and can't take that chance with two of her heirs. Tywin decides if she refuses he will name Loras to the Kingsguard. He will never marry or have children. Highgarden will go to the children of Joffrey and Margaery. Olenna concedes, and tells him it's a rare thing for a man to live up to his reputation. She is amenable to the match.

Loras is in the midst of an awkward courting process with Sansa, but both agree King's Landing is the most terrible place there is. Tyrion and Cersei both watch from above. They're all being shipped off to hell together, Cersei muses, though Tyrion points out it's all due to her. She did what she did to protect their family, and admits that his trick with the wildfire saved the city. He confronts her about the order to kill him during the battle. She remains silent and he realizes it's Joffrey who did it. She agrees his life is likely still in danger, but not from Joffrey, given he won't do anything with Tywin there. She wonders if Jaime will ever return.

Shae and Sansa discuss the wedding, but are interrupted by a visit from Tyrion. Sansa explains it's all right that Shae remain, despite Tyrion wanting to speak with her alone, so he awkwardly begins to tell her about their new arrangement.

Varys visits Baelish sitting in the throne room, staring at the Iron Throne. He's flattered Varys is afraid of him getting what he wants. Baelish admits to enjoying thwarting his plan to give Sansa to the Tyrells, but he didn't bring his confidant any enjoyment. She was a bad investment, he explains, and he has a friend who wanted to try something new and daring and was grateful for this fresh experience. Varys says he did what he did for the good of the realm. Baelish reminds him the realm is a story they agree to tell until they forget it's a lie. Chaos is the alternative, Varys says. Chaos is a ladder, Baelish corrects. The climb is all there is. Only the ladder is real. Many who try to climb it fail. In Joffrey's chambers, he leaves Ros impaled with arrows, while Sansa weeps as she and Shae watch Baelish's ship sail. 

Tormund, Orell, Ygritte and Jon reach the top of the Wall. Jon sees a hawk flying above. Ygritte lays eyes on the south for the first time in her life and they share a kiss.

The Verdict:
The Climb saw the end of one of the series' beloved characters. Ros' death was a surprise, to be honest. Given she represented the lowborn perspective, I hadn't anticipated she could be killed so easily and offhand. It's a cap to Loras' comment that King's Landing is the most terrible place there is. That pretty much leaves Shae and Gendry as the audience's perspective on the lords and ladies of Westeros.

As if we didn't need more of a reminder how much it sucks to be lowborn, the Brotherhood (and particularly Thoros and Beric) have lost a lot of traction given how easy they're bought. They abandoned a loyal recruit in Gendry for gold. Gendry's suddenly prominent role in matters doesn't likely bode well for him, but I'm pleased to see he's getting more attention.

I finally got my wish to see Melisandre and Thoros interact with some discussion of their religion. She looks positively jealous that Thoros can resurrect the dead (six times). Kind of makes her devilish smoke monster baby pale in comparison. It appears the priests of the one true god R'hllor have a greater design to convert Westeros to their ways (going back many years if Thoros was to bring Robert into the fold). Will Daenerys run into this religion in the east?

If Joffrey is the one who tried to murder Tyrion, that would remove a significant obstacle from working with his sister to kill their father, which looks increasingly more likely (if Olenna doesn't embark on her own agenda as well). Tywin is a completely awesome villain but the animosity he's roused since returning to the role of Hand of the King seems too much to sustain. I was annoyed that we never got to see Tyrion's whole conversation with Shae and Sansa. That felt like an easy out to avoid a complex scene.

And any thoughts I had that Baelish might be a mellowing were shattered with his terrible punishment for Ros. The look on Varys' face (who remains one of my favorite characters) made for a terrific exchange between them. Varys continues to strive to preserve the realm, but Baelish makes good points that Westeros is barely held together by any common idea (until Daenerys returns, that is).

Theon's plot, and Bran's journey north continue to slowly simmer, and I'm fearful at what's going to happen to Brienne now that Roose has seen fit to send Jaime back to King's Landing (what?!). I don't know how much I trust that, but I doubt either of them will end well.

Ygritte finally managed to grow on me this episode, particularly in her expression of loyalty to Jon and the fact that neither Mance Rayder nor the Night's Watch care about either of them. She's also able to see through his charade, so she has some smarts. I'm happy to see them finally reach the Wall. Whether Tormund and Orell manage to live to see much of the other side remains to be seen.

As the season begins to wind down I'm left considering where we'll end up. I'm seriously doubting Daenerys can make it to Westeros in the short time left, but Mance leading his army into the south is something quite possible. Will we get to see an attack on Casterly Rock? Which marriages will take place? Frey appears to want his wedding as soon as possible, which would likely delay such an attack. However, if the series' trend continues, the penultimate episode will contain a major event as it has in the past.
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