Archive for TV Recaps

The Walking Dead Recap: “Strangers” (Season 5, Episode 2)

My copy of last week’s season premiere was missing a crucial post-credits element: a masked man on the tracks follows an X carved into a tree just after Rick and crew pass; he takes off the mask to better see his surroundings, and it’s none other than Morgan. A blast form the past, looking considerably less nuts than last time we saw him. So far in season five, it appears everything’s coming full circle.

In this week’s edition, our newly reunited crew of misfits look on from a “safe” distance as the fire burns at Terminus; billowing smoke fills the sky. From the opening moments, the pacing feels a little off. The cameraman trains his focus on the Good Guys as they walk – always walking – and then slows everything down. While this could be used to indicate the repetiveness, the monotony, of their lives on the road, it’s not terribly effective. Tara’s breasts bounce in slow-mo, and the expression we’ve all come to associate with Rick, his stone-faced, hollow-eyed stare, carries our crew forward through the woods. Exciting it is not.

The opening minutes of the episode feature people talking and not talking; they’re not yet revealing the things hidden beneath the surface. Tara hasn’t told Maggie she was with the Governor at the prison, and it’s eating away at her. Rick admits he shouldn’t have banished Carol “to this,” and now they’re joining her in it. Carol gives a tiny smile and nod at his genuine apology and gratitude. She saved their lives, and her actions have redeemed her…to everyone but herself, it seems.

Tyreese, who now considers Carol an ally and confidante despite what she did to his lover, tells them he’ll talk to the crew and make sure everyone accepts her. “They don’t have to,” says Carol. But Tyreese insists they do have to accept her. Unity is important, understanding and respect even moreso, in the new world. However, he doesn’t want to tell anyone about the girls – about what happened to Lizzie and Mika. “I just need to forget it,” he sighs.

Carol repeats this assertion to Daryl as they stand watch in the night. He’s eyeing her, waiting for her to speak. “I can’t. I just need to forget,” she tells him. Daryl hears something (or feels it), and leaps to his feet to check it out. Even though his skin is crawling, he decides it’s nothing – but a silhouette passes in the darkness.

On the road the next morning, Bob and Sasha play a word game: she names off the hardships of their new lives, and Bob counters with the sunny side of it. “No privacy,” Sasha says with a sly grin, and Bob replies, “A captive audience!” and kisses her. Bob’s constant optimism is getting threadbare, though. He was only a minor part of the last season, but we know from his early behavior – from the way he risked everyone’s lives in order to chug some booze – that he’s no angel despite what he portrays to everybody else.

Jesus can't help you here, bud. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Jesus can’t help you here, bud. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Suddenly, screams for help pour from the woods. The crew follows them at Carl’s insistence and saves a priest, perched on a boulder surrounded by walkers. The last time we caught sight of any religious iconography was before Beth disappeared, and that’s no coincidence. The priest’s name is Gabriel, and he vomits everywhere to show his gratitude. After checking him for weapons (despite Gabriel’s protests that “the word of God is the only protection I need,” to which Daryl murmurs, “Sure didn’t look like it”) Rick asks him the three key questions:

“How many walkers have you killed?” None.
“How many humans have you killed?” None.
“Why?” “Because the Lord abhors violence.” Read more

The Walking Dead Recap: “No Sanctuary” (Season 5, Episode 1)

The Walking Dead has never really been about the dead. It’s about the living, and the myriad ways in which people adapt (or don’t) to a new world order, one that thrives on chaos and death. Even the credits in season five reflect the new world; candles dribble wax and axes drip blood, buildings crumble under nature’s influence, crows light in trees waiting for corpses to rot. There’s no nostalgia for the past here, no remaining love for order and beauty. As a wise person utters in this episode, “It’s time to return to our regularly scheduled shitstorm.”

The opening sequence of the season five opener calls to mind a haunting statement from the final episode of season four: “The more people become part of us, the stronger we get.” In a flashback, Gareth (whose name I apparently spelled incorrectly last season) and Mary, trapped inside the cargo container and flickering in dying candlelight, desperately ask themselves what they are now – who they’re becoming. As in season four, nobody really knows who they are in this post-apocalyptic mess, and as people flail, scrabble to get a grip on normalcy, things get messy.

Back in the present, our band of increasingly morally ambiguous outlaws prepares to fight its way out of the shipping container. They’re ready to go out swinging, but aren’t prepared for a smoke bomb dropped through the roof. It incapacitates them just enough to allow the cannibals to bind and carry Rick, Glenn, Bob, and Daryl to the killing trough, along with four others who don’t belong to us. As the eight men kneel, prone, in front of the metal trough, burly men in plastic raincoats first knock them unconscious, then slit their throats, gushing blood into the trough. First one, then the next, creeping ever closer to Glenn. The viscous fluid pools around the drain as our quad of men watches, helpless. Just as the butcher reels back to take a mighty swing at Glenn’s head, Gareth shows up to ask for their shot count. “I’m sorry, it was my first roundup!” the second butcher says, distracting everyone for long enough to save Glenn’s life. In the midst of chaos, it is in fact bureaucracy, red tape, a “required quota” that saves our protagonists.

This fucking guy. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

This fucking guy. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Bob tries to talk Gareth down – he’s the nice one. Rick, on the other hand, eyes him with utter rage and contempt. Gareth is after the bag of guns they stashed in the woods, and as he holds a wickedly sharp knife a millimeter from Bob’s eye, Rick gives him the info he needs. It contains some AK-47s, an arsenal of other weapons, and a machete with a red handle. “That’s what I’m gonna use to kill you,” he tells Gareth – and you know what? I wouldn’t fuck with Rick at this point. The man is hardened and he’s not kidding.

And suddenly, the world explodes. Read more

Not dead, just braindead

I’m alive, and I know it’s been more than two weeks since I last wrote. A friend said recently that nothing’s worse than having a blog and not keeping up with it – and I wholly agree. But I simply haven’t had the brainpower to write much in the last few weeks.

Work is insane. I had a really vicious panic attack last Tuesday. I studied intensely hard for, then took an expensive, nebulous, comprehensive certification exam that may mean some kind of monetary acknowledgement from my employer (which would certainly make the panic attacks more worth it, right? …right.) – and hopefully, mobility. But that’s assuming I passed, and I hate to jinx these things. I’ll hear sometime in the next week or so.

Some friends came to visit from Indiana, and that was wonderful. We saw a really big black bear from less than 40 feet away. We rock climbed. We drove to the West Virginia border to watch the Camelopardalids meteor shower at 2 a.m. We ate Indian food and watched ducklings. It was a great visit, fantastic to see old friends – and way better for my mental health than delving deeply into a TV show.

I have zero mental energy to tackle the UCSB shootings. I have very, very strong feelings on the subject, and I’m too tired and yeah, kind of afraid to be publicly strident about it because I can’t deal with the fallout right now. When tragedy strikes, it provides us an important lens through which to examine our cultural inadequacies. For all of us, both men and women, to take a close look at what’s going wrong. It also allows us to lift up the rocks and examine the scum that have been living in remote corners of the internet, advocating for treating women like objects to be won, and tell them this shit will not fly. #YesAllWomen is important, and I’ve already argued my point into the ground with people I love re: the value of focused anger, forgiveness and divinity, and actually taking an opportunity to look at what women go through all the time. I’m angry, other people are angry, and we have every right to be. I don’t feel sympathy for anyone but the victims. There’s plenty of great reading out there about mental health (which frankly I don’t think should factor into this discussion at all – he committed a hate crime), gun control, masculinity, and pervasive misogyny. You don’t need to hear it from me.

There are three episodes of Mad Men to recap, and I’ll probably write one lengthy piece next week sometime. That is, assuming I am not drowning in spreadsheets and busywork. The next month is going to be tough, and even if I hear that I’ve passed the certification exam, I won’t really be able to take a break until July. I just don’t want to sacrifice my writing to my day-to-day employment. We’ll see how it goes.

Wish me luck.

Musing on Mad Men, movies, & being a real adult

I’m studying for an exam that’ll take place on Thursday (May 15), so my recap for this week’s episode of Mad Men, “The Runaways,” will be bundled into the next week’s piece. But I wanted to write a listicle of sorts, punctuated with exclamation points! Because this week’s episode deserves some !!!.

– Betty Draper is more of a teenager than her daughter! (Also, doesn’t want to be a Stepford wife for actual.)

– A threesome is pretty much never the answer, Megan!

– “It’s a nose job, not an abortion!”

– Holy 2001: A Space Odyssey references!

– A nipple in a box! (!!!)

– “This is the Final Solution.” What you did there, I see it, Stan.

– Did pregnant Stephanie’s craving for steak remind anyone else of Rosemary’s Baby? At least Megan cooked her a medium-well done hunk of meat instead of searing a rare one.

– “I have a stomachache all the time.” 🙁

– Phillip Morris is back in the picture!

– “Scout’s Honor” actually makes me feel kind of sorry for Lou!

Aside from Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Revenge, and Hannibal, I’ve also started tentatively watching Don’t Trust the B*%&$ in Apt 23. So far, fun and funny. Also, I haven’t been writing about them, but I’ve seen quite a few movies in the last few weeks. More lists because it’s easy:

Frozen: cute, but not mind-blowing. I adored The Princess and the Frog, so it isn’t just being an Old that left me with so-so feelings on Frozen. The characters are pretty static and the music felt a little jumbled. (I know, I know: blasphemy.)

Noah: I need a re-watch. This shit was bizarre. I’m agnostic, I don’t know the Bible at all, and I saw it with two (largely) nonpracticing Mennonites, a nonpracticing Quaker, and a nonpracticing Catholic. Nobody was entirely sure what to do with it. Mostly: a waste of a brilliant cast on poor performances, but what a pretty movie. I expected more from Aronofsky, but I have a feeling it’ll grow on me.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: It’s a downright angry NSA allegory, and the graphics are gorgeous. Totally enjoyable and definitely better than the first.

Grand Budapest Hotel: gorgeously curated, meticulously crafted, hilariously acted. I’m a sucker for Wes Anderson’s particular breed of quirk and this one is grotesque and odd (in that Eastern European way) on top of the usual idiosyncrasies. A winning combination.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Mehh. It has some serious pacing issues, and I don’t think Andrew Garfield is as funny as he thinks he is. I’m not familiar with the books, but I know the basic mythology, and some of the changes they’re making aren’t sensible. Dane DeHaan is great, and the sound design and graphics are magnificent.

Lastly, HBO is airing The Heat right now and I thought it’d be kind of terrible, but my thoughts are as follows: Melissa McCarthy is a goddamn genius.

Send me good vibrations on Thursday, okay? I’ll need them.

Mad Men Recap: “The Monolith” (Season 7, Episode 4)

I’ve been gathering a few people to watch Game of Thrones and Mad Men each week, and it’s interesting the way other people can change your perspective. When I was writing for California Literary Review, I think my editor enjoyed my pieces because I chronicled the reactions of the audience as lovingly as I wrote about the film. After last night’s episode, my friend Chelsea said with a considering expression, “That was kind of like a sitcom episode,” and she’s right. In “The Monolith,” problems are presented, problems are fixed, and we’re back to the status quo. It was a filler episode, which is common at this point in the season. But despite its easily solvable character dilemmas, it was a truly weird one. It is Mad Men, after all. It’s 1969 and everyone’s staring into the void, looking for answers. For some, the answers may lie in technology. Others search for a more organic sense of belonging, while still others just want a damn couch that isn’t full of farts. Basically, we’re all a bunch of monkeys gazing at a monolith.

Gazing into the infinite. Photo credit Justina Mintz/AMC.

Staring into the infinite. Photo credit Justina Mintz/AMC.

In the opening scene of Sunday’s episode, we drop in on a scene in which Pete describes the various destinations of choice for an upcoming trip with Bonnie. She spots George Peyton, a ghost from Campbell’s past who worked with Trudy’s father Tom at Vicks. Remember the Vicks drama? If I recall correctly, Pete’s shameless philandering lost SCDP that account. (Don’t shit where you eat, Pete.) Pete explains to a curious Peyton that he and Trudy are getting a divorce, and that Bonnie is his real estate agent (she’s none too pleased with this informal introduction). Peyton reports that Tom Vogel, Pete’s father-in-law, had a heart attack. “Who knew he had a heart?” George chuckles. Further, Peyton’s now working for Burger Chef. You can practically see the lightbulb ding into existence over Pete’s head; the guy knows how to use his connections. Meanwhile, the two men circle around their respective lady friends, both wearing ridiculous(ly awesome) ’70s dresses with feathers and fringe.

"This agency has entered the future!" Photo credit Justina Mintz/AMC.

“This agency has entered the future!” Photo credit Justina Mintz/AMC.

When Don comes into the office for his first official day back, he’s looking every bit the old Don Draper. His eyes are alert, his old but neat suit impeccably pressed; his hat rests in his hands. He disembarks from the elevator to discover the office has been evacuated, and rapidly. A phone dangles eerily from a secretary’s desk; he hangs it back up. On the second floor, he discovers the entire office in an impromptu meeting to announce a construction project: they’re putting in a computer. Cutler intones smugly, “This agency has entered the future.”

Unfortunately, in order to enter the future, they have to take out the Creative department lounge. Peggy mentions under her breath that Lou has no idea what he’s doing, and Lou says pragmatically that he’ll use that computer more than the lounge. Ginsberg gets a moment to shine; he feels (quite rightly) displaced. “Harry Crane took a huge dump and we’re cleaning it up,” he cries. With a maniacal glint, he asks Don to help him move the massive orange couch into the office he shares with Stan because “the other one’s full of farts!” Ginsberg climbs onto a soapbox and bellows a battle cry: “They’re trying to erase us, but they can’t erase this couch!” It’s all so very dramatic and very Michael Ginsberg. Read more