Tag 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

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

Mad Men Recap: “Field Trip” (Season 7, Episode 3)

Sunday’s episode of Mad Men took us on a number of trips, metaphorical and physical. The theme here is related to Megan’s repeated questions: “Where are you? Why can’t I reach you?” Sure, she’s asking about why Don is never there when she rings up – but at the same time she’s not. He’s mucked up his entire world, and try as he might, it’ll never be what it was. He’s adrift, searching for a lighthouse.

This episode also sees the return of our favorite trophy wife, Betty Francis, who despite hardly interacting with Don anymore, still shares their children (and interestingly enough she’s probably the worse parent). The other day, I got squinty-eyed and a little pissy about this Salon takedown of the series by a young(er than me) writer named Matthew Brandon Wolfson. Wolfson notes that we’re supposed to “soak in Betty’s poise while pitying her for her limited possibilities.” I beg your pardon? I pity Joan Harris for her limited possibilities (even though she did rather put herself in this position), but I do not pity Betty Draper. She’s no bombshell, not thwarted by her femininity; she’s a petulant, blank-faced child. The piece is worth a read (?), but I’ll continue to rebut it throughout this recap.

Betty Draper Francis is an utter child. Photo courtesy AMC.

Betty Draper Francis is an utter child. Photo courtesy AMC.

“Field Trip” starts us out in a smoky theater where Don Draper idly watches a film set in San Francisco. This is the same theater where Don caught Ted and Peggy on a date; it’s where he taught his protege to escape to when she needs to get away from the office. Once the movie’s over he returns to his “work day,” which means calling Dawn because he needs typewriter ribbon. Poor Dawn, recently promoted to head of the secretarial pool, is utterly swamped. Don is peevish about her assignation of a courier to bring him his supplies. “I didn’t make any plans. I was expecting you to come over!” he cries. Dawn reports that Alan Silver called from California; Megan’s manager, the slimy, slightly swishy guy from last episode, wants to talk to Don. Dawn, overrun by SC&P business, can’t connect the call, so Don resentfully dials up Silver himself. (Poor Don. Must be rough.) Alan reports that the stress is getting to Megan. She burst into tears after bombing an audition, then stalked a director. “I’ve seen it before,” Silver says. “You know her best!” Of course this dude would call the husband to quell what he sees as a hysterical episode.

Don, obviously, jumps on a plane to California to “fix” Megan’s problem. The stewardess greets him warmly as “Mr. Draper.” When he tells her he’s flying home to surprise his wife, she flirts with him gently as her massive blond pompadour bobs near the ceiling of the plane. “I’ve said it before – I hate her!”

The return of Francine, and wearing a pantsuit no less. Photo credit: Justina Mintz/AMC.

The return of Francine, and wearing a pantsuit no less. Photo credit: Justina Mintz/AMC.

Out in Rye, Betty Francis meets her old friend Francine for lunch. “How are things in real estate?” Betty asks. Francine responds patiently, “I’m a travel agent, Betty.” Francine is thrilled to tell Betty about her new job, for which she’s in the office three days a week. She reports happily that one of her customers says she “redefined his definition of first class.” While Francine continues to contentedly natter about work, Betty becomes increasingly disgruntled. “Being alone in the house all that time, I really needed a challenge,” says Francine, echoing the sentiments of a million housewives in 1969. She amends this with a sly smile: “Fine, I needed a reward.” Betty, raising one perfectly groomed eyebrow, says, well, I thought the kids were the reward. She finishes this with, “I dunno, maybe I’m old fashioned.” Do y’think so? Read more

Mad Men Recap: “A Day’s Work” (Season 7, Episode 2)

After last week’s premiere, which set an ominous tone for the final season of Mad Men, the writers reached out to pick us up and dust us off in episode two. Peggy and Pete are flailing about on opposite coasts, each experiencing ennui and scrabbling for purchase in their daily lives. Sally Draper is navigating her own transitional phase and handling it as gracefully as you’d expect from a 15-year-old. Dawn, Shirley, and Joan are shuffled about by the various men of SC&P while Cooper’s old-fashioned sensibilities hold up progress. Roger and Jim are at odds beneath a cordial surface. Out of everyone, though, Don Draper is most adrift.

Out to sea. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Out to sea. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

The opening scene of Sunday’s episode calls back to the premiere with a time motif. Don awakens to his alarm clock on a Thursday at 7:30, stretching groggily. Moments later, he awakens again, this time at 12:34. Don’s discombobulated, out of time and place. In his apartment, he blankly stares at Little Rascals on TV, his face unshaven and his robe hanging open. He idly pages through Look Magazine, which features a headline about abortions (the contentious topic would’ve been ramping up toward 1973’s landmark Roe vs. Wade case). He passes a full-page ad that inquires, “How do you handle a hungry man?” while absent-mindedly eating Ritz directly from the box. He marks the level on a bottle of Courvoisier, tsking to himself – he’s drinking too much. A cockroach wanders by and Don just sighs. The time passes, and into the evening Don shaves and dresses, buttoning up his shirt and fixing his tie just as the doorbell rings.

Dawn steps into the apartment, but she can’t stay. She’s brought him Sweet ‘n Low and Coffee Mate since she noticed he was out. Likewise, she arranged for a Valentine’s bouquet to arrive at Megan’s house in California. Dawn’s another set of eyes into SC&P, and it’s making her uncomfortable. “I don’t mind keeping you aware of things, but there’s something about the money that makes it feel wrong,” she says. On her way out, she reminds him that the cleaning woman is coming tomorrow morning. She takes the money.

Our very own Don Draper, the hero/antihero of the series (this is debatable – there are those who think it’s been Peggy’s story all along), has gotten interminably sad. Without his work, without purpose, Don Draper is nothing. He can’t even handle the basics of his marriage and his home without help. It’s tough to watch.

So grownup. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

So very. Photo credit Michael Yarish/AMC.

Sally Draper has transformed into a full-blown teenager. Her friends smoke cigarettes in her dorm room, gossiping about another friend’s dead mother. Everybody’s stoked to go off campus for the funeral because they an sneak away to shop for Pocahontas boots. (I’m actually shaking my head in consternation as I write this.) That lucky bitch whose mom died, she gets to stay out of school until Easter! “I’d stay here til 1975 if I could get Betty in the ground,” Sally says, dragging on a cigarette. (Snort. It’s awful, but can you blame her?) Read more

Musings: On “Quality,” Diversity, and Subversiveness

Recently the NYT hopped on the bandwagon of folks claiming television has transcended (Hollywood) film. About six months ago during dinner with a couple in their 60s, I said almost exactly that: “In the last decade or so, I think TV has surpassed film in terms of quality.” The matriarch picked up her wine glass, waved it slightly, and murmured, “Damning with faint praise.” That one stung – but it isn’t particularly surprising. Sometimes I forget that other people aren’t as invested in media, as in love with the art form, as I am. Likewise I sometimes forget that our parents’ version of TV was Kraft Mac & Cheese compared to our current gourmet buffet. The discerning epicure has plenty of delights from which to choose these days, as does the gent who really just wants his Velveeta (who in the bloody hell actually watches Two and a Half Men?!). The thing is, some (some, mind you) “junk food” TV is paving the way for a richer, more diverse future.

As a slight snob and consumer of all things buzzing, I watch the good stuff. I tune in and burn through House of Cards, Mad Men, Game of Thrones (farewell Joffrey, you deplorable, inbred psychopath. Sorry not sorry for spoilers), The Walking DeadTrue Detective, Dexter, and Breaking Bad.

Mad Men Season 7 Key Art

This is the good shit. Photo courtesy AMC.

But on top of these things, I’m also paying attention to a bunch of shows I don’t usually admit publicly. I watch Scandal, Revenge, and Hannibal every week. I’m way behind on The Vampire Diaries and Supernatural, but I’m watching them. If you know much about me, you’ll see the tonal connection: they’re dark, soapy, and totally implausible, every one. In these alternate worlds, though, I can turn off my brain for 47 minutes and not contemplate life, the universe, and everything.

Scandal (ABC) Cast Shot

More color and more ladies than you’d expect. (ABC’s Scandal)

But you know me. Even in “off” mode, I’m thinking about the context, the casting, the creators. These shows, the ones that are “marginalized,” at the edges of popular culture, have immense room to play with gender, race, and sexuality; they have the freedom to subvert norms and mores. Revenge‘s Nolan Ross is virtually the only bisexual male on broadcast television, and you know what? Nobody cares, either out here in the real world or in the goofily decadent Revenge-verse. (Let’s not talk about House of Cards‘s Frank Underwood. We’ll leave that for later.) Scandal‘s team of Gladiators, led by Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), is richly comprised of women and men of color. (I thank Shonda Rhimes for this – it’s amazing what happens when you stick a woman of color in the director’s seat.)

Gabriel Mann as Nolan Ross.

Indeed, Nolan. Indeed. Credit to Tumblr user bravonolanross.

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