Tuesday, May 31, 2011
No matter how many times Christian victimizes her, Kimber keeps on coming back for more. It's a classic masochistic relationship. Christian sees Kimber as easy prey, somebody who will satisfy him both sexually and emotionally; while Kimber's only true happiness has been with Christian, as she knows that there have been times when he's seen her as more than just a piece of meat. The scenes between the two of them were a lot of fun here, from the romantic music by Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield that played over their scenes, to the petty jealousy Christian experienced as he saw the chemistry between Kimber and Mike. Kimber, like always, is trying to find some happiness in life but, equally 'like always', comes up short. She's now working out of a low-rent nail salon in West Hollywood alongside a group of catty Asians ("poor Orange face" hah!), and Christian represents some form of escape.
There's some welcome ambiguity to this episode, especially when it concerns the three old women and their motives for stealing the sister's powers. All of them are lonely and aging, in a world where older people are shuffled off to be amongst their own and rarely acknowledged. But, at the same time, their behavior is pretty reprehensible. They've been digging up and skinning corpses, and they're happy to drug and manipulate three young women. Heh. They're some wacko old ladies! But there's sadness there, which gives the story some weight.
It's always annoying when a show randomly comes up with major character points only to service a certain storyline, even more annoying when that story is referenced just once, and is only there to service a standalone mystery. Here, we discover Prue is familiar with depression, feels a huge amount of sadness over a car accident that occurred forever ago that injured Phoebe, and has contemplated suicide. Combine that with her out-of-nowhere 'passion' for photography, and Murphy's Luck should be a pretty annoying episode. However, even with the contrivances, it's a dark and emotional hour, saved by some great work from the actors.
An important feeling that rattles through most of season two is the sense of ambiguity that the show repeatedly explores. Characters throughout the season exhibit multi-faceted qualities, a complexity that several of the characters amusingly make reference to themselves. Even as we enter season two, the days where things are simply black or white are long gone. We've entered the scary area of moral ambiguity, where decisions are made based not only on what is right or wrong, but are affected by the fact that real people are involved. Ford isn't a nice person. He's willing to sacrifice his best friend, he's willing to sacrifice the lives of dozens of deluded teenagers. But he isn't a villain. He's wounded by the cancer that is destroying his body, and in his desperation is prepared to do something abhorrent. Joss Whedon forces complexity on his leads, pushing Buffy into an unsure world where morals aren't as distinct and obvious as she once thought.
The idea of costumes and masks rattles through all of Halloween. Buffy is distracted by the idea that she isn't Angel's idea of an attractive woman. He's hundreds of years old, surely he's really into hoity-toity ball-gown ladies, not snarky, casually-dressed '90s women? So she puts on a mask in an attempt to rectify that. Similarly, Willow is so uncomfortable in her own skin that she quickly abandons her plan to wear a revealing outfit for Halloween, and instead dresses up in a ghost costume which covers her head-to-toe. Only when magic intervenes and she is forced to ditch her mask does she actually become the confident girl she's desperate to be.
Buffy always managed to create vivid metaphors for teenage existence without being obnoxious or preachy. Looking back at the high school years, so many stories (even the major Angel story this year) rely on the idea of screwing up in some way and the consequences that follow. Of course, being this show, those consequences involve actual monsters and demons. The events depicted in Reptile Boy are quite clearly a metaphor for a girl getting in over her head with a sleazy older boy, potential date rape ensues, and before long the girl gets chained up and fed to a giant snake in the basement. This stuff happens, people!
Remove the melted bodies in the movie theater, and The Pine Bluff Variant looks and feels a lot like a run-of-the-mill espionage series. At first it treads similar ground to episodes like Wetwired, with Scully panicked that Mulder may have been corrupted by the dark side and that she's being lied to. Thankfully, the episode reveals Mulder's true agenda around fifteen minutes in, leading to an entertaining undercover-agent story with some memorable moments, most notably the bank heist. The idea of a terrorist group spraying killer gas onto bank notes is a classic one, the potential for chaos pretty darn huge as a result.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
In Nip/Tuck's later years, there was always the sense that a season begins with a clear agenda and drive. Characters are well-utilized, plots unfold naturally, ideas are crafted. But, without a doubt, a couple of episodes in... the wheels fly off, and the series once again becomes the manic, ridiculous caricature that pretty much engulfed the second part of season five. Season six is no different, since Don Hoberman is an aggressively entertaining opener to the final year. The general theme is 'age'. Sean and Christian have hit emotional, physical and financial road-blocks, their stupid decisions threatening their business and their personal lives. It's an obvious route to go down for the final season, but it works.
There was always something a little low-rent about Charmed's demons, and it's especially noticeable in seasons three and four, with various scenery-chewing actors gesticulating wildly in badly lit caves and crypts, clearly located on a sound-stage in L.A. somewhere. I bring this up because Give Me a Sign is really the first episode to feature that. Litvack is the first of numerous ordinary-looking demons wearing some kind of cape or robe, able to fling fireballs or whatever. I don't think it's a coincidence that this episode is also the first to reference The Source, Charmed's biggest Big Bad. While the character is interesting (I think, if I remember correctly), it marked a visually underwhelming evolution in Charmed's history, where demons and their headquarters were all universally fug...
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
The season five episode I Was Made to Love You features a robot girl who encounters most of the Scoobies. Part of what made that episode so funny was that everybody immediately assumed that she was a robot. They're not morons, she was clearly weird and oddly perfect, like she had been programmed. That all equals robot. I bring this up because Inca Mummy Girl seriously makes you want to bash the characters around the head repeatedly until they get a clue. So much of the hour consists of Buffy, Giles and the gang attempting to work out who's responsible for the mummy murders and how the mystical seal got broken, when it's so blindingly obvious that the mummy is the mysterious foreigner with knowledge of Incan relics who has recently come into their lives. Gah!
It's easy to forget how groundbreaking Spike and Drusilla were to Buffy. They are arguably the first antagonist characters who are just as funny and multi-faceted as the series regulars, an eccentric double act who bring a punky Bram Stoker quality to the show and an unprecedented feeling of black comedy. Spike is badass, ruthless and terrifying, but James Marsters instills in him a lovesick goofiness that makes the character so strong. I'm of the opinion that Spike was run into the ground as the series went on, so it's refreshing to see him being used so well in season two. Drusilla, as well, is a wonderful creation. She's entirely batshit, Juliet Landau flawlessly cast and being literally the only actress who can pull off Dru's nutty quivering and schizophrenic dialogue. They're both a hoot.
I'm not sure if this was a good episode. There are certainly some interesting elements, most notably the references to a vengeful God and the questioning of God's will after the death of somebody innocent, but in general a lot of the hour is pretty contrived and, in a weird way, empty. The inclusion of Emily to the story felt a little shoe-horned in, especially since her death didn't seem to have such a heavy effect on Scully back in the Christmas Carol/Emily two-parter at the start of the season. Gillian Anderson has said that she felt it was hard to play the mourning over somebody Scully never really knew, and I'm not sure Scully's lingering 'issues' over her death felt genuine. She tries her best here, but there's something lacking in the script.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Nip/Tuck is usually at its strongest when a central idea runs through several of the various subplots piled in on one another. The season five finale is all about mortality, those hungry for it, those losing it, and those just discovering it. At its heart is Christian's impending death, an event that causes him to focus his life, gain some newfound perspective, and forget about the things that once made his heart tick. He wants to go to Europe, buy expensive suits and eat unhealthy food. He wants to marry somebody for love and compassion, not because they necessarily look pretty on his arm. As always, we understand why Christian is doing this. Liz is a different story, but the finale manages to make the most of a ridiculous storyline. At the same time, we have one last attempt to reverse Christian's terminal prognosis, real-life vampires seek eternal youth, Kimber faces up to her own personal emptiness, and Teddy's agenda is revealed. It's a doozy of a finale, and considering how awful the back-end of this season has been, it's surprisingly entertaining.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
This is an interesting episode, filled with some intriguing commentary on past lives and the seductive quality of evil. It has a lot of momentum for the first half, with some beautifully shot flashback sequences and some memorable performances from both Alyssa Milano and the guest stars. But it's also completely annoying that the episode falls apart in the last fifteen minutes. Anton and evil-Pheebs are vanquished without any trouble, no real explanation is given to why Phoebe Russell's cousins were so determined to kill her and not try and 'save her soul' instead, and I wish we had learned a little more about the lives of the Russell's in general. It's a major anti-climax.
Too much of Some Assembly Required is bogged down by a ridiculously boring Bride of Frankenstein pastiche, another episode that introduces a couple of Sunnydale High students purely there to service a horror story, and not to do a whole lot else. There are a couple of interesting elements (Daryl's loneliness; the lengths some people will go for love), but it's quickly drowned out by the slow pacing of the story itself. Chris and Eric are cyphers, Cordelia is once again stuck in 'victim' mode, and the final fight sequence is a hootenanny of body doubles and wriggling. Ugh.
Buffy has come back wrong. It's a great conceit to hang an episode on, and also pretty daring. A season premiere of a show which isn't yet a major hit, featuring its kick-ass protagonist acting like a mean bitca for nearly the whole hour? Something tells me that wouldn't fly on the CW today. In a series of wonderfully paced scenes, Buffy is depicted as bitter, angry and passive aggressive, alienating her friends, manipulating the fragility of those around her, acting out at various moments, and being generally mean to everybody that comes her way. But you get it. She died, she returns from a blissful vacation where she was suddenly normal again, and is immediately thrust back into a world full of destiny, fighting and death.
I've always been a big fan of Lili Taylor, one of the most versatile and surprising actresses of the last twenty years. Six Feet Under, The Addiction, I Shot Andy Warhol. All stunning performances. Similarly, she gives a tour-de-force performance here, avoiding the stereotypical 'tics' of playing a blind woman, and being risky enough to make her character not entirely sympathetic. Marty Glenn is a justifiably angry person, somebody cursed from birth with blindness, haunted by the murder of her mother when she was a child, and now plagued with visions in which she sees through the eyes of a murderer. The story unfolds at a steady pace, relying heavily on its Eyes of Laura Mars influence, but original enough to make it a welcome retread of some of this show's earlier standalone episodes.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
The show played Sean's denial really well here, tying in several other subplots to create a well-crafted character-driven storyline. It's interesting that there also seems to be some regret on his part about his own life. The final scene, in which we see that old college video of the three of them, sees a young Sean talking about wanting to "make a difference", something he hasn't arguably done. He's in his mid-forties, still clinging to this partnership, and living a pretty unfulfilled and empty existence. Annoying Teddy claims to be there for him, but that's not really true. This theme of regret and disappointment plays into the final season a whole lot, and we're seeing the first hints at that here.
Watching these episodes again, I'm actually starting to feel for Dan. Sure, he's as thrilling as a bowl of oatmeal, but Piper's shabby treatment of him is pretty awful. She's clearly hung up on Leo, and it's completely obnoxious to not just cut Dan loose, instead she's stringing him along and giving him the impression that he actually stands a chance. I always loved the final scene in Animal Pragmatism, with Piper's dream of running into Leo's arms in the middle of P3, but it's a little tainted now by how awful the two of them are being. Ugh. But, still, that scene was pretty wonderful. I'm usually resistant to big, sweepy romantic moments like that, but I admit that this one got me.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Prophecy Girl's greatest achievements are achieved through the gut-wrenching humanity of certain scenes. One moment in particular is the aftermath of Willow discovering the various murdered students, in which she tells Buffy how completely horrifying the whole event was. So often the various murders and deaths that occur throughout Sunnydale High are casually dismissed or hilariously poked fun at, but here we have a teenage girl whose life is suddenly filled with killings and horror -- and it's not fun, and it's not something you get used to. The image of blood smeared on the TV screen while kids' cartoons play is effective enough, but Willow's monologue just raises the bar even further.
Communism has been used as a back-drop to science fiction countless times before, most notably the 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It also forms the crux of one of my favorite ever TV episodes: Angel's Have You Now or Have You Ever Been?. Travelers is this show's first real stab at that ugly part of American history, and it's an ambitious and arguably unusual attempt. Mulder barely features, Scully is understandably absent, and most of the action is driven by somebody we've never encountered before. Weirdly, it actually works, despite looking and feeling so different to anything we've been given before.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
One of the biggest problems that plague soap operas is character motivation. Since so many soap operas are driven by the situation rather than the character, characters frequently have their personalities altered to service a storyline, the writers working around the character itself to fit the needs of an absurdist plot they've created. Nip/Tuck fell victim to this a lot, and it's something that has been greatly affecting this season, most notably the Christian and Liz relationship. This episode sees Christian proposing to Liz after his cancer is diagnosed as terminal, a proposal that Liz accepts. Now, I understand why the show would want to explore their long-running love/hate relationship. What I can't understand is Liz's motivation for going through with this. There's a huge difference between loving and supporting somebody through their final days and actually marrying them. It just feels ridiculous.
I've mentioned it several times before, but for this episode I once again need to reiterate that logic was never Charmed's strong suit. Nevertheless, I never really understood why Leo and the Elders wouldn't step in when one of the sisters was endangered. In Awakened, Piper lies dying on a hospital bed, and reference is made to Leo not even being the Charmed Ones' Whitelighter anymore. When did this happen? I thought his powers were just taken away? Or am I blanking? Regardless, the sisters are seemingly without any kind of protection at this point, leaving them open to fatal attack. It just seems all so reckless and ridiculous. Won't somebody think of the [Charmed Ones]!!??
One of the numerous wonderful moments in Out of Mind, Out of Sight is the classroom sequence where Cordelia explains her world-view: how everybody thinks their own problems are somehow more important than everybody else's, and how instead of whining about it, you should probably just get over it. And while you can bring up Cordelia's hilarious self-involvement over the course of her tenure in the Buffyverse, little of the vacuous and self-centered qualities to her personality are necessarily the 'real her'. She can be just as lonely and isolated as everybody else, yet why bother letting those emotions become your entire being? You can be surrounded by people and still be isolated. Like she says, "It beats being alone all by yourself".
It's pretty much a miracle that The Red and the Black, while still featuring several dozen subplots of varying levels of messy complication, isn't a complete disaster. Most of the elements present are now pretty familiar to conspiracy episodes. We have Mulder and Scully surveying a military base, the Syndicate falling apart while yelling at each other in gorgeous dining rooms, Krycek beating the crap out of people or alternatively getting the crap between out of him. It's all been done before, with varying levels of success. However, there are also some undeniably wonderful moments scattered throughout the script, something that surprised me. I always find it hard to write about the conspiracy episodes because they're so often written as huge dumps of information, but I actually liked this hour for the most part.