Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Others: The Ones That Lie in Wait (1.7)

This was the episode that made me fall for this show. Before I even began re-watching the season, this was the episode that had stuck with me the longest, right down to specific scenes that gave me chills years ago. The Ones That Lie in Wait is an uncomfortable ghost story grounded in the simple conceit of a demonic presence stalking the Others one-by-one over the course of a stormy night. It features real character-driven horror as well as a remarkably sinister guest performance from Kristen Cloke, who creates one of the most effective antagonists I've ever seen in genre television.

The X-Files: Orison (7.7)

This is another episode about spiritual faith and the sometimes blurry distinction between good and evil. It marks the return of Donnie Pfaster, one of the squickier X-Files antagonists, and on that front the episode is fine if a little too familiar to entirely work. What makes Orison atypical to regular 'Scully gets terrorized' hours is the insight into spirituality and the acts men commit in response to what they believe is God's will. It's a theme present in Reverend Orison's mission to exterminate incarcerated felons, and it's also in the final coda with Scully. Both are presented powerfully, and raise the bar for what could have been a pretty mundane episode.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Charmed: Sand Francisco Dreamin' (5.14)

This feels like another retread, made even more glaring since the show did 'secret fears' just seven episodes ago. Sand Francisco Dreamin' has a strong premise, the idea of demons hunting down sandmen and the resulting anger created due to the absence of dreams, but it soon falls into familiar trappings: Charmed coasting once again, relying on increasingly stale conceits like sitcom power swaps and one-note demons instead of pursuing interesting new material.

Charmed: House Call (5.13)

You can understand why the writers wanted to do a bunch of comedy episodes after a run of heavy storytelling (for Charmed, anyway) with Cole's machinations and his eventual demise, but this is the point of the series where 'comedic' gets unfortunately confused with 'dumb'. House Call is a pretty terrible episode, the sisters acting insufferably annoying, the special effects worse than ever, and the guest stars perfecting the art of scenery-chewing. Kill me now.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Angel: The Thin Dead Line (2.14)

I always feel like zombies help raise the bar of the episode they're featured in, even episodes that people seem to violently dislike. The Thin Dead Line, for example, is considered one of the weaker season two stories, just like Dead Man's Party garnered almost universal criticism during Buffy's third year. Both episodes feature some awesomely well-choreographed zombie carnage towards the back end of the script, the main cast and a bunch of extras barricading themselves in-doors while the undead launch a full-blown attack. It's exciting and crazy fun. And unlike Dead Man's Party, I actually liked the principal 'bones' of this story. It has some interesting ideas and features strong use of the core cast, which is always great.

Buffy: Crush (5.14)

Spike has had some incredible character work this season. Here we see that he's not totally removed from the bumbling William of Fool for Love, still manipulated and frustrated by the women around him. You've got to feel for the guy. No matter how often he's proved his morality and nobleness, no matter his offer to kill Drusilla, he's still rejected. Spike is stuck in an obvious predicament. He's grown too much as a person to simply return to his blood-lust, while his relationship with Dru is too fractured by her leaving him and the fact that she's... evil. Then there's Buffy, somebody he obviously has a connection with, yet somebody who insists that nothing could ever come of it from her end. It's a really absorbing story, and you have to ask why Buffy is so angry and disgusted over Spike's feelings. She sure is protesting a lot...

Angel: Happy Anniversary (2.13)

There's a great moment towards the end of Happy Anniversary in which Lorne criticizes Angel for losing track of his mission, telling him that his recent decision to cut ties and embark on a road of vengeance is the type of thing reserved for lesser beings, not somebody as noble and heroic as he normally is. It's the strongest representation of what's occurred over the last couple of episodes, Angel for the first time stating his reasoning for firing his employees and attacking back at Wolfram & Hart. He hates those guys, his friends were getting in his way, and he's lost interest in pursuing redemption, considering it an impossible outcome.

Buffy: Blood Ties (5.13)

The forward momentum building from last week continues here, with the truth about the Key finally reaching the ears of the Scoobies and eventually Dawn herself. There are some strong components here, but too many acts of annoyance derailed my enjoyment of the episode as a whole. Crucially, the actress at the heart of the Key storyline just blows. Blood Ties is the debut of Michelle Trachtenberg's shrieky banshee acting ('get out... Get Out... Get Out!!!' is the audio equivalent of nails through my eyeballs), and while the material she's given here would obviously be challenging for any fourteen year-old actor, Trachtenberg bugs.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Others: Souls on Board (1.6)

I've always thought planes are a great location for horror movies, since you're naturally confined into this tiny bubble, surrounded by people you don't know, and have no means of escape. It's just a cool environment for creating fear among a group of characters, and it's no real surprise that The Others sets an episode almost entirely on board one. Being this show, spookiness naturally occurs, and while most of the jump moments aren't particularly groundbreaking, there's an energy to the hour that proves effective.

The X-Files: The Goldberg Variation (7.6)

Rube Goldberg's fascinating Mouse Trap machines provide the groundwork for this episode, all about cause and effect and how the cosmos engineers seemingly random events to conspire at just the right time. It's a cute standalone hour and another X-File that shines a light on a kind of ordinary sadsack character, this time Willie Garson's lovably cursed apartment super who happens to have the greatest luck in the world.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

American Horror Story: Afterbirth (1.12)

This was a curious finale. Though I guess the episode title hinted that this was more about the calm after the storm than anything too apocalyptic. I understand that Afterbirth was thrown together under a tight schedule, the producers cutting a planned thirteenth episode and instead making this one a ninety-minute show, and it did sort of look like it. The script had an odd structure, bouncing from flashback sequences to the sudden demise of a major character, straight into Beetlejuice hijinks and a flash-forward to three years later. There were some wonderful moments, of course, but certain stories fell a little flat after a year of so much intense foreboding.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Charmed: Centennial Charmed (5.12)

This was absolutely the right time to kill Cole. In actuality, he probably should have been written out in Long Live the Queen, but his scheme here feels a lot more epic than the one he executed in season four. The problem raised is that this is the third time Cole has been vanquished, and it's lost a lot of its power by now. Similarly, his execution wasn't the grand spectacle it probably should have been for such a strong character. It was your ordinary tried-and-tested vanquish, rendered even more underwhelming with Piper splayed out across the floor during his demise. Meh.

Charmed: The Importance of Being Phoebe (5.11)

This marked another strong use of Cole, even if his motives are a little muddled at this point. Is he just enjoying being evil -- or does he still want to make the sisters kill him? Is he still pursuing Phoebe -- or does he just want to kill her? He's become a confusing character, but as a standalone piece, The Importance of Being Phoebe has an interesting concept, with Cole wrapping the sisters up in various legal problems in an attempt to seize control of the Manor and therefore the Nexus. The story rapidly falls apart as the episode goes on, but at least it's something different.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Angel: Blood Money (2.12)

I'm liking this new Angel. He's cold, ruthless and has a darkly humorous streak. It's difficult to completely understand what he's doing, especially since he's charitable and compassionate at the very end of this episode, but I'm assuming he needs to be a lone wolf right now, at least until he's successfully taken out his enemies. What Blood Money does is throw a spanner in the works in that final Wolfram & Hart scene, with the news that the firm wants to do a lot more with him than simply kill him. It's a lot tougher to destroy something that actually needs you around.

Buffy: Checkpoint (5.12)

Buffy's grand speeches eventually lost all power towards the end of the series, but here's one which proves ridiculously effective. The last act of Checkpoint beautifully re-structures the series, giving Buffy the confidence and drive that she had lost in the last couple of weeks. It's her big acknowledgment of her own power, and the fact that she calls the shots around here. Regardless of Glory's strength or the Council's authoritative stance, Buffy's the real ringleader. Obviously, it's kind of undermined by the revelation that Glory is a big ol' stinkin' God, but the principal rings true.

Angel: Redefinition (2.11)

Redefinition juggles a lot of balls in the air, working as something of a new pilot. At least for the second half of this season. While the ensemble felt a little scattered over the course of the last couple of episodes, each player gets some intriguing material to work with here, and they're all sent down new roads which are riddled with possibilities. It's a sign of a show that's having fun exploring the unexpected. This entire season has played around with what we think we know about the characters and their 'roles' in the Angel mythology, and Redefinition continues that theme in a really strong way.

Buffy: Triangle (5.11)

Being a Jane Espenson script, Triangle is by no means boring. There are some really wonderful lines of dialogue ("The land of the trolls, he'll like it there -- full of trolls"), great sight gags (the Buffy mannequin; the hammer falling through the glass counter at the end) and the inherent nuttiness of a big troll asking for some babies to eat. But, at the end of the day, it's still an episode about a troll smashing shit up. And man does Willow bug...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Others: Unnamed (1.5)

This was originally the second episode aired, and it's disappointing that the first post-pilot hour was something so conventional. Unnamed begins strong, with a striking series of opening scenes concerning a mother and her lost child, and spirits that are still lingering within her home. There's also some likely-polarizing conflict between the woman and Satori, and you can't help but side with the grieving mother over the intrusive medium trying to get through to her. But Unnamed quickly devolves into something a little too procedural to totally work, thrusting Marian center stage and forcing her to weep in an abandoned warehouse for the last twenty minutes of the episode.

The X-Files: Rush (7.5)

Super-speed, like flying, always looks pretty terrible on film, regardless of how big the budget is. If there's one thing I should praise this episode for, it's how the show depicts the super-speeding teens at the center of the story. We don't get a whole lot of CGI gimmickry, instead we see the events occur in what we consider real time, so a gun suddenly vanishes, or chairs are thrown seemingly out of nowhere. I also loved the jittery stop-motion glimpsed when Tony stepped into the beam of light. Rush is pretty unremarkable, but the powers seen here are beautifully realized.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

American Horror Story: Birth (1.11)

Labor is hard enough already. You're entirely exposed, surrounded by masked strangers, you're bleeding, you're experiencing pain like you've never felt before, and someone's literally coming out of you. With all that in mind, Vivien had it rough tonight. Strapped to a table and flanked by bloody ghosts and Dr. Frankenstein, in a room bathed in red light with decor that can only be described as 'cult chic'. She loses a baby, has the other immediately taken away by a crazed wingnut and, oh, then goes on to bleed out and die. I think we can all agree that she's had one horrible six months.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Charmed: Y Tu Mummy También (5.10)

Can Alyssa Milano put on some fucking clothes? Yeesh! I don't need to see her saline bags every other week, and her ridiculous mummy dance half-way through this episode was the ugliest thing that's appeared on this show since the evening gown she wore in Happily Ever After. Y Tu Mummy También, as an episode, is a little strange. It features a bunch of concepts that, while tired, are pretty reliable when it comes to trashy fun. Possessed sisters? Check. Piper saving the day? Check. Some Cole evilness. Check. But the hour feels hollow and overlong, a last-minute Sophie's Choice drama kind of redundant and a Darryl subplot that nobody asked for.

Charmed: Sam I Am (5.9)

"I can't orgasm", "I want to quit my job", "I'm a failure because I quit my job", "Which random person should I sleep with this week?" Considering the pedigree of annoying subplots Paige has been saddled with this season, it's surprising to see the writers exploring one element of her character that has long remained untapped. Sam I Am attempts to fill in some gaps in Paige's history, reuniting her with her long-lost father and helping her acknowledge some of her so-called 'abandonment issues'. It's an admirable attempt to explore a character's personality, even more so because the characterization on Charmed has been pretty one-note of late.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Angel: Reunion (2.10)

There seems to have been a concerted effort this season to explore the darker fringes of Angel's mindset, blurring the line between Angel as we know him now and the Angelus of the past. So much greatness occurs in Reunion, but the shot that truly sticks with you long after the hour wraps is that moment when he locks the door on Wolfram & Hart, allowing them to be killed by Darla and Dru. It's a sucker punch scene, thrusting the series into that gray area where the hero of the show does something that is morally so wrong yet something that on a personal level feels right. The lawyers in that room are all guilty of creating death and destruction without doing the dirty work themselves, and you don't care if they live or die. But allowing them to be horrifically murdered is just too much, right? It's a really strong moral dilemma and raises the bar for the entire show.

Buffy: Into the Woods (5.10)

As much as I'm happy Riley is finally gone, I never understood any of his character development this season. I get his disappointment that Buffy isn't confiding in him anymore, but the whole vamp-ho suckage thing and his insistence that Buffy's been too self-involved lately are both irrational and crazy. The latter reflects really badly on him, considering Joyce has been sick and she's just encountered an uber-powerful bad girl who easily kicks her ass in combat every time they meet. The former felt too rushed and contrived. I like the concept, considering Riley was at one point used for his power by Maggie Walsh and Adam, but it wasn't given enough time to develop into anything truly affecting.

Angel: The Trial (2.9)

The Trial falters a little because it's clearly an episode which only exists to set the scene for the real action occurring over the next couple of weeks. There are obviously some interesting character moments spread throughout the story, but the bones of the episode are taken up with the annoyingly rote 'trial' sequences. There isn't a whole lot to that element of the script, and even Julie Benz struggles to make some of her dialogue work.

Buffy: Listening to Fear (5.9)

This was another misfire. It has some interesting ideas, but there's a lot of stupidity on offer here. The show is feeling awful fragmented at this point, too. We have the Summers medical drama. Spike makes cameos and crushes on Buffy. Riley gets bitten a lot. And the other Scoobies are in research-and-pursue-demon mode. I originally adored Buffy's fifth season, but the story arcs recently haven't totally worked for me. There are some strong concepts, but it doesn't feel like the show is running with them just yet.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Others: 1112 (1.4)

So far The Others has been clever with its use of tone. Last week was a chaotic monster episode full of gore, FX gargoyles and eyeballs. This week we have an entirely human-driven episode all about the afterlife and emotions crossing over from the great beyond. With that in mind, it's probably one of my least favorite from the season, if only because so much of the script veers perilously close to melodrama and corn. But it's an interesting experiment, radically different to regular Morgan/ Wong work and given real life by the two guest stars at the heart of the episode.

The X-Files: Millennium (7.4)

Millennium is a show that I own on DVD but have never gotten around to watching. I always seem to get to around the middle of its first season and then never tune into again, which is annoying. So my memory of the series involves a lot of standalone mysteries about squicky serial killers and the charismatic enigma investigating them. Which, I believe, is not at all what the show would eventually become, some kind of biblical end-of-the-world masterpiece. Or something. With that in mind, I'm not the greatest person to critique whether or not Frank Black has a great send-off here, or if his actions in this episode really reflect the same person his own show spent so long developing.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

American Horror Story: Smoldering Children (1.10)

While this felt like the end for Larry, I loved the shades given to his relationship with Constance. Was there ever any love there? They made a fascinating pair, with so much hostility towards each other, crossed with Larry's passive willingness to do whatever Constance wanted. At the same time, both seemed to blame the other for their current predicaments. When speaking to his wife, Larry spoke of Constance as the party who tore their marriage apart; while later Constance seemed to only see Larry as the murderer who killed her precious Beau. The episode ended with Larry given something of a new perspective on things, his wife correcting that it was he who threw a spanner in the works of their marriage, and that he should probably be aware of it. Larry, unfortunately, was always weak, and Constance simply preyed on it.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Charmed: A Witch in Time (5.8)

I've always loved stories where a character secretly goes back in time to avert some kind of catastrophe, and A Witch in Time does the surprising thing by having Piper be the one who saves the day, and not the character the rest of the episode is centered around. This episode is all about cause and effect, and revisits the concept of being unable to prevent death. The show explored the same idea in season three's intriguing Death Takes a Halliwell, and this is just as good. Phoebe blindly tries to protect a man who is unfortunately fated to die, and the script neatly folds in themes of time travel and Cole's deep-seated love for his ex-wife to create something surprisingly ambitious.

Charmed: Sympathy for the Demon (5.7)

I mentioned it last review, but I'm not enjoying Phoebe's characterization of late. It feels like ever since she got her job at the paper, she's been almost entirely insufferable. She continues to be awful here, too, sniping at Paige for inadvertently summoning Barbas, and then whining that Barbas' arrival had interrupted her date with Ken Marino. She's truly becoming the most hateful hag around. What is her problem? There used to be something so sympathetic about Phoebe, somebody still trying to find their place in the world, but she's become colder and more obnoxious as the years have passed. It's really horrible to watch unfold.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Angel: The Shroud of Rahmon (2.8)

In a lot of ways this is a filler episode. But similarly to something like Untouched, it's an energetic and fun distraction which ends up being so much better than it easily could have been. It takes two standard plot devices and renders them sort of fresh and amusing. The museum heist is fun and well-written, with the motley crew of vamps and demons at each other's throats constantly and being kind of dumb while lugging around a doom-leaden sarcophagus. At the same time, the cast get to act all squicky when they're all possessed by the Rahmon goo, which leads to a couple of funny moments.

Buffy: Shadow (5.8)

We've reached the moment when Buffy becomes a hell of a lot more soapy. Season five has a couple of self-contained stories, but it mostly has a whole bunch of arcs which blur through several different episodes. Shadow is kind of the nadir of that type this year, with some interesting moments related to various story arcs currently at work, but an A-plot which is surprisingly weak. Ordinarily I'd like an episode which ends with Buffy pummeling a rubber snake, but somehow this fell flat for me.

Angel: Darla (2.7)

One of the most interesting angles to this episode is the implication that Angel and Darla's entire relationship has been founded on a misunderstanding. Darla believes that by siring Angel she freed him from a terrible existence, while Angel insists that she did nothing but 'damn' him. At its heart, vampirism (is that even a word?) equals two vastly different things to the two of them. Darla uses her pre-vamp days as an example of how terrible mortal life is, while Angel can only acknowledge the pain and misery being a vampire has brought him and others. It's a wonderful contrast, made even stronger by Darla's reaction to her soul.

Buffy: Fool for Love (5.7)

Buffy and Spike, from day one, have always had something. He's been infatuated with her for sure, and there's been that similar vibe from Buffy, protesting that she's only distracted by him because of his evilness. At the same time, Spike has shown (even pre-chip) a fondness for her. Remember their team-up in the season two finale? It's a relationship that feels wrong and dirty, yet feels right at the same time. One of the most interesting elements this episode is Spike's belief that Buffy, as a slayer, is fascinated by death. It's something in her nature, and it folds into her love for Angel, her sacred duty, and her chemistry with Spike. This season so far has been all about death, and the everyday violence Buffy is part of and how it affects her on a psychological level.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Others: Eyes (1.3)

One of the many things that's making The Others so different and interesting as a show is that so much of each episode is taken up by the titular ensemble smuggling their way into the lives of people in need. Unlike the protagonists of The X-Files, this show's spiritual cousin of sorts, the Others have no official reason for getting involved with victims of hauntings or whatever, and have to go out of their way to convince folks of their own helpfulness. It's another example of this show being a little different to anything else around, and Eyes proved that sometimes people, no matter how spooked they may be, just aren't open to a bunch of wacky psychics telling them how to fix things.

The X-Files: Hungry (7.3)

The conventions of The X-Files have now become so familiar that it's not surprising the writers have been experimenting with different modes of storytelling of late. Hungry follows the lead of other recent experiments like Field Trip, Bad Blood and Milagro in exploring the different perspectives of various characters. What makes this episode even more striking is that it's told entirely from the perspective of a guest star, Rob Roberts being a cripplingly mundane burger joint employee who lives in a curiously empty apartment, has few friends, and unfortunately has to eat folks' brains to survive.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

American Horror Story: Spooky Little Girl (1.9)

This episode suffered from similar problems to the ones that affected my enjoyment of Piggy Piggy a couple of weeks back, in that there were a whole bunch of stories here that felt like delaying tactics rather than something organic. It was most noticeable with Vivien's removal from most of the episode, as well as Tate and Violet being entirely absent. But that's a familiar problem with serialized dramas, even the shorter ones on cable, and sometimes things need to be staggered a little. It's not particularly rewarding for the viewer, but it's understandable from a writer's perspective.