Category Archives: TV

Mark’s 10 Favourite Things From 2014

This year has probably been my worst so far for keeping a consistent blogging presence, so it seems both efficient and incredibly cheap for me to make a summary post of a year in which I didn’t share all that much you, dear reader.

I’m not doing Top 10 lists for all the forms of media I consumed (that seems a little indulgent, though I’ll likely at least do one for my favourite movies on Letterboxd, which you’ll find somewhere around here), but I have compiled a year-end list that encompasses all of the things I enjoyed, raved about or cried most at during 2014.

[Some of them may not have strictly been released in 2014, but just assume I didn’t know about them until this year, okay?]

Without further ado, and in the hopes that the following will entertain or illuminate in some measure, I end as I always do: wondering whether or not I crammed enough good stuff into the past twelve months (and whether or not it was worth avoiding all the work I ought to have been doing).

In no particular order, these are my highlights of 2014:

10. The Wolf of Wall Street

Yes, it counts because I’m British, dammit: Martin Scorsese’s depraved and joyous ode to New York’s degenerate stockbrokers was released on the 17th January in the UK. In the spirit of the rule-bending nature of Scorsese’s most refreshingly vulgar and energetic movie in at least a decade, I’ve never paid to see The Wolf of Wall Street.

9. Trees

Trees by Warren Ellis

Trees by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

My favourite new comic of 2014 comes, somewhat predictably, from my favourite comics writer (Warren Ellis) in a year when he came back to the graphic medium – after a sojourn in literary and audio/visual realms – with a trio of equally acclaimed but incredibly different books: Moon KnightSupreme: Blue Rose and Trees.

The latter trumps the other two, for me, because of the ambitious scope of its fascinating sci-fi story: One day, alien structures landed all over the world. Ten years later they haven’t budged, and humanity has to deal with that. The plots of the first arc span many continents, races and attitudes towards the trees and other humans, and as the final issue of the year lands on New Year’s Eve I can’t wait to see how Ellis (and his partner in crime, Jason Howard, who can flit from bustling Chinese street scenes to desolate wintry landscapes in the turn of a page without ever seeming like he’s struggling) sets the stage for next year’s stories. Read it if you aren’t already.

8. Serial

Serial

If you know me personally and we’ve ever had a conversation about podcasts then I’ve probably raved to you about how great This American Life is. If you don’t know me personally (or you do and I just haven’t mentioned it to you) then imagine that we’ve had that conversation. And start listening to the silky tones of Ira Glass immediately.

Anyway, Serial took the world – or Twitter, at least – by storm when it started its first season three months ago, and having the backing of This American Life surely contributed in no small part to that popularity. The story host/producer Sarah Koenig tells is, as you might have gathered from the title, episodic in nature and entirely gripping from start to finish. It’s a real-life mystery that’s 15 years old and full of humanity and emotion and tragedy and I pretty much started crying on a bus like a crazy person when I finished the last episode. I don’t really want to ruin it for you so I think you should just go and check it out now. It’s truly an immersive story and endlessly fascinating, and I consider both of those things to be of enormous value.

Listen to it here.

7. HhhH

HhhH by Laurent Binet

HhhH by Laurent Binet

 

This is the first of several items on this list which were actually released way before 2014. I read HhhH this year, however, so my conscience is clear.

Put simply, HhhH is the best piece of historical fiction I’ve ever read. (That means so very little when you know how little historical fiction I’ve actually read.)

Put less simply, Laurent Binet’s first book doesn’t contain a trace of fiction in it (except the fabrications and embellishment that he willingly admits to committing) and is one of the most honest and compelling explorations of someone’s fascination with an unbelievably true story since…well, I would say Serial but I guess that would be kind of anachronistic.

HhhH is about the assassination of The Butcher of Prague, Reinhard Heydrich, by two Czechoslovakian parachutists in 1942. It’s also about the author’s struggle to tell the story with all of the facts intact, even when his writerly instincts pull the story in other directions. The part I always sell the book with to other people is the passage in which Binet compares his collapsing relationship with his girlfriend to the devastation he imagines a Russian general must have felt upon losing a crucial battle with Poland in 1919.

Which I suppose might say a lot about me. Anyway, it was probably the best book I read this year, and I read a lot of great books in 2014.

6. Europe

Okay, that’s kind of a big thing to have as one point, I guess, but it’s my list and I’ll do what I like with it.

I did some travelling on the mainland over 10 days in the summer – Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland, not necessarily in that order – and it was illuminating in a great many ways, not least of which being the fact that I’d never actually travelled east of the English Channel before. The details of HhhH were in my head as I walked through war museums in Berlin and Amsterdam and coloured in the cold statistics and stark photographs I saw. I revelled in the anonymity being in a foreign land with a million other tourists gave me, although I wasn’t alone in my travels.

As with any worthwhile trip, not everything that happened in my time abroad was positive. I left the U.K. in a relationship with the person I was sat next to on the plane and returned as a single man – but still sat next to that same person. Now isn’t the time to go into such matters, but let’s just say that what happened in Luxembourg was for the best. And that thing I said about illumination still applies here.

5. The Leftovers

The most depressing, emotionally devastating TV show of the year came courtesy of HBO and the man who many blamed for the follies of some of the most questionable blockbusters in recent years: Damon Lindelof. The screenwriter of Star Trek: Into DarknessPrometheus and the co-creator of Lost, Lindelof looked to be struggling to achieve anything approaching a coherent creative goal until The Leftovers hit my screen with a gut-punch I won’t soon forget.

Taking the current zeigeist of rapture/end-of-the-world scenarios and twisting the premise to focus not on where the ‘saved’ people have gone but where those left behind can possibly go now, the series based on Tom Perotta’s book of the same name got its hooks into me early with its mix of stomach-wrenching character drama, beautiful camerawork and stellar soundtrack and left me howling with despair at season’s end. Not just for the series’ cast and their respective parades of misery (Christopher Ecclestone’s embattled preacher and Carrie Coon’s truly tragic Nora Durst are particular standouts), but also because I was going to have to wait nearly a year to find out what happens next.

Not that there’s all that much of a cliffhanger, mind; Lindelof seems to have gotten that bad habit out of his system, at least for now, and The Leftovers’ first season ends in a narratively satisfying manner. I just want to see all the characters again so I can hug them all…even though I know it wouldn’t make anything better.

4. Inside Llewyn Davis

The best-soundtracked movie of 2014, and in a year when Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross scored one.

Inside Llewyn Davis is probably my favourite movie of the year, for more reasons than just the music – though that’s a huge, inextricable part of it. The titular musician is a tragic, unsympathetic character who I still ended up rooting for, his journey an absurd and occasionally mythic one, his friends like ghosts he’s all but forgotten the moment he slips out of their lives once more. And the songs themselves? Like all good musicals, the numbers tell us everything that Llewyn won’t tell anyone in person, which makes his public engagements all the more heartbreaking when you really actually listen.

Oh, and it’s hilarious from beginning to end. But it’s a Coen Brothers movie, so you already knew that.

3. Young Avengers/The Wicked + The Divine

Young Avengers

Gillen and McKelvie went from strength to strength this year, and boy do they know it. For those out of the comics loop, writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie ended a universally-praised run on Marvel’s Young Avengers at the beginning of the year, tying up what Gillen had referred to as his defining statement on teenagers. We laughed, we cried, we cooed at McKelvie’s uncanny ability to turn floorplan layouts into slick action scenes and we mourned the closure of one of Marvel’s freshest books in recent memory.

A couple of months down the line the duo returned with a brand new comic about a pantheon of gods reincarnating once every 90 years and the 17-year old girl who gets mixed up with them. So they’re not quite done with teenagers yet, although The Wicked + The Divine certainly tackles heavier themes than Young Avengers (which was itself by no means angst-free).

The Wicked + The Divine

Anyway, people went banana-balls crazy for WicDiv and it’s not hard to see why: not only are McKelvie’s fashions sharper and his subjects more beautiful and nuanced than ever, but the story itself digs into those most intertwined of subjects: fame and death. Though that’s perhaps putting it a bit glibly, those are the twin focuses of the comic – how people react to fame (both having it and wanting it) and what it costs them. Oh, and the gods are basically rock stars, including a Lucifer who’s basically a female David Bowie. That part’s fairly important.

And having it told from the perspective of another teenager is a great excuse for Kieron Gillen to be overly verbose and mess around with captions in the way that only Kieron Gillen can get away with. The talented bastard.

If any of that sounds interesting to you, I’d recommend picking up the first trade, The Faust Act, which collects the first five issues. It just came out so you’ve time to catch up before the second arc kicks into high gear.

[Sidenote: I was going to fill half of this item with spite directed at the above creators for not coming through on their long-awaited third volume of Phonogram this year, but they’ve given us so much brilliant new stuff that it seems ridiculous to punish them for not retreading the old. Still: the bastards.]

2. Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”

Yeah, I don’t know how I’d never heard this before. I listened to the first couple of tracks on Spotify, then bought the album, then didn’t take it out of my CD player for three weeks.

Yes, I still have a CD player. I don’t know what to say about The Suburbs, really – I’ve never been good at writing about music, much like I’ve never been good at playing it – except that listening to the album feels like you’re inhabiting a world that Arcade Fire have created in its entirety, complete with broken swings, childish dares and 20th-century pipe dreams. It’s a record of adolescence in all its naive beauty and contradictions. And I think that’s kind of special.

Special enough, I guess, to include a 2010 album on a ‘best of 2014’ list. What can I say? I’m an iconoclast.

[And yes, I am aware that Reflektor came out last year. I’ve heard the title song, but it’s likely to be 2017 before I give the whole thing a whirl. I’ll probably still have to put it on my CD player.]

1. Boyhood

What better way to segue from The Suburbs, a collection of childhood stories and hopes than Boyhood, a coming-of-age story in which we get to see the lead character’s hopes shift and fade (or become a reality) that was being filmed over the entire length of Arcade Fire’s entire career so far? I’m sure you can come up with dozens of better ways, but I didn’t exactly plan this far so I’m happy with what I’ve got.

Richard Linklater is a master chronicler of changes in people over time, and that’s no more apparent (in very different ways) in his Before trilogy and Boyhood. The titular young man, Mason, is shown growing up over 12 years in real time, with some characters staying firmly rooted in his life and others drifting in and out of view, as happens in real life. I connected with the story, characters and emotion of the film in a profound way, and I grew up in decidedly different circumstances (well, if you ignore the fact that both Mason and myself are white, male millennials with artistic leanings), which I believe is a testament to the universality of Linklater’s masterwork. Again, I cried.

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Fargo 2: Die Farger

Can we all stop pretending this Fargo series is anything but a utterly pointless, interminably extended and bluntly idiotic rehashing of a film that was perfect in its isolation, please?

fargo

I don’t mean to moan (I do) but everything about it is so forced and contrived that I can only imagine the Coens put their names on the thing because they were so damn amused by the fact that someone was doing a bad impression of them they found its existence just too amusingly absurd that they just had to let this lifeless turd slide out into the world.

Seriously. There’s nothing fresh or sincere (which the original movie, despite being a deliciously black comedy, most certainly is) about the thing, and I get the feeling most are giving it a pass because it reminds them of something else they really like, but a nostalgia high can only get you so far.

Oh, and it really needs to be said that Martin Freeman is the most overrated comic actor of his generation. It’s not a performance; it’s overzealous puppetry.

Okay. Rant over.

Sorry about that.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: “Fzzt”

Written by Paul Zbyszewski | Directed by Vincent Misiano | Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

simmons

After five decidedly hit-and-miss episodes and a week off the air, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has come back with “F.Z.Z.T.”, possibly the strongest and definitely the most emotionally engaging entry to the series so far, though reminders of the limitations of bringing the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the small screen are still never far away , as evidenced in this week’s (relatively few) action sequences.

The central mystery of the episode has Coulson and his team trying to puzzle out how a camp leader and firefighter ended up dead and floating six feet off the ground.

The detective work from the agents is fairly rote and it’s quickly discovered that the culprit is not a murderer targeting members of a fireman team who were in New York during the Chitauri invasion in Avengers but a virus contracted by the men when they cleaned a recovered alien helmet (though that doesn’t stop us being fed a brief, all but negligible red herring about a serial killer). But that’s not a big deal as the real story of “F.Z.Z.T.” lies in Fitz/Simmons’ relationship and Coulson’s difficulty with his body post-Avengers; both welcome changes from the ongoing angst-ridden saga of Skye and constant non-teases of Melinda May’s past, though both crop up fleetingly.

The virus in question is actually pretty novel: making itself known to the victim through a buzzing only they can hear, they begin involuntarily sweating and making objects around them float before giving off a wide electromagnetic pulse that also inconveniently kills them. It’s almost a cliche in genre and action-based television – giving the ensemble an enemy that they can neither hit (as Ward laments later on) or defuse to solve the problem – but it’s for pretty good reason as those episodes tend to focus on characterisation and emotion rather than the more fleeting kick-punching of other installments.

About halfway through the episode Simmons shows symptoms of having the virus (contracted when she received a static shock from the first body) and the firemen are pretty swiftly forgotten, although Coulson’s palpable frustration at not having been able to save the last victim goes a long way towards reminding us that Agents really is trying to be a show about the people on the ground of the Marvel U, even if it does spend most of its time 30,000 feet above sea level.

This is where the episode kicks in, and there’s really not that much to say about it other than that Elizabeth Henstridge (Simmons) really does a tremendous job of stepping up to a central role after having been confined to technobabble and awkward nerdery for the bulk of the series so far. She and Fitz (Ian de Caestecker) are the emotional core of “F.Z.Z.T.”, and maybe even the whole show, because – as we learn through their variously panicked and heated discussions in and around Simmons’ quarantine area/lab – they’re the least qualified people to be on this team, just like us. Sure, they have specialist knowledge and are invaluable assets to Coulson and the rest, but they didn’t pass the field exams and are pretty sure that, although the experiences they’re having are once in a lifetime opportunities, that’s because people usually die from them and they’re ill-equipped to deal with that very concept, let alone the reality. Anyone who’s ever felt out of their depth can relate to that, and Fitz/Simmons’ constant reality checks ground us much more than Skye’s flippant attitude and one-liners.

If anything, this is probably the most ‘Joss Whedon’ episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far, possibly more by legacy than active involvement on his part. It’s been said many times by Buffy the Vampire Slayer writers that they discovered early on the best way to worry viewers or grab their attention was to put Willow in danger – she wasn’t a fighter, she was a nerd, and thus more inherently vulnerable, like many of that show’s viewers felt as a teenager. The parallels between Alyson Hannigan’s character (at least in the first few seasons) and Simmons are pretty obvious: both are tech-savvy, bright and enthusiastic but not on their social A-game. Judging by how big a following Buffy (and, in particular, Willow) developed, I’m taking this as a positive sign for S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s future.

But there’s another Whedon show – an exact episode, even – that’s had an even clearer influence on this episode: “A Hole in the World” from Angel‘s fifth season, in which Fred (that series’ heart and resident nerd – see a pattern emerging?) is exposed to an ancient disease that eventually hollows her out and replaces her with a god-like being, with no semblance of Fred present other than her appearance.

Clearly there’s a difference in context between the two episodes (“A Hole in the World” takes place seven episodes before the end of the series, while “F.Z.Z.T.” is too new an entry to have the same emotional heft or backstory), but the similarities are striking, especially in the other characters’ reactions to Simmons’ plight Most are upset and powerless to help, especially the group’s leader (Coulson/Angel), but the other nerd in the group with the strongest personal connection to the infected (Fitz/Wesley) does everything in his power to help, even when the person he’s helping has already resigned herself to her fate.

The crucial difference, however, is how it all ends.

Like Fred, Simmons gives up on finding a cure after her last lab rat is left floating in its cage, knocks out Fitz with a fire extinguisher (somewhat brutally for a woman of science, I thought) and throws herself from the plane’s hangar so that she doesn’t take everyone else with her when she blows. If only she’d waited for ten more seconds; then she would have seen that the rat was just knocked unconscious & the anti-serum worked.

Fitz makes a grand gesture in attempting to follow Simmons and save her life in mid-air, but the more capable (and likely pretty bored) Ward snatches the parachute away from him and does the honours pretty dependably in a slightly iffy – if brief – green-screen freefalling sequence.

So Simmons lives, much to the surprise of cynical television critics who expect characters in Whedon’s shows to be picked off fairly rapidly, and it really couldn’t have ended any other way; sure, there’s shock value to be had in killing off a character early in a series’ run (Revolution), but it rarely ever pays off because we hadn’t been given enough reason to care about them in the first place (Revolution).

Granted, I already care about Simmons enough that her death would matter to me, but we’ll let that slide on account of decent character work.

After the main events, we’re given little hints at where Agents might be heading next – Coulson stands up for himself and his team in front of Item 47‘s Agent Blake (Titus Welliver), much to the latter’s surprise, which suggests that they might be facing off against the head office at some point…which is another Whedon trope (Angel S5, Dollhouse). Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I don’t need to detail the show’s issues – which are still present here, if muted – but after this latest episode I’m pretty confident that if I stick around and find out what direction we’re headed in, I’m going to enjoy the ride more than anything else.

[Originally posted at Nerdly]

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: ‘The Girl in the Flower Dress’

Written by Brent Fletcher | Directed by Jesse Bochco | Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

raina

This week’s episode sees a welcome and significant progression in the season’s main arc, a superpowered plot more in keeping with the MCU and a couple of decent steps forward in some characters’ development. ‘The Girl in the Flower Dress’ may not have as interesting a story as last week’s ‘Eye-Spy’, but there’s enough juicy teases, new characters and concepts introduced to more than make up for its failings. And there are a few.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: ‘Eye-Spy’

Written by Jeffrey Bell | Directed by Roxann Dawson | Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

Agents

This is the stuff I’ve been waiting for: the batshit-crazy superspy technology and straight-laced insanity that was promised at the end of the pilot with Lola, Coulson’s flying car, taking off into the camera and causing mass fanboy hysteria/incredulous guffaws (depends on who you ask) the world over. Sure, we had a radioactive explodeybox in ’0-8-4′ and gravity-warping shenanigans in ‘The Asset’, but neither of those were implemented in particularly exciting ways or had the op-art, Jim Steranko escapism feel of exploding eyeballs and cool-as-fuck eye patches.

In the cold open 50 masked men with handcuff briefcases making their way through the centre of Stockholm, only to have three of their number relieved of their luggage – and the hands holding them – by a mysterious, possibly psychic assassin that Coulson reveals he was responsible for training. Gasp!

The plot breaks fairly neatly into two halves after this point: the first sees the team tracking said assassin, Akela, down to sunny Belarus (which Fitz/Simmons get into a thoroughly unbelievable nerd-off about, just in case you forgot they like science) where they hack into her implanted eye-camera (cue a thousand groans at the episode title’s true meaning) and discover she’s getting orders from an unknown source; in the second half, after learning that Akela’s implant has a kill switch that will detonate if she tries to escape or deviate from her masters’ plan, the team switch her feed to a pair of glasses worn by Ward so that he can carry out her next mission while Coulson interrogates her about her handlers and Fitz/Simmons come up with a way to remove the device from her skull without resulting in grey matter on the laboratory ceiling.

The series is still finding its feet, but the crazy stuff in ‘Eye-Spy’ more than makes up for a few teething problems, from Fitz & Simmons performing ludicrous eye surgery on a conscious (but fearless) Akela to the horrifying idea of having your every waking moment monitored and controlled through your own body, not to mention a neat twist on the ‘rogue agent’ trope.

The mission Ward embarks on in Akela’s stead feels ripped straight from the N64 Goldeneye game, albeit without hip watch lasers or exploding barrels. Indeed, Ward – being the most conventional of all the leads – could easily be a gamer surrogate, being controlled by Skye in cement-grey environments and given arbitrary objectives (“SEDUCE HIM” was really something of a wasted joke). As a result nothing in the sequence feels quite like it matters and the peril toward the end doesn’t sink in because we’re less interested in Ward meeting his objectives than Akela’s face not exploding.

…that said, I would kind of like to know what those funky symbols that even S.H.I.E.L.D. couldn’t translate were all about.

The videogame parallels surface again any time we see things from Akela’s perspective, especially when she uses her x-ray vision, although when she raises her gun during her fight with Agent May there’s a whiff of uncanny valley about the angle of her arm. Though it could just be me and all the CoD fans out there who feel this way.

Melinda May doesn’t do a single interesting thing all episode, instead being relegated to speaking aloud plot points (“It’s her eye. The camera’s her eye”) and watching a computer track down Akela’s handler. She  barely even leaves the plane except for . It’s troubling for an ensemble drama when it can’t find anything for a character to do as it suggests not a great deal of thought has gone into their being around. Hell, Xander always had something to do on Buffy and he was consistently the least capable character (an argument could be made for Dawn, but that’s really forum fodder) – something’s definitely rotten in Denmark when the most capable member of her team is benched so often, especially after signing back on for ass-kicking duty in the last episode.

Coulson’s relationships with his mentees, both former (Akela, who he feels he failed) and current (Skye, who he’s trying not to), form the emotional backbone of the episode which works pretty effectively in fleshing out A.C.’s backstory, deepening his connection with Skye and adding more conspiratorial fuel to the fire of his mysterious resurrection when Akela asks some disconcerting questions about what happened to him.

[The end of the episode – plotwise – also throws up a nice red herring in the form of the Englishman and offers a stark counterpoint to Coulson’s belief that, because he himself was saved, everyone can be.]

The scenes with Skye in the back seat of the team’s car (no, not like that – she just misses her van) are especially effective as they give the two most compelling and complex leads more screen time together and they make inventive use of the deceptively small set, something that was done exquisitely on Firefly.

The central conceit of the show makes it seem easy to compare the Agents to the crew of Serenity, but the crucial difference is that Firefly was about a makeshift family trying to hold itself (and its ship) together, whereas AoS is about someone trying to make a family out of spare parts – and while Coulson is certainly a father figure to much of the cast, Skye’s assertion that May is their mother feels incredibly forced when the fact that she spends all her time in the cockpit is made a point of. That’s not a perfect analogy, but it establishes the point that it doesn’t feel like there’s as much connective tissue between Coulson’s team as Mal’s crew just yet, and sometimes those gaps feel pretty damn wide.

[Originally posted at Nerdly]

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Under-Over-Analysing

From the L.A. Times, on Breaking Bad‘s final episode:

The question is whether you bought for an instant that Walter “deserved” that ending. “Deserved” is a funny word, because it reads the viewer’s expectations into the work of art, when it’s much more important to try and suss out just what Vince Gilligan and his writers were up to, then determine how well they stuck to their guns.

The words are theirs, the emphasis mine. It boils down to this: we’re being told that, rather than allowing an audience to have an opinion and/or feelings on character, theme and story, it’s better for them to simply attempt to reverse-engineer the intentions of the creator of said elements.

It’s a sentiment so dumb as to make me really bloody angry.

This is a common thread that comes across in a lot of entertainment writing: paying attention not to your own feelings about something but to the analysis that comes from multiple viewings of a show or movie and comparing your notes with those of a thousand other viewers through reviews, blogs and essays.

Now look, I’m not saying that I’m against over-analysis of TV & movies; that’s demonstrably untrue. All I’m saying is that it’s kind of fucked-up that our first instinct when having just watched something is to neglect how the story made us feel and what it said to us…which is really the point of stories, no?

I don’t have to figure out what kind of story I was being told because I WAS JUST TOLD IT. And I don’t need to “suss out” what the storytellers were trying to accomplish because I’M FEELING IT RIGHT NOW. How dare anyone tell you that your feelings don’t matter. And could there be a more pointless quest than to figure out if someone meant to do something the way they did if you got a kick out of it anyway?

The primary purpose of entertainers is to entertain. If they do more than that? Super. I sincerely believe the team behind Breaking Bad accomplished more than just a kick-ass TV show and I enjoy plumbing the depths of critical analysis as much as anyone, but at least give me a minute to reflect on what I’ve just seen and wash the tear stains out of my hoodie, would you?

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Recap: “The Asset”

agents-of-shield-the-asset

Ethically sketchy split-second decisions. A morally compromised but uncompromising, fearless leader. Young, vulnerable women turning out to be not so vulnerable.

Yep, it’s starting to look like a Whedon show all right, and while Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might not quite be firing on all cylinders just yet, its third episode takes a huge step in the right direction.

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On ‘Felina’ And The Tragedy of Jesse Pinkman

Most of what I want to say has been said many more times and far more eloquently, so let’s get that out of the way as painlessly as possible. First off is Matt Zoller Seitz’s interpretation of the last half-season as a reworking of A Christmas Carol with Walter White cast not as Ebeneezer Scrooge but the ghost of Jacob Marley, and it’s pretty damn convincing:

“Felina” is not set at Christmas, but it has a feeling of Dickensian reckoning, with closure galore but minus any real sense of hope. The guns-a-blazin’ finale capped by Jesse strangling Todd, telling Walter to go eff himself in not so many words, and roaring off toward freedom (while cackling like a maniac) lent the whole thing an illusion of cathartic awesomeness: greatest episode ever!

But that’s what it was: an illusion. For all intents and purposes, Walter White died when he said good-bye to Skyler in “Ozymandias” and entered Saul Goodman’s makeshift private version of witness protection. In this episode and last week’s, we were really watching a ghost, at times vengeful and terrifying, but mostly sad and hopeless. A guy who seemed to think he was a decaying but still formidable modern version of Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning — a guy who’d figured some things out and was ready to act, dammit, settling old scores, righting old wrongs, and helping his wife and kids buy the largest turkey in the window — but who was ultimately, probably, more like Jacob Marley, materializing in people’s homes to scare the hell out of them by pointing an accusing finger or moaning in misery while clanking his pitiful irons.

“I wear the chain I forged in life!” Marley tells Scrooge. “I made it link by link and yard by yard! I gartered it on of my own free will and by my own free will, I wore it!”

The last two episodes felt like more of a coda than anything (I commented to the friend I watched ‘Ozymandias’ with as its credits rolled that its ending could have ended the entire show with some degree of finality) – not that they weren’t hugely enjoyable and fascinating to watch. They felt very much like a ‘what if?’ story, something set in an alternate world in which Walt’s secret’s out for all the world to see and he finally stops lying to himself and lets his Heisenberg flag fly.

Carrying on that thought leads me to a disquieting notion – the idea that it’s too crazy, too perfect to be real, and everything in the final two episodes is simply a morphine-fuelled dying fantasy as Walter lies in his New Hampshire cabin, rotting away from the inside and righting wrongs in such a perfect manner that he could never quite achieve in reality.

But I don’t really buy that, compelling as it may or may not be, and I doubt Vince Gilligan or any of the Bad team would want us to, mired in the minutiae and tragedies of its characters’ worlds as we have been for the past six years. It would be cruel to pull the rug out from under us at this stage, no?

And yet, maybe giving the fans what they want – questions answered, loose ends tied off (for the most part; I can’t help but feel young Brock is the most coldly disregarded victim of Heisenberg’s folly) – is killing them with kindness?

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Recap: “0-8-4”

[Originally posted at Nerdly]

One of the hardest things to tell with big-budget shows that categorically need to be successful is how much of each episode is what was originally intended by the authors and how much is network notes. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D‘s – sorry, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D‘s second episode, in which much of the action happens in an unconvincing South America and a cameo is unfortunately (but perhaps inevitably) the best thing about an episode, it seems relatively easy to tell that it’s the latter.

“0-8-4″ starts well enough, with a flash-forward teaser that puts ordinary dialogue in stark contrast to the life-threatening situation immediately following it, but any tension carried over into the episode proper quickly dissipates as it reminds us once again that Avengers: The TV Show this is not.

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Cynical Tags Ahoy!

This exchange made me extremely happy for a number of reasons. If you’re a certain kind of nerd, it’ll get you pretty damn excited too:

[For the uninitiated, it’s the star of Firefly and the creator/recently-reinstated showrunner of superlative sitcom Community conspiring to collaborate.]

A good thing. Yes.

Less so are the comics I had to review for Nerdly from Bluewater comics, a company that doesn’t look to have much of a future in the industry if it doesn’t buck up its ideas of editorial competence:

If I was to offer one constructive criticism that covered all of these books it would be to fire Bluewater’s current editorial staff and hire a new team. There might be problems inherent in the stories and creatives involved in these books, but school-level grammar and spelling errors (it’s LOSE, people, not f#&%ing LOOSE!), messy design work and a lack of narrative guidance in many of the books speak to either a lack of enthusiasm for the work they’re doing or simply incompetence, neither of which is acceptable if Bluewater wants to be perceived as a professional company.

You can read the rest here if that whet your appetite for vitriol.

I figure I should sandwich one crappy thing in with two happy things, so here’s a CBR article on the many, many ways superhero movies with female leads are easily achievable and the wealth of material that’s out there waiting to be translated to the silver screen.

Oh, and I saw the Breaking Bad finale on Monday. I have some thoughts.

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