Strange Vistas


The Innocents promotional image

There are pieces that you should write up-front, the moment you have consumed whatever content you meant to talk about.

This piece is one of them.

It has been months since I saw The Innocents, and I’m afraid I’ve lost the scent. It was tenuous, to begin with, and by now, it’s little but a shadow of a thread.

The Innocents is an archetypical slow boil story – part nordic thriller, part BBC series leaning towards young-adult fiction. It gives you glimpses early on of what its central conceit is but doesn’t straight up tell you its set up or background. It expects you to put in the time to find out. You have got to sit with it.

I’m not sure why I had the impression that this was some low-key modern super-hero thing. Probably the promotional image of two teenagers running away from something, what looks like a winter sky behind them, the boy dragging the girl along.

Which, funny enough, is how it starts. But it is only a minor spoiler to say it’s a women’s world – men are merely along for the ride.

The couple is Harry and June. They are in love. John, June’s overprotective, stern, borderline violent father, wants to move the family to some remote island on their birthday. Harry and June run away. It doesn’t take us very long to find out what John’s motivations were, what June doesn’t know she’s capable of, and why Harry is in well over his head. It will take longer to find out what is going on with the other small group of people, somewhere, on a farm, whom the story goes back to every so often.

Switching settings could create the impression of a sprawling tale. Instead, the series keeps its focus narrow, firmly on these people, and keeps tightening its circle as it progresses. Playing in a more constrained setting causes mistakes to more obviously emerge (which is why so many stories are in such a rush to drag you to the next ride in the amusement park before you have time to think). To its credit, The Innocents keeps its plot constrained to a few players, having the discipline to spend its eight episodes exploring their relationships and using a handful of characters to flesh out its mythology.

Does the mythology hold up? I can’t remember. I think I had objections, quibbles, but left no notes about it. I’m also the type of guy who complained for an entire season of Into the Badlands because nobody wiped their swords between cutting down an army of mooks and putting the weapon back into the scabbard. The fact I don’t remember is a recommendation.

I remember its tightening noose as characters who had been dancing around each other stumbled towards a collision. I remember the feeling of senseless tragedy, affecting people merely because they were around. The petty behavior, the infatuation with the new you, the narcissism inherent in liking others like yourself. It all added up to it being more family tragedy than teen thriller, a good chunk of it spent watching friends and loved ones crumble.

I can no longer say if it was good, but I can say it was different. I appreciate different.

#guypearce #nadinemarshall #percelleascott #laurabirn #sorchagroundsell #tvseries

Surprise! Well-known pedophile who admitted to having blackmail material on his powerful associates, got arrested under a mountain of evidence, then was conveniently taken off suicide watch and left alone in his cell to “commit suicide” coincidentally as the cameras failed, was festering excrement of an excuse for a human being.

I’m not sure what Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich ’s reason to exist is, other than to re-affirm that. It’s not investigative journalism. If it performed an in-depth examination of the people floating around Epstein’s ring, maybe, but Netflix isn’t in a hurry to get sued, so only the most thoroughly documented ones like Prince Andrew come up. And even then, it takes them three hours to point some fucking fingers at someone who isn’t already dead.

Cowardly fucks.

It’s well-structured, I’ll give it that. The initial narration’s repetitive structure helps drive home the point that Epstein’s behavior was consistent, something routine he executed over and over and over. But one comes away from this having learned nothing. The case is well-known by now, and the victims have been able to speak. Wikipedia has better documentation than this (including less sensationalistic figures on how likely the type of fracture he suffered was).

There’s no doubt many people were worried about what might come up as evidence if Epstein went to trial, even if he had kept his mouth shut. The material recovered in the New York building was much better organized than just “stacks of porn” (down to labeling pairings). Focus on that, and how many others were likely involved, instead of skewing things to bump the suicide conspiracy from “extremely likely” to “inevitable”.

But nope.

I didn’t need to watch this. You don’t need to watch this. It won’t change anything.

#tvseries #documentary

Tom Hollander, Olivia Colman, Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Debicki, and Hugh Laurie in The Night Manager

The Night Manager feels like what a modern James Bond story would be like if they had the guts to break away from their old formula. Funny, because the book it's based on came out twenty years ago.

Unsurprisingly, the Bond movies have focused on fancy suits, cocktail parties, and gadgets (all things that The Night Manager mostly eschews). Espionage is drawn out and can be more about the slow maneuvering to get in place than any immediate, decisive action. You only have two hours in a movie, which don't leave much time for all that tense manipulation and second-guessing.

It's the curse of the movie adaptation. Good things take time, and there is only so much you can do in a couple of hours. A series has more time to develop stories in, but successful actors didn't use to give them the time of day.

A creative upside of TV's resurgence (and its streaming forms) is that production teams no longer feel compelled to compress a story into two hours. For years we had the stigma that serious actors only did movies meant for theatrical release – TV was where careers went to die.

A decade and a half after The Sopranos and 24, TV and streaming are not only respectable – they are places where actors and directors go for big paydays, where you get to experiment with formats that may launch franchises.

And, more importantly, where you get to take your time. TV series, even limited ones, have more room to breathe.

Enter The Night Manager, a 2016 adaptation from a 1993 John le Carré novel, where a hotelier volunteers for an undercover operation to get evidence on an arms dealer.

It's the sort of story that is meant for a serial, with its many characters, layered motivations, and overlapping intrigues, constantly ticking machinery that may stop at just the worst place.

With its six-hour run time, you get to gorge yourself on the embarrassment of riches that are the delightful performances that build up the tangled character web.

Tom Hiddleston, taking a break from his Marvel commitments to play Jonathan Pine, the eponymous manager, bringing a mixture of self-control, insecurity, and drive that you wish other spy series could muster.

Who gets recruited by...

Olivia Colman as Angela Burr, disappearing into her character as always, equal parts frustration and persistence as a bulldog of a British official who refuses to stop chasing after Richard Roper, even in spite of her superiors' blatant obstruction.

Which she does, doggedly, because he considers him the worst person alive, a quality that would be hard to convey if it wasn't because of...

Hugh Laurie as Roper, who might be the embodiment of evil, sporting the delightful, careless accent of an utter cunt who doesn't care who gets hurt as long as he gets away with things.

(Roper's characterization, by the way, is one of the best portrayals of a psychopath that I've seen. He doesn't twirl his mustache, he doesn't rant about life being worthless or how insignificant the little people are. It just never enters the equation. He is the pure opportunistic, transactional evil that our times have shown can so easily get ahead.)

Roper surrounds himself with a shield of accomplices, helpers, and employees, such as...

Major Lance Corkoran, known to everyone as Corky, his spymaster-slash-chief-of-staff-slash-frontman, whom Tom Hollander portrays with a balanced mixture of restraint and recklessness. Hollander can convey his distrust and resentment at Pine's sudden appearance with little else but a side glance and how he sets his mouth, and does his thankless little part and job with gusto.

And somewhere in the middle of this is Jed, played by...

Elizabeth Debicki, the multiple episodes letting her showcase a range she hasn't put on display before on a single movie. She has shown charisma, and Steve McQueen's thrilling Widows let her display a talent for flexible understatement, but Manager lets her play someone dedicated to putting on a happy face, and Debicki relishes it. There's a moment, later in the series, where her character Jed has to add another layer of pretense to the existing one, and for a couple of seconds it is clear to viewers how fake Jed is being. Debicki shines then.

(Debicki has the potential to become a 10-years-in-the-making overnight sensation, with the combination of looks and the acting chops she shows here, but she's running out of time for taking parts other than “sculptural blonde.” She should do more limited series.)

All together, along with the secondary scum and rats scurrying around Roper, make for an enjoyable, tense six episodes. It's a character-driven story. Having said that, even the tradecraft is entertaining. There's a fascinating little scene of covert communication in public, and sadly it takes the series a few hours to do that again. If I had to complain about something, it would be how much the current era lets the characters default to secure messenger instead of more creative methods.

The Night Manager is still great at creating tension, and that's what everyone is here for – this “great acting” stuff is something us movie wonks get off on. It is a thriller, and you are here to be thrilled as you watch the players creep into position, dance around each other, figure out how the corrupt officials are going to get turned around, and watch our heroes attempts to outfox a smug, smart fuck who doesn't feel the need to pussyfoot around and has no qualms about disposing of anyone who becomes an issue. There is no way all of this could have worked on a movie – tension comes, literally, from stretching things out. The series has the patience required to take its time with every aspect of the story, from how it waits it to introduce its monster, to how long it takes our hero to sneak into their confidence, to its eventual explosive resolution. The Night Manager stretches out its story as taut as it has to and, in doing so, delivers the stylish thrills a movie couldn't.

#thenightmanager #johnlecarre #oliviacolman #elizabethdebicki #hughlaurie #tomhiddleston #thriller #tvseries

Cora Tanetti's police file from The Sinner

The Sinner is an atypical murder mystery.

We know who killed young Frankie Belmont, as he goofed around with friends at a beach: it was Cora Tannetti, thirty-something mother, who on weekdays helps her husband and father-in-law run a home repair business. We know how: she stabbed him repeatedly, on the chest and neck, with a paring knife, exploding upon him like an angry mountain lion with no warning whatsoever.

Those two are indisputable. Not only Cora admits to it, but dozens of people saw her, including her husband and son.

What we don't know is why.

It's not that Cora isn't telling – she doesn't seem to know herself. She looks as shocked as everyone else by her actions, is eager to confess and declare herself guilty. Still, she can't speak to what possessed her to murder Frankie. She'd never met him before. None of Frankie's friends knew her. He was a doctor who used to play in a band; she was a mousey housewife and former waitress. They'd never crossed paths before.

She admits to it. She wants to pay for her crime and be done with it.

Detective Harry Ambrose, one of the two assigned to her case, thinks she is almost too eager. He takes a paternal liking to her, believes they are missing something. There could be some extenuating circumstances, some trauma, something that caused her to act this way. He wants to make sure they aren't overlooking anything before her arraignment. Her behavior is unjustified, strange. Nobody just up and does something like this, is his take.

So he's got his theories, and viewers do too. Part of the reason people watch murder mysteries is to see if they can figure out the solution before they hear the answer. That carries you through a couple of hours, but for an 8-episode series, you are going to need to have characters people want to spend time watching.

It can't be just Cora. Jessica Biel does a decent job, but Cora is a cipher, and as much a puzzle box as the reasons behind her actions. Her husband is a simple man, doing his job, buffeted by events. It's all on Bill Pullman's Harry Ambrose.

Most of Bill Pullman's recent characters come across like current-day selves of his Serpent and the Rainbow Dennis Alan. Dogged but damaged, survivors of terrible things, barely getting by and coping 30 years later. Ambrose is smart, with a work ethic that engulfs his personal life, but he is no Hercule Poirot. Pullman doesn't play him like a misunderstood genius fighting police apathy. Instead, he is hesitant, like a just-recovered alcoholic, unsure of himself and his standing in the group. He might be right, more often than not, yet his main hurdle is not the system's indifference but his inability to communicate.

Being right is not enough. You need to be able to make it clear to others and win them to your cause. Ambrose's stubborn I-know-better-ness doesn't help him, personally or professionally. The tension comes not only from if he'll find the pieces he needs, but if he'll be able to get others to even look at them.

Cora's actions are a tincture spreading across the community, staining, revealing cracks. Ambrose claws at these with his blackened fingernails, pries them apart, trying to find anything that can help Cora. Pieces drop out of almost everything he cracks open, but Ambrose (and the viewers) need to figure out if they belong to the right puzzle.

Would this be the one bit that would flip a woman from a quiet mother to a violent murderer? Why would this have started that rumbling in the back of her self, the hateful drone that she had kept down, chained, so that it wouldn't come out, and that even now, covered in blood, murder weapon in her hand, she doesn't dare look at?

The why is all that matters.

#thesinner #thriller #tvseries #billpullman #jessicabiel

Giri/Haji title poster

Giri/Haji is the rarest of creatures: a bilingual slice of life crime thriller series, like Kazuo Ishiguro doing a cops and mobsters story.

A Japanese executive is murdered in London. In Tokyo, a stern-looking man is shot to death at a restaurant, while he was examining the murdered executive's photo, the restaurant destroyed by the killers' automatic weapons. Kenzo Mori, a Tokyo police detective, gets a late-night visit from yakuza boss Fukuhara, who tells him that the London killer is Kenzo's brother Yuto, presumed dead years ago. Kenzo is a good man, an honest policeman, and he doesn't take orders from gangsters. Kenzo's boss arrives and confirms Fukuhara's instructions: he needs to get on a plane to London, ostensibly to attend a Crime Scene Management course, but in reality to retrieve Yuto and stop a gang war.

Kenzo can't defy an order, and he convinces himself that Yuto has a better chance of coming back alive if it is Kenzo bringing him back. He travels to London, begins his search, aided and hindered by the local fauna, getting glimpses of his brother's wake. Meanwhile, back in Tokyo, their family and friends deal with the aftershocks.

The sins of the son reflect on the family. You often know when they are going astray. You always wonder if you should help, if you should let them fail now and face the consequences, deal with the sudden pain, or if all they need is one last push to clean up finally. You always wait too long. Things always get worse than you expected. You had expected that the impact for you could be harder the longer you wait, but you didn't mean for the blast radius to expand. Neither did Kenzo.

Takeshiro Hira plays Kenzo Mori as if he was a young Ken Watanabe in a Merchant Ivory police drama. Reserved, tentative, but determined to bring Yuto back. Yôsuke Kubozuka is Yuto, the brother he has to retrieve. The story revolves around the two as they move through London, and a trail of second-hand death blooms behind them. They both do a great job of conveying who Kenzo and Yuto are, their family dynamics, the stubbornness they share, the sins that bind them. They don't just carry the series by themselves, though.

Kelly Macdonald, who after a fiery introduction as Diane in Trainspotting seemed to have ended up typecast as the mousy Scottish girl, plays to both sides of her career here. Sarah, her constable, relegated to teaching after alienating her co-workers, is a reactor of righteousness wrapped in a shy schoolmarm, quickly exhausted but primed for mighty explosions.

On the other extreme, you have Charlie Creed-Miles playing Connor Abbot, a loud, unruly gangster. You want to lick Creed-Miles' scenery-chewing performance off your fingers, even if Abbot is mostly an amped-up, less self-aware version of his Peaky Blinders' Billie Kimber.

Then there is Will Sharpe playing Rodney Yamaguchi, the one who grounds us, the poor frog trying not to get trampled as the bulls fight in the mud around him, its poor impulse control keeping it too close to the fray. Rodney, son of a British and a Japanese, who could have been a two-note tragicomedic buffoon and walking metaphor. Sharpe's unsettled, frightened performance imbues Rodney with an inner life, aided by a script that insists on reminding us that even small actions can have outsized consequences.

Because everyone does a spectacular job with the parts they get, but it's Joe Barton script that deserves the most praise. It balances two countries and languages, a dozen characters, multiple parallel stories and motivations, and bundles it all up into eight coherent, thrilling episodes. And then, before it lets you go, it unleashes one of the most beautiful, lyrical, unexpectedly tense moments I have seen on a TV series, much less one with a neo-noir theme.

If only we could get more series like it: actual attempts at crafting the best possible story, not just another content hamster wheel to keep customers from canceling their streaming service.

It deserves to succeed, and I only hope its success ripples out.

#girihaji #joebarton #tvseries #bbc #takeshirohira #kellymacdonald #charliecreedmiles #willsharpe

Malcom Murray, Doryan Gray, Evelyn Ives, Victor Frankenstein, Ethan Chandler from Penny Dreadful

There are things that should be better, that I want to be better. When they aren't, I get mad in a way I wouldn't if forced to sit through a Michael Bay movie.

I got mad at Penny Dreadful's second season when I watched it, almost five years ago. I foamed at the mouth at the wasted opportunities, flipped an entertainment table at it, and swore I was done with it for good.

I couldn't stay away.

I don't like to admit it, but I like style. Not over substance, but style will keep me digging, rooting through a show, hoping the beautiful shapes inform some sort of actual function.

Penny Dreadful shimmered, promised to be a dark, sensual, gory counterpart to Zelazny's A Night On the Lonesome October.

I could watch this just because of Eva Green, if we're being honest. I'd listen to her read an entire George Lucas script (don't judge me). But the theme was aimed squarely at me, and I am a difficult target to even spot. The fact that I stood there, waiting for it to hit me, and yet it managed to miss made it all the more irksome, which I took as a personal insult.

So I gave it another shot, to finish the story, a good three years after the series itself wrapped. Hoping.

I am not mad. I just disappointed.

There is so much good stuff in it and they never develop it. It's all disjointed, the great mixed in with the mediocre and the annoying.

Timothy Dalton brings a gusto that he never brought to Bond. He looks more alive here than he ever has since Prince Barin. He could carry an entire swashbuckling series by himself, his Malcom Murray being a better aged Allan Quatermain than Sean Connery was.

Then there are Brona Croft – Frankenstein's would-be bride – and Dorian Gray. I was done with their shtick by the end of the second season. Wasting this much time on them during what the writers should have known was their last outing is just insulting. At least Dorian looks as annoyed with Croft's speechifying, and Croft at Gray's ineffectualness, as I was with their whole affair.

But we have Rory Kinnear as John Clare, Frankenstein's original creature, his mixture of concerned softness and violence, and the only character in the series with an actual arc. He starts sensitive but full of hate. He covets the bride that the source material forces upon the story. But Clare develops into his own person. He evolves, has an honest relationship with Vanessa. At the end, he even rejects the idea of inflicting his fate upon another, refusing to sacrifice one to make another happy. He develops better than his creator, since Frankenstein ends the series exactly the way he started it, having learned nothing. Yet the story always keeps Clare to the side, never giving him enough time (or even letting him appear on group scenes), so they can waste it on Western antics.

Don't get me started on Wes Studi. The series decides the most progressive thing to do is to bring in a Magical Apache and, apparently unaware of the hilarity of echoing Studi's turn as The Sphinx in Mystery Men, have him sometimes speak in anti-metabole. He is an unnecessary connection to Ethan Chandler (née Talbot), thrown in as yet another attempt to hammer in Chandler's mystical destiny.

My dear Mr. Talbot, I am so sorry that they saddled you with the whole Lupus Dei thing. In Latin it sounds like a teenager's idea of a religious sect, and in English, the Wolf of God gets stupider every time someone utters it.

And then there is Eva Green, who is still a delight, when they let her, but gets the worst dialogue of the entire series here, not to mention being thoroughly stripped of agency. The writing shorts all characters, in the end, but at least most of them don't end up spending good chunks of each season locked in an empty room, haggard and wearing rags, rambling.

You can tell there were some feeble attempts at retooling the cast, a Hail Mary in case it didn't get canceled. The delicate Ferdinand Lyle gets on a bus to Egypt, replaced by Catriona Hartdegen, Action Thanatologist, who at least might not end up shoved in a refrigerator like Miss Ives. Studi's Kaetenay is the new Sembene, but one there to cause friction with Chandler. Henry Jekyll is out and about.

Then it ends. There is no finality, no sense that anybody knows where this could have gone, no hard choices made. It could have explored the social tension between genders, classes, lovers, leading to engrossing outcomes. Instead, every conflict is resolved using a simplified version of fuck-marry-kill, trivial to figure out, because nobody here marries.

#pennydreadful #evagreen #tvseries #timothydalton #rorykinnear #joshhartnett #rogerzelazny

TV Shows have become more efficient. It used to take a whole 24 episodes for a series to ruin a promising concept or first season – now they can do it in only 8.

This will likely contain spoilers for both seasons of Altered Carbon. Nothing major from season 1, if you've read the book, but I won't hold back on the new material from season 2.

Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs in Altered Carbon, Season 1

The first season of Altered Carbon was an enjoyable and (mostly) faithful adaptation of Richard Morgan's original novel. It's the future, and humans are now able to download their consciousness to new bodies when their current one dies (or, if you're rich, whenever you want). Kovacs, a U.N. super-soldier turned mercenary, finds himself back in a new body after 200 years, at the behest of a tera-rich who wants Kovacs to solve a locked-room mystery.

It has a few interesting ideas in it, with the “sleeving” concept fully integrated into the world and used to power both its central mystery and the characters' solutions. It never connected with me, though. I remember the impression the book caused more than the specifics. Kovacs felt out of place in the wrong way: a Mary Sue mixture of hardboiled noir P.I. and killing machine, a bad-ass disconnected from the events. There was no particular reason for him to do anything, other than the gazillionaire who brought him back had a gun to his head.

The series switched a few things around. What the book called the Envoys are now the Protectorate. The U.N. is never mentioned, but the Protectorate rules the worlds with a kevlar-wrapped mag-rail-gripping fist. Kovacs is still an Envoy – and the last of them, at that, for people to repeat in awe – but they were instead a group of rebels fighting the Protectorate for a reason that the show doesn't initially specifies.

Same bad-ass, then, only turning the rogue factor up to 11.

One of its core changes, though, helped anchor Takeshi Kovacs in the new world. In taking a background character and making her Kovacs' sister, it added a complicating motivation for a protagonist who had none. It made some narrative paths more evident as a potential resolution, while also introducing questions about how Kovacs might act. It made him less transparent.

A minor tweak, probably there to give them an excuse to extend the series with a few background episodes, but one that worked.

Must have worked for audiences, too, because there is a new season built entirely on new material. It's two episodes shorter than the first season's ten, and just as well, as it has barely anything interesting to say.

Anthony Mackie as Takeshi Kovacs in Altered Carbon, Season 2

They still put a couple nice touches in the universe, using the sleeve concept to allow themselves some tricks with cast reuse. This acts both as a nice callback to the first season and to showcase things that the stack technology makes possible.

Overall, though? The writing got sloppy, fast.

Characters act (and rant!) about knowledge that viewers have, but that the same characters haven't acquired yet. Villains would twirl their mustache as they tie a girl's stack to the train tracks if they could – how they go about their plans is not only baroque but bordering on silly. And, in the usual science fiction sin, the series brings back Gods and their wrath as a way to justify some magical choices.

When it writes itself into a corner, the series shrugs and introduces new tech possibilities without a thought about how they affect the world at large (say, being able to wirelessly copy someone's stack without their knowing). Worse, it uses these tools to retroactively explain things that happened in the last season, meaning these aren't new developments but have been available for hundreds of years... yet only a few characters know how to use them, realize it when convenient, had never thought of doing it before, and are able to do it unbeknownst to anyone else.

Any advanced enough technology is indistinguishable from a plot device.

Worse, these plot devices are used to cheapen several character choices and curtail more interesting narrative paths. Would Kovacs develop as the same person without Quell dying? What would he be without survivor's guilt? Who cares, when we can have our cake and eat it too?

Which is all an elaborate way of saying that the first season is entertaining, and its changes to the book's background preserve its code. In contrast, the second is not even a passable waste of time. If the writers were going to pull a deus ex machina, the very least they could do was not have it literally be a bloody god in the goddammed machine.

#tvseries #scifi #alteredcarbon #richardkmoran #joelkinnaman #anthonymackie

Halt and Catch Fire, main characters

I originally reviewed Halt and Catch Fire in two parts, first seasons 1-2 and then seasons 3-4. Here are both short reviews together.

Halt, Midway Through

Come on.

Nobody was adding math co-processors to computer kits back in the 8086 times, much less portables.

Yes, that's a nerd's complaint.

It shouldn't be what I say about this show, since it doesn't have a lot of tech background. Its history feels retrofitted, retroactively convenient for the times. They are too visionary, too misunderstood, too under-appreciated. It's got some well-written drama, but as far as tech or entrepreneurship goes, it's lacking.

Its main sin is that, two and a half seasons in, it doesn't make me want to run out and build something. Anything.

It does make me want to pitch, though.

I guess that's something.

Halt, at the end

Halt and Catch Fire continues its “tech's greatest hits” tour in seasons 3 and 4, with their characters inventing even more things ahead of their time. In less than 20 episodes, they manage to come up with:

  • Anti-virus software;
  • Web crawlers;
  • Yahoo;
  • Internet service providers;
  • and the commercial World Wide Web.

It's a techie's face-palming wonderland. It features an anti-virus written in BASIC, a packet sniffer which can sniff packets hour or days after the fact, and Unreal Engine-level graphics in 1994 (for an Atari game, no less).

But finally. Finally, at the end of season 3, they capture the builder spirit. That thing emanating from a few people, alone inside four bare walls, trying to figure out if there's something they can create out of someone else's concept. The angles of attack. The frustration of being left out. They get it right. Even if the writers can't stop themselves from making Cameron a über-genius who can build entire tech epochs by herself.

Its tech is window dressing, anyway. It's just there to anchor the drama and give them something to argue about.

This thing we do – programming, engineering, building businesses, the whole thing – is nothing but a hack. It's a hack implemented on top of a system force-grown, on a budget, against much more modest requirements: to avoid getting eaten by a tiger.

Season 4 understands that. Building stuff is great, and it provides a purpose, but it's also methadone to keep you calm while you find out if you were one of those who made it. Methadone only gets you so far.

You throw rational people into a room, give them something they all feel strongly about, and watch the apes club each other with keyboards.

Most of them do OK. Boss takes one step outside himself, gets a glimpse of greatness, but it costs him himself. Gordon realizes his potential, grows as a person, even if that growth is stunted. Donna wakes up, starts walking her own path, then runs, picks up so much speed she can't stop herself, no matter how conflicted she is about where her legs take her. Joe goes from charismatic salesman to hating his success to Jobs-wannabe to somehow coalescing all the personas into a cool John Cusack, then back to Joe. Only Cameron remains Cameron, her wardrobe gradually less janky but her persona just as sketched, the chip that doubles for a pauldron just as big.

She's only there to introduce chaos, anyway. Yeah, she's the one coming up with most of the impossible breakthroughs. But her whole shtick is to proclaim, in anger, why she's right and everyone's wrong. With as much door-slamming as she can manage.

It works, as a tactic. A decade of fighting about implementation details can make you feel you belong, even if the place is at each other's throats. Arguing means you care what the other thinks.

Frenemies are still friends.

#haltandcatchfire #tvseries #leepace #scootmcnairy #mackenziedavis #kerrybishe #tobyhuss

Poster for Bad Guys

Am I done watching this one?

I think I'm done watching this one.

Bad Guys' pitch must have been “imagine the A-Team... but they're all evil!”

(Cue Korean drama executive pissing his pants)

A cop gets killed in Seoul, chasing after a serial killer. On his own, for some reason, with just a camera-man following. Suicidal tendencies notwithstanding, he's not a random cop but a Big Shot's son, so this time someone does something. Big Shot asks Hard-Drinking Loose-Canon Cop to put together a team to deal with crime. The cops are too rigid-minded for criminals, so Loose-Canon hand-picks a bunch of criminals. They're supposed to compete with each other – whoever solves a crime or saves a victim first, gets time off his sentence.

They are:

  • A cute serial killer who could be in a boy band (and probably is), doesn't remember any of his murders (so he might be innocent!) and is also a young genius with a handful of PhDs (aren't they all?);
  • A handsome assassin (who could have been in a boy band), whose methods and victims are unknown (I guess we take his word for the whole “being a hitman” thing), who's never made a single mistake (how would you know if you don't know his victims or methods?), but who gave himself up for no obvious reason (a woman, duh);
  • The tough-guy mobster who took over Seoul in a blink, got caught, took over prison, and is obviously the class-clown actor auditioning for straight-man roles with better material.

Oh, and there's a token woman too, as a the straight-laced, stiff-necked official trying to keep them in line.

But wait, it's not that simple! Pretty boy might not be a killer at all! Assassin model has a heart of gold! Mobster... mobster... might be the only part worth salvaging!

The crimes they deal with are a teenager's idea of what would be both shocking and totally rad: they not only make no plot sense but might be physically impossible (a villain chops a body into 356 pieces with a knife). There is so much plastic surgery that if I blink while watching it, my ears smart. The soundtrack is perfunctory “cool guys doing cool stuff”. The only thing more bombastic than the dialogue is the camera work.

I lasted three episodes. On my defense, I was trying to get my ear re-accustomed to Korean. And I was drinking.

#tvseries #southkorea

The Knick - Promotional image

Coming to in the opium den. Injecting cocaine to wake up. Zipping through operations high on liquid lightning. Infectious energy lifting everyone else around. Dignified walk out of the hospital. Opium at night to sleep.

White shoes. Red hands. Gray soul.

Immigrants, trying to make do against a xenophobic populace, the previous wave of imported labor concerned that the current batch is taking their jobs.

Racism. Pragmatism. Subversion.

Is this period piece a commentary on current day America? Race? Healthcare? People avoid going to a doctor at all costs, can't afford to convalesce, don't want to be treated by a “dusky coon”.

The Knick was a couple-three years before its time. Now, when half the country has stopped pretending there has been much social progress, and the other half that they wanted any, it would be incendiary.

Its procedures are barbaric, more guesswork than medicine. The best you can hope for is to get the patients to die slower, so you can have time to sew them up. Drugs, corruption, rampant.

Death. Commonplace, quotidian.

Whores and syringes. Alcohol and anger. Greed and malfeasance.

Introduce noise into your environment so that it distracts you, turns off the bickering voices, lets the inner you speak. Consume yourself for inspiration. Burn at your own pyre.

Watching someone invent the future. Flying too close to your heroes. Guilt, the great brain scrambler.

This is it. This is all that we are. All blood and guts, exposed for your entertainment. Playing brinkmanship with ourselves, trying to scrape away as much of the system 2 as we can so that the system 1 can do its thing. Surrendering to our worst selves so we can become someone else.

Release. Frustration. Self-immolation.

Defeat. Again.

#theknick #tvseries #stevesoderberg #cliveowen #andreholland #caraseymor #evehewson #addiction