I Finished My Novel, “The Darkest Winter”

A major milestone. A solid 4 years in the making, I did it. I finished my first novel. I’ve put in a tremendous amount of time into it and in all honesty, part of myself. The seeds of the idea came from hurricane Sandy and it morphed into this 90,000-word story that’s full of characters I created.

I finished the story last Tuesday, September 5th. My writers’ group read the final two chapters after that and yesterday I completed the last edits. All of that and I still didn’t break 90,000 words which was one of my goals from the start.

I’m really happy with it now. It’s the story I wanted to tell and it reads complete. I can’t believe all the beats I thought of in these years all came together and turned out to be the perfect length. So now, the next phase.

Finding a literary agent. The manuscript is complete. I need to write a book proposal (I rather robust document) and then send out query letters to agents who are looking for action, adventure, thriller, manuscripts. With all of the feedback I’ve gotten so far, I really think this story is one that will sell and find a fan base. It’s modern, it’s driven by strong characters, and it relates to the world we live in today.

So my next step to becoming a published author starts this week. Time to get my work out there and noticed by the right people.

Onwards and upwards!

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Movie Menagerie 7

The LEGO Batman Movie– Sometimes you don’t realize what you want until someone hands it to you. Wacky Batman is just what I was in the mood for. LEGO Batman takes the Batman mythos and makes fun of it while embracing it. Here we have a Batman who has more or less consumed the Bruce Wayne side. He’s too cool for the room, almost dancing through the crime fighting as he’s done it for so long it’s become second nature. His whole world is behind the mask and he won’t let anyone close to him. When Joker hatches a grand plan to get revenge on Batman for hurting his feelings and Bruce accidentally adopts Dick Greyson, Batman must take a good look at himself and save not just Gotham, but himself. There are a ton of Batman and DC Universe references, the creativity is off the charts, the gags are often laugh out loud funny and the animation is nuts. Michael Cera as Dick/Robin had me dying. A joy to watch in every regard, LEGO Batman is the antithesis to “Why so serious?”

Beauty and the Beast (2017)- I never thought there would be a market for a live action remake of the classic Disney movie but this movie made a fortune so that shows how much I know. I haven’t seen the 1991 movie in forever so this seemed to me like it did nothing different. Looking at the run time this edition is a half an hour longer so that’s a lot. From my “I’m not in this demographic” perspective, it’s the same movie with CG animation instead of hand drawn cel animation. I’m an Emma Watson fan so they had me there and the work to make Beast come to life is very good. So yeah, this movie exists along with the numerous other adaptations.

Assassin’s Creed – I know they really tried with this video game adaption and while it isn’t bad per say but it is forgettable. Once the credits rolled I had a hard time remembering the story I just watched. It takes the basic plot of the first game and puts in a new protagonist played by Michael Fassbender (a major casting get, production must have been thrilled). Callum Lynch has a violent past, one touched by the centuries long fight between the Assassins and the Knights Templar. The Templar are after the Apple, an artifact told to hold human’s free will. The Assassins are sworn to protect the location of the Apple. So Lynch is discovered by Abstergo, the mega corp run by the knights and they put him into the Animus, a machine that brings memories of your heritage to light. Callum’s family tree goes back 500 years and goes in direct contact of the Apple. So begins the restoration of Callum’s memory, bringing back new revelations in his mother’s death.

The story seems very light as it goes. It’s paced really fast and it always seems like something is missing. A hook (a care really) to bring you into this story. The special effects are good, if reliant on dusty pulsing light visuals. The action is good as well, direct taking one of the strongest elements from the game series, even if it’s often shot and cut too close and fast. When Callum is first put into the machine, they cut in and out of the memory to the real world to see how the Animus physically makes him think he’s living the memory. They do this every time he’s in the machine which is incredibly distracting. I don’t care how he’s moving about in his institution supplied pajamas, keep me running around ancient cities, which is way more fresh and interesting looking than the teal tinted present day. The ending is incredibly disappointing too. Just like the biggest sin of the games, we’re brought to an important area that has basically no security. Callum more or less walks right in, taking any kind of tension and earned fight out of the entire picture (the escape before that is a highlight though). The movie limps to the end like it was after thought. Saying “That’s it?” when the credits roll is never a good thing.

10 Cloverfield Lane– A fun “bottle” movie that expands into something bigger in the third act. A very simple set up leads the way. Michelle breaks up with her boyfriend and takes off out of town. On the road, she gets into a car accident and wakes up held in a bunker with two men. They tell her no one can leave because of some kind of attack that happened above ground, the air is toxic. A successful suspense movie, 10CL keeps you constantly guess on who to believe. Waking up in a bunker is always an immediate concern and Howard (John Goodman) makes an intense first impression. Can he be trusted? The other man, Emmett, seems to believe him but at first look, he’s rather suspicious as well. The movie twists and turns along, pushing on the walls until it pops.  At a little over 90 minutes, things move along quickly and the constant questions and reveals keep you on your toes. I liked where it went for the climax so this was a fun movie for me from start to finish. It’s another reminder of how fantastic John Goodman is, the man needs to be seen in action more!

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I came out of Bloodline right into this so the timing was perfect for me.

Martin Bryd is a financial advisor in Chicago. He also launders money for a Mexican drug cartel. Things are going pretty well until his friend and business partner gets caught doing something he should not have. This forces Marty to relocate with his wife and two kids to the Ozarks so he can make up for what his friend did. Every week the deadline of cleaning $8 million gets closer. Every week the life of him and his family gets closer to being cut short.

I’m a Jason Bateman fan and he crushes it as Marty. In fact, I love the entire cast. Laura Linney holds down a very important and difficult role as his wife Wendy. The kids are fantastic. There’s some complex and intense story telling going down here and I ate it all up.

I love crime stories, people getting into trouble and trying to get out of it is some of my favorite material. Every step is fraught with peril and I appreciated the well thought out and rationalized beats. Every time Marty gets a leg up, something happens.  Twists and turns all over the place, it’s a lakeside Greek tragedy.

I was hooked from the pilot episode and it never let up. I could go without the unrelenting teal (just look at that poster) but that’s my only complaint. The green light for Season 2 has been given and I will be there the second it is put into the Netflix pipe for me to consume.

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Get Out

Writer/Director Jordan Peele did his horror movie research. Impressive first movie from anyone, let alone a person known so well only for comedy.

Chris has been dating Rose for a few months and they go visit her parents for the weekend at their secluded home in the woods (upstate New York I think). Chris is black and Rose is white and he asks Rose as their packing for the trip if she told them he was black. She says no, there’s no reason to. He has his doubts but the happy couple hop into the car and start their trip. What follows is a polite and friendly environment decaying into madness right before your eyes.

Like some of the strongest and well-regarded horror films, Get Out is a smart take on modern social issues cranked up. From the time the two are on the road, the uncomfortable reactions start. Each step that the movie shows is a measured one. Events, starting with a cop asking for Chris’ ID for no reason, are always off and get increasingly more strange. The escalation is really

The escalation is really brillant. Racial profiling is something we read about almost every day and is sadly rather normalized. Chris is a young man and takes the quickest de-escalation route right away. He gets his ID while Rose protests. It’s clear that this has happened to him before. It’s gross but Chris wants them to put it behind them.

Once at the house, more casual racism seeps out. Sometimes it’s overt, sometimes subtle but Chris, along with the audience always catch it. We’re first led in with “that’s weird…” Then the horror movie escalation starts. “That’s really weird… ” goes to “Alright, what was that about?” to “Okay, something is seriously going on here” to “Get Out!”

I’m impressed by every aspect of Get Out. It’s smartly written, cast correctly, and paced really well. No reliance on gore or violence which I think is another achievement. It doesn’t waste any time setting the stage and then pushing expectations. It’s generally creepy, has pops of humor at just the right points that are super effective, and very well shot. My only thought is that I think they could have gotten away with even less of a soundtrack. What happens on screen to make the viewer suspicious and uneasy in the beginning totally works. When creepy music starts playing I felt like it was too leading and it meant they (the studio) didn’t think the audience would be smart enough to keep up and “get it.” Plus, there is a cheap orchestra hit that I never like (super lazy).

I think the less you know going in, the better it will be so I’ll leave it at that. Great ride that I think will stand the test of time. Generations will watch this movie as a great example of what horror can do.


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FaceOff and Game Face

Another quality season of SYFY’s FaceOff recently finished. My favorite, Faina, just missed the final three. My biggest surprise as she was in the top cluster of contestants every challenge. She’s one of the best painters, but it wasn’t enough. The winner is very deserving though and the one who made it through instead of Faina (didn’t think she’d make it, she hit some rough patches) put up a really good fight.

So at the conclusion of Season 12 (!) a new spin off series began, Game Face. Four previous contestants are brought in to do what are essentially flash challenges. They have 90 minutes to make a character based on the criteria given. The bottom look goes home and the final two contestants do one two hour challenge for $10,000. It’s a great idea. We get to see what people have been up to and how they’ve progressed since the last time they’ve been on FaceOff. The pressure cooker competition is in full effect and it’s great to see artists design and work on the fly.

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Writer/Director/Producer M. Night Shyamalan has had a turbulent career. Breaking out in 1999 with The Sixth Sense he found huge success until 2004. For the next 10 years, it was the complete opposite. One disaster after another.

In recent years he’s had more traction producing for TV. While working in that medium, he came up with the idea for Split and it’s his first cohesive and entertaining cinematic piece in a long time. It’s nice to see a talent find his space again.

Split is very simple to explain, which is the first right step from MNS. Three teenagers are kidnapped by a man who has multiple, distinct personalities. While held in some kind of basement, the girls meet many of the personalities. Between his captives and his psychologist, Dr. Karen Fletcher, we see that the personalities are losing control to a festering new one called The Beast. Time is running out to escape.

The bulk of the movie rides on James McAvoy’s fantastic performance. He believably changes right before your eyes. All the tension comes from him, I think some of his best work is in this movie. Anya Taylor-Joy as the heroine, Casey, does a terrific job as well. MNS made Casey complex and smart. I appreciate the depth he put into her and Taylor-Joy makes her a new favorite character of mine.  Educated by her father to be smart about the world around her and a survivor at a young age, she actively works to get herself and the others to safety every chance she gets.

The suspense and intrigue is really fantastic through the whole movie. MNS keeps this story cut close with its characters and pacing. It wastes no time getting the story going and each moment inside the basement and the brief times out of it do essential story telling, It’s cut down to the essentials and it’s paced really well. Being contained largely to the basement adds to the claustrophobia and the bits with Dr. Fletcher are gasps of air used to reimmerse you into the pit of despair. Great direction and cinematography make the limited sets come to life (I really liked how running down the narrow hallway was done, shades of Nightmare on Elm Street’s boiler room).

Split is effective film making. It shows how much you can do with a small, talented cast and a few sets.  With the ending that hooks it into Unbreakable, my favorite MNS movie, I hope this ball keeps rolling in the right direction.

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Alien: Covenant

Set 10 years after Prometheus, Covenant is the name of the spaceship on a colony mission to a distant planet from Earth. A 7+ year long trip, the whole crew along with the 2,000 colonists are in cryo-sleep to make the journey (there is also a large collection of human embryos). Walter, an android, keeps the ship running along with Mother, Covenant’s computer. While recharging the ship’s batteries using solar sails, a cosmic event causes massive damage to the ship, forcing Walter to wake up the crew. While fixing the ship, they receive a mysterious communication from a planet that’s relatively close. It’s not part of the plan but the signal and planetary research that imply humans are there and it being a suitable new home make a compelling case to make a detour to check it out. That is a mistake.

Watching Alien: Covenant unfold, I couldn’t shake the thought that Ridley Scott’s main directive for this sequel was to directly address one of the loudest complaints of Prometheus:, that it wasn’t Alien enough. Covenant is stuffed with Xenomorphs which is equally bad and good.

First, the good. It’s a fun movie, much more so than Prometheus. When things go bad, the exploration turns into pandemonium and they do not shy away from the horror violence. It’s often a visually striking film with exterior shots on a different planet and the interior of the Covenant. It’s a cohesive and convincing trip off of planet Earth for two hours. The SFX are largely excellent and wild. The movie also stands on its own, you don’t need to see the previous one to know what’s going on as enough info is given when necessary to give context about who and what and why they find on this new planet. Michael Fassbender knocks it out of the park as David and he more or less holds the movie together by keeping the sinister vibe of the movie turned up every time he’s on screen.

Now for the bad. If you’ve seen any of the other movies in this franchise, you’ve pretty much seen this movie already. It does nothing new, is entirely predictable,  and is riddled with cliches. Communication between the crew is a problem the second they get on the planet. The whole crew can’t aim worth a damn. Blood is the most slippery substance in the universe. Characters wander off alone when known threats are literally scurrying about. Inherent trust is given to the guy they just met into the bowels of a place they have no knowledge of with little more than “follow me.” The heroine, Daniels, looks like Ripley so much that it’s distracting (Katherine Waterson is great though). The shower scene is shockingly lazy and so poorly staged it’s a joke. I can’t believe a film maker of Ridley Scott’s level would even film it.

I have mixed feelings about Covenant. As much as I liked the sum of its parts, a lot of the parts are bad. I guess I’m just disappointed. I was hoping for more but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to see a sequel. A good chunk of Alien lore was laid down here and I’m interested to see where it’s taken next. Worth a rental on a rainy day.

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Halt and Catch Fire Season 4

The final season has begun!

Season 4 moves the timeline out of the 80’s into the early 90’s (my best estimation based on the pop culture references is 1993). When we left our quartet they were plotting to start their next venture into a new and unproven market: the internet. The idea was a strong enough one for them to patch up old wounds and come together again. Now we find out that it didn’t last long.

Gordon and Joe stuck together to create their own ISP. Cameron agreed to work with them (Joe specifically) to create their own web browser. When she went back to Japan with her husband, the relationship fell apart. Cameron disappeared again while she worked on her own game (Pilgrim) leaving Joe floundering.

Donna, divorced from Gordon spread her wings elsewhere with Diane. She’s been extremely successful in a power position, leading her own teams as a rival to Gordon and Joe’s company (her web browser is doing way better). Diane is still together with John.

With the passage of time, the girls, Haley and Joanie, have grown up too. Joanie is a rebellious teenager and Haley is an introverted pre-teen.

While Gordon has been building the company, Joe more or less stayed in the company basement spinning his wheels trying to make the web portal of his dreams. Cameron left him in the lurch which gave the competition time to make advances on their head start. While Gordon has been spinning gold with what he’s been given, there are attacks on all sides in the increasingly growing space of ISPs. AOL is getting very aggressive which puts the squeeze on Gordon. During all this, Cameron has been in Japan and ends a 5 month disappearing act by coming to town. This sends Joe into a spiral as his muse comes back into his orbit.

The two episode premiere is a deep dive into the group. The brilliant team that keeps coming together and splintering apart. Gordon and Donna are still friendly even if their parenting skills could use work. Joe is more or less an emotional wreck and Cameron’s life has been secretly unraveling. Her next big game isn’t testing well (the video game space is changing dramatically at this time) and Cameron is stubbornly sticking to her guns that her vision is the end all be all for true gamers. Atari thinks otherwise.

Cameron’s return in crisis is more or less music to Joe’s ears. While he’s MIA with her, Gordon is doing all he can to keep the company running during a major crisis (due to competition). Donna also gets threatened at work despite making smart moves. No matter how successful she is, there is always someone hovering around ready to undermine her. While having dinner with Gordon she gets wind of a new idea Joe has about “indexing the entire web.” You see, not only are the amount of ISP’s growing, but the number of web pages is as well. Exponentially. Joe’s idea is the seed of a search engine. While there is some debate to this, I’m calling Donna’s move with her “Rover” team as a blatant steal. She knowingly nudges her team to brainstorm the idea in front of her so she can legally claim, if need be later on, that it was kismet. It’s something the industry was moving to and they got there on their own. She’s still got a rival at work to deal with so she hires John as a consultant to fend him off for now. Unbeknownst to her, John desperately needs the job.

Watching Joe and Cameron reconnect over the phone was some brilliant writing. I don’t think the fourth time will be the charm as they (and everyone else in this mess) seem to be cursed. But for now, it looks like they are naturally coming together and if they work together, what they did with Mutiny could be a spec of dust compared to what they are likely to accomplish. They will absolutely collide with Donna who struggles to tolerate the both of them. It’s going to get ugly and Gordon will be right in the beginning. It’ll be interesting to see where they take Haley’s newly discovered coding talents.

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Orphan Black <> Season 5 and Series End

I don’t have much to say as I think Orphan Black went out on top. This show went to some crazy places and largely stayed strong through its entire run. 50 episodes over five seasons. That’s a long time to tell a story and the show runners got to tell a complete one.

I watched the premiere episode the night it aired in 2013 and that first scene on the train platform hooked me. It never let me go. A creative show with an amazing cast, Orphan Black gave me all I look for in entertainment. Characters to love and hate, adventure, suspense, laughs and shocks to the system.

Tatiana Maslany must be praised up, down, left, right, front, and back for her amazing work on this show. She absolutely crushed it in the season finale and she must have some relief knowing that her next big gig won’t be her playing 12 characters. I don’t know how she did it.

Season 5 and especially the finale gave me what I wanted, closure. The main story arc that kicked off with the first episode has been completed. The layers of Dyad and the Neolution have been pulled back and explored. It took a heavy toll through the years. Many did not make it and those that do have scars. I know that while my time following these characters is over, somewhere they continue to live.

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Good sci-fi is hard to come by because it’s a difficult genre to crack. But when it happens, man is it a treat. Arrival is one such success.

When 12 alien space craft land on Earth, humanity is put on edge. In the mission to figure out who, what, where and most importantly, why they have come, linguist expert Louise Banks is enlisted. With her knowledge in language, she leads the American team to contact and communicate with the aliens.

Arrival works so well because every step in the filmmaking process was done right. What’s our story about, how can we make it stand out from the rest, and how do we get the message to the viewer clearly? The purpose of the pre-production of this film is the same as the films completed message: the importance of communication.

First, there’s the aesthetics of the movie. The alien presence is of course front and center. The ships are massive pebble shaped structures that hover silently just feet off of the ground  It looks organic, but other worldly. The interior, the little that we do see. shares the natural and minimalistic forms of the outside. The white barrier, where the aliens interact with the humans is the sole light source for the environment. Then, the rather brilliant design of the aliens themselves. The closest representation is aquatic life, but the shape and general articulation also incorporate a wild mix of human and arachnid representation. The alien scope of Arrival is very refreshing and enthralling to see.

One of the bigger selling points I found with Arrival is that it bucks the staple of an invasion movie. Yes, an attack is always on the table as a concern and a threat, but that feeds on our natural instinct to fear what we don’t know. The movie takes its time to slow things down and marinate on that tension. The intellectual side comes out to say, we have to figure this out to gives us every opportunity to come out of this on the other side. That’s where the communication comes in. We need to start with baby steps before we get to the hard questions. We must understand each other first so we don’t get mixed up.

The problems come when we stop talking.

I think this is the best work Amy Adams has done to date and Jeremy Renner as her co-star is another great choice. While the cast is rather small (I’ve been a fan of Forest Whitaker for a long time too), each one brings their own humanity to the screen.

The way this story is told is rather brilliant too. We go on this mission with Louise, she is our point of view. To talk about her journey as it comes around would take away a large part of the movie, so I won’t say any more on that (it’s the biggest hook of the movie, make sure to pay attention).

Arrival is a rather minimalist take on a close encounter alien movie, but it does actually gives you a lot. It’s foreign as it relates to other worlds and languages and rules. But it’s also familiar with its very human story. It’s expertly paced and edited (the sound work is exceptional as well) to under two hours that leaves you with much to consider while avoiding the traps of being too complex or trite.

I heard a lot of praise for Arrival when it came out and I’m happy to report that it was all well deserved.

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Logan is the Wolverine movie I’ve always wanted. Shockingly good. Easily the best X-Men related movie Fox has made to date, this is the kind of story telling the mutant side of Marvel desperately needs.

Set in 2029, Logan is exhausted and not doing well. Working as a limo driver in the southern parts of Texas, he’s resigned himself to staying on the fringes of society. Stay low, make enough money to take care of the ailing Charles Xavier. While struggling to keep things together he runs into a young mutant girl that pulls him into a fight that he can’t stay on the sidelines for.

This movie is Wolverine stripped down to his essence. The loner, the maverick, the samurai, the tempest that’s struggled to keep it together his entire life. Gone are the over the top globe trotting theatrics of the previous Wolverine (and X-Men) movies and it’s done to great effect. Simple works for Logan.

When we join him, it’s clear the past few years have not been kind to him. Then we see Professor X who is holding on by a thread, his illness making one of the world’s most powerful mutants a ticking time bomb. It’s alluded to that when Charles first got sick, something terrible happened (I like that it’s never fully addressed). Another deep scar for them both. This world they live in has gotten very dark. This gives Logan a singular goal: keep himself and Charles safe. Get away to make Charles less of a threat to the population. That’s all there is to his life. Then he meets Laura which pulls his past into the present. The hero must come back.

And what a hero he is. The R rating lets the action lean into Logan’s powers in all of its brutal glory. A living weapon that is devastatingly brutal in close quarters. Laura is no slouch either, she’s an absolute animal. This is no “save the world” story. It’s kept close to the chest, just like the action scenes. Ferocious and impactful, each scene makes its mark.

They found a hell of an actress in Dafne Keen for Laura. She’s perfect in every way. It’s really like watching a young Logan so their interactions together work. It’s a complete arc from his desire to run to the acceptance that he’s needed and needs others. You can’t be alone and be happy. It’s the connections and decisions you make on behalf of others that matter.

This movie is a series of correct decisions. It’s restrained when it needs to be and pops off when it must. No dialog is wasted. Some of the most powerful moments come after the storm and are whispered to those that matter.

Logan: It wasn’t me.

Logan smiles: So that’s what it’s like.

A triumph of a film, let alone a genre picture, Logan is fantastic.

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Bloodline Season 3 <> Series Finale

I’m a big fan of Bloodline and waited to watch the last season because I wasn’t ready for the end. With 10 episodes, it’s the shortest run so there was that much less to anticipate. So did they stick the landing in this family drama of lies and cover ups? Mostly.

I’ve thought of the best way I’d summarize each season. I call Season 1 The Crisis of The Black Sheep, Season 2 The Sliding Aftermath and Season 3 The Consequences. The Rayburn family had an old skeleton in its closet that only got worse with age.

This show had a unique story telling style. The first season wasn’t shy about telling you how it ended almost right from the start. How and why everything got to that point was the story. Season 2 was the escalation of lies. A snowball of cover ups that, for me, made a riveting season to watch.

The final season had a lot of psychological weight to it, a stress that pressed in on everyone for every episode. Mostly it was guilt, surrounded by suspicion and anger from those on the outside (you do not want to be an O’Bannon).

It goes really well for 8 episodes. Then, the penultimate episode took a surreal psychological twist that was very out of character for the show. Maybe not entirely as the Rayburn’s have been under stress that would crack most people. But it was the commitment to doing it for a whole episode that I find bewildering. The 8th episode ends on a major cliff hanger that you have to wait for the final episode to get back to. It’s a detour into a supposed important abyss that I think could have been done in about 10 minutes and then gone back to reality to keep the story on track.

The problem I have is that episode 9 wastes a lot of time that was needed for other characters. With the season being 3 episodes shorter than the norm, time was already of the essence and it made some character motivations come off as unclear and half baked.

There are three characters who basically lose their minds. Two of which I can get behind. The other…it’s a reach. It also feels like they ran out of steam on some story threads (it’s a good thing Netflix didn’t give them a final order of 13 episodes, it would have gotten really bad). I didn’t like what they did with Roy and there was a chunk of important background to him with Sally and Robert that needed to be explored. I didn’t understand Belle’s turn well enough at all. And Ozzy! I loved him in season 2 and he hit a brick wall. It’s like the writer who came up with him left and no one else could figure out how to integrate him back into the story. One of the bigger fizzles of the show for sure. It’s strange. Almost of the threads that went back to Danny (the keystone of the show) ended up being ignored for Marco and Roy.

With those missteps, the finale managed to be strong. At the beginning of the show, you know there can’t be a good ending. I did get closure for most of the main players. That feels good, having a good idea what happens to them after the credits. But the landing stumbles. I felt gipped on John’s ending. It plays out like a dream where some kind of redemption for him is brushed to the side. I’m all for the final scene being between those two characters, but stopping where they did is dumb. End it with a dialog to tell us if the decision was to tell another lie or tell the truth. Then cut it there for an ambiguous but purposeful end. I think all of my problems at the end are easily avoidable, you just need to start with getting that time back from episode 9.

Bloodline didn’t end as strongly as I had hoped, but I still think it’s a great show. I really love the premise (the cast is fantastic) and it’s packed with some intense and memorable scenes. Given time, I’m going return to the Rayburn Inn and enjoy that time in the Florida Keys again.

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