Better Call Saul <> Season 3

This season flew by and gadzooks was it good. Rock solid storytelling made all the more impressive considering how many characters are involved.

The main hook for the show is its ties to Breaking Bad and they put in some juicy bits for fans this year. We’ve seen Mike before but the major piece this year is Gustavo Fring. Along with Fring comes Hector Salamanca. Fascinating stuff. They write the coolest scenarios for Mike and that leads to him meeting Fring, who’s butting heads with Salamanca. What we watch unfold is a direct line to Breaking Bad.

You can’t have Saul without Jimmy of course. The flawed man I love to hate and constantly find myself rooting for no matter what. His brother Chuck, I hope eternally that I get to see him get what his arrogant ass deserves.

With that said…Jimmy goes to really dark places this season. Much of Jimmy’s arc this year is his feud with his brother and it comes to a head. Last year got pretty nuts but I was reeling at the last scene of this season. The fighting goes (fittingly) to the court room and I pretty much steer clear of any courtroom drama shows, they just aren’t my thing. What they did here blew me away it was so riveting and the fallout is nuts. Of course, I’m completely invested in these characters so that makes a world of a difference.

In the middle of all of this (or woven in I should say) is Kim. The only anchor Jimmy really has. She’s a kindred spirit to Jimmy, the share similar experiences in being suppressed and shoved aside despite being so damn good at their profession.

Their ultimate success so far is striking out together in their own practice. Kim wisely insulated herself last year knowing what Jimmy is like. When the verdict comes down from the trial and Jimmy is forced out, it’s a very telling moment for his personality. He’s going to struggle to pay for his part of the office. Kim sees it as just a building, they can move on. It’s much more to Jimmy. It’s a physical landmark to his achievements from under Chuck’s thumb. He’s completely distraught over the idea of losing it. So he gets creative to keep it.

And creative Jimmy is dangerous. We know Jimmy is good (goodish?) at heart but time and time again we see how myopic his view of the world is. That total jerk of a human being is always right underneath the surface. Total disregard with what others could go through as long it benefits him. When he gets his way it’s all about him, just disregard or ignore anything else because I’m making moves. Jimmy has a way of rationalizing things (I’m doing it for us!).

The steam rolling he and Kim give Chuck, which in the end is fascinating to see her take Jimmy’s methodology over her own. She’s run simple scams on some tools for fun with Jimmy, but this was something else. Kim was really onboard to stop Chuck. Then the Irene play Jimmy did. That was straight up grimy and it came as a real relief for me to see him do the right thing in the end.

The very end though? Oof. Chuck’s arc this season is a masterclass in storytelling.

Better Call Saul has a slow and deliberate way to its story arcs. It moves at its own pace by taking the time to set things up. The payoff often takes awhile to come around, not a lot of instant gratification. Each piece moves on its own. For example, Mike’s story arc finishes before all others, there’s a decent amount of show to go when we leave him. But he’s not completely gone as his involvement is passed off to Nacho. That whole web is set up with Fringe early on too. The first half of the season was Mike doing his awesome covert ops stuff and then that morphs into Nacho’s ultra dangerous plot.

Saul is edited slow, it’s completely against the MTV grain of hyper cutting and breakneck pacing. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the show and I think that turns off a lot of people. I don’t think nearly enough people know how great Saul is. I’m so impressed with this season and I can’t wait to see what happens next. With how things are going, it makes me wonder how much is left to tell. Maybe two seasons until we run up against the BB timeline?

I tip my hat to everyone involved in the production: cast, crew, et al.

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Wonder Woman

Let’s get it out of the way in the opening sentence: Wonder Woman is the best DC movie since The Dark Knight.

Wonder Woman and the quality that this film brings to DC fans has been long overdue (to put all of my cards on the table, I’m speaking as a fan of Man of Steel ). I loved pretty much every aspect of this movie and anything I didn’t like is more or less a nitpick (you gotta suspend your disbelief a few times to “go” with movie logic).

The origin story of Princess Diana, Amazonian from Themyscira, daughter of Queen Hippolyta. With the blood of the god Zeus in her veins, young Diana is trained to fight in preparation for the eventual return of Ares, the God of War. She witnesses a pilot crash just of the shores of her home and saves his life. This man, Steve Trevor, is the first to step foot on Themyscira. He tells the Amazonians of the war that’s raging beyond their protected home. Years of fighting and millions dead with no end in sight. Diana recognizes this as her destiny. Ares is back and she must leave with Steve to stop the God of War’s plans.

First, as everyone already knows from her brief screen time in Batman v Superman, Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman. She embodies the comic book hero in every way. She’s perfectly cast, as is Chris Pine for Steve Trevor. This movie is two fish out of water stories, first with Steve on Themyscira and then Diana in Europe. They have an onscreen chemistry that moves with every beat of the story. They’re really funny together and they have a bond that grows through every scene. Their tale is a powerful one.

Wonder Woman feels like something we all need right now. She’s a hero for everyone and stands tall for justice in a world that often feels cynical and dark. She stands by her rock solid morals and speaks up every time she needs to. She questions the status quo and objects to others who make dodgy choices. She’s an instrument for positive change. Not only that, but Steve Trevor is too. In the beginning, there’s what at first seems like a throwaway joke. Diana asks Steve if he’s an average representation of man. He replies with “I’m…above average.” It comes back as an example of humanity.

A gorgeous movie directed by Patty Jenkins, Wonder Woman spans a lot of locals during the first World War. It’s a believable period piece with a man character that has super powers. Themyscira is gorgeous, London dirty and the battlefield grotesque. It’s shot really well with nice wide shots and careful movement that looks exciting but doesn’t get you lost.

Wonder Woman has some of the best action scenes around, which I am eternally grateful for. You don’t have to wait long for a huge battle at the start, and action is sprinkled throughout the second act that culminates in the clash of the titans at the end (I have no problem with how wild it gets at the end. I want my comic book movies to show their roots). There is some excellent fight choreography and each set piece brings something new. Wild defensive moves, crazy feats of strength and some brilliant stuff with the lasso that I don’t think has been done before. Diana is a monster on the battlefield. The woman has a goal when she drops into a room of bad guys: time to knock some sense into these fools. She’s an unrelenting force with a cutting sense of efficiency and grace.

With a runtime of over 2 hours, I was concerned that it would be too long, but there wasn’t a moment when I was bored. I think it’s really well paced with each scene being meaningful and well thought out. Nothing ever drags on. I liked all the guys that Steve brings on board for their quest, it gave the on-the-ground wartime section a Band of Brothers feel. While the two central villains are rather trite (can’t do much new with a German general and Dr. Death gets little screen time), I’m all about Ares. While he hangs back in the shadows for some time, once he’s out, he makes a hell of a presence. His armor is cool, he looks menacing and he’s crazy powerful.

Ares is a terrific foil for Wonder Woman and an effective way to bring about the message of the movie. Diana leaves home with a very nieve idea: all she has to do is kill Ares and his influence over mankind will be gone. It will end the war and man will simply be good again.  It’s a childish view that would be great if it were true but man and all of our faults are much more complicated than that. I really liked Ares dialog with Diana in trying to turn her and that was all underscored by the stages of their fight. The “above average” line I mentioned earlier from Steve comes back here as well. He stops her from doing something in a “greater good” moment that winds up getting many people killed. Diana is furious with Steve and blames him for not caring about others for a rational that doesn’t make sense to her. This action puts her faith in mankind into question. Later, Steve goes to great lengths to protect others. It’s through Steve following his words to action that she sees that Ares is wrong; mankind is good and is worth helping.

I’m stoked that Wonder Woman delivered. I love the ending and I hope the ideas and energy of this story roll into Justice League. The stage is set for even more fun and excitement.

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Doctor Strange

The introduction to magic in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m not a Doctor Strange fan as I’ve never touched one of his books, so I went into this with a blank slate.

Doctor Strange is good. That’s how I felt about it from beginning, middle, to end. The highs are high and the lows are generic and boring.

Dr. Stephen Strange is a gifted neurosurgeon and an obnoxious man. That is until he gets into a car crash that severely damages his hands. Then, he’s just an obnoxious man. With his life’s purpose gone, Strange is adrift. On the search for alternative healing, he finds a whole new world he thought could not exist. The mystic realm is a powerful and mind altering place and Dr. Strange falls in right when the earth needs a defender from another dimension.

The set up is certainly nothing special and I found Steven Strange a hard character to like before he’s “reborn.” In fact, I found few characters in here to really care about. They all fit a worn out mold and at worst, they’re present to do little more than explain things to the audience (Mordo and Wong). Benedict Cumberbatch as Strange does his Cumberbatchiest to put on an American accent. Cast wise my easy favorite is Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. She can class up any role she takes and TAO is by far the most interesting and well fleshed out character in the movie.

The other sore thumb in this movie is the humor. Just about all of it hits the dirt like a big mouth bass gasping to live. I don’t know if it’s this way in the comics, but Strange’s cloak being sentient rubbed me the wrong way. As far as I’m concerned the only living fabric I can believe in is the rug from Aladdin. I don’t want to use the word stupid but there it is.

Now for the pluses. I’m a big Mads Mikkelson fan and he gobbles up every scene as Kaecilus. Sure his motivations for villainy is about as complex as Strange’s origin but at least he looks cool doing it. I think he’s one of the better MCU villains.

Also, this movie is a knockout in the VFX department. I think they invented new colors for the mystic elements that bend, twist, and warp around the screen. It’s wild to look at and the magic elements lead to really interesting and unique action. Also unique, I never thought I’d see tutting used as a fighting technique. That’s a brilliant idea to use as the basis for conjuring spells. Put the digital fireworks over that and you get visuals that would make the Fullmetal Alchemist cast jealous. The climax of the third act is fantastic too, which made up for much of the early boredom I felt.

Of all the Marvel movies released so far, Doctor Strange sits somewhere in the middle for me. Worth a rental when you find you have the time.

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Sneaky shows have appeared

With my DVR on what it would consider a vacation from all the shows it normally records, some surprises showed up this week.

First, the final season of Orphan Black. That was a fast year! Final seasons are always extra stressful as it all comes down to the show runner’s sticking the landing. A bad ending can taint a whole series. OB still has a long way to go to get to the end. The sisters are all spread out and the Neolution movement has new management and they are getting aggressive. The hunt for the cure is still on, Sarah is badly hurt and there is some kind of human experiment running around Neolution’s main camp. There’s a lot of mysteries left to solve.

Ink Master is back with a quick turnaround. This time, it’s shop vs shop. Nine teams of two are in competition so these artists have to be excellent at working together in order to survive. As usual, there are some clearly weak contestants that are simply not going to make it. The added wrinkle is that when one team gets eliminated, another team comes in to take their place (I guess this will happen 4 or 5 times). At least one person on that team will be a returning contestant who failed on their season. That’s a big change for the show as it’s combining the occasional team up challenges with the Redemption angle. The first replacement team has come in and they’ve rattled the rest of the cast by having a well known and respected artist.

Face Off is another one with a quick turnaround. I could have sworn it was coming back at the end of the summer, but I’m clearly wrong. The wrinkle this time: two teams. These “shops” mimic how working in a real effects house is like. One person is elected to be the shop foreman. Since it’s six people on a team, there are more creatures to make at once. This also exactly how the season finales are done and it seems so obvious to do now that they’ve done it.  One shop is chosen as the winner of the challenge with one artist from that team being selected as the week’s best artist. That leaves the losing team, which means one of them is on the chopping block. I’ve got my favorites already, we will see if I’m right. My long shot is the kid from NJ. He doesn’t have a lot of experience but I think he has the talent. The longer he stays on the more he’ll learn so I think the show is very promising for him.

Blood Drive on SyFy starts today. Essentially grindhouse cinema on TV. The first one is about cars that run on human blood instead of gas. Fun idea, we’ll see how wild and wacky they go. A great chance to see what the practical gore produces can do outside of Evil Dead vs Ash!

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Gotham <> Season 3

This turned into a great season, it was so much fun. A lot happened, new characters came in (with great casting) and some old ones came back. The place was crawling with villains at one point but they managed to keep things tidy.

The season finale was fantastic. They got it all right with great closure and growth for story arcs and characters. The Penguin and Riddler relationship turned rivalry turned out great. The Court of Owls was a major point for Bruce and it really advanced his character. Gordon and Leslie had a full and complete chapter that solidified Gordon as a hero. The list goes on and on with all the characters that got time on screen and something meaningful happened.

Major changes are in store for next season. It’s going to be a new slate to draw on because major characters lost a lot of what they were after. The big power groups have been broken apart so much of the old standbys for the show are no longer going to work. That’s very exciting, real repercussions. The hits just kept coming in the last 10 minutes with Solomon Grundy being set up, Celina inching closer to Catwoman and an epic hero shot of Bruce to close the season. The writers hit their stride this season and I hope that they can keep the momentum going.

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Black is the Soul

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The Americans S5E13 <> Season 5

The Soviet Division

This has been a fascinating season. This stretch has been bleak for Elizabeth and Philip. Balancing their spy life and keeping Paige level headed would have been hard enough without all of the complications that happened. The Center pushed them almost nonstop and a lot of people got hurt. They’ve been living this secret and dangerous life for so long that the end, which looked like varying levels of trauma in whatever they decided on, was barreling down on them. The stress has been unrelenting and nearly unbearable.

With the decision for them to leave at the end of episode 12, the reality of detaching from a life they’ve lived and manicured for nearly 20 years cames front and center. There’s a lot to take in, manage and unravel. How feasible is it on leaving? How soon could they leave, what needs to be set up for them to break away?

First the kids. Paige has done well recently. Philip and (especially) Elizabeth have been able to guide their daughter to a level of understanding and mental fortitude they weren’t sure they were going to be able to. They’ve kept her from the violence (Paige knows nothing of the darkness her parents have done) but have instilled the morals and outlook they have. They help people in secret. Getting such a clean break from Pastor Tim is a God send. Through fight training, Elizabeth has gotten Paige through a major trauma and given her some peace of mind. Not only does Paige take a serious shot to the face from Elizabeth during training and shrug it off, but she steels herself to walk through the same lot she and her mother got attacked in. In another small but significant scene, Philip apologizes to her for not giving her a normal childhood (which he now has to completely deny Henry of next). I thought he was going to tell her then and there about moving to the Soviet Union but he doesn’t.

With being so close to Paige, she’s the least of their worries on leaving the States. She could most likely help them with Henry when the time comes. Henry is living his American teenage life and when Philip pulls the rug out from him on going to boarding school, he’s rightfully upset. Philip doesn’t (and can’t) offer him any reason why. “This family stays together!” is the beginning and end of it. It is a true statement though, Philip wants to keep his family together, unlike what’s going on with the Morozov’s.

The Morozov mission is more or less a clusterbomb of misery. Tuan’s rash plan nearly gets Pasha killed. Philip and Elizabeth’s intervention most likely saved his life. Such a gruesome scene, Tuan is basically unaffected by it. With Pasha and his mother, Evgheniya, going back home he sees it as a mission success, even if Alexei still refuses to return to the Soviet Union.  This mission created great pain and has pulled a family apart. It’s a similar result (and heavy burden) to what Elizabeth did last year. Plus, the whole goal was to get Evgheniya back to blackmail and exploit. Her hell is going to continue. Elizabeth and Philip are direct causes of it. Plus, they get way more attention than they wanted. The guard outside of the Morozov house gets involved with saving Pasha and he gives Philip a rather curious look…recognition perhaps?

Tuan is all in. He’s how Philip and Elizabeth started, tunnel vision with no experience of quick decisions and consequences. In a scene that I thought would end with Tuan laying flat on his back, he brazenly tells them of the report he sent to the Center about the mission. Essentially, he was right and they compromised everything by being weak. Elizabeth handles it with amazing grace and care. Instead of pulling rank and crushing him, she lays out reality to him. After quickly shooting down being moved to Vietnam (“If you want to.”) to work, she says she understands why he’s done all this. He is a kid with serious abandonment issues who’s looking for a purpose in his already too traumatic life. He needs a partner. Someone to share the stress of this life that he (currently) wants to have. He will not make it on his own. “Make them send you someone.” As Tuan sees himself being left behind for whatever Elizabeth and Philip will do next, he seems to get the message.

Stepping away from Elizabeth and Philip for a moment, Martha gets a scene. She’s in a park with her handler near some kids playing. Martha is getting a better grasp on the Russian language which gives us the sense that she’s on the path to settling in. Her handler points out a young child (maybe 3) near them and says that she’s an orphan and that Martha can adopt her. United two souls who right now have no one else. The idea of a family (which she brought up a few times with “Clark” before it all went to hell) has an immediate impact on Martha. The promise of not being alone, of a future and an honest purpose.

Stan and Dennis put their mark’s hockey player boyfriend to the lie detector test. Thankfully for them, the guy was puffing himself up to exaggerated heights. They feel confident that he isn’t a Soviet agent and their mark isn’t compromised. Renee also moves in with Stan after a water pipe bursts in her apartment building. Philip, still suspicious of Renee, laments to Elizabeth. “What if she is one of us and they end up having a kid? And Paige thinks she has it bad?”

The Americans has always been about the lives of two spies living in a foreign land. How they’ve entrenched themselves in a completely different culture to subvert a government’s efforts against their own. Gone so long from home, they have limited contact with their own people. While they always know why they are there and that they must do morally questionable things for their people, the motivation and confidence in doing so has waned. Through time and what I would call torture, their resolve has ebbed. Philip wants to flee in the worst way possible. Elizabeth, the one who has been able to stand more resolute, has been pushed to her limits. She’s recently done things she can’t emotionally shake or rationalize away.

So the two are at another crossroads. They agree they need to leave and make moves to get themselves in a place where they can. It’s far more complicated than having a discussion and packing their suitcases. They still have their obligations and need to do them until they leave. They still work for their country. Philip does his routine tape pick-up from Kim’s house. He breaks her heart when he tells her he’s “getting a job in Japan.” When going through the tape of her father he finds major news. He’s getting a promotion to take over the anti-Soviet branch of the FBI. This is unbelievable direct access to information. One of their oldest missions has turned into their most important one. Philip is stuck in a quandary. He’s desperate to leave this behind to the point where he considers not passing on this information to the Center. Dump all his obligations and ditch. No one would know and it would ease his departure, otherwise, it’s a brick wall. The Center denies them from leaving because they have to keep getting those tapes or he further compromises Kim. He’d have to recruit her to do the job for him. Both are nightmare scenarios.

Philip confides in his partner. There’s a lot of reflection in this finale. With the decision to leave made, Philip and Elizabeth look around themselves more. At their American life. They have 2 good kids, the travel agency jobs they use as a front pays well, they have a great place to live. They have comforts they simply do not have at home. Philip’s escape is being weighed on a scale of morals. Elizabeth’s escape takes a turn on something she never thought possible, or at least would not admit it. She’s come to love and accept American capitalism. If she can live like this and help her country, it’s worth it. It’s a reflection of the Morozov’s. With them, the mother is desperate to leave and the father must stay. Elizabeth is very aware that she’s watching Philip be torn apart and that she’s contributing to it. That pushes her to offer an alternative to him. We stay but you stop. Run the travel agency while I continue our real work. Rationally and

Rationally and feasibly it makes sense. They are so far dug in that leaving is a road paved with landmines. While they are confident about Paige, they’re not sure if Henry would be able to cope. They could have their own Pasha. Getting Philip out clean and clear means more terrible things to his conscience and may not even work. If Elizabeth can soldier on for Philip, they could all live the lives they want right where there are.

I didn’t see this season play out the way it did. As usual, the writers met and exceeded my expectations for my favorite show. I don’t think there was a bad episode this year and I was enthralled from start to finish. It’s going to be bittersweet to see how the show ends in 2018.

 

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A Buncha Season Finales

Arrow- Overall a good season with the ultimate payoff being the end of the flashbacks. The last half of the season cut down of the frequency and finally getting to the end of that vision arc is long awaited by everyone. Prometheus proved to be a good villain for the year that pushed Oliver and the team into dark places. Melodrama is basically impossible to avoid on this show but I think they kept from going overboard. Along with the completion of the backstory, the finale is open to the possibility of a cast change (I think there are too many characters now). Looking forward to next year.

Modern Family- The long and frequent breaks killed any kind of momentum they generated. Not exactly a serial show but some kind of airing consistency is nice to have. It was easy to forget this show and I’m having a hard time remembering much of what happened (especially at the beginning). I only remember one truly awful episode in the last batch of shows so that’s good. They maintain a steady amount of laughs and with Manny and Luke graduating high school the show is going to get new angles to mine. Joe is growing like a weed and they’re even going to skip Lily a year to get her more interesting things to do. With the 2 season renewal, I get the feeling the end of the series will be at season 10.

Archer- I think the only thing I liked about this season was the animation. I liked the drug trade season from a few years ago way more than this. “Dreamland” was remarkably not funny and the end was even a colossal bummer. I didn’t get this season at all.

Hawaii 5-0- My guilty pleasure cop show remains a pleasure. I think one episode a year there’s a truly bad episode, otherwise, it’s often a good run. They bring back characters a lot, give the main cast a spotlight arc here and there which I really like (except for Lou, he kinda bores me). Keeps things varied and interesting and avoids the tired Danny and Steve bickering like a married couple shtick from getting overbearing. Please stop doing that, I don’t think anyone likes it. While the action (fire and fist fights, on foot chase scenes, explosions) tends to be good, they gotta step up their car chase game. It’s usually very fake looking. The truck rescue set piece in the finale is more of what I’m looking for. Putting Kono on a righteous mission has got me looking forward to next year.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine- I didn’t see that ending coming! This show has found its groove and all the characters bring something to the table. A careful balance of using the right characters at the right times and they manage to come up with great story arcs inside and outside of the precinct. Fox is up to its old stupid tricks though, they aired this show in the weirdest ways. Starts off in time for the standard Fall schedule for five weeks then goes away for a month. Another five weeks and then off for the holidays. Comes back for a double episode in January and then it’s gone until April. Four weeks of regular airing and then Fox burns through the last six episodes in three weeks with double episodes. What kind of schedule is that? That’s what they do with a show they cancel and shove out what episodes are in the can to make fan shut up so they can move on as fast as possible for no reason. You’d never think season 5 was coming the way they treat this show. If I didn’t have this season set to record I would have thought it disappeared mid season and forgotten about it.

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The Americans S5E12

The World Council of Churches

Elizabeth and Philip are seriously considering retirement. The next time they meet with Claudia they tell her and she says that she understands when agents feel like it’s time they rarely regret being pulled out. She’ll start discussions with the Center to get the ball rolling. Reacclimation takes 2-3 years, but they worry less about themselves for this decision and more for their kids. They’re especially concerned about Henry. Claudia advises not to tell him until they’ve actually left. On their own, Elizabeth and Philip think Paige would have the easiest time. Everytime we see Henry, you can see the pit in their stomachs grow. Henry is really happy. A full blooded American kid, he’s got a girlfriend and he’s looking forward to his future more every day. He even makes them dinner with his girlfriend to thank them for giving their blessing to go away for school. I can see very little being more traumatic for Henry to one day up and leave and be told the truth when they land in the Soviet Union.

Pastor Tim gets the offer for ministry work overseas and he takes it. Paige is happy but taken aback by it a bit. She’s really not sure how to react knowing that she helped to get him this offer to get rid of him. It is relief though and her parents have a muted, but welcome response when she tells them. A big surprise is after telling them, Paige takes off the crucifix she’s been wearing for years. Not just take it off, but throws it into the kitchen garbage can. Philip and Elizabeth are stunned and tell her she has to keep it on until he leaves. It’s a stark contrast to who Paige has been and believed in. It’s transformation how she holds Pastor Tim in her mind and that she’s more like her parents now. She asks more details about their past (where the name Jennings came from) and we also get to see her train by herself in the garage. Additionally, in a big surprise to me, Elizabeth and Philip seek council with Pastor Tim on moving the kids. With him moving on they must not see him as a threat and when you think about it, there’s no one else they can ask advice from. He has their same concerns- especially with Henry being completely in the dark.

Oleg gets more heat. He’s questioned again and this time the outright say it. It’s shady that William got busted when he shouldn’t have been under suspicion. Your contact with Stan and the other two Soviet agents who were in Stan’s sphere looks like more than a coincidence.  We’re sniffing you out for treason. Oleg handles it well and keeps himself safe (for now at least). His work on the food thing is major points in his standing with officials. It clearly helped him. He also manages to throw some influence around, keeping one of his informants out of jail. With all of this good work done, it also comes out that it looks like the investigation isn’t going to go any further. They’ll punish two or three people but it seems like Oleg has hit a corruption wall. One of his bosses puts the breaks on things for seemingly no logic reasoning. Oleg talks to his dad who offers help and Oleg turns it down. He wants to keep his father away from everything he’s dealing with to keep any potential fallout contained.

In a surprise scene, Mischa meets his uncle (Philip’s brother), aunt and cousin. I assume it’s the work of Gabriel to give Mischa a tether to family in replacement of meeting his father.

Stan and Dennis get blindsided. The mark they’ve been working with shows up with her boyfriend. They told her to keep him at arm’s length and not only is she engaged (!) she told him everything. Much like when Paige was talking to Pastor Tim, Stan and Dennis struggle to keep their faces from exposing their horror. They’re really quite during the meeting of this guy (who actually asks they give her more money for her dangerous work and that he can work for them too) and try their best to not tip their hand in any direction. Maintain calm to get out of this. Back at the office, Stan and Dennis have to re-evaluate everything. She’s as good as burned no matter what. She fell head over heels for this guy and the jig is up, they’ve lost control of this asset so what do they do now?

Finally, the show takes a flying kick to the face in the last scene. Tuan’s bully plan has worked.  Pascha is getting beat up. Elizabeth see’s the black eye herself when talking to his mother, Evgheniya, at their home. Elizabeth works to get Evgheniya to stand up to Alex to protect Pascha, but she says Alex won’t listen to her. The other half of the plan isn’t going to work. Pascha’s misery is enough to move the mother to want to go back to the Soviet Union but not the father. They need a new idea.

Tuan comes up with one on his own and doesn’t wait to put it into motion. He shows Pasha how to cut his wrists to miss the arteries and co-writes his suicide note. Do it just in time for when his parents can find him and force his father’s hand. Tuan is sure, whether Pascha lives or dies, that this will get them what they want.  Elizabeth and Philip rightfully freak out and Philip bolts to get to Pascha’s house when no one picks up the phone. To complicate matters, the Morozov house is being watched.

The season finale is next! The race is on at the very start of next week’s episode and whatever happens there is going to point the direction of what Elizabeth and Philip can do. There is a lot up in the air. The real logistics of leaving (besides the kids, what about the long term Kansas mission). Tuan has gone rogue with a sacrifice move in one of their missions. And where has Stan’s girlfriend Renee been? Is she a spy?

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Into the Badlands <> Season 2

Fun season. The expansion from 6 to 10 episodes offered a larger and longer look into the Badlands that I liked a lot. We got to see much more of the world, many more locations and outside set pieces. Last year I can’t remember too many locations that were far from Baron compounds.

This season took off a few months after the end of the last where Quinn is considered dead, his son has taken his place, Sunny is locked up and MK is in some kind of monetary hiding to learn how to control his power.

The Widow is more or less the main focus as she upended the Baron power structure. Her aspirations to change the world, to essentially eliminate slavery, is an admirable one but she gets a lot of pushback from the other Barons. Then Quinn makes his presence known and throws everything into to disarray. Surprisingly, MK takes much more of a back seat for this run. While we see him in training, his arc is pretty simple and he comes in and out of the story in bursts, the point where he has little to do with the season finale.

Sunny’s whole push is to get to his wife and son which is quite the journey. Nick Frost plays the new character, Bajie, who was a great addition. You first meet him and think he’s just another prisoner, but they intertwine him well. All the scenes he’s in are mostly great and getting to see him fight is a blast.

Speaking of fights, I want to say there were more (or longer) fights per episode last season than in this one. That’s how I remember it but I’m probably wrong. While there are great sequences throughout, the real standouts are in episode 9 and 10. There’s some truly amazing choreography in the finale. The wire work is especially good. It’s superhuman but it still maintains a sense of real world weight.

The show is always drop dead gorgeous. Some of the best cinematography around and the action blocking and editing is second to none on TV. One of my favorite things about Into the Badlands is that there is no other show like it on TV. I like the world, the characters, the actors and the feeling of being somewhere familiar but ultimately new. Great set up for next season which is getting another bump in episode size.

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The Americans S5E11

Dyatkovo

The end of this episode was absolutely nuts! Considering the 40-minute build up, the pay marks one of the most shocking moments of the series.

Oleg and his partner question the woman they’ve been scouting. She’s one of the higher ups in the food game and when they pressure her in questioning, they get more anger than fear out of her. She’s rather offended that government employees are coming after her. They live in a world that the general Soviet people don’t live in, oblivious to the struggles and how their country really operates. She works for powerful people and is simply doing her job in a system she didn’t set up and has no control over. This is just how things work…she’s not going to talk.

Of the Jenning kids, Henry gets some time this week. First, Philip and Elizabeth come to agree that if Henry wants to go to boarding school, he should be able to go. If he gets in, they won’t be a barrier, Henry, more interestingly, gets to tag along with Stan to the FBI for an article for the school newspaper. Stan gives him a general tour and when Henry shows him the first draft of his writing, he thinks Henry is laying it on a little thick. Henry has been more that impressed by what he saw and wonders why Stand doesn’t think his career is awesome. It’s all about relationships. In his line of work, Stan can’t blindly trust anyone. Everyone he meets must be scrutinized, it’s his job to sniff out deception from anyone, no matter their age, sex, gender or ethnicity.  That kind of mentality follows you home.

When Henry comes home, Philip and Elizabeth see how excited he is from the field trip. When they ask about his day one thing in particular sticks to them: the room that can’t be bugged.

This episode sees an entire reprieve from their missions in Kansas. At their meeting with Claudia, she first relays information the asked her for previously: yes, the Center weaponized the virus they took off of William. They named it after him to boot. Not too thrilled about getting that confirmation, Claudia puts them on a new mission. The Center believes they’ve found a woman they’ve been looking for 40 years. They say she’s guilty of killing hundreds of Soviet soldiers during World War II (Dyatkovo is a town in Russia that was heavily contested through much of WWII, the location’s occupation force changed multiple times).

Elizabeth and Philip especially, are skeptical. How did the Center find her? What evidence did they find and use to finally track her down? The first task the Center wants them to do is simply stake her out. Take pictures, see how she’s living her life and they’ll take it from there.

In a short amount of time, they scope her out and report their findings (with pictures). The Center is convinced that they found their woman and want her taken out to punish her crimes against her countrymen. Elizabeth and Philip are not happy about being put on this. After the lab fiasco, they have a lot of doubts that make them not blindly follow orders now.

I’m not going to describe what happens. It’s one of the most emotionally vacillating and intense scenes in The Americans. They found brilliant actors to make the scene work as well as it does. I was left dumbfounded and what Elizabeth says afterward means it’s completely changed her. She’s been able to compartmentalize and soldier on better than Philip, but this…oof.

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The Americans S5E10

Darkroom

Major, major moves for Paige in this episode. I’ll save her for last as it’s the biggest plot point. I’ll start with the brief updates on the other 2 angles.

Oleg is more or less stewing. He’s made progress at work and has dodged getting into trouble from the surprise search of his home. While they found nothing and he navigated the interrogation well last week, it’s still a dark cloud following him. This episode we see him making friends with his partner while they’re on a stakeout. His partner clearly thinks well of Oleg so it looks like Oleg is making positive strides on someone he needs to trust him. His relationship with his parents is ice cold though.

Stan and Dennis’ recruitment, Sofia, looks like it’s going to start producing results soon (she’s got a hell of a smile now too).

The spike being driven into the Morozov family to get them to go back to the Soviet Union has started to hit flesh. Philip talks to Alexei (getting very little out of him) but Elizabeth gets much more from Evgheniya. Tuan’s twisted plan to get Pasha bullied so bad that it will force Evgheniya’s hand has worked. Some kids put dog feces into Pasha’s locker and it’s a fight every morning to get him to go to school. He and his mother weren’t happy to start with and this is turning into real trauma. So much so that Evgheniuya admits to Elizabeth about having the affair. Using her masterful manipulation skills (by way of motherly concerns), Elizabeth plants the seed that Evgheniya needs to fight for what she wants: her son to be happy. The seed to go back home has been planted.

Claudia tells Elizabeth and Philip that the wheat sample they got (and went back home with Gabriel) is a fantastic specimen. But the results of that effort won’t likely be seen for years. They both have to stick with their marks long term. Their faces when being told this speaks volumes about how they feel about it. As an aside, I totally misunderstood who Father Andrei is. He, just like Elizabeth and Philip was being handled by Gabriel. He isn’t a replacement (I believe Claudia is temp until a permanent one can be installed) and is now rather rudderless without Gabriel. He comes into use this episode though.

Philip still goes to EST meetings occasionally. The latest topic for this meeting is that people are machines, run with basic objectives with no free will that operates on simple stimulus. Philip is not cool with that. With having to deal with his mark in Topeka crushing him down, something he absolutely does not want to do (and feeling disillusioned with The Center’s motives) he feels the overwhelming need to take control of something in his life. What’s been keeping him grounded and what does he truly care about? Elizabeth. Their relationship was manufactured. A mission with the appropriate fake documents made so he and Elizabeth could hide in plain sight in the US. Through the years they’ve grown together and have formed an undeniable bond. Their marriage hasn’t been real and Philip wants to change that. Elizabeth agrees. They are secretly married by Father Andrei.

United stronger than ever, Paige enters the fold. This whole bit was watching The Americans unfold at it’s finest, really one of the best arcs to come together in the series.

Philip and Elizabeth come home late at night to see Paige cleaning the kitchen floor. To say she’s distraught is an understatement. Paige has continued to spy on Pastor Tim by reading his journal when she babysits for him. In it, she finds an entry about her. Pastor Tim thinks she’s a broken girl with a lost soul that may never be saved. She’s  being harshly judged by someone she’s admired and respected for a long time. This puts incredible self- doubt on her. Her parents work to pull her back from the edge: this man, this judgemental man, doesn’t know her. Doesn’t know her heart, her thoughts, her dreams. They know her and know that this guy is full of it.

They next approach her with an idea. It isn’t right for her to have to be around this guy for years to come, to constantly monitor his threat level to them. What if we can get him humanitarian work overseas? At first, she’s shocked and dismisses it. How can you control another person’s life like that without their knowledge? It’s creepy and weird. They lay it out for her: it’ll be something he really wants to do and it’ll be nothing but positive for him and his family. We can’t force him to go, we can set up an opportunity, but he has to take it. It’s his choice. That seems to move her, but she has her doubts, so she asks about what has happened with “the wheat and the bugs and stuff.” They simplify what happened (lying through omission really) but they do tell her the truth. Their people will not starve because of infestation. They present the results to her so she thinks they had direct influence in stopping mass murder (an evil plot that actually never existed. Oh, and they killed an innocent man). They changed the world for the better because it was the right thing to do. They helped people and that is the sole reward for the work they must do in secret. That speaks to the core of who Paige is. It makes her feel good about what her parents do. It’s a large weight off her conscience.

This leads to the final scene and the reveal of the episode title. Paige took pictures of Pastor Tim’s journal in the hopes that they could pull info from it to figure out the ideal job offer for him. She hands the camera to them, knowing that bringing it to a photo mat would be stupid. Elizabeth and Philip get to work right away, bringing Paige right along side. They go into the garage and Paige watches her parents build a darkroom and develop the film themselves. As the pictures become legible, Pastor Tim’s words become visible and it’s horrible stuff. Elizabeth and Philip are absolutely stone-faced in anger as they read the condemnation and damnation of their daughter and themselves.  Before this, Paige mentions to her parents that Harry should get to go away to school because that’s what is right for him. He’s different, he’s not like them. Paige is now completely turned away from Pastor Tim and standing next to her parents.

 

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