Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Da Vinci's Demons: History, Science, and Science Fiction

I caught up on the first three episodes of Da Vinci's Demons on Starz last night - the latest offering from David Goyer (of Flashforward television fame) - and I found the series superb, a full-bodied, top-of-the-line player in the surge of outstanding historical dramas that are lighting up television these days.

In time and place, Da Vinci's Demons is closest to The Borgias - in fact, in the exact same places in Italy, and only two decades or so years earlier.  You'll find familiar family names - such as the De Medici's and the Sforza's - as young Da Vinci (25 years old) contends from Florence with the Pope and his nephew. The lovemaking and nudity is also in good supply - even a bit more with Da Vinci, as befits his Renaissance-man talents as a painter and anatomist - and the ambience is as lush and captivating.

But Da Vinci's Demons has far more than political and erotic intrigue.   Da Vinci was a scientist and inventor far ahead of his time - sketching helicopters and tanks that could well have been built right then and there had the needed collateral technology been at hand.  Like Heron of Alexandria 1400 years before him and Charles Babbage 400 years later, Da Vinci belonged to the very small group of visionaries who literally saw the future in their fundamental understanding of the world around them.  Indeed, Da Vinci is easily at the top of this class, and his scientific pursuits, which included not only anatomy but botany and geology, are amply portrayed in the series.   Da Vinci's Demons in its scientific story lines is akin to Vikings on the History Channel, and its excellent depiction of Norse advances in ship building - though the Viking science of ship building is one-dimensional in comparison to what Leonardo wrought.

Such extraordinary range and depth of real scientific knowledge logically spills over into science fiction and fantasy, or speculation about what deep wells of knowledge are feeding this world, and reside beyond.  The possibility that the ancients knew far more than we give them credit for has long been a theme in my own science fiction, and figures in such popular culture triumphs as The Da Vinci Code and Rimbaldi in Alias.   Da Vinci's Demons features an ancient (fictional) Book of Leaves, which contains knowledge of the universe that goes well beyond science.   As the young Leonardo begins to learn of this book and its secrets, he comes into conflict with the Vatican and its desire to contain it and keep it from the world.   As is the case with all good science fiction, there is a proximity to reality which gives it punch:  Leonardo comes across a map of a continent which no one recognizes but he somehow knows is true.  It's a map of South America, a few decades before Columbus, a time when other historically unrecorded voyagers could well have made the trip across the Atlantic, as the Vikings in fact had done some 500 years earlier.

Da Vinci's Demons thus has everything a devotee of historical fiction and science fiction could ask for.   In its fantasy elements, the series also has a kinship with Game of Thrones, but the situation of Da Vinci's Demons in our real world makes it more compelling in my book.

                                        

Revolution 1.15: Major Tom and More 24

RevolutionRevolution 1.15 continues firing on all cylinders - and continues drawing on the fine female acting talent on 24.

Last week we met the President of the Georgia Republic - played by Leslie Hope aka Jack Bauer's late wife Teri on 24.  Tonight we meet Emma played by Annie Wersching - who played FBI agent Renee Walker, my favorite of Jack's love, who after finally getting an hour in bed with him suffers the same fate as Teri.   Wersching's having a good year on television, also showing up on the new Dallas.

I like her role on Revolution much better than on Dallas, but it seems Emma's ending up the same way as Renee on 24 - shot dead.   But here's the thing - I never fully believe characters are dead on television unless they're blown to bits, or get their head blown off, right in full review (see my review of tonight's season 1 finale of The Following).   And although Emma's clearly shot, and unconscious, and although Miles puts the blanket over her face as the wagon pulls away with her body, something about that scene makes me think she's still alive - something about the way she looked before the blanket was put over her face.  Not to mention that both Miles and Monroe love her, so the show would be crazy to throw her away.  Maybe I'm just sentimental - we'll see.

Meanwhile, out west in another new country on the other side of the Mississippi, Aaron runs into his missing wife.  Although the ending of that story isn't exactly happy, no one is killed, and it's nice to learn a little more about Aaron's personal life.

The big reveal at the end of the episode is Major Tom showing up in the President's office in the Georgia Republic.  This was predictable, based what happened with Tom back in Monroe, but it sets up an excellently tense and deadly situation among our major characters.   Charlie rightly holds Tom responsible for the deaths of not only her father but her brother, and, whatever the President of Georgia may want or say, or even Miles, Charlie will insist on killing Tom sooner or later.

Good Revolution on television ahead this season - and next season, too, since the show is deservedly being brought back for a second season.


Monday, April 29, 2013

The Following Season 1 Finale: Doing and Dead

The Following concluded its first season with a suitably harrowing and ambiguous ending, and Ryan's denouncement not only of Joe - "those who can do, those who can't teach" (ouch!) - but of Poe, which shows that Ryan was mainly baiting Joe, i.e., not necessarily telling him what he really believed.  Good!

But the biggest tantalizing ambiguity we're left with is how many major characters died in the finale?

Debra, alas, yes.   Ryan and Mike just don't get there quite in time, and although Debra's head hasn't been blown off - the surest sign of death in a TV drama - she looked pretty lifeless as Ryan tried in vain to revive her.

Next, we have Joe himself.  He's blown to smithereens, but we don't see his body.  Remains are recovered in the water, but another guy also died in the explosion, and though the dental records and preliminary DNA say it's Joe, I'm thinking that's not quite a definitive ID.  I give Joe a 50/50 chance of showing up alive next season.

Of course, even if Joe is dead, all of his followers are not.  We see Emma near the end in Alabama, and the woman who has been sleeping with Ryan on and off, but is a follower, shows up as Ryan and Claire are about to have dinner, and badly stabs them both.

Ryan looks to be a little less wounded than Claire, and, let's face it, killing him would end the series, which is returning next season.

What about Claire?  The series could definitely go on without her, with Ryan grimly hunting Joe or his surviving followers if Joe is dead, but I'm thinking Claire has a chance of pulling through.

So, where does that leave us?   We'll definitely see Ryan alive and kicking next season, and I'm thinking Claire will pull through, and, you know what, I bet we'll see Joe afoot at some point next season, too - though whether he'll be the major villain as he was this year, it's hard to say.

Ok, enough speculating.  I'm going back to writing - doing - not teaching.  The spring semester is almost over.


Bones Season 8 Finale: Can't Buy the Last Few Minutes

Well, you my readers all know how much I enjoy Bones.   I always try to find what's right about it, which usually is pretty easy, because so much of the story is so good.  But I gotta say even I can't bring myself to say I much liked the ending of tonight's otherwise excellent season 8 finale.

It was good to see Pelant back in action, an appropriately disturbing book end - or, actually, another deadly station in the harrowing train ride he has taken with our cast.   And while I thought that Booth was his target - which would have been obvious and was certainly telegraphed in all of the ads for this finale - giving that distinction to Sweets was a nice surprising move.

The other major factor tonight was Booth and Bones deciding at last to get married - yes! -  after Bones' not Booth's proposal.   This also was a very good move, to say the least, and something the narrative has building towards all season (see some of my reviews of previous episodes this season).

I also get that we cannot and should not expect too many happy endings in a show like Bones, where death and therefore disappointment are contant companions to humor and the joys.  And therefore the options in the continuing story are limited.  We know, for example, that neither Booth nor Bones can be killed - and, as I mentioned in my review of last week's fine episode - neither can any major member of the cast - without turning the show into something different, which no one wants.  Only interns can be fair game - ever since the departure of Zach Addy - which is what made last week's episode so riveting.

But we still want some differences or something different in the story as it develops, which is what made this year's story such a pleasure - Booth and Bones finally together, as they should be.

And the next step, the next difference, of the two being married would have been good to see indeed.  In fact, the flat-out best parts of tonight's episode were the reactions of all the major characters to the news that Bones and Booth were getting married.

Now, I could nonetheless accept their not getting married - hey, I have no choice, no viewer has - if the reason seemed grounded in a believable story.

But what happened at the end of tonight's episode was not.  Pilant tells Booth he'll kill five innocent people if he marries Bones, so Booth can't marry Bones, and, moreover, he can't tell her because Pilant will know?   I just don't believe that Booth would go along with that.  Maybe, ok, he'd postpone the marriage, but he'd find a way to let her know.

Maybe that will happen next season, and that's the one bright spot in this season 8 finale.  Unlike the series finale of Lost, which was irredeemable, tonight's season finale of Bones has a chance to correct itself next season, which I'm very much looking forward to.

See also Bones 8.1: Walk Like an Egyptian ... Bones 8.2 of Contention ... Bones 8.3: Not Rotting Behind a Desk  ... Bones 8.4: Slashing Tiger and Donald Trump ... Bones 8.5: Applesauce on Election Eve ... Bones 8.6: Election Day ... Bones 8.7: Dollops in the Sky with Diamonds ...Bones 8.8: The Talking Remains ... Bones 8.9: I Am A Camera ... Bones 8.10-11: Double Bones ...Bones 8.12: Face of Enigmatic Evil ... Bones 8.13: Two for the Price of One ... Bones 8.14: Real Life ... Bones 8.15: The Magic Bullet and the Be-Spontaneous Paradox ... Bones 8.16: Bitter-Sweet Sweets and Honest Finn ... Bones 8.17: "Not Time Share, Time Travel" ... Bones 8.18: Couples ... Bones 8.19: The Head in the Toilet ... Bones 8.20: On Camera ... Bones 8.21: Christine, Hot Sauce, and the Judge ... Bones 8.22: Musical-Chair Parents ... Bones 8.23: The Bluff

And see also Bones 7.1: Almost Home Sweet Home ... Bones 7.2: The New Kid and the Fluke ...Bones 7.3: Lance Bond and Prince Charmington ... Bones 7.4: The Tush on the Xerox ... Bones 7.5: Sexy Vehicle ... Bones 7.6: The Reassembler ... Bones 7.7: Baby! ... Bones 7.8: Parents ...Bones 7.9: Tabitha's Salon ... Bones 7.10: Mobile ... Bones 7.11: Truffles and Max ... Bones 7.12: The Corpse is Hanson ... Bones Season 7 Finale: Suspect Bones

And see also Bones 6.1: The Linchpin ... Bones 6.2: Hannah and her Prospects ... Bones 6.3 at the Jersey Shore, Yo, and Plymouth Rock ... Bones 6.4 Sans Hannah ... Bones 6.5: Shot and Pretty ... Bones 6.6: Accidental Relations ... Bones 6.7:  Newman and "Death by Chocolate" ...Bones 6.8: Melted Bones ... Bones 6.9: Adelbert Ames, Jr. ... Bones 6.10: Reflections ... Bones 6.11: The End and the Beginning of a Mystery ... Bones 6.12 Meets Big Love ... Bones 6.13: The Marrying Kind ... Bones 6.14: Bones' Acting Ability ... Bones 6.15: "Lunch for the Palin Family" ...Bones 6.16: Stuck in an Elevator, Stuck in Times ... Bones 6.17: The 8th Pair of Feet ... Bones 6.18: The Wile E. Chupacabra ... Bones 6.19 Test Runs The Finder ... Bones 6.20: This Very Statement is a Lie ... Bones 6.21: Sensitive Bones ... Bones 6.22: Phoenix Love ... Bones Season 6 Finale: Beautiful

And see also Bones: Hilarity and Crime and Bones is Back For Season 5: What Is Love? and 5.2: Anonymous Donors and Pipes and 5.3: Bones in Amish Country and 5.4: Bones Meets Peyton Place and Desperate Housewives and Ancient Bones 5.5 and Bones 5.6: A Chicken in Every Viewer's Pot and Psychological Bones 5.7 and Bones 5.8: Booth's "Pops" and Bones 5.9 Meets Avatar and Videogamers ... Bad Santa, Heart-Warming Bones 5.10 ... Bones 5.11: Of UFOs, Bloggers, and Triangles ... Bones 5.12: A Famous Skeleton and Angela's Baby ... Love with Teeth on Bones 5.13 ... Faith vs. Science vs. Psychology in Bones 5.14 ... Page 187 in Bones 5.15 ...Bones 100: Two Deep Kisses and One Wild Relationship ... Bones 5.17: The Deadly Stars ...Bones Under Water in 5.18 ... Bones 5.19: Ergo Together ...  Bones 5.20: Ergo Together ... Bones 5.21: The Rarity of Happy Endings ... Bones Season 5 Finale: Eye and Evolution

       

Vikings Season 1 Finale: Below the Ash

The dogwoods, cherry trees, and redbuds are shimmering like gossamer cotton candy in my neighborhood today, in stark contrast to the rugged, icy terrain and the huge tree that pieced the clouds in the finale of the too-short nine-episode first season of Vikings last night.   But it was a fine beginning indeed, and Michael Hirst deserves kudos for tackling such a complex, soaring historical subject with such style and power.

The stage has now been thoroughly re-set after the death of Haraldson, with Ragnar facing a new enemy which includes at long last his brother Rollo.  Brave and smart, but not as smart or visionary as Ragnar, Rollo has all season been both loyal to his brother and chafing under the recognition that Ragnar has received but Rollo has not.  Like all second-bests, Rollo seems unaware that it was Ragnar's vision, which Rollo often opposes, that propelled Ragnar's journeys to the west and their successful plundering of England.

But, significantly, Rollo is not the only one separating from Ragnar.  The same is happening with Lagertha, although she definitely doesn't want this.  But Lagertha's miscarriage has somehow given the superstitious Ragnar the idea that maybe the gods are not smiling on the possibility of more of his sons from Lagertha.  So he is primed to look elsewhere, and Lagertha fully senses this.

Thus, for a variety of reasons, Ragnar can't resist sleeping with the beautiful princess he finds on his journey to the big ash tree.   I can't recall if Ragnar slept with anyone other than Lagertha in the story before the finale - he refrained during the attacks on England, certainly the one in which Lagertha accompanied him - but given the Viking culture that we've seen, it seems a pretty safe bet that he has indeed partaken.  On the other hand, son Bjorn who sees Ragnar and the princess making love - and is unsurprisingly not happy about it - warns Ragnar that "Lagertha would cut your balls off" if she knew about this, and gets Ragnar to promise that this will just be a starry one-night stand.

Surprisingly, Ragnar keeps that promise, at least once saying no to the princess when she wakes him the next evening.  But her revelation the next time they meet that she's pregnant will change everything, assuming she's telling the truth and especially if she's carrying Ragnar's son.  Depending upon how quickly the series moves through the years of Ragnar's life and exploits, we may well see some sort of conflict in the future between Bjorn and the son the princess bears.

But, first, Ragnar will have to deal with fighting his brother in the conflict between the king whom Ragnar supports and the earl that Rollo has now thrown his lot in - not to mention what will happen with Ragnar and Lagertha.

Lots of good viewing in the future of Vikings with such ground-changing developments below the ash, and I'm looking forward to the second season on the History Channel in 2014.




The Good Wife Season 4 Finale: Good Twist!

Well, The Good Wife has been promising a good twist at the end of its season 4 finale in ads all week.  And it delivered!

After showing us Alicia kissing Will in a car, and Alicia looking uncomfortable when Peter comes to her  to share the thrill of his winning the election, we find out what's really going on in the last minute of the episode:  Alicia's leaving not Peter but Lockhart Gardner!

It's a great move for a variety of reasons for the characters and certainly for us in the audience.

Alicia's takeaway from her kissing Will in the car is that she can't think her way out of what to do about the feelings she still has for Will, reignited by the previous kiss some episodes ago.  So a little distance from Will, as in not working in the same firm with him, seems like a good idea.

She also will have far more power with her and Cary as equals, or even she his superior, in the start-up breakaway firm.  Diane and Will have made it clear over and over again that Alicia is not an equal partner, not to mention the roster of other partners with attitudes.

And there are all kinds of fresh possibilities now in the running for next season.  If Diane is indeed offered and takes the judgeship - which she presumably will only get by denouncing Will, unless Peter ignores the big judge's pressure - that will leave Will as head of a very different law firm than we've seen, with no Alicia or Diane.   But even if Diane stays, life at the firm will be very different, radically different, without Alicia.

Kalinda looks like she's staying, but her new assistant looks like she's going with Cary and Alicia.   So we'll have two firms of interest to us, chocked with talent not only legal but investigative.  Not to mention that Peter will be Governor.

It was a great season - the best so far, I'd say, for The Good Wife - and I'm looking forward to more in the Fall.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Mad Men 6.5: MLK

One of the best things about Mad Men is how it shows our characters reacting to publicly catastrophic events, such as the assassination of JFK.   Tonight  in Mad Men 6.5 we get the same for the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.

We get some surprises.  Pete turns out to be more ethical than Harry, shouting at Harry when he complains about the continuing preemption of regular television programming in the aftermath of the assassination, and the impact that's having on advertising.  Of course, part of Pete's moral outrage might be fueled by the pain and guilt he feels from fracturing his own family, but even so it was powerful and satisfying to see.

Dawn, chastised by Joan a few weeks ago for the stupid petty business of checking out Harry's secretary's time card - that is, it was stupid and petty for Joan to chastise Dawn for this - rebuffs Joan's offer of sympathy tonight about MLK.  I like Joan, but she got just what she deserved.

Most significant, as always, is the response of Don and his family.

First, we get an outstanding scene of Don and son Bobby in the movie theater seeing Planet of the Apes.   This is Don's way of honoring Betty's punishment of no television for Bobby because he was peeling a bit of the wallpaper off in his room.  Good for Don - Betty continues to be the worst mother in the world.   And it's good to see Don looking at theater as a good place to take his son on a day like this, even if, maybe especially if, the movie is the indictment of humanity in Planet of the Apes.

Later, at home with Megan, Don confesses that he didn't love his children at first, a reflection of the lack of love he felt from and for his own poor excuse of a father.  But he clearly loves them now, as the scene in the movie theater with Bobby shows.   Megan is moved by this, and is about as loving to Don as we've seen in a while.

But my favorite scene and line comes in the scene after, as Don goes into Bobby's room to see why he's still awake.   Bobby is worried that Henry, who has had a career in politics, could be shot.   That's exactly what a boy his age might think.  But Don reassures him, explaining that Henry is not important enough for anyone to take a shot at.

It's at once a funny and sobering truth.  Years ago, I recall a piece in the Village Voice or another New York newspaper or magazine by Ron Rosenbaum, lamenting the fact that he had been assigned New York Mayor Abe Beame as a beat.  (Beame succeeded John Lindsay - Henry's current boss - as mayor.)  Beame was the most boring candidate and mayor ever in office, Rosenbaum wrote.  He doesn't make news.  Nothing he says is exciting or even interesting.  You can't even rely on anyone wanting to take a shot at him.

Like what Don said about Henry - a truth, at once sobering and horrifying, because of what it says about our living in such a world, but also very funny.  In its own way, a microcosm of Mad Men.

See also Mad Men 6.1-2: The Lighter and the Twist ... Mad Men 6.3: Good Company ... Mad Men 6.4: McLuhan, Heinz, and Don's Imagination

See also Why "You Only Live Twice" for Mad Men Season 5 Finale ... Mad Men Season Five Finale

See also Mad Men Season 5 Debut: It's Don's Party  ... Mad Men 5.3: Heinz Is On My Side ... Mad Men 5.4: Volunteer, Dream, Trust ... Mad Men 5.5: Ben Hargrove ... Mad Men 5.6: LSD Orange ... Mad Men 5.7: People of High Degree ... Mad Men 5.8: Mad Man and Gilmore Girl ...Mad Men 5.9: Don's Creativity  ... Mad Men 5.10: "The Negron Complex" ... Mad Men 5.11: Prostitution and Power ... Mad Men 5.12: Exit Lane

And from Season 4: Mad Men 4.1: Chicken Kiev, Lethal Interview, Ham Fight ... 4.2: "Good Time, Bad Time?" "Yes." ... 4.3: Both Coasts ... 4.4: "The following program contains brief nudity ..." 4.5: Fake Out and Neurosis ... 4.6: Emmys, Clio, Blackout, Flashback  ... 4.7: 'No Credits on Commercials' ... 4.8: A Tale of Two Women ... 4.9: "Business of Sadists and Masochists" ...4.10: Grim Tidings ... 4.11: "Look at that Punim" ... 4.12: No Smoking!  ... Mad Men Season 4 Finale: Don and -

And from Season 3Mad Men Back for 3 and 3.2: Carvel, Penn Station, and Diet Soda and 3.3: Gibbon, Blackface, and Eliot and 3.4: Caned Seats and a Multiple Choice about Sal's Patio Furniture and 3.5: Admiral TV, MLK, and a Baby Boy and 3.6: A Saving John Deere and 3.7: Brutal Edges ... August Flights in 3.8 ... Unlucky Strikes and To the Moon Don in 3.9 ... 3.10: The Faintest Ink, The Strongest Television ... Don's Day of Reckoning in Mad Men 3.11 ... Mad Men 3.12: The End of the World in Mad Men ... Mad Men Season 3 Finale: The End of the World

And from Season Two: Mad Men Returns with a Xerox and a Call Girl ... 2.2: The Advertising Devil and the Deep Blue Sea ... 2.3 Double-Barreled Power ... 2.4: Betty and Don's Son ... 2.5: Best Montage Since Hitchcock ... 2.6: Jackie, Marilyn, and Liberty Valance ... 2.7: Double Dons... 2.8: Did Don Get What He Deserved? ... 2.9: Don and Roger ... 2.10: Between Ray Bradbury and Telstar ... 2.11: Welcome to the Hotel California ... 2.12 The Day the Earth Stood Still on Mad Men ... 2.13 Saving the Best for Last on Mad Men

And from Season One: Mad Men Debuts on AMC: Cigarette Companies and Nixon ... Mad Men 2: Smoke and Television ... Mad Men 3: Hot 1960 Kiss ... Mad Men 4 and 5: Double Mad Men ...Mad Men 6: The Medium is the Message! ... Mad Men 7: Revenge of the Mollusk ... Mad Men 8: Weed, Twist, Hobo ... Mad Man 9: Betty Grace Kelly ... Mad men 10: Life, Death, and Politics ...Mad Men 11: Heat! ... Mad Men 12: Admirable Don ... Mad 13: Double-Endings, Lascaux, and Holes

            

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