Friday, May 31, 2013

Da Vinci's Demons 1.7: Leonardo Under Water with a Twist

I've been enjoying Da Vinci's Demons on Starz, though the narrative has been a bit too fantastical for my more science fictional tastes.   All that was rectified tonight in 1.7, an episode that brought science front and foremost into the story, and had a great twist at the end for good measure.

The science was Da Vinci under water - in what we would today call a diving suit, of his own invention of course, pressed into service so Leonardo can get access to some of the secrets of the Vatican.  Since the Holy See if so well guarded, the only way Leonardo can get in is beneath via the water.

He sees some striking things there, including a page from the mystical Book of Leaves, whose written letters change before his eyes.   This, in other words - and here we move from Renaissance science to science fiction - is the what we would call an iPad or any computer screen today.   I like seeing the future in the past.

But there's also a palpable political twist that has nothing to do with science or science fiction, and packs a real wallop.  Lorenzo's brother Guilini has been a major player in the series, and one of my favorite characters.  He starts off the episode well enough, with a nice night spent with a comely wench, or whatever the translation of that is in Italian.   But at the end, we find him in battle with some Roman henchmen, bent on killing beautiful Lucrezia.   Guilini dispatches them handily - as we would expect him to - but when he realizes that Lucrezia is the trator, and he tries to apprehend her-

She stabs him, fatally, with her knife.  The only reason I'm not even more aggravated is Lucrezia is also one of my favorites, and in fact I like her even more than Guilini.

And it was an outstanding twist.  Good job.  I'm looking forward to the season finale next week, and what the second season will bear.

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

Monday, May 27, 2013

Revolution 1.19: Cheney's Bunker

Revolution 1.19, in addition to being another fine, smoking episode, had a nice political punch: the tower was originally Dick Cheney's secret bunker - his infamous "undisclosed location".   We get a hint of that when we see George W. Bush's smiling face in a portrait hanging on the wall, and later we see portraits of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and other notables.   I always like it when science fiction in the future weaves little details of current and recent past political real life.

The gunplay was also excellent - most especially when Monroe saves Charlie with an electro-magnetic weapon that Rachel breaks loose from a cabinet.   Rachel's necessary alliance makes sense - she needs Monroe to save Charlie, and he comes though on his promise to do that - even though she tried to blow herself and Monroe to smithereens with a bomb at the end of last week's and the beginning of this week's episode.

Monroe explicitly declines to make such a commitment to save Miles' life, and this is significant for a bunch of reasons.  First, it makes his commitment to save Charlie more convincing - showing Rachel that Monroe is not just promising her whatever she wants in order to get the guns - and pushes Rachel over the edge of reluctance to give him the weapons.  And it also leads to a point-blank showdown between Monroe and Miles which I'm looking forward to see more of next week in the season's finale.  I'm expecting both will survive.

One thing I didn't enjoy tonight is the commandant of the tower or whoever he is burning Aaron's book.  (But it was good to see Glenn  Morshower of 24 in the role - another Jack Bauer connection to Revolution.) There was valuable knowledge in that book, and its burning means that Aaron will lose the advantage he's been carrying in his pocket ever since he got the book.  (I don't like burnings of books - one of the reasons I wrote Unburning Alexandria.)

Possibly the knowledge digitally encoded in the tower will make the book irrelevant, but if so, why did the commandant destroy it?  And why did Grace, who seems to have a head on her shoulders, not object to that?

Revolution has pulled itself up from the first half of the season into a top-notch science fiction show.  I'm looking forward to next week's season finale and the continuation of the story in season two.

See also Revolution: Preview Review  ... Revolution 1.2: Fast Changes ... Revolution 1.14: Nanites and Jack Bauer ... Revolution 1.15: Major Tom and More 24 ... Revolution 1.16: Feeling a Little Like the Hatch in Lost ... Revolution 1.17: Even Better Nanites ... Revolution 1.18: Whodunnit?

Mad Men 6.9: Don and Betty

Well, who would have thought I'd be writing a review of a Mad Men episode that I call "Don and Betty" after all of these years?   Well, sure, it could have been about Don and Betty having one of their caustic arguments, or about some big problem or crisis with one of the kids.  But -

This episode was about Don and Betty in bed together, on a visit to son Bobby's summer camp, and a superb piece of story it was.

We first see Betty and Don from her backside, as she's leaning over a car, and attracting the rapt attention of the gas attendant whom Don is walking up to.  I'd recognize that ass anywhere, you can almost hear Don thinking.  The two go on to flirt at the camp, and when Betty walks into her room but leaves the door open, you know something transcendant is about to happen.

The dialogue is primo.  Betty asks Don what he's doing as he kisses her, Don responds "waiting for you to tell me to stop," but that turns out to be the last thing Betty wants at this time and place.  We've seen earlier how Betty enjoys being desired, but what's surprising is how much she enjoys this now from Don.

After, as they're in bed together smoking her menthol cigarette, Betty observes how much she loves what Don looks after they make love, but how that look will start to decay as his attention drifts elsewhere.   One of the best, most perceptive bits of dialogue not only in the series, but in a conversation between lovers in any fiction I've seen or read.

Betty also makes a memorable remark about Megan not realizing that the more she loves Don the more that will push him away, and the brief magical interlude is over.   When Don comes into the dining hall the next morning, he sees Betty-  but she's with Henry, and she's laughing and presumably having a good time.

I could talk about about some of the other fine threads in last night's episode - especially Peggy's consistent poor luck in love - but I don't want to detract or distract from that moment stolen in time with Betty and Don, or let it decay.

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 ... Mad Men 6.5: MLK ... Mad Men 6.6: Good News Comes in a Chevy ...  Mad Men 6.7: Merger and Margarine ... Mad Men 6.8: Dr. Feelgood and Grandma Ida

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

 

download Mad Men season 6 on

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Justice in America: The View from the Jury

I finished serving on a jury a few days ago - I was foreperson of a jury in a fairly serious criminal trial - and I wanted to give you my impressions and thoughts while still fresh in my mind.  This was my first time on a jury of any kind.  I was one of some 400 people who received a summons.  I have no idea why I was chosen to be on a criminal case (there were several civil cases that also required jurors).  I assume my being called up to sit in the jury seats where I was questioned by the judge, prosecutor, and defense attorney was similarly coincidental, and I apparently passed muster.  The jury was informed by the judge before our jury started deliberations that I was to be foreperson.  Neither I nor anyone else on the 12-person jury objected.   But enough about me.   Let's get to the case.  The following are the agreed-upon facts, unless otherwise indicated.

                                                                       The Facts


In the summer of 2012, in a city a little north of New York, a couple were arguing in their apartment.  The man, African-American, was in his 40s.  His girlfriend, 20 years younger, was Caucasian.  (I am not revealing any names, to protect the not-guilty).  At some point before two in the morning, the man left.   His girlfriend followed him into the street.

At this point, an unmarked police car, with two officers in plain clothes, drove by on the street.  They were on car-jacking and auto-theft patrol - seeking to stop people from breaking into and stealing cars.  Noticing the woman standing in the street, they slowed down.  They then noticed a man (her boyfriend) on the sidewalk - who, they said, briefly ducked down behind a car when he saw them.  This resulted in the officers stopping in their car.

Accounts differed slightly as to the words exchanged at this point.  The officers say that the man said to them, "What the fuck are you looking at?"  (Note that cursing a police officer is not illegal in this jurisdiction.)   In any case, this was enough to get the officers out of their car.  They approached the man, who then allegedly said, "What the fuck do you want?"

Although the officers were dressed in plain clothes, they claimed that they had badges on lanyards around their necks which were clearly visible.   They claimed they identified themselves as police officers.  They noticed that the man had a gym bag in one hand and a small packet in the other, and dropped both on the ground.  He started to walk away.  Suspecting, the police officers said, that the small bag contained an illicit drug, they told the man he was under arrest.   The police say they no longer suspected a car jacking or auto theft at this point.

The man kept walking.  One of the officers ran up to him and grabbed his arm in a effort to handcuff him.  In the brief struggle that ensued, the officer sustained a broken nose - allegedly the result of the suspect's elbow, which the suspect swung behind him - and his partner sustained a broken hand.  This was acknowledged by that officer to have been caused by his punching the suspect's head, in an effort to subdue him.

The suspect was charged with Assaulting a Police Officer (a felony), and three misdemeanors, Obstructing Governmental Administration, Resisting Arrest, and Possession of Marijuana (which was found to be in the tiny packet).

The only tangible evidence presented in the course of the trial were stipulations by a doctor that the officer's nose had been broken, and by a forensic lab that the contents of the dime-bag were marijuana.  The rest was testimony by the two police officers, testimony by two additional officers who arrived on the scene after or just as the man was handcuffed, and testimony from the man's girlfriend.

                                                             My Assessment of the Facts

My thoughts before we commenced deliberation:  A man and his girlfriend are having an argument,  he leaves, she follows him out to the street, and, their bad luck, an unmarked police car comes by.  The officers were right to slow down and see what was going on, but no one alleged that there was any physical violence whatsoever in the street.  Indeed, all parties agree that the couple were not even involved in a verbal argument at this point.  But I think a woman standing in the street at two in the morning, with a man nearby on the sidewalk, was ample reason for a police car to slow down.  The officers were similarly right to be concerned that a car jacking or auto theft might have been about to happen.  But no car jacking or auto theft did happen, and the police soon concluded that no carjacking or auto theft was taking place.

So why, then, was the man put under arrest?  The officers say it was because of the small amount of marijuana which they suspected was in the packet, and apparently was.  But I think a more likely explanation is that they were angered by his attitude and cursing - neither of which, again, are illegal in the jurisdiction in which these events occurred.

Was the man right to be angered?   Who wouldn't be angered if, right after a nonviolent dispute you were having with your significant other in public, you were approached by strangers looking into your business?   If the strangers were police officers, and you knew you were doing nothing wrong, would this make you less angry?   Not likely.

Should the man have been more cooperative with the police?  Sure - that would have served all parties well.  But did the man break any law by having an aggressive attitude?

I couldn't help thinking:  This is Justice in America.  An argument with your significant other with no violence to either party ends with your being charged with a felony - assaulting a police officer.   Whose fault was that?

                                                            The  Jury's Job

We were instructed by the judge - who in my view did a good job - that our job on the jury was to determine whether the facts alleged by the prosecution were true.   In order to reach a verdict of guilty, we had to believe the prosecution's account "beyond a reasonable doubt".  You've all heard of this standard.  The judge correctly explained that, in human affairs, few things are subject to 100% certainty.   So we did not need to be 100% sure of every charge.  But we had to be a lot more than pretty or even mostly sure.   If the Prosecution presented 100 points, and we had doubts about even one of them, we were bound to find the Defendant not guilty.  In fact, we all swore an oath to uphold that standard.

The Prosecution's case against the Defendant for assaulting a police officer depended on three points - each of these had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in order for us to render a verdict of guilty:  (a) that the injury (broken nose) had in fact occurred, (b) that the defendant knew at the time he caused the injury that the recipient of the injury was a police officer, who was legally performing his work, and (c) that the injury was a deliberate act by the defendant - that he swung his elbow with the express intent of breaking the officer's nose, or at least causing him bodily harm.

Point (a) - the broken nose - was beyond dispute, and acknowledged by the Defense.  Point (b) - that the defendant knew he was in a tussle with a police officer when the defendant swung his arm - was not as immediately obvious.  At what point did the defendant know the two men who approached him in plain clothes were police officers?  Presumably when one of the said "you're under arrest," which presumably happened before the fight.  But there was no proof like the broken nose to indicate exactly when the defendant was so informed.  Point (c) was the least obviously true.   Did the defendant swing his arm to hurt the officer, or was the officer hurt as the defendant struggled to break free?  The Defense in fact claimed that the broken nose was accidentally caused by the officer's partner during the fight.

This assault charge was by far the most serious, and I suggested to the jury that we consider that first.

                                                         The Jury's Deliberations

The jury consisted of twelve people - nine women and three men.  No African-Americans were on the jury.  (An African-American man who was questioned by the Judge, Prosecutor, and Defense Attorney during the selection phase was not chosen.)

I began by asking for a straw poll on the assault charge - non-binding, to get a sense of where we stood as a jury.   The majority of the jury were undecided.   Among those who were decided, there was a slight majority in favor of a guilty vote.

The undecideds were interested in the guilty and not-guilty voters explaining their opinions.

Those who thought the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt cited the broken nose, and their belief that the defendant deliberately tried to break the officer's nose or otherwise do him bodily damage in order to escape.

Those who thought the defendant was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt were less than sure that the defendant knew he was swinging his elbow at a police officer, and even more unsure that the defendant was deliberately trying to hurt the officer.  These jurors thought it a reasonable possibility that the defendant was trying to break loose and flee, and the officer's broken nose was a result of the Defendant flailing in an attempt to break his arms free rather than a deliberate attack on the face of the officer.

I was among the jurors who had reasonable doubts about the Defendant's guilt, mainly because I saw no evidence that he was trying to do harm in contrast to trying to break loose and flee.  I mentioned the well-known distinction in sociobiology between fight and flight - most mobile organisms do one or the other as a first response to imminent danger.

There was also the question of the reliability and truth of the Prosecution's case.   One problem with presenting more than one witness on any side of a case is that they all must agree.  There were inconsistencies in the testimony of the officers, and the Prosecutor in his summation made no attempt to explain this.   We took another straw poll before we broke for lunch.  The undecideds were now in the minority, and those who changed their vote had decided to join the not-guilty voters.  But there was still more than one juror strongly in favor of a guilty vote.

When we resumed deliberations after lunch, I mentioned that if we could not reach a unanimous verdict, and we reported that to the judge, then the judge might well declare us a hung jury.  The Judge could then dismiss the case but more likely would allow the Prosecution to decide whether to retry it.   In any case, our deliberations would have likely been in vain.   Those who wanted a guilty verdict said they very much did not want that to happen - they wanted our jury to reach a verdict.

I mentioned that, short of a time machine, there was no way we could go back in time and see for ourselves what actually happened in that street.  I said all we therefore had to go by was what the Prosecution and the Defense and their witnesses had told us.   And, although there of course were strong differences between the Prosecution and the Defense, there were no inconsistencies or contradictions within the Defense's case.  In contrast, everyone on the jury agreed that there were indeed inconsistencies in the Prosecution's case.

I asked the jury - does this not mean that we have reasonable doubt?  We went around the table and expressed our views.  Those who had wanted a guilty verdict said they still felt in their bones that the defendant was guilty, but they could see that there could conceivably be a little bit of doubt because of the contradictions in the Prosecution's case.   The four jurors who had wanted a guilty verdict now each confirmed that they had this doubt.   We voted again.  Our jury was unanimous on the Assault felony charge: Not Guilty.

                                                                     The Other Charges

The sense of most people on our jury was that the Defendant had indeed at some point resisted arrest, and that the bag he had dropped contained marijuana.  The Judge had instructed us that we were not to base our verdict on the marijuana charge - a very minor misdemeanor - on any view that marijuana should be legal and the law was wrong.  Our job was to judge or try the facts, not the law.

But the second charge - "Obstructing Governmental Administration" - was a problem for many of the jurors, including me.   How was that different from "Resisting Arrest"?  And if no different, why was the Defendant being charged twice with the same crime?

During the trial, no charge other than the felony assault had been addressed by the Judge or the lawyers.  We asked the Judge to explain the difference between the two charges.  He replied by reading the law for each charge.  We needed clarification.  I proposed to ask the Judge, can you give us an example of a crime would which be Obstructing Governmental Administration and which would not be Resisting Arrest?  His reply was extremely helpful:  Obstructing Governmental Administration in this case would be any alleged crimes which were not Resisting Arrest.

I asked the jury if they could think of any actions by the Defendant against the police on that evening that obstructed the police - other than the alleged Assault, for which we had found the Defendant not guilty, and Resisting Arrest?   No one could think of an example - because in fact none had been presented in the trial.  We voted on the Obstructing charge.  We unanimously voted: Not Guilty.

The Defendant's Resisting Arrest was in many ways beyond dispute.  He certainly had resisted what the two approaching men had told him to do.  Did he not know they were police officers?  The Defense  had mentioned that they were dressed in plain clothes, and the girlfriend had said she and the Defendant had not known who the two men were at first, but what about the moment when they said "You're under arrest?"   Without any evidence or testimony that the Defendant did not know the men were police officers at the moment they tried to put him in handcuffs - which seemed very unlikely - the vast majority of the jury wanted a Guilty verdict on this misdemeanor charge.

I thought the Defendant had been mistreated by the police in this incident, that they had allowed it to escalate and even instigated the escalation by their poor performance, but I could not think of any evidence that showed the Defendant did not know the two men were police at the time the handcuffs were applied.  I and the few other jurors joined the majority and reluctantly voted Guilty on Resisting Arrest.

I similarly was not happy about the Possession of Marijuana charge - such possession is already legal in many jurisdictions and will sooner or later be legal in all.    Everyone on the jury acknowledged this.   But we had to have reasonable doubt about whether the Defendant was carrying marijuana in order for us to acquit him on this charge - for example, we needed to think that the police might have planted this evidence.  The Defense had made no claim that this is what had happened, and no evidence or argument had been presented that the police had done this.   On this last, very minor charge, the verdict was again unanimous but also mostly reluctant:  Guilty on Possessing Marijuana.


                                                                  The Aftermath

I stood up in court, from my juror's seat, and announced the verdicts, just like you see it done on television.   When I was asked by the clerk for the jury's unanimous verdict on the Assaulting a Police Officer charge, I said Not Guilty, with an emphasis on the Not.  It did my soul good to be able to say this.

A man who had been doing nothing wrong - except, technically, possession of an illegal substance which is legal to possess in many parts of our country - stood trial and stood to lose years of his life in prison had he been found guilty.   The jury informally had all agreed that the police had not handled this situation well - allowing a suspicion of car theft, which had not been going on, to escalate into a struggle which had resulted in a broken nose and a broken hand.  And we also had agreed, formally in our verdict, that we did not believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant had intentionally sought to break the officer's nose, or do harm to his body.   So the Defendant had been been found Not Guilty on this serious charge.

As the jury was dismissed and left the courtroom, one of the alternates came up to me and said, "Good thing I wasn't on the jury, I would have been the one hold-out against your decision."

Good thing, indeed - though this alternate may well have come to agree with our decision had he sat with us in our deliberations.   But I believe a good thing was indeed done that day.

It's rare to be able to have a profound influence on the life of a person you do not even know.   But I believe we did that day.   We fairly considered all of the evidence and the testimony, and concluded that he was guilty on the two most minor charges.   His acquittal on the serious felony charge will give him a chance to re-set his life.   Given that he had done nothing wrong that evening until the police dressed in plain clothes approached, he deserved that chance - in a moral sense.  And the lack of evidence that he intended to hurt the officers showed he deserved that chance in the legal sense.

On that day, at least, I believe Justice had indeed been done in America.



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Revolution 1.18: Whodunnit?

It is often said - or, at least I often say - that if classic mystery is whodunnit, classic science fiction is whatdunnit.  In last night's episode 1.18 of Revolution - which just keeps getting better and better - we get both:  a classic whodunnit in this post-apocalyptic world of no power.  

The "it" is the murder of two people as Miles and company are en route to the "Tower" in the Plains Nation aka Colorado.   There are suspects galore.   Nora was tortured and drugged - who knows what that did to her mind.  The guy who did that but then whisked her to freedom - by drugging her so everyone thought he was hauling a dead body - looks a little guilty himself.   Meanwhile, Charlie saw Jason talking to some strange guy before the team left Atlanta, right after she kissed him, no less.  And Tom, well, he's always suspect.

The only one Miles can totally trust is Charlie, but for some reason he has her put her weapon in the bag too - so no one else can get murdered.  I don't get why he had Charlie do this, but ok.  But it turns out the killer is - well, just in case you haven't yet seen this episode, I won't tell you.  But we get a surprising but logical culprit when it's explained and therefore a good solution to the mystery.

Meanwhile, out at the Tower, we have a situation nearing a boil.  In a dramatic last scene, it looks like Rachel pulled the pin on a grenade which will kill her and Monroe.   I'm thinking neither will die, but it will be interesting to see how they get out of this next week.  And if the power is indeed turned back on, this will make for a very different series next season - a season in which Monroe (if he survives the grenade) won't have the unique power he's had for the second half of this first season.

I'm looking forward to the concluding two episodes and to what season 2 of this excellent series brings.

See also Revolution: Preview Review  ... Revolution 1.2: Fast Changes ... Revolution 1.14: Nanites and Jack Bauer ... Revolution 1.15: Major Tom and More 24 ... Revolution 1.16: Feeling a Little Like the Hatch in Lost ... Revolution 1.17: Even Better Nanites

The Borgias 3.6: Plague and Belief

Another excellent episode of The Borgias on Sunday - 3.6 - in which Caterina Sforza is revealed to be even more evil than we thought, certainly more evil than Rodrigo.

Her latest plan to cleanse Italy of the Borgias is to get the black plague into the Vatican.  There is a great storyline about how her plan was almost diverted. Cesare comes upon the young Cardinal carrying a box from Caterina with a peace proposal for the Pope.  Unbeknownst to Cesare and the Cardinal, the box also contains the plague.  But Cesare tells the Cardinal to burn the box, knowing that it can contain no sincere peace proposal from Caterina, because she doesn't want peace.  And the Cardinal almost burns the box, but at the last minute can't first resist opening it to read the proposal - and, well, we'll no doubt see the deadly results of this in weeks to come.

The other most enjoyable thread concerned Jews from Constantinople seeking to establish a community in Rome.  Given that the Turks recently took over the city, changing its state religion from Eastern Christian to Islamic, this apparently seemed like a good idea.  But Rodrigo has a price - he'd like a priceless relic from Istanbul, as he startes to make ready his plans to celebrate the coming of the year 1500.   The Jewish delegation shows up with the Spear of Longinus, aka the Holy Lance, said to have pieced Christ.  Here the history depicted on the television series gets a little murky - in our history, the Turks sent the spear to Rodrigo's predecessor in 1492.

What is historically correct and shown in this episode of The Borgias is that there were doubts about the spear's authenticity.   Rodrigo of course is no fool, and in a fine scene we learn that he doesn't really care whether the spear is authentic - all that counts is what people believe it to be.  Machiavelli was in last week's episode not this one, but he would have concurred completely with the preeminence of belief over reality in shaping public opinion.

The spear, by the way, exists in the Vatican to this very day, but the Church makes no claim now about its authenticity.

See also The Borgias Season 3 Premiere: "Blade's Breath" ... The Borgias 3.2: Going Both Ways ... The Borgias 3.4: Incest and Debauchery ... The Borgias 3.5: Normal Love and Lampreys

And see also The Borgias Season 2 Sneak Preview

Rectify Season 1 Finale: Searingly Anti-Climactic

The season 1 finale of Rectify on Sundance last night - and a short, intensely powerful season it was, just six episodes of anvil to the brain that penetrated to the bone and the soul - was powerful and oddly anti-climatic at the same time, which made this narrative even more searing and memorable.

We learn right away that Daniel didn't kill Teddy, just knocked him out with a choke hold, and then put  coffee grounds on his bare backside (giving grounds for a literal interpretation to the oft-heard, "Ugh, this coffee tastes like ...")  But I breathed a sigh of relief and felt bad about ever contemplating that Daniel might be a killer.  He apparently is the gentle, wrong, tortured soul he so much seems to be.

I say apparently, because anything is still possible on this one-of-a-kind narrative.  But, on Daniel's behalf, and to tell us again that he's truly innocent, his friend on death row tells Daniel he believes in his innocence, as his friend is taken away to be executed, in one of the best, perfectly emotionally rendered scenes in the series.

Beyond that, the concluding scene in which Daniel is beaten to within an inch of his life by Hanna's brother and his friends was horrifying and palpably brutal, but not surprising.  Indeed, the story had been building up to this, pointing to this, from the very first episode.  As such, the beating and the other degradations put upon Daniel were a necessary period to this part of the story.

So, too, were the parting reactions of Amantha, Tawney, and everyone else in the story - reactions not to the beating, which they don't yet know about, but to their budding relationships with Daniel.  No surprises here, either  - but just what was needed, an affirmation of the brooding, bizarre mix we already know.

Ray McKinnon has given us one of the most memorable, original series ever to appear on television, in which every episode stretched the envelope of what could appear on television, not in presentation of a crime and punishment story, but in its weaving of interior psychology and philosophy in a way that we might occasionally find in a fine movie or novel.   I'm glad indeed that the series has been renewed.

See also Rectify: Sheer and Shattering Poetry ... Rectify 1.5: Balloon Man


 

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mad Men 6.8: Dr. Feelgood and Grandma Ida

There's always at least one insane show on Mad Men, sometimes two, in which all hell breaks loose to the point where you and the characters don't know who's dreaming what, or if it's really a dream at all.  This is one of Matthew Weiner's signatures, and you'll recall it was used to excellent effect on The Sopranos in the aftermath of Tony being shot by Uncle Junior.   At its best on Mad Men, it had Don going out to California a few years ago in his original identity as Dick Whitman.

Tonight's Mad Men 6.8 was such a show.  The trigger is a Dr. Feelgood kind of doctor - the name the doc who gave JFK a stimulus shot on regular basis was known by - who in Mad Men dispenses a combination of B vitamins and a little something extra (no doubt amphetamine) to most of the major characters including Don.

Don is down because of his loss of Sylvia last week and a cough (which I hope is not the first sign of lung cancer) and is in dire need of a pick-me-up.   The doc gives him a shot in the buttock (as the doc says), and in a few seconds we get a brilliant piece of acting from Jon Hamm.   The gist is he thinks he's come up with a fabulous campaign for picky Chevy, but it turns out most of it doesn't translate to the un-high world.   We also get some fine dancin' from Aaron Staton as Ken Cosgrove, with a cane and all.

Meanwhile, back home, the kids are staying over Don's apartment and Megan has to leave to meet some Broadway producers, and out of nowhere Grandma Ida is inside the apartment and talking it up with the kids.  Never heard of her?  Neither have the kids, and, to make matters even more surreal and funny, she's African American.   Sally and Bobby were at their deadpan funniest, and I was laughing out loud at this scene (and also because there really was a Grandma Ida in our family).   The upshot, however, is Don left the back door open, and Ida was casing the building looking for some suitable places to burgle.

Don collapses when he comes home to find this, but from the shot in the buttock to the faint we get a fast moving collage of zany scenes interspersed with the young Don losing his virginity. Amidst this craziness in the office only Peggy, as usual, is the voice of sanity, but she does get her backside complimented by the copywriter with the beard and says thanks so the episode was not a total loss for her and definitely far from it for us and in fact it was a cracked hoot.

See ya next week.

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 ... Mad Men 6.5: MLK ... Mad Men 6.6: Good News Comes in a Chevy ...  Mad Men 6.7: Merger and Margarine

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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