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Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Americans 6.5: Common Denominator and Collision Course

The common denominator in tonight’s episode 6.5 of The Americans - another perfectly powerful episode - was ... sex.

It not only was the subject of the delightfully drunken conversation between Claudia, Elizabeth, and Paige.  Sex also motivated two major developments in the story. First, Elizabeth sleeps with Philip as prelude to persuading him to set up Kimmy to be jailed in Bulgaria. And then Philip in turn sleeps with Kimmy to convince her to leave Greece to meet him, so that Elizabeth’s plan to get Kimny in a Bulgarian jail as a way of getting leverage on her CIA father can happen.

But that doesn’t happen, because Elizabeth’s killing of Gennadi and his wife with their seven-year old son in the next room makes Philip realize that he draws the line at targeting or in any way utilizing children, which Kimmy still is to him even though they just slept together.

I’m expecting, however, that the end of Philip and Kimmy will not be the most significant fallout of Elizabeth’s murder of Gennadi and wife. Stan genuinely liked Gennadi. He won’t rest until he finds out who killed him. And that  hunt will lead to Elizabeth, given that that FBI agent caught a glimpse of her, thinly disguised, the time she unsuccessfully tried to kill Gennadi earlier in the episode.

Stan and Elizabeth are now on an irrevocable collision course, and it’s hard to see how both of them will make it out of this final and superb season alive.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Crossing 1.4: Hofstra

Well, episode 1.4 of The Crossing was moving along pretty predictably until about a few minutes to the end, when "Hofstra" was mentioned, and everything suddenly changed for the better - for the narrative, if not for one of the major characters.

Hey, I taught a few courses at Hofstra in the mid-1990s, and my wife and I were right across the street this past Fall, at the Nassau Coliseum, for a great concert by Paul McCartney.  Hofstra's a good school, and this may be the first time I've heard it mentioned in a television series, definitely a time-travel series, so The Crossing deserves notice for that.

Anyway, here's how Hofstra came to be mentioned: One of the survivors, Paul, is looking for his wife.  He gets an artist to draw a likeness of her, based on a precise mathematical diagram of how far apart the centers of her eyes are, etc - is there a name for that? - I don't know, but it's pretty cool.  And Agent Ren gets hold of the drawing and finds Paul.  He tells her it's a picture of his wife, who came here - to our time - in the earlier migration.  Ren, unsurprisingly,  goes looking for the woman. 

She finds her, and the woman explains that she and her husband met at Hofstra - why Hofstra? who knows? - and that she learned he was part of a cult.  It's not clear how much if any of this Ren believes, but before we find out, the wife shoots and badly wounds Ren.

Is she dead?  Well, Sandrine Holt is a medium-big star, and her character Ren is important, so under the logic that you don't kill off a big star or a major character so early in the show, she'll likely survive.  But you never know.

More important, the series has taken an interesting turn in the story of the early migration, which  has been one of the more intriguing parts of the narrative.  We now know the first migration people easily lie as well as kill to protect their secret - it's not just Lindauer who does this.  And then there's Hofstra - why pull this name out of the blue?  I'm hoping we'll hear more about this university in Hempstead, and how and why someone from the first migration knows about it.

See also The Crossing: Lost Again, But OK ... The Crossing 1.2: Calling for More Time Travel ... The Crossing 1.3: The Missing Inventor

Timeless 2.6: Lucy and Flynn

As has been hinted at and gradually gaining moment - ironically, after Wyatt was re-united with Jessica, ironically after he and Lucy had made love for the first time - Lucy and Flynn finally get together at the end of Timeless 2.6.  Or, at very least, Lucy comes into Flynn's room at night with a nice bottle of vodka.  Their being together of course changes everything, and it will be fun to see in the weeks ahead how this plays out.

As for the time travel, rock 'n' roll and time travel are one of my favorite couples - it's been a bedrock of several of my novels and stories - and it was good to see the team, with Flynn instead of Wyatt, and expanded to four with Connor - go back in time to save Elvis, the Beatles, and other icons of the ensuing music.  They do this by saving blues legend and progenitor Robert Johnson from Rittenhouse assassination.  (Connor is fortunately a blues aficionado, which is why he's drafted by the team.)

But as much as everyone - including me - loves the Beatles (see my frequent posts here about The Beatles) - they and music in general are not the ultimate reason Johnson needs saving.   Lucy tells us that without Elvis and The Beatles, there would be no Civil Rights movement, no end of the Vietnam War,  none of pathbreaking social developments that lit up the 1960s.  This may be a bit of a stretch - lots of other factors led to the culture of the 1960s and its liberation of much of humanity - but I'm happy to accept it as the ultimate reason for making sure Elvis and The Beatles happened (though, strictly speaking, if I were writing this episode, I'd hold out for just the incredible music of the 1950s and 60s itself as more than enough reason for saving Johnson).

All in all, Timeless is continuing with a good mix of world events that need protecting, obvious and more subtle, as well as personal stories that continue to intrigue.  And we learn in the closing moments that Jiya's latest vision shows Rufus being killed...

See you here with word about how all that turns out next week.

                    more time travel about music

Homeland 7.11: Carrie In Action

Well, Homeland 7.11 was so good, and ended on a such a sharp cliffhanger, that it called out for next week's season finale to follow tonight, and make this a two-hour episode.

But as it was ... first, about the removal of President Keane from office: it was a strong narrative move, but why was no mention made of the fact that the 25th Amendment only provides for a temporary removal, with Congress required to make it permanent?  Her Chief of Staff mentioned that in a previous episode, and he or someone should have mentioned it again tonight.

But Moscow was where the main action was, and it was good indeed to see Carrie at her best - not fighting to keep her daughter, or against her own inner turmoil, but out there in the field, as a highly effective, in fact brilliant, agent working in almost impossible circumstances, and managing to come close to succeeding, if not succeeding outright.

Fighting against all odds is her forte, and it was satisfying to see Saul back her up for once, almost immediately, after she calls Saul on some of the ups and downs he's put her through these past years.  As an operative, she's a great talker as well as adept on her feet and with weapons, and I always thought the series was at its best with Carrie moving fast and effectively and blazing.

She and Saul are going to have some pretty tough going as they try to get Simone back to the US next week.  I'm wondering, with the announcement that next year's Season 8 will be the final for Homeland, if we'll get another cliffhanger next week as set up for whatever resolution 2019 has in store for this series.

We'll know more next week, and I'll see you back here then.

And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Westworld 2.1: Maeve's Daughter

Amidst the many stunning wonders of tonight's return of Westworld on HBO with episode 2.1, beginning with Bernard's dissing of Freud (telling Delores that "dreams are noise" and she should ignore them), through Delores's declaration of war on our human world to Teddy, concluding with what Bernard sees and starts to learn in that sea - what struck me as at least partially the most significant and emblematic is Maeve's search for her daughter.

Her return to Westworld, after escaping, at the end of season 1, because she couldn't leave her beloved daughter, set up this part of tonight's episode perfectly.  Maeve is - presumably - freed from her program's dictations.  So why would she choose to go back for her daughter, giving up her hard-won freedom (which, as she aptly says tonight, she killed herself to get, "multiple times"), when her daughter wasn't real, was a part of her programming, and an earlier one at that?  Did Maeve's return tell us that Maeve, after all, was still under the influence of the deepest part of her programming - or did it tell us something far deeper, even more profound?

Tonight, the programmer who Maeve later will oblige to strip naked, literally, tells her that he and his colleagues ("we") were the one who wrote the program ("story") with Maeve's daughter.  Maeve is well aware of at least some of this programming - when she gets off a line about male anatomy, and the programmer tells her he wrote that, too, she observes that the line was a little coarse or "broad".  So what makes Maeve so sure that her daughter is real and not just a character in one of her stories?

The answer gets to the root - or, at least, one of the main tap roots, of the whole Westworld story - that is, the story we're watching on HBO, about an hour a week once again, which I guess would be the ultimate meta-story for the hosts of Westworld (that is, not HBO, but Maeve, Delores, etc).  Is Maeve's daughter just a construct in Maeve's mind, or a little girl host, wth her own story, who was paired with Maeve?  (We know there are children hosts in Westworld - consider the fateful vignette tonight between the Man in Black and the wise little boy, Robert, apparently Ford in kid's clothing.)  Maeve loved her daughter deeply - does such deep emotion make her incapable for distinguishing reality from programming?

The answer to that question - how real is Maeve's daughter - has bearing on the bigger question of Delores's dreams, which have graduated, in her own mind, at least, to visions and knowledge of history which she's sure is true (or so she tells Teddy, but I don't think she's lying to him or playing him).  How much of what Delores tells Teddy is just an expression of a deeper part of her programming, of her quiet, livid fury at humanity - now liberated - and how much is true and real?

Hey, I haven't even talked about what Bernard discovered tonight - I'm sure I'll get to that next week, along with more about the reality quotient of Maeve's daughter and Delores's dreams, which are promising to be anything but noise.

See also Westworld 1.1: Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick Served Up by Jonathan Nolan, Lisa Joy, and J. J. Abrams ... Westworld 1.2: Who Is the Man in Black? ... Westworld 1.3: Julian Jaynes and Arnold ... Westworld 1.4: Vacation, Connie Francis, and Kurt Vonnegut ... Westworld 1.5: The Voice Inside Dolores ... Westworld 1.6: Programmed Unprogramming ... Westworld 1.7: The Story of the Story ... Westworld 1.8: Memories ... Westworld 1.9: Half-Truths and Old Friends ... Westworld Season 1 Finale: Answers and Questions


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Bosch 4: Delivering and Transcending the Genre

I binged Bosch 4 on Amazon Prime the past few days.   I've enjoyed every season so far, but I enjoyed this fourth one the most (come to think of it, I said the same last year about the third).  Herewith some highlights with minimal spoilers:

This season has Bosch enmeshed in two major, unrelated cases (well, in a sense three, in that one of the cases is connected to the murder of his mother - a call-girl - many decades ago).  There are at least two shocking surprises, one at the very beginning, the other in the middle of an early-to-mid episode. All of this is played out in the vivid LA cinematography to which we and our eyes have become accustomed in this series.

Even the view of his apartment is stunning, as always.  It's a pleasure to see Bosch in it, whatever the demons that plague him and the darkness that more than impinges on his life.   He continues to struggle to have a relationship with his daughter, endeavoring to walk the fine line between being an understanding father and stepping between her and the evil that's all around.   He continues to struggle to have an effective relationship with his colleagues in the Homicide Division of the LAPD.

That last part is one reason I liked this season the best.  The nuances of the major detectives in the unit, most of whom we've seen before, are more clearly, or at least more satisfyingly, drawn.  In previous years, jealousy, arrogance, competitiveness, disrespect real and imagined, shutting people out, deserved or not, ran rampant in the squad.  Season 4 smartly builds on the premise that everyone knows each other at least a little better.  This permits the friction to slip at least a little into the background, which frees the characters to be more compelling, smoother and sharper, rather than the scratchy record we've heard many times before.

The top levels of police and city government are also done well.  This is an LA not just beset by crime, but streets on the verge of erupting and airports that service international espionage.  We've seen this before, but never in a mix quite like this.

Bosch started as a worthy member of the neo-crime syndicate of TV series and movies like LA Confidential.  In its fourth season, it's begun to transcend that.  Slickly but deeply written, with an ear as always for the latest apps.  Brilliantly acted, again, by everyone, but especially Titus Welliver in the title role, with a character who's not only memorable but who, when you consider myriad the facets of his life and persona, is not like any other we've seen on the screen.

See also  Bosch: First Half: Highly Recommended ... Bosch: Second Half as Fine as the First ...  Bosch Season 2: Dragnet with Uber ... Bosch 3: Best Season So Far

                   another kind of police story 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Americans 6.4: Stark Truths

The Americans 6.4 tonight was about as stark as this series gets - which is to say, dire, for everyone concerned.

It's hard not to feel at least a little bad even for Elizabeth - hard because she surely deserves all that befalls her, given all the people she's played and murdered for her cause. But in the bed there with Philip, telling him she's tired all the time - it's hard not feel something for her.

Philip doesn't have it easy, either.  He's trying to make it as a real American, with a business, and he's failing.  The conversation he had with Henry, telling him that he may have to be pulled out the expensive school he's enjoying, was one of the most quietly effective of the season and series.

And even Paige, who looks good and seems well on the way to becoming another version of her mother - maybe not as lethal, we'll see - can't be happy inside.  She knows that things are not right with her parents.  She's losing confidence in what her mother is advising her, and going her own way.

And the collision courses are continuing.  Philip has still not told Elizabeth that he's been tasked with stopping her.  Elizabeth's work is running into snags, and the coming attractions show her asking him to help her.   Philip still loves her, but he's come a long way in a relatively short time - a long way from being her partner.  As he says, he's been here a long time, and, unlike Elizabeth, it's changed him in all kinds of ways.

Even Stan is heading towards the vortex.  The episodes ahead promise to be even more powerful and tragic, like a great Russian novel of inexorably moving pieces on a course of self-destruction.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Crossing 1.3: The Missing Inventor

With episode 1.3, it's clear that The Crossing not only has some elements of Lost and FlashForward, but also of Stephen King's The Dome - probably why King, on Twitter, said the first five minutes of The Crossing were "jaw-dropping".  Which it was.

But as the series is progressing, it's less jaw-dropping, and more the kind of mix of good and bad and in-between characters we encountered on The Dome.  And also, at the same time, a mix of characters who know a little to a lot of what's going on, with no one knowing everything.

Those mixes can make a series work, but in order to be truly revolutionary and mind-blowing, like Lost at its best, it needs to have more.  At this point, although the repeated demonstrations of Reece's super prowess are impressive -- especially tonight, quickly recovering from a bullet, and killing someone played by Steve Harris, meaning he could have been a major character - they're beginning to wear a little thin.

Possibly this is a problem of anything on traditional network television, which is increasingly struggling to keep up in narrative daring with cable and now Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu streaming.   That was one reason why The Dome faded.   But I still think The Crossing has potential.

Someone invented the time travel that has twice gotten people from the future to the present.  If Apex are the super-human group in the future intent on destroying what's left of normal, i.e., our current, humanity, why would one one or a group of them try to help normal humans by giving them a way to escape to the past?  Or was the time travel invented by some normal human genius (how's that for an oxymoron?) in the future, intent on helping his/her, i.e., our own kind?

Such questions don't even need to get into the metaphysics of time travel.  They're just the makings of good espionage narrative, and I hope we start seeing more of them addressed in The Crossing.

See also The Crossing: Lost Again, But OK ... The Crossing 1.2: Calling for More Time Travel

Timeless 2.5: JFK

Well, I'll just come right out with it and say that Timeless 2.5 was easily the finest episode of the series so far - across one and a half seasons - and that's because the episode was one of the best JFK and time-travel narratives in any medium, page or screen, of any length that I've seen.

JFK in 1934 is whisked into the present (2018). Before the hour is over, every gambit of that time travel is explored, including Nixon's face on the dollar coin (before young JFK is saved in the future) and Rufus warning young JFK not to go to Dallas on November 23, 1963 - after JFK has already learned about his and his siblings' deaths, and his Presidency, courtesy of an iPad.

JFK having knowledge of the time and place of his assassination posed an interesting problem for Timeless - a problem that makes all time-travel about tragic events, or trying to change tragic events, so compelling as a narrative on page and screen.  The most daring result could have been JFK living to old age, but that would have required a major overhaul of history that could have completely derailed the series and the stories it is telling.  That's why, when Fringe showed JFK still alive in the early 21st-century, they did little more than just show this, and didn't explore any of the legion of possible consequences.

And that's no doubt why Timeless played it by having JFK, alerted to his assassination in Dallas, killed in another city in Texas - Austin - thus making this episode another expression of O'Henry's favorite moral of you can't escape your fate.  Timeless has gone this route before - indeed, as early as its second episode (1.2), "The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln"- so doing this for JFK was true to the Timeless metaphysic (though, I'd someday like to see a TV series or movie in which JFK lives and we see all the consequences).

But tonight's episode of Timeless also deserves credit for being true to JFK's real history, ranging from his attraction to women to the ills of the flesh he was prone to suffer, with fine acting in the part (and great accent) by Grant Jordan, and one of the best opening scenes of any episode in the series with Flynn rescuing young JFK, guns blazing in some vice principal's office (he was about to kill the young man who would become President).

And tonight also featured some powerful development of the Lucy-Wyatt-Jessica story, which I don't think is resolved quite just yet.  And even a brief but telling debate of atheism vs. faith with Rufus and Jiya, and how it relates to time travel.

So that makes two fine shows tonight about Presidents - a real one on Timeless and a fictitious one on Homeland - and I may or may not now look at what James Comey has to say about another President, and may or may not "review" it.   These days I much prefer drama to news.

See also Timeless 2.1"Mein Kampf, by Philip K. Dick" ... Timeless 2.2: The Nod ... Timeless 2.3: Orson, Hedy, and Lucy ... Timeless 2.4: Striving to Avoid the 'I Made It Happen' Loop in Time Travel

And see also Timeless 1.1: Threading the Needle ... Timeless 1.2: Small Change, Big Payoffs ... Timeless 1.3: Judith Campbell ... Timeless 1.4: Skyfall and Weapon of Choice ... Timeless 1.5: and Quantum Leap ... Timeless 1.6: Watergate and Rittenhouse ... Timeless 1.7: Stranded! ... Timeless 1.8: Time and Space ... Timeless 1.9: The Kiss and The Key ... Timeless 1.10: The End in the Middle ... Timeless 1.11: Edison, Ford, Morgan, Houdini, and Holmes (No, Not Sherlock)! ... Timeless 1.12: Incandescent West ... Timeless 1.13: Meeting, Mating, and Predictability ... Timeless 1.14: Paris in the 20s ... Timeless 1.15: Touched! .... Timeless 1.16: A Real Grandfather Paradox Story

                    more time travel about JFK

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Homeland 7.10: President Trump and President Keane

With James Comey's book about to released, with him about to be interviewed (at 10pm on ABC) about what he wrote in the book -- all about what led up to Trump firing him as FBI Director - we get episode 7.10 of Homeland, in which President Elizabeth Keane, in a no-holds-battle to save her Presidency, fires four of her Cabinet members to stop the invocation of the 25th Amendment, which could remove her from office.

This could well be a true story in the not-too-distant future about Trump.   Except ... Well, the members of his cabinet are not the kind who would ever invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.  Nor is it likely (but of this I'm less sure) that Vice President Pence would ever in any way be part of an effort to remove Trump, as circumstances moved VP Warner into doing.  But what I am sure of is Keane is no Trump.  She's not perfect or even great, to be sure, but she's the victim of Russian attempts to impair our democracy, in contrast to Trump, who was likely the beneficiary of Russian meddling in our election.

Invoking the 25th Amendment has previously been done in 24 - by the same savvy producers of the two shows.   It has indeed been talked about, extensively, regarding Trump.  I say good for Homeland for raising this issue so effectively and dramatically - in a way that brings it to our attention, right now.

Of course, 24 had Jack Bauer and Homeland has Carrie.  And in the other part of tonight's brilliant episode, Carrie gives up parental custody of Franny to Maggie - an extraordinary decision, given that Carrie has evidence in her hand which would have shut down Maggie's attempt to get legal custody of her niece, Carrie's daughter.  But Carrie has realized that her truest devotion is to her calling - in this case, going to Russia to bring back Simone, which could be the last card that President Keane has left.

What a season.  What a world!  I'll see you back here next week.

And see also  Homeland on Showtime ... Homeland 1.8: Surprises ... Homeland Concludes First Season: Exceptional