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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Dexter Season 8 Premiere: Mercury in Retrograde, Dexter Incandescent

The Dexter Season 8 premiere - first of the final twelve episodes in the series  - was so powerful it could almost have been the series finale itself.   But it wasn't, and with eleven more episodes to go, we can get an idea of what a searingly incandescent send-off of this unique series (one of the very best ever on television) we're in for.

Unsurprisingly, Deb doesn't want anything to do with Dexter, and Dexter's starting to crack under the strain.  Deb's going off the deep end as some kind of bounty hunter, and Dexter's wracked with guilt and wants to save her.  All of that is unsurprising because of what happened to Laguerta last season.  It's the only thing unsurprising about this season's story.

First, there's the extent to which Dexter is beginning to fall apart over Deb.  He not only screams at Harrison, uncharacteristic for the pure love he feels for Harrison as a father, but even more uncharacteristically takes Harrison to a dangerous place - because he believes Deb's life is in danger - and even more amazingly leaves Harrison alone in the car.  Fortunately nothing happened to Harrison, but it was a very close call.

And that's not the biggest kicker on this show.   Charlotte Rampling as Dr. Evelyn Vogel is called in by Matthews to help on a case.   She's more interested in Dexter than she should be in a "blood guy," as Dexter realizes and tells her.   Turns out she knows all about Dexter - or, at least, Dexter's origins as a brutally traumatized little boy.

Is she another expert in serial killers - a female Frank Lundy - who may be just a little better than Lundy and manage to bring Dexter down?  That could have been a possibility based just on tonight's episode.  But, in the coming attractions, we see that she wants Dexter's help in nabbing a serial killer - someone, Vogel's afraid, who may be one of her former patients.   Of course, she could still bring Dexter down, whatever her initial motives, or after her initial motives are satisfied.

Is ok it to talk about coming attractions in reviews?  How should I know - I just write reviews, I don't consult rules, Harry's or otherwise, about how to write the reviews.   So I also couldn't help notice in the coming attractions for this final season that Deb is walking into the Miami police station, saying she wants to confess.

So we have a quite a ride ahead.   Matthews sarcastically mentioned "Mercury in retrograde" tonight - which it is, both in our reality and on the show.  It's characterized by plans gone awry.  We can count on that for Dexter Morgan.   As for us, the plan for a memorably fabulous final season of Dexter seems right on course.

And see also Dexter Season 6 Sneak Preview Review ... Dexter 6.4: Two Numbers and Two Killers Equals? ... Dexter 6.5 and 6.6: Decisive Sam ... Dexter 6.7: The State of Nebraska ... Dexter 6.8: Is Gellar Really Real? .... Dexter 6.9: And Gellar Is ... ... Dexter's Take on Videogames in 6.10 ...Dexter and Debra:  Dexter 6.11 ... Dexter Season 6 Finale: Through the Eyes of a Different Love

And see also
 Dexter Season 4: Sneak Preview Review ... The Family Man on Dexter 4.5 ...Dexter on the Couch in 4.6 ... Dexter 4.7: 'He Can't Kill Bambi' ... Dexter 4.8: Great Mistakes ...4.9: Trinity's Surprising Daughter ... 4.10: More than Trinity ... 4.11: The "Soulless, Anti-Family Schmuck" ... 4.12: Revenges and Recapitulations

And see also reviews of Season 3Season's Happy Endings? ... Double Surprise ... Psychotic Law vs. Sociopath Science ... The Bright, Elusive Butterfly of Dexter ... The True Nature of Miguel ...Si Se Puede on Dexter ... and Dexter 3: Sneak Preview Review



Under the Dome: Superior Summer Science Fiction

I caught the premiere of  CBS's Under the Dome on demand last night.  Having just returned from a month's vacation in a small New England town, I was especially receptive.  I liked everything about the show - fast moving, daring main plot, good subplots, altogether superior science fiction which is not over the top, which is to say, Under the Dome has that perfect mix of plausibility and out-of-this-world event which is the hallmark of all fine science fiction.  It should be - it's from the Stephen King novel, which I haven't read.  And that's probably good, because otherwise I'd be unhappy about every divergence of the television series from the novel.

The main plot is a force field which descends around the town with no warning.  It's tall enough that a plane flying above crashes right into it.   In one of the most effective scenes, though, we see a single cow sheared in half by the force field descending like a slick swift invisible razor.   The setup - so far - is that people outside the dome can't communicate with people inside the dome, except by holding up signs and the like.   But since they can't see inside the dome, they have no idea where the heads and eyes that might see the signs are located.

In addition to what caused this - aliens, people from the future, a secret government project, take your pick - we have an ample number of percolating subplots inside the sheer teapot dome.   Local councilman Big Jim Rennie - played welcomely by Dean Norris of Breaking Bad fame - is up to some kind of hanky panky involving propane gas, which may or may not in some way have triggered the dome.  Plus, his son is a love-sick psycho, who accidentally knocks out then locks up in his family's fallout shelter the girl who jilted him just before the dome came down.  There's a smart-taking, hard-ass reporter with long curly hair played by Rachel Lefevre - from the Twilight Saga and White House Down - who may have a heart of gold, and lots of other game and appealing characters.

At this point, Under the Dome bears some resemblances to Flashforward, which also debuted with a stunning storyline and a fine set of characters.   To succeed, Under the Dome will need to keep its breathtaking pace and focus.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Falling Skies 3.4: Hal vs. Ben

There were four good plot developments in Falling Skies 3.4 this week -
  • Hal's evil, alien side takes over - which all but confirms, at least to me, that he's the mole, the killer of the Terry O'Quinn character, and who knows what else.
  • Ben and his likely girlfriend don't want their spikes thoroughly removed - he's grown to enjoy the power they give him.  This should make for some interesting developments down the road.
  • Anne's on the run with her and Tom's baby girl.  This happens after the not-so-mad doc played by Robert Sean Leonard tells Anne and us what was clear already last week in the baby's smile: she has alien DNA.  The doc wonders how that could be.   But we already know - it must have come from Tom, who must have been embedded with some alien DNA when he was aboard the ship.  At this point, however, Anne doesn't seem to be thinking much about how that happened - she's more concerned with making sure her super-baby is beyond the reach of the other humans in the compound.  But where will she go?
  • All three of the above developments become even more intense because Tom decides to go off to the see the real President of the United States.  Tom and the good alien who has come to the meeting just about manage to convince the President that cooperating with the good aliens is the only way we can win - when the bad aliens attack.  Who tipped them off, Hal?
These interlocking developments are making for a good story line this year - in fact, better, I think, than in the previous two years.   Hal under alien control can dominate the compound and get it to do his bidding if he plays his cards right.   With Tom and Anne not there, for different reasons, who can successfully oppose him?   Even Pope is with Tom, away from the compound.   That leaves Margaret, who's no dummy, but she doesn't have Hal's alien strength.   So ... we may be down to Ben ... and an all-out Ben vs. Hall confrontation for control of the compound would be something worth watching.



Monday, June 24, 2013

The Fraudulent Hunt for Snowden

The big story today is the hunt for Edward Snowden - and, in particular, the gall of Russia for not just turning Snowden over to the U.S.  After all, he has been charged with espionage, and that's a very serious crime.  Senator Schumer (D-NY) even sees Russia's failure to turn over Snowden as equivalent to Russia's lack of cooperation with our plans for Syria.

How, exactly, Snowden has committed espionage has never been made clear.  Did he gave valuable information to a country engaged in war with the U.S.?  No one has alleged that he did.   Apparently his "crime" was telling the American people the truth about our own government's spying upon us - a truth that our government has systematically lied about over the years in testimony to Congress.  In what warped reasoning is telling the truth about that an act of espionage?

But our government needs that charge brought against Snowden, so we can pressure foreign governments to turn him over to us.   And if a government sees through that, and decides not to give us Snowden - because he's a whistle blower not a traitor - then that government gets criticized not only by Schumer, with his absurd analogy between Snowden and Syria, but by Jay Carney, John Kerry, and the whole weight of the elected and appointed American government.

And this of course is exactly what the government most wants.  Redirect everyone's attention to the flight of a whistle blower labelled traitor, and the countries who might object to that label, rather than the illegal activity that the whistle was blown upon: the US government's illegal collection of communication information from the American people, and its repeated lying about that every chance it got.

See also: David Gregory vs. Glenn Greenwald: Lessons about So-Called Progressives

Mad Men Season 6 Finale: Beyond California

As I noted earlier in my reviews of this season's Mad Men, California has always played a very special place in Don's and therefore the series' life.  It's been the place where Don can really be himself.

Therefore it wasn't all that surprising that the first big shock of tonight's Season 6 finale was Don's announcement to Megan and SCP that he'll be setting up an outpost for the firm in Los Angeles.  Megan and the partners are both game.   It would have made for a great concluding season next year.  But it wasn't to be.

And precisely because it made so much sense to go to California was it so surprising that Don did the right thing and let Ted take his place out West.  Los Angeles would have taken Don away from Sally and what she saw of Don with Sylvia.  For that matter, it would have taken Don away from Sylvia too.  It all fit into place - Mad Men situated in California, with a truer version of Don.

But there was a truer version still, and that was to hold sway.   All season long, all series long, Don has swung like a pendulum between good and bad, decent and uncaring.  Last week was one of his lowest moves.  He and we were due for a pendulum swing back towards the good and the caring.   So as much sense as it made for Don to go to California, it made more sense for Don to let Ted go, so Ted could get away from Peggy, left once more in the lurch.

But that wasn't the biggest surprise of all, which happens at the end, and is also fully motivated and justified.  Don blows up another client, this time Hersey, with his confession of what his boyhood was really like, and Sterling, Cooper, and the rest of the partners retaliate - by pushing Don out the door, at least for a couple of month, maybe more.

And so we're set up for the series final season next year, which will start with the truest version of Don we've seen so far - without Megan, without Peggy, and now without a job.   All of this he has sacrificed so he can finally be honest about himself.  And he doesn't need to be in California to do this.

We're ready for the truest Don, in New York - the city where he's lived and loved.  And, if he can make it here next year, he can make it anywhere.

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 ... Mad Men 6.9: Don and Betty ... Mad Men 6.10: Medium Cool ... Mad Men 6.11: Hand in the Cookie Jar and Guy de Maupassant ... Mad Men 6.12: Rosemary's Baby, Dick Cheney, and Sunkist

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

Sunday, June 23, 2013

David Gregory vs. Glenn Greenwald: Lessons about So-Called Progressives

David Gregory asked Glenn Greenwald on Meet the Press today why Greenwald "shouldn't be charged with a crime" for publishing Edward Snowden's leaks about NSA snooping on American phone calls and Internet activities.   So this is how far we've come: a journalist doing precisely the job intended by the First Amendment, being a watchdog on the American government, is asked why he shouldn't be considered a criminal - and, most pathetically, by another so-called journalist.  John Adams, who signed the Alien and Sedition Acts that threw journalists into jail who criticized the President in the 1790s, would likely have approved of the question and answered it in the affirmative.  Thomas Jefferson no doubt would not.

But we shouldn't be surprised, and certainly not that this demonization of the press is going on in a Democratic, so-called progressive administration.   After all, Democrats as well as Republicans have sent our nation to war in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, twice in Iraq, and once in Afghanistan, without the Declaration of War required by our Constitution.   We're on the road to doing that again in Syria.  And Democrats as well as Republicans have trampled on the First Amendment for almost a hundred years, fining radio and television stations for broadcasting "objectionable" content, and arresting reporters trying to do their job during Occupy Wall Street.

You have but to look at MSNBC, the so-called progressive voice, to see how far and badly we've come.   In prime time, only Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes have been strongly and unambiguously supportive of Greenwald.  Lawrence O'Donnell, acknowledging the damage wiretapping did to Martin Luther King, Jr., says he's not too worried about the damage that can do today.   Chris Matthews is typically on all sides of this issue.

Only Ron Paul and Ran Paul - whom I wouldn't vote for because of their fiscal policies and positions on women's issues and immigration and other reasons - have come down hard on the right side of this issue.

Whatever happens, I hope no one votes for a Democrat as the lesser of two evils in the next election, because the evil they pose to our freedom and rights is too much to bear.   We can fight terrorists and totalitarians without becoming them ourselves.

See also The Fraudulent Hunt for Snowden

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

James Gandolfini, Tony Soprano, and Hamlet

Stunning news that James Gandolfini died, at the young age of 51.  While there was considerable debate about whether his character Tony Soprano met his end in the finale of the series that Gandolfini's great acting helped build - I'm one who thought Tony lived - there can be no doubt about James Gandolfini.  One of the truly unfortunate things about real life in contrast to life on television is death is undebatable.

More than one genius contributed to The Sopranos on HBO.  Conception and production by David Chase, production and writing by Matthew Weiner, and many more.   And while the words that an actor says are rarely his or her own - being supplied by the writer - the way that the actor delivers the words makes all the difference.  In Gandolfini's case, he brought that mixture of brutal and tender, of lethal mobster and caring family man, that defined Tony Soprano and made the series as revolutionary as it was.

Books have written about why The Sopranos was such a pathbreaking series, some in part by me.  I hosted a scholarly conference about The Sopranos at Fordham University in May 2008, organized by David Lavery, Doug Howard, and me.  The gist is that prior to The Sopranos, television was unwilling to take a chance on a narrative about a mobster who could kill an adversary one hour and return to his family to worry about how his kids were doing in school the next.   We saw that in the movies, in The Godfather trilogy, for sure.   But not on television.

And the result changed everything - for cable shows like Dexter on Showtime, for House of Cards on Netflix, and much more.   We live now in a new golden age of television, and that age started with The Sopronos, brought to life by the breathtaking acting of James Gandolfini.

The person is no longer with us.   But the character he created will live along with Hamlet forever.

See also A Conversation with Dominic Chianese for more on James Gandolfini.



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Falling Skies 3.3: The Smile

Falling Skies episode 3.3 last night had lots of good parts, but the most significant, in terms of long-range consequences in our story, concerned Tom and Anne's baby girl.

Last week, we see Anne noting and worried about the baby's way-too-rapid development.  As I mentioned in my review, the human-alien hybrid is something we've seen before on television, most effectively in V.  What was most interesting about Tom and Anne's child is where the alien came into the equation.   Since neither is an alien - as far as we know - the only way I can see alien DNA entering the baby's genome is via something implanted in Tom, when he was whisked away on the alien ship.

Last night, the focus shifts to Anne, and the possibility that she is imagining the unusual behavior of her baby, in some kind of post-partum blues or even psychosis.   Neither Tom nor Lourdes has seen any evidence that the baby is progressing in anything other than a human way - and Lourdes says her tests show the same - so the pressure's on Anne, who steadfastly denies that she's imaging the baby standing up and talking, just a week after her birth.  Of course, if Anne is indeed losing her mind, that's exactly what she would do.

But in an excellent last scene, with bad-alien ships flying over the Charleston compound, we catch a glimpse of the baby looking up with a distinct smile on her face.   It's a chilling and effective scene, and suggests that the baby is exercising significant intelligence indeed, to hide what she really is from everyone other than Anne.   This in turn raises the interesting question of why the baby is signaling Anne about its identity.

The other nice reveal last night is that the original President of the United States - when the aliens attacked - is still alive and still in office.   Not only does this create good competition for Tom, but opens up all kinds of possibilities - and another parallel between Falling Skies and Revolution.

See also Falling Skies 3.1-2: It's the Acting

And see also Falling Skies Returns  ... Falling Skies 2.6: Ben's Motives ... Falling Skies Second Season Finale

And see also Falling Skies 1.1-2 ... Falling Skies 1.3 meets Puppet Masters ... Falling Skies 1.4: Drizzle ... Falling Skies 1.5: Ben ... Falling Skies 1.6: Fifth Column ... Falling Skies 1.7: The Fate of Traitors ... Falling Skies 1.8: Weaver's Story ... Falling Skies Concludes First Season



Monday, June 17, 2013

Magic City: Yiddish, Cuba, Bathing Suit Excellent

I caught up with the first season of Magic City and the first episode of the second season in the past few days, and was impressed indeed.  It takes place a tad before the start of Mad Men - in late 1958 into 1959 - but it has almost nothing else in common with Mad Men.   Instead of high-rolling Madison Avenue advertising, we get beach-front Miami Beach, where the main high-rolling depicted is among gamblers, mobsters, and hotel owner Ike Evans.   The mob - in the person of Ben Diamond - contributes murders - and the women, from prostitutes to girl friends and wives, are sassily bright and beautiful.   There's plenty of nudity of all kinds, making Magic City much more like Rome than Mad Men.

The plot is pretty good, too, with some genuinely climatic and touching moments, and a few over-the-top situations and resolutions, which are ok by me.   Ike - well played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan - is struggling to keep his hotel successful and even afloat.   He seeks the help of Diamond, ends up with a murder of union head on his hands, who also happens to be an old friend.   To make matters even more tense, Ike's son Stevie is sleeping with Diamond's wife, and Ike's other son Danny wants to work in the DA's office - the very DA who is out to get Ike and Diamond at any cost.

A lot of the first season was devoted to Stevie keeping polaroids of him and Diamond's wife out of Diamond's hands.   When Diamond finally does get a look at them, however, he kills neither his wife or Stevie, because he rather watch them making love.   Not completely believable, but I guess there are crazed mobsters like Diamond around somewhere, so why not in Miami Beach.

The show has a Yiddishe tahm - look it up if you don't know the language - which makes it especially welcome and appealing.   More than just a Yiddish word is thrown in every now and again.  Magic City is thoroughly steeped in Jewish customs and attitudes.  And among the characters who are Jewish are not only Ike and his kids (though not his second wife, who is Cuban), but Ben Diamond (far more brutal than Meyer Lansky), the late union leader, and even the obsessed DA.   And Cuba indeed plays a significant role in this story.  As does JFK, not yet seen, but on his way to becoming President.

In short, Magic City is zesty, refreshing, pounding, and sexy - I'll be an avid viewer from now.   And my wife really likes it, too.