Category Archives: drama

Fargo (s.03, 2017)

Third season of Fargo tells the story most of which happened in 2010 and 2011 in Minnesota. Brotherly long-time resentment over the division of the inheritance gets amplified when the disobliged brother, who works as a probation officer, falls in love with one of his fosterlings, and she responds with similar affection towards him. He makes the decision to finally take what’s his, but the instrument of his action, another fosterling of his, makes a mistake thus launching the chain of reaction that would result in a lot of deaths. Of course, this might not have been as bad as it was, if not for the calamity that happened to the more fortunate brother more or less at the same time: his relatively successful business became the victim of the legal vampire entity – a company of people with some V. M. Varga in charge that forces itself on a business and abuses it for profit until said business is no more. One of the sides in this burning equation is inclined to use violence due to their status quo fatigue combined with lack of resources, and the other tends to use it routinely, so their confrontation could not have ended any other way. Police efforts to get hold of the situation encounter a lot of trouble, but eventually manage to make some difference.

Usually, when I think about how to describe something as beautiful and fascinating as this story, I tend to use word ‘song’, even though there’s little sense to it, as there are a lot of bad songs out there, but I guess, it’s because Russian language uses this analogy quite a lot – after all, there’s only 3 major components to any song (the text, the music, the voice), once you get each of them right, it’s bound to be good. There is a lot more components to a movie, and in today’s world a season of a dramatic show is basically a very long movie, which makes it even more complicated, because it has to stay interesting for much longer, and it’s not easy at all. So, naturally, there’s not too many of those that managed to do everything right; Fargo, in every of its 3 seasons, did just that.

Third season in particular is absolutely brilliant in every aspect of the implementation. The story is captivating and complex, with plenty of wonderful, deep characters, and a number of truly original subjects, including that of what I called legal vampire entity, or LVE. The direction, as well as the photography, is amazing; the freedom with which the directors and executive producers selected and used specific instruments is astonishing. The choice of music is of very good taste; the sound work really made this thing even more powerful. And the acting. The general level of acting is really high; and I can say with certainty that every major character in this story is played on a genius level.

Specifically, I would like to single out 3 acting works, even though many more of them deserve to be talked about in length. First one is Ewan McGregor, who plays brothers Emmit and Ray Stussy; to be frank, I didn’t realize at first that this way just one actor (I rarely read the cast before watching a show), for some reason I really thought thar Ray was played by Bob Odenkirk. Such level of demarcation is really a unique talent. Second is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who played Ray’s girlfriend Nikki Swango: she is a bright and complex personality, beautiful and strong at the same time; a remarkable work. The same can be said about David Thewlis playing V. M. Varga as well: a boulemic psychopath and manipulator, a man who likes crushing people for gain as well as for fun, is probably one of his best works ever. There’s also a hitman named Yuri, a descendant of the cossacks in the context of jewish pogroms; and Gloria Burke, a tenacious policewoman, who cares about justice more than about authority; and Sy Feltz, a strong man who gets broken by those who know no rules. There’s plenty more. This show is a collection of surpassing works.

According to wiki, Noah Hawley is not in any hurry to cook season #4, because he doesn’t have any stories for now; the possibility of continuation is not at all excluded, but it probably won’t happen until 2020 or so. And it’s a good thing, too: better wait than get an inferior product early.

In the meantime, Fargo remains one of the few truly perfect shows, with nothing in its bosom to be ashamed of.

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Castle (s.02, 2009-10)

Second season of Castle is almost indistinguishable from the 1st one. Most of the case stories are completely separated from each other and have no impact on the overall development. The arc I was expecting did not happen: although there were certain movements in that direction, it ended up in a disappointing deadlock. By far, the only significant thing in the show that actually evolves is Castle-Bennet mutual appetency.

So, that thing with investigation into Bennet’s mother’s murder manifested itself first in Bennet making peace with the case being revived (couple of first episodes); and second, in discovering that the murder was a hit, executed by a hired professional (episode 13). Unfortunately, the fact that the hitman was killed before he could reveal the name of his client, left very little hope on decent continuation of the storyline; for the rest of the season, there wasn’t even a hint at it.

The most exciting part of the season was a double episode (17&18) about a serial killer, who chose Bennet as his target believing that she’s a real-life Nikki Heat. The piece in quite fascinating in itself: there’s the FBI involvement with subsequent friendly rivalry between Bennet and the agent in charge, there’s the influx of impressive technology (even though some of it look like bullshit); but the most interesting thing about it is that it is all provoked by the growing mass of Castle-Bennet professional alliance. Too bad, there were no more stories like this.

Finally, there’s the story of emotional attraction between Castle and Bennet, full of unresolved issued and conflicting desires. Interestingly enough, the writers manage to pull it off without actually sliding into melodrama; this development looks quite serious, but it doesn’t dominate everything else. I’m afraid, though, that without sufficient counterbalance of the professional part of their relationship (which, by the way, was very much present in The Mentalist), it might as well turn into soap; at least, there is an alarming tendency towards it.

All in all, watching the show is like processing ore: in order to get an ounce of gold, you have to dig through at least 2 tonnes of useless material. Episodes 13, 17 and 18 might be worth checking out, everything else – not so much.

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Darknet (s.01*, 2013)

Darknet is an anthology horror series. It comprises a multitude of stories, big and small, all united through the keynote of a website called Darknet, which is specifically dedicated to scary real-life communications, with CCTV videos of real murders, and something like a forum, where a killer can leave a message asking for advice on how to get rid of the body and actually get a response. The show resembles V/H/S movies a lot, only updated to reflect the internet era.

There is no direct relation between the episodes in terms of the stories; each of them is created by a different director, with different characters, etc. The website does work as a stem on which the stories are strung, but it’s not until the ending of the 6th episode when the common plot strarts to appear. Considering that there is no continuation, and probably won’t be, it’s a bummer.

Episodes’ quality level varies as much as their stories. The only perfect one is the first, done by Vincenzo Natali, all the others are flawed in one way or another: sometimes a piece would be based on an assumption too far-fetched to be taken seriously, sometimes the rythm would be wrong, and sometimes the acting would be not good enough. Episode #6 (done by Rodrigo Gudiño) is better than the others, and also contains an interesting cliffhanger, but it’s still not as great as Natali’s work.

All in all, there is a lot of really frightening stuff here, so as a horror this series works quite well. I hope there would be some sort of closure, even if only a short film – just to wrap things up. But even with the final path leading nowhere, it’s worth checking out; and better do it when the night is at its darkest. Works better that way.

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Castle (s.01, 2009)

Castle is a procedural drama leaning towards dramedy. Its primary setting is very similar to that of The Mentalist: a female detective gets an unwanted aid in the person of a minor celebrity with good investigative skills of non-police origin; at first she’s not exactly happy about it, but the helper proves to be quite useful, plus they have some emotional tension growing between them, so eventually it becomes their new normal. The show is of mixed format, although, unlike The Mentalist, Castle‘s 1st season is only building to a story arc, but consists of separate episodes connected exclusively through the network of personal relationships.

The show does bear a lot of similarity with the Mentalist, at least in the beginning, but when it comes to the quality of writing, it obviously lags behind. There is no excuse for absence of the arc; acclimatizing with the characters and the environment is fine, but that personal connections thing is too weak of a glue to hold this all together. This is especially evident against the background of simplistic, predictive stories (it’s not a good thing when a viewer arrives at the right solution earlier than the detectives do) full of cliché situations, dubious psychological profiles for the secondary characters (victims, witnesses, etc.), and, once in a while, not very good dialogs. Of course, Fillion’s acting (and, what the heck, charisma) makes it all seem worthwhile; the humor is not so bad; the acting of other main characters is quite good, – but that’s barely enough to sit through these 10 episodes, and not enough to want to keep watching.

However, this is my second go at the show; after 1st attempt I concluded pretty much the same thing as described above; this time I’m willing to go further – not least since I’ve heard that what only started to take shape by the end of the 1st season (dead cold investigation of detective Beckett’s mother’s death) should develop into something interesting in the subsequent seasons. So, I’m going to see how the 2nd season would pan out, and decide what to do next from there.

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House of Cards (s.05, 2017)

Fifth season of House of Cards follows Francis and Clair Underwood in the next chapter of their struggle for ultimate power. Frank manages to obtain presidency, but preserving it turns out to be even more ambitious challenge than taking it. Facing lowest ratings ever, he moves the final decision to the parliament by skillfully manipulating public’s opinion, as well as the law. He creates the situation of high pressure, to which he is quite accustomed, but his opponent (NY governor, republican Will Conway) is not, which is why he eventually cracks, thus letting Underwoods occupy their positions as the president and the vice-president permanently. Or, at least, so everybody thought. Some powers still trying to withstand his efforts receive unexpected help from ex-president Walker, when, instead of pleading the 5th amendment, he decides to actually testify to certain events from the times when Frank was his VP. But, as the history already showed on a number of occasions, expecting Frank to not have a plan even for such case would be unwise. In parallel, storylines of president’s aide Doug Stamper and LeAnn Harvey, as well as investigative reporter Tom Hammershmidt, and several new characters, supplement and amplify the primary one.

The world nowadays is unstable, politics-wise, or at least it produces that impression, which cannot but reflect in every show touching upon political issues of modernity, be that Homeland, or House of Cards, or anything else. And though it creates an unpleasant, unsettling feeling, there is no doubt that in itself it’s an amazingly rich soil for complex and comprehensive stories of all kinds to flourish. The universe of discourse described in this show is way more troubling than the actual reality (thankfully, Trump is not even close to being as smart and conniving as Underwood), but there enough resembling traits (the power of populism, weak spots of the legal systems, etc.) to promote anxiety: after all, there is nothing out there that can prevent people like Frank, or Clair from appearing and making their way to the top. I suppose, that’s what we ultimately should be concerned with: how not to let something like that happen.

Fifth season is the first one, where show’s creator Beau Willimon is not the showrunner: he stepped down as the head writer in favour of Frank Pugliese and Melissa James Gibson, which didn’t seem to influence the quality all that much, – it remains incredibly high. The primary storyline develops in a plausible fashion; it is driven by the smallest things, the nuances; combined, they create a full-fledged, complicated picture of multitude of wrestling powers, that can be influenced and even managed, but only by somebody who understands them well, and only to a certain extent. In this story Frank Underwood together with Clair serves as a person who can balance all the streams of power better than anybody else, but still not quite perfectly. Yes, up to a certain point, they are one and the same person; only when the more public part of their alliance becomes too damaged to continue as such, they separate, and we can see that their interests are not that aligned after all.

Supporting characters, including Doug and LeAnn, as well as Jane Davis, Mark Usher, Sean Jeffries, Alex Romero, Aidan Macallan, and the Conaway couple, all enhance the main story in various ways; all of them are bright, complex and interesting, and some are quite scary (Davis), too. Their respective stories, although incomplete in most of the cases, enrich the show immensely.

Implementation from the technical standpoint is quite flawless.

So what conclusions can we make here? A psychopath is more likely to succeed in politics than anybody else, and the dark triad would give a person an even better competitive edge. Power is the strongest incentive of all, and thirst for it can become a disease. Betrayal is an acceptable instrument for any talented politician. Nothing new, I guess. But as a terrifying illustration to all of these (and more), House of Cards is incredibly fascinating, and therefore goes highly recommended.

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Hell on Wheels (s.05, 2015-16)

Fifth and final season of Hell on Wheels revolves around the last chapter in building of the Transcontinental Railroad, this time from the sides of Central and Union Pacific companies both. Cullen Bohannon keeps looking for his lost family, and accepts an employment from Collis Huntington, the proprietor of the Union Pacific, solely because he promises him aid in that endeavour. He works really hard to get through the mountains, and in doing so he dives deep into the world of Chinese refugees who are employed there as the primary workforce. Secondary workforce is the Mormons managed by Brigham Young’s youngest son, who, in his turn, is managed by the infamous Swede. Thor Gundersen works hard to undermine prophet’s authority in the eyes of his son, aiming to take his place. Durant struggles with lack of cash and many other hindrances that are accompanying the construction. Eva and Mickey run a business together, and they too have their issues. Louise doesn’t have her own newspaper anymore, but continues to follow the construction as a freelance writer. Both Huntington’s and Durant’s enterprises experience various kinds of trouble while racing for the big prize – the coal minds of Ogden.

So, this last season is incredibly deep, rich with ideas, characters and situations, it is inserted into the universe of discourse in the most sublime manner, and it is executed beautifully. In this respect it’s not very different from other 2 seasons ran by John Wirth, meaning it’s just as amazing. Stories of the Bohannon’s family, of Thor Gundersen, of mr. Chang, and then of Ah Fong and mr. Tao; the insanely fascinating race of the railroads; the development of Psalms’, and Louise’s and Eva’s, and Mickey’s stories – everything, basically, is thought-out and written perfectly – there’s really no way around that word, – every one of those items is perfect, and they coexist with each other in harmony so wonderful, there are no words to describe it. You can feel it, though, and I strongly encourage you to watch this show, because it’s really worth it. The authenticity of the world described is astonishing; the acting is admirable; the photography, the sound, the music, – every element of implementation brings enjoyment along with a multitude of emotional response.

I do not know of any other show, present or past, on the TV that was anything like Hell on Wheels. Sure, it started off in a somewhat confined, narrow manner, but it grew better every season, and eventually it became if not genius than pretty damn close to it. One of the best shows I’ve seen, that much I’m certain about.

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The 100 (s.04, 2017)

In the 4th season of The 100 the threat of AI enslaving humans goes away, but another one rises. If no solution is found, within 6 month time every living creature on the planet would fall due to destruction and radiation caused by crumbling nuclear reactors. Clark and others start to looking for that solution, but experience difficulties of every kind on each step of the way. The grounders’ alliance falls apart, – driven by fear crews turn on each other; Roan takes power, but in the established chaos, keeping it turns out to be a bigger problem. Possible viable solutions seem to be insufficient, and cannot save everybody, so sacrifices have to be made. The race of survival rises to a whole new level.

There is a lot of great stuff in this season: the overall development is plausible enough; solutions found are imperfect, limitations imposed by them are reasonably serious, and consequences of the decisions resulting from those limitations are frightening and sometimes fascinating, as they should be.

But. Pretty much the whole time I felt that the mixture of pathos, anguish, and melodrama permeating the narrative is way too strong for the amount of action we are given – in other words, the characters are lamenting all the time, in this form or another, and that creates an unpleasant sour feeling that accompanies everything. I understand, that survival as a genre calls upon such emotions, and there is a lot of pressure in the story, but again: the mixture is too strong, meaning the writers didn’t manage to keep things balanced.

Another thing that was irritating me a lot, is that Rothenberg et al. obviously were protecting the original main cast from their characters dying. There were a lot of situations, where their lives were at risk, yet the only one who actually was let go died at his own volition (and considering his annoyingly hysterical behaviour, good riddance). This is a clear case of author’s arbitrariness caused by external reasons, as well as cowardice, inability to understand how powerful such sacrifice can be. Which is sad, because you expect better from people who killed off Lincoln just a year ago.

Finally, certain story solutions look less and less believable, as well as certain explanations. Scientific stuff sounds more and more like quasi-scientific (organism that rejects radiation among other things), and sometimes things happen simply because otherwise the story won’t move forward as conceived.

I think, mr. Rothenberg came up with a decent story arc, but failed to preserve the proper quality of writing. Episodes written by him personally, by the way, are quite good (in particular, I loved the oxygen exchange idea in the finale), but all the others – well… They could’ve been much better.

All in all, the season is troubled and imbalanced, although not exactly bad. The final cliffhanger is curious and brings hope for better development. Fifth season is going to happen, and I’m going to watch it, albeit with apprehension.

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Hell on Wheels (s.04, 2014)

In 4th season of Hell on Wheels construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad continues westward through the newly established Wyoming territory. Primary conflict reforms into that between federal government, represented by the provisional governor Campbell, and local authorities (relative as they are) controlled by Durant. In that confrontation Cullen Bohannon, who comes back with his mormon wife and child after 4 months of absence, takes sides with Durant, because at least they have a goal in common, while governor’s goal is establishing law and order by any means necessary. Along with this unfolding conflict (in which most of the town supported Durant), life in Cheyenne goes on: Eva tries to survive without Elam Ferguson, who’s gone missing; Louise Ellison keeps depicting what she sees for all of the America to read; Ruth preaches and learns how to be a mother to Ezra, son of late bishop Dutson; Bohannon struggles to preserve his new family; and so on. Swede gets exposed after governing the mormon colony quite successfully for a short time, but manages to survive and even build a career out of it.

Well, I can’t say nothing, but to praise this season, almost in its entirety. Those utterly insignificant discrepancies with previous story (like with Ruth’s story, for example) do not influence anything at all; if anything, I would rather change what was written by the Gaytons than what was told during this season. The overall development is great; the season is very well thought-through, which is especially evident if compare entry episodes to the first part of the Elam’s story (middle of the season). Authenticity remains on an extremely high level, with all the filth, and dirt, and deaths, and limitations, and consequences, making the show realistic and powerful.

Aforementioned story of Elam Ferguson is astonishing, frightening, unsettling, shocking, or, to put it simple, fascinating. Same goes to the way the conflict grows, in the core of which different interests of quite powerful forces sit, the archetype of the federal-local balance that comprises the diversity of the USA life today. Specifically, the way Campbell tries to bring Durant to submission, and the way Bohannon doesn’t let him, and the range of consequences this final aggravation brings, are extremely hard to tear oneself away from. The story of Ruth deserves a separate mention, and not just the contents, although it’s staggering, but also the implementation – execution shown from the perspective of the sentenced person is absolutely mind-boggling.

And those are just the largest stories, they are like trees in the woods; there’s also underbrush – smaller stories and circumstances that determine and form the environment in which everything takes place, and they are implemented in the most brilliant way possible. All in all, Hell on Wheels in its 4th season is delicious and sublime. The 5th is the final one, and I hope this wonderful rise of quality has not been spoiled. Although, considering that John Wirth was still in charge, I’m pretty confident, it hasn’t.

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Sense8 (s.02, 2016-17)

Second season of Sense8 continues the story of a sensate cluster fighting against a powerful secret organization, while trying to figure out their own lives at the same time. A lot of stuff happens during the season, but the initial disposition is something like this: Sun is unjustly imprisoned by her brother, and craves revenge; Will and Riley are fugitives, hiding from BPO in Europe, away from people dear to their hearts; Wolfgang tries to stay alive in Berlin; Lito witnesses his whole career crash into shambles; Nomi is running from the law; Capheus is looking for his own way to help people of his country; Kala gets unhappily married; and Whispers is coming for all of them.

The show is totally brilliant – in 2nd season same as in the 1st, or maybe even more. The picture is beautiful; the development of the concept is original and interesting; the story, although weighted with multiple embranchments into personal stuff, is extremely captivating; the acting is genius; the editing is sublime, as well as the direction. The story is very inventive. Emotional scenes, at least some of them, are absolutely fascinating. The action is amazing. There are still some minor things, like substitution of one of the leads (Aml Ameen was replaced by Toby Onwumere as Capheus), or how Sun was saved during her escape, but, considering that Onwumere is really great (and I can think of couple explanations of the escape thing, albeit rather strained ones), all of them combined seem insignificant compared to all the quality stuff.

Sense8 is a work of art probably more than any other show, past or present. At the same time, which doesn’t happen very often, it is a breathtaking entertainment that is hard to turn away from.

Which saddens me all the more, because it was decided by shitheads at Netflix that there will be no 3rd season. Of course, I understand their position (they claim that the audience of the show is too small compared to its budget cost), it seems quite valid, but I still hate them for this decision, which was made 14 days ago, and reconfirmed last week. On the other hand, no statement was made by either Lana Wachowski, or J. Michael Straczynski, so we don’t know if they have any plan of action; besides, history tells us that a way out is still possible: the show might be repurchased by some other network, or budget might be renegotiated, or, at the very least, they can make a full-length movie, just to wrap up all the cliffhangers.

P.S.: “Choice is less about what happens than it is about how we deal with it.”

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Hell on Wheels (s.03, 2013)

Third season of Hell on Wheels tells about the next chapter in the construction of North Pacific Railroad. Bohannon and Durant battle each other for the control of the process; and while Durant has money and influence, Bohannon has the support of the people, as well as of those significant powers who value that factor. Mr. Ferguson becomes the chief of police, and grows to be Bohannon’s friend. McGuiness brothers fall apart: Mickey continues handling the brothel, and Sean goes into accounting for the railroad (while spying in favour of Durant). Mr. Tool’s brother shows up to claim Eve’s baby on account of blood ties. Ruth becomes a preacher instead of her father. Mormons become a significant factor the railroad has to deal with, and take the place of the indians in that respect, although the latter do not go away either. A reporter comes to tell the story of the railroad construction, and about people who work there. General Ulysses Grant appears in the picture as one of the deciding powers.

The Gayton brothers stopped writing for the show, and stepped down as its creative force; instead John Wirth became the showrunner. It didn’t cause a drop in quality, quite the contrary, actually, because I don’t feel that constraint I felt during the 1st and (to a lesser extent) 2nd seasons. It’s like walls around the scene have suddenly been lifted, and the space and light filled everything. Having got rid of some characters, including the priest and Fair-haired Maiden of the West, the show revived its spirit.

The arc story is rather complex and even delicate, as there are a lot of tiny parts and conjunctions, that are easy to break if handled without logic and understanding of the nature of things. Fortunately, the writing team is quite amazing – there is nothing in their stories that goes against those things. In fact, some of those stories are extremely powerful: mormon father making a decision; the death of the first new chief of police; Swede acquiring new life for himself, but being unable to change his distorted mind; the game of stickball; water shortage; general Grant interference; the quarrel between the McGuiness brothers; mr. Ferguson trying to help Bohannon, but falling at the paw of the bear; and many others, including the finale. All these different stories entwine together in a truly astonishing canvas.

The authenticity remains as it was – extremely high. Psychological development of characters is logical and plausible. The narration in general is captivating.

All in all, the show only keeps growing better and stronger. I hope this tendency will continue for season 4 and 5 as well.

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Black Sails (s.04, 2017)

Fourth and, sadly, final season of Black Sails tells about how the all-ambracing pirate rebellion against British Empire almost happened. Captain Flint, together with Long John Silver, fight the British governor, who was brought to Nassau by Eleanor, while trying to secure their hidden treasure needed to fuel the coming uprising. But Silver fell deeply in love with Madi, daughter of late mr. Scott, and this fact not only complicated things very much along the way, it also was the undoing of the rebellion in general, on system level. Because ultimatelly this story is about the insurmountable contradiction between desire for personal happiness, which is what mentally healthy people are lean to, and aspiration for grand accomplishments, which is a choice of people with nothing to lose. Eleanor, Max, Jack Rackham, Anne, Billy Bones, – they too have their stories going on, and all of them are wonderful, and they intertwine with each other in a breathtakingly beautiful manner.

I’m only retelling this, becase while the story (as a sequence of events) does matter, the highest pleasure that can be found here comes how it is all done. It’s absolutely astonishing. The camera crew is genious, along with special effects guys, – the resulting picture is fascinating. The story is constructred in the most exquisite fashion, the dialogs are truly deep and full of meaning, and the core conflict of the story is powerful and extremely interesting, as it is rarely brought to cinema, or literture for that matter. To be frank, I think the ending was a little too happy – sort of. It is completely plausible, of course, and implemented brilliantly, same as everything else… But maybe I would prefer for the show to turn alternative history, with heroes inhabiting the version of our universe where the rebellion did, in fact, happen. Maybe it’s sadness from the fact that the show’s over now.

It was absolute delight, though. This show is one of the good ones.

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Hell on Wheels (s.02, 2012)

Hell on Wheels‘ 2nd season follows the construction of the railroad into the year 1866. Two primary challenges the construction company faces now are a gang of ex-Confederates robbing the workers of their payroll, and necessity to built through the territories considered sacred by a relatively strong tribe of Sioux indians, – and violence resulting from them. Bohannon turns to plunder business himself for a while, but some things don’t work out and he gets condemned to death, but Durant buys him out (which apparently was pretty common those days), and that’s how he comes back to HW.

First of all, the overall development of the story (arc) and specific stories impuing the season, are not just good, they are great – surprising, interesting, captivating, plausible and quite powerful, sometimes even wild. The authenticity is amazing. Some ideas (like Swede going mad in an unmanifest way) even for me seem unexpectedly curious. There is a lot of good in this show, – around 90%, in fact, which is my rough esitmation. That is enough for me to consider it great as a whole.

But there is still a matter of remaining 10% – I believe, I figured it out, mostly because it was more like 20% in the 1st season. It’s a good progress, but there are still imperfect things: for starters, gaps between the states of certain relationships – from the end of season 1 and to the beginning of season 2 in some cases are too deep, which makes the transition abrupt; not a big deal, but unpleasant. Then there is a problem with characters: on the one hand, I feel something mechanical in the way the characters appear to move the story along and then go back to their storecases; in hindsight I don’t think there was anything that unnatural or illogical there (developmental changes are all accounted for), but rather arbitrary, and even that is just a sensation. But on the other hand, there is also casting. Some choices are not very successful, others are simply weird: the first group is represented most vividly with the character of the priest – although, I think Tom Noonan is a good actor, and did a good job (“I wanna see my children” piece is close to brilliant), he wasn’t right for the part in the first place (he kinda gives me the same vibe as Harold); and the character of Swede (played by Christopher Heyerdahl) is just odd, – the character and the way it’s played, too. Not bad, – weird, and that’s hard to evaluate.

Other things I didn’t like very much, but they may be not that important: the fact that Bohannon completely forgot about his vengeance; the music is too rich, too saturated for the drama density this high, it should be much less words; Lily’s death in the finale was meant to look original and versimilar, but I think they could’ve done it brighter; the finale is ambigious but predictable – Swede’s departure could go in a limited number of ways.

But generally speaking, this show is a great entertainment, and not just that: story with the station robbery gone wrong, as well as the hostage situation one, and (to a lesser extent) the finale, are examples of outstanding writing, and thus are quite fascinating. I wonder what they did next: shows like this, good on the whole, but with an imperfection or two, are the most interesting to figure out.

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Girls (s.06, 2017)

Sixth is Girls‘ final season, there will be no more Hannah and Adam, and Ray, and Marnie, and Jessa, and Elija after this. The most notable storyline of this season (arch, like Lena Dunham called it) is Hannah’s pregnancy. Besides the development of childbearing thing itself and its impact on the universe of discourse, there were plenty of pretty amazing stories about all of the main characters – each in its own way deep and smart, and airy.

And there’s not much else to say than that, because how many compliments can you fit in a paragraph without sounding like a toady? I love the show not just because it managed to maintain a very high level of drama quality over the years, but also because it was consistent, in everything, all the time. Every single piece of it, take it away and watch under a microscope, is of highest quality from beginning to end, and the assembling was being done by a team of nearly genius level. I’m not sure if any of them could qualify for such a characteristic by themselves, but altogether they certainly do.

I’m pretty sure by now, along with The Wire and Mad Men, this show, Girls, is one of the best dramas there ever were on TV.

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Hell on Wheels (s.01, 2011-12)

Hell on Wheels is a period drama set in the US right after the Civil War ended (and Lincoln was assassinated). First season covers 1865. An ex Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon, veteran of the war, is pursuing revenge for his deceased wife, who was raped and hanged by a bunch of northerners, the last of whom is supposed to be working as a foreman at the construction of Transcontinental Railroad. Before his death he reveals that there was also a sergeant who was a part to the crime, but gives too little detail to actually detect him. Bohannon gets hired to be a new foreman and really applies himself to the job while trying to find the perpetrator at the same time. Other storylines feature the head of the railroad company who’s trying to secure government financing, an ex-slave building himself new life as a freeman, a native american converted to christianity, as well as members of his tribe most of whom are not happy about the invaders, a priest who seems to be unable to get rid of violence in his life, and a wife of surveyor for the company who, unlike her husband, survived an indian onslaught to find herself in possession of extremely important maps.

So, I liked the show, and what’s not to like: reality reconstructed seems to be quite authentic (a lot of dirt, a lot of easy death; no movie clichés, like cowboys; no attempts to find excuse for the white men’s disgraceful policy with native americans); main characters are all quite different, all pursuing their own agenda, all their incentives are in place, their storylines intertwining to create a pattern unique for this universe of discourse; technical implementation is on a decent level; acting is pretty good, and so on.

And yet, I sense something not exactly right. Like there’s not enough air, everything is too tight, or maybe the magnitude is not great enough. There may be various reasons for this; I don’t think it’s the writing – at least, not the dialogs; and it’s probably not the direction, as I’ve seen other works of almost all the directors participants, and I don’t remember getting that feeling before; besides, in this case it would’ve been concentrated in just a few episode, but it’s rather spread all over. I came to think, it’s the combination of executive decision to stay within the limits of the format (every episode is roughly 45m, no exceptions), which impacts the creativeness of directors (and writers, too), with certain casting decisions – some of the actors may not be good enough to pull their characters through to achieve a required depth. I’m still figuring that out; I might be wrong on all accounts here – it’s a bit of a mess.

Either way, – whatever wrongness I feel, it’s not significant enough to even put a finger on it, and it’s definitely not a reason to abandon the show. It has a lot of wonderful qualities with potential to become even better, and I kinda want to see how it all unfolds.

Names and figures

The Walking Dead (s.07, 2016-17)

Story of The Walking Dead‘s 7th season revolves around the Negan yoke: every character left standing, every storyline there is, adds something to the general pool of Negan, – like rivers create the sea by disemboguing into it.

The construction of the season remains pretty much same as before – it’s divided into 2 halves, each composing its own story arc, only this time both arcs are parts of the same story. The 1st part is about submission and depression; the 2nd part is about uprising and counterstand. Both parts consist of character episodes (portraying adventures of a specific character), as well as of larger scale ones – but all of them merge into a single powerful story stem eventually. The quality of implementation is undoubtedly outstanding. The acting is flawless; even severe losses the cast endured over the course of the season didn’t do a lot of harm, because at the same time it was enriched with many new characters, most of whome are just as interesting as the old ones.

So, on the one hand, there is plenty of amazing stories, as usual, and characters are great, and the psychological elaboration is as deep as I expected it to be, but I got a feeling that the show started to loose traction closer to the end of the season. I kinda got used to higher density of the narrative, I mean: before there was one good, saturated story per arc, with 2 arcs per season, and now – not only the same Negan thing was stretched for 16 whole episodes, it now will take some part of the next season, as well. The story is good, I’m not arguing with that, and Negan is a cool character, but that’s not quite enough for such volume, there’s gotta be more. And that’s an alarming sign, actually, – the writers might be trying to knock down the intensity a little while preserving the format measurments because they are running out of material. I hope season 8 will show how wrong I am about that. In the meantime, I just wanna note that the betrayal in the finale (one of them, anyway) is easily predictable: the low act was committed by the only one of new communities the audience didn’t have a chance to get to know better on emotional level.

And still, notwithstanding certain tiny problems, The Walking Dead is a wonderful work of art with tonns of fascinating ideas, quality writing, and wonderful cast, – it was from almost the beginning, and it still is.

Anyway, it was a pleasure. I’m counting on watching the continuation next year.

Names and figures

Homeland (s.06, 2017)

Homeland‘s 6th season follows Carrie when she returns to the States after the German affair, and deals mostly with the US internal issues, but covers some international agenda as well. Most of the story happens in the midtime between the election and the inauguration of the newly elected president. Carries is advising the president-elect about possible reform of the secret service agencies. Quinn suffers his way through life, crippled but still functioning. Saul carefully balances whatever power he has left to oppose the damage caused by the bellicist wing of his own agency. Dar Adal goes over the line but looses control over his whole operation in the process.

In this season I detected no significant drawbacks whatsoever; on the contrary, the show continues to be wonderfully diverse, unpredictable, and utterly fascinating. The depiction of such stories, as the relationship between Saul and his sister (the issue of Israeli image on the world arena); apsiration among the secret services officers to accure benefits out of situations artifically created by themselves (which doesn’t mean they are not good professionals, just that they have certain incentives outside of obvious); Quinn’s not exactly successful way of dealing with his newly acquired limitations; genuinely well-meaning president’s policies being altered due to constantly changing circumstances; abuse of the freedom of speech, including here America’s own troll factory; frictions among the war party assosiates, and so on and so forth, – demonstrates the writers ability to go really deep, as well as to construct storyturns, that are not only plausible but also surprising, out of tiniest details. I truly admire their ability to balance a plot so incredibly complex.

Watching all the story modulations was a downright rapture, but some of them were quite disturbing and uncomfortable. When happening in the midst of the season, such episodes are usually followed by a counter-balance, which at the end of the day brings the sum total to a working ground zero (in terms of viewer’s perception). Different story with the final twist. Without uncovering too much, I would just say that it stands in contradiction with previously established psychological image of the president-elect, which may or may not be justified in the upcoming development – or, better say, which the writers would or would not be able to justify. The claim is a rather huge one, so it won’t be easy at all, and I do have my doubts on account of that.

That being said, the season is pretty much awesome. It’s full of intrigue, action and violence, and nothing untenable at that. I can only hope that the writers would be able to deliver on promises made, but I’m, like, 90% confident they would. All in all, I recommend the show highly – it may be the best spy epic on TV so far.

Names and figures

Downton Abbey (s.06, 2015 + The Finale)

Sixth and final season of Downton Abbey exeeds the story until the end of 1925. Tom comes back after a brief break and stays for good. Mary tries to figure out her wishes and goals, and decide if a relationship with mr. Talbot is the way to go. Edith enters a relationship of her own, the one that would eventually lead her to being happily married. Lord Grantham’s ulcer goes into aggravation, but he gets well later. Lady Grantham replaces he mother-in-law as the key figure of the area, which Dowager Countess does not take well at first, but finds her piece with it eventually. Mr. Carson gets too old to perform his duties properly. Mr. Barrow almost kills himself, but everything ends well. The Bates family acquires a child. Daisy manages to help her father-in-law, gets smarter and prouder, and will probably be happy in her near future. Mr. Molesley becomes a teacher, and his attention towards ms. Baxter would probably bear some fruit.

Over the course of the season everything even remotely edgy and provocative was smoothed into uniformity of happy end. As there are a lot of various characters, it wasn’t easy to make everybody happy and make it look more or less plausible at the same time, yet mr. Fellowes managed to do just that. Whatever the differences are, the characters would always find enough strength and wisdom in themselves to overcome them; whatever the conflict is, there would always be a way to resolve it. By the end of the final episode everything gets pretty much settled in accordance with the prettiest and most comfortable scenario possible. And the writing is good enough to not turn this into melodrama – although, all the softness is still somewhat unnatural, it is framed with realistic enough circumstances, and it’s really well implemented, too.

There were very few severe situations: the accident at the racing event, the blood caughing, Mary’s telling Edith’s boyfriend about her child; of these the last one is especially memorable, because it is constructed out of human decisions entirely, while the first 2 have an element of chance as a very significant constituent. These cases really were powerful and exciting, but I wish there were more of them.

Even with consideration for the author’s choice to exaggerate people’s best character traits, Downton Abbey is an amazing phenomenon in the world of modern TV, was from the beginning and until the very last scene. A lot of people can learn how to make costume drama on the examples of this show. And I hope Julian Fellowes would not abandon his gift, and that we’ll see something else from him in the future.

Names and figures

Downton Abbey (s.05, 2014 + A Moorland Holiday)

Downton Abbey’s 5th season covers most of 1924, and concentrates mostly on the Bates family’s road of sorrows (new round of mr. Green’s death investigation), Edith’s anguish about her daughter, Daisy learning, ms. Baxter growing into the team, lady Mary is fooling around, Tom ending his relationship with ms. Bunting (after which he just gets fatter while preparing to leave), mr. Barrow once again shows both sides of his personality, and so on, and so on, – there’s plenty of different stories of all sizes, and in totality they are pretty good.

That is, of course, if we don’t count the level of sentimentality, which may be higher than necessary. It wasn’t quite like season 3 (that was a downright deviation into melodrama), but the numerous engagements (all happy), all-absorbing understanding and tolerance demonstrated by every significant character, are compensated with antisemitism of minor characters and their grievances not to the fullest extent, so the balance is a bit shifted. In other words, the show a little too nice. Not a critical drawback.

In every other respect, it’s all good. The actors are all up for the task, all doing great. The stories are pretty interesting, as well as the development of the concept in general. Of course, the technical implementation is flawless.

Yet, it feels like the show is getting old. Like it would be a good idea to wrap it up after one more season. But I know that the next season is its last, and intentionally so, so the sensation is most likely deceiving. In any case, if take into account only the quality, there is no reason at all to end anything. All in all, a great show, was from the beginning, and continues to be so in season 5.

Names and figures

Downton Abbey (s.04, 2013 + The London Season)

Fourth season of Downton Abbey takes place in 1922 for the most part and covers the events following Matthew’s death. Mary deals with her grief, and then finds her new calling in managing of the estate; Edith falls in love, gets pregnant, and tries to deal with the consequences when her suitor vanishes in Germany without a trace; Anna gets raped; in the Christmas special the scandal in the royal family is averted due to the effort of the Crawley family.

In season 3 the show lapsed almost irretrievably into the destructive jitter of melodrama; thankfully, when writing for this season mr. Fellowes managed to stay on the right track – there’s pretty much no tearjerking moments here at all, although the height of drama remains on a very serious level. One of the best things about how things happen in the universe of discourse created by Fellowes sits at the intersection of personal agendas and objective events flow: sometimes (like with the nanny West story, for example) they interfere with each other unexpectedly and to a mutual benefit, which interaction makes it clear just how enormous said universe is, and how not everything in it is dependent on the will of its creator.

The narrative was saved not only because Fellowes is a great writer (although he is), but also because it was amplified with a powerful and vast new storyline – that is, Anna’s rape. Watching events unfold after such a small yet significant developmnet was a pure delight, because it happens in strict correspondence with the logic of life and human relations, and it effects a lot of people – in fact, I felt like I was watching the circle waves scattering from a stone violently forced into the surface of water. It is sometimes quite useful to get a feeling of a border line between the normal and the malicious.

Finally, I want to note that Fellowes is not a stranger to the quality humor, when things allow him to, namely, the scene with thirsty pigs seemed excellent to me, although a bit emphatic.

All in all, season 4 shows no unhealthy signs, but gives hope instead for even stronger development.

Names and figures

Downton Abbey (s.03, 2012 + A Journey to the Highlands)

Third season of Downton Abbey covers almost entire year of 1920, and partially – 1921. Crawly family runs into financial trouble but gets saved by Matthew’s vision eventually; Edith proceeds on her path of emancipation; Sybil has a baby, but pays a dear price; Thomas falls in love and shows his human side, while O’Brien goes a bit to far with her vengefulness; mr. Bates gets released thanks to Anna’s efforts; and so on, and so on.

The show remains just as complex and deep, and many-sided as it was before, but I detect a drop in the quality of writing. Some dialogs are crude. Some situations are strained rather than natural. Worst of all, though, is that the narrative becomes more and more like a womans’ novel, which is a form of melodrama: in episode 1, for instance, Mary’s reaction to Matthew’s refusal to accept the inheritance is groundlessly hysterical, and there were other episodes of barely feasible behaviour across the whole thing. Matthew’s hesitations, and others’ reactions to it specifically, so seem like an artifically heated conflict. Sir Anthony’s escape was uncalled for, and there was no real explanation from his side.

Christmas special is basically about romance – love floats through the air, and everything happens for everybody, which is a clear case of author’s arbitrariness. There was an attempt to soften this impression by handling mrs. Pattmore’s crush the way it was handled, but that didn’t seem very plausible to me (although it didn’t worsen things either). My general feeling was that mr. Fellowes got short of stories to write compose the series with, which made him accept and adapt storyturns that do not actually fit. It didn’t ruin the show, but it certainly weakened its stand.

So, it turns out Downton Abbey is not perfect after all. At least this 3d season is flawed enough to cast a shadow other the whole show. But I’m sure it’ll get better.

Names and figures

Seventeen Moments of Spring / 17 mgnoveniy vesny (m/s, 1973)

17 mgnoveniy vesny is the most famous soviet movie about spies of all times. It is the screen adaptation of Yulian Semyonov’s series of novels – a part of it, naturally, – following an officer of soviet intelligence Isaev who acts deeply undercover as SS-Standartenführer Max Otto von Stierlitz right in the heart of the nazi regime. It’s February of 1945, the nazi state apparatus lives out its last few months, and Stierlitz gets an assignment from the soviet headquarters to find out about a separate peace treaty negotiations supposedly being conducted by some high-ranking member of Hitler’s government.

I have mixed feelings about this series. On the upside: the development of the espionage intrigue is pretty well constructed and thought through; the music (and sound in general) is really great; and every single actor’s performance is totally amazing.

But the downside is heavier: a lot of dialogs are superfluous (although well written); some details of the story are completely ridiculous (like the fact that Isaev has a wife, or that Cat decided to have a baby in the midst of the war), while others are ignored on purpose (for example: how did Cat got into the manhole when it was extremely hard for her to get out of it?); the newsreel is nice, but there’s too much of it; carefully reading every single word that appears on the screen seems curious only for a couple of episodes; but worst of all – the reconstruction of the reality utterly sucks. I was unable to believe for a second that German military and officials would behave like that in 1945, that they would walk like that, and think like that, and talk like they do here, – it’s a glamorized version of reality. Now, to be fair, the ideology contaminates this story to a lesser degree than I expected, but that achievement is well compensated by the weakness and untenability of the created world. This is especially evident from the depiction of interrogations and torture: these scenes were so pathetic and unconvincing I almost cried a couple of times. But, of course, the dialogs, the system of relationships, the atmosphere, – all these components invest their share into trying to pass a plastic mould of the reality for reality itself.

The show is not exactly good because the director wasn’t really skilled on the one hand, and the writer didn’t really know what he writes about on the other. But it turns out that these 2 things are not as important as one might think – or, at least, not when you’re trying to create something in the state suppressing free creativity (with lack of entertainment as a result). This show formed its own stratum of soviet culture, it gave birth to countless jokes, anecdotes, imitations, continuations, and so on; Stierlitz became an inhabitant of the collective unconcious (within soviet group of nations) long time ago and continues to live there today, – the significance of Lioznova’s work is hard to overestimate. Which brings to the front an interesting question of correspondence between the quality and the impact, but that’s too large of a subject for UnnecessarilyBrief.

I thought I’d be regretting watching this, but I’m not. There are really a lot of good things here to enjoy; and the fact that the show is deeply imperfect only makes it more interesting for me.

Names and figures

Downton Abbey (s.02, 2011 + Christmas at Downton Abbey)

Second part of the Downton Abbey saga covers the whole of World War I and several years after it. Storylines of the characters continue distorted by the war, and through that conflict all the more sublime. A couple of new characters appear, all quite amazing, and just as deep as the rest of them. Generaly speaking, if enter into the 2nd season right after the 1st one, you would never notice the gap, as pretty much every episode has way more evident gaps in the fabric of internal time, which makes them ordinary. It’s like a broad river that carries the inconcivably huge mass of its waters in a majestic, even regal manner.

Storylines, old and new, developed in the way that in the aftertaste seems the only one possible. Not all of them were exceptionally interesting, but all were implemented with so much taste and talent, and hard work, obviously, – it’s really not that easy to grasp in its fullness how much exactly. The actors are all great. By the way, there is a short film about film, it’s called Behind the Drama, and it can cause cognitive dissonance, because the cast turns out to be very different from their screen characters (surprise-surprise, I know, but assuming is one thing, and actually seeing is quite another), – and it is for this feeling of stereotypes cracking up that this addiotion should be seen; otherwise, it’s basically just retelling the story, one storycluster at a time.

By the way, of the main ones, the conflicting affection between Matthew and Mary, is, curiously enough, based on the same thing the Ross&Rachel conflict is built upon: in both cases there was a princess and an admirer who goes unnoticed, then something happens and the princess does notice the admirer, but it’s too late, because he gets tired of waiting around and engages with somebody else; then things become more and more complicated due to various circumstances. That same seed planted into the soil of aristocratic Britain brought to life a very different narrative than that of Kauffman & Crane, but equally curious.

Anyway, the whole season is fascinating; it’s filled with beautiful women, powerful stories, and all kinds of attractions. It’s really quite long, but not a single minute feels superfluous.

Names and figures

Downton Abbey (s.01, 2010)

Downton Abbey is a period drama about the time when the process of Victorian Britain transitioning into modern era started to accelerate rapidly. It follows the story of the estate called Downton Abbey, as well as numerous people inhabiting it or otherwise affiliated with it, including aristocratic family of Crawleys and the maintenance staff. First season’s narrative endures for several years and ends with the news of WWI.

That’s pretty much all that can be said about the first season of the show without going into too much detail – that would’ve inevitably led to terrible tangling, because the fabric of the story is incredibly compex and embraces a lot of complicated characters and not at all any less complicated storylines and relationships. All of them intertwine with each other way too tightly, besides retelling it all would involve deconstructing, and that’s a buzz-killer. It is absolutely worth a viewing, though.

The implementation is downright flawless, on every single front. All the actors are chosen well, all of them do a damn fine job; the picture, the sound, the constumes, the setting – every one of those elements taken separately is amazing, and combined all together they are mind-boggling.

To cut a long story short, so far it’s all pretty cool.

Names and figures

Suits (s.06, 2016-17)

Suits‘ 6th season revolves around Mike’s dealing with prison and later trying to get back into the law-fighting, as well as the firm struggling to stay alive, and, of course, a bunch of relationship and other kinds of emotional issues.

It really seems to me that there is some sort of unwritten rule in the Suits’ writers’ lounge, a one that requires that any given season should contain at least 30% of bullshit. Because it never got lower than that. This minimum level (30 per cent, give or take) is a figure for the last 3 seasons (4 through 6), although the spread was always different – if in the 5th season most of the crap was concentrated in 1 episode and then a part of another, 6th is more like the very first season inasmuch as the crap is distributed evenly throughout the season albeit there was much more of that in the beginning. This image got me thinking about the analogy with a barrel of jam and a teaspoon of shit, but cinema doesn’t really work like that, it’s always more complicated. For example, this show is rather enjoyable, and even occasions of unpleasant tastelessness can only make a person wince with disgust, but that sensation does not become a stable one, because most of such occasions float in a sea of decent quality drama.

I mean, the acting is pretty great; the overall implementation is okay, very professional; notwithstanding certain imbalance and obvious writers’ aspiration to help Mike, the story is interesting and captivating; and the writing in general is at times quite powerful, I’d say – almost excellent. But at other times it’s shitty, and this ambivalence is what actually constitutes the show.

From the things I liked, I would mention overturn in the situation with Harvey’s mother, that was nice. From the other side, I was very disappointed with “the Donna” – the concept is not only in vogue right now, which makes using it a bit tacky, it’s also executed on a very poor level – it’s shallow, badly thought through, and therefore highly irritating. Jessica’s retirement is an odd move, obviously caused by some hidden movement in the cast-crew relationship world; it might turn interesting, though.

All in all, the season is far from perfection, but the show was never anywhere near it, so whatever. I guess, I will watch the next season when it comes out.

Names and figures

Suits (s.05, 2015-16)

Suits’ 5th season is constructed in an interesting way: around a half of it is dedicated to the preparation of the main action, during which episodes some important conditions were set into place (like, for one thing, Harvey’s psychological issues); then there was a transitional, revulsive ploy about Harman’s attempt to return to the firm’s life – it was never intended to become dominant storyline, and lasted for, like, 2 episodes; and then there was the real climax of the season, with Mike being finally revealed to the world as fraud.

This structure is pretty cool, I think, because, being well thought-out, it works fine, and it’s not very frequent. Unfortunately, the structure is not everything. To be fair, for the most part the show is quite great: the situations are more or less interesting, the writing has strong enough base level with occasional pinnacles in quality, the acting is good (sometimes wonderful), – the show became much stronger than it used to be, and can be called decent with a good amount of certainty.

But: all it takes to ruin a barrel of honey is a single teaspoon of tar – part of the finale (ep. 16) and the whole episode 10 strike an unexpected blow. Imagine a large table all covered with tasty dishes, 15 of them, and then there is a plate in the middle with a giant stinking shit. That’s episode 10. It is a plain tearjerker, which implies both the writer and the director to fail miserably at their jobs. It’s really bad on itself, but in comparison with the surrounding episodes, which were rather good, it feels especially disgusting. And like a quarter of the final episode is also dedicated to some bullshit emotional journey – but at least is not the entire episode.

I actually liked the story and it’s development though out the season: panic attacks is a sign of real trouble, real problem, a proof of imperfection – one; Harman’s jeopardy does seem like a serious thing for some time, and it does make the following surprise even more surprising – two; obviously Mike would’ve been exposed sooner or later, – too many people know about him, and he has become too conspicuous of a figure, that’s just reality – three; and it’s a good thing, that Korsh et al. found it in themselves to embrace this inevitable future and make the best of it (relatively speaking, of course). Against these irrefutable achievements episode 10 seems all the more loathsome. I mean, how could they even allowed it to exist? A mystery to me.

Seems like Korsh’s gift would always be sullied for me because of all the mistakes he made as Suits‘ showrunner – but on the other hand, I cannot deny that he does have a genuine and strong talent, one that evolves quite noticeably from season to season.

Names and figures

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