Category Archives: drama

Broadchurch (s.03, 2017)

Third and final season of Broadchurch is dedicated mostly to yet another detective investigation – this time of a sexual assault that turns out to be one of the workings of a serial rapist. Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller work on the case together – three years after the murder of Danny Latimer. The community that only started getting back to normal after that gruesome death and consequent trial, is shaken again when a local woman named Trish reports being raped after a party that friends Cath and Jim held on account of Cath’s birthday. There were more than 50 men at that party, and after ruling out the majority of them, the circle of primary suspects gets limited to Jim, Ed Burnett (Trish’s boss), taxi driver Clive Lucas, who worked nearby that night, Trish’s ex-husband Ian, Leo Humphries (who runs a local fishing supply business), and a convicted sex offender Aaron. In the middle of investigation detective find out about several other historical victims of supposedly the same attacker. As it usually happens, detectives digging deeper and deeper in search of the perpetrator eventually start to touch upon various sensitive things, most of which turn out to be not related, but which exposure inevitably changes the life of the locals. Beth Latimer gets involved in the investigation as she is now helping the victims of abuse, and gets assigned to Trish. In the meantime Mark, who is not living with his family anymore, is still obsessed with his son’s death and commences to find Joe in a hope that it would compel him move on. Alec Hardy lives with his daughter, and tries to date. Ellie has some minor trouble with her son. Reverend Paul experiences a crisis of identification because the attendance at the church drops lower every day. Maggie is forced to sell the newspaper to a conglomerate, and soon enough contradictions between her vision and that of her new bosses drive her to quit the news reporting business altogether. All these storylines are fused into a complex and integrated picture of the suburban Britain’s today’s life.

As for the quality, the third season is pretty much the same as the first two – a deep, elaborate story with strong component of detective mystery, executed on the highest professional level. Most of the characters of the previous season are gone, although the most important ones remained. The crime under scrutiny is not the brightest or most horrifying, in which respect the show remains true to itself, but it is one of the most deprecated ones, and this kind of attention is really important in this case as it imparts necessary significance to the deed, which, perhaps, would serve to improve people’s attitude to this kind of thing all around the world. It is the fist crime in this series where the criminal intent is rather clear, although, as usual, the overall picture is more complicated than that.

The story arc constructed in the intricate manner characteristic of Chibnall – I failed to figure out the criminal before he was revealed by the detectives. Familiar atmosphere of the show is maintained. All the characters are well-devised; all the dialogs are extremely well-written. This is an amazing show all in all, interesting, captivating, and significant.

Chris Chibnall did a really great job here. I hear he’s going to be the new lead writer on Doctor Who instead of Moffat. I hope he would inspire some interesting changes there.

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Making a Murderer (m/s, 2015)

Making a Murderer is a documentary series about Steve Avery and Brendan Dassey, who were accused of the murder of one Teresa Halbach. According to the prosecution, Teresa was unlawfully detained, tortured, raped and murdered by Steve Avery, who just recently was released from prison, where he spent 18 years for a crime that he didn’t commit. Later another suspect gets added to the investigation – a 16-years old nephew of Steve named Brendan. Over the course of 10 hours, every detail of this case, as well as testimonies of people involved and the progress of proceedings, are scrutinized. Notwithstanding the fact that both defendants were consequently convicted, and every appeal they made was rejected, the authors of the film obviously hold the side of the Avery family. And it appears that they have quite a lot of compelling arguments in support of their vision. The case indeed is full of holes and stretches; some intriguing questions remained unanswered, and basically ignored, by the justice system, which seems to be more willing to protect itself than the public.

In regards to the quality of this documentary, it’s far from flawless. There are 2 things that I really disliked about this show – apart from it being extremely tedious, of course, because this quality is inspired by the feasibility of the story, which is based on life, and real-life legal proceedings are excruciatingly boring.

So, the first thing: there’s too much hollowness – all those monotonous views and such, coupled with constant repetitions of stuff that bears no informational, nor emotional, nor narrative value at all. And the second thing: constant emotional manipulations. Whose side the authors are on becomes clear very soon in the story, but they just keep pushing that emotional crap in every freaking episode, as they weren’t clear enough in the beginning. It’s not only unpleasant, it’s also takes too much time. I bet, if you cut out the unnecessary stuff, the show would shrink by couple of hours. And besides, the most interesting content has nothing to do with the family’s emotional turmoil and stuff – it’s the actual video documents, like the interrogation of Brendan, for example; to be fair, there’s plenty of that here as well.

Now, after watching the show you would probably form an opinion as to what really happened there. I have too, and here’s my concept, which is purely speculative, I should add. Better skip it if you haven’t watched yet. Teresa was killed and, probably, raped right after she visited Avery plot. It was done either by her brother (who was way too eager to send Steve behind bars) or by somebody local: maybe Steven, which is unlikely, or somebody else (two guys, who alibied each other, kind of raise suspicion). Her body was ditched at the scene of actual crime, and her car was left somewhere nearby. On the 3rd day of the search the car was found by police officer Colborn, who inquired about it with the police line operator, but then contacted another police officer Lenk, and together they colluded to pin the crime of Avery, who was suing the police at the time (and Colborn probably also as some sort of atonement for coming forward with the 1995 phone call). They put the body in the car and drove it to the Avery’s plot, where they put the car as if in an attempt to disguise it, and burned the body. Later Lenk planted evidence in Steve’s trailer and garage, and the prosecutor came up with the whole rape & torture fable, which Brendan later ‘confirmed’ in his ‘confession’. Later on additional actions were taken to cover up this conspiracy, mostly during the trial.

The big question is: is it worth watching? I think, it is. First of all, it would show you how the legal system in the US actually works, because all the legal dramas on TV kind of contort the picture. And second: underneath it all, it’s an interesting story. A guy who was wrongfully convicted, tried to slap the system back, and got buried by it in response. There is a lot of ambiguity about it, but that’s just life. All in all, even with all the imperfections, this here is a valuable thing.

P.S.: The moral of this fable is really simple: don’t be stupid. It can really hurt you in the long run.

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Broadchurch (s.02, 2015)

The 2nd season of Broadchurch follows the development of the 1st season’s primary story line and then adds some. There are 3 main storylines here. The first is about the trial of Joe, which commences after he pleads not guilty, much to the surprise and resentment of everybody living in the town. Over the course of the proceedings the most painful and uncomfortable things about all the participants expectedly get dragged out into the light of day. The second is directly connected to the trial story and is about the working of the legal teams representing the sides. One the one hand, it’s Jocelyn Knight for the prosecution, who goes out of her retirement for this case and whose sight is degenerating; on the other – it’s Jocelyn’s former student Sharon Bishop, whose has no trust in the justice system and whose son is in prison for an unrelated thing. These two clash together in the courtroom, and also have a history outside of it. Finally, the 3rd storyline is about Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller investigating the case of Sandbrook, which also brings into the series a whole new set of characters. As it turns out, Alec has been hiding Clair, the wife of a primary suspect in the former investigation, right there in Broadchurch. Things change drastically after her husband, Lee Ashworth comes back to Britain from France, where he has been trying to start a new life for himself after the case fell apart. There are the parents of the murdered girl, Cate and Ricky Gillespie. Hardy and Miller dive right into the case, uncovering new circumstances and connections. Apart from all of the above, Miller also tries to reconnect with her son, who has been living with her sister since his father’s arrest; Hardy finally gets a pacemaker; and the Latimers try to move on with their lives and save the family after Beth gives birth to a baby girl.

These 3 storylines intertwine with each other very much plausibly, creating a complex and captivating story canvas. The only thing that seemed like a stretch to me is Alec hiding Claire, but it’s not at all impossible, and being presented in the very beginning of the new story, gained the status of precondition rather soon in the narrative. The trial line generated a lot of drama, most of which was quite deep, and all of was really well-executed on every level, with emphasis on the writing and the acting. The legal teams line was more of a supplementary, but also added some interesting things into the cocktail. The Sandbrook investigation line was, perhaps, the most interesting, as it gave not only drama, but also some mystery and suspense. The scrutiny by the detectives was quite intense; the circumstances of the case were interesting; and its outcome was dreadful, and surprising, and realistic. (While the murder of the 1st season was more or less an accident (the killer didn’t plan anything murderous), in case of Sandbrook, it’s more complicated and therefore more interesting than that)

So the season all in all was very good – strong drama with multiple manifestations of tragedy, coupled with detective mystery of high quality. A lot of things to be awed with, a lot of stuff to enjoy.

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Firefly (s.01*, 2002)

Firefly is a space opera drama about the crew of a spaceship called Serenity (of Firefly-class), whose trade is illegal and semi-legal operations (usually transportation) on the outskirts of the sector of universe controlled by the Alliance. The captain of the crew is ex-military major Malcolm Raynolds, who fought against the Alliance in the war, and now harbors no good feelings for it. His second in command is Zoe, his old war-buddy; his pilot is Wash, Zoe’s husband; then there’s Jayne Cobb, the mercenary, and Kaylee, the ship mechanic. One of the Serenity’s shuttles is rented to Inara Serra, a Companion (a high level geisha / escort), a member of the guild, who can gain access to certain otherwise inaccessible places. The story starts off when the captain decides to take some passengers, and dr. Simon Tam with his sister River, and also reverend Book, join the team. It soon turns out that the Tam siblings are actually fugitives; a lot in the story revolves around their status and the way captain and other members of the crew handle it. Besides this storyline, there are no continuous ones; however, there is chemistry between Mal and Inara, as well as between Kaylee and Simon. The show was cancelled after the 1st season, but has a continuation in the form of the feature film.

Most of the stories are separate, whatever cross-cutting tendencies there are, they are rather weak. Both the common plot and the detached stories have stretches and oddities in them, although not too many. The strong side of the show is its humor, which is refreshing and often smart; and, of course, the aforementioned chemistry: that is to say, relationships between all the primary characters are pretty well thought-through and nicely played. The cast is really great.

The show has a distinct westernish vibe, which I do not care very much for, but I guess it’s okay. It is obviously an improved version of StarTrek – they have similarities as to the general layout and the concept; Firefly is more down-to-earth, so to say, more credible from the standpoint of physics and science in general. It’s a pity that many of the implied ideas didn’t come to realize; perhaps, some of them would be embodied in the movie (this remains to be seen).

All in all, the show was fun to watch – the characters are pretty awesome. But the lack of continual story doesn’t allow me to really love it – I’m just not the fan of the format.

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Broadchurch (s.01, 2013)

First season of Broadchurch tells a story of a detective investigation into the murder of 11-year old boy named Danny Latimer. As the scrutiny, led by detective inspector Alec Hardy, who carries the weight of an infamous failed murder investigation in similarly small town of Sandbrook, and detective sergeant Ellie Miller, who was promised a promotion but didn’t get it, goes deeper and deeper into the life of a small community, cracks start to appear on a seemingly calm surface of it. Secrets get revealed, of which there turns out to be plenty, and lives get shattered. Besides the police and the Latimer family (wife Beth, husband Mark, daughter Chloe, and grandmother Liz), the investigation touches upon the lives of the Miller family (Ellie’s husband Joe, and their son Tom), who were friends with the Latimers; reverend Paul Coates; Susan Write, who herself runs from a troubled past; Nigel Carter, a work partner to Mark Latimer; Jack Marshall, an elderly owner of the newsagent; Becca Fisher, owner of the local hotel; Steve Connelly, who claims to be psychic; Olly Stevens, a reporter for the local newspaper; and Karen White, a reporter for the Daily Herald.

So, this is a pretty good detective story, although not ideal. However, all the small drawbacks I can detect even combined do not surpass unquestionable merits of the show.

The atmosphere of the small coastal town is rendered perfectly – this slow, deliberate flow of life that gets disturbed by something that normally never happens in a place like this, – this is pretty great. The characters are all three-dimensional, real people; everyone comes with his own story, some of which are rather profound. The investigative component is quite wonderful – the finale came as a complete surprise to me; admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of detective fiction, but still. Mr. Chris Chibnall managed to bring the story to a close without spilling its essence, which in my book qualifies for the highest mark. In other words, he provided the story with a suspense component of purest quality, but what’s really cool is that it is further strengthened by the drama component that is of no lesser quality, and probably even better. All the small stories aside (although they, too, were really well-written) the final touch for the main story line is truly powerful.

The execution is superb, especially the camerawork. The views are really great.

I didn’t quite like the music – it was okay in and of itself, but sounded pretty much all the time, which was a bit tiresome. And then there’s this matter of similarity to Broen: the atmosphere, the primary layout of the investigation team bear some resemblance, although, to be fair, not that conclusive. Also, representation of the psychic is ambigious, as if he was the real deal, which is dubious.

But, like I said, none of that is too important for the overall quality. Broadchurch is definitely an independent and rather outstanding work of cinema, there’s no doubt about that. At least 1st season of it is.

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Turn: Washington’s Spies (s.04, 2017)

Forth and final season of Turn provides a wonderful culmination for the story of Washington’s spies. As before, it’s full of events and storyturns. General Arnold becomes a spyhunter general for the British forces. Caleb gets captured by the enemy and tortured by Simcoe, which messed him up pretty bad, but he survived and recovered eventually. Abe, Mary and the magistrate remain in Setauket only for a short time: as one of the measures to resolve the matter of Caleb’s imprisonment, they come up with a devious plan, which kinda works, but still ends badly. Abe joins the American Legion of general Arnold in order to obtain an opportunity of capturing him, as well as pursuing his own objective – to bring revenge on captain Simcoe. Major Hewlett returns to the Americas to continue his service and meets Abraham once again. Townsend continues his work for the ring, up until he’s discovered by his partner. Akinbode comes back from Canada to retrieve Abby and Cicero. While Washington with the French allies think how to put an end to the war, tension in their camp grows on account that people are not getting paid for a really long time. Washington gets obsessed with overtaking New York, but in proper time comes to his senses. Anna and, later, Mary live in the camp and work to reveal the spying company of the British. Ben actively participates in all of the above. Peggy grows to hate her husband, but gives birth to his child. Military action in Virginia foredoomed the outcome of the war.

The narrative, of course, is even denser than that – as with every previous season of the show. And just like before, it gives incredible drama and invigorating action on top of it. All the events of the story are plaited together into a tight, solid canvas that doesn’t have any tears, nor patches, nor strains. It is full with mind-boggling stories. One of my very favourite ones is when Abe together with Champe tried to desert the British camp, and the 3rd guy tagged along with them, – the outcome of it is powerful and violent, and frighteningly beautiful, which kinda characterizes the show as a whole. A lot in the story is built on tiniest nuances – like that little laughter that burst out Caleb’s mouth when Simcoe was interrogating him. It’s extremely realistic – to which the issue of moneys all over, but especially in the finale, is the best proof. And it’s truthful, too. Nobody tries to hide the fact that general Washington was a slave owner, and that he never once thought about freeing them – unlike Simcoe, by the way, which is devastatingly ironic.

Technical implementation is as impeccable as before, nothing changed here either. The acting is totally amazing – everybody is doing an amazing job, there’s nothing to complain about.

It’s all suspiciously perfect. I still don’t know what to make of it. But I surely enjoyed it immensely.

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Turn: Washington’s Spies (s.03, 2016)

In the 3rd season of Turn the main narrative line shifts a little bit closer to the Benedict Arnold deal. He becomes a victim of unhealthy antagonism and gets accused of being corrupt and, later, even treacherous, even though at the time the accusations were groundless. But they forced him to fight for his honor, which in its turn made him far less grateful to the Congress than before. On top of everything, he felt like he’s not being paid what he’s owed, and this monetary thing eventually outbalanced everything else. With help from Peggy (who soon became his wife) he made contact with John Andre and started negotiating the terms of his defection, and betrayed some sensitive information to the enemy while doing it, including the issue with the american currency, which was losing its value due to unwise economic decisions of the Congress. Later Arnold was appointed the commander of West Point, one of the crucial military bases, and almost surrendered it to the British, which turn of events became one of the superlative points of the season. In the meantime, the Culper ring continued functioning: Abe was dealing with major Hewlett, who became aware of his true mission, Robert Rogers, who was looking to exact revenge on major Andre and collided with Abe in order to secure that, captain Simcoe, who was led to believe that Rogers is coming after him, so he started terrorizing everybody in Setauket and neighbouring towns, as well as with his father, the magistrate, who almost sacrificed him to the authorities, Mary, who showed miracles of ingenuity and selflessness, and Anna, who didn’t quite like what Abe has become and wanted to save Hewlett from him. Townsend in New York was working on acquiring more intelligence, even after he learned what truly happened with his father’s farm. Major Andre was torn between the sake of his mission and his feelings for Peggy Shippen; due to information travelling very slowly back then, some irreparable damage was done in that department. Ben continued his service as the head of intelligence, was wounded at a covert mission and was saved by a Tory named Sarah Livingston, with whom he possibly fell in love; later he played crucial part in minimizing the damage of the Arnold’s defection. Caleb served as an interlink for most of the situations above.

And even this description covers only a fraction of what happened during the season; as before, the narration is extremely dense, rich with events. Some of the characters went to the background (like Washington) or vanished (Akindobe), while others became more important to the development, – in other words, the arrangement of elements has changed a little bit, but not significantly, and that change didn’t result in the quality drop. True enough, there wasn’t a particularly powerful episode worth mentioning separately, like in season 2, but general level remained pretty much the same. There were enough highly dramatic scenes to compensate for any and all alterations.

The most intense storylines, those that produces the most fascinating developments, were the one with Anna and major Hewlett, the one with Andre and Peggy Shippen, the one with Townsends and Abe, the finale of the Simcoe’s witch hunt, and also the evolution of Abe himself. Benedict Arnold’s story arc also showed some truly interesting developments; in particular, I like very much how the general and the situation around him was portrayed – as complex and messy yet humanly understandable deal; there is no primitive dualism whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the show is notable for approaching complicated situations like this with intent to figure out the truth rather than to put blame on somebody. It produces an impression of impartiality not only here, but, as far as I can tell, through-out the 3 season I’ve seen so far.

Exactly as before, the execution is top-notch, and especially I would like to emphasize the camera work, which was awesome, and the acting, where there wasn’t even a hint of decline.

It’s an amazing show all in all, and wonderfully consistent for 3 seasons straight. I hope that the 4th would fall in line with this tendency as well.

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Peaky Blinders (s.04, 2017)

Forth season of Peaky Blinders is dedicated to the vendetta that was declared by the New York based Changretta family to the Shelbies. The campaign led by Luca, son of Vicente Changretta killed by Arthur out of mercy, started with sending the black hand to all the principal members of the family, and was led by more or less civilized rules (no civilians, no children, no police). The Shelbies were forced to fight the italians in the context of utter discord within their ranks that arisen due to Tommy’s previous decisions, as well as their multiple enemies stirring up against them, yet they managed to overcome their differences and grievances in the face of mortal danger. In the struggle they were aided by Aberama Gold, head of the wild gipsies, sergeant Moss (only a tiny bit), and Alfie Solomons (to a certain extent). There were 2 secondary storylines: one about the boxing, with mr. Gold’s son being a very talented fighter, – this one interlaces with the main story quite tightly; and second about the socialist movement and upcoming revolution, with ms. Jessie Eden of the Communist party being one of Tommy’s romantic interests, – this one is working all the time, but in the background, clearly being prepared to become the primary arc for the next season.

I loved all of it, except for the finale. As before, the show is build on great music, amazing camerawork (although some techniques (like slow-mo) are starting to get old), and powerful dramatic scenes, filled with conflict and violence. The season took off wonderfully: one of the critical characters was sacrificed, which, given the right circumstances and appropriate execution, is always a strong move; the split in the family seemed unworkable at first, like a sore wound that can’t heal, and that fascinating and delicious. New characters, specifically Adrian Brody as Luca, became a beautiful addition to the show, while old ones never gave the slightest reason to be disappointed. Things went on like that for 5 episodes straight.

And then there was the finale. I have following reservations about it. First, even though the resolution of the primary story arc did occupy the most of the episode, I had a strong feeling that Knight lost interest to it and was just finishing it off, while he truly favoured ‘the next big thing’, which is the socialist movement story; the epilogue, where the transition happened, was too long, I think it would’ve been wiser to move it to the next season instead of unfolding in this one. Second, the deal with the attempt at the boxing match in the long run turned out to be hugely frustrating: when Arthur was killed I felt like it’s one of the best decisions that could’ve been made, and not because I don’t like the character or the actor, – quite the contrary, I think this component of the mix is one of the finest here, but all the more powerful would’ve been the sacrifice (for reasons I mentioned earlier); and when he was brought back, I felt cheated on one hand, and also as if the sacrifice was reverted, which is a different way of fooling not just the viewer, but also the laws of dramaturgy.

This is, of course, my totally subjective stand, but I believe that while Steven Knight is a great author, definitely one of the best in the world right now, he made a mistake by constructing the finale of this season in the way that he did. But, there probably won’t be any consequences to it, save for me being baffled; the important thing is that season 5 is definitely happening, and I hope it would be better than this.

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Turn: Washington’s Spies (s.02, 2015)

In the 2nd season of Turn the tale of struggle between the best military tailored minds of the British monarchy and those of the American freedom fighters continues. The main attention points of the season include the prospect of the union between the American forces and France (represented, among others, by Marquis de Lafayette), which fails at first due to successful damage control measures undertaken by the British, but later still follows through thanks to the diplomatic efforts of Benjamin Franklin and Co; American forces’ retreat, including from Philadelphia (the capital at the time), and a number of military misfortunes, with the tide turning back in their favour in the year 1778; the attempts of the British intelligence office to undermine the integrity of the Washington’s camp, including an assassination plot, and the beginning of the general Benedict Arnold seduction campaign. At the same time Abe Woodhull, aka mr. Culper, works hard to establish a permanent presence in New York, for which he finds a perfect candidate, who proves admittedly hard to persuade; in Setauket he balances between his father, the magistrate, who is partially involved into his son’s affairs against his will, major Hewlett, for whom he pretends to be a double agent, Mary, who supports him but not his cause, and Anna, who goes through rough times. Conflict between major Hewlett and captain Simcoe (who is put in charge of Queen’s rangers instead of Rogers, and chooses Setauket as the permanent residence site) rises to a whole new level, where the oyster major proves much more capable than he was given credit for, while Simcoe proves to be even more dangerous and bizarre than before. Anna gets courted by both of them, and gradually grows to like Hewlett, while continuing an affair with Abe. Ben briefly falls out of favour with gen. Washington, but still continues to act in his, and the country’s, best interests; together with Caleb he organizes an operation for major Hewlett’s rescue (in order to save Abe), and when it falls apart, – another one, to liberate Abe from the Sugar House prison, where he was kept under suspicion of espionage; he also inserts himself into general Lee’s company in order to prevent the worst of the outcomes. Major Andre, while in Philadelphia, establishes a contact with Peggy Shippen and later falls in love with her, as she does with him, but his ambition prevent him from doing it the right way, and so Peggy becomes a means in his game of turning gen. Arnold. Abby, who travels with Andre, grows to be useful to him, and provides Abe with some important information as well. Major Rogers, who was tasked with a special mission of retrieving a piece of sensitive information, later gets betrayed by the king himself.

As you can see from the sheer volume of the preceding paragraph, the event density of the season is really high, – as it should be with action stories. However, the thing that makes it truly fascinating is not action, but drama, which gains a mind-blowing altitude.

First off, whatever drawbacks the 1st season had are not present here anymore – some of them became preconditions, others went away for good. Second, the storytelling became much more steady, and at the same time acquired the lightness and strength necessary to call it a work of art – this can be seen not so much from where the story goes, but rather from how it moves there: some of the solutions applied were not at all matter-of-course, meaning they could’ve been much simpler, yet the paths chosen indicate writers’ (and, correspondingly, the creator’s) desire to make it a little better than just good enough. And I cannot welcome this approach more. In particular (although the whole season is pretty awesome) I would like to point out episode 7 (the one where Washington pulls the all-nighter), which is even more fascinating than the rest of it.

Acting is befitting to the season’s general level, i.e. it’s really good, one of the reasons for which is deepening dramatic level of the show, which creates significant conflicts (like Anna’s feelings for major Hewlett and for Abe; or Peggy Shippen’s relationship with Andre which pushed her into Arnold’s embrace against her will) thus giving the actors multiple opportunities to go above and beyond. As far as I can tell, the authenticity is also no longer an issue, not to the same extent anyway (or maybe it’s all my whims, and it never has been). Technical execution is quite splendid as well, in particular the camerawork and the quality of image is often jaw-dropping.

The 2nd season is much stronger than the 1st, it’s more eloquent and exciting, too. The story is internally consistent and executed on the highest level imaginable, i.e. it seems all in all close to perfection, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.

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Black Mirror (s.04, 2017)

Forth season of Black Mirror, the most interesting miniseries anthology with futuristic angel, consists of 6 episode, each comprising a different story (except for the last one, which comprises 3 stories).

USS Callister is a story about Robert Daly, a brilliant software engineer who created a virtual reality game called Infinity. But even though he’s the main reason for the company’s success, no one at the office actually respects him, probably because he gives out this vibe of personality weakness. As a means to compensate for constant humiliation, he runs a secluded mode of Infinity at his home, that he made to resemble his favourite TV show, after which the episode is called (and which is basically Star Trek). In this game, where he spends most of his free time, he acts as a captain of the spaceship, and the members of his team are versions of his co-workers recreated from DNA samples he managed to collect from remains of saliva on a coffee cup and such. As the creator of the universe he has absolute power over everything and everybody in it, and he uses that power to humiliate and torture. But everything changes when a new addition to the team arrives – a girl called Nanette, who just recently joined the software development team.

There 2 main components to this story: one can be formulated as a question – “what do the toys do when you stop looking at them?”, and the other exercises a notion of an asshole god, an omnipotent entity that enjoys the suffering of others. These 2 are masterfully merged together, completed with deep characters, each with a consistent and interesting story behind him, and seasoned with lots of ingenious and curious ideas about virtual reality and the development of technology in general. The resulting mix is pretty much perfect.

Arkangel is a story about a parental control type of neural implant that has been installed in a baby’s brain with the best of intentions – as it usually goes. With time, however, the power got abused, which led to pretty bad consequences, albeit disastrous only on the level of parent-child personal relationship.

This is a smaller story, meaning it’s not as amplitudinous as most of the others. But it’s just as meaningful, internally consistent and smart. And also very plausible, at least in terms of impact a particular technology can have on relationships between people, which is, really, what’s it all about.

Crocodile is probably the most cruel story of the season. It’s about a hit-and-run accident, which was successfully covered, but when one of the parties to the deal got too jiggered with remorse, the other took the path that led her to most terrible decisions. In parallel to this development, an insurance agent conducts an investigation of a minor accident using the device called recaller, which can read people’s memories and represent them on a video screen.

This one is, of course, about technological advance, but although a crucial detail to the plot, the recaller device is merely that – a detail. What it’s really about is the impossibility to stop once you started doing vicious things; and also about the fact that the crime itself is often not as bad as the cover-up.

Hang the DJ is the prettiest story of the season; it’s a contemplation on the idea of how the dating algorithms should actually work in order to be effective. The plot is constructed in such a way that retelling it would only destroy the desired effect, so I’m not gonna do that. But I can say that you should definitely watch it, – among other thing because it’s one of the few examples of a kind Black Mirror story.

Metalhead is an action story about 3 people in some kind of post-apocalyptic world who came to a distant warehouse to retrieve some particular object. Unfortunately for them, it turned out to be guarded by the dog, a specially designed robot-protector. Two of the three perished rather quickly, but the 3 member of the expedition managed to almost get away.

If not for this story the season would’ve been perfect. Sadly, this here is a foul apple, as it contains weird plot solutions and is downright ridiculous. Most of the questionable solutions have to do with the dog: it’s easy to get how it pursued the tracking device previously injected into the body of the trespasser, but how on earth did it switch to tracking the blood stains afterwards? especially old ones; and how did it manage to re-equip itself with the knife? Both these things require a much more complex behavioural algorithms than those we were led to anticipate judging from the initial circumstances and their development. And, of course, the final twist. I felt like a complete fool when I saw it, my final impression was – “are you fucking kidding me?!”, which is probably not very good for any story. Charlie Brooker wrote this one as well as the others, and I just can’t understand how he managed not to see the bullshit.

Black Museum is a small anthology within anthology. It consists of 3 stories joined on a stem of the infamous Black Museum, which exhibited items related to some notorious crimes. A young girl, who is just passing by and has a couple of hours to spare, visits the museum that is no longer as popular as it used to be, and Rolo Hayens, the proprietor of the establishment, tells her several of the stories. First is about a medical doctor who underwent an experimental procedure and got a neural implant that allowed him to feel what his patients were feeling. At first he used this power to save lives, and not without success, but then something happened and he became addicted to feeling of pain. The 2nd story was about a woman who got hit by a car and went into coma; after several years passed, her husband was made an offer to implant her personality, which was still very much alive, into his brain – a sort of like passenger identity. It worked fine for some time, but then backfired. Third story was about a convict condemned to death, who made a deal to create a virtual copy of his personality for the purposes of entertainment – so that his family would have a source of income after he’s gone. As it often happens, he neglected to notice some fine print in the contract, which eventually led him to eternal suffering.

Season’s finale turned out a really well conceived and neatly constructed story. Ultimately, it’s about the dangers and difficulties of messing with personality; and also about the sweetness of revenge.

All in all the season was – like I said – almost perfect. If not for the episode #5, reason for which existence is a mystery to me, there’s would’ve been nothing to complain about whatsoever. Alas, it’s there. But the other episodes are really fine – interesting, smart, ingenious, – everything you’d except from Black Mirror and more.

Names and figures

Turn: Washington’s Spies (s.01, 2014)

Turn: Washington’s Spies is a screen adaptation of the Alexander Rose’s work dedicated to a particularly curious episode of the American Revolution. When in 1776 the British overtook New York and made it their intervention base, friendship between Abraham Woodhull, Ben Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster, who grew up in Setauket on Long Island, turned into a cooperation aimed at procuring sensitive military information in aid of George Washington and his troops. First season tells about the chain of events that led to the rise of what would later become known as the Culper ring, a secret circle that included Abe, as well as his flame Anna Strong, her ex-slave Abby, later on – Abe’s wife Mary, and a number of other people, who worked hard to secure crucial information while trying to maintain a semblance of an ordinary life. The season is full with events and story turns, which are mostly centered on Abe’s life, who is balancing between his marriage, unwanted but already with child, his deep feelings for Anna, who is also married, his resentment towards his father, a local magistrate, and, of course, his relationship with the community, and that with his childhood friends, who are in military service for the colonies. Other important storylines include that of Ben and Caleb, who try to establish the spy ring despite obvious lack of experience; captain John Simcoe of the British army, who serves the interests of the crown and sometimes hides his own agenda behind these declarations; major John Andre, also British, who is one of the key officers to the invasion; major Robert Rogers, who is a legendary scout for the royal army; and later on, freed slaves Abby (who used to belong to Anna, but is now compelled to serve in Andre’s house) and Jordan aka Akindobe, who is taken to serve as a scout by Rogers. All these events are happening against the background of the continuous warfare, which doesn’t really stop even for the winter.

This is a pretty good period drama, with rather intense and interesting story, great acting, and very high level of the overall execution. Almost all the characters are well-fitted, relationships between them are well thought-through, which makes the storylines intertwine in the right ways creating, in the long run, a comprehensive and internally consistent picture full of interesting solutions. However, not everything seems all that great to me, although, to be fair, whatever misdeeds I encountered do not ruin the show but make it less fascinating than it could’ve been.

The most questionable thing about this 1st season is in the image of captain Simcoe, and not just because he’s made into an obvious antagonist. The sequence of events in the first several episodes contains a stretch directly related to him: in reality, I believe, Ben (or Caleb) would’ve killed the man as was promised to Abe, but the writers didn’t want to lose such a convenient irritant, and so they cooked up the story to let him live. As the time passed, this stopped being such a nuisance, but the preconditions of this character’s existence in the story remain vague.

Another story-related thing has to do with Anna, and her decision in the finale, – this, of course, can (and will) be smoothed out with the transitional gap, but I haven’t yet seen the development, and without it it just seems weird.

There also may be some problems with authenticity, which are hard for me to detect as I’m not a historian and have only a ball-park idea of the epoch, but the fact that a lot of male characters remain very cleanly shaved most of the time strikes me as odd, especially considering that none of them was shown in the process of shaving.

I cannot help but compare this show to Hell on Wheels, which, of course, describes a whole different time, but it’s close enough, and it became one of the standards of period drama for me, so the comparison suggests itself. And what keeps me from loving Turn is the lack of internal amplitude – I just feel like it’s a little bit tense, like the whole thing is forced by external obligations rather than internal need to implement the story in the best possible way. But these are purely my conjectures, nothing more.

All in all, this is an exciting and captivating show with deeply elaborated story and heroes that is pretty interesting to watch, and I see no reason not to continue.

Names and figures

Treme (s.04, 2013)

Final season of Treme is dedicated to following through the storylines that were established previously. DJ Davis still works on the radio station, and also tries to keep his band alive, but with little luck; he gets back with Janette, turns 40 and hits a midlife crisis, in the result of which he renounces his names and becomes mr. McAlary, but remains unable to say goodbye to his creative side. Nelson works in Texas as well as in New Orleans, making money, loving the culture and doing some good along the way; he even hooks up with Davis for some projects. Janette leaves her partner and opens up a new restaurant, which she cannot name after herself due to contractual obligations; having started from the beginning, she once again struggles for mere existence. Albert tries to treat his cancer, supported by his children and LaDonna, but all in vain. Delmond’s girlfriend becomes pregnant, which, along with his father’s illness, forces him to rethink his ways in life. LaDonna rebuilds her bar, while trying to figure out things with Larry, who still expects her to come back. Baptiste continues his career as educator, but when the music program gets cut, he starts gigging again, this time with better success. Tony works yet another civil rights violation case. Terry moves in with her; he still is waiting for the FBI to clean the house, which eventually happens; he testifies in court, leaves the ranks, and becomes a shirt salesman in a different state. Annie grows as a musician, leaves her band behind after lots of blandishments from her manager, and starts recording an album with professional musicians outside Louisiana.

Unlike season 3, where there was a lot of bullshit, here only the LaDonna + Albert development can be referred to as such – there’s too much of a gap between where the writers left off and with what the new season began. Also, there was not a word about LaDonna’s case. Besides that, it’s all okay. Barely more than that, though: the resolutions to all the storylines are logical and more or less consistent, but there is nothing fascinating about any of them. The music is fine, I guess, but not very interesting. The excitement of the 1st season is long gone, – of course, it was gone at the end of season 2 already, but the sad thing is that none of the attempts to bring it back worked. If season 3 was a rapid decline, in 4th they managed to level it and turn into a flat line, a plateau, but failed to provide a single peak on it.

I suppose, if you wish to remain in love with the show (and, consequently, with New Orleans), you shouldn’t go any further that season 2. It just wears off after that. And no amount of respect given to the prototypes of the characters (most of whom are real people, by the way) can make it better. All in all, it’s not worth it.

Names and figures

Vinyl (s.01*, 2016)

Vinyl is a period drama about the music industry in the 1970s (and a little bit 1960s). Richie Finestra, head of the American Century Records, one of the largest recording companies in the country, achieved a lot, but now everything is under threat of complete deterioration. Between financial scheming aimed at generating better looking numbers, and a long series of bad decisions caused by heavy abuse of cocaine, the company finds itself of the verge of ruin, and the only thing that can truly save the day is the deal with german company Polygram Records, who expressed a desire to purchase it. But before the deal is closed, Richie runs into a whole different set of trouble, when a radio host Buck Rogers invites him to his house to talk over ACR’s ban on the radio stations he controls. As a result of that meeting, Richie, who has been sober for some time (which was a little bit late for the company’s health), starts using again, and at increasing rate, too. He refuses to sell the company, thus letting down his partners, who already got their hopes really high, and decides to make a comeback instead, even though everything and everybody is against it. He dismisses most of the staff, and gets rid of majority of their clientage; he tries to attract some of the most significant artists of the period, while trying to find new, fresh talent at the same time. Because of his addiction he basically looses his family; he is under police investigation for connections with organized crime and more; and he tries to save the sinking ship of his company, unable to give up the addiction. Secondary storylines of the season include those of his partners, most important of whom is Zak, his wife’s, and several employees of ACR, who try to maneuver the desperate circumstances and not let their careers and lives be destroyed in that shitstorm.

Unfortunately, the show has been cancelled after the 1st season, even though it was renewed at first. The reason is probably some sort of creative differences – Terence Winter left the showrunner’s position before the season was completed, and then it was deemed not worth the production efforts. Whatever it was, it’s sad, because notwithstanding certain issues that grew stronger over the course of the initial season, the continuation could’ve been magnificent. Of course, it could’ve been a slow dying type of thing, too, but the chances for the 1st outcome were higher.

The execution is pretty much perfect: on the technical level, it’s a professional work of cinema, for which there is not a single second that can discredit this claim; there is a great deal of wonderful music, all of which is performed amazingly well; and the acting is totally mind-boggling, both for completely original parts and those that have basis in history.

Whatever questions that may exist have to do with the story. The main thing is: the narration is an interesting mixture of fiction and reality-based reconstruction. The list of characters includes people who really lived, like Elvis, John Lennon, David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Alice Cooper, and others, as well as made-up artists like Hannibal, Xavier, or Kip Stevens, leader of Nasty Bits. It’s not at all a bad thing in and of itself, – to a certain point it actually drove the story, allowing the writers a lot of creative freedom, which paid off significantly. But at the same time it’s a bit confusing, and what’s more important, the line between fiction and reflecting the period is so thin, it moved imperceptibly over the course of the season, with the fiction share growing more and more. It hasn’t become a problem when the season was over – in fact, it promised some interesting developments, but it also leaves open a possibility of exaggerating and abusing the story, which can ultimately lead to a disaster. Of course, we won’t have a chance to see what would’ve happened really.

All things considered, the cancellation is still a bad thing. The story is lively and interesting, and captivating; and chances are it would’ve stayed that way in the future. But at least we get to enjoy these 10 hours of excellent music and acute drama.

Names and figures

Treme (s.03, 2012)

In 3rd season of Treme: Annie develops her career that gains more and more momentum over time eventually resulting in her getting a proper manager and going into a tour; Davis writes an RnB opera and gets a lot of loud names to participate in this new project, but then he falls through as usual; their relationship gets ran down by Annie’s career aspirations. LaDonna has troubles living with her in-laws, and with time move her family to her own house in New Orleans, while tending the bar all along; the case of her assault get to court, surviving through all the bureaucracy, but then she starts receiving threats from one of the rapist’s friend. Nelson gets into business with NOAH program, which is all confused and causes people to revolt against it, but Nelson genuinely tries to make people’s lives better, or at least pretends well enough for business purposes; when the Jazz Center project appears, he gets into it as well. Terry gets more and more heat at work, especially after his colleagues find out he’s been talking to the feds; over time it gets pretty brutal. Albert discovers he has cancer; Delmond and his sisters basically move back to the city to help him. Sonny gets deeper and deeper in his relationship with Lihn and her very traditional family; he slips, unable to withstand all the impending responsiblity, but then manages to clean up his act, and marries the girl in the season’s finale. Tony continues her investigation of the Abreu case, as well as couple of others that are connected; she then launches an attack against a police officer whom she believes to be a murderer. She also starts cooperating with an independent reporter, who came to investigate a similar case. In due time she finds out the truth about Terry, and hooks up with him. Janeatte continues working in the NY restaurant for some time, but then accepts one of the proposals that came her way, and opens a huge restaurant in New Orleans only to run in trouble with her managing partner almost immediately. Baptiste continues to train the school marching band

What’s going on with the police-related storylines is pretty good, even though is not nearly as magnificent as one would’ve hoped. But that maybe actually a good thing, because this way it looks much more realistic. The dynamics of Terry’s relationship with the homicide department and police forces in general is quite interesting; it adds some violence into the mix, which is a good attractor; plus, the development is rather consistent. The second thing I liked in this season is how LaDonna’s case moved through the justice system, as well as all the threats, especially in the light of them being eventually fulfilled. Subsequent mistrial, just as the absence of the bang in the dirty police case, is pretty frustrating, – but lifelike, so I consider this an advantage.

However, the rest of the show divides more or less equally into 2 parts, one of which can be characterized as lame, and the other one – as bullshit.

Davis and the opera; the whole Baptiste’s storyline; Janeatte getting a restaurant; the whole Sonny storyline; the whole Delmond storyline; the freelance reporter investigation (and his character); the fact that nothing interesting is happening with Sofia; Albert’s cancer case; Annie’s career development, – all these things are incredibly lame. Each of these lines taken separately from the others is weak at best; none are interesting to follow; all combined they create a story environment that has nothing exciting about it.

Forced dynamics of the Annie-Davis relationship; Janeatte’s rumblings with her partner and the way she behaves with her staff; Nelson’s good-natured business venture; Albert’s and LaDonna’s semblance of friendship; the fact that Mardi Gras in this season is not remarkable or even interesting at all, – all these solutions are complete bullshit. They are strained, they do not result from previous development of corresponding stories, or, in several cases, they are simply poorly written.

The music is not interesting anymore. It seems like a part of a general tendency, which is acute shortage of new beginnings. There were only a couple of new things this season (Albert’s cancer; and the reporter), while everything else is either continuation of previously conceived, or repetitions (like a Mardi Gras fuck between Davis and Janeatte, which is copy of Baptiste-LaDonna fuck from season 1). The motto of this season is: same old, same old. And it’s sad.

There are still things to see here, but the sparkle is gone. I do bear hope that season 4 would show some progress with the storylines that are still worth watching, but I’m not sure anymore. If you want to preserve good impression created by first 2 seasons, you might want to forget about this one.

Names and figures

Mr. Robot (s.03, 2017)

In Mr. Robot‘s 3rd season Elliot Alderson works hard to suppress the split part of his personality, but realizes with time that this approach is fruitless. If anything, it only made things worse: while during the day he tries to revert the damage caused by 5/10, or at least compensate for it, at night, when he cannot control himself, mr. Robot comes back and does his best to implement Stage II of the original plan, along with Tyrell and Angela, supported by the Dark Army. With time it becomes clear that Whiterose actually plays a much large part in the events, and Dark Army threads penetrate everything to a barely imaginable extent.

The season is, naturally, much more eventful than that, but a lot in the story depends on the element of surprise, so I don’t want to give out any spoilers. Suffice it to say, the new narrative is completely consistent with everything told before, and also just as captivating and awesome. If dismantling the story into elements, it is evident, that every one of them is of great quality – at the very least that is, and some, in fact, are purely genius.

The construct of the plot is as logical as the thinking process of a (good) programmer in the process of writing code; at the same time, the logic used is not strictly mechanical, but lifelike, i.e. incorporates irrational thinking and randomness of life, and in such a way that the resulting story is powerful and fascinating. Voiceover is an important instrument here, but unlike most of the cases, it’s not cheesy at all, quite the contrary – it seem absolutely brilliant to me, in part because the wording is flawless.

Other things I consider mind-bogglingly perfect include the camera work, which is innovative and ingenious; and music, which is never out of tune or out of context.

Characters development and acting, too. Elliot’s self-destructive patterns, Angela’s bad decisions and the way she coped with them, Dominique of the FBI, Wellick and mr. Robot; and also new character of Irving (played by Bobby Cannavale), and Leon (played by Joey Badass) who simply gives me chills, and all the others – this is just an endless stream of pure delight, except, of course, none of it is endless.

Mr. Robot so far is one of the best shows in the history of television; it stands out even among other serialized TV narrations that can be considered perfect.

I don’t think I can really express just how much I love it.

Names and figures

Treme (s.02, 2011)

In the 2nd season Treme continues the story of New Orleans slowly recovering after the Katrina. Tony Burnett keeps on helping small people, even though her workload does not really allow it; she takes on a new investigation of a possible murder during the hurricane, which seems rather regular at first, but then police officers start lying about it. Sofia is trying to get over her father’s death by video blogging these angry rants about the state of the city; she soon finds out the truth, and it complicates her relationship with her mother even further. Antoine Baptiste organizes his own band, and also gets a day job as an assistant teacher at a school; he only manages to keep on of those things. Albert Lambreaux gets pretty depressed over things that don’t happen as they should, but his son Delmond helps his to fight it, among other things – through engaging him into a new project of merging modern jazz with old-timey music and Indian chants. Annie and Davis are in a happy relationship now; Annie decides that in order to evolve as a musician she needs to write (her friend Harley helps her with that), and Davis undertakes a recording label enterprise, also creating his own experimental band, however, his aunt, who provided the initial funding, happened to like the show biz more than he did, and so by the end of the season he went back pretty much to his default position. Sonny gets to play with Baptiste’s band for a while; one of musicians there takes a liking to him and helps him get clean by way of hard manual labour; he also meets a nice Vietnamese girl and works hard to secure her father’s approval.  LaDonna gets robbed and raped, and even though she goes through a stage of depression on account of that, eventually it only makes her stronger. Janette is trying to make it work in New York, and things go hard for her at first, but then she catches a real break; her sous-chef almost gets deported, and she helps him avoid that outcome. A lot of the story is dedicated to the police mischief, with Terry stepping forward as one of the main characters; he gets transferred to the homicide soon in the story, to either clean it up or get eaten; he upsets his relationship with Tony over this, but remains honest and clean. Texan guy, who came to town a year ago, keeps on doing real work; his cousin Nelson, however, comes for something very different: he starts making deals, serving as a liaison between the actual workers and the city officials, always trying to make right by everyone, but gets burned in the end.

As you can see from the description above, the show remains pretty dense in terms of eventfullness; the quality of drama also stays high – there’s nothing cheap about it, everything is significant and sincere; all the storylines are interconnected and create a solid picture. The accent shifted somewhat from the people’s lives restoration to many things that are wrong with the police work (especially against the background of increased violent crime rate) and the political system: there’s obviously gonna be a bomb later on with that homicide department thing (I do not know for sure as I intentionally do not read about the real events). The portrayal of corruption from inside is quite fascinating: all those subtle processes, all those tiny deals amalgamating into a whole system of hidden relationships, is really interesting to watch unfold; by the way, politician Oliver Thomas (whom Sofia thinks can make a good mayor) is played by himself – the guy was sentenced and did his time, and later became an actor on the show.

But even though, it’s not as much about people as it used to be, a major part of the show is still dedicated to that subject, and everything related to it is rather great as well. The stories develop in orderly fashion, there is nothing unnatural happening, except maybe for Janette’s line – it all goes way too well for her, but I guess it’s not impossible. All in all, everything that is happening through-out the season is really interesting to follow.

As before, there’s a lot of great music, which basically fills every second of the narrative. Of course, it also makes it kind of habitual thing, but that’s probably one of the binge-watching method drawbacks and has nothing to do with the show itself.

Generally speaking, this 2nd season is a very worthy continuation to 1st one; hopefully, the rest of the show will preserve the level. But so far so good.

Names and figures

American Horror Story (s.07 – Cult, 2017)

Seventh season of the American Horror Story is dedicated to the subject of cults, specifically the obscene form it took in the 1960s and beyond. As the story goes, after the 2016 Presidential election in the US everything changed drastically for Ally and her partner Ivy. Ally’s phobias, which were quite a handful before, got significantly worse, and not even therapy was able to help them. Strange things started to happen around their family, so much so, Ally soon started to suspect she’s going crazy. The town was hit by a series of violent crimes, which soon turned out to be the works of a charismatic cult organized and led by Kai Anderson, a local who decided to use people’s fears to achieve power. In the following events, where Kai, Ally, and Ivy, along with a local news reporter Beverly Hope and several others, were the primary dramatis personae, a lot of violence and fear faced the surface, a lot of blood was shed.

The story is actually way too dense to lay it out like that; besides, there’s an element of surprise to it, which is quite necessary, so the short exposition above does not cover very much. What you should know is that it’s extremely high quality drama, consistent through-out, rich with powerful ideas and solutions. It incorporates some of the episodes from actual US history beautifully, including the Charles Manson cult (and other famous cults), radical feminism in general (and assasination of Andy Warhol by Valerie Solanas specifically); and it reflects general trends with wonderful precision, including the way politics influence social life (which is rather specific for the US), and the way populists use public sentiments to their advantage (which is similar everywhere).

But it’s not only good, it’s also very bad. In a sense that it reflects the reality very accurately, thus making the show’s universe of discourse really similar to the actual universe around us, which means that the added elements (all the murders, and the brainwashing, and the harrasment, and so on) start to seem extremely probable, and therefore scary as hell. It is indeed a very difficult thing to watch – for a sane person that is, – which is why it took me quite a while, as I had to take large breaks between the episodes to recover.

As the sum total, this season is pure pleasure mixed in equal proportions with pure dread. This might the best installment of American Horror Story so far, – or at least it goes head-to-head with such wonderful seasons as the Hotel, and definitely outstrips the lousy Roanoke. But I cannot recommend it. It’s devastating. Proceed at your own risk.

Names and figures

Treme (s.01, 2010)

Treme is a drama about New Orleans right after Katrina and attempts of its inhabitants to restore the city and their lives. It follows a number of vivid characters, whose storylines intertwine with each other all the time thus creating a complex and ramiform narrative canvas abundantly flavoured with music. Creighton, a university professor, tries really hard to make America care about the catastrophe for real and not just rhetorically, and even gains some sort of reputation for it, but eventually looses his spirit. His wife Tony is a public defence attorney working to help ordinary people in need, even if it means going against the authorities. She helps LaDonna to find her brother, who was taken by the police right before the storm and haven’t been heard since. LaDonna’s ex-husband Antoine Baptiste is a great and well-know musician who nevertheless cannot handle his finances or train to wear a condom. DJ Davis, a white boy born and raised in the Treme, becomes, basically, its heart and soul, and even almost gets elected to the city council to help restore the city, but deems his music more important. He has this amorphic relationship with Janette, a great chef, who has too much difficulties with running her restaurant. Chief Albert Lambreaux, of the Mardi Gras indians, comes back to town after month of absence and starts preparations for the parade, which becomes especially important first year after the flood. Annie from New York and Sonny from Amsterdam simply play their music on the streets, while trying to fix their decaying relationship. And, of course, the main character of them all is the Treme, a neighbourhood in New Orleans famous as a place of music and birth place of many amazing musicians.

So, this is one of those dramas with heavy, complex narrative, where there are a lot of significant characters, and the density of events is pretty high. The show is an hour-long format, with crucial episodes being even longer than that.

Notwithstanding the length (which can be tiresome in some cases) the show is incredibly interesting to watch due to the fact that everything in it is either perfect or close to it, starting with the scripts. How the writers manage to juggle all the elements, and keep them in such beautiful harmony at that, I can’t even imagine, but I’m pretty sure, it’s a lot of work, which they handle wonderfully. All the characters are three-dimensional, complex personalities; they act like people do, making mistakes and committing to decisions, or vice versa – avoiding them. Their relationships are never simple; their interactions with the environment are lifelike and multivalued.

The portrayal of the city is such that I fell in love with it by absentia; it has become one of my goals to visit New Orleans on Mardi Gras. There is so much music, it basically fills the atmosphere instead of air. And it’s a non-hit kind of music, which is an additional attraction; it simply exists without demanding attention, but receives it anyway because it’s good.

Finally, from the standpoint of technical execution, there is not a single drawback here: the camera, the light, the direction – it’s all superior. The cast is totally surpassing, and every single member of it is doing great, – for the common good as well as each taken on their own.

All in all, it’s been a real pleasure – watching this first season for the 2nd time. I haven’t yet seen the rest of them, and I expect them to be just as good.

Names and figures

In Treatment (s.03, 2010)

In the 3rd season of In Treatment doctor Paul Weston works with several new patients, whose stories significantly influence his own. There’s Sunil, a recent immigrant from India who moved to the US after his wife died, because she made their son promise that he would take care of him. Then there’s Frances, a relatively famous actress who has to deal with her sister’s terminal illness, as well as fear of falling ill herself, whose teenage daughter doesn’t want to communicate with her, ans who has trouble remembering her lines. Finally, there’s Jesse, a teenager who was left to deal with his sexuality on his own, and who tries to reconnect with his adoptive parents in spite of that mistake, while handling a fresh contact from his birth parents at the same time. Being overwhelmed with the news of his ex-wife getting re-married and sudden arrival of his son, who wanted to live with him, dr. Weston felt the need to continue therapy for himself, but instead of returning to Gina, he found a new therapist, Adele. Development of all these intertwining storylines led his to one of the biggest decisions of his life.

Of obvious changes: there are only 3 patients now, which means that the cycle for the season has been reduced to consist of only 4 episodes instead of 5, but the truth is that it doesn’t impacts the dynamics of the story all that much. In fact, very little has changed in terms of quality of the drama in general: it is very deep, extremely intense most of the time; the characters are complex and conflicted personalities who are most interesting to figure out; and dr. Weston’s personal affairs storyline interlaces with the rest of them and elevates the whole narrative to some really fascinating plains.

In the middle of the season another case of transference happened to take place, which writing decision I found tacky at first, even though the story differed quite a bit from the 1st season’s case; this line was later developed in a rather original manner and coincided with the rest of the story perfectly.

The Sunil story, however, is something else. Since his 2nd session I was under very strong impression that he had some hidden feeling for his daughter-in-law, and everything that was revealed over the course of his treatment seemed to confirm that theory, but the way it went down in the end, although quite curious as it is, missed on that subject completely; not once that idea came to dr. Weston’s mind during the therapy (but it did to Adele), and that left me bewildering; it imparted a taste of confusion onto the show, which, I think, is the opposite of its general course.

Making this show could not have been easy; they say, there were real doubts as to the possibility of this, 3rd season, – in part because the ratings were not too great (they were simply good), and in part because it was difficult for the team to work on it from the psychological point of view.

The result of their work, however, is something to be proud of. It’s incredibly deep, it’s insightful, not to mention consistent, but most importantly, it has the real power to change people’s wrong ideas about psychotherapy – as long as they are willing to pay attention, of course. And even outside of that meta-purpose, In Treatment is an extraordinary and powerful story that is highly entertaining to follow.

Names and figures

Fear the Walking Dead (s.03, 2017)

In the 3rd season of Fear the Walking Dead the group of main characters struggles through a buttload of calamities bleeding people along the way. The scenery is entirely different from that of previous seasons with narrative growing and developing between three completely new locations: the Ranch, where a bunch of survivalists lived in a camp founded and ran by Jeremiah Otto; the Dam, that means a great deal in the world of suddenly shrinked water supply; and the Bazar, a market and a meeting place, the center of the remains of civilization controlled by Proctors, a violent motor gang. First half of the story is mostly about the rise and evolution of the conflict between the ranchers and the descendants of the native indian population, whose leader Qaletaqa showed craving for the land of his ancestors. Madison, Nick and Alicia, who got invited to live on the Ranch, naturally got involved in the events; their lifelines became tightly intertwined with those of Jeremiah, his sons Jake and Troy, Taqa and Ofelia, who happened to grow a deep connection with the indians, Lola, for a short time known as the Water Queen, as well as Victor Strand and Daniel Salazar. Subsequently, the story went over to the Dam: it was bound to become the apple of discord sooner or later, and the 2nd half the season is dedicated primarily to that.

These 2 story arrays infuse structure into the season, but they only procure part its flesh: there are a lot of self-sufficient small storylines and separate little stories that range in quality from good to mind-boggling, and, most importantly, co-exist in absolute harmony – with each other, and with the imposed structure both. Actual twists and turns are too fine and delicate to retell them in this short exposition, suffice it to say, the show improved a lot in the drama department, – so much so, in fact, I consider it to be on the same quality level as the sibling show now.

What I like the most is the attitude writers have towards their characters: they take their stories very seriously, with amazing respect and empathy; even if they know for a fact that a certain character (or a number of them) would not survive to see the next scene, they manage to find something incredibly deep and significant to tell about, – or at least to hint at. Pretty much every episode of this season contains at least one scene that is likely to blow you away because of it; combined they produce an impression of extreme abundance of emotions and events, but due to well though-out structure not at all an overwhelming one. On the one hand it’s great, because every such scene is a powerful impression (and pure rapture in most cases), but on the other, as the show itself is kinda dark, they can be pretty depressing, – because, you know, people die all the time. That, however, does not negate anything – not in my eyes anyway; I love dark things.

Not that it’s suddenly without a flaw. People sometimes still behave stupid (like the psychopath in the 1st episode, who went to check the noise from the wall), and it’s not clear to me what exactly is the deal with Troy leading military in the first episode – it seems like the 3rd season story arc was conceived only after the 2nd season’ finale was sealed, which is why they don’t really dock to each other properly. But I’m inclined to ignore it, because the good qualities of the new story surpass the negative effect of the transition over and above.

I was really surprised with how much better the show has become. It’s dense, rich, savoury, and it’s definitely impressive as hell. Consistency and depth of the story reached in season 3 ungodly high level – within the universe of discourse, of course.

They say, the next season would be showran by Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg  – I find it to be a peculiar choice. I do not see neither of those names among the writers or the directors, and I do know that they both wrote for Once Upon a Time, which, to be frank, is not the best commendation in the world. But, I guess, we will have to see. Weirder things happened. Names and figures

Ballers (s.03, 2017)

In Ballers‘ 3rd season Spencer and Joe are Brent’s partners in the firm, but he still remains their boss in everything but the name, so when he says “Las Vegas”, the guys simply have to jump. Brent simply wanted a casino of his own, but what Spencer came up with instead was a thousand times more ambitious. It wasn’t a brand new idea – to bring NFL team to Las Vegas, make it their home – but no one succeeded before. Spencer, however, turned a lot of soil to make that happen, and brough together people crucial for the project. It all started to look rather promising, which became the reason for both their failures and their enthusiasm: they even decided to sell the company and put all the money into the deal, but a competing crew upset their plans. And when something like that happens, the attack does not stay unretaliated for long.

There’s actually a little more to the story: while all that was happening, Spencer and Joe managed to perform their duties in almost the same fashion as usual; Ricky and Charles both have their own storylines, and Vernon also has a semi-independent line that intertwines with the main one quite tightly; but I didn’t want to spoil a nicely rounded annotation.

Okay, truth be told, I tend to look at this show askance, because it’s sometimes too fast and aggressive, and I do not tolerate this behaviour model very well. But I have to say that the only thing that is different in season 3 in comparison with previous seasons is actually making the show better – it’s the sense of purpose that became part of the narrative when the idea of the Las Vegas team (and related construction and stuff) emerged. From that moment on everything was about that goal, even the things that existed before and had no connection to it whatsoever. This specific purpose only lasted until the end of the season, sadly, but it may give rise to another one – the finale’s cliffhanger was ambiguous enough to contain that opportunity too, among others.

Everything else remained pretty much as it was before, in good and in bad: the whole thing still strikingly resembles Entourage; there’s too much emphasis on low pleasures of life; more importantly, the dialog is often formalistic, empty, or descriptive, – which are different shades of lame; but at the same time, it’s full of well-elaborated (and well-executed) situations; it embraces the modernity quite successfully; the acting is great, etc. Shares of good and shitty seem to be more or less equal here, which makes it watchable in general, but without much

Names and figures

In Treatment (s.02, 2009)

Second season of In Treatment continues with the story of dr. Paul Weston. Since the events of the 1st season he got divorced and moved to New York where he opened his practice anew. In addition to the anguishes related to the separation from his kids, he gets sued by the father of late Alex Prince for negligence, with a threat of loosing his licence hanging above his head for the whole duration of the season. Besides dr. Weston’s story, the season comprises 4 other stories of his patients: Mia, a successful lawyer who hates her present state of life and believes Paul is one of the reason she got there (she had some history with Paul from long ago); April, a 23-years old girl who just got diagnosed with cancer at an advanced stage but hadn’t tell anybody; Oliver, a 12-year old boy who suddenly found himself in the crossfire between his parents on the field of divorce; and Walter, a power CEO of a huge corporation who started having troubles sleeping recently. Personal circumstances, as well as what was going on with his new patients, made Paul turn to Gina’s help once more.

In terms of quality, the show remained on the same level as in season 1, which is pretty high. The narrative is complex in a way that entices more than scares away: all 5 storylines are strong, consistent and long enough to effect each other, even if just a little bit, – so that altogether they compose an integral and powerful story. All of them are incredibly interesting to watch: even though Mia is so thorny most of the time, it’s plain unpleasant, her line’s development, same as others, is mind-boggling from the psychological point of view. Like before, each session is a real battle for Paul, but his wit, and his knowledge, and the extent of his empathy, are always with him and always at the disposal of his patients.

Each storyline is strikingly deep, and each inflicts a lot of opportunities for an actor. As far as I can tell, these opportunities were brilliantly executed by the cast: there’s so many mind-numbing, exhaustively emotional scenes I really lost count of them. Especially I would like to distinguish Alison Pill, who played April, and John Mahoney (from Frasier) who portrayed Walter, but really Hope Davis (Mia) and Aaron Shaw (Oliver) are just as amazing. Of course, the default characters, played by Byrne and Dianne Wiest, provide nothing to complain about, – quite the contrary, both of them had their bright moments this season too.

Rodrigo Garcia doesn’t seem to have participated in the 2nd season, but that didn’t have any impact on the quality of the show, nor – on the essence. As before, this is a chamber high drama of extremely fine quality, and as before it’s fascinating.

Names and figures

In Treatment (s.01, 2008)

In Treatment is a drama about psychotherapists dr. Paul Weston, his practice and his family. It is almost exclusively a chamber work: most of the narrative is rendered in the form of conversations during Paul’s sessions with his patients, and his sessions with Gina, his own therapist, at the end of each week. The building up humdrum is regularly dispersed with his family intruding into the sacred premises of his practice this way or another; these 2 major aspects of his life intermingle so tightly, it has become a problem for him long time ago. After one of his patients, Laura, confessed her deep affection to him, which would’ve been an ordinary case of romantic transference if not for Paul’s response reaction, things start to escalate (within the normal tempo of the genre). Besides Laura, there are 3 more cases that impact Paul’s state of mind rather deeply: Alex, who is a professional military pilot and once bombed a madrasa killing 16 children; Sophie, a teenage gymnast who had an accident recently which might not have been an accident after all; and family couple of Jake and Amy, who got pregnant after a long period of trial, but who are not sure if that is what they really want. Paul resumes his talks with Gina after many years of not talking to her, because all the stuff that came together in his life all at once bothers him a great deal, and he knows he needs guidance.

The show is a direct adaptation of the Israeli show, which lasted for 2 seasons and comprised 80 episodes overall; I haven’t seen it, but from the description it seems like pretty much the same deal, save for regional peculiarities, and, you know, completely different crew and cast.

It’s quite simple on the conceptual level: therapists, patients, interactions between them, a lot of conversations. Conversations constitute a major part of the universe of discourse, yet, even with the setting remaining more or less unchanged throughout the season, none of what’s going on in the show seemed weak, or forced, or tedious, to me. On the contrary: each of the Paul’s sessions resembles a battle, where he has to fight patient’s ego in order to help his psyche; they are all different, but equally fascinating, – to watch from a distance that is, because for participants is not only extremely hard, it’s also painful, although there is always a hope that the pain would sum up to a solution eventually, – which it often does. The important thing: notwithstanding lack of action, the show is very interesting and surely captivating; but you need to be consistent about it, or else you may get the wrong impression about it.

It is a chamber cinema and that usually implies a lot of close-ups, which is always a challenge for an actor, especially when it comes to stories as dramatic and intense as those told in the 1st season. I have to say, I’m very impressed by all the members of the cast: Byrne, of course, – he managed to become Paul, I really cannot imagine him otherwise right now; Melissa George as Laura; Mia Wasikowska as Sophie; Josh Charles as Jake, Dianne Wiest as Gina, and all the rest of them (there’s not many, so it’s a literal all) have shown acting overwhelmingly powerful. Of course, that wouldn’t have been possible without the words – every dialog, every piece of narrative, is amazingly well-written; they are all flawless, really, they form this structure of stories that is insanely complex and wonderfully balanced at the same time.

The complexity, by the way, comes from depth: every human story featured during the season proved to have multiple layers, at that none of the layers were easy to deal with, each required a whole different approach, with results never guaranteed; and the deeper they went, the more painful for both the patient and the doctor it was to uncover them; and sometimes this work summed up to healing, and sometimes it turned out that there’s nothing to heal. All in all, it’s very lifelike.

Having watched only the 1st season so far, I find In Treatment quite remarkable, and would recommend anybody who struggles to understand the purpose of psychotherapy to watch it carefully from beginning to end. And also to people who love a well-written drama, like I do. You’re in for a treat.

Names and figures

Orange Is the New Black (s.05, 2017)

Fifth season of Orange is the New Black is dedicated almost exclusively to the few day when Litchfield penitentiary was in riot. It follows the development of the situation and elucidates it from various angles; it tells about a vast number of characters, tracing each of theirs storylines quite meticulously, with conflicts and alliances forming and crumbling apart all the time. Several COs are taken hostages, including Caputo; they become a bargaining chip in the negotiations aimed at improving inmates’ lives, as well as making it right by Poussey. The negotiation are being held by Taystee – for the inmates, – and by representative of the governor (who brushed aside the corporation as soon as the conflict hit the media), with several other inmates and Caputo heavily involved. The COs in the meantime become exposed to quite a few unpleasant manifestations of the inmates’ love, but remain relatively safe, with the exception of Humps (one of the guards) who was shot in the very beginning and later got unlucky enough to get a bad in the hospital ward next to people wishing him ill. The inmates were united only for a brief moment, which soon elapsed, and some sort of feudal chaos took over, with several unions competing for resources, some of them also trying to establish some sort of order, and a great number of loners and tiny groups just minding their own business. At some point Piscatella in disregard of a direct order infiltrates the prison to take the inmates down one by one, and for some time he manages to get away with it. The several days of the wild reign come abruptly to anticipated end, when special ops finally gets the order allowing suppression by force.

Over the course of the show the internal time gets increasingly dense and slow: the duration of the season stays relatively unchanged, while the period of time it covers gets shorter and shorter in each new season, – it’s like a river spats broadwise and because of that slows down its pace forward. This approach allows Jenji Kohan to go deeper into the characters and their stories, instead of rushing the plot along, and as a result, we have incredibly complex narrative with unrivaled number of elements, all of which are relatively harmoniously balanced – relatively, because sometimes the tempo lagged a little bit when some characters were put aside for a period of time too long not to notice their absence; also, it’s quite obvious that some characters (like Bursett) were intentionally removed from the story to unload it at least a little bit. This, however, is pretty much all the criticism of the season I have in me. I think it’s brilliant, ingenious, and generally a remarkable work of cinema, powerful and beautiful in its sincerity.

All the stories of the season, each and every one of them, is interesting to follow; some of them produce wonderfully poetic images and situations, others provide the viewer with something to smile (or even laugh) at, and the best – combine humor with sadness of life to achieve some amazingly powerful pinnacles. I could’ve dived into specifics here, but learing it all anew will be much more enjoyable for you; besides, there’s too much going on there to squeeze it all into just a few paragraphs. Highly recommended for self-study.

Names and figures

Transparent (s.04, 2017)

In the 4th season of Transparent Maura gets to present her book in Israel, which invokes a whole chain of events. While visiting the holy land with Ali she meets Moshe the Cool Guy, who turns out to have been a huge part of the Pfefferman family a long time ago. Ali meets some young passionate Palestinians and gets infected with their ideas; at the same time she goes through what eventually develops into a crisis of sexuality. Shelly attempts to reconnect with herself by joining an improv class, where she invents a special subpersonality by the name of Mario who helps her a lot to deal with difficult situations; later she makes public peace with a part of her past she’s been suppressing for most of her life. Josh joins the sex addicts anonymous program, which turns out to be surprisingly effective with his Rita issues. Sarah and Len keep trying to stay together, this time – by way of engaging into a threesome relationship with Lila, one of their children’s teachers whom Sarah met on the sex addicts meeting; the new relationship inspires her to come up with a parenting book idea. The journey to Israel, which the whole family took at some point, including Maura’s sister, impacted all of them in one way or another – some stronger than others.

It’s a beautiful work of cinema – the season, as well as the show in general, which remains probably the most delicate work of such kind ever produced for TV. It has been, and is, incredibly deep, and significant, and tender. Not to mention ingenuity: the threesome via the Skype alone is quite amazing, and there’s also the Airbnb guy, the least awkward breakup in the finale, and bunch of other brilliant ideas, all merged into a harmonious, comprehensive narrative. The authors proved once again that they can picture current reality better than anybody.

There was a special tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar opera, with various characters reminiscing parts from it on multiple occasions. I appreciate this especially.

The only moment when my gift-o-meter blinked red was in the 8th episode, when Shelly came out with her shocking revelation. It seemed a bit too much, a bit too thick for generally so elegant of a style; but the good thing is that it was intentionally shifted to the episode’s finale, and the subsequent development did not pinpoint that circumstance, which allowed to level the negative effect quite successfully.

All in all, this is a great continuation of an amazing show, so, yeah, – highly recommended.

Names and figures

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