Category Archives: drama

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Doll & Em (s.02, 2015)

In 2nd season Dolly and Emily first write and then try to produce and direct a stage play based on a relationship between themselves. They settle down in the Mikhail Baryshnikov’s theater (who owned a favour to Buddy, their producer) in New York, off-Broadway, assemble the cast, including 2 girls to play characters based on them (but not exactly them) – Olivia and Evan. Things between the four of them do not work out very well exactly, but somehow they manage to haul as far as the premiere. Along the way Dolly falls in love with Ewan McGregor, because he picked her up in a bar and they almost dated, and there may be consequences to their encounter. Emily gets her hopes high with a new role she’s been offered, so much so she’s almost pulls out of the play, but then the project falls apart, and she comes back as domineering as ever. Doll & Em try to deal somehow with this new form of their ever-changing friendship, as well as each of them deals with their own personal stuff. In the finale the premiere of the play comes off, offering a few surprises.

The 1st season was really great, but the 2nd one is slightly better – mostly due to freshness of the story and ingenuity of its authors, which has improved significantly. I think, once they’ve established that they can in fact produce a TV series, however small it is, they managed to relax and have fun on top of creating a highly professional product of cinema, which is reflected in the overall tone of the show. The narrator’s voice in episode 4 alone is worth some kind of prize, and that’s far from all.

The cast is pretty amazing: I suppose, Olivia Wilde and Evan Rachel Woods play fictionalized versions of themselves, as it usually goes; it was really cool to see Mikhail Baryshnikov; Ewan McGregor was kind of funny; the now infamous Harvey Weinstein appeared in a tiny, but quite memorable role of himself (not uncommon for the show, as you might have noticed).

By the way, Emily Mortimer speaks rather decent Russian, although not without noticeable accent.

All in all, in 2nd season the creators managed to preserve that combination of peculiar lightness and meaningfulness that formed in the 1st season, and enhance it with more humor and new ideas. The show has concluded with that, and it’s a good thing: it proves that Mortimer and Wells were never there for the money, that quality bears way more significance to them, and that they know how to end things at the right time.

Highly recommended for everybody.

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Orange Is the New Black (s.04, 2016)

In the fourth season of Orange is the New Black Jenji Kohan and Co continues to explore attractions of the corporate prison concept, prolongs the storylines of the characters we all grew to love, and, of course, adds some new heroes to the mix, interlacing their stories with ones already in progress. Alex, after receiving unexpected help from a mentally challenged Lolly, deals with the consequences of her self-defence actions; old COs retire en masse to strong-arm the management, but get replaced by an emergency fraction at first and with newly hired vets later; new team of COs establish their own rule, one that does not comply very well with the inmates; Chapman tries to assemble a semblance of a gang, but proves too weak for a life of professional criminal, especially after her actions provoke a much stronger reaction: the reinforced latin community starts acting in the same direction but with less humanity, plus the white power thing lifts up its ugly head; Brook Soso and Poussey become a couple; Nicky Nichols comes back from Max, which turns out to be too late for her sobriety; Bursett spends most of her time in SHU for no reason at all; Red works the kitchen, while trying to serve as a glue for the community; Dogget and Donuts become closer while trying to overcome what’s standing between them; Suzanne gets manipulated by ill-meaning guards into some nasty stuff, and so does a couple of other girls; Judy King becomes the queen of the prison, goes through several scandal, makes some friends; Caputo tries to balance between his duty as he sees it and the corporate interest, with the latter winning almost every time, which leads to rise of the tension in their relationship; Healy goes through some really hard times, with his wife gone, and fears about a mental illness inherited from his mother, starting to dominate him; Lorna enjoys the fruits of her unexpected marriage, but then starts acting destructively. Lives of old characters, as well as new ones, are explored through the flashbacks, as usual; this time it’s Poussey, Healy, Suzanne, one of the new guards, and couple of others. By the end of the season the tension between the COs and the inmates reaches its peak after a person gets killed by accident.

This season produces an impression of the strongest one so far: on the one hand, the overall quality remained just as high as it used to be; on the other – the main storyline builds up gradually with aggravation of conflict up to the point of no return (incredibly powerful death in the finale – like a cherry on top) and then escalates into a major cliffhanger, which imparts some sort of accord on the narrative intensifying it tenfold as a result.

The most important, the most interesting things about this season are: the purity of the Soso-Poussey relationship; the idea that criminal way of life is no joke, and you shouldn’t choose it unless you’re willing to go all the way, which you’re probably not; how impossible it is to help Lolly; that corporations are evil, and those dealing with living people are worst of all; certain everyday details of drug abuse and trade in prison; weird relationship between Dogget and the guard; how broken some of the new COs are; how cool it is to be a celebrity; that racial division in prisons is still quite real, but can be vanquished in the face of the common enemy. There were some truly brilliant scenes, including the one with fucking without any touching (#3), the finale in general, and tribute to Poussey in particular (#12-13).

It was quite fascinating, I loved it. Hopefully, season 5 would live up to my overgrown expectations.

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Twin Peaks (s.03: The Return; 2017)

Third season of Twin Peaks tells the final part of the Laura Palmer story, happening 25 years after the events of the original show. FBI agent Dale Cooper, who spent all that time in the Black Lodge, starts to fight his way out of there, which requires the return of his Doppelganger, who was walking the earth in his stead. Mr. C (the doppelgänger), however, took measures to remain in the general reality, specifically, he created another doppelgänger several years after his own release, called him Dougie Jones and throw him out in Las Vegas. Struggling through almost complete inability to communicate, Cooper by way of Dougie Jones manages to not only maintain his mission, but to establish a circle of friends and helpers along the way. Following weird and complicated confrontation between the forces of good, represented by a bunch of characters, but most of all – Dale Cooper, and forces of chaos, represented also by a bunch of characters, but most of all – mr. C, Cooper’s dark twin, resulted in seemingly random gathering of chosen heroes that managed to unite in the critical moment. The question, though, is not whether the good guys would win or not, it’s rather, would it even matter if they do?

Technically, 3rd season is a direct continuation of the previous Twin Peaks narrative lines, but the amount of time dividing seasons 2 and 3 is too vast to go unnoticed. Indeed, this new revival season is a freestanding one, it should be considered only in comparison with seasons 1 & 2, not in the aggregate with them.

It is a completely independent work of art, an epic canvas that includes everything Lynch was ever bothered with or haunted by, organized into an absolutely harmonious map of the Lynch universe. As such, it is incredibly complex: although this can be said about pretty much any other of the director’s works, this one stands aside due to unprecedented amount of space the artist had at his disposal and corresponding vastness of the final result. At the same time, never before has been Lynch’s world so clear, so readily understandable: there is still a huge amount of ravings incomprehensible for the audience that are so typical for Lynch, but thanks to the volume factor, they are distributed in a very different way than it usually happens, which, as it turns out, is quite important for the overall balance.

The fact that Frost and Lynch managed to gather the old cast almost in its entirety is rather fascinating; the fact that all of them did an extremely good job is even more so. Reinforced with the new cast members, the ensemble became bulletproof, pretty much impenetrable. Kyle MacLachlan demonstrated mind-boggling performance playing 3 different characters; but really, there is a lot of people, and not one of them sings out of tune.

As for the quality of direction, David Lynch seems to be in his full power, so there’s little to no drawbacks in the whole season, be that of creative or of technical nature. The photography is really amazing, and the special effects are close to perfect (in relation to the context).

I believe, Twin Peaks‘ 3rd season is not only the best thing Lynch has ever created so far, but also a cinema event of the year – at least. It is a powerful work, and I have no doubt it would prove to be exceptionally influential over the years.

P.S.: Lynch’s universe, as I understand it, consists of at least 2 layers of reality, one of which is our, conventional reality, and the other is something in parallel with it. It has nothing to do with the traditional understanding of afterlife, nor with the concept of multiverse; relationship between these two layers are closer to that between a host and a guest entity, which is a parasite and a symbiont at the same time, in unclear proportions. The essence of the Dale Cooper’s mission was to go backwards in time and save Laura Palmer from being murdered; he got delayed in it because Black Lodge, represented by several sinister entities such as Killer Bob and Cooper’s doppelgänger, resisted his efforts, but after 25 years of imprisonment he managed to break out, and after some time more he managed to come back in full, and then he finished the ordeal. The consequences, however, proved to be not as expected. The finale is stunning in a way how silence can be stunning.

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Doll & Em (s.01, 2014)

Doll & Em is a story about 2 friends, Dolly and Emily, who remained quite close even though Dolly stayed in London and didn’t achieve much while Emily went to Hollywood and became a famous actress. Doll breaks up with her boyfriend and turns to Emily for a solace. Emily, who is shooting some big movie in the US at the moment, invites her to come and stay with her, and have some fun, and work for her as an assistant at the same time. Dolly accepts the invitation; for some time everything goes wonderful, but a certain tension between them starts building up almost immediately, which eventually leads to a crisis in their relationship.

Totally delicious little thing. It has the power of sincerity, because the story comes from the real-life experience and adopts as much drama from there as possible, and at the same time it is devoid of the roughness ordinarily accompanying veracity of this intensity – the show’s actually very delicate and amazingly subtle. The overall development is psychologically correct, has a lot of nuances and doesn’t have any stretches or omissions. The story is small, non voluminous, that much is true, but whether to deem it a plus or a minus, is a question to which one should apply their own judgement. The execution is impeccable, especially the acting. Also, it’s not particularly a comedy, as the writers do not try to make the viewer laugh, but rather some scenes they want to tell about are naturally funny.

I love gems like Doll & Em here: tiny, almost inconspicuous, as if hiding from the world, but pure at the core, and with no defect anywhere, presenting the audience with concentrated quality. First season was a pure pleasure; hopefully, 2nd will be a match.

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Orange Is the New Black (s.03, 2015)

Third season of the Orange Is the New Black is all about the great change the american prison system undergoes presently: for the general arc, the prison’s senior staff gets in trouble due to their financial indiscretions, but the catastrophe is averted thanks to a giant corporation buying the prison out in order to make it profitable. The transition brings a lot of minor changes to the established environment, some of which may appear critical. Besides this general line that pierces everything else, the season consists of the following storylines: Piper and Alex’s conflicted relationship; the improv class opened by a new counselor and some of its consequences, including Crazy Eyes’s surprising career as a fiction writer; the loophole of a kosher meal that got abused too much, but had a curious consequence of turning Black Cindy into a jewish person before shutting down; Nichols gets upgraded to maximum security; Piper’s undercover enterprise that grew on the weaknesses of the corporate prison approach, as well as her action for its protection; Norma pretty much becomes the leader of a cult; Red returns to kitchen, only to regret it immediately; Alex is freaking out all the time expecting an assassin in every new person; Morello starts a mail scheme that ends up in the most unexpected way for her; Daya gives birth, considering if she wants to keep the baby in the family, or give it away to Pornstache’s mother. The intervals are filled with deep exploration of some of the inmates’ and prison staff’s lifepaths – this time it’s about Norma, Chang, Boo, Lianne, more Pennsatucky, and several others.

All this and more is carefully stirred and balanced for our enjoyment, and constitutes in general a consistent and interesting story for the whole of 13 episodes. The prison management format development does seem a little weird, but, considering all that we know about the US, not at all implausible. It definitely brought in some very curious offshoots to the story.

The narrative is rich and flows without restrictions. The acting is in harmony with everything else in the execution. All in all, the show is more powerful than even in season 3. Which makes me think that one tiny autobiography probably couldn’t have been the source of all of that power, and if so, what else do they use? Not very relevant, of course, as the quality of the final product is the ultimate criteria, and by that measure the show is at the top of the chart so far.

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Game of Thrones (s.07, 2017)

In 7th season of Game of Thrones the thread of events gradually becomes tighter through bringing all the remaining storylines even closer together. Daenerys reaches the Seven Kingdoms and lands her forces at Dragonstone. Jon Snow, who was recently proclaimed King of the North, sends a delegation to her asking for help in their fight against the dead enemy, and even leads the delegation himself, leaving Sansa Stark in charge of all the northern business. Soon all 3 of the current Seven Kingdom’s primary forces meet to convince Cersei in the seriousness of this winter, and then decide on the plan of actions. And though it seems like unifying the living despite their differences and intersecting interests would be, in fact, a success, after an unavoidable loss the enemy seems to become stronger than ever, maybe too strong to overcome. The final battle lies ahead, but who knows who would win that thing.

So, besides the process of bringing the story onto the homestretch, which was happening for past few seasons and has almost achieved the closing phase, there is another interesting thing going on with the show as the separation of the scripts from the literary source starts to have its effect on the narrative, which has achieved the habitual rarefied state of a normal American TV show, became not as overly dense as before in terms of internal events intensity, which, on the one hand, is good, because it is much easier to perceive the show this way, but on the other, it leaves a slight hint of dissatisfaction as the expectations aren’t met.

To be totally fair, the creators of the show managed to uphold the level of execution exactly the same, if not higher, which helped a great deal to conceal the loss in density. The amount of work (and money) each episode so obviously costs is truly astonishing, – but, more importantly, so is the final result of all these efforts. Same as before all  the sides of technical implementation are impeccable, including the image, the sound, and, of course, the special effects. The acting is pretty great; it is totally in accordance with the twists and turns of the story, which, by the way, is well elaborated from the psychological point of view, and also just as ingenious as it always has been.

It seems like they have everything for a huge bada-boom for the finale. And I’m sure they can pull it off. But nothing is for certain – after all, the expectations are flying pretty high. All in all, the 7th season was amazing, almost perfect, – and the future probably holds more of good than of bad. Of course, we would only know when it’s too late.

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Ballers (s.02, 2016)

Story in the Ballers’ 2nd season revolves for the most part around Spencer’s feud with Andre, the biggest financial guy in the city who managed Spencer’s money back when he still played and may or may not have caused him the loss of several million dollars. The intensity of the confrontation grows from one episode to the next, the passions are rising, the risks are being taken, the game is being played. The fact that Spencer is having problems with obtaining a license so that he could actually practice does not add a lot of credibility to his position, no more than a Vicodin abuse on account of his hip injury. Yet he manages to execute counterattack by gathering funds from his rich friends to buy the company out.

The story on the conceptual level is pretty good: the origins of the conflict seem plausible enough; the development – quite consistent; and the essence (what seemed like purely ordinary conflict at first, turned out to be the result of Spencer’s internal conflict) – rather elegant. However, the dialogs are sagging: the writers heavily abuse informal vocabulary, sometimes – merely to hide the emptiness of a scene; and even relatively interesting parts resemble Entourage the further the more, and not at their best times, too.

It’s pretty entertaining all in all, but I was definitely hoping for more than that. There is still a possibility, of course, that the show would become more than just talking shit and enjoying the spoils of the wealthy life, but so far the tendency is the opposite.

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Orange Is the New Black (s.02, 2014)

In the 2nd season of Orange Is the New Black previously charted storylines continue to develop in their natural fashion, with some of them interlacing around Vee, a hardcore professional criminal who has history with Red. Piper Chapman and Alex Vause get to participate in the trial of their boss the drug lord, after which Alex goes free, and nothing changes for Piper; she returns to genpop, gets furlough and visits funeral of her granny, makes piece with her ex-fiance and her best friend falling in love with each other, but other than that she just lives. More and more often the focus of attention shifts from Piper’s storyline towards other lines, specifically the one about Vee, who just came to Litchfield, but started to distort reality around herself almost immediately; the one with Brook Soso, another newcomer, a young girl who launched a hunger strike; miss Rosa, a cancer patient who didn’t want to die behind bars; the Diaz baby intrigue, including Mendez the Pronstache, who returned briefly only to be taken to prison himself; and others. The further the more the show seems like a uniform soup with lost of brilliant parts in different places, but no particular hierarchy story-wise.

One of the show’s most powerful features is the diversity: on the one hand, it comes natural, because anybody can end up in prison, therefore no combination of characters would be too unbelievable (plus, there is a build-in mechanism to bring in new ones), all of which means it gives a lot of opportunities for not very high cost; on the other hand, the abundance of faces makes it a little challenging simply keeping up, but so far it’s barely an issue at all.

All of the small stories that constitute the multitude of the show are well thought-out and well-designed; they link together and form storylines that evolve over time. Arguably the strongest constituent of the whole season was Vee, a black woman of around 50 years old showing signs of manipulative and psychopathic behaviour, who gathers almost all black women of the block around herself, and creates out of them a dark force with potential to oppress every other force existing in the prison environment. As contrasted by the events connected to her character, previous prison intrigues seem even kind of childish.

All in all, season seems very strong to me, but with a certain doughiness quality impacting the whole structure of the show, although without any significant consequences so far. Still great, still fascinating, still powerful as hell.

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Orphan Black (s.05, 2017)

Fifth season of Orphan Black is the final one. It starts exactly where the 4th left off: Rachel becomes the executive of Neolution movement, which is revealed to be founded by a man who’s still alive and is now 170 years old, one P. T. Westmorland. Within first couple of episodes the Leda opposition suffers a grave defeat to Neos, when Sarah and Siobhan and everyone else (except Helena) is apprehended by Ferdinand’s people; and then one more time – when Kira chooses against her mother. With Helena being on the loose, however, there is still hope, and besides Sarah and the company are secretly plotting against the seemingly amicable organization. One of the tactics soon manages to bring a powerful advantage to the rebels, one that becomes Neolution undoing, but in the process of it some convulsive movements threaten to make a mutual destruction type of story.

If I had some doubts in the beginning, especially about all the resurrections, that’s because they raised the level of improbability a bit too much, but that was carefully managed by the writers, and by the 4th episode already the narrative straighten out and the story started to grow stronger with each next episode. One of the most powerful storylines of this season is about the refutation of the myth, which I find pretty cool. The overall development of the story is, of course, science fiction, yet it lies within the realm of plausible and, just as important, – believable, and it uses genuine human relationships for its fuel, including family ones (albeit word family applies here perhaps in a broader sense), and that combination sums up to a fascinating work of cinema – smart and entertaining from beginning to end. The acting is, like before, impeccable, with traditional praises for Tatiana Maslany, who is totally amazing in her consistently perfect acting. The execution in general is pretty great, music in particular, but really – everything.

The finale is very conclusive – and it seems like the end of a straight line, one that is natural and expected, and it was obviously intended that way. The show astonishes me first and foremost with how precise and well-calibrated the narrative is, although not without sudden jerks here and there, of course, but none too determinative. The beauty of the concept intensified by the quality of execution makes this show one of the truly great ones. One of my favourites, that’s for sure.

Names and figures

Ballers (s.01, 2015)

Ballers is a comedy-drama about a bunch of ex- and current football players and the world of professional athletes in general. Primary heroes are: Spencer Strasmore, who left his successful football career while at the peak and became a financial manager for high-level sport professionals; Joe Krutel, his friend who turned him into a financial consultant; Ricky Jerret, a very talented football player with temper issues; and Charles Green, a retired player who tries to find a new way in life. So, for the 1st season, the storylines are as follows: Spencer and Joe try very hard to land Vernon Littlefield, one of the most promising young players in the league, and encounter various obstacles on that path, including blackmail and corporate interests getting the best of loyalty and personal relationships, which is the foundation for everything in that business; Spencer also deals with his nightmares connected to an episode, when he injured an opposite team player so hard he had to leave the game; Ricky gets kicked out of the team due to bad PR vibe he’s producing, but Spencer manages to find him new home – his own old team, the Miami Dolphins, which is not the end of it, because Ricky continues to get into various stories, but he also tries hard to change his ways, and to some purpose too, although he does lose his girlfriend in the process; Charles gets a job as a car salesman, but feels discontented at it, so when he’s offered a way back to his old career, he gladly takes it.

First of all, this show reminds me Entourage a lot: the same atmosphere of big money (only professional sports instead of movies), the same perfect-weather setting (only Florida instead of California), the same general tone of rich people’s problems that are significant, but not too serious, because – you know, – there’s a lot of money floating around. The story is different, though, and I don’t mean specific events, but rather the structure of the show’s narrative, which in this case is more dense, more consistent. Plus, the main heroes are way more likeable – Spencer’s sincerity, his aspiration to help those he cares about, his resolution in building his own personality the way he wants it, – all these things make me sympathize with him; Joe is an interesting character, with his ups and downs, but definitely curious to watch; and the same can be said about Ricky and Charles, too. Their storylines intertwine with each other quite harmoniously. The humor is nice – it’s not jokes based, but rather an additional filling for the events.

However, the ending of the season seemed to me a little too cautious – there is no twist there, no cliffhanger, which sends a message that life goes on as usual, and could go on like that indefinitely, that there would be new things to overcome, but they will come and go, same as everything else. This kind of attitude is somewhat threatening, because it relaxes the writers (because it’s pretty much all the same, so why bother), and relaxed writers are not a good thing for drama. Of course, we would have to see how it would pan out in reality; so far all is pretty great.

Names and figures

Orange Is the New Black (s.01, 2013)

Orange Is the New Black is a drama with a touch of comedy about a girl (Piper Chapman) who was sentenced to a term in a minimal security prison for assisting drug trafficking some 10 years ago. It is based on the memoirs of Piper Kerman. The story follows Piper’s attempts to adapt to prison life and not lose her identity in the process, which proves to be extremely hard. Larry, her fiance, tries to be as supportive as he can, but some choices Chapman makes while behind bars, turn this task into an impossible one. Secondary storylines follow some of Chapman’s inmates paths, including those of Alex Vause, her former lover and the reason she’s got imprisoned; Miss Claudette Pelage, a Haiti native convicted for murder; Red, a Russian native and a power figure; Crazy Eyes, a strange and intense girl with lots of talents and stage fright; Nicky Nichols, a hot and bright lesbian; Pennsatucky, a christian fundamentalist with mental issues; Laverne Cox, a transgender hairdresser. Prison staff also produces some major characters for the story, including COs mr. Healey, Joel Luschek, George “Pornstache” Mendez and John Bennett; Joe Caputo and Natalie Figueroa. There are many other characters, too many to count, each of whom comes with his or her own story.

I don’t have a lot of words for this show, except, maybe, that it’s extremely rich and perfect in a lot of ways. The thing I loved about it the most, that it impacts the viewer in a way consistent with how Piper’s life developments impacted her – after the 1st episode, I was pretty much terrified with all that’s been going on, and my only thought was that all the romanticization of prison life, all the attempts to rationalize this kind of experience, are utter bullshit, and that I would never want something like that happen to me; later, as Piper adjusted a little bit, found some friends and engaged into some not entirely unhealthy activities, it became easier, and, of course, humor enclosed in the numerous funny situations helped a lot, so I even thought to myself – it ain’t that bad; but then the scale achieved relative balance: I got the feeling that even though life in prison is still life, and people there are still people, I still would never want to get there, because not being able to exercise my will is still a horrible experience, no matter what they say. All those stages of understanding corresponded really well with what the heroine was going through, and in that I see a great achievement of the writers’ team, and especially of Jenji Kohan.

Like I said, the show is very rich, however, notwithstanding the abundance of characters and situations, it would be hard to get lost in them as everything in this story is well-structured and extremely well-balanced. And because the writing and the direction are so good, the narration feels so smooth and easy, you may not notice the time passed. The acting is amazing; all the cast members are in their proper places, and all of them do their job amazingly well. The setting, the makeup, the special effects, – there is literally not a single element of the concept, or the execution, that has been overlooked or tumbled.

This is a great show, because it’s both significant and entertaining, and also because it’s implemented with unparalleled dedication and talent. At least, so far.

Names and figures

Castle (s.08, 2015-16)

The final season of Castle is pretty much the do-over of whatever scraps of the common plot were present over the course of previous 7 seasons. It still consists of unrelated investigation episodes for the most part, but the remaining ones are united in a relatively consistent narrative. As the story goes, senator Bracken turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg of a major conspiracy, which is centered around a mysterious person inside CIA called loksat, who is extremely powerful and extremely wicked analyst. He pulls strings connected to numerous significant figures in the same way he did with Bracken, and he’s very cautions, which is why nobody knows who he really is. Becket together with a guy named Vikram (who worked with Becket’s former DC team before they all got killed for approaching too close to loksat) works in secret to bring down the villain; at first she even separates from Castle in order to keep him safe, but later they join forces. Additionally, at some point Castle finds out that whatever he has learned before about his 2-month absence wasn’t all there is, and the remainder of that term he spent in LA and somehow learned about loksat in the process, which is the main reason he wanted his memory erased.

Okay, on the one hand, the plot of the 8th season is much better than that of any of the seasons before it. It’s basically a remake of the earlier chapters of the Bracken intrigue, only compressed into a denser story, and with better consistency factor. On the other hand, though, the story is weak, because outside of the season it has no roots whatsoever; and it is full of stretches and sentimental bullshit, same as before. The action is relatively good, but not as powerful as it potentially could have been due to lack of plausible psychological elaboration. New characters are rather nice – Toks Olagundoye as Hayley, Sunkrish Bala as Vikram; I suppose, you can even say they breathed some new life into the show, but the established ones are pretty much as they were, nothing really new there, although they are not completely without development: Alexis, for example, started working as a PI assistant, Martha wrote a book, Esposito became a sergeant, and Ryan had another child. Of course, none of those events matter very much.

You can see the show slowly dying out through some circumstantial signs: for example, Stana Katic was absent for 2 whole episodes, which never happened before. It’s rather natural that her refusal to participate in probable continuation of the series was one of the most crucial reasons season 9 never happened. The fatigue of the concept is obvious, the challenges grew too difficult, and combined with the fact that nothing about the show was ever brilliant in the first place, it kind of closed the deal. It also seems to me that the creator of the show, Andrew W. Marlowe stepped down as a show runner and a writer, and that Alexi Hawley and Terence Paul Winter replaced him as the creative force behind it, although there’s not a word about it in wiki.

Now that I have watched this thing from beginning to end, I can say with absolute certainty that this show is mediocre, and save from a few interesting spikes isn’t worth wasting time on; that it had the cast much worthier than the writers, and that its main problems were lack of planning and arising from it lack of consistency, and contamination with sentimentality virus. Curiously enough, Castle is the evidence that this combination of disorders is not at all critical, and probably quite the contrary to it, as an average human mind is more disposed to handling the impotence of commonness than the might of true art.

Names and figures

11.22.63 (m/s, 2016)

11.22.63 is the screen adaptation of the Stephen King’s novel of the same name. It tells about this guy, who found a doorway to the past, specifically, to one particular day in 1960, and so he goes back there with a purpose of preventing John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Using information available to him thanks to all the researchers who devoted their time to the matter, he tries to figure out if CIA, or FBI, or anybody else, was involved, while living a life of an English language school teacher at the same time. He prevents several gruesome crimes along the way, funds his investigation by making bets on the various sport events he knows how would pan out, finds a companion in arms named Bill, and also finds the love of his life, a beautiful blond named Sadie. All of it only to find out eventually that what we think is best for the humanity might not be that good after all.

So, there are several problems with this story, which can be divided into 2 main groups. First one is about time travelling, and it’s kind of expected, because it is extremely hard to develop a story within this concept that would be consistent through-out. Here the rules of the game are not exactly clear – the guy goes in, changes something, then he goes out, and the world is re-set, or maybe not, depending on the scale of the change. The past resists to being altered, but the change is still possible somehow. There are some weird ghosts that can be witnessed not only by the traveller, but also by the people helping him. There’s a strange loop-guy, who has something to do with this whole mess, but it’s unclear what exactly. All in all, it does work, but there are holes, and pretty evident ones, too.

Problems belonging to the 2nd group are less forgivable as they relate to the quality of the story itself. First of all, it would seem like the plot was inspired, at least partially, by the authors’ nostalgic feelings about the 1960s, where “even the food tastes better”, and that seems silly. The hero sometimes does real stupid things, some of which can be justified by the novelty of the situation he found himself in (like making bets too large), and some not (like throwing away the phone). Author’s arbitrariness plays a significant part in driving the story forward – more often than it would be suitable things happen simply because otherwise the plot would go the wrong direction (like Bill seeing the ghost of his sister at the Walker’s stake-out, or Jake’s sudden hunch during the plastic surgery, or the way he dragged the girl along when rushing to Oswald’s lair). The way Jake was let go in the finale seems extremely weird to me. But the worst thing is probably complete absence of emotional response to Bill’s jump, which was 100% Jake’s fault.

Each of these little things are not very significant on their own, but they pile on top of each other, they accumulate, and their sum does hurt the overall result. However, there are a lot of great things about the series as well. Pretty much all the characters are quite powerful, especially the psychopaths, Bill, the principal, miss Mimi, and some others; at that, the main heroes are very good too. The depiction of the era seems rather authentic to me, even with all that nostalgic bullshit. References to the movies and song yet to be created are funny and appropriate. Development of Bill’s storyline is logical and really strong. And, of course, the outcome of all the effort is disenchanting and devastating because of its vividness and general consistency.

So, even though the show is far from being flawless, it’s quite great nonetheless. It’s a good action movie executed on a most amazing professional level and leading to anticipated, but still rather deep conclusions.

Names and figures

Castle (s.07, 2014-15)

As Castle approaches the end of its line, it gradually becomes less and less consistent, which in its turn affects how interesting the show is. The senator Bracken storyline gets no continuation, meaning it’s probably closed down for good. Castle’s spy father’s line also doesn’t get any development. Out of the ocean of empty, unrelated stories, only 2 islands stand out: the mystery of Castle’s disappearance and the 3XK final chapter. Everything else is basically junk.

The disappearance act covers 3 episodes – #1 and #2, and then #20. First couple of episodes make it painfully obvious how impotent the writing for the series became: there is nothing of the essence uncovered there, all the plot gimmicks serve the single purpose of further muddying the waters, at that the writers have no idea how to wrap up the story, but give themselves plenty of space to deal with it later. The solution provided in episode 20 is not completely without elegance, and is in fact relatively consistent, but fails to include all the nuances invented in the season’s beginning, which leads to another half-baked story about Hollander woods recounted in episode 23.

The 3XK storyline gets finished in a double episode in the middle of the season (#14 and #15). The way it gets solved shows writers’ dedication to bring it to a suitable finish no matter the cost, in which situation quality of the drama falls the first victim: while the development in general is acceptable (barely), I can’t help but think it could’ve been so much better, especially in the light of previously accumulated potential.

Other notable excursus include look into social media (#5), alternative reality (#6), hello to the Expendables (#9), pseudo-AI (#16), hello to SNL (#22), as well as Castle’s becoming a private investigator after getting banned from NYPD and then coming back. Even these stories are quite mediocre, and can only be distinguished against the background of the rest of the season, which is pretty poor.

All in all, degeneration of the concept proceeds ahead at full speed: of all the significant assets the show ever had only actors remain as they were, which in the absence of good stories is not that much at all. The finale of the season didn’t even have a cliff-hanger, for crying out loud. How worse can it get? I guess, I’ll see soon enough.

Names and figures

The Night Manager (m/s-1, 2016)

The Night Manager is a mini-series adaptation of the John Le Carre novel of the same name. Jonathan Pine, who works as a night hotel manager in Cairo, happens to get involved with a woman named Sophie, who was a lover to Freddie Hamid (offspring of a wealthy Egyptian family), who in his turn was a liaison between his family’s business and one Richard Winslow Roper, a weapons dealer of international scale. Sophie gets killed, which scars Jonathan for life; he relocates to Europe and tries to forget all about it, but chance throws him back into the game when the Roper’s clique settles into a Swiss hotel he was working in at the moment. With the help from British special service MI6 he goes deep undercover in order to get closer to Roper and bring down his operation.

The book was written back in the 1990s, and the show’s author adapted it to reflect current times. I don’t know anything about the literary source, but the story in the series looks very consistent and logical, including (especially) the ties to actual historical events. The overall development of the intrigue is also coherent and without any gaps; characters’ motivation is believable enough; and the dialogs are pretty good. The acting is really great – Hollander was quite amazing; I liked Coleman’s work a lot; of course, Laurie was good, as well as Hiddleston.

However, I didn’t like two things. First, (and this is inherent to the show), the main hero is sort of a James Bond, -ish: extremely good-looking, fit, charming, knows right from wrong, capable of action, etc.; he attracts beautiful women, and is attracted to them himself, but never looses his head over romance. This combination seems a little artificial to me, – the guy’s just too perfect. The second thing is the complete absence of humor, which makes the narrative dry and not too easily digestible. It’s not that big of a deal, but the movie would’ve been better with a touch of irony.

All in all, this is a captivating action film, very nicely done on almost all levels. In fact, the network management like the result so much, they ordered a 2nd season of show, which never happens to miniseries. I’m not sure, though, this is such a good idea, but, as usual, I hope to be wrong about this.

Names and figures

Castle (s.06, 2013-14)

Sixth season of Castle is interesting as a picture of degeneration, although interesting might be a bit too strong of a word in this case. It’s kind of sad – watching the show that was never bright in the first place devolving into some kind of nauseatingly pink fairytale with toy dragons. At least, before it had some semblance of a conflicts plexus – the Becket’s mother’s murder investigation, the tension between Becket and Castle, – now the first component is abandoned until episode 17, and the second is gone for good. There was another 3XK reappearance (a nice one) in episode 9, and Castle’s spy father returned for episode 12, but for the most part it’s all mellow bullshit of i-love-you-more-i-love-you-most type, diluted with usual unconnected murder investigations of different quality.

Previous season ended with a job offer for Becket, so in the beginning of this one she went through with it, but lasted for only 3 episodes. In episode 4 everything returned to the way it was, with the exception of Alexis moving in with her new boyfriend, whom Castle hates, of course, but eventually everybody got to understand everybody else, so in that department everything is just as pink.

There was a number of not-so-bad episodes: #1 and 2 is a pretty captivating story of mass attack threat; #4 is a hostage situation; #5 introduces good kind of ambiguity about the future and mental illness; and #9 revives the 3XK storyline. Others were complete horsecrap, including the one with ninjas (#18) and the one with the arson (#11).

The most curious story of the series, the one with senator Braken, is not addressed until almost the end of the season; it consists of 2 episodes (#17 and #22), with the first one being quite thrilling and designed with certain elegance. The second part, however, is basically concocted out of nothing, with a clear purpose of finalizing the subject for good; there were some good parts in it, but mostly it’s one huge strain.

And, because the writers got rid of their most productive storyline, they had to come up with something catchy for the season’s finale, and so they did – but it feels like they ran out of all the good ideas, and now just raping the corpse of a cow. I go into season 7 with great deal of irritation, not expecting anything decent. So, maybe, they’ll manage to surprise me, – that’s pretty much my only hope at this point.

Names and figures

Fear the Walking Dead (s.02, 2016)

Second season of Fear the Walking Dead follows the story of the Travis Manawa group in their continuous struggle for survival in the post-apocalyptic world. It falls into 2 halves, each featuring a story arc. The first one, comprising 7 episodes, tells about group’s attempts to survive in the international waters on the Abigail the boat, as well as encounters with a family at the ranger station and a band of pirates led by Connor, and then their journey to Baja California, an estate in Mexico, which only seems to be a safe haven. At the end of episode 7 the group gets scattered: Travis goes with his son Chris; Madison and Strand try to get back to the boat with Alison and Ofelia; and Nick goes on his own. The second half of the season follows their respective journeys: Nick eventually comes to a Tijuana colonia, which suffers from lack of resources and is endangered by a group of ruthless traffickers; the Madison fraction ends up clearing out a huge hotel; Travis tries to help his son, but to no avail; and Ofelia, who also breaks away at some point, heads back to the US territory. There are a lot of other characters, each of whom comes with a story, big or small; there is a lot of events too – everything is changing quite rapidly in the show.

So, yeah, a lot of stuff happens during this season, – most of it is okay, and the rest divides equally between great and stupid. First, I’m gonna enumerate things really liked. The process of the Chris’s psychological transformation is quite amazing: over the course of the show he demonstrates psychopathic traits more and more often, does it with wonderful consistency; it even makes me regret that he ended up the way he did, because if, after the separation from his dad, he would’ve survived, and then returned in a couple of years as a ruthless murderer or even a gang master, it would’ve been really cool. The way Nick adapted to the changed world is pretty great; as well as the way Daniel’s restless soul inspired hallucinations. All in all, fluctuations of the worldview demonstrated by various characters (Celia with her ‘life eternal’; the Brannon group and their murders; the pharmacist running the colonia in Tijuana; etc.) are very curious and not at all implausible.

At the same time, almost every significant character behaves in a reckless and stupid way at one point or another: Nick falls asleep by a live fire; Ofelia doesn’t check the radius when her car breaks down in a region unknown to her; Madison gets drunk with Strand and causes a stir in the hotel restaurant; and so on and so on – it happens all the time, it drives the story to where the writers want, but it feels awfully unnatural. Same as other story turns, like the traffickers not killing Nick during his final trip for the water, or the woman in the hotel stabbing Strand – it just happens for no good reason other than the necessity to bring the story to a certain point. Chris coming with Brannon and not Travis seems incredibly stupid as well, especially after he himself pronounced the main reason why he shouldn’t do it. Nick and Luciena believing in some miraculous refugee camp where they would be welcomed goes into the same category. And why so little people use the disguise, especially those who know for a fact that it works? How Nick managed to find Luis? Why Connor’s brother didn’t make any zombie noise at the exchange? There are loads of stretches and mistakes like this, all of them summing up into vastly irritating coating that covers the show all over and effects its quality in a very negative way.

It is not that bad of a show, but it looks deeply imperfect on its own, and even poorer in comparison with the parent series, which, like it or not, is unavoidable.

Names and figures

Castle (s.05, 2012-13)

The main thing about 5th season of Castle is the drastically changed nature of the Castle-Becket relationship, which pierces the season from beginning to end occupying a major portion of the narrative. Other important story movements include a significant shift in the Becket’s mother’s murder investigation, with the mystery of it being pretty much dissolved in the new, albeit not too unexpected, political angle; revelation about Castle’s father; and another case of 3XK killer re-appearance.

So, what was awaited for so long finally happened in the finale of season 4, and the whole 5th season is dedicated to the development of romantic relationship between Castle and Bennet. It goes through a number of stages, and arrives at a logically feasible conclusion in the season finale, somewhat escalated with Becket being forced into a life decision with only 2 seemingly incompatible choices. I have to say, that even though this storyline pretty much subdues everything around it (which makes it a story arc), the writers managed to keep it balanced, and not spoil it with overly sensitive drama, i.e. they found strength to tell the story without turning it into a soap. So far so good.

On the other hand, bringing the main show’s mystery to light, sort of flattened it a little bit. It does seem like a plausible development, but it is not exactly interesting anymore. A ruthless politician aiming for presidency is a good villain in principle, but the new arrangement, one that formed in episode 1 and got reinforced in episode 13, makes it unlikely for a possible continuation to be verisimilar. Which is why the writers chose not to touch it at all in the season’s finale.

Then there is a matter of the spy component: this time it manifests itself in the story where Alexis is kidnapped and brought to Europe. Castle follows her there and learns, finally, the truth about his father. The story is a little cheesy, but stays within the acceptable limits of absurd, unlike the spy story in season 4.

Just like before, most of the season is filled with barely connected episodes, of which, however, 3 stand out. The return of 3XK (#5) was constructed in a rather interesting manner, and got an open finale, meaning the guy might still return at least one more time. The mockumentary episode (#7) was not so curious as it was funny – but it really elevated my mood. Finally, the birthday present (#19) was truly awesome, starting with the concept and all the way up to execution. Several other episodes depicted unusual settings (including the SyFy convention, – that one has multiple references to Firefly), but remained in the Castle traditional manner.

Sometimes the show is a little pretentious, sometimes it’s full of unnecessary pathos, and all in all its 5th season is as far from perfection as every single previous one. But, as far as I’m concerned, those drawbacks is what makes it so curious of an educational specimen. And the further the writers climb, the more interesting it becomes.

Names and figures

Fear the Walking Dead (s.01, 2015)

Fear the Walking Dead is a spin-off show of The Walking Dead, set in the same universe of discourse, but in a different geography, which entails different set of characters. Here we have Travis Manawa, who tries to save 2 families at once and who naturally assumes the role of a leader, even though he might not be cut out for the situations that extreme; his current girlfriend Madison with heroin-addicted son Nick and bright daughter Alicia; his ex-wife Liza, a wanna be nurse, and her son Chris; and also we have Daniel Salazar, who joined all the aforementioned due to a coaccidental concourse of circumstances, with his wife Grizelda and daughter Ofelia. Same as in the parent series, the group is trying to survive by any means necessary, and encounters various people in various roles along the way. First season depicts how the society transitions from the world we know to be around us today to the post-apocalyptic world consisting of crowds of flesh-hungry zombies. The group fights the overwhelming circumstances to stay together, and happens to be in one of the 12 safe zones guarded by the military, then gets separated again, this time due to whatever government has remained and their distorted sense of duty, accepts another member, a businessman Victor Strand, while trying to reunite, and ends up in a seemingly safe place with good perspectives.

Although the general concept is pretty much the same as in the first show, the changed environment and the people make Fear very different from it, which, by the way, is a great illustration to the argument about the primary nature of characters in the process of creating a story – to a certain extent, it has to grow from the people inhabiting the world being created. This is how it happens in both shows, and this is what ensures their un-similarity. Different characters mean different incentives, and those, in their turn, mean different set of powers influencing the story.

Of course, not everything comes from the characters. For example, another really great thing about Fear has nothing to do with them: in the original series the process of the world submerging into chaos was sort of skipped (Rick woke up in the hospital after everything already happened), but here it is shown in all its magnificence. It was really smart on the writer’s part to combine the outspread of the virus (or whatever) with street protests thus creating a self-accelerating situation of complete mayhem. It was brilliantly directed, too, which, considering the scale of events, is just as important as the writing.

The role of the military in the overall confusion is very well thought-out. All in all, the way the events are developing over the course of this pilot season seems exceptionally logical and consistent to me. Wonderful photography, make up, acting, and every other component of the series only add to its quality; so far I saw no significant drawbacks; but, of course, everything can change pretty fast, so we’ll see. But so far, so good.

Names and figures

Castle (s.04, 2011-12)

In the 4th season of Castle the Becket’s mother murder investigation finally acquires enough content to constitute a story arc, albeit still heavily diluted with unrelated stories. The Castle-Becket personal relationships goes through some more evolutionary stages in the increscent manner, interweaving at the same time with the events of the said investigation, and reach a long-awaited catharsis in the season’s finale. The Becket team remains more or less fixed, although not without some fresh developments. Castle’s mother keeps being herself; and Castle’s daughter gradually becomes an interesting adult.

This is a curious season. The show definitely becomes stronger and stronger over time: there is a lot more continuity in the narrative, even though majority of all the episodes have nothing to do with the most interesting part, which is the arc; but the amount of events, as well as their spread across the season, at least give me the grounds to think of it as an arc, and that was impossible before. Previously the events related to the BMM investigation were very isolated from each other; now it’s like they are pierced with a single thread. There is a reason now why so little happens about this case: it’s because Castle undertakes, more or less actively, efforts to prevent Becket from finding out new stuff. The factor of mystery remains as it was, or, because of the prolongation, even intensifies a little. And the fact that the people behind that unearthly dark organization turn out to be not that smart only adds to the plausibility, although the surprising story turns are sometimes crudely written. I like the way it all depicted from a psychological point of view, like that Becket demonstrates sings of PTSD (quite accurately, I might add), and not just in the beginning of the season, or that the writers stopped tangling up the Castle-Becket mutual affection before it turned into a f. soap.

Another great thing about the show’s 4th season is that there is enough internal freedom in the Castle‘s universe of discourse for the writers to conduct experiments with genre and format. There was a number of episodes unusual in that sense: the bank robbery in #7, the random killings in #9, the noir fantasy in #14, the terrorist attack in #19, zombies in #22, etc. I think, it signifies the fact that the concept is growing, although not as fast I would like it.

Unfortunately, not everything is that good. It even seems to me that Andrew W. Marlowe may be intentionally stonewalling his own series so that it won’t reach too high a quality. Otherwise, I can’t explain why would he not just approve the story about the CIA (episodes #16-17), but write the second half of it, which is exactly where it all went wrong. At first it seemed pretty exciting, actually, – those spy games and an extremely capable agent gone rogue, but then they abruptly changed is several times, each time introducing either a predictable or a completely idiotic development, so in the end it became ridiculous and sad at the same time. I really can’t wrap my mind around it: why would anybody do such a thing?

Anyway. What we have here is a season that is still imperfect, but much better than any other before it, with the worst episode in the history of Castle sitting right in the middle. The evolution of the format and the writing becomes more and more curious, that is. I wonder what else is gonna be there.

Names and figures

Doctor Who (s.10 + The Return of Doctor Mysterio)

Tenth season of the rejuvinated Doctor Who remains, for the most part, a collection of separate stories connected only through the personalities of the Doctor, his newest companion Bill, as well as – to some extent – Nardole and Missy. There is a semblance of the story arc, which is mostly about Doctor’s relationship with Master/Missy, – standalone scenes are included in almost every episode, and the final 2 episodes is where it all comes to the surface. There is also a 3-episode chunk in the middle of the season about the Monks, new invader race threatening the Earth. This is the last season for Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor, and the only one for Pearl Mackie, who plays Bill Potts, an acquaintance of the Doctor who becomes his companion in the first episode.

There is also Christmas Special, which hasn’t got a lot of relation to the subsequent season: it’s about yet another  attempt at Earth, undertaken this time by living brains, and Doctor Who’s version of the superman, who saves the day. Sounds pretty cheesy, but actually it’s well written and quite fun. Which is more than I can say about the 10th season.

The problem with it is that the majority of the stories are based on contrived, questionable ideas, which makes them just the same amount of plausible, which is not very high. The fact that the stories also aren’t very connected between each other doesn’t help either; it makes me wonder would the season become better if some of them are tossed out? And I’m afraid, the answer is yes. Only there might be nothing left if we start throwing away stuff.

There are, of course, interesting stories: the finale is pretty good; the Missy story of transformation is a bit forced, but genuine and sometimes pretty strong; there is some crude poetry in episode 10, about the 9th legion of the Roman Republic; and couple of others are not half-bad. But even those bits of quality are deeply imperfect: Missy’s ambivalence is confusing; there was no reason for the blue guy to shoot Bill in ep. 11; Bill’s unwanted transformation should’ve been portrayed in a much scarier way, as well as Master’s role in it, instead it was all a subdued, unclear jumble of scenes and emotions; etc. Not to mention that the rest (which is no good) constitutes an objectively larger part.

(And by the way, for the love of me, I cannot comprehend what drove Moffat into choosing name “Bill” for a female character – not that I’m against it, but WHY?)

The main feature of the program, the Monks, is 3 moderately decent stories smashed into 1 dubious mess: I almost liked the Veritas, but the expectations forced by the story turned out to be too high for the actual solution; the one about the Pyramid and the blindness cure is utterly naive and therefore weak; the 3rd one is good enough, but has its reservations as well.

The finale, in the part dedicated to the origin of cybermen, is pretty interesting, plus Doctor’s failure to save his companion imparts certain feasibility to the story, although, like I said, it all could’ve been written much better. And I know for a fact that Moffat is capable; but somehow it’s always stripped pattern with him – if one season is amazing (which was the case with season 9), the next one is likely to be terrible (which proved correct here).

All in all, it’s not the worst Moffat’s season of Doctor Who, but it’s really far from being the best, too. On the one hand, t’s a pity that he’s resigning from the project – because he won’t have another chance at it; on the other, – the new showrunner might be better, especially considering that the Doctor is also new (and a woman, by the way), so it’s basically a fresh start. Would it be any good remains to be seen. Steven Moffat bids his farewell – not the greatest of exits, but quite decent nevertheless.

Names and figures

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