Category Archives: drama

Through My Eyes / Moimi glazami (s.01*, 2013)

Moimi glazami is an experimental action drama, in which everything is shown through the eyes of various characters, – a first-person show. Every episode is told from the viewpoint of a different character, and together they constitute a story about a scientific project gone wrong. The trouble emerges to the surface during a high-school graduate party. One of the classmates of a particular batch goes missing a few days prior; and during the party a girl who was close to him gets killed. The following events are told by Lyosha Kazantsev, Kolyan, Maksim Volkov, Katya Chunina – all classmates, – Yuriy Samarin, a police detective, Lisa, a nurse, Vera, Lyosha’s sister, Petya Ermakov, a young police officer, Valeriy Volkov, a doctor and a curator of the ‘Rainbow’ project, as several others, and through all their reports combined a menacing picture becomes visible. Apparently, some genius scientist developed a method of detaching human soul from the body and moving to another. The technology was hijacked by the government, but they failed to save (or keep) the actual inventor, and so they had to reconstruct it from the papers he kept, – it was called project ‘Rainbow’, and doctor Volkov was in charge of it, together with a few other scientists. Things went wrong because the task of selecting a subject to experiment upon was entrusted with the security officers – they chose a hardened criminal, psychopath Aleskander Tkachuk, who already had couple of dozen murders on him. His soul was supposed to be transferred into the body of a homeless person, but during the operation he somehow managed to escape. Several people died, but dr. Volkov eventually managed to contain the runaway soul (which was seen as a cloud of black smoke with a gleaming core when outside of a body) into a special vessel that could be operated only with the use of a key. He gave both the vessel and the key to his son Maksim ordering him to keep them separate. Maksim told Katya about it, but she thought it was bullshit and used the key to prove her point – and the black smoke escaped again. Subsequently he wrecked havoc trying to recover both things (for they were required for his new form to sustain), while the rest were trying to make sense of what’s going on, and save themselves from the evil entity.

The first major component of the show is, of course, the story – as it always is. In this case it’s average, meaning that on the one hand it’s quite interesting and captivating, but on the other – it has quite a lot of logical lapses and stretches. The essence of it is of mystical nature, which works quite fine – the prerequisites of the idea have more to do with fantasies than with real life, but they are not too far-fetched – just the right amount. Weaknesses of the story lie in a different domain – that of characters’ motivation and the connection tissue of the plot. Admittedly, without most of the stretches made the story wouldn’t have worked at all, so they were necessary in a way, although would Kulikov worked harder, he could’ve avoid them altogether.

On the other hand, the authenticity of the environment is top-notch, as well as most of the dialogs. If you want to study how the russians behave, talk, walk, etc. in their native habitat, this show could provide you with some exceptionally useful information – for the most part it’s very (and I mean very) close to real life.

The second major component here is the execution, and that’s where it really shines. It’s not that easy to create a consistent story with the 1st person view, and Bolotaev (who was the director as well as the cinematography guy) managed to do it for 19 episodes straight on an a truly amazing professional level. The camerawork is totally mind-blowing, as well as the way the scenes are edited together – this is absolutely astonishing, Special effects are well-devised and nicely implemented; at the same time they are not overly obtrusive (which is often the case with russian cinema), and blend with the overall style very well.

This approach in and on itself is an outstanding thing and should definitely alter the art of cinema to some extent. However, other parts of execution are not as bright. Although, most of the actors casted are doing extremely well, some are not so much. Except for Anatoly Goryachev (dr. Volkov) and Lidia Omutnykh (Anna Ezhova, a security officer), who were consistently not very good, I believe all the cases actors playing out of tune are the director’s fault – because the same actors did just fine in different episodes. I think, it might be due to Bolotaev’s lack of experience with actors, or maybe he was too preoccupied with doing the 1st person view right. Either way, there are multiple instances of falsity, which doesn’t make the show more credible.

So, all in all, even with the many omissions and drawbacks I detected, I think this is a very much valid attempt – also with truly amazing original work. It may not be perfect, but it’s worth a look, that’s for sure.

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Penny Dreadful (s.01, 2014)

Penny Dreadful is a horror and mystery period drama. The story is set in the late 19th century London, where sir Malcolm Murray, an explorer of the African continent, is trying to find and rescue his only daughter Mina. Mina was taken by a supernatural entity that everybody calls the Master. Sir Malcolm, together with a coeval and a former friend of his daughter’s ms. Vanessa Ives (with whom they have a very complicated history), assembles a team of daredevils that includes, besides the two of them, Sembene, Malcolm’s servant and assistant he brough from Africa, doctor Victor Frankenstein, and Ethan Chandler, an american sharpshooter with more than one secret in his baggage. Looking for Mina they uncover and attack the nests created by ancient vampires. Ms. Ives is a medium with a strong and often undesired connection to the spirits world; she is wanted by the Master, because she is capable of becoming a permanent vessel for ancient deity called Amunet, – and if she surrenders to the temptations of the dark one, it could lead to the complete devastation of the human race. Ethan is haunted by his past and tries to evade going back to America; he meets ms. Brona Croft, who is dying of tuberculosis, and falls in love with her. Doctor Frankenstein tries to conquer the realm of death, in which he had certain success before, but at some point his mistakes start to get in his way threatening to undo his whole life’s work. Ms. Ives, as well as Ethan and Brona, encounters a mysterious young man by the name of Dorian Grey, who likes portraits very much; he has little to do with the search for Mina, but rather serves as a connection link tightening the plot stiffer.

The story is quite amazing: it’s consists of several storylines, each of which is quite powerful and complex in itself, and the combination of them is exquisitely balanced, and produces an impression of a seamless whole. It is easy to notice that it combines several pre-existing intrigues, such as the Frankenstein story and the Dorian Grey story, together amplifying the mix with a collection of original ideas. In modern cinema there were several attempts of such synthesis, and this one is arguably the best of them.

John Logan aptly amalgamates powerful drama with intense supernatural action and adds a hint of suspense and mystery. He not only constructed the story absolutely perfectly, but also wrote mind-boggling dialogs that are smart and stylish and rich in language. This show (the 1st season, anyway) is an endless source of delight to any connoisseur of the dramatic arts, as well as of the word.

The execution, though, is just as powerful. The reconstruction of London of late Victorian era is exceptionally authentic or, at least, convincing; it is strong, gloom and in very good taste. There were a number of truly amazing scenes – one of the most memorable, perhaps, is the séance in episode 2; also, I really loved how the machinery of a theater is shown; but, of course, that’s just a tip of an iceberg. The story is quite violent, which is depicted gruesomely but without going too far.

The cast is extremely well chosen. All the primary characters are played brilliantly, but especially I would like to distinguish the works of Eva Green and Josh Hartnett, both of whom were quite outstanding even compared to the rest – really, all of them were truly astonishing.

I suppose, I could continue singing praises to Penny Dreadful, but there’s really no point. Suffice it to say that this show is pretty much flawless – so far, that is. It is a worthy and delicious spectacle. Highly recommended.

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Dark Matter (s.01, 2015)

Dark Matter is a space opera about a crew of a ship called Raza. One beautiful day the six of them come out of stasis without any knowledge as to who they are and what are they doing there. Each of them acquires a name-number, in order of awakening, to identify each other before they could find out the truth. They soon learn that they are a team of mercenaries sent by a multi-corporation to a distant colony to exterminate the miners living there. They, however, refuse to follow that program and provide help for the miners instead. The subsequent episodes follows the development of the story as they gradually uncover their true personalities and fuse into a sort of family. The five of them who constitute the original crew seem like cut-throats, but are actually gold-hearted, honest and internally beautiful individuals, which they discover about themselves with the help from the girl, a fare-dodger, who got the initial designate of Five, and who has an ability to travel other people’s dreams. #One turns out to be the heir to a huge fortune, whose wife has been murdered and who altered his own appearance in pursuit of a suspect. #Two is an artificially constructed human being. #Three is a gun-loving mercenary who rescued a dying woman trying to cure her decease. #Four  is an heir of the quasi-japanese empire who has been setup by his stepmother and is a suspect in the murder of his father. #Six is an ex-rebel, who unwillingly took part in a terrorist attack that resulted in a 10,000 people dead. The crew is additionally aided by an android who has a neural link with the ship, and is much more than just a robot.

Two words to best of all characterize this show is cheap and dumb. Cheap – because everything here looks like it’s a child’s toy made of plastic, including the characters. Dumb – because all the stories are banal, commonplace, predictable, boringly shallow, melodramatic, and full of contrived coincidences. This is a show that sits on the crossroads between Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5 and Startrek, but is worse than any of them, including the latter, which is not that great also.

Psychological elaboration of the characters is terrible. Each of them is completely implausible, and some combine several layers of implausibility; but worse than that, they all are nauseatingly goody. They are actually supposed to be mercenaries, and ones possessing pretty daunting reputation at that, and yet, each turns out to be an inherently decent person with no long-standing flaws of character whatsoever. Correspondingly, none of them could ever die – not in this story anyway, – which makes the show rather tedious, because no matter how dangerous the current threat is, we always know that ours will prevail in the end, this way or another.

The stories on the one hand are intricate and overly complicated, and on the other – always end up with the good guys winning. The enemies (some of whom are villains) are vapid; all of them have an endless supply of pawns, who get crushed by the good guys with exceptional ease. Developments are subjected to the writers’ arbitrariness, meaning in all the critical spots there always would be a deus ex machina hiding to save the day. The good guys are all geniuses in some field, but sometimes the writers let the enemies overpower them for no particular reason except than to push the plot into a right direction.

The execution is mediocre on all levels, including the acting.

All these conclusions became painfully clear to me while I was watching the very first episode of the 1st season. Unfortunately, my hopes that it would somehow become better died in agony. It can’t become better. It was born like this – a senseless, grey-ish, moronic freak of cinema. Not recommended – a waste of time.

P.S.: I was lurred into this by the title – it suggested some kind of relation to science, which I’m a fan of. But there is nothing scientific here. It’s a B-rate wild concoction of the lowest sort.

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From Dusk till Dawn (s.03, 2016)

Third season of From Dusk till Dawn revolves around the struggle of the heroes with a bunch of demons from xibalba (hell) led by superdemon named Amaru, who occupied the body of Kate. Fighting one demon after another, they try nevertheless to preserve Kate, who is still there, even though Amaru controls her completely. Most of the heroes work together from the start, but some require additional convincing – Kisa (aka Santanico) joins the battle only after Amaru kills her newly found love; she then spends a lot of time gathering pieces of Carlos back together. A lot in this development is tied on the last remaining lord. Over the course of the season such locations are available as the abandoned hospital (where Amaru first revealed herself, which resulted in mass murder) and very special prison (where culebras and humans live together, and which is ran by the inmates). In addition to the previously known characters (the ranger (aka the peacekeeper), Scott, Seth and Richie Gecko, Carlos, Santanico), new ones appear, including Ximena (right hand of the last remaining lord), who has a thing with the ranger, and Burt (Ilhicamina, the ancient superhero). The struggle is tight, and constantly within an inch of complete debacle, but eventually the good defeats the evil against all odds.

Perhaps, the only curios thing here is the new cast member Tom Savini – he played Burt in this season, but is better known as the Sex Machine from the original movie. He was sort of whiff of fresh air in the otherwise vitiated atmosphere of the show.

The most amazing thing about is how easy it went from ‘not so bad’ of season 2 to ‘unbelievable crap’ of this season. While the execution all in all remains more or less okay (action, special effects, acting), the story is so excruciatingly bad it makes all that stuff absolutely irrelevant. First of all, it’s absolutely concocted – there is nothing in the previous season whatsoever that would’ve indicate the possibility of such development. The plot is literally pulled out of writers’ asses; at that the further it goes, the more bullshit piles up: the credibility of the story took a huge hit already in episode 1, and each next episode only made it less and less feasible.

The drama turned into melodrama – shallow rooted, contrived, fake. The action was relatively fine (although some fights looked pretty cheap), but without drama it is a rather dull thing. And this show would’ve been indeed boring as hell (as xibalba, sorry), if it wasn’t so nauseating. It basically consists of clichés from top to bottom, which also makes it extremely predictable – the overall layout became clear as soon as they started talking about those stupid demons. Notwithstanding their contradictions our so different characters would eventually join forces to fight off the common enemy that would otherwise destroy them all, blah-blah-blah. Disgustingly primitive.

Which is why I’m not surprised at all that the show was silently shut down. If I were the head of the network who allowed this monstrosity to exist, I would seriously consider blacklisting Robert Rodriguez entirely.

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The Method / Metod (s.01, 2015)

Metod is a russian procedural series, a detective drama about a renowned investigator Rodion Meglin who specializes on serial killers, and fresh out of law school Esenya Steklova, daughter of a high-ranking justice system official, who becomes Meglin’s intern. Together they drive around the country investigating various cases, most of which are series of murders. Meglin is different from other police officers because he has some kind of special method that allows him to achieve a unsually high crime solving rate, and that Esenya is supposed to learn from him. Almost every episode of the season features a separate story, with a different criminal, but there are also several cross-cutting storylines. The first of them is the mystery of Esenya’s mother’s death: she was murdered many years before the events of the show, and her killer has not been found. Over the course of the few month Esenya and Meglin would be working together she would find out a lot of new things about her parents, and their relationship with Meglin, and she would eventually learn the truth. The second recurrent storyline is the one about ‘you won’t catch me’ murderer: he first manifests himself in the 1st episode, when he targets and kills one of Esenya’s fellow students, Anyulya, using a simpleton jewelry master as his puppet, and when Meglin gets the guy basically in the act. But he still fails to figure out the mastermind. Later he would time and again tease Meglin by using other people to do the killing, sometimes getting pretty close to Meglin himself, but would always stay in the shadow. Few last episodes of the season are dedicated to the murderer nicknamed the Shooter, a long-time acquaintance of Meglin. They first met in the training school, and were rivals back then. Later the Shooter left the force and later still started killing people. Meglin caught him and sent to prison, but the Shooter managed to get out, and immediately went into killing spree mode, this time toying with Meglin. Already in the beginning of the season Meglin is ill, maybe terminally, and his condition gets gradually worse – he repeatedly gets convulsions and hallucinates. He decided to take an intern so that he can transfer his experience as a detective before it’s lost forever; but because it’s Esenya, their relationship eventually grows into something bigger than simply mentor-mentee connection.

First of all, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. This show is far from perfect by a long shot, but it is already on the level with the US filmmakers produce. There are a lot of truly great things in the show: wonderful execution, great acting, interesting stories, consistency of the cross-cutting storylines and naturalness of their evolution. Khabensky does a wonderful job playing Meglin, and most of other characters are well-defined and played on a good professional level. Most of the storyplots are well thought-through, and most of the dialogs sound quite natural.

But, of course, it’s more interesting to talk about the drawbacks, which are quite plentiful, too. The least significant of them is, perhaps, Paulina Andreeva’s acting (she played Esenya). Don’t get me wrong – she is not only smoking hot and beautiful woman, she also is obviously a gifted actress, and most of the time she did just wonderfully. But there were scenes – the interrogation, for one example – when she terribly lacked subtlety. She doesn’t have enough acting experience, and so when she can’t apply her inner power to show something emotionally charged, she overcompensates by talking too loud, too intense, which, frankly, doesn’t work. I believe, though, that if she’d realize this weakness of hers, and work on it, she might get an Oscar some day.

The rest of my issues are about the writing. First off: some of the vertical stories are not that well-written, in a sense that they may include story-driving fortuities, which is always a weak move. Second: dialogs are often coarse, meaning they look nice and well on paper, but do not sound natural when pronounced. It was maybe the lack of time, but what Bykov should have done is to rehearse dialogs with the actors and modify them in accordance with the speaking preferences.

Finally, there’s the structural issue. As I mentioned earlier, most of the season is dedicated to the ‘you won’t catch me’ killer. The story builds up as they usually do in such shows, until suddenly, in episode 14 it basically dismissed – or it seems that way up until the season’s finale, when a sudden twist almost makes up for that dismissal. Almost – because the way it was solved did not seem conclusive to me, meaning there was obviously something wrong about it, and yet, neither Meglin, nor Esenya, both of whom are supposed to have this amazing intuition, suspected a damn thing. That was a weak move and a setback, and the fact that it was somewhat compensated in the finale with a manifest intention to make the 2nd season about it, doesn’t really make it better.

So, in a nutshell, what we have here is a very, very decent detective show (influenced by Dexter, by the way), – not without serious defects, but, all things considered, very well done and also highly promising. And for the russian TV it is definitely a breakthrough – although, it is mostly because russian TV is infinitely shitty. Be that as it may, Method can be watched and also should be watched. It is kinda worth it.

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From Dusk till Dawn (s.02, 2015)

Second season of From Dusk till Dawn is finally free from shackles of the original movie. The story follows Seth Gecko, Santanico Padnemonium aka Kisa, Richard Gecko, Katie Fuller, Scott Fuller, ranger Rodriguez, and Carlos immediately after their memorable time in Titty Twister. Seth and Katie remain together at first, and pull several minor jobs before parting ways. In the following events Seth is driven by the desire to snatch a piece of jack, and Katie – by the aspiration to help her brother Scott. Scott remains with the vampires as the errands boy, but soon starts making his way up the ladder, torn between the supreme management and Carlos, who carries on his own play. Carlos goes through the labyrinth, and comes out of it a changed person. He rips out his own fangs and strives to ruin the original hierarchy entirely. His line corresponds with that of the lords up until certain moment for he keeps his true intentions concealed for as long as he can. Richie and Santanico stay together most of the time, also pulling several jobs with an aim to hurt the lords’ supply of blood. They share a purpose of hitting the organization in its very heart, but while Santanico is driven by hatred and desire to avenge, Richard simply wants to replace the management with himself. This contradiction comes to the forefront of events soon enough and becomes the reason for them drifting apart. The season features two of the nine lords: Malvado is the oldest of them and acts to contain the problems, return Santanico to where he thinks she belongs; and later to uncover the location of the well; among other things Malvado summons the regulator (played by Danny Trejo), whose task is to capture Santanico. Lord Occulto lives in Texas and has several hobbies, one of which is ritual murders; he is the creator of the well. Most of the season revolves around the big job, i.e. hitting the terminal station of the organization, which goal unites almost all of the protagonists: Richie, Seth, their uncle Eddie, Seth’s almost girlfriend Sonja, and Kisa join forces to execute the job, albeit each with their own purpose. Ranger Rodrigues joins them later on, when the focus of the story shifts to the well. This well contains the blood of a thousand of people who were tricked into mass suicide, and is a powerful thing that can tip the balance to the favour of whoever would possess this resource. In the battle for juice a dissimilar team with Richie in the lead (he was officially made a successor to Malvado’s empire) opposes Carlos with his anarchical aspirations.

And this description does not include several other minor characters and storylines. Obviously, the season is a bit of a mess in that respect. In fact, it’s one of its weak points – the story is so tangled and messy, it’s kinda difficult to discern the process of its evolution, let alone describe it. It is, of course, rich with various manifestations of drama and action, – most of it of really good quality – but it also lacks clear structure. But, although I see it as a drawback that somewhat undermines the final result, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker.

Good qualities definitely outbalance the bad ones. The story in general is great, that is – pieces of it taken separately, because, as mentioned above, the way these pieces are arranged (i.e. the structure) leaves much to be desired. But this problem with internal organization does not kick in until later, and a few first episodes are enough to evaluate the quality of other aspects of writing. The characters evolve in a manner consistent with both their internal essence and pre-requisites indicated in season 1. All of them are quite interesting; my favourite is, perhaps, Carlos (played by Valderrama), who is a really compelling villain. The dialogs are very nicely written – they are witty and smart and often funny, and this combination feels refreshing. The new ideas are rather interesting, although some of the are bizarre (especially the one with the well). All in all the story is plausible enough – within the universe of discourse, and keeping in mind the constructive issues.

The execution is highly professional. Special effects are really good. The picture is not too dark, which is often a problem with horrors like this one. The acting is great.

Besides the structure, the problems I detected had to do with weakness and contrivedness of several story turns (which is directly related to the structure issues), and the general ambiguity of the universe. The thing is, we don’t really know the laws it is governed with, we only know certain manifestations. I think, it is maintained intentionally this way, because it gives the writers certain flexibility, and gives the audience such new notions as super abilities each powerful vampire can have (like an additional pair of arms, or wings, or spitting venom), or that going through a labyrinth can give you unexpected powers.

I’m inclined to judge this season in a more positive key: it is way better than the 1st one, most of its components are truly good, and those that aren’t don’t really set the tone.

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Gracepoint (s.01*, 2014)

Gracepoint is the american remake of the british TV drama Broadchurch. Unlike the original, it survived only for one season. The story repeats that of Broadchurch’s 1st season by 95%. Most of the changes are cosmetic (some names, several insignificant circumstances), plus the finale is appended a twist that is supposed to make it original. David Tennant plays the lead, same as in the british version, but otherwise the cast is completely different.

Gracepoint is a degenerated version of Broadchurch. Everything here is the same, only worse. The rhythm is broken; it seems like everybody is hasting to speak their lines, which is kinda strange, because the american version is all in all an hour longer than the british one.

The transfer of the story onto the american soil was without the feel – because the societies are very similar, the writers didn’t really bother to properly adjust it, which is why it feels just a little off all the time. Also, considering the change of the finale, some things do not add up – but that can be realized only post factum, which means that absence of continuation is actually a good thing in this case. For the writers that is, because it’s rather clear that it’s a good thing for the audience without any conditions.

The selection of actors is not good. Anna Gunn is not nearly as good an actress as Olivia Colman, and the same can be said about most of the substitutions. Tennant plays the same exact part, which feels like a default thing, and correspondingly doesn’t evoke any sensations at all.

The writing is lazy. The scripts repeat those of Chibnall almost word for word, the situations are all the same, yet somehow it doesn’t work here. The final twist in general is plausible enough, but still feels contrived in this particular execution.

The direction is the most rotten element of the composition. Nothing here really works: the actors do not feel their lines; attempts to recreate the peacefulness of the Broadchurch beaches seems pathetic; the narrative lays great claims on the intensity of the drama, but the actual effort to implement it is childish and weak.

Generally speaking, Gracepoint was a giant mistake, an absolutely worthless product. I recommend to avoid it.

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Poldark (s.01, 2015)

Poldark is a period drama set in the late 18th century Great Britain. Ross Poldark returns from the Northern America, where he served in the British force in the course of the war for independence. He finds out that his father is dead, that his inheritance – a couple of mines and a house – is in disarray, and that his fiance, thinking that he had perished, coincided with his cousin Francis. Ross starts working hard to make the mines working again, at that he has to start with pretty much no capital, because the local family of bankers, the Warleggans, has a habit of closing down unwanted competition though unjust means. He tries to make it work with his family – uncle Charles, cousin Francis, ex-fiance Catherine, and Francis’s sister Verity. He has very acute sense of justice, and his heart is with the common folk. He meets a plain girl named Demelza, and makes her the mistress of his house. He helps the people working for him as best as he could. To find a way around melting companies’ monopoly he, together with a bunch of other mine-owners, founds a secret melting company, which interests clash with those of Warleggans. The events of the 1st season span over the course of several years.

Unfortunately, this is not a good show. The series has multiple issues dividing into three main categories.

The execution. This is, perhaps, the least significant cause of trouble, for all in all the execution is decent – both the technical side of it, and the creative side, i.e. the acting. There’s probably nothing remarkable about it, but the actors and the crew do the best they could given the circumstances.

The transference / compression. The thing is, this show is a screen adaptation of a series of novels by Winston Graham. Debbie Horsfield, the creator, had to squeeze first two books into the eight hours of the first season, and the way she did it was badly flawed. First issue of this category is with the internal time. Some episodes are stretched for several years, while others cover barely a few months; at that, there are no clear indications of time passing, which makes the development of the narrative really confusing. The second issue is with secondary storylines. The main one tells about Ross’s dealings with the family, with the business ans so on; but there are, of course, others, the main of which is the storyline of Verity, Ross’s cousin, who falls in love with the sea-captain of bad repute. However, Verity’s story is actually more or less fine, because it occupies a rather significant chunk of time. But I can’t say the same about the other ones – the story of the doctor, of the actress, of the stealing friend, and probably some others – they are present in the narrative, but it’s not clear at all why. I mean, they probably were more detailed and more important in the books, but in this particular adaptation they are just as necessary as legs on a snake. They, maybe, contribute a little bit to the characters, but are definitely superfluous for the larger story.

The literary source. These several issues are the worst of all, because unlike those mentioned previously, they cannot be repaired. They are inherited from the books, and as such are very likely to remain for good. The primary problem with the books – at least the way Horsfield sees them – is the primitive duality. On the one hand, this affects the nature of the characters, who, instead of combining benign and malignant tendencies within one given soul, are either inherently good (like Ross, Demelza, Verity, etc.), or inherently bad (like the Warleggans). The only exception to this lamentable rule is Francis, who is inherently weak, but, sadly, that doesn’t make him interesting. On the other hand, the whole entanglement of stories is pierced though by a number of very basic oppositions, such as honest worker vs. blood-sucking banker, law vs. justice, social conventions vs. sincere aspirations, rich vs. poor, and so on. While valid in principle, they betray the lack of fantasy in the author, as well as his shallow understanding of the nature of things.

The remaining issue may be related to the transference, or to the literary source – I wouldn’t know precisely, for I haven’t read the books. This story turns out to be mostly about the relationships between the characters, most of which are of romantic disposition. Thankfully, the abundance of them doesn’t actually make this movie into a melodrama (the quality of execution is too good for that), but it does provides a distorted, glamorized view of reality, which may be pleasant for housewives and teenage school-girls, but reflects poorly on the overall quality of the narration. What bugs me most, though, is the lack of technical details. When I first read the premise in wiki, I thought that same as Hell on Wheels showed the way the railroads were constructed in the 19th century, or Turn showed how the war and the spying was done during the American Revolution, Poldark would show me how they extracted ore from the earth and then processed it in those days. But all they showed was an occasional cave with a chain of people passing heavy stones to each other. There is literally nothing beyond that – no actual extraction, no melting, no accidents, no casualties. And that was hugely disappointing.

All in all, the show fell short of expectations for me. The theme seems to have so much potential, but it was reduced to a primitive, predictable story about a bunch of implausible, phoney characters. Recommended to skip.
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Rake (s.04, 2016)

The 4th season of Rake starts at the exact moment in which the 3rd resulted, i.e. the unfortunate balloon flight, undertaken by Cleaver and Barney. The first gets sort of saved by an old acquaintance, while the second takes off and ends up in New Zealand several days later, barely alive. Barney becomes somewhat famous, but is mostly compelled to stick to the fame because of the huge bill raised to him by the government – for the rescue, that is. His cancer went away, but the whole affair also really spoiled his relationship with Nicole. In the meantime Cleaver gets entangled with the Ed Thompson business, with Thompson being a man wanted by the Australian government for many years, who recently returned to visit his sick mother in hospital and got busted. Things get so bad, Cleaver even has to hide for several months, and almost gets murdered, but later it turns to the better. Red tries to make it work with David, but the children just hate him. Wendy gets a little closer to Cleave. Missy gets back from the States really messed up and hooks up with Cal McGregor. Nicole gets back with Bevan, which turns out to be not the best idea. The season is divided in the middle by a genuinely severe tragedy. David almost goes to jail, but gets helped by Cleaver. Barney takes the development very hard. Missy settles in the Wendy’s house, with everybody trying to help her. She eventually grows very close with Fuzz. Cleaver’s sister announces her intention to run for the Senate, and blackmouthes her brother so bad (also getting friendly with Cal at the same time), that out of pure spite he runs against her, with no political program whatsoever. He gets driven to the idea mostly by his desperate situation, when he gets punished way to harshly for saying the truth. Wendy gets back with a crush of her youth, woman named Jack, who’s a political consultant, but that relationship eventually gets out of hand.

By structure the season is closer to the 3rd – it is also a collection of intertwining storylines that develop more or less simultaneously or evolve into each other. In terms of quality, nothing changed much – the show is still a superior work of cinema, to which epithets such as deep, meaningful, rich, funny and powerful are applicable best of all.

The development of the story is just as wild as previously; at the same time, everything is bound by the laws of logic, and seem to stay in harmony of internal consistency through-out the season. The acting is great, as well.

All in all, there’s nothing to criticize here at all. In its own way the show is pretty much perfect.

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Rake (s.03, 2014)

In the 3rd season of Rake the narrative takes yet another shape as compared to any of the previous seasons. Now it amounts to a number of fluent storylines (and not geometrical figures, like before) that evolve over the course of the show, influencing and amplifying one another. Cleaver is confined to prison in the beginning of the season, and, having spent almost a year behind bars, dreams of a successful appeal. It becomes possible, when the prison community is joined by a disgraced judge, who has some information on his colleagues, including those of them, who would be presiding on the Cleaver’s case. While in jail Cleave has to deal with Georgy Corrella, who basically runs everything inside, as well as Cal McGregor, and Kirsty’s right-hand man Col. He also meets a guy named Malcolm, who dreams of singing. After the release Cleaver works hard to regain his place in the changed circumstances. Red, having worked for some time as a barrister, makes it to silk. Barney gets diagnosed with cancer, and has a hard time dealing with it. The two of them form an unstable alliance with Nicole, who also starts working as Red’s assistant (and lives in Cleave’s apartment). Melissa oversees her book being made into a movie, and starts a novel. Red aspirs to be with David, but doesn’t allow herself to do it because of Barney’s illness. David remains the last man standing in his party, and manages to gain a decent reputation as a politician. Wendy almost marries Roger; Fuzz goes to Africa with his wife-to-be, but returns prematurely without her, but with a wife of Congolese minister and a load of blood diamonds, for which he almost goes to prison. In parallel, Cal McGregor becomes a TV host after his release, due to his partnership with Tikki Whendon, one of the Australia’s richest woman and a ruthless schemer, whose primary aspiration in the season was to build a casino. As an anchor Cal gains power he never though he could have; but later his interests dispersed from those of Tikki. As one of season’s primary Clever’s cases, he defends a friend of Tikki’s stepson, who gets falsely accused of insider trading (or something), and during those proceedings the Tikki-Cal conflict achieves its peak. Cleaver also defends a mother who committed an insurance fraud by claiming that her children are sick with cancer; and a catholic priest, an old pal of his, who concealed his brother’s involvement in cases of pedophilia. Soon after his release from prison Cleave meets Malcolm’s sister named Felicity, and after a lot of effort manages to win her over.

On the one hand, the season has a more traditional layout, but on the other – the ability of the writers to adapt and change is astonishing, because it’s different every time, and every time it works like a charm. The overall development of the story is internally consistent, boisterous and interesting to follow. Every single story told over the course of the season is worth seeing; many of them add a significant component of drama into the narrative (which adds a lot of depth); others add no less significant component of action. And, as usual, everything is pierced with signature Rake humor, which is just as impressive as before.

The new characters are all rather great; Felicity is just as gorgeous as all the other women in Cleaver’s life. The acting is wonderful, as well as the execution in general. All in all, the quality of the show remains extremely high in all the major components, thus summing up to an extraordinary, perhaps, even outstanding series.

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Shameless (s.08, 2017-18)

In the 8th season of Shameless Frank abandons his faulty ways after smoking his share of the meth, finds an honest job, sincerely tries to participate in the Liam’s upbringing, and acquires all the traits of a model citizen. Unfortunately, due to objective circumstances, this streak doesn’t last long: being unable to continue with the straight life, he gradually shifts back to his old practices – illegally moves some immigrants across border with Canada, then tries to take advantage of previously stolen social security cards, and ends up attempting a burglary. Liam continues to attend the private school, where he serves as showpiece, but also finds some friends. Even Frank’s activities couldn’t mess up his judgement and ruin his chances. Fiona is mostly engaged with her property: she meets her tenants, becomes friends with some of them (Nessa), removes several others and finds new ones; orders roof re-tiled, which results in one of the workers hurting himself, which in its turn results is a squatter problem and troublesome lawsuit. She survives the return of Sean, her wanna-be fiance, and meets a new guy named Ford, who really likes his wood and architecture. Lip continues his struggle with alcoholism: he works in the motorshop alongside his AA sponsor Brad, tries to help professor Youens, but is unable to push through his self-destructiveness, then Brand, after he flies off the handle; he tries to get back with Sierra, until eventually realizes that maybe it’s not what he wants; he becomes friends with Eddie, a girl from the same workshop, and meets the kid girl of her sister Xan. Carl is keeping himself ready for the military school; looses his tuition, and then works hard to get the money to continue education, for which purpose starts helping junkies to get clean for money, and this is how he meets Kassidi, with whom he falls in love. That relationship threatens his commitment to the army, and so in the end he has to choose. Debbie goes to the welding school and works at the underground parking, while trying to raise Franny and lead active social life at the same time. She almost gets pregnant again, gets dumped by her boyfriend, starts working non-union jobs because the money is too got, and eventually regrets it. Ian continues working as a paramedic, and works hard to get back with Trevor; while doing so, he gets really involved with helping the homeless kids, at which point his interests clash with Fiona’s, and they have a brief falling out; he then shifts to rescuing gay kids, whom their parents try to ‘correct’; he crashes the services of homophobic pastors and eventually starts a bright new thing called the Church of Gay Jesus. Veronica and Kevin fight Svetlana at first for the Alibi, and even manage to throw her to jail, but then they come to terms, and their thruple relationship gets resumed for some time, until V finds out that what really drives her is dominance, after which Kevin embraces the role of the master. The owner of meth shows up at some point, but the conflict gets resolved through joint effort rather easily.

Evidently, the season is pretty packed with events of all kinds – admittedly, as always. The narrative is composed of more or less independent storylines that intertwine with each other and influence each other, but still preserve self-sustainability, and quite real at that. Which, perhaps, is the only thing I can complain about – seems like there’s some stratification going on, and though it doesn’t affect the quality of the show so far, in the future it might – as we know, there’s gonna be at least one more season.

But the drama is quite intense, and without a hint of falsity. There are some rather dark outcomes, as well as good ones – all in all the balance is straight. The acting, as well as all the sides of execution, is expectedly great. I suppose, this is a little miracle of its own; after all, it’s been 8 years, maybe even more than that, and the quality is still top-notch.

Same as before, it’s incredibly captivating, interesting from beginning to end, and also emotionally fulfilling. All round a great series, what can I say.

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Rake (s.02, 2012)

In the 2nd season of Rake the structure of the story, which was rather complex previously, gets even more so. The figure of the agent of chaos Cleaver Green is still in the center, only now it is engaged in several different storylines, some of which resemble triangles (like in season 1), while others represent a more or less straight lines, but all intertwine with each other comprising a complicated narrative. The primary influences of the season include Cleave’s relationship with his friends Barney and Red, who try to distance themselves from him in the beginning, but then inevitably gravitate towards him under the pressure of circumstances. Barney also has an affair with Nicole, Cleave’s secretary, who was stealing from him in season 1, which eventually ruins Nicole’s long-term relationship with Bevan (who is only a mention); and Red almost sleeps with David Potter, which turns out to be enough to cause some commotion. Cleaver keeps seeing his ex-wife and keeps treating her like his therapist; their mutual son first gets another older woman pregnant, and after she makes an abortion and moves away, finds a girlfriend of his own age, who is a religious freak. Missy, although absent in the beginning, soon re-appears as the author of a book based on her own life; she becomes engaged to Joshua, who leaked important government information and got persecuted for it. Cleave takes it upon himself to defend the guy, which might have become a ticket out of his messy life for him, but Josh gets killed and Cleave ends up defending Missy who gets accused in his murder. Cleaver maintains a relationship with Kirsty, the lady boss, whom he owes almost 200 grand now; that bond becomes a sexual for a while, after which he manages to fix up Kirsty with her right-hand man Col; but that leaves him in the world of trouble nonetheless. Then there’s the politicians: over the course of the season Cleaver manages to bring down first the premier of the New South Wales, and then the attorney general, too. He fails to help a friend of his who played with fire and got burned. He experiences the loss of father, who, as it turns out, was conned just a few month before the demise out of all his life savings. Having failed to pursue the issue in court, Cleaver makes a terrible mistake, which brings himself to the defendant’s bench.

Along with the complexity of the story, its exuberance and fertility have grown as well. The season is filled with events that cumulatively might seem like a complete mess, but in all actuality are very thoroughly structured. The impression of the chaos is maintained through the abundance of stuff, as well as the essence of the main hero. As before, and maybe even more so, the show is full of provoking, lively humor, and also of deep, substantial drama.

It is rather hard to keep hold of all of that, and still be able to make it into a vibrant, powerful story, and yet the writers manage to do just that. And it seems like the show grows more and more potent with each instance.

It’s really good all in all, and keeps getting better.

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The Bridge / Bron | Broen (s.04, 2018)

The fourth and final series of the nordic show Bron (Broen) revolves around the series of murders, all performed in compliance with some particular method of execution used by various justice systems around the world. In the beginning of the season Saga Norén remains in prison, sentenced to 8 years for alleged murder of her mother. Soon in the narrative her case gets revised, and she get released, albeit not before an attempt on her life has been made. She then investigates this new case together with Henrik Sabroe, while also being in the relationship with him. Simultaneously the two of them keep investigating the disappearance of Henrik’s daughters, even though eight years has already passed since it happened. The case with the ritual murders soon turns out to be connected to Henrik’s past; the old investigation receives some new leads thanks to certain minor details of the new case. Both investigations intertwine with each other, and confuse the lives of several people, not related directly to any of them: taxi driver Dan, his ex-wife Sofie and son Christoffer, Pakistani immigrant Taariq, underaged stray sisters Ida and Julia, – all get tangled with lives of Susanne, Kevin, Tommy, Patrick and others, as well as those of the detectives, into one giant mess. In parallel Saga starts getting in touch with her inner self in order to figure out where her aspirations really come from, and what does she actually want in life; she gets assisted in that task by a psychotherapist.

This is a pretty good detective mystery. Apart from the fact that the main of the two crimes under scrutiny is way to symmetrical and complex to be ever possible in real life, the development of the events is rather captivating and interesting to follow. The investigation into Henrik’s children disappearance is quite compelling, as well as psychological evolution of Saga, and of her relationship with Henrik. Smaller stories included in the overall arc (like those of Taariq, or of Dan’s family) are really strong for the most part and provide the narrative with significant amount of powerful drama.

So in the breakdown, the story consists of drama, mystery, action and suspense, each of which elements is more than substantial; taken together they sum up in a dense, rich narrative with tightly interconnected components. In this light certain implausibility of the primary storyline (and farfetchedness of several pieces in the finale) is overshadowed by its harmony, cleverness and ingenuity.

The execution is pretty great, which is expected, I suppose – it’s more or less the same level as it always was. The acting is really good. All in all, it seems like a very laudable finale of an outstanding show which imperfections are more than compensated by its virtues and overall value.

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Rake (s.01, 2010)

Rake is an australian drama series about the lawyer Cleaver Greene who deals with the cases that are usually controversial and have a low chance of winning; he defends murderers, cannibals and devotees of bestiality. He is a stickler for the law, but doesn’t care too much about justice – or so he makes it seem. Being a brilliant law man, he wins most of his cases, no matter how hopeless they are. He’s a gambler and doesn’t win at the poker table very often, which is why up to his neck in debt, and owns most of it to the organized crime. He hasn’t been disbarred only thanks to his unrivaled resourcefulness; but he might be if the proceeding on his tax evasion would result in an expected outcome. Apart from his vivacious personality and his professional activities, there are 3 more elements that constitute the show. First is the triangle that includes him, Melissa (aka Missy), an ex-prostitute, whom he has been frequenting until she quit to be a lawyer herself, went into the university and started dating Harry-sorry-David Potter, a successful tax attorney who tries to nail Cleaver down and later goes into politics only to be elected at the exact moment when his party goes into opposition. Missy is torn between her past, the good thing that she has going on with David, and her feelings for Cleave; this dynamics ensures a lion’s share of story development. Then there’s another triangle, that includes, once again, Cleaver, and also Barney, his friend and partner, and Barney’s wife Scarlet (aka Red). Their marriage is sinking, and Cleave turns out to be in the middle of it, at the great risk of losing all the people he actually cares about. Finally, there’s Wendy, Cleaver’s ex-wife and also his shrink, and Fuzz (aka Finnegan), their mutual son. Cleaver genuinely loves all the women in his life; he tries to be good friend to Barney and Fuzz; but, because of his unbalanced personality, he is constantly on the verge of fucking everything up. And sometimes he crosses that border.

This is pretty great show that produces an impression of being somewhat loose, but that’s actually due to the essence of the central character, while the structure of series, although complex, is very much harmonious and balanced out. The cross-cutting narrative is full of deep and serious drama; the vertical stories are all pretty interesting, even though they usually take up the lesser part of their respective episodes. The cast is really amazing, I mean, all the actors engaged in the project are wonderful, but especially – Richard Roxburgh, who plays Cleaver, and Adrienne Pickering (Missy).

The execution is not exactly top-notch (evidently, the budget was in australian dollars), but still quite good, and the important thing is that they weren’t skimping on truly important stuff, such as actor’s motivation.

All in all, it’s captivating enough, fascinates with the sincerity of the tragedy, is not devoid of fine humor, and is very much enjoyable as a result.

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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.

Names and figures

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.

Names and figures

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.

Names and figures

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.

Names and figures

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.

Names and figures

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

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