Category Archives: drama

Game of Thrones (s.07, 2017)

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

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

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

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

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Ballers (s.02, 2016)

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

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

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

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Orange Is the New Black (s.02, 2014)

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

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

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

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

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Orphan Black (s.05, 2017)

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

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

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

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Ballers (s.01, 2015)

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

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

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

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Orange Is the New Black (s.01, 2013)

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

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

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

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

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Castle (s.08, 2015-16)

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

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

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

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

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11.22.63 (m/s, 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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Castle (s.07, 2014-15)

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

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

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

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

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

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The Night Manager (m/s-1, 2016)

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

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

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

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

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Castle (s.06, 2013-14)

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

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

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

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

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

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Fear the Walking Dead (s.02, 2016)

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

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

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

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

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Castle (s.05, 2012-13)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Names and figures

Fear the Walking Dead (s.01, 2015)

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

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

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

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

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Castle (s.04, 2011-12)

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

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

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

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

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

Names and figures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Names and figures

Castle (s.03, 2010-11)

Castle‘s 3rd season is constructed in accordance with the same arrangement as before: majority of all the stories do not go beyond the scope of a single episode; there are 2 non-typical cases that are also not related to the common story (against just one in the 2nd season); the common story develops primarily in episodes 13 and 24; and Castle-Becket personal and professional relationship serves as a glue holding all of this together.

I believe, the series showed definite sings of improvement, although not as much as I hoped. But it seems like the producers finally started feeling fully comfortable with the format and the story, which reverberates in the general quality growth: even the singles became more curious and less crude; and then there was a serial killer who got away (which obviously promises a continuation; ep. 8), and the dirty bomb story (show’s second double; ep. 16-17), – both indicators of eased (and therefore more productive) attitude.

But, of course, the most interesting part is the development of the Becket’s personal investigation into her mother’s death. Sadly, it didn’t become an arc, but the way how episodes #13 (when the 3 cops theory was introduced) and episode #24 (when this whole thing blew wide open) shows that a lot of thought was put into this, because the underlying concept of how things became what they are is rather plausible and without significant logical lapses. Most of it is quite spectacular, actually, especially the finale, – that was good cliffhanger, even though we know the approximate outcome from the most shallow meta-analysis. It wasn’t all perfect, though: for instance, the story of the 3rd cop was kind of soapy: it’s about a good person being under the pressure of circumstance because of just one stupid mistake, which doesn’t blend with documents falsification all that well. On the bright side, this was a decent character withdrawal. And implications of the chosen development line are very exciting.

I can say that I grew quite comfortable with the show. Most of it is still bullshit, but I found a way to manage that, plus the situation is getting better, the humor is nice, and there is still no crossing over to the swamp of melodrama notwithstanding some powerful emotions flying around.

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Fargo (s.03, 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Castle (s.02, 2009-10)

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

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

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

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

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

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Darknet (s.01*, 2013)

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

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

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

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

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Castle (s.01, 2009)

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

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

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

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House of Cards (s.05, 2017)

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

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

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

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

Implementation from the technical standpoint is quite flawless.

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

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Hell on Wheels (s.05, 2015-16)

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

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

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

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The 100 (s.04, 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Names and figures

Hell on Wheels (s.04, 2014)

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

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

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

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

Names and figures

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