If there’s one day of the week that I love most of all, mainly for its television offerings, it’s Sunday. It’s the home of The Good Wife, Revenge, and it’ll be the home of The Walking Dead, Dexter and Homeland when they all return. For the time being (or at least the next nine weeks), Sunday means having Game of Thrones and Mad Men on the same night, and to say nothing will please me more might be something of an understatement.
As such, Sunday television will once again reign supreme in this post, and not for any negative reason. I also feel like I should have a Don Draper-style advert telling you how awesome it would be if you left a comment in the box below at this point, but I’m afraid you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Mad Men – The Doorway
Having only just watched the first five seasons of Mad Men fairly recently–and loving the absolute heck out of it–this is my first experience of watching the show as it airs along with the rest of the viewer-base. Watching and devouring entire seasons of the show in a matter of days is one experience, but watching and absorbing each scrap of dialogue and scenery for seven days, before repeating the process, is sure to be another, and that all starts this week.
Whenever I watch Mad Men, it always feels as though what you see on the surface is but one layer on top of several, which are built of subtext, history and other themes lurking in the background that are perhaps not immediately noticeable. As a result, watching the show is a different kind of experience to watching other shows, and in an extremely positive way. It draws my attention differently, and consequently, I feel as though you can’t just watch the show without absorbing it at the same time–and seven days between episodes is more than enough to do just that.
‘The Doorway’ continued with this particular theme and over the course of the two-part season opener, we saw Peggy in her new job, emulating Don at several points in how she approached a problem or even spoke to her staff (yes, Peggy has staff now), Roger experience a death in the family (giving John Slattery very strong material to demonstrate his talent in ways he hasn’t had the opportunity to do before), and Don himself go through a journey swimming in the notion of death and continuing his ever-present self-doubt and destructive nature.
Of all the characters in the show, ‘The Doorway’ mostly belonged to the aforementioned characters and also Betty, who experienced as much screen-time in two episodes than she had in the entirety of season five. Betty is a peculiar character because at one point she can be portrayed sympathetically, and in the next utterly loathsome. In this week’s episode, her moment of the latter was dominated by her efforts in tracking down a young violinist she had taken a shine to who had run away, and her moment of the former stemmed from a seriously unusual and strange scene where she jested with Henry about him raping said violinist while she held her down. It was an almost uncomfortable scene, and even though Betty’s remarks were made jokingly, it still felt inappropriate, and it’s not hard to see why Betty is such a polarizing character whose increased presence this season will surely encourage quite a bit of discussion among folk.
Mad Men is a unique show incomparable to any other currently on television. Its way of having the characters be the narrative, and therefore the entire show, often makes it seem slow and potentially difficult to break into. However, having such a format also helps Mad Men be as stylish and intelligent a drama as it is, and it’s fortunate that there doesn’t appear to be any break in tradition if this week’s premiere was any indication.
Game of Thrones – Dark Wings, Dark Words
As we move into the second episode of the show’s third season, those chess pieces that were positioned in the season premiere begin to see some movement across the board, in mostly satisfying ways.
Of all the characters we saw this week, none took particular focus, and some–like Dany and those in camp Dragonstone–weren’t featured at all. Others, like Tyrion and Robb, had only one or two scenes in the entire episode. However, as I mentioned last week, this is what Game of Thrones does; it has too many characters to fit into an hour-long episode and thus takes breaks from certain characters every week. It may be a little frustrating, when their storylines become exciting, to have it ripped away from you for another week, but Game of Throne’s structure is what lends to its unique feel, and it also aids with its storytelling, so I can appreciate it.
Two things that continue to impress me about this season so far are the adventures of Brienne and Jaime, and the exploits of King’s Landing. With the former, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie bounce off of each other in a way that I initially saw at the end of season two but has only just become apparent recently. Their characters clearly aren’t fond of each other, but it’s this that gives the pairing such a fun, enjoyable feel, and their fight on the bridge was extremely tense and well done, even if I was already aware of the outcome.
In regards to King’s Landing, I’m finding Margaery and her story very interesting. One way this differs from the books is that in those, there were few characters of focus surrounding her to truly give the reader an insight into her character, her motives and her personality. Without those restrictions in place, the show is doing an excellent job of integrating Margaery into the narrative, and Natalie Dormer is running the role effortlessly.
In keeping with the theme of the Tyrells, this week saw the addition of Olenna Tyrell, aka the Queen of Thornes and a character I immediately adored from the book. Dianna Rigg was cast to fulfil the role, and if this week is any indication, she’s going to be giving the role as much justice as I was hoping. The scene with her, Margaery and Sansa was as close to exactly how I envisioned the scene from the book, and that’s as good a sign as any.
Other scenes, however, felt included purely to give the respective character some reason to still be around. I’m talking about Catelyn’s poignant–and wonderfully acted–recital of how she wished Jon Snow to die so vehemently when he was a boy, but ultimately willed him to live, yet couldn’t keep the promise she made to the gods to love him, and how she thought everything bad that’d happened since was because of it. It was a nice scene, that much is certain, but other than that, it felt almost pointless. Also, the fact we’re not going to be seeing her father on screen (or so it seems) doesn’t please me, as her presence in Riverrun was quite a large part of book two and three that has been almost completely removed.
Nevertheless, ‘Dark Wings, Dark Words’ was another strong episode, and more progressive than last week’s season premiere, with some foundations still feeling like they’re being set but more action taking place beyond that. Some elements weren’t quite as pleasing to me as I had hoped, but the majority did, and that’s fine by me.
Southland – Chaos
We’ve been hearing for a while now how many of the actors currently involved with Southland have signed up to new pilots for the fall, which when combined with the show’s consistently poor ratings, indicate a fate more negative. I’ve been saying for weeks how unhappy I would be if the show were to be cancelled, but none more so than this week. ‘Chaos’ was a harrowing, tense and darker outing for this show than we’ve seen in a long time, and also a clear demonstration of what Southland is truly capable of.
Southland’s main theme running throughout its life has been that for a cop, you never know when today will be your last day. You can wake up in the morning, confident and content, and find yourself being zipped up in a bodybag by the evening–and you never know when, or how, that might happen. It’s a theme that’s contributed to Southland’s raw feel from the very beginning, and when episodes like this week’s come along, it explodes in miserable glory.
On a usual week, Southland has all of its characters off doing their own thing, totally separate from each other and unconnected. This week, that anecdotal format was dispensed with, and all the show’s characters were united by a single story: Cooper and Lucero’s kidnapping while on a routine patrol. And because there was no scattered narrative, the tension was raised considerably, and to excellent effect.
Make no mistake about it–’Chaos’ was one of the darkest episodes Southland has ever done. Seeing Cooper and Lucero dragged away, stripped and powerless, is as harrowing as it gets, even more so considering that must be amongst one of the worst nightmares for a police officer (especially given the lack of foreknowledge on whether you’ll ever return home in the evening, as described earlier). The worst moments came afterwards, however, when Lucero is brutally tortured, maybe even raped, and eventually shot in the head, in several of the show’s most gruesome and unnerving scenes. I know when a scene that’s supposed to be traumatic and difficult to watch succeeds in its efforts when I genuinely find it hard to continue watching, and that happened on more than one occasion this week.
Also, it’s been stated numerous times this season, but Michael Cudlitz really is the show’s strongest actor, and perhaps has been for a very long time, and wholeheartedly deserves award recognition. His struggles in ‘Chaos, from dealing with Lucero’s vicious display of homophobia at the start of the episode, to seeing his partner murdered right in front of him, were every bit as devastating as they needed to be to keep the threat of the situation alive. Cudlitz has never disappointed me once this season and ‘Chaos’ gave him the perfect chance to display his acting prowess, and he made the most of it and then some.
If there’s one thing I disliked about the episode, it was Ben and Sammy’s story that took place entirely elsewhere. I understand why it was there because after last week’s final scenes, it was necessary to continue the story, but breaking away from the episode’s main story threatened to ruin the flow of the narrative somewhat, which on a week like this, was absolutely not needed.
Regardless, ‘Chaos’ was an extremely well-done, well-scripted, beautifully tense and distressing episode of television that, heck, was even frightening. I’ll understand if TNT cancel the show, but after an episode–and a season–like this, I definitely won’t appreciate it.
Nashville – My Heart Would Know
Nashville is not a bad show, but nor is it great either. Instead of meandering towards one side or the other, it seems perfectly comfortable sitting in ‘merely alright’, rarely making any advances outside of that zone. While that used to be acceptable back when the show first premiered, it’s become jarring the closer we get to the season finale.
‘My Heart Would Know’ was another example of that. If there’s one thing Nashville seems fairly accomplished at, it’s padding out its episodes with storylines involving characters either not particularly interesting, or with plots that seemingly arose from thin air and will likely disappear with as much build-up.
With this, I’m especially talking about the arrival of Dante a few episodes ago, who was brought in firstly as a sober companion for Juliette’s mother, then as a sexual companion for her daughter, and now as manager (because why the heck not). He exists ostensibly just to cause conflict wherever he goes, and as a character he fails in almost every regard, as does the plot that’s slowly revolving around him that takes weird turns simply because they ‘might’ wield good drama (they mostly don’t).
This seems to be one of Nashville’s biggest problems; it conjures stories from dust because they sounded good on paper, but nearly all of them are frankly boring, and the pay-off is non-existent. Earlier in the season, we saw Juliette marrying the football guy (see how much this story left an impression on me?) that inevitably ended in divorce, and it could’ve been a good character story. But since then, it’s been forgotten entirely, seemingly lost amongst Nashville’s collection of tedious subplots. These stories wouldn’t be half as problematic if they had a natural build-up, and a lasting impression left upon their conclusion, but they don’t, and their end is directly followed by more that sprout up like weeds.
As I said earlier, Nashville is not a bad show. It has the ideas and the cast (let’s face it, Connie Britton is consistently excellent), but whatever process goes on in the writer’s room is dragging down what has the potential to be a far greater show. I can’t speak for the majority, but I’m totally uninterested in Dante, Juliette’s mother’s rehabilitation, Gunnar and Scarlett’s cowboy neighbour (he shall be known always as ‘the neighbour’ from now on because he serves little other purpose) or anything involving Avery. WHO CARES ABOUT AVERY?! And don’t even get me started on the political side of the show and anything involving Teddy.
I almost wish Nashville had been a midseason, thirteen-episode series, so that most of this tedium could’ve been sliced off. There’s a show hidden underneath that could easily sway towards ‘great’, but recent episodes indicate that it won’t be happening any time soon.
Before I sign off for another week, I would sincerely request that US viewers tune in to Hannibal on NBC tonight, and every week thereafter. Why, you might ask? Because it’s actually a good show that is blighted by being on NBC and in a poor timeslot, and it deserves so much more than premature cancellation, so don’t disappoint me, guys. Also, it will have Gillian Anderson in it at some point this season, and I refuse to allow any show graced by her presence to be cancelled.