A Week in TV - October 2013 / TV

A Week in TV – All the Exposition (6.10.13)

Breaking Bad – “Felina”

So this is it. After five seasons of lying, murder, betrayal, and cooking the bluest of all blue crystal meth, the final day of reckoning for Walter White has arrived. It’s time to pay the piper for all the crimes he’s committed, all the bridges he’s burnt, all the people he’s killed. And it’s a steep price to pay. These are the final days of the legendary Heisenberg, and he is not going out whimpering.

As a series finale, there is little about “Felina” that I can truly fault. Its relinquished pace and diminishment of the breakneck speed we’ve seen these last few weeks isn’t a problem; it’s the slowdown that comes before the end of a 100m sprint. It takes all the pieces on the playing board and gently moves them to their end positions before the conclusion of the game. It’s methodical and smart, and most of all, it forces Walt to face up to who he is, what he’s done, and how there’s no way back from that. Heisenberg is dead, but Walt has to face the consequences.

I’ve made no secret of my belief that Walter White is one of the strongest characters to have ever graced the television medium. Over the course of Breaking Bad’s five seasons, he’s turned from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher, irritated by his lack of professional appreciation and angry at the world for his cancer diagnosis, to a brutal, efficient monster spinning everybody into his carefully created web of danger and deceit, simply because–by his own admission–he enjoyed it. But every monster has a weakness, and Walt’s own lies proved to be his. They’ve corroded the love his family has for him, his own morality, every bridge he’s ever had with anybody. There’s nothing left but the ruins of what once was, empty shells where people once stood. Everything is gone.

breakingbad-img02“Felina” makes every attempt at making Walt pay for what he’s done, and it does an exceptional job at doing just that. His family hates him and wishes him dead, so he threatens Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz to make sure the money he’s accumulated from his enterprises reaches his son, to ensure everything he’s done isn’t in vain. Skyler is repulsed by him and there’s nothing he can do, no lie he can tell, to reverse this, so he gives her and Marie the location of Hank’s body as a means to alleviate the pressure being placed on them from the authorities. He uses the ricin cigarette to poison Lydia, effectively severing the head of the snake he created. Then he finally rescues Jesse from the Nazi’s compound, a place he was in because of Walt, before dying in a place where Heisenberg himself was created–a meth lab. “Felina” is Walt’s final chapter, and the villain is vanquished.

In all honesty, there really is no other way I would’ve preferred to see Walt end the show. He could’ve gone to jail, but the recurrence of his cancer would have eaten away at him eventually, off-screen where we can’t appreciate the significance of his death. He could’ve escaped and lived a life of anonymity (but not as a lumberjack, because that would be crazy…), but again, his cancer would’ve killed him eventually. The way it eventually happened, with Jesse essentially killing him by refusing to gun him down as requested, instead leaving him to bleed to death, alone, is satisfying. He dies alone, in the one place he changed beyond recognition, with everything he held dear breaking free from his web. Quite simply, I loved it.

Of course, it goes without saying that I will sincerely miss Breaking Bad. I’ll miss its tenacity, its pulse-pounding tension, Vince Gilligan’s astounding direction, the way in which it knew it had a reprehensible monster as its main character and wasn’t afraid of treating him as such. There are no other shows quite like it, and I doubt there will be in the future. It feels like saying goodbye to an old friend you’ve adored for years, but at least we’re separating on the best of terms, not alone on the floor of a meth lab, a gunshot wound signalling our final breath.

EPISODE GRADE: A

SEASON GRADE: A

SERIES GRADE: A

Sleepy Hollow – “For the Triumph of Evil

When I first heard of Sleepy Hollow back in May during the upfronts, it sounded ludicrous–a show with a kooky premise that would be enough to sustain it for a few weeks but would eventually fizzle out and leave it withering away on the sidewalk. What I didn’t expect was a show that, as ridiculous as it is, knows full well how convoluted and outrageously silly it is yet makes no excuses for it. It doesn’t pretend to be amazing; it’s perfectly satisfied with being weird. It doesn’t try to be the next Breaking Bad, and I’m enjoying it a lot more because of that.

sleepyhollow-img01Too many times a television show will come along with its ridiculous story and try to be something it’s not, and in those efforts lies the reason the show inevitably hits rock bottom and ends up on the cancellation pile. A show that really has no depth or layering of any kind that tries to convince you that it does is never going to succeed at disguising its own inadequacies. It’s like being told the drab-looking cake in front of you has multiple layers of different flavours, all sounding delicious, yet when you cut into it you discover it’s actually just boring sponge all the way through.

In that vein, it’s fortunate that Sleepy Hollow has decided to not pretend it has all those different flavours. It has headless horsemen and an impending apocalypse and creatures made of sand invading people’s nightmares, and it doesn’t care less about how bizarre that may sound. All it cares about is making sure everything is exciting and thrilling, with Ichabod Crane transported into the future to work with a police officer in unravelling this mystery. And it’s wonderful.

sleepyhollow-img02After three episodes, it’s beginning to become clear as to what kind of show Sleepy Hollow is going to be, and it’s one reminiscent of early-days Supernatural. There’s an overarching mythology there that will occasionally weave in and out of the weekly episodes until the inevitable big finale bloodbath. The episodes between the season’s bookends will feature enemies of mystical nature, and Crane and Abby will serve as the Sam and Dean of the show, with their characters getting affiliated with each other as each beast is vanquished. It’s nothing particularly deep, but I’ll be darned if it isn’t infuriatingly compelling.

After three weeks of headless horsemen, witches, and a sand creature (seriously, that creature this week was actually very creepy), Sleepy Hollow has firmly established itself as an exciting weekly dose of fun that doesn’t require extensive thought process to go along with. Amidst a culture of weak shows pretending to be otherwise, Sleepy Hollow’s insistence on just being itself, letting people know what’s inside the cake, is refreshing.

EPISODE GRADE: B+

The Originals – “Always and Forever”

We all know what pilots have to do by now. They have to establish character, plot, setting, and everything else that goes into making a television show–or any story, for that matter. But they have to do so while being interesting. It’s no use setting the framework for your story if nobody is compelled to ever return to see the developing product. It’s a difficult job, and no show ever finds it simple to nail, but in The Originals’ case, it aims for the mark and misses by several miles.

theoriginals-img01Before I get to discussing my main issue with the pilot, let’s just think about who will comprise the majority of The Originals’ audience. Being a spin-off to the popular The Vampire Diaries and featuring characters that were born in that show’s world, it’s not unreasonable to presume that the people who will watch The Originals will also be viewers of The Vampire Diaries, or at the very least will have had some affiliation with it at some point. They will likely know these characters, their histories, and will be entering the show on a higher plane of knowledge compared to those who are newcomers. Spin-offs from popular shows usually encounter the same thing, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, in “Always and Forever,” it’s quite clear that for at least the first two-thirds of the episode, they are operating under the belief that their audience doesn’t know anything about anything. They re-use scenes from the backdoor pilot that took place during The Vampire Diaries’ fourth season (which aired merely months ago, for reference), meaning that the vast majority of the episode feels like an enhanced version that you’d find on the DVD release as a special feature. And if that wasn’t enough, they fill it with so much expositional dialogue that it feels like being read the same page from the same book we’ve already read a hundred times. For a newcomer it would be helpful, albeit still grating, but for somebody already knowledgeable on these characters (ie most of the audience), it’s slow and frustrating to watch.

theoriginals-img03There’s also the issue of Klaus seemingly serving as the show’s protagonist. His presence at the heart of the show is problematic because as a character, he’s utterly reprehensible and has demonstrated many times how incorrigible he is. You can’t root for somebody who has no problem thrusting a stake into his brother’s heart, or somebody who is only interested in power and crushing those who stand in his way. He’s a villain, and villains don’t usually work well as protagonists for reasons you can probably think of (unless the show knows how to handle it, which I doubt is the case here). It seemed like the pilot was toying with the possibility of Elijah serving as the show’s central character, though it seemed to fall apart by the episode’s conclusion. (Elijah serving as protagonist wouldn’t be perfect but he at least has some degree of honor and respect for others, as well as cherishing family above all. He may apologise for evil, but he’s not overtly the creator of it.)

In all, The Originals absolutely does not get off to a good start. Its decision to re-use old footage and lay down a thick layer of exposition makes for a frustrating hour of television. But it’s because of these reasons that I won’t judge the potential of the show based on this episode. Next week will be the true indicator of where the show may head and how it’ll attempt to differentiate itself from the universe it’s branching off from. The results should be interesting to see.

EPISODE GRADE: C

Scandal – “It’s Handled”

Somebody leaked Olivia Pope’s name to the press. Now everybody across the country knows that she had an illicit affair with the President of the United States. Journalists are at her door night and day. Clients are leaving the firm like wasps escaping a smoke bomb. Everything is crumbling around her. Olivia can fix everybody else’s scandals but she cannot fix her own. Oh, and her dad is on the scene, too, trying to whisk her out of the country and away from the public execution the White House will bring down on her. And he spearheads a covert CIA operation that employs assassins as well.

scandal-img01All of the above sounds utterly ludicrous to anybody unfamiliar with Scandal, but it’s one of the reasons it’s one of my favorite shows at the moment. It operates in a sort of parallel world where everything looks the same as our world but isn’t. Presidential elections are rigged, people shoot the President in the head AND HE SURVIVES, the First Lady knows all about her husband’s infidelity but stands by because her ambition means more to her, and so much more. Insanity has never tasted this wonderful.

In regards to the season three premiere, “It’s Handled” does nearly everything it needs to do in order to establish where the show will be heading to next. It was always obvious that some degree of manipulation was going to have to occur in regards to Olivia’s name being leaked, because Pope and Associates could hardly continue functioning as a business with its creator at the centre of a global scandal, and the way in which the show resolves the issue isn’t necessarily believable. But it leads to Olivia defending the woman whose name replaces hers at the epicentre of the story, which will inevitably lead to the same breathless storytelling we’re used to further down the line.

“It’s Handled” succeeds at many, many more things, such as giving Kerry Washington a platform to be magnificent at showing Olivia at her absolute lowest, but one of its biggest is alleviating any concerns that the show may recede in quality after a fantastic second season. Season three is off to a splendid start, and I’m ecstatic that a show I adore with every fiber of my being is back once again.

EPISODE GRADE: A-

GRADES FOR OTHER EPISODES I WATCHED THIS WEEK:

Once Upon a Time – “The Heart of the Truest Believer”: C+

Downton Abbey – “Episode Two”: C

The Good Wife – “Everything is Ending”: B+

Homeland – “Tin Man is Down”: B

Revenge – “Fear”: B-

Mom – “A Pee Stick and an Asian Raccoon”: C-

Castle – “Dreamworld”: C+

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – “0-8-4”: C+

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – “The Slump”: B+

New Girl – “Double Date”: B

Trophy Wife – “Cold File”: B-

Sons of Anarchy – “Wolfsangel”: B+

Person of Interest – “Nothing to Hide”: B+

Law and Order: SVU – “American Tragedy”: B+

Nashville – “Never No More”: B

The Vampire Diaries – “I Know What You Did Last Summer”: B+

Parks and Recreation – “The Pawnee-Eagleton Tip Off Classic”: B

The Millers – “Pilot”: F

Grey’s Anatomy – “Everybody’s Crying Mercy”: B-

The Crazy Ones – “Spectacular”: B-

The Michael J. Fox Show – “Art”: C+

Elementary – “Solve for X”: B+

Parenthood – “All Aboard Who’s Coming Aboard”: B

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