Hannibal – “Sorbet”

Hannibal’s plot is occasionally difficult to detect, cloaked as it often is in compelling but resolution-deficient character interactions, lovingly-shot murders, and dream elk. It’s most evident in the most recent episode, “Sorbet”, in which we look at what Hannibal Lecter’s life is like, and not much else.

 

All right, yes, there’s a killer this week. But he’s a med student organ harvester, and isn’t even as psychologically interesting as last week’s Dr. Abel Gideon. After a body turns up in a hotel room with some Chesapeake Ripper-style mutilations and organ removals, Will Graham gets pulled out of his classroom to do that empathy thing. His and Jack Crawford’s exchange in the drive to the scene highlight the macabre nature of this “talent” that the show sometimes glosses over: “I’ve had the room sealed. You’ll get it fresh.”, to which Will replies “Fresh as a daisy.” As much as Hannibal likes to shock its viewers with tasteful gore, it’s easy to forget that its protagonist’s special ability is pretending to be a serial killer. Little comments like that bring the viewer back to the reality of what it is most people do on the show beyond the veil of dreamlike imagery.

 

I'd make some sort of joke about Jack being sad, but honestly, his life is unpleasant enough as it is.

I’d make some sort of joke about Jack being sad, but honestly, his life is unpleasant enough as it is.

 

The show’s dark, subdued sense of humour also serves it well in “Sorbet”s ostensible A-plot. FBI-people Beverly Katz (Hetienne Park) and Brian Zeller (Aaron Abrams) are on the scene before Will, and after Katz lets him know that she touched the body and her impressions, Zeller chimes in, saying “I, uh, also did a little bit of touching.” The mutilated body not ten feet away makes his sheepish delivery far funnier than it should be, allowing a small moment of humour to precede one of Will’s empathic crime scene investigations. This one was as interesting as the rest, featuring an elk so as to remind the audience that, yes, the spectre of the Hobbs family is still around.

 

Hannibal is sometimes a straightforward procedural, and, unfortunately, this week’s case is pretty uninteresting. It had a similar progression to “Amuse-Bouche”; the breakthrough came in the last couple minutes after the case took back seat for most of the episode, and the killer was subdued without much difficulty. However, “Amuse-Bouche”s Mushroom Guy was much more interesting psychologically than “Sorbet”s Devon Silvestri, who had a single appearance and not much in the way of motive.

 

I’d complain more, but “Sorbet” did something the show hasn’t done since it began: actually focused on Hannibal Lecter as a character for the majority of an episode. We get an idea of his social life: he goes to the opera, visits his own therapist (Gillian Anderson!), and puts on elaborate cooking shows with what is definitely human meat this time, for sure. This seems fairly standard fare for a character we’ve been conditioned to have certain expectations about. What’s unexpected is that all these, even the human meat, are indicators of profound loneliness. Hannibal Lecter is lonely.

 

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The face of pure existential despair.

 

Giving the man an inner life and vulnerable emotions didn’t work out so well last time someone tried it: see Hannibal Rising, but the subtleties in “Sorbet” convey his state without diminishing any of his menace. The episode opens with one of Hannibal’s patients fumbling to form a connection with him, and the audience is given the impression that as a professional he’s above that sort of thing. Later, however, Hannibal’s own therapist sees right through him, accusing him as wearing a “person suit” and asking him if it’s lonely presenting a meticulously-constructed persona. He protests, almost weakly, that “I have friends, and the opportunities for friends. You and I are friendly.” But while she likes him, Hannibal’s therapist isn’t his friend, and you can see in Mikkelsen’s performance that he’s almost imperceptibly let down by this. His “person suit” barely wavers, but it does slip.

 

In his subsequent session with Will, Hannibal asks, seeking reassurance, “Am I your psychiatrist or are we simply having conversations?” In context, it sounds like a psychiatrist’s leading question, but it disguises that he really wants an answer; are he and Will friends? He asks a similar question while cooking eating dinner with Alana Bloom, “Why didn’t we [have an affair]?” Bloom changes the subject, but Will engages with Hannibal, obliquely implying that they are in fact friends. In three short interactions, Hannibal Lecter is more convincingly humanised than he’s ever been. He wants a connection to an equal, and he’s frustrated that no-one can understand him.

 

The show’s most interesting juxtaposition is multi-scene montage where we see Hannibal take business cards from his collection, match them to recipes, and then cut to preparing some sort of organ for consumption. It’s a beautiful bit of cinematography, like all Hannibal’s dinner scenes, but it differs in that this time, it’s pretty obvious that, yes, it’s human meat this time. And now that we know, Hannibal goes all-out, crafting a frankly delicious-looking table full of meat dishes, and then commenting as the episode ends, “Nothing here is vegetarian.”

 

I...I'd eat it.

I…I’d eat it.

 

This is delightful not only for the macabre sensibilities it displays, but how it ties in with the feeling of loneliness that pervades the episode. This round of killings for the “Chesapeake Ripper” is the result of pent-up frustration; everyone but Will has rejected his overtures at companionship, so he’s reaching out the only other way he knows how: ritualistic murder and cooking. In a sense, he forms a connection with his victims; he keeps everyone’s business card in a stylish rotating holder and clearly respects the results of the killing if not the subjects. It’s also quite telling that Will shows up for a few minutes at the beginning of Hannibal’s dinner party/food performance art piece, but leaves after delivering a bottle of wine and a short conversation. The rest of the guests are barely pictured, having one short shot of their faces. They’re Hannibal’s world, that he’s evidently tired of, representing a group who admire him but can’t possibly understand him. Will is outside the world of cannibalistic dinner parties, but he’s the only character who Hannibal ever relates to and isn’t rebuffed by.

 

Oh, and Jack gets a dream sequence that rather obviously compares his current protégé, Will, to his dead protégé, Miriam Lass. It’s a good reminder of his mental state, as he doesn’t get many scenes this week, but it’s a tad obvious, especially when the show garnishes a dead-eyed, stitched-up Will with a missing arm. It really isn’t necessary to emphasise how emotionally fragile Will is and how Jack’s reliance on him is dangerous every two to three scenes, especially where we know both of them are going to live through the full series.

 

This week, Hannibal recognised that its characters are sometimes more important than its plot, and gave its title character almost the full episode to showcase his inner life. Even stranger, this worked, giving him some quite interesting depth. The episode’s supposed main plot wasn’t enormously interesting, but the show does sometimes need to pretend it’s a procedural and not a human drama.

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Community – “Advanced Introduction to Finality

That went about as badly as expected.

I watched the first few episodes of the fourth season of Community and was fairly underwhelmed, though not outright repulsed by what I saw. It was trying very hard to be the same show it had been for three seasons, and the fact of its trying was evident enough to mar most episodes. In a vacuum, it was still funny, and “Cooperative Escapism in Familial Relations” delivered one of the best emotional punches the show’s ever done, but I don’t feel like too much of a fanboy in saying that “things just weren’t the same.” I stopped watching after “Familial Relations”, mostly because I forgot, but I figured I should at least see the end of the season through, so I caught up enough to have proper context to the finale.

I suppose I got what I deserved.

“Advanced Introduction to Finality” is, without qualifiers, the worst Community episode ever produced. It wasn’t funny. It didn’t make any sense. It broke its own rules and then copped out, and the cop-out wasn’t as painful as it could have been, because at least it invalidated the majority of the episode.

The episode fancied itself “Remedial Chaos Theory” redux, but instead of focusing on what made “Chaos Theory” great, its multitude of potential futures and rapid-fire comedy, it decided to latch onto the “Darkest Timeline” joke. The Darkest Timeline was a great stinger, and then became less funny throughout season 3, though it wasn’t quite dead by the finale and was used reasonably well. Basing an entire episode around it did not work in the least.

The Darkest Timeline’s evil clones invade Greendale’s universe in a ham-fisted attempt by the writers to confront Jeff with his inner demons, and harp on the jokes made originally in the “Chaos Theory” stinger. As has been mentioned above, these jokes are no longer very funny. Initially only Evil Jeff and Evil Annie (I’m cringing just writing those names) turn up and predictably turn Jeff’s friends against him, while making out a lot, but the whole thing becomes Evil Clones vs. the Study Group at the episode’s climax. If that wasn’t insipid enough, the show decided to bring back paintball in order to stage the final battle, then had Abed comment on how it was “cool again.” Besides being wrong, he turns into an obnoxious mouthpiece for the writers, congratulating themselves on combining multiple tired elements into a lackluster finale.

I'd rather not talk about it.

I’d rather not talk about it.

The final battle itself, short as it was, was actually funny for a while. Troy and Shirley’s one-liners in disposing their clones were amusing and quite representative of the parts of their characters that still worked. Shirley disgustedly informing her drunken clone to “get help” and Troy’s almost apologetic shooting of his after an attempt to be intimidating goes wrong are good character moments that add a smidgen of humour to an episode severely lacking.

And then, of course, it was all a dream. Shortly after Jeff is informed all of this is in his head, he does an incredibly lazy Matrix parody and “wakes up,” realising that he doesn’t want to stay at Greendale or become a corrupt lawyer again. It’s bad writing, and but it’s still more satisfying then Darkest Timeline silliness, and at least it means that the show hasn’t broken its own rules.

The episode’s final scene, Jeff’s graduation party, was…adequate? Jeff wrapped it up with a generic speech, which wasn’t nearly as offensive as the rest of the episode. His friendship platitudes aren’t anything new, and he’s “learned” the same lesson every season since midway through the first.

There. Now you've seen Pierce more than anyone who's watched the episode.

There. Now you’ve seen Pierce more than anyone who’s watched the episode.

How much the show has shit on Pierce this season has gotten irksome, and it’s just as evident in “Finality.” I get that Chevy Chase is a jackass, and that he’d become increasingly difficult to work with, but his character turned almost entirely into a punchline. Not a varied, interesting punchline, but the same, mean-spirited, “no-one cares about Pierce” gag ad nauseam. Evil Pierce gets the same treatment, turning up for less than thirty seconds to shoot himself and never be seen again. Real Pierce is written off the show without any sort ceremony whatsoever: he sticks his head into Jeff’s graduation ceremony, demands he graduate first, and then gets no further lines or even a diploma. It’s disrespectful to a character we actually used to enjoy, but at least we don’t have to put up with Chevy Chase going on about how bad the show is. Of course, now he’s right.

I wouldn’t normally write about the stinger in an episode this unpleasant, but it was bad enough to stand out in context. Evil Troy and Abed are reproached by Jeff because their show isn’t real, which wouldn’t be so noteworthy if the joke hadn’t already been done several seasons ago in exactly the same context. The only difference is that Jeff says it somewhat more angrily. Sitcoms can’t have 100% original material all the time, but it was still a no-effort joke.

I’ve referred to lazy writing a few times throughout the course of this review, and really, that’s the best way to describe it. It’s a lazy episode that draws upon nothing new or original, while simultaneously rehashing the series’ worst jokes. I’m torn between wanting to see the show done with, so we don’t have to see any more of this, and demanding more so it can get a proper sendoff. Actually, I think it’s entirely reasonable to treat last season’s “Introduction to Finality” as a perfectly serviceable series finale, so if anyone needs me, I’ll be in the corner, denying the existence of a “fourth season of Community” and getting excited about Hannibal.

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Movie Review – Iron Man 3

Well.

I’d say that was unexpected, but to anyone who’s seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it really wasn’t. Iron Man 3 is the best Iron Man film to date, despite not containing Jeff Bridges, and a high point in the current “golden age” of superhero films.

I think that calling the modern era of high-budget superhero adaptations a golden age speaks to the diminutive expectations we’ve had for the genre. Since Batman Begins started a trend of somewhat decent reboots, there have been three, maybe four really good films since, a lot of okay films with nice CGI, and a couple of abominations like Green Lantern and Iron Man 2. Because we got The Dark Knight out of it doesn’t make it anything more than a slight improvement over the 90s. But Iron Man 3 is a movie in very much the same paradigm as last year’s Avengers: big enough, funny enough, and occasionally smart enough to disguise its cardboard plot.

Quite a bit of that comes from director Shane Black, best known for the above mentioned Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and also for writing Lethal Weapon. That’s another thing Iron Man 3 has in common with Avengers: a lesser-known (but still popular) director known for his self-awareness and snappy dialogue. Iron Man has Black’s fingerprints all over it, from rapid-fire banter to minor henchmen given one-liners usually reserved for the stars. It’s an enormous amount of fun to watch Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., obviously) just talk to people. Even when he doesn’t come out on top, it’s immensely entertaining.

Stark’s character, surprisingly, undergoes a fair bit of actually competent development. Tony Stark as he is at the beginning of the film is PTSD-afflicted and distant; his interactions with Pepper Potts previous to his house being blown up show him as totally emotionally stunted and unable to express himself. As the film progresses, he realises connection to people without ever dipping into corny territory.  Comforting Pepper at the end of the film, he says “Nothing will ever be okay. You’re in a relationship with me.”, showing him at peace with his insecurities while retaining his usual snark. Superhero character arcs are often nonexistent to superficial and Stark’s is evident without beating the audience over the head and self-aware while still being genuine.

The film’s villain, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), is easily one of the best curveballs in recent enormously-budgeted blockbuster history. Though that seems like a narrow superlative, it shouldn’t detract from Kingsley’s performance, the specifics of which I won’t get into. He’s quite intimidating and reminiscent of the multi-arc villain of the Iron Man comics until suddenly…something else happens. And it’s brilliant.

That’s smart enough and funny enough covered. So, is Iron Man 3 big enough? Damn right, it is. The multiple-Iron Man suit fight scenes have been spoiled pretty badly by the trailers, but they’re as impressive as we’ve been led to believe and the CGI is never particularly evident. Tony Stark spends quite a bit of time out of his suit, but the movie makes sure to get him back in and doing something impressive whenever the plot starts to get questionable. The out-of-suit sequences are also fun in a more low key sense, carried by Stark’s intelligence, gadgetry, and one-liners. Their limited nature also serves to make the Iron Man scenes much more satisfying, allowing Tony to cut loose while blowing things up and looking cool.

Iron Man 3 is what lots of money thrown at already-established franchises should be: fun, stylish, and attempting to do something new with old characters. It succeeds on all three fronts despite its plot being about as thick as tissue paper. I could spend a few paragraphs poking holes in it, but that wouldn’t change the fact that I liked watching the movie a whole lot and it goes recommended.

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Doctor Who – “The Crimson Horror”

One of the major features of David Tennant’s run as the Tenth Doctor was a recurring cast of humans with which he’d built up a bond and who all got individual character arcs in the second to fourth series. Midway through the sixth series, Matt Smith started to do the same thing, but with a different take. Of course there are a bunch of people across time and space that The Doctor knows, but that doesn’t mean we know them. Most of them have at best an implied history with The Doctor, giving the writers a lot of flexibility in developing them, or not. They can be there as supporting players, static characters, or entire episodic focuses, have few pre-conceived notions attached, and require little in the way of introduction. This week, in “The Crimson Horror,” we check in with Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax in Victorian Yorkshire as they investigate a series of deaths involving a rather silly shade of red.

Jenny and Madame Vastra are very fun to hang around in their two previous appearances in “A Good Man Goes to War” and “The Snowmen.” They’ve got a nice dynamic with each other and The Doctor where none of the parties are on a significantly higher footing than any other and can exchange repartee without upsetting any sort of balance of power. In “The Crimson Horror” The Doctor does his usual distracted “I’m an alien and don’t have time to explain”, but the ladies aren’t having any of it, even when the only explanation they get for Clara being alive is “It’s complicated.”

Though Jenny, Strax, and Madame Vastra serve as the protagonists for the first half of the episode, they unfortunately get pushed to one side once The Doctor and Clara turn up again. Their introductory scenes are quite good, however, presenting the mystery of Sweetville, a pseudo-religious commune that preaches its Victorian Stepford Wives vision as the solution to a coming apocalypse. This, somehow, has to do with all the dead red people turning up in the river. Not that I’d call them crimson, exactly. Beetroot is closer.

Jenny is tasked with infiltrating Sweetville and her scenes are nicely unsettling in the way a lot of Doctor-lite episodes are. The audience isn’t given much indication as to what the hell is up, and The Doctor isn’t around to spout technobabble and run off. When Jenny does come across him, grunting and immobilised in a cell and the same beetroot colour as all the corpses, it does nothing to dispel the air of wrongness Sweetville gives off.

DoctorWhoS07E11-1 WordDepository

See? Look at that and tell me it’s crimson.

A couple minutes later, a groaning, staggering Doctor gets shuffled off to a convenient machine which turns him back to his upbeat self, whereupon he commences to solve the mystery. Jenny and Vastra get in a few more scenes and some repartee with him, but are noticeably absent or silent for the episode’s buildup and climax. The solved mystery isn’t quite as interesting as the unsolved one, though it does involve a disturbing red parasite (“Mr. Sweet”) living on Sweetville matriarch Mrs. Gillyflower’s (Diana Rigg) chest.

Despite the Doctor’s return being oddly disappointing, I can’t complain too much about this week’s plot because of the great relationship between Mrs. Gillyflower and her blind daughter, Ada (Rachael Stirling). The audience is given the impression that Ada is Mrs. Gillyflower’s one link to reality, a humanising factor that could prove redemptive in the episode’s conclusion. As it turns out, no. Mrs. Gillyflower’s only emotional connection is to the alien parasite living on her chest. It’s refreshing to see a human villain so thoroughly unsympathetic, and Diana Rigg plays it to the hilt. Ada, meanwhile forms an attachment to The Doctor, her “monster”, while he’s in captivity and her interactions with him after he’s freed gives her the self-confidence to confront her mother, who, just in case we thought she was remotely decent, was responsible for her blinding. Ada adds an element of cathartic violence to Doctor Who that the show usually forgoes, particularly satisfying when she snaps and starts beating her mother with her cane. Equally great is when, after Mrs. Gillyflower is disposed of and her chest parasite crawling pathetically away, Ada crushes it without hesitation. The Doctor, considering how to humanely remove it, is stopped in his tracks with a “On the other hand…” followed by confused sputtering.

The Doctor and Clara get a few little moments this week, but beyond some lingering glances and hugging after Clara gets freed from the Victorian Stepford Wives Machine, the relationship isn’t pushed any further. That’s fine; it’s ticking along in the background, but it’s a bit of a comedown after last week’s huge leap.

To offset that very minor gripe, “The Crimson Horror” has a wonderfully stylistic flashback when The Doctor explains to Jenny how he and Clara got into Sweetville. The sepia tone and blurry edges of the “projection” fit in quite well with the setting and is an unusual treat for a show that doesn’t play around too much with its format.

I think it would have been nice to get some sort of explanation as to why Strax is still alive. Wikipedia tells me some silliness involving the Doctor Who novelisations, but it’d be nice if there was some sort of clue for the sort of person who doesn’t enjoy reading poorly-written science fiction that doesn’t quite grasp the concept of an adaptation. He’s a very entertaining character to have around, but you can’t seemingly kill someone off and re-introduce them a season later without letting the fans in on why. It’s sloppy writing.

That said, he had easily the most charming scene of the episode with street urchin Thomas Thomas. Inhuman characters forming human connections to small, adorable creatures is not new or original in any sense, but the contrast between the two is far too amusing to dismiss. Even funnier is Strax’s brief conversation with his horse, which military discipline dictates he must execute and eat. In retrospect, that’s actually quite a well-thought-out joke. Being Sontaran, he can’t assume the horse isn’t sapient and thus must treat it as an inferior officer that has failed in its duty to transport him. Furthermore, the brutal efficiency of Sontaran culture dictates he has to eat it; not doing so would be a criminal waste of resources.

You start allowing this sort of dereliction of duty and military discipline falls apart.

You start allowing this sort of dereliction of duty and military discipline just falls apart.

In “The Crimson Horror”, Doctor Who continues its streak of surprisingly affecting B-plots though oddly misusing some interesting recurring characters. It has some quite good bits, and Diana Rigg and Rachael Stirling have some lovely performances, but it never quite comes together as an episode. Not a bad way to spend three quarters of an hour, but not brilliant by Who standards. Next week, though, Neil Gaiman returns for “Nightmare in Silver,” and if anyone can make the Cybermen interesting again, it’s him.

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Game of Thrones – “The Climb”

Note: This review is from the perspective of someone who’s read all five Song of Ice and Fire books, and so may contain spoilers for all five books, particularly A Storm of Swords.

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When this man gets worried, it’s time to leave.

 

Game of Thrones is unquestionably at its best when it’s doing one of two things: impeccably paced spectacle, and two people sitting around talking. “The Climb” was light on the former, but heavy on the latter, almost more so than any other episode this season. Luckily, it hints at spectacle to come and it pushes the pieces along enough to let the audience know something big is going to happen

Given the literal interpretation of the episode’s title, Ygritte, Jon Snow, and some other underdeveloped wildlings climbing The Wall, the lack of spectacle seems odd, but the climb itself wasn’t very interesting. Fairly standard cliff-face fare: seemingly insurmountable enormity, minor disaster, and triumphant ascension. Jon Snow’s adventures as a turncloak have been rather disappointing thus far, and “The Climb” doesn’t go too far towards fixing that. The show’s been overstating the unimportant characters, like Orell the shapechanger; he doesn’t last too long and his distrust of Jon isn’t anything new or especially meaningful. Meanwhile, Tormund Giantsbane and Mance Rayder himself have gotten the shaft, despite being the only folks who’ll matter beyond the end of this season. We’ve got a sense of why Mance wants to get his people over the wall, but we don’t really care. The wildlings, with the singular exception of Ygritte, are still as dehumanised as they were in the first season. Given that the story’s being stretched across two seasons, the first of which is barely halfway finished, I don’t get why it’s in such a hurry to get Jon’s perspective away from the bulk of the wildling horde.

In a similar vein, Jon and Ygritte’s relationship, despite its very definite upgrade last week, is only just now starting to feel real. At the bottom of The Wall, she presents some very valid objections to Jon rejoining the Watch and makes Jon realise that, really, she’s the only person who truly cares about him, and the only one he’s got left. The episode’s final minutes at the top of The Wall are similarly effective. Ygritte gets to see what the north and south look like from the top of the world and the sheer beauty of the shot combined with the trauma of the climb finally gets across how much they mean to each other without the protracted courtship allowed by the format of the book. Not a “you know nothing, Jon Snow” to be heard.

One of the most interesting adaptation changes Game of Thrones has pulled this season is actually showing Theon’s torture and developing relationship with Ramsay Snow Bolton. Iwan Rheon finally gets to let his hair down as the little psychopath, and so far he’s nailing it. A Dance with Dragons dropped Theon unceremoniously back into the narrative, which worked quite well, but I’m very interested to see the actual process in which he’s broken. It’s nearly entirely new material, drawing on a few internal monologues from Dance¸ but Ramsay’s penchant for head games and torture is proving to be watchable in a painfully visceral way. I wonder if Theon’ll get to keep his penis this time, but I doubt it.

Speaking of the North’s least lovable family, Jaime and Brienne’s short scene with Roose Bolton doesn’t actually do much for the former two, but it’s a fun bit of foreshadowing for the latter’s betrayal. I’m sad we lost the Leech Lord, because that was a seriously unsettling quirk, but we got the Dry Humour Lord instead. His absolute deadpan at Brienne’s dress and understated amputee joke provided some of the best comedy of the episode.

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Jaime Lannister confronts ableism.

Oh hey, and the Freys are back. I’ve not got much to say about them, at least not in comparison to the Red Wedding that I assume is coming. Edmure gets the chance to be an idiot some more, and the Blackfish gets the chance to growl threateningly at him. Robb still doesn’t know he’s doomed, but the Red Wedding isn’t getting much foreshadowing at this point. I’m very excited to see what they’ll do to convey the subtly off atmosphere prior to the massacre.

Game of Thrones’ lack of dependence of specific POV characters serves it quite well this week. “The Climb” delivered a rare pleasure – old people passive-aggressively sniping at each other – in the form of The Queen of Thorns and Tywin Lannister prodding each other about their idiot children. The acting experience of Charles Dance and Diana Rigg really shone in this scene. You could tell how much Tywin and Oleanna respected each other’s position and intelligence and the scene’s climax, a quill snapping, was the perfect metaphorical conclusion. Two aged power players are determining the fate of nations with words and paper. The quill represents how fragile it all is, and they know it.

Wholly unexpectedly, Melisandre turns up again, at the Brotherhood without Banners’ camp to marvel at Beric Dondarrion, give piercing looks, and buy Gendry. It makes sense that he’d be substituted in for Edric Storm, one of Robert’s bastards who Melisandre wants to sacrifice for Stannis’ victory and I actually quite like this particular turn. It shows the Brotherhood as being far from the Merry Men of Sherwood they like to believe themselves as, and as just another flawed faction in a thoroughly miserable world. Thoros knows by the end that Gendry isn’t going anywhere nice, and he’s clearly uncomfortable with the fact, but like nearly everyone on the show who’s still alive, he’ll accept moral compromise for what he believes is the good of his cause.

Before Arya and Gendry’s surprisingly low-key parting scene (I’d assumed it’d be a little more tender especially how they’d ratcheted up the shipping), we get some nice dialogue between Thoros and Melisandre. After all, they’re technically on the same side, or so you might think. Game of Thrones presents the meeting as a religious dichotomy, similar to Catholicism and Protestantism. Melisandre’s Lord of Light is wrapped in ritual significance, where Thoros’ manifests itself in the common man. The Red Priestess’ astonishment that Beric has been revived so many times casts doubt over whether her way is even the most powerful, and it’s the first time the character has seemed rattled in two seasons. It’s unlikely they’ll meet again, but it was fascinating to watch ideologies intersect.

Despite Dance and Rigg’s machinations, and Orthodox vs. Reformed Lord of Lightism, the Best Scene of Two People On Opposite Sides Talking Civilly Award for “The Climb” goes to Littlefinger and Varys. They meet in the throne room, get a few barbs in about the Iron Throne (“the Lysa Arryn of chairs”, OH SNAP) and then it gets serious rather quickly. Littlefinger finally articulates the philosophy that Varys hates him for and confirms that, yes, he would burn Westeros if he could be king of the ashes. His counting of the swords on the throne solidifies his absolute obsession with power. Varys tries to counter with his usual bit about “good of the realm”, which is admirable, and in a twisted way, he’s one of the most moral characters on the show, but Littlefinger quickly lets him know he doesn’t care. The realm is a lie, much like Aegon’s thousand swords, and if destroying it results in chaos, that’s fine with him. Chaos, he says, isn’t a pit, but a ladder.

Littlefinger’s monologue over a short montage confirms that “The Climb” is a preamble to greater, more awful things. He reveals he’s sold Ros to Joffrey, who’s predictably used her for target practice and that his designs for Sansa run a little deeper than just spiriting her away and making unsettling comparisons to her mother. He’s a much bigger player than even Varys has realised and “The Climb” shows us a tiny part of his hand. He’s easily one of the most ruthless, ambitious, and emotionally unfettered characters on the show and given that Benioff and Weiss know from Martin how the series is going to end, he might be being teased here as the ultimate villain.

A fitting epitaph for “The Climb” might be “You get a wonderful view from the point of no return.” from Terry Pratchett’s Making Money. Littlefinger’s crossed a line, the Brotherhood’s crossed a line, and Jon Snow knows he’s going to have to cross one soon. Game of Thrones has built itself up to a peak, and the rest of the season is going to be a long, bloody freefall.

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Hannibal – Introduction and “Entrée”

Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal is not a show that should rationally exist. Thomas Harris’ Lecter books have been adapted to hell and back with wildly mixed results: The Silence of the Lambs needs no validation from me, while Hannibal Rising is easily the least-necessary origin story in all of film. The latter’s teen-angst ninja Hannibal and preposterous revenge plot is what fans of the character usually expect out of recent adaptations. Hannibal is on NBC in today’s television world, where not being on HBO, AMC, or FX is usually strikes one through three for any TV drama. It features none of the original actors from the actually decent adaptations, and Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford appears to be an attempt to lend the show star power with an actor who’s not been in a decent movie since 1999.

Nothing in that previous paragraph matters, because the creator of Hannibal actually gets it. I’m not entirely certain what it is, but he’s made a show that is, so far, really good and equally appealing to those with pre-existing interest in the character and those without. Hannibal Lecter doesn’t even murder anyone until the fifth[1] episode, Entrée, and Mads Mikkelsen plays the character so sympathetically that someone who’s followed Hannibal since the show’s pilot without any prior knowledge might actually be surprised when he does.

Entrée, is a good a place as any to start as I’ll probably be talking about the show every week. So far it’s the least self-contained of episode so far, introducing a new killer, but not actually resolving any plot threads. Its role is mostly to develop Hannibal Lecter and Jack Crawford, with Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham pushed somewhat into the background.

Before anything else, I have to comment on this week’s monster, Dr. Abel Gideon, played by Eddie Izzard. I had no idea Izzard did things outside his brilliant standup comedy, and was even more surprised to see him lend a fairly uninteresting character presence and charisma. Dr. Gideon kills a nurse at the psychiatric facility he’s held at in exactly the same way as the uncaught “Chesapeake Ripper,” actually Hannibal Lecter. Our protagonists and various other FBI people obviously don’t know that Lecter moonlights as a cannibal serial killer, which provides the impetus for the plot without making Gideon much more than a straightforward murderer. Izzard’s performance, however, made me forget that he wasn’t much more than a cipher until a day later, because he plays it with just enough camp to be entertaining while evoking in small part Anthony Hopkins’ original performance. The fact that all his scenes are set in The Silence of the Lambs’ Baltimore State Forensic Hospital helps with this, certainly, but Izzard deserves credit. Nowhere is this more evident than, when questioned why he’d murdered his family on Thanksgiving two years ago, he replies “You know how stressful the holidays can get.”

Entrée is a very-reference heavy episode for anyone familiar with Lecter as a character. Dr. Fredrick Chilton makes an appearance and though he isn’t as out-an-out loathsome as in most of his incarnations, he’s slimy enough that the audience forms an instant dislike. His appearance elicits a highly entertaining, but totally undeserved reference to Silence of the Lambs’ ending at one of Lecter’s many immaculately-shot dinners: after polite conversation about the meal between Lecter, Chilton, and Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), Lecter drops “It’s nice to have an old friend for dinner.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go into paroxysms of fanboyish laughter, but after I’d subsided, it was evident that the line really didn’t need to exist. You could almost see Mikkelsen wink as he delivered it, and the audacity of the line nearly excused how gratuitous it was.

The episode’s other major piece of nostalgia ties directly in with Jack Crawford’s character arc, which is surprising in both its quality and its existence. Fishburne, for the first three episodes, was doing a serviceable but standard “gruff police chief.” He had some good lines and I have no complaints with his performance, but it didn’t seem like he was going anywhere. “Coquilles” introduced his wife, Bella, (Gina Torres), and suddenly Jack started to look like a real person. Bella had some sessions with Lecter and how complicated their marriage is gets thrust frankly on the audience by way of lung cancer and infidelity. The suddenness doesn’t remotely detract from the fact that we like Jack now, and we know why he’s so hard on the people under him. His life, at this point, is not very nice.

This week, Jack gets a bit of backstory with a trainee FBI agent named Miriam Lass, highly reminiscent of Clarice Starling. She’s a bit of fun when Jack starts to get messages from her two years after her disappearance and presumed death at the hands of the Chesapeake Ripper. A series of flashbacks conveys their relationship concisely and gives Jack a much more personal connection to his job. The real treat, however, is her scene with Lecter in his office.

Hannibal’s discussion with and subsequent murder of Lass conveys a lot of information in relatively few lines. You get that she suspects, he knows she suspects, and he respects this and leaves deliberately leaves incriminating drawings out for her to find before strangling her at the episode’s abrupt conclusion. It’s possible that this is sacrilegious, but I quite like that his brief interaction with her may have informed his relationship with Starling in The Silence of the Lambs. From a real-world perspective, that obviously makes no sense; Silence of the Lambs was released more than twenty years earlier, but I think Hannibal deserves credit for suggesting something new about a character whose role is iconic as Hopkins’.

Entrée is a solid episode of a show that shouldn’t be remotely watchable. Discounting what a surprise Hannibal has been, it’s a B+, maybe an A-. Counting what a surprise Hannibal has been, it’s a “dear lord how could something that has anything in common with Hannibal Rising be this good?” Seriously. Wow.


[1] The chronological fifth episode, “Ceuf,” was pulled due to the Boston Marathon bombings and until I figure out how to watch it in full, I’ll be treating it as if it doesn’t exist.

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Doctor Who – “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”

Since the midseason break, Doctor Who hasn’t been bad, but it’s been floundering a bit trying to figure out how The Doctor and Clara are supposed to relate. “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” finally gets that out of the way while delivering an entertaining forty-five minutes with a surprisingly convincing subplot. The Doctor’s finally realised that Clara’s a person, not a puzzle, and though she doesn’t remember most of the episode due to a Big Friendly Button she has some sort of suggestion of a future with him beyond milling about in the cosmos.

 

It’s also nice to see the show clawing its way, inch by inch, out of the Companion paradigm it’s had for six and a half series. Not too much of course; Clara living up to her full potential as a character might scare some folk, but I’d disagree that this episode was just about her running and screaming. There’s certainly a large element of that, because it’s what Companions do when they’re stranded somewhere without The Doctor, but when it was casually revealed that she’d learned his name, it gave her long-term leverage over him that’s only precedented by River at her most obnoxious. “Let’s Kill Hitler”…ew. The “not doing the hugging thing” moment was also quite nice, as it showed her actually not putting up with his silliness. I mean, it was invalidated by them doing the hugging thing later, but she commented on it, and it was acknowledged, which is better than nothing.

 

I think it’s pretty damn silly to think that pounding the reset button meant anything permanent both in the context of integrity of the episode and the overall plot. The Doctor buggered around with his own timeline, in the TARDIS, using a shiny crack that looked suspiciously like the ones that pervaded Series 5. Nah, there’s no way all the plot advancement that happened in that episode will ever come back to haunt him. Clara will remain totally ignorant until the end of her run, because that’s what always happens. For a show ostensibly about time travel, there’s a reason they don’t hit the reset button too often. On top of being (usually, though tonight was an exception) unsatisfying narrative-wise, it has consequences.

 

On that note, it seemed that the TARDIS’ characterisation, as it were, seemed significantly different than in “The Doctor’s Wife.” It’s hard to imagine Sexy going quite that insane. Well, actually, it’s very easy to see her going that insane, but not a self-destructive sense. I’d put that down to Gaiman’s voice bleeding through into the writing of “The Doctor’s Wife.”. She was really obviously trying to channel both Death and Delirium, which worked, but doesn’t translate so well to architecture.

 

Speaking of references, I got a huge Amnesia: The Dark Descent vibe from the time zombies. Especially when there was only one in the Victorian library and it was indistinct and vaguely humanoid. Get out of the darkness Clara, your sanity meter is going down!

 

The robot plot, often the sort of thing that seems tacked-on, worked far better than it should have. With so few character beats between the Van Baalens, the relationship was conveyed pretty effectively, and solidified in the wall-stabby bit and resolved all within a few minutes. I can’t decide whether they were a plot device or at least peripherally necessary to the episode’s premise, but it was nice to see “obviously-dead-by-the-end-of-the-episode” characters have such a compelling plot that functioned alongside the development of the Doctor-Clara without either devaluing the other. The open end was lovely, too. I’d honestly like to see them back later, with the exception of Bram, who mostly served to make Gregor look good by comparison.

 

Still no idea where the show is taking this particular Companion-Doctor relationship. I’d be surprisingly fine with a romance if they could find some way of ending in a way that hadn’t already been depressingly done to death. Wherever it’s going, the fact that The Doctor’s finally realising she’s a human being can only mean good things. I don’t buy into the fandom’s assertion that Doctor Who delivers some of the best emotional punches on television. Companion goodbyes are usually pretty depressing, but they’re no more than well-done, in contrast to what all the .gifs of David Tennant being sad in the rain seem to suggest.

 

Doctor Who, for me, has firstly been about creating human narratives out of fantastical situations and secondly about writing a show with totally arbitrary stakes, setting, and capabilities and making it convincing. The Doctor, his screwdriver, and the TARDIS are bottomless wells of plot-based power, and yet most every week manage to convince me that this particular situation can’t be solved by the snap of the madman in a box’s fingers. It’s probably the best treatment of a character with infinite power I’ve seen on a screen. That’s quality writing right there, and I can forgive occasional unwieldy dialogue and ridiculous situations if it can keep me convinced. 

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