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Hannibal – “Buffet Froid”

Usually, Hannibal episodes can do one of two things: they can develop the show’s protagonists in a meaningful sense, or they can have an engaging killer of the week. The pilot and “Amuse-Bouche” did both, but their job was to establish the characters rather than develop them, and in most subsequent episodes, either interesting villains or the advancement of the overall plot have taken the back seat. This week, in “Buffet Froid,” Hannibal elegantly ties Will Graham’s tortured psyche into a haunting plot about a killer with a chance for redemption.

The episode evokes overt horror elements in its opening; a pretty twentysomething woman living on her own discovers a leak and subsequently a hole in her roof in the episode’s lingering first shots. It’s very haunted house, but Hannibal dials up the horror all the way when she’s abruptly pulled under her bed, followed by gouts of blood and screams. It’s one of the series’ scariest scenes, and seems like the setup for a monstrous bogeyman, devoid of humanity in some way or other. Surprisingly, “Buffet Froid” goes the other way, and our bogeyman is the most relatable killer Hannibal’s ever done.

 

HannibalS01E10-1 Word Depository

JESUS CHRIST

 

Most of Hannibal’s killers have a mental illness to complement their murdering, but not one that ever excuses it. Garret Jacob Hobbs had an unhealthy obsession with his daughter as well as an “every part of the buffalo” attitude that gave his murders a fascinating and disturbing motive. Brain Tumour Jesus’ visions added a small enough element of the supernatural that it mystified the crimes, but didn’t detract from the setting. This week’s Georgia Madchen, on the other hand, was revealed to be totally pitiable: she has Cotard’s Syndrome, and so doesn’t know she’s killing anyone, nor even that she’s alive.

The horror of Georgia’s situation is driven home in a reveal in the episode’s final minutes. She walks in on Hannibal mutilating Dr. Sutcliffe and sees a faceless monster who hands her incriminating evidence and calmly walks out. Aside from Hannibal’s appearance tying in nicely with his psyhiatrist’s comment about his “person suit,” the audience sympathises absolutely with Georgia in that moment. Her vision of the world is terrifying.

Not content with making a woman who rips people’s faces off relatable, Hannibal goes and ties her directly to Will, a man so close to mental breakdown he worries if he’s even alive. When he shouts, “If you can hear me, you’re alive!” at her, it’s an attempt to get her to understand, but it’s also an affirmation of his own vitality. If his empathy can save someone directly, rather than bringing him closer to psychopaths, he can control a part of his disintegrating world. The scene where he reaches out to her under the bed is a little unsubtle in the “bringing her out of darkness” thematic content, but it’s also heartbreaking. Will and Georgia aren’t criminal and FBI agent. They’re two human in desperate need of connection and understanding, and though it doesn’t provide the latter, a connection is made, however brief.

The second pre- opening credits scene with Will and Hannibal is quite well-done in its varying degrees of subtlety in foreshadowing. Will’s comment about knowing he’s still alive thematically ties him to the episode’s killer. Furthermore, the buildup to and implications of Will’s clock were lovely. It’s actually a shock to see that, yes, there is probably something seriously wrong with him, and an even larger one to see Hannibal withholding information from him that doesn’t have to do with murdering people. The scene shows that Will trusts Hannibal immediately, offering little resistance to or questioning of drawing the clock, and just as quickly damages that bond.

 

HannibalS01E10-2 Word Depository

Huh. So he’s not actually crazy. Or, you know, mostly,

 

Jack Crawford hasn’t had much to do since that business with his wife’s cancer, but his scenes with Will bordered on the adorable. “I am not sand. I am bedrock.” would seem ridiculous in other circumstances, but Laurence Fishburne delivers it with such confidence that it works. For all his cold demeanor in the past few episodes, Jack actually cares quite a bit about Will, and the comparison to Miriam Lass actually reinforces his concern rather than being just a “I-couldn’t-save-her-but-I’ll-save-you” moment. It was that as well, but it managed to convey that, with all his protectors, Will might actually be okay.

If Will and Jack was almost cute, Will and Beverly bonding in a murder scene was downright adorable, in that twisted way Hannibal does everything. “Flirting” is definitely the wrong word for their attempts to discover Georgia Madchen’s motives, but it’s interesting that Will called her rather than anyone else to validate his sanity, and more interesting that she’s entirely on board with that. Katz hasn’t got much development, being a secondary character at best, but she does make one important contribution this week; when she says that Georgia was trying to claw off a mask, Will’s face reveals that he honestly hadn’t thought of that. She’s one of the only people not named Hannibal Lecter to offer Will any insight into a crime that hadn’t already occurred to him, which adds a new dimension to their relationship.

 

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I reiterate: JESUS CHRIST

 

“Buffet Froid” lets Will Graham use his empathy powers in a way that actually helps someone in need rather than destroying his mind, which affords him a little stability and control in his life. It establishes that he’s got people who care about him and that want him to be safe, but at the same time it pulls the rug out from under his feet. His best friend betrays him and the audience is left unsure as to how far he’ll go to study Will. The season is building to some sort of mental collapse and with this week’s encephalitis reveal has sped events up dangerously.

In Memoriam: Dr. Sutcliff, a man killed for the crime of not enjoying immaculately prepared human flesh, also something to do with Will’s brain. But mostly because he wouldn’t eat Hannibal’s food. Although that may have actually been a pig, which is the probably the first thing Hannibal’s served someone that can be confirmed as not people.

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Hannibal – “Trou Normand”

Having spent the last few episodes playing around in Hannibal Lecter’s psyche, Hannibal gets back to Will Graham in “Trou Normand,” suggesting some worrying things both about him as a character and his future on the show. The episode also tries to bring back some of the psychological fascination that its killers of the week had at the beginning of the season, with less success.

But look, he's so happy!

But look, he’s so happy!

Hugh Dancy gets a wonderful scene at the beginning of the episode, where post-crime scene, he loses three hours of time and finds himself in Hannibal’s office. Will quietly loses his mind, playing up the vulnerability he’s been displaying for most of the season in a very believable breakdown. The scene is also indicative of his developing relationship with Hannibal; he goes to his office, a safe space, when he mentally dissociates from the extreme stress placed on his psyche. Hannibal pushes it further in a frankly adorable line, where he says “I’m your friend. I don’t care about the lives you save. I care about you.” This development works because we know that their friendship can’t last given the serial killer thing, but possibly less sustainable is the drama revolving around Will’s psyche. Alana Bloom tells him he’s unstable, and he agrees, so I’m curious what happens next after he snaps in some way or other. I assume it’ll happen at the end of the season, but what next for his character in season two? Though I’m confident the writers have some sort of idea, I can’t think what it is.

“Trou Normand”s totem of corpses is one of the most viscerally disturbing murders Hannibal has shown so far, and the clinical detachment with which it’s portrayed is even more effective than usual. As usual, the crime scene FBI People banter was entertaining without overdoing levity, but the highlight of the case was Will explaining that, to the killer, it didn’t matter how the victims were killed. His aim was their death rather any sort of performance, until his final installation. Usually Hannibal villains have a motive other than straight murder, and, initially, it was both refreshing and starkly frightening.

However, when revealed, Lawrence Wells came as somewhat of a disappointment. True, his introduction, sitting in an armchair with all his possessions, ready and willing to go to jail is very evocative. That part of the plot, the fact that the villain’s plan worked, and he is essentially unpunished, went very well. He didn’t, though, have the delusional sort of insanity that made Garrett Jacob Hobbs, Mushroom Man, and Brain Tumour Jesus so interesting despite minimal screen time. Furthermore, Jack and Will’s discovery of him seemed far too easy, even if the man planned it himself. Hannibal goes out of its way a lot to show that the FBI are actually quite good at their jobs, but sometimes it’s unsatisfying how easily Jack and co. track down the crazies. Likewise, the plot involving Wells’ son seemed rather tacked on; even though he did need some depth, his relationship to his family wasn’t something I really cared about, and Hannibal wasn’t able to convince me that it was important.

"Ye're tardy; I should have been aflame ten minutes since."

“Ye’re tardy; I should have been aflame ten minutes since.”

Abigail Hobbs’ return left me somewhat conflicted. Dead Girl Support Group could have been a great scene, if played a little less melodramatic, but as it happened, the chorus of accusation ended up silly rather than disturbing. Similarly unexciting was Abigail’s new relationship with Freddie Lounds, because it’s very obvious what an awful human being Freddie is, and that this is going nowhere nice for Abigail. It did, however, facilitate Abigail calling out Will on his paternalist attitude towards her. Her interactions with him and Hannibal this week clearly indicate that she doesn’t want a father figure, and it is interesting to watch Freddie use that to get closer to her.

The best parts of Abigail’s story are the few choices she makes herself, and this week one of her only acts of agency comes back to haunt her when Nicholas Boyle’s body is discovered. Really, “Trou Normand” highlights how utterly hopeless Abigail’s situation is; the only decisions she’s made on her own – killing Nicholas Boyle, collaborating with Freddie Lounds – have made her life even worse than it already is. The episode’s final revelation that pretty much everything Jack Crawford said about her is true puts her in an interesting position. It’s easy to make the audience sympathise with a serial killer; obvious, given this show is about Hannibal Lecter. But Abigail’s revelation is hardly coloured by ambiguity at all. Hannibal tells her “You’re not a monster. You’re a victim.” Everything in her life is determined by others acting upon her and the result is a character who is deeply transgressive in her actions, but not her motivations or disposition. I severely doubt she’s going to live through the season, but Abigail’s story definitely has enough steam to carry another few episodes.

Drop dead.

Drop dead.

On a more continuity-related note, I very much enjoyed Hannibal’s manipulation of Will when he discovers that he helped dispose of Nicholas Boyle. The “both her fathers” line is an excellent example of Hannibal using what he knows about Will’s mind to manipulate him. The sort of manipulation that Hannibal is known for in most of his incarnations has been absent thus far, and it’s subtly introduced in that scene. I hope we get more of that, because Mads Mikkelsen is absolutely killing the subtle suggestion embedded within a larger point that works so well on Will. You don’t want your new daughter to go to prison, do you, Will? Here, I’ll pat you on the shoulder to re-assure you that covering it up is the proper, paternal response to Abigail gutting a guy with a hunting knife.

Hannibal is moving its plot along, which is necessary given how close it is to the end of the season, but it’s usually better when it’s not doing that. The show excels at its characters, not its narrative, and too much of the latter is, oddly, less interesting than Hannibal or Will just talking to someone. Luckily, “Trou Normand” had some lovely images, some very good depictions of Will’s mental collapse, and a promise that Abigail Hobbs is going some very interesting places. It’s enough to make up for the less interesting places she’s going, and the half-hearted family plot with Lawrence Wells. Even given Hannibal’s foregone conclusion, I’m very excited as to where the end of the season is headed, which almost certainly nowhere cheerful.

In Memoriam: Abigail Hobbs’ innocence, although ambiguously. It’s difficult to tell whether it’s alive or dead at this point.

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Hannibal – “Fromage”

Hannibal has it easy in one important aspect; it doesn’t have to iterate its premise very much. As an adaptation, even a loose one, certain groundrules are previously established, and certain expectations are pre-existing. Hannibal could have been quite lazy with its subject matter, given that Hannibal Lecter murdering people and talking about is such lucrative territory, but this week’s “Fromage” has fully revealed what the show is really about: crazy people being crazy at each other. Principally these people are Hannibal and Will, and the expression and interaction of their psychologies drives a lot of what makes the show good.

Will and Alana Bloom’s romantic scenes are an excellent example of this preoccupation, as they’re just as important to the episode as Hannibal’s relationship to the killer of the week, Tobias Budge. The scenes are full of psychological analysis, both implied and explained out loud. Alana very rationally talks herself down from going any farther with Will and it’s abundantly clear what it means to both of them. There’s clearly a mutual attraction, but Alana knows that unless Will is going to stop being a curiosity, she can’t separate academic fascination. “Fromage” does a great job of showing that this is at least as important to the show as various murders. When Will shows up at Hannibal’s house after he’s rejected, it’s adorable, but it’s also an admission by the show that it’s principally about how these two minds function. Everything they do matters, because the crimes aren’t the focus. It’s a show about people.

Before I explore that theme a little more, I’d like to comment on this week’s crime-scene empathy. It’s a pretty interesting idea, and I’d hesitate to call it a gimmick, but after last week it seemed like it might be heading in that direction. Not that there was anything wrong with last week’s hotel murder, but it didn’t do anything new. However, this week’s was wonderfully chilling. The murder itself is the result of a much more interesting mind than the previous few episodes, but what really makes the scene is Garret Jacob Hobbs clapping in the seats. Hannibal keeps coming up with new ways to show us how tortured Will’s psyche is, and a visit from the man himself is chilling. The way the camera moves to him smirking alone in the audience reinforces how much his murder Will’s been trying to repress and its symbolic development from the animals to a human presence lurking in the corners of his psyche. Better yet, it isn’t another bloody elk.

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“Now I’m not condoning any of this, but you have to admit that this human cello thing is pretty fucking cool.”

Other fun with the murder of the week: Beverly Katz holding a bow and looking nonplussed. Her banter with the two other FBI People is one of the most consistently funny pieces of dark comedy the show has to offer.

The episode’s central murder is musically-themed, a man’s throat cut and his vocal cords played like a cello, and as such the soundtrack is almost constantly present, emitting some kind of noise or other. This ties in nicely with Will’s deteriorating mental state, symbolising the mental “noise” his brain is constantly suffering, what with the empathy combined with the traumatic recent past.

Having established Hannibal Lecter’s loneliness and god complex in previous weeks, “Fromage” has what I can only describe as fun with it. We know Hannibal wants a friend, and now we have someone who wants to be friends with him in Tobias Budge, musician, luthier, and musically-themed serial killer. Tobias gives Hannibal a message via poor, stupid Franklyn Froideveaux and the two spend most of the episode circling each other like cats. Tobias seems to genuinely want Hannibal’s approval; unfortunately, Hannibal can barely conceal his contempt. You’d think a friend who shares his interests would be nice, but the thing is, it’s crucial to Hannibal’s character that he’s not only a serial killer, but the serial killer. Everyone else kills out of compulsion, or emotional fetters, or sheer fucked-upness, but Hannibal tells himself that he kills for a nobler purpose.

Hannibal’s paradox is that he wants understanding, but no-one that can truly empathise with him is worthy of his time. Will, as he mentions obliquely to his therapist, is the closest he can get to true understanding without being a competitor. Franklin is a useful example here, as it’s clear that Hannibal has a sort of condescending regard for him, enough to refer him to someone else and ask Tobias not to kill him. However, as soon as Franklin becomes an irritation in his confrontation with Tobias, Hannibal snaps his neck, partially because he’s a liability in the situation, but partially to spite Tobias, who was “looking forward to that.” Hannibal murders a man out of sheer contempt, both for the victim and the would-be murderer. He hates that someone who he doesn’t respect thinks he understands him, which is abundantly clear when he subsequently murders Tobias. With an elk statue. Sigh. You just can’t get away from them, apparently.

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You say the word “elk” enough, it loses all meaning.

With “Fromage,” Hannibal has definitely let its audience know that, as much as it masquerades as a crime show, it’s first and foremost about exploring peoples’ heads in excruciating detail. There are a few murders and a kiss, but all of them are in service of how the characters interact on an intellectual and emotional level.

In Memoriam: Franklyn Froideveaux, who probably had it coming, given that he tried to reason with a guy who makes instruments out of people and stalked Hannibal Lecter. Idiot.

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Game of Thrones – “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”

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.

 

Last week I said that “The Climb” was a preamble everything falling apart in the second half of season three of Game of Thrones. Turns out that the show is still inching its way towards the precipice, because this week’s “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is still moving pieces around on the board. Game of Thrones checks in on various bears and maiden fairs across Westeros, theming its episode around couples and their varying degrees of happiness.

Unfortunately, my complaints about the wildling group haven’t changed one bit from last week. Jon and Orell are still butting heads, and the possibility that their enmity for each other could result in any sort of meaningful interaction is slim. Orell’s interaction with Ygritte is similarly pointless; it’s obvious she isn’t going to abandon whatever relationship she has with Jon for him, and the two don’t need any more reason to hate each other. I’ve liked a fair few adaptation changes that Game of Thrones has done so far, but the show seems really confused as to how to handle the wildlings. At least Tormund gets to showcase an actual character when he explains to Jon how to properly pleasure a lady, complete with expansive gestures. Like I’ve said before, he’s the one of the only wildling characters to potentially matter beyond season three, so he should get more screen time.

Please just go away.

Please just go away.

Jon and Ygritte follows the same pattern as per last week, alternating between weirdly saccharine flirting, banter, and occasional suspicion. This relationship is what the show is getting right, and I quite like how much of Ygritte’s perspective we’re getting. We’ve been getting little insights on how she thinks, but this week it’s clear that she doesn’t care what side Jon is on. He’s hers, and that’s much more important than trivialities like war, vows, and the encroaching ice-zombie apocalypse. Most importantly, we learn that Jon Snow does know something, as it turns out, about windmills. As enjoyable as it is to watch Jon and Ygritte, there’s only one way this can all end, and I don’t care enough about any of the wildlings or their plans for it to matter very much.

Well, at least Robb Stark’s happy, and the fact that he has such a great relationship to his wife is laying on the Red Wedding foreshadowing pretty thick. It’s an unfortunate side effect of having read the books that I find it quite difficult to invest in his story, but I think Talisa is a great improvement over the book’s Jeyne Westerling, who was less Robb Stark’s wife than a convenient, wife-shaped plot device. Having Talisa be even less strategically valuable, and giving her a personality makes the fact that she’s going to doom Robb all the more poignant. They’re one of the only truly happy couples on the show, and the fact that they’re the most dangerous to the people around them is as strong an articulation on Game of Thrones’ opinions on things like love and honour as poor old Ned Stark.

Margarey and Sansa have a chat about their various romantic prospects and it’s mostly useful to reinforce how much I am liking Margarey’s character so far. She’s playing a big game with the Lannisters, and she’s winning. Despite her ambitions to be “the queen,” she also seems to genuinely care about Sansa, though that could certainly be a play to get the North on her side once the war ends. The show had to cut a lot of minor scheming in transition from the books for the sake of brevity, but the fact that they’re exploring Margarey’s designs more is lovely. She’s developed into one of the only characters who can play the game and play it well, and still remain totally likeable. When she tells Sansa at the end of their scene, “Yes, sweet girl. I learned it from my mother,” in reference to their sex talk, it comes across as gently humorous rather than condescending.

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Yeah, my mother told me that Tyrion Lannister is good in bed.

Tyrion and Shae, like Margarey and Sansa, was a necessary scene given the characters’ relationship, but it didn’t accomplish much, and nor was it particularly engaging. I’m predicting a lot of fan hatred towards Shae after this scene, as she’s been previously been an unexpectedly intelligent source of fanservice and occasionally knives, and now she’s actually objecting to the class structure that’s put her in this position. I’m sure the same sort of people who hate Skyler in Breaking Bad are just chomping at the bit to call her a “bitch” for expecting some sort of fidelity in her relationship with Tyrion. He clearly loves her in a twisted sort of way, but as unengaging as the scene was, it’s useful in showing that, even as a partial outcast from his family, he’s still a product of the society he’s been raised in. Marrying his “whore,” even if he’s done it once before, is not something that crosses his mind, as out of place as he is in King’s Landing now that his father’s returned.

Daenerys’ singular scene in “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is the most satisfying portion of the episode, and serves as a transitory passage to the next part of her story. Nothing dramatic happens, merely a meeting with an ambassador from Yunkai, but it confirms that she’s going to be kicking around in Essos for a good while; her nebulous goal from the first two seasons has been replaced, temporarily, by the immediate goal of Abraham Lincolning Slaver’s Bay and surrounding area. It also serves to highlight the confidence she’s found in wielding her power; her sack of Astapor marked a change from relying in her advisors. Her talk with the Yunkish ambassador is directed entirely by her, and her presence dominates everyone involved. It’s a joy to watch her utterly shut down everyone who contradicts her, and threaten various people with dragon- or eunuch-based murder without changing her expression.

I didn't mention him in the review, but wow, does the show really like this particular shot.

I didn’t mention him in the review, but wow, does the show really like this particular shot.

The episode’s conclusion and literal interpretation of the title provides some spectacle to allay the frustration of nothing much happening all episode. Jaime’s rescue of Brienne proves how fundamentally losing his hand has changed him. He relies on bluff and guile to accomplish his ends, and he does it very well. When he does get into a fight, he’s totally useless, running away from the bear until Brienne can get out safely. The confrontation with Roose Bolton’s lackey is nicely tense and it is good to see the fucker denied something. If he’s supposed to be a stand-in for Vargo Hoat, I wonder if the show is going to have Gregor Clegane feed him his own limbs? One can but hope.

“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” isn’t a bad episode of Game of Thrones by any means, and by any reasonable metric a bad episode of Game of Thrones is still very good. But it’s easy to get impatient what with all the potential teased last week. It had lots of great character moments; I didn’t have much to say about Joffrey and Tywin, but it was an excellent scene. However, it squandered a little of the breathless anticipation of “The Climb”, only giving the audience a little bit of payoff at the end of the episode. Like, “The Climb:, it foreshadows greater things, but it doesn’t do it quite as well.

2X PSYCHOPATH COMBO

2X PSYCHOPATH COMBO

Oh, and before I forget: a moment of silence for Theon Greyjoy’s genitals, brought so low by the ravages of time and psychopaths with sharp knives.

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Doctor Who – “Nightmare in Silver”

After the brilliance of “The Doctor’s Wife”, it was widely assumed (by me, and presumably some other folks) that Neil Gaiman’s second turn as writer for Stephen Moffat’s Doctor Who would be equal in offbeat humour and piercing insight into a decades-old character. These people (me) must have been surprised when “Nightmare in Silver” was not at all brilliant, but instead one of the most uneven episodes the new series has ever produced.

 

“Nightmare in Silver”, like “The Doctor’s Wife” has a lot of Gaiman hallmarks. His fascination with the grotesque nature of carnivals and theatrical illusionists, and peculiar sense of humour are definitely present. But what’s also very evident is that Gaiman is first and foremost writing as a fan. Not that I’m in possession of the statistics, but there’s a fairly good chance that most of the show’s writers were fans of the original series. The difference is, however, that no writer has as much of a “inmates running the asylum” mentality as Gaiman. You can just see him thinking “Oh man, oh man, what if The Doctor was a Cyberman?” or “Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a callback to all of The Doctor’s regenerations? They were so cool.”

 

The answer to the first question is that it would be terrifying.

The answer to the first question is that it would be terrifying.

 

These questions, though interesting, don’t tend to result in a well-formed narrative, and as such the episode isn’t terribly coherent. The plot isn’t anything new: the Cybermen are back, and that’s really about it. The Cybermen are second only to the Daleks in cockroach tenacity, so it’s never as terribly surprising as the characters make it out to be. There’s a backdrop of a massive galactic empire that’s not shown up until now, but the setting is mostly concerned with its rejects, and it doesn’t directly enter into the narrative until the climax. When it does, it’s not exactly a deus ex machina¸ but it’s not totally satisfying and it elevates a character who hasn’t got much in the way of an arc.

 

That said, Neil Gaiman is still Neil Gaiman, and he’s still a master. Despite all its plot contrivances and a certain lack of originality, I thoroughly enjoyed “Nightmare in Silver.” Firstly, The Doctor was unconventionally removed from the central narrative and it showcased his most interesting plot of the season, and one of Doctor Who’s most compelling villains. And secondly, Clara got to do things. And they were cool things.

 

I’ll start with the second. Like I mentioned in my review of “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,” Doctor Who is very slowly breaking out of its standard Companion paradigm. With The Doctor incapacitated in his chess game with himself, he tacitly leaves Clara in charge of fighting off the Cybermen and not letting anyone blow up the planet. And she does. No fuss, no agony of command, she just up and starts making decisions. In what I’ve chose to refer to as The Siege of Comical Castle, she runs about organising a defense that’s surprisingly capable given her total ignorance of pretty much the entire setting. In between, she gets a couple fantastic interactions with The Doctor, absolutely nailing his psychology regarding romance: “Because even if that was true, which it is…obviously not, I know you well enough to know that you would rather die than say it.” Clara’s final interaction with the Emperor was odd and didn’t feel particularly organic, but it cemented the tremendous amount of independence she gets this episode. The girl uses a two-handed mace on a Cyberman. Unsuccessfully, sure, but she isn’t fucking around.  “Nightmare in Silver” shows she’s got a lot in common with the Eleventh Doctor: fast-talking, clever, good with children, and very confident of her own abilities. As such, I’m even more excited to see where their relationship goes, as he’s never been quite this well-matched with someone on his side.

 

See? Right there. Enormous mace. Damn.

See? Right there. Enormous mace. Damn.

 

Well, River comes close, but their relationship’s balance of power tips multiple times an episode, and “on his side” is relative. There was that one time she murdered him.

 

The Doctor’s plot, oddly insular, is how Gaiman’s “running the asylum” mentality manifests itself in the best way. The Doctor gets partially “upgraded” and spends most of the episode fighting with himself for dominance of his body. That sort of thing isn’t amazingly original, but the writing is wonderful and Matt Smith plays it perfectly. You wouldn’t think “The Doctor but evil and a robot” is terribly compelling, but oh dear me, he is. His behaviours, all embodying the same sort of manic energy Smith puts into Eleven, ranges from the ridiculous, calling himself “Mr. Clever,” to the actually quite menacing, the absolutely straightfaced “I have a chess game to win and you have to die pointlessly, and very far from home. Toodle-loo.” Smith also forms a distinct voice for Mr. Clever, which is often deliberately obfuscated to leave the audience (and Clara) guessing as to who’s actually talking. It’s very fun to see him against an adversary who is very nearly smarter than him, and though his defeat isn’t wholly satisfying, the interplay between the two right until the end makes it worthwhile. Meanwhile, there’s a bit of him still floating about in space, so Mr. Clever might be back. I can dream.

 

Children are rarely interesting characters in Doctor Who¸ and “Nightmare in Silver” didn’t, unfortunately, change this. Who children can be interesting, especially when the story concerns their ageing – the best examples are Amy in “The Eleventh Hour” and Kazran in “A Christmas Carol” – but they’re usually irritating bit players or hostages of some sort. This week, they were both: I cringed when Artie and Angie turned up at the end of “The Crimson Horror” and they didn’t get the slightest bit of development beyond “Enthusiastic Child” and “Surly Intelligent Teen”, respectively. The impression I got when they were “upgraded” was that the show realised that there was no way to make them interesting and turned them into stakes, instead. True, it did get them to stop talking, but replacing one sort of bad writing with another, less irritating form of bad writing doesn’t fix either. Angie figuring Porridge (Warwick Davis) out as the Emperor didn’t really make her less obnoxious, and you can’t help but agree when Mr. Clever points out that sacrificing the chess game to save them is pretty pointless.

 

DoctorWhoS07E12-3 WordDepository

Let’s not talk about them any more.

 

Another big episode for what is definitely probably going to be something romantic with The Doctor and Clara. I do like how Mr. Clever uses what’s already there to screw with both of them, as it doesn’t take too much to get either out of their comfort zone regarding each other. With Clara this is somewhat understandable, given the “madman in a box” deal, but The Doctor having the emotional maturity of a teenager is a little wearing. Nonetheless, the episode had a lot of lingering looks and pauses, as well as a line describing them as a couple that neither bothers to deny. Something has to come to a head soon, and perhaps The Doctor, however unlikely, will actually admit how he feels about another person.

 

“Nightmare in Silver” didn’t work all the way through, but when it did, it did with style and a flourish. It asked what would happen if The Doctor’s intellect was put behind a vast and implacable machine, and the answer it gave was not only satisfying but at times frightening. It played to fears of dehumanisation better than any Cyberman episode has to date, and though they still aren’t interesting villains, they can at least be helpful in providing one.

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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.

 

HannibalS01E07-3 Word Depository

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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