Masters of Sex – Season Two Review

The season finale of Masters of Sex, entitled “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, was largely a reflection of the season as a whole – uneven but with a lot of great individual scenes and moments, most of which pertained in some way to Bill and Virginia. Throughout the entire season, the one welcome constant has been the fascinating evolution of the relationship between Bill and Virginia and here it is no different as their search for a cure of sexual dysfunctional, Virginia’s custody battles and the pair’s battle to keep their study relevant when faced with competition from a rival study, provide a deeply satisfying conclusion to the season.

Yet, at the same time, the finale also continued to explore the baffling sub-plot involving Langham’s ventures with cal-o-metric and his relationship with Flo. At times, the show can struggle to manage the various sub-plots which don’t necessarily have an exact correlation to Bill and Virginia or the study, but ultimately story lines such as Barbara and Lester’s work because they feel like they are servicing the larger story of the show. Even if they spend a long period of time without ever interacting with the two main protagonists, the pair pursuing a relationship without sex not only provides a few very sweet scenes involving Lester and Barbara within the episode  but it also allows for an interesting commentary on what it means to be in a relationship and the importance of sex and intimacy within that relationship – which is one of the show’s main themes – as they struggle to define what it means to be in a relationship with no sex. The writer’s also did a nice job of bringing the arc full circle and tying it back in with the study, as judging from the final scene, it appears as though Bill and Virginia’s attempts at curing sexual dysfunction will now extend to Barbara and Lester as well.

However that was not the case with Austin, whose continued involvement throughout the season went from a slight annoyance, to something that made me legitimately angry. The show has shown that it is willing to move on from certain character’s when they no longer remain relevant – just look at the large turnover in the cast this season – so the fact that the show kept Langham around for no apparent reason, in a story line which felt like it belonged on a completely different show with only a very tenuous thematic link to the show as a whole, makes it one character arc that is completely indefensible.

One of the shows other major problems this season was the arc concerning Libby and her time at CORE office however here the writer’s did a much better job in the final two episodes.  Part of why the story proved so problematic for the first ten episodes was the fact that we really had no insight as to why Libby was behaving so uncharacteristically as this borderline racist, however Libby’s final scene in Episode 11 went a long way in redeeming that arc this year, and Caitlin Fitzgerald does a wonderful job of selling that justification, as the idea that Libby would be seeking some sort of companionship considering the state of her relationship with Bill, makes a lot of sense. And that continued in the finale, as in a nice moment shared between Libby and Robert, it is revealed that Libby knows about Bill’s affair with Virginia. This was an important step for the show and it’s nice to know that Libby has not been completely oblivious to what has been going on between Bill and Virginia for the past three years or so, and it leaves me excited for where the show will take the relationship between the three of them in the future. Once again, I am glad where the character of Libby has ended up this season, I’m just not sure entirely sure the circuitous journey to get to that point was entirely worth it, especially when you consider that it came at the expense of possibly spending more time with Bill and Virginia.

And that is ultimately the biggest question when evaluating this second season. Are you here for the increasingly dysfunctional relationship between Bill and Virginia or are you equally compelled by the various narratives which weave in and out of Bill and Virginia’s story? If it’s the latter, then I imagine you enjoyed Season 1 a lot more as Allison Janney and Beau Bridges were both featured prominently, however if you find yourself leaning towards the former (like myself), then you will have probably found Season 2 deeply rewarding. The show thrives when the focus is firmly on the study and the incredibly complicated relationship between Bill and Virginia, and Season 2 only enhanced that further with episodes such as “Fight”, which was one of the best episodes of television you will see anywhere this year.

At this point, I would be doing an injustice to the show if I did not mention the outstanding work done by both Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan who continue to find hidden layers to the characters of William Masters and Virginia Masters. Sheen may have received the better material this season, but in the finale it is Caplan who shines. Notice the cracks in her voice as she tries to convince herself and Bill that giving up custody of her children is the right thing to do. Notice the subtleties on her face when Virginia realizes how little the children seem to care that they will be spending less time with their mother, or when she finally begins to break down on the phone with Bill, before she finally reaches her bursting point as she realizes that the CBS video – which was the reason in the first place for her giving up custody – has been pulled, even if she does not know that it was Bill that orchestrated the entire thing. Lizzy Caplan has been fantastic throughout the show’s entire run, but this may have been the best performance she has given to date.

Ultimately, the more I think about it, the more I see the similarities between this show’s second season and the second season of Game of Thrones. Both are based on source material and it has become increasingly apparent that both shows were at a point in their respective stories which were not particularly interesting, almost like it was necessary for the show’s to get past this point so that it can get to the richer material in future seasons. Yet despite that, both show’s managed to deliver what are largely considered to be the series’ best episodes to date with “Fight” for Masters of Sex and “Blackwater” for Game of Thrones, which also both happen to be episodes that revolve around one particular location for the entire episode in a season when both shows drew criticism for having various sub-plots which felt completely unrelated to the overarching storyline of the season.

Now having said that, I really liked this finale, and I thought this season actually probably did a better job than Game of Thrones’ second season, because no matter what else is going on in the show, it’s main focus is and always will be on Bill and Virginia, and for pretty much the entire duration of the second second, no matter what was going on with Austin you knew you were guaranteed at least two or three great moments between Bill and Virginia in each episode. And that is ultimately why I find Masters of Sex to still be among the very best shows on television. Everything else can be fixed but the fact that the core relationship is still as fascinating as ever leaves me completely at ease with where the show is currently at. Bill Masters and Virginia remain two of the most fascinating characters on television, and when a show can deliver episodes as good as “Fight” it is very hard to complain about anything else.
Episode Grade: A-
Season Grade: A-

‘The Newsroom’ Pilot – A (Positive) Review

I am not a Television critic. I may aspire to be one by watching an inordinate amount of television, I may even become one someday, but for now,  I am not a Television critic.

And with not being a television critic, I do not possess certain privileges that all critics gain access to. I do not get screeners early and I do not get early copies to a bulk of episodes. I am, for the most part, your regular television viewer.

So when I sat down to watch ‘The Newsroom’ on Sunday evening, like the majority of American television viewers, I was expecting to utterly detest the show that was laid before me, a show which has emerged as one of the most critically disdained television shows on HBO in a very long time. But to my (pleasant) surprise, the show extracted the complete opposite feeling.

‘The Newsroom’ is Aaron Sorkin’s (founder of shows ‘The West Wing’ and Sports Night), latest creation depicts Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, an anchor for Atlantic Cable News (ACN), who along with a very strong ensemble cast, aim to deliver a news show “in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles and their own personal entanglements”.  It is set in 2010, as to allow the writers to refer to real life events, this week it was the BP oil spill. It’s a bold angle to take, and the ideology of the show is one that seems to have extracted controversy within the American Media, the same American Media that the show is openly criticising.

It may at times, not be the most realistic depiction of The Newsroom, but ignore that for one moment. Ignore whatever criticisms you may have of Sorkin’s work, because ‘The Newsroom’ is simply the latest example of Sorkin’s mastery of dialogue. It is fast paced, funny and maybe sometimes goes over the top, but who the hell cares? This is the way television was meant to be written. When ‘The Newsroom’ ended, it felt like it had been barely half an hour, and that certainly doesn’t indicate a lack of content. The Walking Dead feels much longer, and hardly anything eventful happens unless an action sequence occurs. If an episode of television feels like a fully fledged movie, you know it has been an hour well spent. And that is exactly how I felt about ‘The Newsroom’.

The Pilot also does a great job of establishing the main characters. Within the first 7 minutes, Daniels had already captivated my attention as he attempts to summarise why America is the “greatest show in the world”. “It’s not” he replies, before delivering a stirring rant on everything that is wrong with society today. The moments preceding that were full of witty remarks, humour and everything seemed fantastic. ‘This McAvoy fella’ seems nice doesn’t he’, was my inital reaction. Within five minutes, Daniels had completely transformed his character, displaying a breadth of delivery, sometimes unseen in a character throughout an entire season. And it doesn’t stop there. We also witness strong interactions between McAvoy and his boss Charlie Skinner, complying more to the humourous side of the show, as we are introudced to the eccentric nature of Skinner, whilst also hinting at the background between McKenzie and Will, which would only further emphasise the tension (awkwardness) of their initial meeting later in the episode.

Sometimes the show sacrifices that dialogue in order to serve the extended ideological monologues that occur quite frequently during the pilot, but I can deal with two or three “we can make a difference” speeches, if the rest of the hour is spent with this cast interacting, which is ultimately where this television show excels.

And whilst Sorkin’s writing is undoubtedly an essential component, the fantastic ensemble cast  assembled, certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. Jeff Daniels, whose career has certainly been hit and miss to say the least, looks re-energised as Will McAvoy, Emily Mortimer does a fantastic job playing the counter-part to McAvoy’s narcissistic mannerisms, Sam Waterson delivers a typically reliable performance as McAvoy’s boss and contributions from Dev Patel (star of Slumdog Millionnaire), John Gallagher and Alison Pill are ‘the icing on the cake’ (to use a cliche that can sometimes find it’s way into the show’s dialogue).

At this point, I am struggling to fully comprehend the contempt that this show has received within the media. The reaction from the general public appears to be generally, very positive and with the pilot delivering HBO’s 2nd strongest ratings for a pilot ever, behind Boardwalk Empire, it will be interesting to see if there is a significant drop-off in those figures next week.

Does the contempt arise from the fact that this show openly criticises the television critic’s very profession? I sincerely doubt it. Even if you are offended by the show’s ideological thinking, you can still appreciate it as a good television show (which in my opinion, it is).

So, as I made reference to earlier, it must be something to do with the upcoming episodes, which in general, tend to be the weakest in a television series anyway. The Pilot is typically quite strong as a lot of time is devoted to it, and then it takes a few episodes for a show to establish it’s identity and structure. So even if the show falters in the next few episodes, I am still going to continue until the end of the season.

So for the most part, I am feeling somewhat optimistic about this show. ‘The Newsroom’ delivers a sharp, fast-paced, somewhat tense thriller of a pilot in which the slight hiccups can be forgiven because well… it’s a pilot.

As for the upcoming three or four episodes, lets just see what happens.

Game of Thrones Season Finale – ‘Valar Morghulis’ (2×10) Review

I have made it clear for quite a while now that I preferred Season 1 to Season 2.  There was a bigger emphasis on characterisation, there was focus, everything these characters did, it felt like there would be consequences. With Season 2, new characters were introduced, returning characters recieved more prominent roles and it all combined to contradict the story-telling of Season 1. Major characters would possibly receive one maybe two scenes per episode, and instead of giving the series scope, it removed all empathy I had for these characters. Blackwater negated that slightly, as it gave the show the focus that it desperately need but ‘Valar Morghulis’, the Season Finale only re-emphasised my initial beliefs, as it reverted back to the constrained story-telling that had hampered the majority of season 2.

So lets get the negatives out of the way first. Daenerys’ Qarth storyline has been among the weakest of the series so far and I love her character. Unfortunately, she has suffered the same fate as many of the characters from this season, in that she simply didn’t get enough screen time. It’s hard to imagine she has been granted more than half an hour of screen time for the entire season but the writers appeared to address that in the season finale with Qarth’s strongest moments yet. Viewers were rewarded with a fantastic scene in which Drogo returned to our screens, now I don’t care if this was the Warlock’s magic because despite the fact it is more than likely just an illusion, it felt real and that is in no part down to the fantastic chemistry between Dany and Drogo.

Yes, the Warlock was defeated far too easily, but I guess that just emphasises everything about Game of thrones this year. It has all felt slightly rushed, and with the lack of build up to this moment, it was only fitting that the events taking place in the House of the Unding, ended abruptly. Atleast now, it feels like Daenerys has a purpose; she’s got her dragons back, she’s got enough wealth to get her a ship, and maybe we’ll finally see Dany interact with the main cast next season? Ultimately a strong end, to a fairly weak story arc for Daenerys, especially considering how compelling her story was in Season 1.

I can’t really comment that much on the John Snow/Wildling scenes from the finale as well.. He has hardly been a prominent feature on our television sets. It simply felt like it didn’t matter, however with Snow set to meet Mans Raider, establishing himself as a spy within the Wildling’s, at least, much like with Dany’s storyline, he should have a greater role in Season 3.

Yes I am a grumpy old git as we did get some fantastic moments. Tyrion Lannister has felt like one of the few characters who we could not only relate to, but also felt important in the overall game. With his storyline, it wasn’t just about moving the chess pieces to set up some greater pay-off, and one thing the finale did provide was a fantastic conclusion to Tyrion’s story arc. Yes, we got that fantastic moment between Shae and Tyrion as he admits, that his time as hand have been the best moments of his life. He enjoyed the deceit and manipulation that have become so crucial in your ability to be Hand to the King. Ned Stark never played the game, and he paid the ultimate price. Tyrion did that and more, before he got it all stripped away as Tywin Lannister not only took all of the credit for the success of Blackwater, but also took back his role as Hand of the King, leaving our loveable imp without purpose. It may not be great to be Tyrion right now, but it should be fascinating to see how Tyrion adapts to his new role, or lack there of.

Another character whose progressions have been enjoyable was Theon Greyjoy’s. We got a great conversation between Theon and Luwin as he admits that even though it is probably all a big facade, he’s far too involved to turn back now. This definitley did a great job of creating sympathy for the death of Master Luwin but also emphasised the tragic nature of Theon’s character, as despite all the progression he has made, building up to the moment where he delivers an admittedly good speech, is completely negated with a single strike to the head. It was definitely one of the better moments of the finale however I still need an explanation as to why Winterfell was left to burn at the end and I’m not sure we will get it.

But ultimately, ‘Valar Morghulis’ will be remembered for its final five minutes. A final five minutes that granted us our first true glimpse of the ‘others’ or the white walkers and a final five minutes so compelling, that I almost completely forgot about all of the disappointing scenes from earlier in the episode.

Season 2 of Game of Thrones was definitely not on the level of Season 1. Unlike with the first season, season 2 never felt like there were any true consequences. Stannis was defeated just for him to gain fresh momentum to launch a new attack. Dany lost her dragons just for her to well… get them back and the only major deaths for the season were in the form of Master Luwin, who lets face it, is not on the same level as Ned Stark. What we can take from Season 2 is a fantastic premise for the third season. As mentioned earlier, Dany and John Sow both have fresh directions, Tyrion has a lack of direction and of course those final five minutes. It all combines for what should serve as a fantastic Season 3 but the prospect of a great season next year cannot completely negate my disappointment of this current season. We were treated to one fantastic episode in ‘Blackwater’ and a bunch of fantastic scenes, mainly from Tyrion. But as a Season as a whole, it struggled at times. The constant shifting of locale made the season feel dis-jointed, but at least with this finale, I can take comfort in the fact that we should be getting a fantastic season 3.

10 Reasons Why Miami Are A fantastic Fit For Hard Knocks

Even before Coach Philbin and the Miami Dolphins announced that they would be the team in the spotlight of HBO’s reality television series ‘Hard Knocks’, the Dolphins had already become acclimated with its fair share of the media spotlight. Dating back almost a year ago, the Miami Dolphins head coaching search had been amidst with controversy, firstly missing on John Harbaugh whilst Coach Sporano was still under contract, then missing out on Jeff Fisher after a tireless pursuit, before finally deciding that Joe Philbin was their guy.

And that was not the only talking point from the Dolphins off-season this year. The Peyton Manning saga undoubtedly left a lot of franchises scarred, but maybe none more so than the Miami Dolphins. A team who in the past, have missed so many times in finding Dan Marino’s replacement. In total, 17 quarterbacks have been under center for the Dolphins since  Marino’s retirement. So when Peyton Manning decided to take his talents to Denver instead of South Beach, who most considered the early running favourites, Miami fans were left with that eerily similar feeling to that of when they missed out on Drew Brees years before. Ultimately, Ryan Tannehill was drafted by the Dolphins with the 8th overall pick, signifying the first time the Miami Dolphins have selected a quarterback in the first round, since Marino.

So why you ask, are the Dolphins and Coach Philbin even considering making their locker room susceptible to even further criticism? Some say Coach Philbin’s hand may have been forced by owner Stephen Ross, but when Joe Philbin came out during his daily press conference and announced that this was entirely his decision, it made me think, that maybe this is not as bad as we first thought. Here’s 10 reasons why Miami are a fantastic fit, not only for HBO, but also, for the Dolphins themselves.

10. Wide Receiver Battle

A lot of people were shocked that the Miami Dolphins did not address the Wide receiver position until the 6th Round in the 2012 NFL Draft, considering that just a couple of months prior, Jeff Ireland executed a trade that sent star receiver Brandon Marshall to Chicago for 2 3rd round Picks. But even before that there was uncertainty as many people questioned Brian Hartline as a no.2 reciever (and now it looks like he’s going into the season as the no.1 guy).

Joe Philbin has stated on numerous occasions that in his system, much like in Green Bay, there is not a true no.1 receiver, he likes to spread the ball about. But even without that security of a Brandon Marshall type receiver on your offense, the Dolphins only possess two certified locks at the wide reciever position to make the team. Clyde Gates, was highly touted after being drafted by Miami last year, but has yet to show up on game day, Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace have both shown flashes but injuries have stagnated their progressions and then there are the three rookies. Jeff Fuller, an unrestricted free agent, who just so happened to be Ryan Tannehill’s number one target in college, Rishad Matthews was a perceived 3rd round pick who fell to the Dolphins in the 7th round, and BJ Cunningham (taken in the 6th round), was the leader in Receptions and receiving yards in Michigan State history.

All of those receivers have a shot at making the roster. And with only Davone Bess and Brian Hartline as ‘locks’ to make the team, that alone would make for compelling tv, but throw in the fact that one of those ‘fringe’ players could end up starting, and the sheer breadth between success and failure, gets that bit bigger.

9. Lauren Tannehill

When the Miami Dolphins selected their Quarterback of the future with the 8th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, there was a lot of Buzz about a person with the ‘Tannehill’ surname. No not, Ryan Tannehill (the guy they drafted) but his wife, Lauren Tannehill. Yep, she is definitely something, and when Hard Knocks airs its Premiere on August 7th, I fully expect her to be a large feature, as her fame spreads from Miami to the national audience. Expect some form of storyline focusing on the Tannehill’s getting acclimated to their surroundings. That’ll be the context, but really, HBO are doing it because she could potentially emerge as a star.

8. South Beach

There are not many glitzier, more glamorous cities than Miami, Florida. Celebrities will be out in abundance, the Miami Marlins and the Miami Heat get massive media attention. Could we potentially see people like Lebron James on the show? Maybe, but the amount of celebrity activity in the area is sure to provide HBO with great incentive to create some very compelling storylines.

7.  Celebrity Owners

Stephen Ross’ early years as owner of the Miami Dolphins have definitely not gone smoothly so far. Initial controversy incurred by Ross’ decision to give B-list celebrities such as Serena Williams minority stakes in the Dolphin’s ownership, and criticised for his involvement in the John Harbaugh affair, whilst Tony Sporano was still under contract, maintains that Mr Ross has definitely got his doubters within the Miami fan base. And that controversy should no doubt provide HBO with some fantastic storytelling opportunities, but it not only benefits HBO. Hard Knocks provides Stephen Ross with the chance to clear up his image. It could end disastrously, but then again, that would just further benefit HBO, and who are we to complain about controversy?

6. The Miami Dolphins Fanbase

This is very much in the category of why this is a great fit for the Dolphins organisation. Yes, it is a well-known fact that the Dolphins fan base has certainly deteriorated over the years, and what better way to bring the Dolphins some National media attention than through Hard Knocks? Many say this issue will be addressed when the Dolphins start winning games, but Hard Knock’s is a nationally televised television program. People will take notice, and if anything, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

5. Joe Philbin

Never before on Hard Knocks has a rookie head coach been a part of the show. That all changes this year, when Joe Philbin, who is not only in his first year with the Miami Dolphins but also as a head coach, takes center stage under the spotlight. Many of the Miami media have been impressed with his attention to detail (he does after all come from Green Bay), capped off with his dry humour, and he has certainly to some extent, re-energised the fan base. It may not have been the glamour hire that Stephen Ross was hoping for, but it could turn out to be a very shrewd bit of business. Joe Philbin could definitely emerge as a star from the show. Sure, it could certainly end disastrously, as a rookie head coach, there are all sorts of new acclimatization’s that need to be made, and the added distraction of having 24 NFL Films cameras constantly over-looking you, could certainly pose a problem. But something makes me feel that, that might not be the case with Coach Philbin. He has an aura about him that emphasises that this extra media attention is unlikely to phase him. He may make quips like stating he’s “more of a radio guy” but he is certainly popular with the Miami Media. Could that translate to the national media? I can’t see why not.

4. Reggie Bush

Miami is most definitely a glamorous city, but the Miami Dolphins organisation doesn’t really pertain to that philosophy. Most people would struggle to reel off the starting depth chart for the Miami Dolphins because they simply lack the ‘big-names’. But when the Dolphins acquired Reggie Bush in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, and he produced his best season in the NFL yet as he rushed for over 1000 yards, that all changed. Yes there aren’t many more famous individuals in the NFL. He’s hosted Live! With Kelly and he was certainly in the spotlight through his tumultuous relationship with Kim Kardashian.

In previous iterations of Hard Knocks there has always been a ‘star’. Rex Ryan was the star of the New York Jets Hard Knocks, the Bengals had Ochocinco and the Cowboys had TO. Could Reggie Bush find himself on that ‘PRESTIGIOUS’ list? Maybe, I can’t wait to find out.

3. Ryan Tannehill

I mentioned his wife earlier, but now it is time for Ryan, to take the spotlight. Quite shockingly, there has never been a rookie quarterback on Hard Knocks, Ryan Tannehill signifies the first time, and that is sure to make for compelling television. How will Ryan Tannehill deal with the expectations of the fan base? How will Ryan Tannehill deal with the ‘ghost’ of Dan Marino? How will Ryan Tannehill acclimatize to the NFL? Will Ryan Tannehill impress in Training Camp? There are tons of questions surrounding this kid, and I only named four. HBO must be licking their lips, because this is a fascinating storyline.

2. 3 Way Quarterback Competition

And if that previous point wasn’t enough, the Rookie Quarterback has been thrown into a 3-way Quarterback OPEN competition for the starters job. Matt Moore impressed down the stretch last season, David Garrard’s whose time as of late has been marred by injuries was brought in to provide competition, and then there’s the franchise ‘saviour’ rookie quarterback, who some say is not ready to start week 1. It’s a fascinating competition and fits perfectly with everything that defines the Hard Knocks television series. Even Stephen Ross has shared his thoughts, stating that he expects Matt Moore to be the starter week 1. Now whilst your perception may be that he is trying to force the issue, he was saying that as a fan. As a fan that’s what he thinks, and that is also a great sign for the Dolphins who were worried by the rumors that Stephen Ross was forcing Jeff Ireland and Coach Philbin’s hand to start Ryan Tannehill right away. It’s an interesting dynamic and is one of many branching storylines that HBO can take with this issue.

Great stuff. And if all of that wasn’t enough, Joe Philbin has promised that a starter will be named by week 3 of the pre-season, which just so happens to be slap-bang in the middle of the Hard Knocks programming. This really has the potential to be great.

1. A Chance for the Dolphins to Clear Up Their Image

Yes, this one is most definitely concerned with why it is a fantastic fit for the Dolphins organisation, because let’s face it, bar the saints there is not a more screwed up organisation in the league. With Joe Philbin’s arrival, the franchise promised a more transparent organisation.Yes there has been controversy, and that controversy is one of the many reasons why this is a fantastic fit for HBO, but by agreeing to this, Hard Knocks marks the next step on the road to transparency for the Dolphins. Jeff Ireland has had his critics, over things such as the Dez Bryant controversy and Stephen Ross certainly has tarnished his image. By agreeing to Hard Knocks, all of that can change. The Dolphins have a chance to address that negative perception. Jeff Ireland may have poor management skills, which could be disastrous when it comes round to showing the front-office making their cuts, but he has shown that he has impeccable football knowledge. This is a smart man, now here’s a chance for him to show that off to the world.

You may not be watching the show to see this being enacted, but it is without doubt the most important factor in why the Miami Dolphins are a fantastic fit for Hard Knocks.

The tide may be shifting in Miami. With the hiring of Joe Philbin and the drafting of potential franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a new feeling of prosperity has descended upon the Miami fan base, Hard Knocks is simply the next phase in that progression. So let’s sit back and enjoy the ride, times are changing down in South Beach, and Hard Knocks allows you the fan, to embrace that change.

 

Game Of Thrones – ‘Blackwater’ (2×09) Review

When Ned Stark was executed in ‘Baelor’, Episode 9 of the first season, we were promised a show that would break from the typical conventions of a television show. It would no longer revolve its story around a true ‘main’ character, there would be a wider focus, with everybody getting their share of the spotlight. New characters were introduced, returning characters well, returned, some saw their demise early and some have been prevalent throughout the entire season. And with that expanded cast, it was always going to be hard for the writers to manage their screen times. Sometimes the balance had been perfected, sometimes, as emphasised in the previous episode ‘The Prince of Winterfell’, the episode lacked direction, with all of the scenes feeling thrown together and desultory as the audience was unsure how these scenes correlate with one another.

Perhaps one of the main reasons why I loved this episode so much, was the fact that it returned to the narrative techniques of the first season. In ‘Blackwater’ there was a clear focus, we wouldn’t be shifting across continents, Stannis Baratheon was about to attack, strategies needed constructing and the emotional consequences needed to be displayed. The only way to successfully display those three key components, was by devoting the entire episode to this one, pivotal battle. And by dedicating the entire episode to the events at Westeros, we were not only presented with a distinct focus that this season had lacked for the majority, but it also emphasised the sheer scale and importance of this battle. Yes, somewhere at this point in time, John Snow is still being held captive and Dany is still searching for her dragons, but at this conjunction, none of that matters, because the repercussions of ‘Blackwater’ will have affected everyone, on and off-screen.

With focus, it typically allows certain characters to prosper. No matter what your criticisms of this season, one thing that has been a consistent pleasure is the acting prowess of Peter Dinklage and the character he portrays, in Tyrion Lannister. Yes this was Tyrion’s most prominent episode yet, and for the first time we get the viewing pleasure, of seeing a character at least come slightly close to replicating the screen time that Ned recieved from last season. This will undoubtedly be the episode that Dinklage submits for emmy nominations, in what was a  simply fantastic ride. Beginning with the despair as perceptions indicated that maybe Tyrion wouldn’t survive this battle. To the growth, in what was a fantastic moment, as Tyrion delivered his speech to the soldiers. During the beginning, Tyrion and Soldiers alike, struggled to comprehend the idea of success, before being united behind the ‘hey there might be a slight chance that maybe we can win somehow come out of this alive’, philosophy. It was a great scene, and one which didn’t signify the end of Tyrion for this episode, no Tyrion was struck with a potentially fatal blow during the final battle, a potentially fatal blow that leaves the ‘end’ of Tyrion unclear, but takes place moments before, the ‘end’ of the battle is realised. Yes Tywin Lannister, who’s prescence was definitley welcomed after the mis-direction from last week, as he claimed that he would be launching a surprise attack on Robb Stark’s army, came to the rescue, to culminate a truly fantastic sequence of events.

However despite that focus I just made reference to, there were still several character arcs that required key moments even within Westeros. Hound made his exit, as he refused to fight for King Joffrey, King Joffrey with the choice between Fighting and fleeing, took the cowardly way out (staying consistent to his character) and we saw the early stages of the maturation of Sansa. But possibly the most striking of all was Cersei’s storyline. We have seen her desperation portrayed in the past, as she questioned the purpose of her life. However the unbearable tension, as we wonder how many drops she is going to give her youngest son, Tommen before realising she is going to make him drink the whole bottle, was to the point of disturbing. We witnessed her drunken rants throughout the entire episode, but never did we truly realise (until now) that these were the depths for which she was willing to sink. It should be fascinating to see the repercussions of that moment, as she has to deal with the, guilt (?) of the events that transpired. Fantastic stuff, from a character that has really grown on me this season. We never really got to see this side of Cersei in Season 1 , but with the emergence of Joffrey as King, and her (questionable) rise in authority, the extra material has really benefited Lena Headey, who has been great this season.

And to this point I have not even mentioned the action sequences. Readers of the books, and fans of the show alike, have been disappointed with the way in which the writers have dealt with the battles so far, choosing to show the aftermath rather than the fight itself. But dam if those cost-saving measures, can’t be appreciated now. The sequence with the wildfire was fantastically realised, and credit to the directors for delivering in an episode in which most of the hype that it garnered, was from the potentially fantastic battle scenes, and boy did they deliver.

Some will remember this episode for the stellar action sequences. But at its heart ‘Blackwater’ was just another (albeit fantastic) episode of progression for these characters. The battle may have provided context, but ultimately, I can leave this episode satisfied that Cersei’s emotional journey was just as satisfactory as the fantastic action sequences. Next week, I can understand that the writers need to return to the typical structure of the season, with the camera spanning continents, but if this episode’s positive reaction has proved anything, sometimes scale can be a burden and refrain, well maybe refrain is a good thing.

House Series Finale Review

Some people gave up on the show after Season 5. Some people endured all 8 seasons, through the good and the horrible. Some people who watched the finale had never watched the show before. Ultimately, it was going to be impossible for the writers to satisfy every demographic, but I can leave a show I have invested so much time in, content that the writers managed to perfectly wrap up the series long story arc, the characterisation of House, (who is easily in the top 10 for most compelling characters on television) and his relationship with his best friend, Wilson.

Some people will say that the whole House faking his own death thing was a ‘cop out’ but  it not only perfectly acknowledged a theme that has been prevalent since its foundations, in its similarity to Sherlock Holmes but also sent a perfect message, that maybe finally, House has changed. By faking his own death, he gave up the one thing that he truly loved, the Puzzle. He will no longer be able to practice medicine, there is no way around this one, maybe he will spend his final days under a new alias saving lives in Somalia, but that wasn’t the message the writers were trying to deliver. The message was that maybe, House has finally changed. For eight seasons, we have seen him consistently ‘make progress’ and then revert back to his same narcassistic mannerisms, but finally in the series finale of the show, we witnessed him give up the one thing he truly loved, the puzzle, to be with Wilson for his final five months. That to me, is progression, and perfectly befits the story that has been told not just from this season, but the series as a whole.

The majority of the episode was spent inside House’s psyche, and whilst once again, people may be critical of what may appear like some elaborate ‘plot device’ to allow all of the characters from the past to return, it actually fit perfectly with what has made House so great at times, these past eight years. House is at its best when it questions morals and studies the human psyche. Debates with Cameron over ethics, made for some of the most compelling moments of the series, and that’s because during these moments, House was more than the average serialised drama, it delivered a message. And in this final episode, we get one final debate as House questions the meaning of life, whilst all of his former colleagues/friends give their perspective. One particular highlight of those scenes, was in fact the scenes with Cameron, who was surprisingly the one person who tried to persuade House to just ‘let go’ because House has faced so much inner turmoil, that he deserves to just “give up”. I have and will say on numerous occasions during this review that the episode worked perfectly in wrapping up the series, but it also wrapped up the episode perfectly, as when House rode off in the sunset with his best friend, he finally realised that his life did in fact have meaning, and put to rest that one final debate.

The thing I loved most about the finale was the fate that most series finale’s suffer from, in that it just tries to wrap everything up in a neat bow. With the House finale, we were never given that same closure. We may have been provided glimpses of what these character’s futures entailed but it never fully delved us into their new lives. Chase looks set to replace House, but his relationship status with Adams was not addressed. Taub is trying to become more of a family man but we still don’t know if this time it is for real. And Cameron is finally trying to move on from House, but whether or not she can actually sustain that, is unclear. We are given glimpses into their lives, but their is still a sense that this world is on-going, these characters are still going through progression, even when the series has finished. We don’t know what obstacles they will face in the future, we will never know, but the simple idea that ‘House’ is still continuing after it has ended, gives me great comfort.

House at its worst, was an average serialised drama, but at its best, it made for the most compelling 45 minutes provided from any show on network television. The final 45 minutes of House won’t be remembered like I remember ‘Three Stories’ but it will always be remembered in my mind, as a perfect conclusion, to a show that on its day, was perfection.

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ESPN ’30 for 30′ is Back! My Thoughts on Pete Rose

Sports fans rejoice, ESPN’s fantastic documentary series ’30 for 30′ is back! And now with extra ‘shorts’ to go along with it. Today marked the day that the first of those ‘shorts’ were published with Bill Simmons having this to say:

“Why expand the series with short films? Because “30 for 30″ needed its own Mini-Me. Because live streaming has gotten so reliably fast that we felt like we could pull this off. Because there are stories out there that we loved for four to 12 minutes, but maybe not for a full hour. Because talented filmmakers are usually juggling multiple projects, so sometimes it’s easier for them to take on a shorter project than a bigger one. Because we wanted you to waste more time on your iPad, or possibly rear-end the car in front of you as you’re watching these on your mobile device when you shouldn’t be watching these on your mobile device. Because Pete Rose bet we couldn’t do it. (Just kidding.) And most important, because we felt like there was a creative void sitting there for this specific form of storytelling. As you’ll see with our first short film, you might not want to spend an hour in Pete Rose’s world at this point of his life. But eight minutes? Absolutely.”

And it is Pete Rose’s story that was released today. I’m not necessarily going to review the episode, it was interesting seeing how his life has transformed from the greatest ever all round baseball player, in my opinion to a man who runs a shop in Las Vegas, signing old memorabilia, but not enough to devote an article to. One thing I will say that I was slightly offended by, was the route that ESPN decided to take with the Pete Rose storyline. “You might not want to spend an hour in Pete Rose’s World?” Seriously? This is one of the most compelling sports stories of all time, and you think it’s only worthy of a short eight minute video? You could have easily devoted the documentary towards how he won those 1972 games, how his gambling affected the world of baseball, and THEN show the aftermath. What we got was one of the most iconic baseball players, sitting in a shop for eight minutes.

I’m not angry, I am actually excited the 30 for 30 series has returned, but eight minutes was simply not enough time for this story. It did however, send me off on a long convoluted thought process debating the Pete Rose saga, should he be named into the Hall of Fame? Absoloutely.

As I mentioned earlier, In my personal opinion, Pete Rose is the best all round baseball player, of all time. The Baseball Hall of Fame, quite frankly, feels empty without his name enshrined. He deserves to be inducted, as a PLAYER. Pete Rose, the guy that won 1972 games, was not the guy gambling on his own games, that was the coach. By all mines ban him from entering as a coach, but as a player, there is no trace of wrong doing throughout his career, just unrivalled success.

Players are consistently charged with criminal offences such as DUI, they get a couple of games suspension. But gambling is considered the ultimate sin? People have done a lot worse than Pete Rose, trust me, and those types of people, surround the Baseball hall of fame. But Pete Rose is omitted because of gambling offenses. I’m not advocating what he did, it was a mistake that I am sure Pete regrets now. But he deserves to be in the hall of fame, if you aren’t going to do it for him, then do it for baseball. The Hall of Fame simply doesn’t feel right without him in.

One thing I can take comfort in however, Pete Rose’s legacy will live on forever. The controversy surrounding his name will ensure his name lasts forever, even if he isn’t inducted into the hall of fame. Pete will remain in the spotlight, I just hope in fifty years times, he will be remembered for the good things, the things that defined him. Like being the most winningest sportsman of all time, because that is ultimately what I will remember him for.

Game Of Thrones – A Man Without Honor (2×07) Review

A mixed bag in this episode, some truly superb scenes let down by some quite predictable ones.

Lets start off with that disturbing ending scene because I’m still thinking about it now. No I do not think those boys were Bran and Rickon. How do I know? Two reasons:

1) You Don’t Kill a main character off-screen.2

2) By burning the bodies they aren’t identifiable.

3) The writers went out of their way to show the two farm boys, and I’m pretty certain it is these two that have suffered from Theon’s rage.

So yeah I don’t think it was Bran or Rickon, it certainly would be shocking if it did turn out that, that was the case but I don’t see. Still, a truly horrifying scene, and seeing Theon’s transformation these past couple of episodes has definitely made for compelling television.

On to the next big hateable baddy! Yes it appears Tyrion and Cersei are finally coming to terms with exactly how bat-shit crazy Joffrey is. With the news of Stannis Baretheon’s ships sailing towards the city, we get a fantastic scene where Cersei reflects on her life, as she questions whether or not she is a good mother. She certainly doesn’t seem to think so, especially considering how Joffrey has turned out, but it was nice to see Tyrion show some compassion and remind her that her other two children have turned out alright. Just a very interesting, in which we see completely different sides to two characters who are normally so well guarded from their inner turmoil. How will Joffrey deal with the impending invasion? I have no idea, but it is sure to involve some form of lunacy, and I can’t wait to see the events unfold.

Yes, Cersei was magnificent in this episode, and we got yet another scene where she reflects on her life with Sansa. It was pretty gripping how she basically told her to shut off her emotions to anybody other than her children. I thought it was crucial to give these scenes to Cersei, as for the majority of the first reason we really didn’t see her intentions, but in this episode alone, it’s converted me fully to a Cersei sympathiser.

Another fantastic scene involving Arya and Tywin Lannister. I will now devote the next sentence, as always, to mentioning how fantastic Maisie Williams is, and how she is pretty much the best child actor on our screens. Moving on, yes the scene was fantastic, finally we got Tywin seeing through Arya’s disguise, and fairly easily at that. It’s quite funny seeing a girl who is obviously very smart, and yet wouldn’t even consider the fact that if she is some random peasant, she would have no idea about the history of the seven Kingdoms. I fully expect Arya’s ‘secret’ to be revealed in the coming episodes, and I can’t wait to see how Tywin deals with it, especially considering during the scene he stated how much he has begun to like her.

Yes, finally, another great Daenerys scene. Looks like my prediction was correct from last episode, and it is the warlocks that have stolen Dany’s dragons. I don’t know what it is about Pyat Pree, but he just has that look that sends a shiver down your spine and in one incredibly intense scene, he removed practically the entire ’13’, and immediately established him as the main villain in Dany’s storyline for this season.

And oh Jamie Lannister, we’d almost forgotten you had been taken price, and then you deliver an episode like that. The titular character from this episode, and that titles pretty much sums up his story arc from this episode, a ‘Man Without Honor’. It was pretty obvious from the start of the first scene that Jamie was using the poor squire for some horrible deed later in the episode, but that doesn’t mean we should disregard what he said during the scene. I truly resonated with Jamie in this scene as you could see he appreciates the skill it takes to be a good squire, and he himself, could not perform that same duty. He is a man without honor, built for fighting and fighting alone, however I find that myself actually disputing that point, as he quite easily picked apart Catelyn later on in the episode. Another great scene, in an episode full of them, now hopefully we get a bit more of Jamie before this season is finished.

Unfortunately we did get two fairly predictable scenes that detracted from the episode. I’m not as much concerned about Robb Stark’s love interest as I was with John Snow’s story arc, as it spanned the whole episode. Everything that happened was just quite predictable, you could see he was getting led into some form of trap, but was fooled by a potential love interest. But maybe that was the purpose of it, to emphasise how foolish he was being.

Still a very very good episode, this was actually my favourite of the season, and with Season 2 reaching it’s climax, it should only get better.

Fringe – Brave New World Part 2 (4×22) Review

Despite the fantastic run of episodes preceding part 2 of the Fringe finale, I walked away feeling slightly disappointed.  The two major cliffhangers, we already knew about, we knew the Observers were ‘coming’, we already knew that Olivia was pregnant and we already knew that in some form or another, Olivia would be killed and what that served to do, was make for a quite predictable season finale.

Lets start off with the Olivia ‘death’ scene as this did actually throw up some interesting questions. Despite the fact we already knew that Olivia was going to be ‘killed’, I never expected it to be Walter that pulled the trigger. Unfortunately even that surprise was made slightly predictable due to us learning that it was Olivia, that William Bell was using as the energy source, so it was inevitable that somebody would have to kill her. I also predicted in the Part 1 review that the scene with the regenerative lemon cake would have to play some sort of role in the finale, otherwise it would have been slightly meaningless apart from well.. Walter being his awesome self.

But now that the negatives from that scene are out of the way, let’s talk about the positives, as this scene did threw up a lot of interesting questions. If Walter was the person to kill Olivia, does that make him Man X? Or is Man X someone else? Does that mean Olivia is going to be killed again? I must say I feel kind of sorry for her, if she has to live through TWO deaths within a few years. There has to be some reason she is not preserved in the amber like the rest of the gang, so I can’t wait for the writers to explain the journey as to how all the characters get to that point.

Then there was the pregnancy ‘reveal’. I thought we had already established in part one of the series finale that Peter and Olivia were going to try for a baby. Any question of it not happening or a surprise being thrown up was also eliminated by us actually being presented with the physical presence of their child, in Etta from ‘Letters of transit’. So why was this placed as the penultimate scene in the episode? I guess it was just the ‘feel good’ part of the episode, to provide some form of relief after all the shit that these characters are gone through, and I would have been absolutely fine with that, if we had been given some mind-blowing cliffhanger in the final scene.

Unfortunately, we got “They’re coming”. Yes, thank you September, we knew that three episodes ago, I didn’t need reminding it in the final scene of the season. The scene which should leave us wanting more as we impart on the ridiculously lengthy television hiatus but instead we were given vague insight into an event that we already know has occurred. At this point, I’m wondering  whether or not the mind-blowingly amazing ‘Letters of transit’ was necessary this season. It appears like that is going to be the context for Season 5, so all it really served to do was give us a preview of next season, whilst also ruining the major cliffhanger’s from season 4. However it does throw up some interesting questions, I am interested as to how William Bell becomes preserved in the amber, I am also interested as to how Olivia isn’t. So there are still questions from season 4 that leave me wanting more and I’m very much invested in how Season 5 is going to tackle those questions. I’m just unsure whether the finale was the episode that served to do any of that.

This was still a good episode of Fringe, don’t get me wrong, but the major notes never really stuck with me. Despite my fears, our beloved Astro survived the gun shot wound, I’m happy for Broyles who despite not playing a major role this year, got a deserved promotion and in general the episode worked well in wrapping up this season’s storyline, whilst also hinting at the future.

So to conclude, before we leave Fringe for the summer, Season 4 took a while to get going but when it did, we were provided with seven or eight equally fantastic episodes which were all wrapped up nicely by the season finale. Nothing extremely shocking happened in that finale, but I can leave for the summer content that we are getting more Fringe, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.

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Game of Thrones – ‘The Old Gods and the New’ (2×06) Review

Wow, what a fantastic episode. Once again we are reminded about just how well choregraphed and structured this show truly is. No, nothing truly momentous occurred like in ‘Garden of Bones’ but what we were provided with was some incredible acting, and some supremely powerful scenes.

That is all typified with the scene between Arya, Tywin and Littlefinger. The way the scene was directed, portraying Arya’s calculated movements as she tries to avoid eye contact with Littlefinger, was masterfully done. There were just enough questionable looks from Littlefinger to make us question whether he actually realised who she was, whilst also creating enough suspense to keep us on the edge of our seat, masterfully done, and some brilliant acting from Maisie Williams. At this point, is there a better child actor on our screens? I’m struggling to think of one.

Another thing over the series that the Game of Thrones writers have mastered, is the art of creating a detestable villain. And yet again, in ‘The Old Gods and the new’ we were reminded of how much of a loathsome douche Joffrey is. He insighted a riot, showed no remorse for his future queen, developed his hateable ways to smarmy sarcasm and even extracted a cry of sheer dis-belief from the usually calm Tyrion, “We’ve had vicious Kings and we’ve had idiot kings, but I don’t think we have ever been cursed with a Vicious Idiot” he remarked. Yes Peter Dinklage was once again fantastic, and at this point, I should probably stop mentioning him and just accept it as fact.

What I will do, is mention the fantastic acting displayed from Sophie Turner. Yes, we were sometimes frustrated, bordering on annoyed with her in the first season, but as we were led to believe she was about to be raped and possibly murdered due to Joffrey’s incompetence, the sheer desperation displayed on her face was fantastically well done. A very powerful scene, that would not have extracted the same emotions if it were not for her acting.

But the villainous ways of this episode didn’t stop there, as we witnessed the transformation of Theon, from the guy we all felt slightly sorry for to a manipulative traitor. However, whilst I get slightly nervous whenever Joffrey acts irrationally, I just can’t take Theon seriously as a viable threat. And that sentiment was emphasised later in the episode when he was once again deceived by female attraction, allowing Bran to escape from Winterfell.

Finally we were provided with a John Snow story arc, that didn’t feel like the story of the night watch. This was the story of John Snow, and it was pretty great, as yet another character proved vulnerable to female charm. The similarities didn’t stop there however, as both Theon and John Snow managed to mess up an execution. And whilst Theon managed to follow through with the deed, albeit incredibly haphazardly, John Snow simply didn’t have it in him. And with the way we were left with this story, I find it hard to imagine a scenario in which John doesn’t either bed the wildling or get decieved into thinking as much before being held prisoner.

I find it hard to bring up Daenerys  in my reviews as she’s pretty much been completely isolated from the main storyline for the first two seasons, but she, much like Theon is mis-guided in her assumptions. She believes that because she possesses dragons, and is the rightful queen of westeros she is entitled to everything.  But if this episode were to prove anything, it’s that she’s going to have to work a lot harder to get what she wants. Also on a side note, did anybody else find it kind of a give away from the ‘previously on game of thrones’ that it was the Warlock that took the dragons? Maybe just me, but it slightly ruined the cliffhanger.

But, that’s only a slight hiccup in what was an almost perfect episode. Were at the half way stage now, and it does feel like the writers have got the balance perfected now. Everything seamlessly tied in to the next story arc, apart from maybe Dany’s and if this episode signified anything, it’s that the game is about to get a whole lot bloodier. It also helped to put, a season that has for the most part felt dis-jointed, into perspective.