Note: Spoilers through Episode 4.02.
People always talk about the past as being the “good old days”. It’s always a delusion, some utopian fantasy that people devise to being them solace during difficult times. If it used to be so grand back in “those days”, then hell, maybe it’ll someday be like that again. Maybe things can go back to normal. But the reality of the matter is that there were no “good old days”. There was no utopia that we can return to; the struggles and conflict within day-to-day life will always be there until the day that we die.
I say this because last week in “Two Swords” we saw discussion on the façade of peace, of people trying to return to some semblance of how things were before everything went straight to hell. And we saw the delusion that people forced themselves into in order to keep from realizing that things will never be the same. And even if we think back to the days in Winterfell at the beginning of Season 1, the days where the Stark family was whole, there was still chaos. White Walkers in the north. Violence brewing across the Narrow Sea. Assassination in the south. Every governmental system has its flaws, which threaten to tear it apart. And Martin makes sure to let us know that history has proven just how chaotic monarchies are.
When it comes to kings, there are no real qualifications. Hereditary monarchies like those in the middle ages mean that you don’t have to be a good person to be a king. You don’t have to be a smart person either. And Joffrey, more than any other character in Game of Thrones, is stupid and wretched. He’s a sadist, inflicting pain just to get a laugh, mocking just because he can. A sadist with power simply unleashes the potential to inflict pain. But those that have been in power for a while (Cersei, Tywin) understand how kings like Joffrey aren’t sustainable. You can be an asshole and a king (hell, you have to be an asshole sometimes to be a good leader), but there has to be a balance. There has to be some feasible avenue for sustainability, otherwise a kingdom will devolve into the kind of chaos that sparked the Mad King incident.
As such, Joffrey had to go. He was never going to be a sustainable leader. He mocked his own family members for the hell of it. He cared nothing for tactics, for alliances, for anything other than his own amusement. He experienced a certain level of insanity that really was only comparable to the Mad King. After the Red Wedding, where the tables were so heavily tilted in the Lannister favor, it’s nice to see the narrative not only shift the other way, but that Game of Thrones is operating on a realistic level. Idealism like Robb’s isn’t feasible, but neither is insane sadism like Joffrey.
This episode serves up a large dose of insanity, whether it be Ramsay tormenting Theon/Reek for his own amusement or Melisandre spouting off about the Lord of Light again. But there’s a major difference between Ramsay/Melisandre and Joffrey. Both Ramsay and Melisandre are calculated in their insanity. Melisandre has a religious system built around that insanity. Ramsay has distorted Theon/Reek’s reality to the point where his insanity is a feasible future for their relationship. Joffrey, however, doesn’t have that kind of foresight. He doesn’t care about making his brand of insanity conducive to any sort of future. And it’s inevitable that anybody in power who cannot provide that future will be killed.
And yet, the question remains: Who is at fault for Joffrey’s behavior? Sure, he’s a monster when left to his own devices, but look at the two people pulling at his strings. Margaery is able to persuade him to give the feast’s leftovers to the poorest in the city. She’s able to control him (for now), smartly using him to do some good for the city. Cersei, on the other hand, preferred that she was able to control her son, even though that control was fleeting. Joffrey maintained a sort of status quo that Cersei was comfortable with. Sure, he was an asshole, but he was also just a kid, one brought up by parents that brought out the worst in him.
That wedding scene is a powerhouse of a scene, one of the greatest Game of Thrones has ever offered. Within Game of Thrones, we rarely stay with a group of characters for any more than eight minutes, so to have twenty minutes allocated for one big scene was quite the treat. But what makes the scene so fantastic is just how every one of its components is so effective and efficient, either in creating tension or in crafting the mystery that is introduced at the end of the episode. Careful attention is paid to Oberyn and his anger towards the Lannisters, as well as Tyrion’s feud with Joffrey, but Joffrey’s actions illustrate how just about anybody would have wanted to kill him. Even Tywin, when Joffrey was dying, never really looked like he cared. All of these little feuds on the side are enhanced through the understanding that the last Game of Thrones wedding was one that ended in violence. And even though “The Lion and the Rose” was only the second episode, it was apparent that something big was going to happen at the end. The atypical length of the scene was enough to underline its importance.
But the real genius behind the scene was just how the show’s visual cues teased the one who poisoned Joffrey. As a book reader, I already knew it was coming and who did it, but to see that person illustrated through a line of dialogue here and a well-framed shot there was amazing. It also illustrated who didn’t poison Joffrey. Tyrion’s utterly bemused look showed how he was just as confused as everybody else. But, of course, Joffrey pointing at Tyrion was just one final indignity. It was the last ounce of power Joffrey had, and he uses it to blame somebody else. Even when the “bad guy” is killed, it’s never entirely happy. And it very well shouldn’t be. Even though Joffrey is now dead, it would be too easy and simplistic to revel in his death. On-screen, Joffrey’s death is absolutely horrifying, and the graphic nature in which this boy suffocates to death bleeds all enjoyment out of watching him die. I’m glad that Martin wrote this one, because that ambiguity was one of the highlights of A Storm of Swords, and I was ecstatic to see it brought up in this episode.
While the other scenes here work to provide a different take on the episode’s thematic concept, there’s still a sense that some of these storylines are stalling for time. Stannis is STILL licking his wounds after the events of Season 2. Bran is STILL moving north towards some destination. Theon is STILL being tormented by Ramsay. As well as they are utilized, the scenes are still being adapted from source material that gives some characters a ton of material and others nearly nothing. Even if Bran’s story were to pay off seasons down the line, the sheer scope of the series makes it difficult to care about his story now. We’re getting to the point in the book series where plot points begin to move forward at a sluggish pace, and even though the King’s Landing segments of A Storm of Swords scream by at a breakneck pace, the others in the episode are running on empty.
“The Lion in the Rose” may contain instances of brilliance, but it brings about a certain nervousness for what comes next. In killing off Joffrey, Game of Thrones loses its center, the one place that people could look to rally around somebody that they hate. This lack of center is certainly good in illustrating the chaos of a kingdom under a monarchial rule, but it’s still unnerving in that we’re losing more and more storylines that we’re invested in. Stories like Ramsay searching for Bran and Rickon or Stannis burning more infidels don’t have the punch of the King’s Landing story simply because they seemed further quarantined, like their events don’t affect anything outside of them. So, as we move forward and continue losing more and more people to Martin’s source material, one wonders what the hell is going to be left when all is said and done. I guess that’s the point.
Final Thoughts: Even though a couple of lackluster scenes bring it down, “The Lion and the Rose” contains one of the finest sequences in Game of Thrones history.
So I can really only provide one review a week until I finish out my internship, which is in about two weeks. Past that, I’m going to try to finish up The Walking Dead or maybe transition to reviewing more movies, whatever I have the time for. Do check out gottawatchit.com if you watch Mad Men or Hannibal, as I’m reviewing both of them over there. If you haven’t seen Hannibal, do yourself a favor and watch that now. Until next week (or hopefully sooner)!
Previous Review- Game of Thrones 4x01: “Two Swords”
Next Review- Game of Thrones 4x03: “Breaker of Chains”
Remember to check out the website that I’m contributing to:
Note: Spoilers through Episode 4.01.
Change is inevitable. The world is constantly shifting around us, making progress towards whatever the future holds for it. But, despite the inevitability of change, people fight it with every fiber of their being. They’ll delude themselves into believing that everything is the same, that they can go on living in a world of comfort, but there’s no escaping from change. In fact, while delusion may prove to be comforting, most of the time, awakening from that delusion situates a person in an entirely new world, one that is nearly unrecognizable. And it’s even more brutal to wake up in a world where you just don’t know where you fit.
Game of Thrones is in a transitional period of its run. It’s obvious now that the show will run at least seven seasons, hell, maybe eight if it’s lucky. It’ll get whatever accommodations it needs to complete its run, assuming that its ratings stay high enough to make a profit. With that in mind, instead of setting up the series’ endgame, Benioff and Weiss have the leisure of being able to settle in for the long haul. That being said, “Two Swords” is one of the best premieres Game of Thrones has had thus far, not only because it’s shifting power structures in a way that’s thoroughly fascinating, but because it’s dissecting change and the ramifications of change on people.
“Two Swords” has many of our beloved characters returning to what they perceived as home, only to see that the world is a vastly different place than it was before. Jaime is probably the most compelling of all of these characters, mostly because his return was after being absent from King’s Landing since halfway through Season 1. He returns to a father that wants something different for him and a lover that doesn’t want him anymore. He refuses to acknowledge that his life is different now that he doesn’t have the use of his right hand, and he refuses to acknowledge that people view his life differently. There’s this pull within Jaime between a desire for his old life and a desire to fight for what he believes the world should be. Instead of residing over Casterly Rock as Tywin asked, he’s staying in the Kingsguard to be the noble person he knows that he can be. It’s just difficult when you’re trying to heal scars that people don’t want healed. When he looks at his page in the book containing all of history’s Kingsguard, he remembers that the things that he has done and will do are things that people care about. Being noble and good is thankless, and that makes positive change all the more difficult.
Jon Snow has also returned to a world vastly different than what came before. He’s returned to the Wall after two seasons north of the Wall, only to realize just how dismal the state of Westeros has become. So many people have died, including most of Jon’s family, that Westeros has truly become an unrecognizable place. Recreating a kingdom that lives in some semblance of peace almost feels like an impossible endeavor. This is one of the big concepts that Martin has threaded through the series, and one that makes it remarkably grim: This sort of monarchial system just doesn’t work. There’s too much room for error, too much room for wrongful deaths. History has shown that the shifting of power under these systems happens again and again and again as a result of violence and murder, and that kind of reality doesn’t bode well for a happy ending to the series. That being said, Martin has always valued his outcast characters (Jon, Tyrion, Daenerys) because, in the face of the impossibility of progress, they continue to push. And that’s just what Jon does here. He prepares to fight the massive army of wildings instead of giving up.
Many of the other characters are simply attempting to pick up the pieces of lives that they had, unwilling to recognize that the pieces don’t recreate the image they once held. Tyrion just wants Sansa to heal from her family’s death, but there’s no way for him to do that. He has the Lannister name, and that is enough to push Sansa away forever. Sometimes, people don’t have the vehicles through which to heal. The odds are so stacked up against Tyrion that there’s often, at this point, nothing he can do to push forward whatever agenda he has.
Side Note (minor spoilers): One things we’ll learn through Tyrion’s storyline this season is that some people just don’t have the capability to do much in their current situations and simply have to cut their losses and regroup. And, believe me, it’s going to be a brutal lesson for him.
At King’s Landing, everybody wants there to be peace, but there’s still so much tension and violence going on. Joffrey and Margaery are about ready to join houses, but both the Tyrells and the Martells hate the Lannisters. Oberyn Martell has shown up in King’s Landing with revenge on his mind. Olenna knows the monster that Joffrey is and seems eerily at peace with that. Everybody knows that everything has changed, but expects things to go back to the way they were, forgetting the cyclical nature of violence. Revenge creates more desire for revenge, more people that want revenge.
As great as “Two Swords” was, MVP for the episode has to go to The Hound and Arya, who appear in a rather long scene by Game of Thrones standards, but undoubtedly the best of the episode. The tension in that scene was brilliantly constructed, not only through Arya’s connection to the group, but in the dialogue that The Hound and Polliver had leading up to the incredibly brutal fight in the tavern. It’s when Game of Thrones steps back and lets its characters breathe that we see just how grand the show can be. The writing can often be brought down by the sheer scale of Martin’s vision, but these longer scenes diminish the scale so that we can see just how detailed and intricate these characters are, as well as how brilliantly they can be played off of each other. This scene is also a great way to cap off the episode, seeing as Arya’s ability to inflict violence on others is an irreversible effect of the violence that she’s seen up until now. Not only the world has changed, but so have the people within it. And no matter how much they desire to be who they were, better to be comfortable with what you’ve become than to pretend to be something that you’re not.
All in all, this episode moves to remind us that whatever came before is no more, the opening and ending scene working brilliantly to illustrate that. Eddard’s sword Ice has been melted down to create two new swords. Arya and The Hound ride off into the battle-torn countryside, trying to find somewhere to call their destination. You can’t tear apart anything and expect it to be the same when the pieces come back together. A mere desire to return to a place of peace isn’t enough to mend wounds. Ultimately, petty desires for power have irreversibly changed a kingdom that is now stricken by war, and that irreversible nature of conflict is a hard truth that some of these characters are eventually going to learn.
There’s one more thing that these characters haven’t realized: Just because you want peace doesn’t mean that the war is over yet. And that kind of calm created through delusion happens right before more violence turns the world upside down again.
Also: There was no way that I was going to be able to touch on everybody because, well, there’s so many of them. So, maybe I’ll talk about your favorite character next week. Though, sadly enough, it looks like I’ll have to talk about Ramsay and Theon, who are going to show up yet again.
Also also: There’s no way in hell that Game of Thrones isn’t getting a 5th season. It broke records yet again with 6.6 million viewers, a 150% increase from Season 3’s premiere. Yeah, look forward to another season.
Also also also: Next week is going to be a hell of an episode. Do not miss it.
Final Thoughts: A strong opening to what looks to be a great new season, “Two Swords” explores the effects of change on those who awaken to a new world.
Sorry that I haven’t been able to post any reviews lately. I’m a little less busy now, so I should be able to move through this season of Game of Thrones, as well as whatever else sounds like fun to review. I’ll attempt to review the rest of The Walking Dead’s Season 4, as well as anything else that I struggled to get through. So, until next time.
Previous Review- Archer 5x01: “White Elephant”
Next Review- Game of Thrones 4x02: “The Lion and the Rose”
Remember to check out the website that I’m contributing to:
Hey guys, changed my url to thatonereviewblog.tumblr.com. Just thought that, before I start becoming active on the site again, I might as well change a couple things around. I’ll be back on Monday with a review for the new GAME OF THRONES!!!!!!!
Hey, guys. I haven’t written a review in quite some time. I’m still reviewing Hannibal and The Walking Dead over at gottawatchit.com, so check that out if you want to hear my thoughts on those. But yeah, I’ll be reviewing Game of Thrones when that starts up, and maybe I’ll try playing catch up with other shows once my schedule lightens up (which should be in a week or two). So, just letting you guys know what’s up. I haven’t forgotten about this blog.
Bear with me, guys and girls. I’m having an immense amount of trouble getting any writing done with 100 essays on my desk to be graded. So, I apologize for the hiatus, but it has to happen for me to keep my sanity. That being said, I’m going to try to find time to return to my reviewing. Thanks for the patience.
In the meantime, watch these shows:
Hannibal: Season 1
This show is fantastic thus far. I’m 5 episodes in (that includes Oeuf), and I’m loving it. I recently finished that fifth episode, “Coquilles”, and the visual style is absolutely haunting, adding a dimension of beauty to the unflinching bleakness of the storylines. Not to mention that it contains some of the creepiest and most gruesome gore I’ve seen on network television. However, the best part about that gore and violence is that it is always portrayed as traumatic, mentally degrading any who come into contact with it. Very complex and very interesting. Easily the best network show I’ve seen in ages.
Archer (Vice): Season 5
I was going to review this, but I simply haven’t had the time. That being said, I have watched all of it so far and holy shit is it great. The idea of a reboot to the series has made the show instantly more watchable, killing the frustrating repetition that plagued some of the previous season. It also dealt with the half-assed serialization of the previous season, this time sticking to a central plotline and fanning out from there. The highlights of this season are undoubtedly Pam’s growing coke addiction and Cheryl’s desire to be a country music singer. What a treat.
I’ll have reviews up soon. I promise. Until later!
Working on my reviews for Girls 3x03: “She Said OK” and Archer 5x02: “Archer Vice: A Kiss While Dying”. They’ll be done today and/or tomorrow.
Note: Spoilers through Episode 5.01.
Archer has always been a great show. It always had this willingness to stray from political correctness to show us the crazy behavior of people that just don’t care. Where most shows like to do that sort of thing, this one always stood out among the rest by turning the insanity up a notch, placing the characters in increasingly precarious and bizarre situations. But Season 4, while still being great, wasn’t as great as the brilliant second and third seasons. It wasn’t that something was missing; it was more that the premise was something that was becoming stale. Most great shows settle into a groove, one that feels comfortable and provides solid ratings, after which it just churns out more and more episodes while trying to keep the quality at least decent.
Well, there’s no reason to worry about Archer doing something like that. “White Elephant” takes the show’s original premise and completely does away with it. As it turns out, ISIS was operating illegally and is permanently shut down by the FBI, after which Archer and Co. decide to turn to a life of crime selling seized coke down in Florida. It’s certainly a dramatic shift from what the show normally does, and I can see it working a hell of a lot better than the show’s original premise. Here, there are far fewer constraints placed on the show and its characters. Pam’s not exactly an HR employee anymore so it’s a little easier to believably put her in new situations. That also goes for Cheryl, who can literally do anything now (like become a huge country singer…).
The jokes and the writing are still same old Archer, which is fantastic. The characters are still willing to screw each other over to save themselves, which goes to show that the characters will still be the same lovable sociopaths that we’ve grown to adore. When Mallory tells everybody to keep quiet and trust her, we all laugh because, when it comes down to it, how can any of these people trust each other? Of course, sometimes they’ll go in for an easy laugh, like Cheryl wanting to be shocked by the FBI agent’s taser, but it’s all still a hell of a lot of fun.
While I liked this episode a lot and I’m excited to see this new direction, the episode itself wasn’t much more than set-up. While the new premise absolutely needed some setting up, a fair portion of the episode was dedicated to recalling old jokes and the montage of episodes to come. Of course, both of these were wildly hilarious, but structuring the episode that way puts a HUGE emphasis on plot and doesn’t give the characters space to breathe like, say, “Sea Tunt: Part 1” from the previous season. Giving the characters that space often produces the show’s very best episodes (“Lo Scandalo” comes to mind) and shifting the premise just doesn’t give the show time for that if the writers want that shift to be quick and painless.
That being said, I’m incredibly excited for what is to come next. Now that ISIS is gone and everybody has a hold of $50 million worth of cocaine, there are endless possibilities for crazy situations to put everybody in. We can stop pretending that these characters are trying to do anything good, that there’s any sort of moral dilemma behind the shit that they do, and just plummet them into a life of crime. It’s that kind of freedom that is certainly going to make this a hell of a season of Archer. I mean, Archer Vice.
Also: My Archer reviews are probably going to be rather short, since the episodes are short (this one clocked in at 19:44!) and I don’t always have a ton to say about the show, despite how much I love it.
Final Thoughts: A great way to reinvent the series, “White Elephant” blows up the premise in place of something new and exciting.
Alright. So, I’m going to ditch reviewing True Detective, though I may watch the whole season and write about it then. I’ll be reviewing Girls, Archer, and The Walking Dead until those shows are finished, after which I’ll probably review Mad Men and whatever else sounds good. As for movies, I’ll be reviewing American Hustle next. And, in an attempt to review some video games, I’ll be reviewing the Mass Effect trilogy as I complete them (which takes a while). So, I’ll be reviewing the first Mass Effect very soon. Of course, we’ll see what happens after that. Let me know if there’s something fun that you all want me to review. Until tomorrow, loyal followers.
Previous Review- Girls 3x02: “Truth or Dare”
Next Review- Game of Thrones 4x01: “Two Swords”
Remember to check out the website that I contribute to:
Note: Spoilers through Episode 3.02.
Expectations are a bitch. We want the world to provide us with more than it’ll actually give us, to receive instead of working hard or trying a new perspective in order to really attain something. And then there’s the way that others expect things of us, things that we delude ourselves into believing that we want, all in order to stay comfortable. It’s difficult to challenge, to question, and so expectations are something that we constantly live up to, a way to avoid the horrible feeling of disappointment. But we’re always disappointed. We’re always wanting more than the world has to offer, more out of ourselves in order to appease the expectations that others have of us. Disappointment eventually becomes comfortable, something that we can live with if it means avoiding the horrible feeling of something alien.
“Truth or Dare” is an episode that dives headfirst into the frustration that goes along with expectation, whether it be expectation of an experience or what people expect of one another. It centers around the struggle associated with disappointment and how people beat each other down through conflicting expectations. But more importantly than that, it shows how, in the end, it’s people that bring each other past those things. Because it has such a strong central theme, it ends up being undoubtedly superior to the previous episode, “Females Only”.
The episode is mostly about the road trip that Hannah takes with Adam and Shoshanna to pick up Jessa from rehab, since she was kicked out after going down on Laura. The show never really put Adam and Shoshanna together at all, and it mines their interactions for maximum effect, making the episode exponentially funnier as a result. Whenever the two of them talk to each other, it’s comedic gold. But what makes the road trip such a great storyline is how the episode juxtaposes Hannah and Shoshanna to Adam. During the truth-or-dare scene that gives the episode its title, Shoshanna and Hannah are both secluded in their screen-constructed world, Shoshanna watching TV and Hannah on her laptop. Both of them want to experience the world, but they’re stuck in their own little world, unwilling to look outside.
The truth-or-dare scene perfectly encapsulates how people have these expectations and completely destroy them in order to feel comfortable. Shoshanna dares Adam to kiss Hannah (which is a “safe” dare, as it keeps her comfortable), but Adam has a little fun with it, using his imagination to play around with what he’s given. It’s really no surprise that he eventually cuts the game short. Once he realizes that Hannah and Shoshanna want to play it safe and place all of these arbitrary rules on the game to keep them comfortable, he realizes that the game isn’t fun at all. It’s worthless.
Because it’s as Adam said. “Boredom is bullshit. Boredom is for lazy people who have no imagination.” We would rather be safe and bored than use our imagination to experience new things. When Adam takes that little detour through the woods, Hannah would rather lie in the leaves and watch something on her phone than actually try to experience something new. She would rather be bored on the road trip than find the inspiration that she’s looking for. Because it takes hard work to gain that new perspective. It takes stepping outside of yourself. And Hannah just isn’t willing to do that. Neither is Shoshanna, for that matter. When she talks about graduating college, she talks about how she expects “life after college” to be so much better than college. Of course, it’s so much harder, but Shoshanna doesn’t want to hear that. She wants to think that, after one challenge, there will be a period of relaxation. She wants to expect that the future will be easier. But it never is, no matter how much we want it to be. Reality is that life is a continual onslaught of challenges, and that being disappointed by the future being difficult is going to be way easier than being continually pessimistic about reality.
Jessa, on the other hand, is bogged down by what others expect of her. They see weird Jessa, freak Jessa, and they expect an easy lay. They expect somebody who has this strong sense of self, somebody who always gives society the middle finger, somebody whose strong sense of self can be easily exploited for sex . But this obviously isn’t who Jessa is. It’s just the front she puts up in order to feel safe around people, a way to block out intimacy. Jasper was a sort of father figure to her for most of the episode, helping her with whatever wisdom he had to impart, and she expected to be safe with him. Of course, he expected that they would fuck. And it’s that difference in expectation, that communication error, that hurts her. It’s realizing that other people think of her as that freak loner who’ll put out just to do it.
But the reality is that Jessa is just a scared girl who doesn’t want to be alone, even though she responds to her anxiety by pushing people away. That’s why she’s so insistent on her friends picking her up. She doesn’t want to depart that rehab clinic alone because she’s afraid that she’ll just be alone if others don’t come to rescue her. And it’s those other people, Hannah, Adam, Shoshanna, that’ll be the ones to get her through her troubles. Hannah gives her the friendly love that she needs and Adam gives her the advice that she needs. This speaks back to the second season’s finale, “Together”, which echoes the idea that people need others to help them through their lives. Nobody can survive in the world by themselves, no matter what they think.
Ultimately, life is bound to hurt you. You’ll either be alone and miserable or surrounded by people that’ll eventually leave you. But those good times spent with people are worth the pain you’ll feel in the end. Life is experiencing happiness and sadness in equal measure, and missing out on either of those is depriving yourself of what life is.
“Truth or Dare” was absolutely the strongest of the first two episodes, and it was a great way to cap off this season’s introduction. Not only does it remind us how shitty these people can be, it reminds us how they would much rather be shitty than honest with themselves, and how tragic that becomes when people begin to hurt themselves to remain comfortable. While I’m not quite as impressed with the beginning of this season as I was with Season 1 or even Season 2, it still looks like we’re going to be treated to yet another great season of Girls. I’m certainly hopeful.
Also: I’ve been pretty easy on Adam so far, so maybe I’ll start digging into him in later episodes.
Final Thoughts: Much better than the last episode, “Truth or Dare” reminds us how expectations rarely live up to the reality that we experience.
Alright. So. I’m going to review Archer today. I’m also going to work my way through reviewing American Hustle, which was an interesting movie, and Mass Effect, which I completed for the third time a while ago. Anyway, I’ve got a lot more to finish up by the end of the day. Until tomorrow, loyal followers.
Previous Review- Girls 3x01: “Females Only”
Next Review- Archer 5x01: “White Elephant”
Remember to check out the website that I contribute to:
Note: Spoilers through Episode 3.01.
Girls is a fantastic show, though it’s likely the most misunderstood one on television. There’s always some sort of outcry, ranging from the misogynistic and fat-shaming complaining that Lena Dunham is naked too often to the somewhat justified complaints about the lack of diversity on the show. There’s always been a ton of misogynistic backlash to anything that empowers and showcases women on television (just look at the reaction that Kyle Smith had to the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler-led Golden Globes). So any backlash against Lena Dunham concerning her nudity has always been ridiculous because nobody gave a shit when any of the other girls showed some skin. It’s just a disgusting attempt to shame an overweight girl for taking pride in her body.
But, even though I think Donald Glover’s guest appearance was misunderstood (as it showed how these girls push away from new experiences), I can understand complaints about diversity. Danielle Brooks (Taystee from Orange is the New Black) plays one of the girls that Jessa lashes out against, and while it’s a way to bring diversity to the show, it’s kind of a half-assed way to show that. I liked what Donald Glover’s guest appearance did, and Danielle Brooks’ appearance didn’t seem to say much or comment on Donald Glover’s. It’s not that Lena Dunham is necessarily buying into the backlash on the show, but there seems to be a certain level of negotiation going on, where she’s playing it safe instead of going for broke.
“Females Only” didn’t blow me away like what I’ve seen from previous seasons, and maybe that’s because it indeed did play it safe instead of taking the chances we saw from the last two seasons. “One Man’s Trash” was one of the best episodes of the series because it was one of the most ballsy episodes of the series, a middle finger raised to the haters. I’ve always been on Lena Dunham’s side, and it’s great to see an episode of television that raises that middle finger. But “Females Only” instead seems lighter, calmer, less dramatic than last season. Don’t get me wrong. “Females Only” is a solid episode of television and a solid episode of Girls. It doesn’t have to be dark to be good. It’s just that episodes like “On All Fours” were great because they took risks that other shows didn’t have the balls to take.
Anyway, this first episode does more table setting than anything else, bouncing between the four girls to let us know where they are after the events of last season. Hannah and Adam are the most grounded of everybody, having settled into a routine as a couple. Marnie is living out of her mother’s house after Charlie left her. Shoshanna is sleeping around with college guys in an attempt to kickstart some sort of sexual awakening. And Jessa is bottoming out in rehab, lashing out at others to try to stop the lack of control. Being the first half of a two-part season premiere, it moves a little more lethargically than a normal episode of Girls, keeping the girls separate for the majority of the episode’s runtime. It’s no surprise that the best scenes of the episode involve multiple characters coming together and having it out (I’ve always held the belief that the best episodes are either only about Hannah or about everybody).
That isn’t to say that the episode is bad. It serves to remind us how these girls try desperately to move forward, but have no idea which way will get them anywhere. They simply move in a direction and hope it works. Shoshanna wants to be a sexual adult, and figures that sleeping around will help her with that. Of course, those are the experiences that she’ll use to refine herself in the future, but it’s already apparent that they’re not fulfilling to her. There’s a moment in the premiere where she’s sitting in the library, sliding her hood onto her head, placing her sunglasses over her eyes. She’s hiding from the world in the same way that these girls have a habit of doing, in the same way that we all have a habit of doing. It’s far easier to hide, to keep out all of the world’s tough realities and the difficult ways in which we need to properly react to them, instead of facing the world head on.
Jessa is another character who would rather tear others down than focus on herself. In a place where she’s forced to consider her own feelings and her own troubles, she feels cornered, like she has to face who she is and how fucked up her life is. So, instead, she corners those around her, verbally beating them into the ground in order to make herself feel better. She targets one girl in particular, Laura, who she calls a lesbian (which turns out to be true). But that seems to be the breaking point for the group, who all lash back at her. Jessa’s way to deal with her problems is to forcefully isolate herself by pushing everybody away, and while she’s growing up in her own way, that coping mechanism continually kicks her down, again and again. There’s one man in rehab who she seems to have some sort of connection with, Jaspar, who tells her the two-sided nature of honesty, but she doesn’t know what to do with that information. She understands its value, that she needs to act on it in some way, but she decides that going down on Laura in order to speed up the self-discovery process is the answer to that advice (a decidedly bad idea). Jessa, like the rest of the girls, is sprawling, trying to find that direction but unable to make any progress.
Hannah’s not doing a whole lot better, even though it seems like life has arranged itself in her favor. She may be with Adam, but there are still questions about who he is and insecurities based around his past. She may be writing an e-book, but deadlines still exist and she’s still trying to piece together all of the components that will make it work. Her and Adam’s relationship, moreso than her e-book, anchors her story for the episode, and while they’re certainly happy together, those questions and insecurities create a fair amount of awkward tension between them. When Adam has to deal with Hannah’s friends during dinner, he doesn’t act exactly how Hannah wants him to act, and it makes her uncomfortable. When they’re having dinner, he’s distant and awkward. When Hannah’s cleaning up, he’s sweetly comforting Marnie and telling a story about sex with an ex-girlfriend. They’re happy, but there are things that they both don’t want to talk about, things that they’re scared that they can’t get past. Hannah is afraid that she’ll lose what she has if she pushes too hard.
Natalia and her friend’s rant seemed to echo some of the vicious thoughts that the show’s detractors have. But they’re ultimately harsh words that ring hollow. They take negative experiences and use them to demonize in order to make themselves feel better. When it comes down to it, these girls (and guys) are just trying to figure out which way to move, how to become “adults” and still retain their comfort. But growing up is uncomfortable and painful. It involves shedding who you are to make way for something different, something foreign. And it’s going to take many, many more experiences for these girls to really change.
Final Thoughts: A smart episode of Girls that acted more like a table-setter than anything else, “Females Only” is a strong return for the show.
Alright, everybody. I’m working my way through a bunch of different shows today. I’ll be writing up the second Girls episode, which is really the second part of a two-parter. I’m also going to try to get through the premiere of Archer, which was more fun than I thought it would be. And, hopefully, I’ll be able to start on True Detective, which I’m curious to watch. In addition, I’m working on American Hustle, which I hope to finish reviewing by the end of the week. My schedule is likely to be off since I’m preparing for an intense section of my internship, so we’ll see how that goes. Until tomorrow (or later today), loyal followers.
Previous Review- Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Next Review- Girls 3x02: “Truth or Dare”
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Note: Spoilers about demons, time portals, and shotguns.
Horror franchises with yearly installments NEVER sustain a consistent quality all the way through their series. The first Saw movie was barely decent, but later movies (like Saw IV and Saw V) are far, far worse. Of course, Saw’s central premise didn’t have a lot of sustainability, as the only way to be inventive was to creative more gruesome ways for people to die. Paranormal Activity has a little more room for evolution, as the central premise in the first movie was so minimal that subsequent movies simply were able to find more tricks and gimmicks to exploit in order to create scares.
So how does that evolution look five entries in? Not fantastic, but certainly not nearly as bad as the fifth entries of other horror series. For an entry billed as a spin-off, it was far better than I thought possible. The story was coherent and had a solid pacing, starting off by humanizing the three main characters (Jesse, Hector, Marisol) and chronicling Jesse’s descent into demonic madness as a “marked one”. Jesse was a character I had learned to care about over the course of the movie, which is more than I can say for any of the other movies (Paranormal Activity 1 aside). The way that they chronicle Jesse’s childish innocence makes the transformation more unpleasant and disturbing to watch. The scene where he tortures the family dog was one of the most unpleasant of the movie, and, juxtaposed with that previous innocence, did a fantastic job showcasing just how messed up he was.
The departure from the standard Paranormal Activity camera gimmicks, where the camera documents consecutive nights in bedrooms that are increasingly haunted, was absolutely welcome, as it allowed more time for story and character to shine through. The writing done in this series has always been absolutely solid, but it seemed to be bogged down more and more by an attempt to find more gimmicks to exploit. Sure, Paranormal Activity 3’s oscillating fan was creepy, as we didn’t know what it would rotate towards, but Paranormal Activity 4’s Xbox Kinect gimmick was pretty bad (not to mention a shameless plug). This movie shed gimmicks altogether in place of telling a cohesive story, one that had far more room to breathe. The camera moved from location to location, and as the locations shifted, the direction and cinematography was a lot more fun to observe. There was less fighting to exploit every angle and more room to pick and choose what worked and what didn’t.
I also enjoyed the shift to a Latino-based cast and a location that reflected that, as the other stories were almost entirely white casts in middle class neighborhoods. That shift in location not only provided us with a setting that was unfamiliar, but gave us characters that were definitely different than the suburban white characters that we’ve had so far. Even though a fair amount of the movie was in Spanish (maybe 15%), it was easy to understand what was going on and what they were generally saying. The culture shift just provided a new take on the things that were happening, shifting away from gimmicks to try something entirely new.
What I didn’t enjoy was the abrupt ending, and how it cut the story off before it had time to reach a satisfying conclusion. Sure, there’s a Paranormal Activity 5 this year, but that doesn’t mean that individual entries shouldn’t have well-rounded conclusions. This has been a systemic issue with the Paranormal Activity franchise thus far, where most of the movies’ endings get into the meat of the action and then shut down before they’re able to meet a real conclusion. Here, the buildup to the ending was great, as it revisited old locations (the witch house from PA3 and Katie’s house from PA1), adding a ton of tension to the proceedings. But the story didn’t really have a direction from there, and thus shut down as soon as it could, with Hector being killed and the camera abruptly shutting off. It’s especially frustrating when the story and characters have been great, as they have no real conclusion to their respective arcs.
Overall, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was one of the best of the franchise, an immensely refreshing entry that broke free of old gimmicks. It didn’t really have much direction after the climactic moment of the movie came and went, but the bulk of the movie did a satisfactory job building up tension through an interesting story. It doesn’t entirely leave me hopeful for Paranormal Activity 5, as that movie could return to the middle-class white family and the normal nightly gimmicks, but for now, at least the series took a little while to attempt something new and interesting. And that was more than enough to keep me in my seat.
Also: Those shotgun blasts at the end of the movie were hilarious in how the witches just flew backwards. Though, damn, were they surprising.
Also also: For all my complaining about the ending, the last third of the movie was unbelievably frantic, and it was a hell of a lot of fun.
Final Thoughts: A solid entry in the series, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones has some good scares and a good story but suffers from a somewhat abrupt ending.
So I’m slowly transitioning into a period of strenuous work in my internship, and it’s going to be a bitch to keep up reviews during this time. But I’ll do the best that I can to keep up my weekly TV reviews (The Walking Dead, Girls, maybe True Detective) while keeping my intern work up to snuff. Anyway, I’ll be reviewing Girls this week, along with American Hustle. As for other reviews, we’ll see what I can do. Until tomorrow, loyal followers.
Previous Review- Kick Ass 2
Next Review- Girls 3x01: “Females Only”
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