After 2 seasons of watching Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) struggle to keep a petulant group of survivors alive in The Walking Dead, things are finally looking up for him from a leadership point of view – but decidedly down everywhere else.
So, in an effort to guide the remaining ensemble down the long road to ruin, season 3 kicks off ‘Seed’ by loosening the narrative’s grip on just how serialized the series needs to be, and by moving the episode along at a much more deliberate pace. This solves two of the show’s bigger problems, in that more progression is allowed to happen off-screen, and the things that are presented in the episode are considerably more interesting. There were glimpses of this in the last half of season 2, which was largely a march toward change for the better. The increasingly burdensome conflict between Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Rick was finally resolved, and the farm where the plot went to die was overrun by walkers and destroyed by fire.
As much as Hershel’s farm had drained the plot of its excitement, perhaps it had been designed as a means by which the audience could get to know and eventually care about these characters. It didn’t really work out that way, however, and by the end of season 2, all we really knew was that this group had a hard time getting along and that they were, more or less, looking for someone to lead them. But despite Rick’s best efforts, the group had largely decided Shane was the way to go. That, of course, was undone with Rick killing his former best friend, and adopting a no-nonsense attitude toward keeping these folks alive. Now, the season premiere sets out to show whether or not the whole Rick’s-way-or-the-highway approach worked out.
‘Seed’ gets underway by establishing that even though the prison was revealed to the audience at the end of ‘Beside the Dying Fire,’ the group has spent all winter jumping from house to house, more or less tending to the everyday requirements of survival. The jump in time works by granting the assumption that everyone has had sufficient time to process Shane’s death and to work out whatever problems may still linger between them – at least to the point that their squabbles are no longer as big a threat to the group as the walkers. It also makes Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) being pregnant a far more immediate issue to deal with, and helps explain why Carl (Chandler Riggs) appears to be two inches taller and can gun down walkers as efficiently as his father. Most importantly though, whatever happened during the winter made the group a far more cohesive unit, which is conveyed only by the fact that they’re still alive, but also by how quickly they make use of the prison.
The clearing of the prison yard and cell block, followed by the search for supplies, are the most substantial set pieces that ‘Seed’ has to offer, and they manage to provide plenty of gruesome moments and jump scares to keep things thrilling. The episode also establishes that the state of Rick and Lori’s relationship has been taxed to the point that he barely speaks to her, and when he does, it’s in a terse, matter-of-fact tone. Rick hasn’t gone off the deep end like he seemed he was about to while addressing everyone at the end of last season, but whatever transpired over the winter has earned him enough recognition that even Carol (Melissa McBride) mentions to Daryl (Norman Reedus) the group wouldn’t have survived as long under the guidance of Shane. It shows that although time has passed, the influence of Shane is still significant beyond more than the unasked questions about Lori’s pregnancy, and it also serves as a small victory for Rick, setting up a new direction for the series under his leadership that will hopefully consist of more than watching every argument as it unfolds amongst the survivors.
There are also a few moments that grant a clearer view of the characters’ state of mind, like the comfortable way Maggie (Lauren Cohen) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) look after one another during a rare moment of solace, and Lori’s feelings of regret about Shane and her husband, which are amplified by the fear that she’ll have to deal with a zombified baby, or worse, the group will be forced to put her down if she were to die giving birth. They’re short moments that flesh out where these characters have been, and how those events have shaped them into who they are now. It’s also a good starting off point for whatever drama is to come.
‘Seed’ also offers something the series hasn’t really done before; it’s allowed the main story to splinter off. At the end of last season, Andrea (Laurie Holden) was presumed dead, even though Michonne (Danai Gurira) had saved her in rather grand fashion. Here again, Michonne’s entrance grants the series some excitement and suspense, as she deftly deals with a store full of walkers in search of some aspirin to give to an ailing Andrea. Even though the episode doesn’t spend too much time with them, it establishes the pair has come to rely on one another, and the lack of medical supplies has begun to take its toll on the survivors. Most importantly, however, Andrea and Michonne’s storyline – though it will likely converge with Rick’s group soon enough – is a welcome break from the blow-by-blow account of what everyone else is up to.
This gives season 3 two distinct storylines to follow, which, if nothing else, should provide plenty of opportunities to keep the tempo from relaxing to the degree it has before. And with 16 episodes in this third season, the worry is that the prison will become as much of drag on the plot as Hershel’s farm was. So, in what appears to be another effort to combat the temptation of comfort that the prison represents, it turns out not all of the prisoners have succumbed to the walkers – and as far as introductions go, hacking off Hershel’s (Scott Wilson) infected leg is about as memorable as Rick & Co. can probably hope to get.
It may be too soon to say that ‘Seed’ is the episode Walking Dead fans have been waiting for since the pilot, but it certainly offered plenty of visceral excitement and intrigue to back that notion up. At any rate, since much of season 3 is supposed to deal with the threat humanity poses to the living, the surviving prisoners and the Governor (David Morrissey) will likely help keep the suspense above the threat of being kicked off a farm.
Kevin Yeoman blogs at Screen Rant.
Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables stands apart from other movie musicals not only in terms of how grounded and tangible the setting feels, but also how the ensemble cast performed the original Broadway show’s tunes during filming – as opposed to either well-ahead of shooting or during post-production. The teaser trailer hinted at the results, with Anne Hathaway delivering an untraditional rendition of lyricists Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel’s song “I Dreamed a Dream.”
A new “extended look” at Hooper’s Les Miz highlights that aspect of the production via interviews with central cast members – Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe – as well as supporting players such as Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks.
Hooper’s approach with Les Misérables may prove somewhat divisive for musical theater lovers. On the one hand, as Jackman illustrates in the featurette, singing live does allow for more spontaneity in terms of performance; thus, the characters can behave in a more instinctive manner than they would striving to match pre-recorded vocals.
On the other hand, some hardcore Broadway fans prefer stage musicals that feature the talents of dedicated singers, rather than performers who are actors first and singers second. It’s for that reason that some music specialists take issue with films like Sweeney Todd and Mamma Mia!, where celebrities and acclaimed stars were cast over people with proven professional musician chops.
Les Misérables, however, has the advantage of a cast that includes a Tony-winner (Jackman) and a part-time professional musician with nearly three decades of experience (Crowe), as well someone who actually appeared in the original stage show (Barks). The majority of the rest of the cast has already demonstrated some musical prowess either onstage or onscreen, so they too seem worthy to tackle the challenge Hooper has set before them.
Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.
Looks like the supernatural baddies of Mystic Falls won’t have Elena to push around anymore… or at least, doing so won’t be so easy now that she’s a bloodsucker! With that shocker, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES took things to a whole new level. So what happens next? Let’s ask executive producer Julie Plec!
So has having Elena become a vamp been in the cards all along?
JULIE PLEC: It was three years in the making, in that we knew when we started the series that we’d get there eventually. At one point, we thought we wouldn’t get there until Season 5, and then at one point contemplated getting there by the end of Season 2! We began Season 3 knowing how we were going to end it, so all the choices we made and everything that we did was all trying to very gently and quietly tee that up and put Elena in a situation where that was the biggest move that could happen in her life.
Is moving forward terrifying, given what a game changer this is?
PLEC: It’s exciting, because it’s fresh, you know? It gets us jazzed every day, because we don’t feel like we’re just retreading the same old stuff. It’s daunting, because we think it’s awesome, but if nobody else likes it, there is nothing we can do. We have put the show on this course, and there’s no going back. So if it gets rejected, then we’re going to have to take a beat and think about what we’ve done. That said, I think people will like it, because it’s still Elena. It’s just Elena with a dozen, two dozen more layers to herself.
You’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at Nina Dobrev (Elena). How is she handling playing yet another version of the same character?
PLEC: Nina is nothing if not a total champion, and she loves to be challenged as an actress. So far, so good! She’s finding all the nuances in the character that are different than Katherine and different than the human Elena. A lot of actors during Season 4 of a TV series don’t necessarily get to wake up and be somebody new, so I think she’s very excited about that.
So how does Elena being a vampire impact her relationships with the Salvatore brothers?
PLEC: Ultimately, the pitch of the show back in the beginning was a love triangle between two vampire brothers and their love for the same girl, so it’s certainly something we’re not going to just lock up in a briefcase and put away. It’s always going to be there. What’s great about turning Elena into someone “new” is that it takes where she was with Damon and Stefan and puts it in a blender and spins it around. We don’t really know what’s going to come out of that. Because this is a new person, we don’t know how she’ll connect with them and how they’ll react to the changes in her. It adds a lot of fun, new dynamics to this triangle.
One of the highlights of last season was Joseph Morgan as Klaus. A lot of people were surprised he managed to survive. Is there a danger of falling in love with your villain and, by keeping him around, turning him into less of a threat?
PLEC: With Joseph, certainly our intention was to kill him. And then we changed our minds because he’s so good, and we felt it was too soon to say good-bye to that character. So a lot of what you’re going to be seeing at the beginning of Season 4 is him at his most devilish and darkest. He is such a magnificent, nasty villain! The last thing we want to do is cut his legs out from under him, so we’re going to get to see some of nasty Klaus in action.
With Matt Davis’ Alaric and Ganiel Gillies’ Elijah gone, any plans to bring characters in to fill the void?
PLEC: Well, the good news is that both of them have the ability to return to our show at any time in their contracts. They love us, and we love them so much. With Alaric being dead, of course, we won’t see much of him. But we’ve definitely got some new faces. Some of them are more mysterious, some of them are younger. There’s a new character named April who is a high school student that returns to town after a couple of years away and kind of lands right in the middle of everything. And then there’s a new vampire hunter named Connor who comes to town. He’s no Alaric. He’s a hardcore, humorless, take-no-prisoners, get-it-done character, and he’s a bit of a threat for our heroes. More so than they expected to come across!
The TV Addict staff blogs at The TV Addict.
The network's description: "Chart-topping Rayna James (Connie Britton) is a country legend who's had a career any singer would envy, though lately her popularity is starting to wane. Fans still line up to get her autograph, but she's not packing the arenas like she used to. Rayna's record label thinks a concert tour, opening for up-and-comer Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), the young and sexy future of country music, is just what Rayna needs. But scheming Juliette can't wait to steal Rayna's spotlight. Sharing a stage with that disrespectful, untalented, little vixen is the last thing Rayna wants to do, which sets up a power struggle for popularity.
Could the undiscovered songwriting talent of Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen) be the key to helping Rayna resurrect her career? Complicating matters, Rayna's wealthy but estranged father, Lamar Hampton (Powers Boothe), is a powerful force in business, Tennessee politics, and the lives of his two grown daughters. His drive for power results in a scheme to back Rayna's handsome husband, Teddy, in a run for Mayor of Nashville, against Rayna's wishes."
What did they leave out? Yup, it is indeed filmed in Nashville.
The plot in a nutshell: Rayna James (Connie Britton) is the reigning queen of country music. But between her flailing ticket sales and continued refusal to sing more commercial songs, there's more than a few cracks in her professional facade. Said developments cause her label to suggest merging her upcoming tour with that of auto-tuned heart-breaker Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) or risk playing to half-empty venues. Rayna is not surprisingly horrified by the offer (not to mention Juliette in general), despite promises of opening her up to a new generation of fans. But that's just the beginning of her problems. Her husband Teddy (Eric Close) is perennially emasculated by Rayna's time in the spotlight and frustrated by her refusal to dip into the trust fund set up by her manipulative father/business magnate Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe).
Meanwhile, Juliette sets her sights on Rayna's bandleader/torchbearer Deacon Claybourne (Charles Esten, in a star-making turn) while Lamar himself conspires to get Teddy to run for mayor of Nashville in order to protect his own business interests. But that's - as they say - not all: Deacon's talented niece Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen) and her boyfriend Avery Barkley (Jonathan Jackson) have their own dreams of stardom toiling away at the legendary Bluebird Cafe while another, Gunnar Scott (Sam Palladio), loves her from afar. Ultimately, all their destines appear to be intertwined. So goes another day in Nashville.
What works: There's a prevailing sense of authenticity you rarely see from these kinds of shows, one that gives "Nashville" an unexpected intimacy and thoughtfulness. It all of course begins with Britton's Rayna, who's every bit the shining beacon of talent as advertised, but also something of a short-sighted diva. It's a bittersweet flaw that applies to not only her career but also her choice in men. (Juliette: "Sometimes I wish I could just do everything all over again." Deacon: "What would you change?" Juliette: "Nothing... everything." Deacon: "That makes two of us.") The show likewise tasks Panettiere's Juliette as the destructive vixen - Juliette: "Rayna's not the only woman in the world, you know." Deacon: "You're a girl." Juliette: "That, too." - but not without giving her some redemptive qualities as well.
It helps that the show fuels its story engines with everything from political intrigue - Teddy will have to run against family friend Coleman Carlisle (Robert Wisdom); to familial discord - "Yeah it's a funny thing about dad," Rayna notes to her sister Tandy (Judith Hoag). "You know, he's always there when he needs you."; to romantic foibles - "You be careful," Deacon warns Gunnar. "She's got the family curse: we always pick the one that will break your heart." The end result is a compelling mix of soap and tragedy, not to mention a beautiful showcase of country music, whether it's the prerequisite needle drops - everyone from John Conlee to Will Hoge - or some truly inspiring original performances. The closing moments in particular are just plain revelatory, as Watty White (J.D. Souther), the town's oracle of sorts, stumbles across stardom in the making.
What doesn't: Nothing in particular worth mentioning as each potential pitfall - the triteness of the dual love triangles, the inherent aggrandizing of fame and fortune, characters being too perfect or too unlikable, etc. - is ultimately sidestepped when all is said and done.
The bottom line: A welcome surprise.
Brian Ford Sullivan blogs at The Futon Critic.
This week NBC brought good news for fans of their new shows, when they gave full season orders to Revolution, Go On and The New Normal. But now the network has bad news for fans of a couple returning comedy series.
Today the peacock network announced that they would be delaying the season premieres of both Community and Whitney from their original scheduled air date of October 19th, and did not offer alternate return dates.
TV Line has a statement from NBC saying:
Given the success we’ve had for the past four weeks – including winning the first week of the season in [the] A18-49 [demographic] – we’ve decided to continue to concentrate our promotional strength on our new NBC shows that are scheduled Monday through Wednesday and have therefore decided to hold ‘Community’ and ‘Whitney’ from their previously announced premieres of October 19th.
Without having to launch these comedies on Friday at this time, we can keep our promotion focused on earlier in the week — plus we will have both comedies in our back pocket if we need to make any schedule changes on those nights. When we have a better idea of viewing patterns in the next few weeks, we will announce new season premieres of ‘Whitney’ and ‘Community.’
Now that end part does sound a bit suspicious – considering the already shortened 4th season of Community and its seemingly inevitable cancellation – but this might also be good news. Both comedies had been moved to Fridays, which doesn’t usually work out for shows (Fringe being the most recent exception to the rule). However, this statement seems to indicate that if schedule changes need to be made, likely with low-rated comedies like Animal Practice and Guys with Kids, these two shows could take their place on Wednesdays.
Either way, it’s sad news that the new semester of Community – and the second season of Whitney – won’t be coming as soon as fans expected.
However, there’s good news for Community, as TV Line also has word that Brie Larson (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 21 Jump Street) will guest star in season 4. Larson will appear in the seventh episode of the season, where Dean Pelton is holding a “Sadie Hawkins” dance at school. However, details on her character are currently being kept secret. Could she cause a love triangle between any of our would-be study group romances? We’ll have to wait and see.
Ethan Anderton blogs at Screen Rant.
Miss last night’s episode? Here’s what you need to know about REVOLUTION’S “The Plague Dogs”
WRITER: Anne Cofell Saunders
DIRECTOR: Felix Alcala
SYNOPSIS: The search to rescue Danny Matheson comes to a screeching halt when Miles, Charlie, Nora, Maggie, Zak and Nate encounter a ravenous pack of dogs and one equally ravenous owner. Meanwhile, after a storm traps Captain Tom Neville under a roof, Danny must decide whether or not to save him, while Monroe’s interrogation of Rachel continues.
INTRODUCED: Maggie’s backstory, which involves her heartbreaking, not to mention unsuccessful attempt to reunite with her children in England after the lights went out fifteen years prior and features her first meeting with what would become her surrogate family in the Mathesons.
HISTORIC MOMENT: REVOLUTION’s first “major” character death. And while we aren’t going to pretend we didn’t see it coming from a mile away thanks to some very emotionally manipulative flashbacks, Maggie’s death still resonates. Particularly by reinforcing the idea that nobody in the increasingly addictive world of REVOLUTION — outside of perhaps Miles and Charlie — are safe!
NOTABLE QUOTABLE: Charlie slowly begins to piece together that travelling with Miles may end up doing her more harm than good. Observes our heroine, “Every person that we meet wants to capture you, kill you, kill us for knowing you or are flat out terrified of you.”
LESSON(S) LEARNED: While it won’t come as much of a surprise that the dearly departed Ben Matheson was much more than a simple teacher of Algebra, it did come as a bit of one that he moonlighted for the Department of Defence and had something called “Full SAP Clearance,” whatever that is! More interesting still — and something that will surely come into play at some point throughout the rest of the season — is that Miles, not Monroe may be directly responsible for Charlie’s mother’s current captive status. Also of note, there is something “important” about Danny.
CRITIQUE: REVOLUTION is on a roll! Peppered with — dare-we-say-it — the perfect mix of suspense, action and surprise, the hit NBC show’s fourth episode of the season continues to make the case for being considered the first flat-out successful mythological dense drama in a post-LOST world. Which, curiously enough, may not be the most appropriate of comparisons considering an episode like “The Plague Dogs” — complete with a stakes raising death, a slew of delightfully morally ambiguous characters, not to mention a carefully crafted universe that, like an onion, is slowly being peeled back by the REVOLUTION writers to reveal a world where there is a very fine line between right and wrong — played out much more like your typical episode of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. GRADE: B+
The TV Addict staff blogs at The TV Addict.
On Oct. 1, Academy Awards producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron announced that they’d found their host for the 2013 Oscars. Seth MacFarlane, creator of long-running animated show “Family Guy” and star of the summer movie hit “Ted,” will lead the ceremony on Feb. 24.
I’m a huge MacFarlane fan – and yet, I said “Hmmm.”
It’s no secret that the Oscars have been trying to rejuvenate the show for the past – well, as many years as anyone’s been keeping track. In an age of audiences going to see what’s on cable rather than the broadcast networks and more independent films dominating at the Oscars, rather than box office hits TV viewers would be familiar with, the minds behind the Oscars have been trying to draw eyeballs with all sorts of tactics. Two years ago, it was the semi-disastrous pairing of Anne Hathaway and James Franco as hosts, who seemed to have the appeal of a younger demographic beforehand, but never really found their comfort zone during the ceremony.
It’s a hard game for the Oscar producers to win. When they tried for the new with Hathaway and Franco, the reviews were negative. When they went for the classic last year and chose multiple-time Oscar host Billy Crystal, some said the choice was too expected and the ceremony needed something new.
So now they have MacFarlane, who strikes a tone in his movies and on his TV shows that’s a little different than that which you might identify with the Oscars. I’m an avid “Family Guy” watcher, but even I don’t like the scene in one episode where three characters vomit for two straight minutes.
Of course, Ricky Gervais, creator of the British version of “The Office,” made viewers sit up and pay attention when he hosted the Golden Globes for the first time in 2010. Awards show hosts will typically gently poke fun at some celebrities in attendance, and the camera will cut to the star in question laughing good-naturedly. Gervais went a little more for the throat. “I like a drink as much as the next man,” he commented at one point. “Unless the next man is Mel Gibson.” When he returned in 2011, he took aim at a movie starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. “It was a big year for 3-D movies,” he noted. “It seems like everything this year was three-dimensional. Except the characters in ‘The Tourist.”
So maybe the Oscar planners are hoping that bringing in MacFarlane, whose movies and TV shows have similarly irreverent senses of humor, will bring some life to the telecast.
I definitely hope so. But I hope that MacFarlane can move beyond his “Family Guy” safety zone to be a host that would appeal to everyone.
For example, he’d come to attention just days before the hosting announcement was made during the Emmys telecast, though accidentally (at least, I assume). MacFarlane strolled out to present an award and began talking, with only one problem – there wasn’t a microphone in front of him. A microphone came up from the floor, but not before MacFarlane had realized his mistake and headed for the one across the stage. Of course, the comedian recovered admirably.
“That’s what you get for missing rehearsal,” he said without missing a beat, using the voice of homicidal toddler Stewie Griffin on “Family Guy.” (MacFarlane is the pipes behind protagonist Peter Griffin, Peter’s dog Brian, neighbor Glen Quagmire and Stewie, among other characters.) Check out the video above.
Was it funny? Yes. Do I ever get tired of seeing MacFarlane slip in and out of those voices multiple times with no visible effort, as he did once for a Hulu commercial? No.
But it did make me wonder if he would have anything else up his sleeve for the Oscars except “Family Guy” jokes.
Being a fan, I’m hoping for the best. “Family Guy” riffs on all pop culture, so with his depth of knowledge, I think MacFarlane would be able to help out his team of writers for the ceremony with jokes about the movies that year that would appeal to the entire audience, not just teenagers and twentysomethings.
And MacFarlane’s an accomplished singer and a lover of musicals – “Family Guy” episodes will often stop dead while the characters act out entire numbers from movies, such as when the Griffin children performed all of “So Long, Farewell” from the film version of “The Sound of Music,” down to every facial expression from the 1965 movie. So maybe MacFarlane will work in a song.
His recent stint as a first-time "Saturday Night Live" host garnered positive reviews, too, with many critics saying that while he was underserved with some of the material for sketches, he appeared loose and ready for anything during the live show.
So hey – either way, it’ll be an interesting evening.
It’s that time of the year when networks see how their new fall shows are faring in the ratings and either give them longer life or bring down the axe. Today NBC has good news for three of their freshman series.
Starting with the more expensive, high concept series, NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said:
“We’re impressed with the imagination and creative direction of the entire team on ‘Revolution,’ not to mention the immediately strong response we got from the audience. Ordering the full season of this show is a pleasure. Thanks to J.J. Abrams, Erik Kripke, Jon Favreau, and everyone at Bad Robot and Warner Bros. Television for their dedication to making a truly unique series. And I personally love to escape into a world where there is no power, the phone doesn’t ring, and the pace of life slows down — if only for one hour a week!”
So far Revolution hasn’t blown audiences away, but the characters show some great potential for development, and there’s already an intriguing mystery to keep audiences glued to their TVs for at least one season. Since the end of Lost, only Bad Robot’s Person of Interest and Fringe have been given more than one season on network television. Revolution is at least on the right path.
Go On & The New Normal
Meanwhile, on the comedy side of things, Salke says:
“We’re also very proud of our new comedy block of ‘Go On’ and ‘The New Normal.’ In partnering with Matthew Perry for ‘Go On,’ creator Scott Silveri has created a comedy with a highly original voice that deftly combines humor and emotion. And Ryan Murphy and Ali Adler have created a truly unique family in ‘The New Normal’ that is reflective of the changing dynamics of the world we live in. These shows are both welcome additions to our new lineup!”
The renewal of Go On is good news for Matthew Perry, who has been looking for a solid series to lead for years. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a great effort on his part (along with writer Aaron Sorkin), but the lack of real comedy writing within a series based on a late night sketch series really hurt; Mr. Sunshine just didn’t work out for audiences last year. This new show not only allows Perry to do what he does best, there’s a great ensemble of comedic actors like Brett Gelman, Seth Morris, Julie White and John Cho to keep things interesting.
As for The New Normal, the pilot felt like Ryan Murphy trying to bring the edgy humor of Glee character Sue Sylvester to a Modern Family setting. Thankfully, the following episodes have let the series come into its own. Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha make for a great couple, and Ellen Barkin has pulled back on her theatrical performance a bit. There’s a great progressive family series here, and hopefully the quality in comedy is more consistent than Glee.
Frankly, it’s just good to see NBC show some confidence in their fall line-up. With The Office officially on its way out, the network can use some solid new comedy, and Revolution will hopefully mark another staple TV series for Bad Robot, rather than one of their forgettable cancellations.
Ethan Anderton blogs at Screen Rant.
Whether or not you are of the mindset that Homeland trumps such television darlings as Mad Men and Breaking Bad in terms of cable television drama, it’s difficult to ignore just how taut and thrilling the series can be. Just look at how quickly the series brings things to a boil following a cooling period between seasons with a storyline that jumps forward in time, but manages to feel terrifyingly present in terms of the events in the Middle East and the way the American political machine is built almost entirely on hype.
Some time has passed since last season’s breathless finale, and things have largely quieted down in the respective households of Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis). For one thing, Carrie is living with her father and sister, teaching English as a second language, while Sergeant Brody is now Congressman Brody – and in a ridiculous, yet poignant stab at the insanity of an election year, the potential running mate of Vice President William Walden (Jamey Sheridan). During the transition from increasingly paranoid CIA agent to humble English teacher, and American war hero to effortlessly popular political entity, the common ground that links them, Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban), has largely remained quiet. But, as luck (or the season premiere) would have it, the wheels of the international spy game and of global terrorist organizations never cease to spin.
And therein lies the basic, terrifying tenet of Homeland: In order for either of the series’ main characters to be given their day, something horrible will likely happen. This puts the audience on a permanent state of alert, paradoxically looking forward to a resolution, but knowing it may only be possible through some horrific occurrence.
In the season premiere, ‘The Smile,’ Homeland is primarily concerned with reestablishing where Carrie and Brody have been, and showing how, at some point while the audience was away, both may have found themselves in a place where the thought of continuing on as they were became more distant, and that was largely a positive for them both. Because as each is sucked back into their respective positions, it doesn’t take long to see just how caustic it was for them to maintain such single-minded pursuits – and how, as Carrie later comes to realize, she relished the way that pursuit defined her.
But with no means of interaction, it’s no longer a game of cat and mouse between Carrie and Brody; it’s their pasts hunting each of them. And while, for the time being, anyway, this helps Homeland to avoid falling into the trap presented by its basic premise, it isn’t trying to rewrite how the series works, either. Brody is still very much at the whim of Abu Nazir, being contacted in his new office by a reporter (and fellow Nazir loyalist) named Roya (Zuleikha Robinson), with instructions to pull classified information out of a safe that happens to be in the office of CIA Deputy Director David Estes (David Harewood). And in the first hour, a small notebook left on a desk stands as a testament to just how well Homeland handles tension.
Meanwhile, Carrie responds to a request by Estes for assistance with the kind of reaction one wouldn’t expect, considering the way she was removed from the CIA. While Nazir’s request of Brody is treason, it feels downright simple compared to Estes asking Carrie to travel to Beirut and gather intelligence from the wife of a Hezbollah leader. The work means drudging up painful memories and emotions; it means working with Saul (Mandy Patinkin), and getting information about an imminent attack on America out of a source Carrie kept off the books and hasn’t seen in years. It means everything Carrie sacrificed so much to suppress comes flooding back to the surface once more.
But Brody’s battle is increasingly set at home. His wife, Jessica (Morena Baccarin), has moved past accepting her late husband’s sudden resurrection, and begun enjoying the profile that comes with being the wife of a man whose name is suddenly a hair’s breadth from the presidency. So when Dana (Morgan Saylor) outs him as a Muslim, to the disbelief of her class, but later, again to Jessica – a fact that Brody confirms – it’s clear the truth that separates the two distinct halves of Congressman Brody is beginning to dissolve. And once again, as it is with Carrie, Brody finds himself at war with the person he is now, and who he once was.
Homeland does many things very well, but one of them is the show’s awareness of just how long certain revelations must wait before they’re made known by its characters. Brody’s keeping a lot of secrets from his wife, but this one defines him. More importantly, Jessica’s response makes who she is clearer to the audience. She’s no longer an ancillary character who Brody has to keep secrets from; she’s now an active participant in keeping truths about her husband from the public he serves. The writers know that building tension is great, but sooner or later, if its not released – even in little doses – it has a tendency to go flat. The trick to keeping certain areas of apprehension high is by relieving the pressure every so often.
This, in turn, serves to highlight Homeland‘s ability to give its plots multiple threads to explore, while still managing to pull those threads into a cohesive line by the end of most episodes – that’s no simple feat, as often even the best serialized dramas opt to leave various threads dangling to be picked up (or not) several episodes down the line. The show is also blessed with an abundance of talent that, although it doubles up on two of the more popular forms of television characters right now, e.g., the unreliable protagonist and the morally ambiguous central character, manages to offer something unique and compelling about both. To their credit, Danes and Lewis are equally superb and affecting in their roles.
Most importantly, though, it’s the way Carrie and Brody manage to surprise, even when the audience is given information the CIA doesn’t. Having questions about your characters are the kind of questions a good series wants to have. There’s still plenty we don’t know about Brody and Carrie. And what’s most intriguing is the way both characters are tempted to lead the audience down the road of predictability, but wind up surprising. As Brody proclaims to be something other than what people perceive him as, the same can be said for nearly everything on Homeland.
Kevin Yeoman blogs at Screen Rant.
Rian Johnson created quite the sci-fi story with Looper (read our review), and like a lot of good sci-fi stories, there’s plenty left to chew on after the end credits roll. Some people may be confused about the ending of Looper, others about the general premise of the story – while more hardcore sci-fi fans are undoubtedly deep into discussing, charting or perhaps even working on infographics that explain the many time travel logistics (and paradoxes) that must be untangled.
To aid in comprehension and discussion, we’ve created a quick easy-to-read breakdown of Looper is all about. It’s only our analysis, and film is always open to wide interpretation – and like good cinema should do, we have a feeling Looper will keep people talking and thinking for a while. Read on for our explanation of Looper‘s premise, story – and yes, those bothersome time travel paradoxes.
In Kansas of 2074, a mob syndicate utilizes a kill system whereby they send victims back in time to Kansas 2044 to be eliminated by hitmen called “loopers,” who are trained and instructed by a future mobster (Jeff Daniels). The anonymous victims pop back in time hooded and gagged and are promptly shot by the waiting hitman, who then disposes of the body and collects bars of silver strapped to the victim’s back as payment. This goes on until the day a looper finds gold strapped to his victim’s back instead of silver, signifying that the anonymous victim is actually the looper himself – or at least who he will be in 30 years. This is known as “closing a loop”; the looper promptly retires and is free to live a life of luxury for those 30 years- until he will be captured and sent back to the predetermined moment when his younger self kills him.
This is seen as a perfect kill system because:
- Law Enforcement in 2074 has no corpse to pin on the mob. No corpse, no crime.
- No one in 2044 but the looper is ever aware of the murder – and the looper doesn’t know a single detail about the victim (until it is his older self).
- The looper, whose only kernel of knowledge is that he briefly killed strangers for a future mob, ultimately offs the only person in 2074 to witness these killings (himself), leaving NO ONE who can tie the future mob to a crime (no body, no killer, no crime).
Young Joe is a Looper. He’s had a messed up past, no real parents, and had his lessons on life given to him by a man from the future who gave him a gun and taught him to kill. Needless to say, Joe has issues. He drops designer drugs in his eyes all day, frequents prostitutes, etc. But Young Joe also has heart, studies French, dreams of traveling to “better, more sophisticated” places than Kansas, and gets all vulnerable about childhood and parenting with his prostitute lady friend (Piper Perabo)… Somewhere in that stoic hitman there’s a heart – though often it gets buried beneath the selfish ambition to “get his” in life, no matter what the cost.
When Old Joe (Bruce Willis) arrives, Young Joe is confronted by a possible version of himself that understands the world much differently; Old Joe (as seen in montage) has been down the path Young Joe is fighting so fiercely to go down – Old Joe knows how empty it ultimately is, until you find love. Real love. Old Joe had it for a brief stint of time until his past came back to haunt him (Loopers’ deaths are predetermined, remember?) and cost him the love of his life, as well. Old Joe is fighting for love – and he too wants to “get his,” no matter what the cost.
To Old Joe, the person responsible for taking what was his is someone named the Rainmaker, who is basically the all-powerful telekinetic Hitler of 2074, controlling everything in society from the government to the citizenry to the mobs and their operations. Old Joe’s intel (flimsy as it is) states that it was the Rainmaker who called for the retired loopers to start having their loops closed wholesale – and therefore was responsible for shattering Old Joe’s happiness. Old Joe’s plan, therefore, was to infiltrate the past, locate the Rainmaker (based on hospital records) when he is a young boy, kill him, spare himself (and, you know, maybe the world) a lot of darkness and heartache. Only, Old Joe has three names on a list (flimsy intel) – three children – who could be telekinetic Hitler, and therefore he must kill all three. Old Joe’s ambition for personal satisfaction is clearly exponentially worse than Young Joe’s.
Young Joe lands on a farm owned by Sara (Emily Blunt), a low-level telekinetic who is mother to a genius-level (and frighteningly powerful) telekinetic child named Cid (Pierce Gagnon), who will CLEARLY one day be the Rainmaker. Young Joe has that vulnerable side and heart opened up by the hard-luck story of Cid and Sara – especially Cid, whose story of violence and loss at a young age is so much like Young Joe’s own story. Even when Cid inadvertently blows up a gatman (Garrett Dillahunt), and Young Joe knows this kid is telekinetic Hitler, the compassion he sees Sara showing her son, and the effect it has, marks for Young Joe the difference between becoming men like him (and baby-killing future him), and possibly becoming what Young Joe secretly always wanted to be: a better kind of man.
However, murder-spree Old Joe is too far gone to turn back. When he finally tracks Young Joe to Sara’s farm, it becomes clear that Old Joe’s selfish ambition is the exact incident that ironically enough creates The Rainmaker; in Old Joe’s timeline (more on that later), rumor has it that as a boy, the Rainmaker saw his mother murdered by a looper and had part of his jaw shot off: horrific acts Old Joe nearly commits.
But Old Joe’s alteration of time means that there’s a possibility for more than one path – so when Young Joe finds himself in a moment where his violent ways can’t save the day, he makes a choice to not be like Old Joe and actually give up his all-important ambition to hold on to “what’s his.” He removes himself (and all the bad Old Joe’s done) from the equation by killing himself, thereby possibly sparing a lot more people times of pain and darkness under the Rainmaker’s reign (presuming Cid grows up to be a healthier, nicer, all-powerful guy).
Time travel stories are tricky; there always seem to be loose ends left dangling, and/or connections that don’t quite add up. Looper, unfortunately, suffers this problem as well.
The biggest issue, as always, is the multiverse factor: if a guy from the future comes to the past and starts mucking with history, it either A) creates a separate timeline that runs parallel to the original one (allowing for two versions of history), or B) The actions in the past forever alter the flow of a single timeline, allowing for just one version of events. Looper plays fast and loose with this time travel mechanic, at times relying on both single timeline and multiverse timeline approaches to push the story forward.
For example: Old Joe still existing after he meets and affects Young Joe shows that multiple timelines are possible – but tricks like Young Joe carving messages in his arm that show up on Old Joe as scars would have us assume that there is one timeline that wherein the fate of one Joe is directly tied to the other. Johnson gets by the issue via vague expositional throwaways such as Old Joe’s memory – is it being revised by his actions in the past? Or is he open to remember several versions of history? (Sorry, no clear answers – it’s too cloudy to say for sure!)
However, a few minutes of thought reveal a lot of paradoxical problems woven into this plot:
Old Joe & The Rainmaker
The biggest thing to address is the paradox involving Old Joe’s mission to stop the Rainmaker (Cid). Looper shows us a montage of Joe’s life in which Young Joe in fact unwittingly kills Old Joe out in the cornfields, and goes on to live what he thinks will be his happy, post-looper life – only to become the drug addict gun-for-hire (and eventual lover) that is Old Joe. Old Joe then jumps back to the past to change this course of events, and the movie we witness is therefore the alternate timeline where Old Joe escapes his execution.
…However, the movie hints (in the diner scene with young and old Joe) that Old Joe’s heinous actions in the past are what push young Cid to become the fearsome “Rainmaker.” As we see in the climax of the film, Old Joe’s crazed mission forces Young Joe to kill himself to save Cid – but this is a paradox.
If The Rainmaker exists in Old Joe’s future timeline, it suggests that Old Joe’s baby-killing mission in the past was predetermined to happen. So then how could there ever be a version of events where Old Joe was executed by Young Joe, and Young Joe goes on to become Old Joe?
Even if Old Joe had fulfilled his destiny (killing Sara, disfiguring Cid), Young Joe would have been aware of his older self’s actions and been changed by them – he wouldn’t become the Old Joe we saw in the montage, because the exact thing that would’ve made Cid the Rainmaker would also change Young Joe forever (the presence of Old Joe).
Bottom line: Old Joe’s timeline where both he and the Rainmaker co-exist is a paradox. A version of history wherein Old Joe kills Sara and creates the Rainmaker is also a paradox. Old Joe cannot be the origin of the Rainmaker as we are told he is.
In a climatic moment, Young Joe (via voiceover) describes seeing an unending cycle of time travel violence that creates monsters like the Rainmaker and Old Joe – and the only way to break it is suicide. A noble speech, noble idea, good plot twist and intriguing thematic arc… but it doesn’t hide the fact that there is a big gaping paradox at the center of the movie.
Young & Old Seth
This tangential subplot to the film actually raises quite a few paradoxal issues. Similar to Young Joe, Young Seth (Paul Dano) fails to kill his older self. Old Seth goes on the run until Kid Blue (Noah Segan) and the gatmen capture Young Seth and surgically amputate him as a means of incapacitating Old Seth.
Here again, we get a muddled version of timeline mechanics: If history is one timeline, then Old Seth should have instantly seen the amputated changes to his body the moment he escaped from Young Seth; the fact that limbs disappeared one at a time suggests multiverse possibility (Young Seth loses one finger, but there’s still alternate possibilities wherein he keeps the other nine, etc.). But if we’re talking multiverse theory, the Old Seth we see shouldn’t be affected by the amputations – it should be some alternate Old Seth of an alternate timeline who suffers that fate.
That’s not to mention the sheer number of future events that would have been altered when Young Seth is left incapacitated; start thinking about the Butterfly Effect and your head is liable to explode.
The Two Joes
Like the Seths, the paradoxal nature of Looper’s time travel story is seen in the two Joes. Simply put: it’s impossible for these two Joe’s to both exist and have a connection whereby Young Joe can leave scar messages in Old Joe’s skin, or Old Joe is clouded with Young Joe’s memories. Again, the movie shows us that Old Joe comes from a particular timeline, and that the Young Joe we meet is living in a now alternate timeline, where Old Joe’s actions steer him down a very different path.
In single timeline theory, Old Joe should’ve suffered a Back to the Future vanishing act the moment that Young Joe turns any one of the emotional corners he does in that second act of the film on the farm (bonding with Cid, falling for Sara, realizing he could one day become a baby-killer, etc.). Young Joe had already started down a path of emotional growth and change, meaning he could never become the Old Joe we meet – yet when Young Joe kills himself, poof! Old Joe is gone as if they are directly tied to one another. Either Old Joe should’ve reflected the emotional changes in Young Joe (which would’ve prevented him from baby killing ) – OR, Young Joe’s suicidal act shouldn’t have affected Old Joe, sinceOld Joe would’ve been from an alternate timeline.-
We could go on and on like this, but we would inevitably find ourselves arriving back at the same conumdrum: time travel theory: you just can’t have it both ways. Looper crafts a very good story out of a wild sci-fi premise, and while it dodges a lot of its own potholes scene-to-scene, when viewed from a distance its clear that Rian Johnson has not yet cracked the time travel movie conundrum.
Kofi Outlaw blogs at Screen Rant.