This weeks TVEye hops in the Delorean and goes back to 1986 with an incrediblly eye-opening FRINGE, followed by a final trip to ancient Roman Capua on SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA, a return (for the first time) to CAMELOT, and a zombie dance-off ala ‘Thriller’ on FACE OFF.
FRINGE (Ep. 58 “Subject 13”) Subject 13 was the best bit of television in weeks. Going back for another episode set in 1986, we were treated to an hour of flashback involving young Peter and Olivia, and both Walters caught up in the event that sparked the inevitable collapse of universes. Also, being set in 1986, we were treated to a replay of the amazing synth style 80’s opening credits sequence created for the flashbacks. Everything about this episode played strongly in both the drama and science fiction realms. The dynamics of Walter and his wife, and Walternate and his wife grappling with loss and regret from two separate universes was played out brilliantly by both actors. John Noble who plays both Walter’s is such a strong actor, playing virtually three roles as Walternate and both pre and post breakdown Walter Bishops. The child actors who played young Peter and Olivia were great as well. Young Olivia was played by Karley Scott Collins who took the subtleties of Anna Torv’s adult Olivia and blended them seamlessly into her performance, creating the remarkable and rare sense that you are actually watching the younger version of a main character. Normally, this level of care is not afforded on television shows, which goes to show how dedicated the Fringe producers are to creating a high quality series that puts thought into even the most minor of details. Speaking of minor details, how many people noticed the toy store scene with boxes of authentic original Real Ghostbusters toys, original BSG ships, Atari’s and GI Joes all on the shelves in their original packaging? I had some of those toys when I was a kid, so this little detail really resonated with me. Any other show would have stocked generic toys on the shelves, but not Fringe. The premise of the flashback was to see Walter’s Cortexiphan trials on young Olivia, and how he tried to manipulate her into crossing universes. We learn that the whole point of these trials was for Walter to find a way to safely return Peter to his real parents in the parallel universe. In a wonderfully edited montage, Walter observes Olivia through hours of betamax (another great 80”s reference) footage, trying to find a link between her emotions and ability to cross over. Peter and Olivia meet briefly, but neither of them seems to remember the meeting as their adult selves. The episode ends with Olivia unknowingly crossing over and speaking to Walternate who she believes to be Walter. Explaining that her stepfather beats her, the vulnerable young Olive explains that she believes her ability to cross universes comes from a combination of fear and love. Snapping back to the prime universe Walter confronts her, realizing that she had just planted the notion of the multiverse into Walternate’s head, a seed that ultimately leads to the war of the two Walters and resulting universal instability. Had she not crossed over and spoken to Walternate, he may never have realized the existence of the parallel universe. These were some pretty heavy revelations. It’s funny, after watching this episode I had a dream that another universe popped up on Fringe, and the whole multiverse thing took a different tone with Walters running all around. It was kind of like Being John Malkovich, only Being Walter Bishop instead.
There’s no new episode on tonight, but be sure to check out the awesome new promo, complete with a guest spot form Hurley himself, Jorge Garcia.
SPARTACUS: GODS OF THE ARENA (Ep. 6 “The Bitter End”) At the end of this 6 part miniseries prequel to the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, I have to admit, I’ll miss these Gods of the Arena. I went into this show six weeks ago with the distinct notion that I would hate it for its over-stylized effects and 300 rip-off existence. I was wrong. Gods of the Arena turned out to be a pretty decent story, about some divisive characters I never thought I’d grow to like. The lanista (gladiator owner) Quintus Batiatus and his loyal yet manipulatively serpent like wife Lucretia run the house of Batiatus, a slave compound where they train gladiators. It may at first have seemed like a house of prideful warriors, but as the show progressed it slowly unveiled the fact that this was a slave compound run by falsely guided masters who put themselves above everything and everyone else around them. This kind of volatile setting no doubt breeds a current of emotions which all inevitably run together into an ocean of blood. Man is not meant to hold reigns over other men, and in Ancient Capua, where the series is set, the men holding the reigns are more often than not a lurid, unremorseful group of hedonists with absolutely no inhibitions to guide their ways. In a way, the dynamic of Capua is anarchy for everyone but the slaves themselves. Gods of the Arena was absolutely drenched in sex and nudity, with orgies often intercut between blood and gore. This was a time of great brutality, and this above all else is what I feel came across in the miniseries. When masters make their slaves fight to the death, have sex with whomever they put before them, and wait on their every need at every hour of every day there is bound to be a growing resistance. As much as this build up comes across, its payoff took a literal backseat to the blood, gore, and sex of the finale. So keen on showing endless and extraordinarily gory arena battles, the finale seemed to miss an opportunity to make a statement. During the end primus (battle between all gladiators), a drawn out sequence of overreaching style wasted about twenty minutes of this hour long episode. While I’m sure many people stuck with the show just for the battles, I think they went a little too overboard with the length. Only at the end of the episode do we learn that the slaves made their uprising, as the final and brief shot shows Quintus and Lucretia’s dead and bloodied bodies with a voice heard in the background declaring the freedom of the slaves. This was it. A great series ended with a bit of a disappointing and pointless hour of needless excess. In a way, the producers overindulgence of excess violence and sex belittles the common viewer’s mentality much like the master’s did their slaves throughout the series. You know what they say, were all slaves to TV.
CAMELOT (Ep. 1 “Homecoming”) A preview of the newest Starz original series Camelot, followed this weeks conclusion to Gods of the Arena. Camelot is what I expect is Starz reply to HBO’s much heralded new series Game of Thrones which premieres in April. Camelot too is set to have its premiere in April, however Starz wanted to jump the Thrones gun (or sword) and air a sneak preview of the pilot weeks before its scheduled premiere. So was it any good? You know, it really wasn’t terrible, but it does play out a bit tired for me. The whole Camelot, King Arthur, Merlin story has been done SOOO many times that it’s hard to find originality in yet another retelling. The series is competently produced, and from what I saw of the pilot, well acted and written as well. Camelot is supposed to be a ten part mini-series (a trend lately) telling what has been sold as a unique take on the Arthurian legend. The uniqueness has yet to be seen. I will say however that I like the mini-series concept, because if shows are written with a beginning and an end, we as viewers won’t have to tread down lost in story territory (Lost), or fear of having shows cancelled before they reach their point or conclusion (Jericho). Joseph Fiennes, fresh from the cancelled FlashForward, one of those cancelled before conclusions shows, plays Merlin on Camelot. Fiennes is a good actor, but his take on Merlin is just boring and uninspired. The rest of the cast is decent, with Eva Green playing the fierce Morgan, and Jaime Campbell Bower playing the appropriately naïve and horny young Arthur. The intriguing thing about the series could be Merlin’s role as a Dick Cheney to Arthur’s Bush, infusing a puppet government to be led out of the ruins of the once great castle of Camelot. The political aspect of the story hasn’t really been milked yet, so this could be interesting if they decide to keep with the theme. Only tine will tell, and if you missed the preview last week, you can catch the actual premiere on Starz April 1.
FACE OFF (Ep. 6 “The Dancing Dead”) As played out as people might think the zombie genre is, there’s no way you can have a makeup effects reality show without a zombie makeup challenge. When you ask someone to associate something with movie makeup, nine times out of ten they’re going to say zombies. This week, the Face Off crew were challenged to create a unique and frightening zombie whose makeup could hold up during a ‘Thriller’ like dance routine, with the legendary Greg Nicotero guest judging. The foundation challenge, or small challenge of the show this week tasked the artists with concocting their own recipes for blood to be used in a crime scene splatter test. Using a number of the usual blood effects products like corn syrup, corn starch, chocolate syrup, etc., they had to make their blood look, move, and dry realistically. Tom, whose creative makeup I’ve loved week to week won the challenge for a splatter exhibition that would have made Dexter Morgan proud. What struck me about this challenge was that one of the ingredients they used was actual chicken guts, which would never be used on a set because of the dangerous bacteria that lurks on raw meat. Why this was included was beyond me, yet the ever annoying contestant Megan used a ton of it. When it came to creating their zombies, Tate created an incredibly horrific version of a zombie with a dead motionless tongue hanging creepily from its mouth. Tate ultimately won the episode, with Anthony’s boring prostitute zombie and Tom’s leathery run-over zombie sending them both home. I happened to really like Tom’s, but sadly he was eliminated. The thing with these reality shows is that they like to sometimes eliminate otherwise worthy people in order to keep around the ones who bring the most behind the scenes drama like Megan. All of these shows do this, but luckily Face Off remains free of the huge amounts of drama most of these shows manipulate to extremes.
Until Next Week!