Editor’s note: Finally. FINALLY! The god damn fall season is off and running. The mid-year garbage leaves those of us with a jones for something that isn’t a reality show about gold digging MILFs in Orange County, Polygamist maniacs in Utah or faux-tanned scumbags in New Jersey desperately on the lookout for something with at least a little bit of substance. True Blood this season turned out to be a muddled soap opera with an awful lot of nude dudes so about halfway through that season I pretty much abandoned ship and started counting the days until Dexter. Tony is back this week for our second week in a row featuring big-time anticipation. Last week, we both lost our collective shit over Martin Scorcese’s turn on Boardwalk Empire and this week we go back to the anticipation station for the follow up to what was one of the most shocking ends to a TV show ever. Here’s Tony.
DEXTER (Ep. 49 “My Bad”) I wondered how the intense emotion of Rita’s death in last season’s finale would play out in the premiere. I figured that the intensity the Trinity Killer arc brought with it was over, and this season would start out quiet and more low-key. I was wrong. That wonderful opening credits sequence began, and I sat back for another cranking ride up the Dexter rollercoaster. And we were off. The sheer dedication of the performances in the premiere carried over an uncomfortable energy of biting intensity. Michael C Hall plays Dexter with the spot-on tendencies of a sociopath. “My Bad” was the textbook case for sociopathic behavior as Dexter was so consumed throughout the entire episode by his own selfish fears and urges. His 911 call sounded like a forensic case recording. He sat through the meeting with the funeral director (who was no David Fisher) disconnected, thinking of the tasks at hand in covering his own ass; torching his storage container, and topping off the gas in his boat. Even in flashbacks of him and Rita’s first date, he is working off of his own agenda. He’s always putting himself first, no idea how to humanly handle the situation at hand. These scenes play out so brilliantly as his sister Deb challenges Dexter’s detachment. Jenifer Carpenter plays Deb as an impetuous rock of sensitivity. Agitated by Dexter’s nonchalant attitude, she can’t help but question his awareness. There’s a part of her that wonders if Dexter is guilty. This is never said, or directly implied, but Carpenter’s expressions say it all.
On the other hand, Detective Quinn does ponder Dexter’s guilt, and is sure to be the major conflicting force of the season. He better be careful or he’ll end up with Doakes. Near the end of the episode, Dexter escapes on his boat, fleeing humanity for the comfort of seclusion. Turns out, he never got around to topping off that gas tank, and takes a detour to a quaint dockside gas station. In the station, he is confronted by a brash, horrible man who remarks, “you’re dead wife can suck my dick.” Dexter snaps, smashing the mans head into a bloody pulp, flecks of blood speckling Dexter’s face in the process. Like splashing water on ones face for clarity, the blood snaps Dexter out of his state, and Harry returns in his mind for guidance. Dexter lets loose, screaming and thrashing as Harry tells him that was the first human thing he’s done since Rita died. Chilling scene! The most intense moment of the episode for me however, was the more subtle moment of Dexter telling Astor and Cody about their mother’s death. They return in good spirits after a day at Disney World. Cody puts a Mickey Mouse hat on Dexter as he sits them down to reveal the bad news. Sitting in his Mickey Mouse hat, Dexter becomes a parody, a caricature of a human being. Unable to well his own words, he quotes the funeral director, consoling the children with an “I’m sorry for your loss.” What an uncomfortable scene. Gave me chills. In the end, Dexter comes back to confront life, accepting his toxic existence for what it is. He is, the Toxic Avenger. I look forward to another uncomfortable season of sociopathic greatness.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE (Ep. 2 “The Ivory Tower) Coming off of a first-rate pilot directed by Scorsese himself, episode 2 was sure to be the lowly prince behind his kingly father. I knew it would be good, but had that familiar inkling that it wouldn’t quite measure up to such an epic kickoff. The pilot introduced a slew of characters, providing tenuous insight into their lives, much like you’d get with a movie. Well, Boardwalk Empire is a Television series, so the Hollywood grandeur of the pilot needed to take a backseat this week to the weightier exploration of these characters everyday existence. It did just that, focusing primarily on Nucky and Jimmy. The title of this week’s episode, “The Ivory Tower,” remarks on Nucky’s disconnect from the real world. We see Nucky literally waited on hand and foot, his rich lifestyle on display for the city he runs. We are shown the fruits of his power, driving around in his Rolls Royce (Awesome Car) as he collects large wads of cash from the brothels, casino owners, and city workers. Nucky gets a piece of everything in Atlantic City. He runs the whores and the horses with political influence. At one point, a customer at the Ritz, where he lives in a Penthouse suite, refers to Nucky as living like a Pharaoh.
On the contrary, Jimmy lives like a pauper, a young man whose grand ambition is misled by brash resolve. The episodes introduction of his young showgirl mother, revelation of his hidden dishonorable discharge papers, and acted upon desire to build his own Ivory Tower all bring awareness to the characters dark core. Jimmy is compared to Odysseus, his wife and son a shadow behind the grand journey of his ambition. We’ll see just how far he can get. In Soprano’s terms, Jimmy is the Christopher to Nucky’s Tony. The conflict between these two characters is sure to develop intricately as the series progresses. Overall, it was a good episode that did what it had to do at this point in the story. I would have liked to see more on Prohibition, and find the show’s departures to storylines in New York and Chicago a bit unfocussed at this point. The eerily dedicated Prohibition Agent Van Alden, played perfectly low key by character actor Michael Shannon, adds a nice bit of conflict where the show needs it. Likewise, the tormented immigrant Margaret Schroeder (Kelly MacDonald) brings a righteous element to Nucky’s lavish life. In one scene she is seen reading Henry James’ unfinished novel, The Ivory Tower. That novel deals with dark forces that emerge around greed and frivolity, a hint that Margaret may be the only catalyst with a chance of pulling Nucky out of his wicked ways. We shall see.
FRINGE (Ep. 44 “Olivia”) Somewhere in the middle of Fringe’s second season, the series gained an exorbitant amount of steam. As the story of the parallel universe came to fruition, I remember thinking, wow, this show went from good, to great, and continues to get better. With the premiere on Thursday night, I couldn’t help but wonder if they could sustain the momentum into their third season. My question was answered within the first five minutes. The finale last May ended with alternate Olivia (I’ll call her Fauxlivia) infiltrating our universe, while the real Olivia was locked away in the alternate universe by alternate Walter (Walternate). Thursday’s premiere began with the tough-nailed Olivia putting on her best brave face while analyzed by a shrink. Believing her to be a shell-shocked, post breakdown Fauxlivia, the doctor dismisses her far-flung tale as nothing more than a disconnect from reality. The cold tormented Olivia replies, “This is not a fantasy.” Oh, but it is. Every other episode this season will switch from the alternate world, to the real world, in a fantastic telling of Science Fiction.
Olivia is being injected with memory transfers from Fauxlivia, no doubt part of Walternate’s scheme to exploit the connection between her and Peter. The technology and atmosphere in the parallel world are far more advanced than our world. Billboards promoting daily flights to the moon, zephyrs flying about, and technology years ahead of ours are blended seamlessly into a world whose differences appear subtle at the surface. Olivia escapes her captors in a badass attack of pure adrenaline driven fury. She takes a Manhattan cab driver hostage at gunpoint, forcing him to drive her around the city in a desperate search for a way back to her reality. She comes up empty at every point of interest. The cab driver, Henry (The Wire’s Andre Royo) eventually comes to understand Olivia’s dilemma, accepting her story as real and establishing a genuine trust. Henry may be the only friend Olivia has in the alternate world, so I hope to see a lot more of his character in the coming weeks. At the end of her search, Olivia ends up at the house of Fauxlivia’s mother, the alternate version of Olivia’s mother who died years ago. The emotion of meeting the alternate version of her dead mother and adrenaline of her escape cause the memory transfers to take hold. Fauxlivia has been assimilated into Olivia’s psyche. I think the changes might be a bit of an act, a last ditch effort of Olivia’s to blend into her surroundings until she can find her way back. The alternate Fringe agents are not bad people, and I applaud the writers for humanizing the other-siders and giving us viewers a dilemma of conscience in separating the good guys from the bad. The episode ends with a flash to Peter, Walter, and Fauxlivia in the real world, both men completely unaware of the imposter in their midst. Next week, we’ll spend an hour in their world. Fringe is one of, if not the best show on television right now, and I cannot wait to see how this season plays out.
(As an aside, Editor and Chief of Cinema Suicide, Bryan White recently brought to my attention the Montauk Project, a conspiracy involving an alleged government testing site that dealt with psychological warfare, alternate dimensions, and a ton of really interesting Fringe sciences back in the 1980’s. Imagine the fantastic fiction of Fringe in real-world applications! I’ll be reading up more on this in the coming weeks, and implore fans of the show to check it out as well. It’s really interesting stuff, and no doubt a source for the show’s richly psycho-scientific material.)
STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (Ep. 47 “Supply Lines”) Where else, other than Clone Wars will you find political posturing and diplomatic negotiations in a half-hour animated series? Nowhere. I love how Clone Wars takes the sophomoric prequels and manages to breathe new and vibrant life into the material. They even manage to make Jar Jar somewhat tolerable. Well, maybe not. “Supply Lines” takes place on the planet Toydaria, in the Hutt Space region of the Star Wars Universe. The Jedi Council attempts negotiations with the Toydarians (an alien race of whom you may remember Watto from Phantom Menace) for use of their planet as a staging ground for relief aid to battleground planet Ryloth. We find out that the Council has sent Representative Binks (Yes, Jar Jar) to head negotiations, but (insert sarcastic gasp) he has failed. To make up for their error in judgment, they send Senator Organa to assist. The episode moves back and forth from Toydaria to Ryloth, inter-cutting the horrors of battle with the diplomacy of war. I admire the well though-out juxtaposition, and was surprised at the depth to which the episode explored the less sensationalized elements of war. In the end, the Senator makes a backroom deal with the Toydarian king, as Jar Jar creates a diversion to hide the deal. When are they going to kill Jar Jar off? It’s nice to see the hordes of familiar characters that pop up unexpectedly from episode to episode, but some just need not be heard from again. But then again, this is what makes me watch. The coverage of a vast Universe of obscure characters and planets, and the familiarity of ones I’ve grown up with. That said, next weeks episode teases a Greedo and Jabba storyline. Nice.
(Special thanks to the Wookiepedia website http://starwars.wikia.com without whom I could never spell these character or planet names correctly week to week)
THE EVENT (Ep. 1 “I Haven’t Told You Everything”) When a television series maintains a mystery as its central core, the outcome depends entirely on an audiences desire to solve this mystery. The mystery is what the networks hope brings us back week by week, but can also lead to a feeling of utter frustration, as these types of shows seem to create more mysteries, without solving the ones it has already presented. Mysteries can’t be open-ended, and past shows involving planes and mysterious happenings seemed to forget this fact. Here’s where other serialized dramas have gotten tangled in their own webs, and where NBC’s The Event hopes not to.
This week‘s premiere of The Event was a suspenseful, well-paced pilot, laced with a few minor flaws along the way. The show begins with brief flashes of raw news-footage, a hint of the actual event we will encounter at the end of the episode, and smart grab of the audience before the somewhat mundane character introductions that were to come. The rest of the show is told in real time, with flashbacks to days previous. Yes, this seems very similar to the narrative style of Lost, and to be honest, I don‘t think the characters are presented half as compellingly as the Lost castaways were. The action starts with a tense airplane takeoff involving protagonist Sean Walker (John Ritter’s son Jason Ritter) sitting anxiously in his seat. The story flashes back and forth to reveal a complex plot involving the alleged kidnapping of Josh’s girlfriend, and how it led to his being on that plane. The other storyline follows U.S. President Martinez’s (Blair Underwood) discovery of a major cover-up, which involves a secret mountain facility in Alaska, and its group of 97 secret prisoners. President Martinez and Walker’s stories come together as Walker’s actions on the plane are revealed as an attempt to stop his girlfriend’s patsy father from crashing into Martinez’s Miami retreat, moments before he’s set to announce the cover-up to the world. Then, THE EVENT happens. A purple plasma like ball erupts from the sky, sucking the entire airplane into a darkened void of purple Gak. I found the disappearance, and strange void to be extremely reminiscent of the 1989 film Millennium. When the plane disappears, Sophia (Laura Innes), the leader of the prisoners looks up and simply remarks, “They saved us.” It’s an expected setup for this type of show, as we are left with some pretty big questions. Who are they? Aliens? Angels? Xenu? LOL. What exactly was the event? Where did the plane end up? Will The Event end up like so many of the perpetual mystery shows that have come before? A doomed to be cancelled ratings failure like Flash Forward? Beloved cult institution with a disappointing payoff like Lost? Will you be watching?