How How To Get Away With Murder Gets Away With Everything

When they kept playing the promo clip of Annalise Keating writing on her chalkboard and drawing out the phrase “Howww to get aaawaaaay with muuurrrderrr” last fall I couldn’t get over how truly awful that show sounded. I’ve not been a big Scandal fan – tried the pilot, thought it was pretty lame – so the Shonda Rhimes connection didn’t do it for me either.

For some reason I watched the HTGAWM pilot.

I…loved it! Instantly hooked. Viola Davis was dynamite, oozing control and power in every scene. Spectacular. It made the show all the more impactful when they started to peel back the layers of Annalise’s invulnerability, and that was when HTGAWM shined. When Annalise took off her wig for the first time. When she confronted Sam. “Why’s your penis on a dead girl’s phone.” Bam!

Annalise is essentially a female anti-hero in the mold of all the male roles we (or I, at least) have grown tired of. But we see so few female characters in that role it’s not tired when Viola Davis does it. Keating is a brilliant lawyer who almost always wins and loves saving the underdog; she’s also a controlling, at times belligerent, figure who stops at nothing to portray and protect her power over everyone around her. The people who should hate her can’t hate her because she made them. Her control is absolute.

The best example came toward the end of season one when Bonnie dropped to her knees at Annalise’s feet to beg for continued acceptance. That’s why it was no shock to see Bonnie suffocate Rebecca in the basement. She knows Annalise is keeping at least one, probably two, killers in her circle. And they’re closer to Annalise than anyone. Bonnie wants to be that close. That’s the Annalise character in full glory.

Annalise is morally flawed in countless ways, as is every character on the show. It embraces and flaunts their shortcomings so freely that everything that happened in season one was completely believable. No one flinched when Frank emerged as Lila’s killer because it’s not a leap to believe knowing the way he uses his position to get in bed with Annalise’s students. It’s essential we see and believe their moral flaws in order for the show to create suspense. Everyone has to be a potential killer in order for someone to be.

I saw a note from a TV critic on Twitter that ABC didn’t send out the usual screeners for the season two premier. The critic speculated this happens when something big is going down, and she was right. If you’re going to end the episode with Annalise gasping for breath in a pool of blood you don’t want it being leaked.

So that’s our storyline for season two. Two months in the future, someone will shoot Annalise in the mansion of two children suspected of knife murdering their adopted parents. Just before the cliffhanger we hear the gunshot and see Wes running from the house. Did he do it? Last season would instruct us that there is much we don’t yet know, and won’t know until the moment when the writers can no longer hide it.

Walt Shot WHO?! Longmire Returns For Season 4

What a joy it is to get to write about a fourth season of Longmire! I was among the legions of fans scorching A&E on social media after the once-proud network announced it would not renew one of its most highly rated programs. It did not help itself by suggesting the reason for giving it the ax was that the demographic was too old. Netflix, that stalwart brand among the world’s aged, came to our rescue and released Longmire’s 10-episode fourth season on September 10.

I probably was not alone in fearing it would come back unrecognizable, but as I watched it last weekend I realized my assumption was not giving Netflix enough credit. You might expect a drastic change had Longmire gone from A&E to, say, Velocity. But Netflix has such a broad appeal that it does not need to typecast its own programming. So please accept my apologies, Netflix, for assuming the worst of you.

The evolutions apparent in season four were those of a show maturing beyond its original storylines. We dealt with three season’s of Walt pursuing vengeance for Martha’s death, and in season four Walt dealt with it himself. It seemed a tad rushed to have the arrows point to Barlow Connally so quickly in Walt’s house but the drama and Walt’s final decisive act delivered a worthy end to his founding storyline.

Many shows fail to make the pivot toward a new arch and meet a slow demise. Some argue this happened with Lost after season two. I would submit (and will in a later post) that Person of Interest faces this imminent danger. Based on other changes we saw in season four I feel comfortable that the brains behind Longmire have a plan. It is going to be a challenging one for fans to accept, but it beats not having Longmire at all.

The biggest and most jarring part of the plan, delivered in the outstanding opening scenes, is life in Absaroka County with out Branch. I give big props to the storytellers for coming up with a better way to reveal his death than simply picking up where season three ended. (There is probably no way A&E gets to visualize Branch’s final reaping pose the way Netflix could.) I also liked the decision to give uncertainty to his replacement, I think some instability in the previously stable sheriff’s office will leave the show plenty of avenues to explore (although hopefully better than will Vic hookup with anyone).

The other major changes that set the show for future seasons are the ones I think will challenge Longmire’s most devoted fans: The evolution of two of our favourite characters. Everyone loves the occasionally stumbling Ferg and pulls for him to become a great deputy. A lot of the Ferg love comes from his loyalty to Walt, but this season challenged that loyalty. A sheriff like Walt needs loyalty if he is going to be sheriff the way he wants to be sheriff. If Deputy Ferguson wavers he could replace Branch as the source of Walt’s foil. That would be a benefit to the Ferg character but leave fans torn between two favourites. Drama!

“It is another beautiful day at the Red Pony bar and continual soirée.” I do not know if his perfectly timed dry wise cracks or the absence of contractions in his speak pleasures me more, but I just love Henry Standingbear. He was Walt’s conscience in the most crucial moments of his quest to appease Martha, including in a fun scene from the season premier. But there has always been the sense that he could break bad if he had to, and at times this season it looked like he would. He is in the hands of Mathias now. The character feels like it could go either way – back to good or breaking bad.

Speaking of Mathias, I was very happy to see things thaw between him and Walt and between Nighthorse and Walt. The way things went early in the season I was full of dread that the show would turn into Walt versus the Indians. I think it is a better show when Walt and Mathias get along and he and Nighthorse at least do not completely hate each other.

There was a small moment in the thawing of their relationship that I think really filled in Walt’s character. Facing off in the casino, Nighthorse pledged to work with Walt on a case only if Walt apologized for blaming him for Martha’s murder. Walt did not flinch and gave a true apology, Nighthorse accepted. I think it revealed both characters as inherently good now that I think about it.

We love Longmire of course because we love Walt, so it was charming to see him try to put the moves on Dr. Monahan, played by the incomparably beautiful Ally Walker. Walt’s relationship with the famous author felt like kind of a fling that was too good for a Wyoming lawman to last. This one seems like they can make it into a real relationship. With the two of them entwined as someone broke into Walt’s house to end the season it seems like it will be.

Which brings us to the only thing I was frustrated with in season four: Vic. The season began with her heading to Walt’s house with a sixer of Ranier and I was like “Well I guess that is where it is going.” Then it disappeared until the season finale. Wut? In that way it felt like Vic herself completely disappeared. She had been the focus of previous seasons so maybe they decided to give her a year off, or maybe they wanted to keep her constant with so many other characters in transition.

I binged all 10 episodes of season four over the weekend, and there is no word on if or when we’ll see a season five. So now we wait.

Where You Been, Blogger

Well. It’s been ages since my last post so I guess I owe an explanation. Nothing scandalous, I just have a job. Landed it about a year and a half ago. Since that time I’ve wanted to make sure it was getting my full attention and my full creative mojo, which meant the blog had to take a back seat. But I’m back now and there is a lot to catch up on, including the site design, which is going to get a change.

Let’s start with the biggest travesty since ABC axed Last Resort: A&E canceled my beloved Longmire after its third season. A third season that ended with an empty shell bouncing on the ground after Branch and his father stared each other down over shotgun barrels. Who shot whom? I thought it was Branch because the shell landed by a box that would have been at his feet. Thankfully Netflix saved us and put out a pretty bold 10-episode season.

The decision to cancel unleashed a hell storm of angry fans on the A&E Facebook page, a problem fed not so much by the cancellation but the given reason: Longmire’s audience was too old. The cable channel is moving to populate its primetime lineup with cheaper “reality” shows that follow the likes of Donnie Walberg. Months after the cancelation fans still bombard every A&E update with messages conveying their displeasure and pledge to never watch the channel again. I’m one of them. The only other A&E show I watch was Bates Motel, and I never got into season two. Life goes on.

Let’s see, what else happened…

Alyssa Milano left Mistresses. Yeah. That happened. After filming wrapped on season two the show joined the long list of productions that packed up to follow the lucrative stream of taxpayer revenue offered by cities and states that aren’t Hollywood, California. Finances aside, it’s a mind-numbingly stupid decision by ABC executives to move the show 1,800 miles to Toronto after its star and main character had her second child. Babies are known about well in advance of their birth so ABC either knew she’d quit and didn’t care or foolishly thought she’d uproot her growing family. Stupid calculations either way.

Milano was open to the idea of a one-episode appearance to wrap Savannah’s story. I don’t think that’s a good idea and it didn’t happen. Season three went on just fine without her. I think the writers did an admirable job of crafting a storyline that left me thinking the Savi character would have been a real drag on the show.

Apart from the off-screen drama from my two favorite summer shows, the television world kept turning. The old standbys still move forward. Some rising, some stumbling. There’s a lot to talk about. Stay tuned.

A picture of God

Deus ex machina.

God from the machine.

I avoid predicting television shows because viewers rarely have enough information to make good ones. I tried earlier this season with Person of Interest and it blew up in my face, so I’m loathe to do it again. But I will.

My prediction for the Person of Interest season finale is that Harold has to choose between The Machine and Samaritan.

I am pushed to the point of prediction by the dialogue surrounding Harold in the past two episodes. Look at some of these lines:

“I can’t help you make a picture of God.” – Grace said to Greer as he seeks information about Harold.

“Perhaps you can.”

This conversation between Greer and Finch was amazing.

“I want to talk about the future. And who more qualified for that conversation than the father of artificial intelligence?” – Greer to Finch while Greer has him captive.

“I’d always imagined it was about the power of creation.” – Greer

“Now your God has disappeared, operating on its own accord. Children can be so disappointing.” – Greer

“I’d be aware of false idols, Mr. Greer.”

“As the father of AI you’re the only one in the world that can destroy it.” – Greer. Noah? The flood? Anyone?

“Having built something significantly smarter than myself how could I possibly anticipate its evolution?” – Finch

“You’re a destroyer, not a creator,” – Harold. OH MY GOD.

“The father became fearful of his son.” – Greer

“I built the machine to save lives. But how could I be certain that it wouldn’t one day determine that all of humanity was irrelevant?” Finch, to Greer.

“It’s pure hubris to think that you could control something so powerful.” Finch, to Greer.

“That is the most important man in the world. The father of a new age.” – Greer about Finch.

Father, creator, evolution. Shows don’t run up to their season finale with dialogue like that by accident. Greer’s search for Harold has now spanned two seasons and it will come to a head in a season finale entitled Deus ex Machina. Making Harold the subject of all this talk – the one who created this intelligence and imparted into it his humanity – leads me to believe he is approaching his moment of truth.

Covering my bases:

In the midst of a double-bogey this morning I was thinking back to the end of last season. The Machine went into “God Mode” and spoke directly to Root and Reese after shutting itself down due to a virus unleashed by Decima. Everyone converged on what they thought was The Machine, only to find out it had dissembled itself and shipped its components off to parts unknown. We still don’t know where it went, and it hasn’t been very much of a subject this season. I doubt that facet of the story will be brought up in this season’s finale, too.

But it got me thinking. God from the machine. The Machine evolved from what Harold first created. It knew enough to hide from Root, then it initiated an “analog interface” to use Root to prepare for what she (The Machine she, not Root she) saw coming, which we now have to believe is Samaritan.

There’s a literary meaning to deus ex machina that symbolizes when a story suddenly comes together in such a preposterous way that it is almost comedic. Writers try to avoid it for that reason, but it doesn’t have to be that literal for the season finale. It can mean The Machine does something no one – Harold, Greer, Collier – expects. Something like take herself apart and ship herself somewhere else.

One last thing bugs me from the most recent episode: Who sent Collier that text? He just found out his brother committed suicide for wrongly being accused of a crime by The Machine and – bam – he gets this text from someone who claims to be able to tell him what happened. My crackpot theory: The Machine sent it to start the process that will end in the season finale. My even more crackpot theory: Samaritan did it.

We’ll find out Tuesday.

Samaritan vs The Machine

root_tbLast week gave Person of Interest viewers their first look at Samaritan, the competing surveillance system that threatens to bring down The Machine – Harold, Reese, Shaw and Root along with it. I posted my thoughts right after the episode but want to take a closer look at how the two systems differ.

This is the last we’ll see of The Machine this episode. Or is it?

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Samaritan’s white launch screen is a 180 from The Machine’s black background pictured above:

Person of Interest Samaritan
Samaritan’s beta test included surveillance networks within New York City’s five boroughs. Notice the white background.

A look at the differences and similarities in how they identify subjects. The biggest thing to note here is how Samaritan is given mandates and targets. Harold programmed The Machine to prevent using it exactly that way.

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You can see more of Samaritan’s organized vertical interface versus the way The Machine scatters information about the screen:

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A look at the differences as they appear when Samaritan and The Machine search their archives:

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The systems use opposite ways of marking targets:

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This shows that for all their differences, the two systems operate with the same fundamental technical skills:

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Here is the key difference the show has been driving home to its viewers: The Machine only identifies threats, Samaritan finds them and tells you what to do with them.

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Person of Interest Samaritan
Despite being limited to New York City during its beta test, Samaritan was able to use last known destinations and travel times to estimate a location outside the city.

Remember when I said we might see The Machine later in the episode? I think this is it at work protecting Harold. Wherever it identifies him, it shuts down the feeds so Samaritan cannot see him. Note that it doesn’t give the same protection to anyone else.

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Person of Interest Samaritan
But for how long?