#TheBlacklist Season 5 Premier: Back In A New York Groove

Just when we thought the male anti-hero had run its course, Raymond Reddington came along. James Spader’s awesome portrayal of someone equal parts charismatic and cunning kept the show alive as other characters found their way. Reddington is a flamboyant version of the international criminal mastermind, and you could feel how much fun Spader had bringing him to life.

Then season four happened. Red made the out-of-character decision to shoot his fixer, Mr. Kaplan, in the head and leave her (not a typo) in the woods to die. It was an overreaction to her perceived betrayal in season three, so much so that it was transparently forced into the show as a way to open up a new storyline. A metal plate no one knew was in her head saved Mr. Kaplan. Obviously pissed off, she used her complete knowledge of Raymond’s criminal organization to dismantle it from afar.

Losing his contacts, his connections and his money put Raymond Reddington on the defensive. Without his confidence he had no cockiness. Without either he was left being the one scrambling instead of the one stirring the drink. It made him uninteresting. Other storylines helped push the season along, but they weren’t strong enough to overcome the lack of fun Reddington.

The season five premiere brought back the fun.

The Blacklist has always been great with music, this year being no exception. The episode started with Reddington conning his way through a valet stand and into a classic sports car, which he promptly outran the police with – all set to “Back In A New York Groove.” He zipped his way to his new home: A motel where he holds court by the pool, giving the show a chance to let Spader’s charm explode onto every scene.

This is the new Raymond. He’s got no network and no money. Immaculate suits are out. He’s gotta hustle for his rent. So naturally he comes to the aid of a bail bondsman who’s about to lose $80,000 if a fugitive doesn’t make his court date. Perfect work for a former criminal entrepreneur.

All of this let’s the show give us the old Red back. The fun Red.

Here’s what season five shapes up to cover, based on the premiere…

Red rebuilds his empire
Season one began with Reddington already on top of the criminal world. Now that Kaplan knocked him off, season five should be heavy on him putting the pieces in place to start over. The premiere had him scheme to bring in a money launderer and a logistics man. He’ll need more, including a new fixer. And speaking of fixers…

Ressler’s in trouble
The Ressler character has been pretty stiff for most of this series. His only purpose seems to be rushing to crime scenes and reminding us of the ethical problems the FBI faces working with Reddington. Nevertheless, I like him. But now he’s got problems. Stupid ones.

At the end of season four, Agent Ressler accidentally killed the National Security Advisor. I mean, oops. Then, in a moment of extreme idiocy, he called the fixer who just betrayed said advisor and asked him to take care of it. Well guess what. The fixer is now gonna blackmail the shit out of him. It’ll cause problems for Ressler, big ones. I can’t stand inevitable storylines and this one is going to drive me nuts.

Elizabeth’s mom’s bones
Like every good fixer (see above), Mr. Kaplan kept an insurance policy against her employer. Hers? The decayed bones of Elizabeth’s mom. Big. She left them for Tom (“Hey, Tom. I got your dead mother-in-law’s bones here.”) who now has them in a brown suitcase that he keeps in the family living room.

Raymond doesn’t know all of this. He knows Kaplan left the bones for someone, but not who. He’s got Dembe on the job, so it’ll get done. It won’t be easy, but we know how it ends because…

That flash forward
At first I thought this was Tom having a flashback, then I realized this isn’t something we’ve seen. To lay the marker for how serious Reddington takes these bones, the premiere ended with a flash forward to Red and Dembe bursting into the Keane’s apartment guns out and, possibly, shooting Tom in the process. That part wasn’t clear. But it wouldn’t be surprising. Tom and Raymond have been at odds for most of the series.

How we get to that scene will be the biggest story for season five to unravel.

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#ThisIsUs Season 2 Premiere: Let Your Heart Have Feelings

#ThisIsUs Season 2 Premiere: Let Your Heart Have Feelings

This is not a rant against television critics. I love television critics. They understand television better than I do and explain it better than I can. I’d be lost (pun…not intended) watching the shows I like without their recaps and insight.

But with expertise and analysis comes the danger of over-thinking, and I think we’re at that point with reaction to the season two premiere of This Is Us.

If you’re not a fan (you should be), This Is Us spent the better part of season one teasing the death of the Pearson family patriarch, Jack, played by Milo Ventimiglia. We know he does die, but the show is drawing out the reveal for exactly how. It seemed like we’d get the answer in the season one finale, but no. Like a lot of critics and fans, I was even upset they didn’t reveal it after such a heavy buildup.

At the very end of the season two premiere, they made the reveal. Sorta. They showed Kate and Randall in tears, with Kate getting a line that called back to a future-Kate line earlier in the episode. They showed Rebecca pulling up to the Pearson house and letting out a scream that’s even more impressive when you learn Mandy Moore nailed it in one take.

But they didn’t actually show Jack dying. In answering the question of what killed him, they opened more questions about what led up to it.

Some critics, it’s fair to say, aren’t happy.

Daniel Fienberg at The Hollywood Reporter (who you should read regularly) called it “emotional ghoulishness” and said:

I’m sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to get invested at this point in the premiere’s shocking revelations that Jack died when the kids were 17, which I guess means 20 years ago, which I guess means 1997? And that apparently he died in a fire in the Pearson house? You could have told me that in the second episode of the first season and literally nothing I enjoy about the show would have been negatively impacted.
Nothing.

James Poniewozik at the New York Times might have cried a little but then his damn brain took over:

I barely had time to register the emotion of the moment before my rational mind went to work gnawing on this newest kernel. No one confirmed that the fire killed Jack, after all. Rebecca appeared to have his personal effects in the car — would they have survived his immolation? Maybe Kate (Chrissy Metz) — who holds herself responsible for Jack’s death — caused the fire?

And maybe that fire led to a different action that killed him. Maybe it was a drunk-driving accident. Maybe he took a long walk, lost in his thoughts, not noticing the grand piano teetering out of a fourth-floor window above him. Maybe he was forced to take a second job, at the old match factory next to the fireworks warehouse.

This is a problem. Here we’d just seen the raw moment where Jack’s wife and teenage children are first grieving his loss. But instead of processing it, the show’s teasing narrative had me constructing an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine of death.

Uproxx’s Alan Sepinwall (who you should also read regularly) thinks it’s time for the teasing to end:

But we’ve reached a point where this one puzzle has now started to overwhelm the many things This Is Us is good (and, at times, great) at, and to turn into the exact kind of Reddit bait that Fogelman said he doesn’t want it to be.

I get all that.

Here’s my thing: We don’t have to treat every show like it’s in the running for greatest show of all time. Let’s leave the magnifying glass in the desk drawer and enjoy This Is Us for what it is – A remarkably real television show.

I love This Is Us because it’s nice to not be mind-f*cked at the end of every episode. When Game of Thrones is over my mind is whirring with how all the new information fits in with what we already know and what I forgot from past seasons. When This Is Us is over, my mind is silent, but I’m heart-f*cked. I’m replaying the moments in the show – and there’s at least one in every episode – that struck a chord with something from my life. That’s so cool.

I also love This Is Us for the way it’s characters almost always seem to do the thing you hope they’ll do. Your heart was screaming for Rebecca to knock on the door, wasn’t it? It was, because Rebecca knocking on the door was the most emotional, heart-warming thing she could possibly do. It was what any of us would do if we were that desperately in love with someone, which we all want to be. So she did it, and it was amazing.

Let’s just enjoy that. Enjoy a show that isn’t about people who literally never smile (House of Cards) or half as great as it used to be (The Blacklist) or built in a fictional universe with a 12,000-year history (looking at you, George R.R.).

It’s okay to sit back for an hour a week and let your heart takeover.

 

#GameOfThrones Predictions: What came true and what didn’t in season seven

With Game of Thrones season seven completed, let’s hold me accountable for the predictions I made along the way.

Episode 1: Dragonstone Predictions

Game of Thrones Season 7 Premiere Review

Prediction 1: Jon Snow makes problems in Winterfell

“Jon Snow as mining industrial dictator is going to cause problems, as is Jon Snow the king of equality”

Jon barely spent any time in Winterfell during season seven. He was nearly everywhere else, but rarely home.

Verdict: WRONG

Prediction 2: Littlefinger vs Sansa & Jon

“I look forward to watching Littlefinger (my favourite character on the entire show) try to fan the flames of a divide between Sansa and Jon.”

See above. Jon wasn’t in Winterfell long enough for this one to come true.

Verdict: WRONG

Prediction 3: Cersei & Jamie split

“The death of Jamie’s children falls almost entirely at Cersei’s feet. I’d love to see her relationship with Jamie broken and Jamie turn against her.”

This might be more of a wish than a prediction, but I’m going to label it the later and channel my inner Politifact to call it half-true. We know their relationship is broken and that they have in fact split but we’ll have to wait and see if he turns against her.

Verdict: Half-true.

Prediction 4: Ed Sheeran ruins everything
“We all know that was Ed Sheeran. And it ruined everything.”

Verdict: ACCURATE

Episode 3: The Queen’s Justice Predictions

Game of Thrones Season 7: The Queen’s Justice Recap

Game of Thrones: 5 Thoughts From The Queen’s Justice

Prediction 1: Foreshadowing Jon Snow’s demise

““Stark men don’t fare well when they travel south,” Tyrion reminds him. Foreshadowing? Jon about gets clipped by a dragon seconds later. Foreshadowing?”

This line came early in The Queen’s Justice and didn’t reach full prediction level by me, but there’s no doubt I laid down a marker for if something does go wrong for Jon in the south.

[Editor’s note: This prediction holds despite the revelation that Jon does not have Stark blood.]

Verdict: Too soon to tell

Prediction 2: Cersei loses Jamie

“Plus, if she’s not careful she’s going to lose Jamie. Wouldn’t that be something – Jamie as the character who killed a king and abandoned a queen.”

See prediction three above, except with this one we can give it a full true because there was nothing about him turning against her.

Verdict: ACCURATE

Episode 4: The Spoils of War Predictions

Game of Thrones: 5 Observations & 2 Predictions From “The Spoils of War”

Prediction 1: Petyr feels the cut of his own dagger
“Prediction: Littlefinger is going down, to the Valyrian steel dagger.”

Verdict: FRICKING NAILED IT

Prediction 2: Jamie switches sides
“Prediction: Jamie switches sides in the biggest betrayal of the entire series, driving Cersei even further over the edge.”

I seem to have made this prediction a lot. With the benefit of hindsight, this prediction was probably too much for this season. Jamie turning against Cersei is a story for ending the series, which they certainly set up for in season seven.

Verdict: Too soon to tell

Episode 5: Eastwatch Predictions

Game of Thrones: Eastwatch Recap & 1 Prediction

Prediction 1: Dany would capture Jamie

“My prediction that Dany would capture Jamie from the water and Tyrion would flip him to their side didn’t even make it past the opening scene.”

I think they cheapened the show’s treatment of cliffhangers with how quickly they resolved Jamie’s fate, but he’s already been held captive once in the story so this was, in hindsight, a stupid prediction.

Verdict: Fail

Prediction 2: Cersei has little Tyrions

“My prediction is twins and they’re both afflicted with a malady that leaves her with her own little Tyrions.”

This one had no chance of being resolved during season seven, so we’ll have to wait.

Verdict: Too soon to tell

Episode 6: Beyond The Wall Predictions

Game of Thrones Finale Prediction

Prediction 1: Arya already killed Petyr

Heh. Oops. Arya would kill Petry, but she hadn’t done it yet.

Verdict: Wrong

Let’s go to the scoreboard…

11 total predictions
4 totally wrong
1 half-true
2 accurate
3 too soon to tell

We’ll keep track of the remaining predictions when season eight airs. Whenever that is. 

#GameOfThrones finale prediction: Arya already killed Petyr Baelish

Game of Thrones opened season seven with misdirection. Walder Frey, fresh off being fed his children and killed at the end of season six, stood to welcome “every Frey who means a damn thing” to his second feast of the fortnight. We were confused. Didn’t we just see Arya open his throat?

We did. But this was not Walder Frey. It was no one. It was the lone wolf. It was Arya Stark in Walder Frey’s dead face.

“When they ask you what happened here, tell them the north remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.”

This show is too good to open a season with that scene and not call back to it. Seasons have their own arc, and I believe the arc of season seven will be Arya Stark revealing herself as the killer of Petyr Baelish.

And I think he’s already dead.

Here’s why:

1.  This budding feud between Sansa and Arya makes no sense. Arya is too smart to fall for Petyr’s crap. Sansa is more than onto his manipulations. It’s wholly unbelievable that they would be so fooled…

…unless he’s not fooling anyone because Arya already slit his throat with the Valryian steel dagger he gave to Bran.

2.  Sansa saw the dagger when she snuck into Arya’s room during “Beyond The Wall.” She then, because she’s such a great snoop, found Arya’s bag of faces under the bed. Arya Stark is not so careless as to leave a valuable weapon and a bag of faces sitting around…

…unless the show needs to lay the groundwork for a big reveal in the season finale.

3.  Arya ends their chilly conversation by putting the dagger in Sansa’s hands, and that’s where I think her intentions are revealed. She’s not trying to frame Sansa for Petyr’s death to get her in trouble; she’s doing it to bolster her position with the lords of the north.

4.  When Petyr arranged for Arya to find Sansa’s note from King’s Landing he meant for it to drive a wedge between the two sisters, and that’s exactly what the show is making Arya pretend it did. My prediction is she saw through it immediately, recognized the way it could damage Sansa and determined then that the only way out was to take his life now and set up Sansa as the one who saved the north from his treachery.

The biggest missing piece here is for the show to create a reason why the lords of the north would hate Petyr. I’m sure they don’t like him, but I’m also not sure they want him dead. I think Game of Thrones will use the 79-minute season seven finale titled “The Dragon and the Wolf” to reveal Petyr as the man behind the attempt on Bran’s life, who turned on Ned Stark an murdered Lysa Tully.

What better way to reinforce Sansa’s position than to frame her as the hero who killed the traitorous Littlefinger?

They wouldn’t show us the scene with Arya as Walder at the beginning of the season and then forget the entire thing. They wouldn’t reveal Arya’s secret to Sansa in the penultimate episode if they didn’t intend it to be a BIG part of the finale. They wouldn’t include Petyr’s dagger in the scene without reason.

I think it will be the bookend to Arya’s story in season seven. It starts with pretending to be Walder Frey to avenge her mother and brother, it ends with pretending to be Petyr Baelish after she brings him winter.

[UPDATE] I had another thought here: What if Arya really is mad at her sister and will use Petyr’s face to humiliate Sansa and gain dominance in their relationship? If the jealousy and anger Arya has shown toward Sansa is real, what better way to turn it against her than use Littlefinger’s mask to convince Sansa to act against her then reveal her own face?

A ridiculous Arya-Sansa theory
This one is stupid, but I’m compelled to reveal it just in case. Arya has shown unusual envy toward Sansa since they reunited. “Your pretty handwriting.” “I remember the pretty dress you were wearing. I remember the fancy way you did your hair.” “You wanted to be a queen, to sit next to a handsome young king on the iron throne.” “I wonder what it would feel like to wear those pretty dresses. To be the Lady of Winterfell.”

My ridiculous Arya-Sansa theory is that Arya will become so consumed with jealousy and rage toward her sister that she kills the Lady of Winterfell and takes her face. It would be a fitting tragedy for the only family on the show that shows true familial love.

You’re on thin ice
Why is there thin ice north of the wall? If the land is so cold its inhabitants have to keep moving and having sex to stay warm then the ice should be thick enough to walk on.

How am I supposed to be afraid of winter if it’s not even going to get cold enough to freeze a lake?

WTF, Hound?
What’s wrong with The Hound? He appeared to be shellshocked during the fight with the zombie polar bear and then inexplicably goaded the dead army into attacking Jon’s team on their little rock. What’s his deal?

This is how you do it
Last week I ranted about the pace of season seven and this week’s director of “Beyond The Wall” admitted they threw the whole notion of geography out the window. But a line from Sansa to Petyr (or Arya if you believe my theory above) shows how simple it is to mark time in a story.

She told Petyr, simply, “I haven’t heard from Jon in weeks.” That’s all it takes. In fact that whole interview really makes me angry and pushes me more toward the thinking in this Screenrant column about how this season has gone off the rails.

And I wholeheartedly agree with the assertion in this piece from Esquire: “While things began to crack last season—its first without the guiding light of George R.R. Martin’s books—it has become clear that the writers don’t know how to complete the author’s vision.”

But all will be forgotten if the season finale delivers.

 

#GameOfThrones: Eastwatch Recap and 1 Prediction

First off this week I need to do some confessing.

At the start of every Game of Thrones episode I usually type in my notes something like this: “I cannot stand this opening. Every other show on TV figured out how to not have a protracted opening sequence. Get with it, Game of Thrones.” Usually it gets left out of the blog post because who wants to hear me complain, and it’s not even all that insightful.

I confess this now because I finally realized watching “Eastwatch” that the opening sequence shows the locations that will be featured in the upcoming episode. Duh. Now I love it. It’s a great way to help viewers understand such a sprawling story.

Now then…

About This Speed
I feel a little hypocritical even bringing this up seeing as I was all “Winter needs to get here NOW. Dany needs to sail west NOW” at the end of season six. But I’m not comfortable with the speed things are happening in season seven. To phrase it a different way, I’m not comfortable with the way seemingly major things are so quickly and obviously being dropped into the story.

Two scenes from “Eastwatch” illustrate this point.

The first and biggest is Gilly casually uncovering documented evidence of Rhaegar annulling his marriage in order to wed Lyanna Stark. This is, um, rather freaking major and yet the show gave it one scene. One line really. I understand that it’s setting up for the big BIG reveal later. But it should have been given more now.

And to be clear, I’m not critical that Sam didn’t jump up and go, “My stars, Gilly, that’s Jon Snow’s mom you’re talking about! Jon Snow is a bleeping Targaryen!” We as viewers all know this, but Sam can’t be expected to have that grasp of obscure Westerosi marital history.

The second is Tyrion arranging to meet Jamie among the dragon skulls deep under Kings Landing. The show theorized and executed this big reunion between the two brothers in a matter of minutes.

Shouldn’t there be a little more room for these things to breathe? It feels like events are being forced a long so quickly in order to tell the whole story that we’re missing the fabric that gives Game of Thrones its depth. I know the show plodded along in earlier seasons (something I missed a little by bingeing it all in the span of a few months) but I think it’s swung too far the other direction for most of season seven.

An example of a good but not too rapid pace is the latest scheme from Littlefinger in Winterfell. They showed him watching Arya spar with Brienne in a way that clearly indicated he was going to view her as an obstacle to whatever end goal he has in mind for Sansa, but they waited until the following episode to show how he would try to cleave the Stark sisters apart. I like that pace. Set it up one week, knock it down the next.

When major things are set up and knocked down in one episode, it strikes me as the show trying too hard to check boxes in advance of the season finale than it does telling a rich story.

Now on to some other thoughts.

Arya is smarter than this
Staying in the north, if anyone should be too smart to fall for Littlefinger’s games it’s Arya. She’s lived a hard life since first leaving Winterfell and she doesn’t suffer fools. Witness 1) the way she outwitted Sansa’s dimwitted guards getting back into the place, and 2) she fed Walder Frey his children. Maybe she’s never dealt with the likes of Petyr Baelish, but she should be smart enough to know she’s being lured into finding the note.

Just show us
And about that note. What’s the point of the show not making it obvious what it was? The letter from Sansa to Robb was a callback to season one, some six years ago. It didn’t need to be half-hidden.

Maybe I’m wrong
My prediction that Dany would capture Jamie from the water and Tyrion would flip him to their side didn’t even make it past the opening scene. Solid work. Now I’m thinking maybe I had the wrong brother shifting the wrong direction.

Tyrion sided with Dany because he wanted to get back at his family and because I think he sees Dany as the way to a better Westeros. Buuuuut he was awfully uncomfortable walking through the ashes left behind by her use of the dragons and with how she treated the Tarlys. There was desperation in his voice when he offered her two alternatives (prison and the black) to roasting them. I don’t think they gave us the scene later on with him and Lord Varys drinking away their guilt to tell us Tyrion is at peace with her decision.

The brotherly bond between Tyrion and Jamie is always a joy to watch in a show where genuine affection is increasingly rare. It’s the only time Tyrion appears emotionally vulnerable. Maybe as he finds further trouble with Dany’s tightrope act between vengeance and mercy his love for Jamie will lead him back in the Lannister’s direction. Further strategic blunders that frustrate Dany could push him while a softening stand from the suddenly pregnant Cersei could pull him. It won’t take much.

No happy ending for Cersei
“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” I love this line from Ramsay Bolton because I’m in love with the notion that not every TV show should have a happy ending. George Martin seems to agree.

Nevertheless I think there are characters in Game of Thrones who could have happy endings. Cersei is not one of them. At all. Nothing about her life makes her deserving of happily ever after. Even at the joyous moment when she tells Jamie of their baby, she has to ruin it. Lesser shows might use her pregnancy as a way to give her redemption, I would be shocked if this one did. My prediction is twins and they’re both afflicted with a malady that leaves her with her own little Tyrions. How rich would that be? I’d love it.

Gendry as Adam & Eve
Darlton always said they put Adam and Eve into the first season of Lost so they could call back to it at the end for proof that they always knew where they were going. If Gendry was written into this story so there would be someone who forge Jon Snow some weapons with dragonglass in them then hats off to all involved.

A key difference
In the south, Tyrion cooked up a whack-a-doodle plan to prove to Cersei that the army of the dead is real by bringing a White Walker to Kingslanding. For this to work he had to convince Dany it was a workable idea, work with Davos and Bron to schedule a secret meeting with Jamie, convince Jamie to take the idea back to Cersei and (as if all that was so totally doable) convince Cersei to at least entertain the idea.

In the north, one conversation outside a jail cell convinced everyone to put their grudges aside and fight on the same team.

That’s the difference between a culture that lives with a threat and a culture that doesn’t.

Perilous
I wouldn’t want to hang out at Eastwatch. Did you see how all that stuff just hung on the side of the wall? That shit is perilous.

Geography
I started this post criticizing the speed at which the story is moving in season seven. The poster child for that has been the way characters are jumping about Westeros in the blink of an eye. Case in point: Jon’s quick sail from Dragonstone to Eastwatch.

My point here is to say that when a story is forced to unfold unnaturally fast, it strains the credibility it needs to for viewers to suspend their disbelief. Having medieval characters transit continents by sea and by foot as if they’re flying puts further pressure on it.