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.

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Thoughts on True Detective

The season finale of HBO’s True Detective is in less than an hour, and I thought I would share my thoughts.

I heard the show get rave reviews but didn’t know until Friday night that I have a three-month HBO preview so I caught up with its seven episodes in short order. Its first three episodes put me to sleep more than once, but in the show’s defense I was also very tired. It picked up in episodes four and five then finally kicked it in gear for six and seven.

Really, the show hasn’t done very much for me. I like the Rusty Cohle character a lot and enjoy his odd interpretation of human existence. But I’m not buying that he’s some sort of savant detective. I’m not buying that Marty Hart is much of a detective either, especially not if it proves out that his daughter was victimized by The Yellow King and he had no idea. Arranging five male dolls around a naked female doll, drawing lewd cartoons in her notebook with flying things and a giant wearing a mask yeah that didn’t spark a thought in his mind.

Maybe I missed out not having to wait a week between each episode reading all the theories on who or what The Yellow King is. Frankly, if I didn’t know it was a big deal I might not have caught onto it until they were sitting in Rusty’s storage shed.

And a note on theories. I spent six years studying freeze frames from Lost like many others did and in the end had nothing to show for it. True Detective is much tighter than Lost on account of about 116 fewer episodes but the larger lesson is this: Forget about them once the finale begins.

Chances are the first seven episodes didn’t give you enough information to make the right guess. Sure, it could be the lawnmower man who was mowing in spirals at the end of episode seven and it could be Marty’s father-in-law (which would probably grind my gears) but really we don’t know. I spent so much time of The End waiting for the answer to unfold for some big theory that by the time it was over and no answer came I missed out on what the show really wanted me to experience.

So when the finale starts in about 20 minutes, forget about screen caps and what letter was obscured behind Marty’s head in episode seven and all of that. Just enjoy it whatever it turns out to be.

UPDATE

I’m going to talk about the finale. But first I’m going to issue a SPOILER ALERT because HBO had major problems with its streaming service and many viewers weren’t able to watch it live. Do not consider this precedent.

Click away now.

Really lackluster finale, I thought. I like to view them through this frame: What the finale showed matters and what it didn’t show doesn’t matter. So what did it show?

That the yellow king was the lawnmower guy. Okay. Why was he a serial killer? Well we don’t really get that. Because he was messed up, I guess is what we’re to go with. It’s hard to explain a character when he’s not introduced until the last episode. I can’t explain why what they did choose to show us was him with a bunch of different accents. The yellow king was basically the bad guy who was there because there had to be a bad guy. Shallow character building, in my opinion.

I always believe that any shows final scene represents the most important story the writer(s) want to tell. In True Detective that scene belong to Rusty.

It showed Rusty having a brush with death and a brief emotional breakdown for the love he felt toward his daughter. It changed him as evidenced by what he said to Marty as they walked away from the hospital. If you want to reflect on what True Detective was ultimately about, look no further.

Forget what wasn’t shown. Marty’s daughter and what drove her to draw those disturbing pictures didn’t matter and wasn’t addressed at all in the finale. Black stars and “kin” and all that wasn’t either. The yellow king was but that’s because it had to be; it was done with 20 minutes left.

True Detective was about Rusty Cohle’s journey from pessimism to optimism. I just don’t think it was told very well.

Cliffhangers, cult followers and Stan’s Soviet mole

I’m a lot better at season finale cliffhangers than I used to be. I’ll credit Lost for that. After all of those agonizing waits between seasons I learned to let a show recede from my memory. Besides, how could any show ever leave us hanging as hard as Lost did every May? Cliffhangers now are a cakewalk in comparison!

I also stopped watching previews for future episodes of the shows I watch. Those are done by marketing departments, not story writers, and are designed to leave you feeling anticipation for the next episode. If the show is good, you’ll want to watch the next episode. If not, you won’t. Ain’t nobody got time for marketing departments.

Here are some quick thoughts on a few shows I watched that ended with life-and-death cliffhangers. On The Americans we know that the Keri Russell character is not going to die. The Following gave us three life-and-deathers: Joe Carroll, Ryan Hardy and Claire Matthews. Carroll might actually be dead, but we can be pretty sure Hardy and Matthews are not. Is the point of a cliffhanger then to really leave us wondering if a character will survive? Most of the times not. Instead it usually leaves us wondering, “How will they get out of this one?”

The Following

I liked The Following from its beginning but was apprehensive about what would happen when the shock value from its brutal violence wore off. If you remember the first season of American Horror Story, The Following was similarly messed up in psychology but with a startling level of violence. The disturbing apex of that quality featured escaped serial killer Joe Carroll honor killing one of his cult members, followed by Carroll – covered in blood – having sex with a follower as two other followers achieved the mood by choking each other.

The show did lag in parts of its 13-episode first season, but overall The Following remained very strong. It has a similar feel to the early episodes of Revenge, a story fitting together so perfectly that it almost has to be being told in review. Former college professor, failed author and Edgar Allan Poe worshiper Joe Carroll is writing a new story  about the FBI agent who put him in prison and stole his wife.

The continuing revelations of more followers is something I will grant, for now. If they show up too conveniently too often they will cross the line from being part of the story to being a “hand of God” to bail it out. It got dangerously close to that point when people kept appearing out of the woods to help break out of the farmhouse.

How will the story change? Joe is dead, I will buy that for now yet not be surprised if he isn’t. He’s too good to remove from the show entirely, so some flashbacks wouldn’t be out of the ream of possibility. The scene of the girl in the restaurant reacting to news of his death might indicate some sleeper cells.

The Americans

I wasn’t wild about the pilot. I can’t quite put my finger on the uneasy feeling it left me with, maybe I thought it was a little forced. Having Stan suspect his neighbors of being spies to the point that he would break into their garage seemed too convenient to me. We can’t expect television to always portray realistic situations, but that felt like it went too far. In any case I wasn’t sure I would stick with the show and put it on the DVR level. An article detailing how the series creator had a background in intelligence convinced me to give it a chance. After a couple episodes I was not just enjoying the show, I was loving the drama. Most times a show generates its drama with action, but not The Americans. It carried drama throughout its episodes by placing the characters’ dialogue gently on top of its already tense Cold War setting. Very nicely done.

I didn’t like the choice of making Stan’s Soviet mole as someone so obviously sexy, I felt it undercut Stan’s reason for falling for her in the first place. He didn’t carry on an affair with her because she is gorgeous and he is horny. He couldn’t stop himself because spending years under deep cover with a white supremacist group cleaved his marriage. His wife hoped his new assignment in Washington would give her back the Stan Beeman she fell in love with. It hasn’t. Stan is as preoccupied with his work as ever, barely knows his teenage son and his wife dangerously close to leaving him.

He sees Nina as someone vulnerable who understands what it is like to live a lie, something his wife just cannot do for him. Had they cast someone less drool-inducingly sexy I think that would have played better.

(Stan’s wife is played by the perfectly beautiful Susan Misner, leading me to quip, “Yeah, I’d cheat on my wife Susan Misner. Sure I would, right after I spy for the Soviets.” Meaning of course that I would never.)

Otherwise I thought the show was pretty well done.

Daytime stories + primetime setting = Bad

At the end of Nashville’s season finale, Juliette Barnes sat on a chair in The Bluebird Cafe and sang her lungs out in promising us that nothing in this world will ever break her heart again. It was a dazzling vocal display by Hayden Panettiere to cap off the show’s inaugural season that featured better singing talent than I expected it would, Connie Britton notwithstanding.

Unfortunately there’s more to the show than their music.

While Juliette was belting her little country heart out the writers were dolling out one television cliche after another. They put two characters in a car wreck. They made for the country cowboy star who is hiding his sexuality to get spotted with a girl by his boyfriend. They made a boyfriend pop the question way sooner than we all know he should. This lazy, ham-fisted storytelling came after they predictably threw Deacon off the wagon and conveniently gave Maddie a bout of teenage curiosity that led to her discovering Deacon, not Teddy, is her biological father.

All of this confirms something about Nashville that I spent the first season trying to prove to myself wasn’t true: It might just be a show designed to sell music. I clung to every perceived kernel of character development and storytelling to find anything that might convince me otherwise, all to no avail. We will get no creativity here.

A creative show wouldn’t send Deacon on an immediate bender culminated by his drunken attack on Teddy outside city hall. Teddy repaying Rayna’s commitment that he would not loose his daughter was the only moment in this whole storyline that felt like a decision genuinely made by a character instead of forced by a writer. Maddie’s spontaneous curiosity that sent her digging in her mom’s closet and running to tell Deacon felt driven more by having to get it done in two episodes than by what her character would actually do.

This kind of storytelling is acceptable in the five-day-a-week format of a daytime soap opera. It is offensive in a broadcast network’s Wednesday night lineup. Viewers deserve so much better.

It was obvious from episode one that Gunnar had feelings for Scarlette and that she would eventually leave Avery for him. Unlike Teddy, Deacon and Rayna, whose storyline was entirely predictable and therefore boring, this love triangle could work because these are three characters who usually stay true to themselves. When they make bad decisions the writers let them realize it and deserve credit for doing so. I would be perfectly fine watching the three of them explore their feelings over the course of season two. Instead the writers made Gunnar propose. Forcing them to act on their feelings this fast ruins everything and robs us of a story that could have been very enjoyable.

Want more? There’s more. Instead of letting the Peggy Kenter character fade away, Nashville doubled down and did what any immature show would do: It made her pregnant. Really? I mean, really? This character’s only purpose was to expedite the demise of Teddy and Rayna’s marriage. Why is a baby necessary here? Rayna finally succumbing to her feelings for Deacon is enough to permanently break her relationship with Teddy. The only reason to make Peggy pregnant is to complicate Teddy and Rayna getting back together, which has no business happening. If not for every show in history having already gone there it would be intriguing. Again, okay for daytime, unqualified for primetime.

The only enjoyable moments from the finale came from Juliette Barnes. Her character has been enjoyable to watch all season for the way she always comes to the right decision, however begrudgingly she might get there. At least the show lets one character have a brain. I might honestly be more interested in this show if Rayna dies in the crash and Juliette becomes the leading female character.

My theme in watching season finales this year has been trying to discern where shows might be going in their next season. With Nashville I’m afraid what it previewed during Juliette’s Bluebird performance is going to be the start of year two. Even worse, the show’s writers could actually think they’re doing a good job and keep doing exactly what they’re doing.

That leads me into thinking about whether or not I’ll tune in next fall. With all its stars coming back for season two there is plenty of reason to tune in for more Avery Barkley, Scarlett O’Connor and Gunnar Scott. I suppose you also have to stick around to see what happened in the crash, but has Nashville given us anything that would make us believe anything interesting will come of it?

Revenge season finale delivers needed change

The season two finale of Revenge was everything its preceding episodes were not: Fast, dramatic, intriguing, surprising. The two-hour ride was creator Mike Kelley’s last time at the helm after having left the show following taping. It was like a game seven of the World Series – leave nothing in reserve. His goodbye was a throwback to the early days of the show that viewers longed for too often in season two.

Like the best season finales it converged its storylines in an explosive fashion that will fundamentally change the show starting next season. Conrad is Governor of New York. Conrad is part of The Initiative. Daniel and Victoria are disillusioned with Conrad. Charlotte is pregnant, Declan is dead. Jack knows Emily’s true identity.

Waitwaitwait – what?!?

Emily revealing her identity beyond her circle of Revenge-minded friends fundamentally alters the show. Fans who hated this season should welcome her confession. I opined earlier that Revenge needs to set a firm ending date so its writers can know how they have to pace the story. It also needs to show that it is about more than when Emily reveals her true identity. The best way to do that? Tell Jack, her childhood friend.

It’s a cat they can’t put back in the bag. For the rest of the series, Jack Porter will know that Emily Thorne is really Amanda Clarke. Their relationship is changed, so is her journey of revenge. So is the story itself. That’s a good thing. Revenge needs this kind of change. Lost’s storylines exploded in every direction when it revealed that getting off of the island would not wait until the series finale. Revenge’s story is flatter than Lost’s was but it can still see improvement from changing one of its fundamental relationships.

Disgruntled viewers can come away encouraged from the finale’s other changes as well.

Conrad’s character had fallen off this season after Daniel ousted him at Grayson Global.  The half-hearted attempt they made at a political storyline didn’t give him much to work with. In this episode, Conrad the mastermind is back. From the midst of the blackout to his closing speech and the bombing at Grayson headquarters Conrad seemed as if he was waiting out a script, not bouncing around amidst chaos. The calm confidence he displayed when Daniel told him the family fortune was wiped out came off as almost crazy, as if the pressure of his campaign and trauma of the bombing had driven him mad.

Then it all came pouring out on the balcony with Victoria. There is no Initiative, only business elites profiting from the creation of fear and Conrad is fully vested in their sick manipulations. The blackout, the bombing, the aftermath, all of it done to create a fear that will drive government to act in ways that the orchestrators are perfectly positioned to reap the benefits from. Billions upon billions of dollars, surpassing the wealth the Graysons earned from framing David Clarke. Even Victoria Grayson, party to David Clarke’s demise and perpetrator of so many misdeeds of her own, cannot seem to stomach her husband’s revelation.

The Initiative’s missing role in season two was one of the things I criticized in summing up where Revenge went off the rails. Now that we know the full story, that criticism has to be re-examined. Was Conrad’s revelation a bombshell? Thru the lens of the story, yes. But dramatically speaking it could have been a lot better if The Initiative had been given a strong presence throughout the season.

Think back to how Lost handled The Others. The entire second season was about building up that mystery and anticipation so that by the time Live Together, Die Alone aired we were practically on our knees begging to know who they were and what they were doing on the island. Revenge didn’t do that and as a result never gave us one of those, “We’re the good guys, Michael” moments. I’m not criticizing the revelation as it affects the story, I think it will be great in that regard. Rather, the way it was handled throughout the season is a clear failure of creativity, which robbed us of the kind of epic dramatic twist that makes a finale memorable.

Setting that aside, it will still change the story. The Initiative (let’s still call it that) isn’t just in position to profit from fear, it has the Governor of New York to help make it happen. Not so fast! Victoria is non-plussed and Daniel doesn’t even know what to think. Dumb Jack (more on him shortly) is clued-in to Emily’s big secret. Nolan Ross is in custody and won’t just roll over and take the fall. There is a lot threatening Conrad’s re-emerged dominance.

Before we chronicle Jack’s Machiavellian ineptitude, a quick sidebar on what happened to Nolan. Someone obviously had this all set up to unravel the moment he drained the Grayson’s bank accounts. But whom? Maybe that’s a mystery to unfold in season three. Padma’s involvement indicates she may not be room temperature after all, but why would she have turned on him? Is she somehow part of The Initiative? I have a bold theory: Aden did it. He was the only one who saw supposedly-dead Padma. But what does he have against Nolan Ross? Nolan is a key element of Emily’s quest for revenge. With his moral support and computer wizardry behind bars, Aiden must see he has a better chance at convincing her to abandon the Hamptons with him. Remember: Aden was the one moving Grayson Global’s money around before Nolan drained it. I refuse to believe that a character we only saw in one episode, Falcon, will be allowed to frame a major character.

Okay, now on to Jack.

Jack and Victoria are together at the bar when the blackout hits, giving us a great look at Jack once again showing he just doesn’t have the brains to compete with the Graysons. He breathlessly tells Victoria that he knows Conrad framed David Clarke, brilliantly reminding her that she loved him. Yes, Jack, she loved him so much and is so clueless about her husband’s life that she had no idea David was innocent. Dolt. Victoria played along the way an adult pretends to enjoy playing Go Fish with a five-year-old.

Back at the mansion, Jack is so eager to find the computer in the safe Victoria never knew about that he throws his own file on Conrad’s desk without even knowing it. His Brilliancy then accidentally reveals to Victoria that he is working with Ashley to sabotage Conrad’s campaign. First rule of being a schemer: You gotta remember who knows what, Jackie boy.

Why did the good Porter have to die? Revenge fans have lambasted Declan for two seasons, but I dare any of them to not love him and love Charlotte’s love for him after this episode. His death and Charlotte’s pregnancy will probably elevate her as a character, which would be good for the show. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. We will probably never know why Declan was in the Grayson office when it blew up, maybe it doesn’t matter. My only last beef is that he didn’t get to tell off Victoria in their last conversation. It would have been a nice parting gift to the character for enduring all her uppity crap. Here’s to hoping Connor Paolo gets more work.

Speaking of death, is it just me or was Takada’s role in the show severely wasted? The finale briefly diverged from its core storyline to tell us that his fiancé was on the flight The Initiative bombed, revealing that Emily and Aden were really a part of his grand scheme to get revenge for her death. That had a Jacob-like feel to me and could have been used to great effect later in the series, just like Jacob and Man In Black were. A reveal in later seasons that our main character is just a pawn in a larger game would rock our world. Instead it’s a few scenes in season two. Blame it on that failure of creativity again.

For some fans, no finale will be enough to fix the mess Revenge made out of its second season. I think this finale should at least earn a look at season three. With a new show runner coming on board and big changes to the storyline, Revenge has a chance to get back on top as one of primetime’s sexiest dramas.