Westworld Season 2: Thoughts About This Mess

Of all the things I can’t handle in my TV shows, inevitability might be on top of the list. I can’t spend every episode of a series waiting for the most obvious thing to happen.

Take Westworld for an example. The moment Dolores killed the fly at the end of episode one made it obvious the hosts were going to realize they are hosts, and the odds were pretty good that we’d meet a host who didn’t know it was a robot. Such inevitability made it hard for me to take any joy in the show’s first season.

Enough people raved about it that I gave the show a quick re-watch, and I can see how people love it. I wouldn’t say I hate watch it the way I did The Leftovers, but I can’t say it’ll ever be a show I adore.

Here are my thoughts after three episodes of season two.

I’m okay with shifting timelines, but I need some kind of cue to tell me where we’re at. Putting a young Robert into the real-world scene in episode two helped, but I’d prefer to get the cue at the beginning so it’s easier to understand. Lost did this perfectly with the sound effect that signaled a transition to the flashbacks. Awake used warm and cold color treatments to tell viewers which reality its main character was experiencing. Westworld should do something similar. The timelines are too tight—weeks or days instead of years—for the characters to age, and the locations are exactly the same. They don’t have to throw a time card up on the screen, but some clear indication would be nice.

What was the main allure of season one? Watching the hosts become aware. Dolores figured it out. Maeve figured it out. Clementine could not handle, went zombie. Even Teddy, who rivals Revenge’s Daniel as one of the dumbest TV characters ever, figured it out. Now what? Aware Dolores is in a way even more of a drone than unaware Dolores. Her character has one focus that eliminates any depth she might have had. Wouldn’t it have been better if seeing what happened to her dad made her long for the simpler days when he was healthy and they were all happy? There’s an “ignorance is bliss” conflict there that could have put her character under a microscope by forcing her to question her new and murderous purpose. They passed and made her a military leader instead. Yawn.

It’s hard to be invested in the hosts’ fight against Delos when we only know three human Delos characters—Sizemore, Charlotte and Stubbs. The show hasn’t given any of them the time we need to have any sort of investment in their fate. We wanted Jon Snow to win the battle of the bastards because we love him and Ramsay was thoroughly detestable. Westworld hasn’t made us love the hosts or hate the humans, so I can’t care for the outcome of the conflict driving the story of its second season.

Where was William last week? More importantly, will that character even work now that we know he and the Gunslinger are the same? Yes, I think it will.

The show really suffers without Robert. They never made him a full-blown evil genius, but he was the central figure for every storyline to revolve around. Season one could ground storylines for the humans and the hosts in Robert. Without him, everything feels like it’s floating in the same space without anything to tie it all together. Maybe that’s the point…the park was under control with Robert and without him it spins out of control. He one-upped the board’s attempt to push him out of his creation in the most epic way possible: Writing a narrative that involved his own death to prove Westworld can’t exist without him.

I’m calling BS on the hosts making any sort of stand against the Delos security team. There’s no way old west shotguns could stand up to the weaponry Delos threw at them.

I like the idea of more parks with different themes. But at some point it’s going to be like okay, there’s no way one company can have enough money to do all this.

Why can’t they just give all the hosts clean hard drives? Wouldn’t that solve everything?

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Who (Might Have) Shot Annalise On #HTGAWM [UPDATED]

In my earlier post on season two of How To Get Away With Murder I mentioned we won’t know who shot Annalise Keating until the point when the writers can’t hide it any longer, and it looks like we’re two episodes away from that point. Thinking back to last year’s two big reveals – who killed Sam and who killed Lila – we couldn’t have made a realistic guess because the writer’s held the final reveal until the very last second.

I think the same will happen here. They might even do a little misdirection like they did with Sam. So while I think it’s a fool’s errand to go predicting who will shoot Annalise, I think it is worth taking a look back at what they’ve given us in the seven episode so far this fall. Every episode begins and ends around the Hapstall mansion and recent weeks have drawn in nearly every character relevant in season two. Here is a look back at each, starting with the season premiere.

Episode 1
Characters: Wes, Annalise
Wes is seen running from the Hapstall mansion.

Episode 2 – Two Months Earlier
Characters: Wes, Michaela, Laurel
Open
Wes is running from the mansion like in episode one. He meets Michaela and Laurel, who are looking for Connor. Connor is with the bleeding Annalise telling her it’s not her fault.

Close
Connor is with Annalise as the other three run in and convince him to leave her. As they run out of the mansion they go past the dead body of Emily Sinclair, the prosecutor going after Nate.

Episode 3 – 7 Weeks Earlier
Characters: Wes, Michaela, Laurel, Connor, Nate
Open
The four students are running out the mansion’s gate. Nate is in a car, calling Annalise but she can’t get to her phone in time.

Close
The four students are running in the woods and hid from a car, which turns out to be Nate, who gives them a ride. He’s in a police cruiser.

Episode 4 – 4 Weeks Earlier
Characters: Wes, Michaela, Laurel, Connor, Nate, Caleb Hapstall
Open
Law enforcement and paramedics are at the mansion with Annalise. The four students are still in the car with Nate when Michaela gets a call.

Close
Their car pulls up to an apartment building. Nate stresses that the only way they can get in trouble is to worry about things they can’t control. Laurel interjects that killing someone can get them in trouble. Nate reassures and says to focus. He sends Michaela inside. She goes into an apartment where Caleb Hapstall is waiting. He asks how she is, she assures him she’s fine but he gives her a look.

Episode 5 – 3 Weeks Earlier
Characters: Bonnie, Asher
Open
Bonnie runs out of the mansion, past Emily’s dead body. She gets into the driver’s seat of a car with Asher waiting. She promises him it’s almost over.

Close
Bonnie pulls into a gas station where she runs into the bathroom and ditches her bloody undershirt. The blood is under her left chest, similar to where Annalise was shot. She has blood all over her arms. When she comes out the car is still there but Asher is gone, he’s at the police station and says he needs to make a statement.

Episode 6 – 2 Weeks Earlier
Characters: Frank, Catherine Hapstall
Open
Annalise is brought into the emergency room where a frantic Frank follows her until he is removed. He leaves the ER, past a security camera, then calmly walks to his car where Catherine is unconscious in the back.

Close
Frank lays Catherine’s body in the woods. A cop finds her right as she awakens with a shirt covered in blood spatter.

Episode 7 – 4 Days Earlier
Characters: Michaela, Connor
Open
At the mansion, Michaela and Connor come down a set of interior steps as he tells her she doesn’t have to come if she doesn’t want to and that there are no excuses this time. Laurel and Wes overhear them and wonder what to do. Wes says to stop them and he has a gun.

Close
Michaela and Connor are just out of the mansion, Laurel and Wes are outside on an upper level. Connor tells Michaela not to turn back. Right then Emily’s body lands in behind them. They look up to see Bonnie standing above all of them on an upper level of the mansion.

The only ones we haven’t seen at the mansion this point are Frank, the Hapstalls and Oliver (whose fate is up in the air after the most recent episode). But the timing of what they gave us in episode seven is significant.

What happened here – Michaela and Connor leaving while Laurel and Wes, with gun in hand, overhear – happened before Emily died, meaning before what we saw at the mansion in every previous episode. Emily’s body first appeared at the close of episode two as Connor, Wes, Michaela and Laurel ran past it after the later three convinced Connor to leave Annalise.

Here are the questions that leaves:

  • Connor has to go back into the mansion at some point. Why?
  • Wes had to be separated from Michaela and Laurel at some point. How? What do those two do that gets them outside the mansion?
  • Wes didn’t have the gun when we first saw him running from the mansion. Where did it go? Is it the same gun he gets from Rebecca’s brother? Is it the gun used to shoot Annalise?
  • Is this why Bonnie was running out of the mansion?

We’ll get the answers to these questions, and probably others we don’t even know to ask, in the next two weeks.

 

UPDATE

And the latest from episode 8 – three days earlier.

Characters: Connor, Wes, Laurel, Michaela, Bonnie

Open

The four come running back into the house with Laurel saying “You seriously thought we wouldn’t notice?” and they are arguing. Connor says, “How are you both okay with this?” Bonnie comes down the stairs and meets them. She tells Connor there was no decision here and to agree or he’s the next dead body out there. Bonnie then asks for and gets the gun from Wes. She goes walking away.

There was no closing mansion scene. Instead the episode ending with the shocker that it may have been Katherine who shot her parents in tandem with her inbred brother. Caleb took Michaela to a heating vent where he found the gun hidden a week ago. Wes noticed one of Katherine’s paintings in the background of a photo of Philip (the inbred brother) playing video games.

So do we need to add Katherine and Philip to our suspect list? Annalise was exceptionally harsh toward him tonight, but he proved himself by bribing a lab assistant to run a DNA test that helped avoid Katherine taking a plea deal.

I still believe there’s something as yet unrevealed that we will need to know before we can reasonably guess who shoots Annalise. We’ll learn in 7 days.

 

 

 

Take yourself Hostages

Image credit: CBS.comWe all take the risk of being wrong or exposing our stupidity when publish our thoughts, and I don’t want to mock someone else whose opinion turns out that way. But when someone is so completely and spectacularly wrong I can’t help but point it out. I did it last summer with a guy who thought watching television was a waste of time, I’ll do it today with this guy who thought the new CBS drama Hostages was terrible.

His brilliant “review” began with this sterling exhibition of prose:

“Who gives a damn. This show is unlikeable.”

Wow. I’m convinced. Hostages must be pretty bad. LOL. He goes on to judge the whole episode based on his belief that the opening scene should have been longer. Not whether or not it was any good. Nope. Just thought it should be longer. Instead of taking the show as a whole he seemed to stop thinking about it right there.

By doing so he completely missed what Hostages is about: The hostages versus their captors. In trying to sound like a sophisticated critic who could tear down a show, the genius expected the entire story to play out in its first episode.

Look at some of his assertions and how they are now known to be completely wrong.

There is no background about the president. He is correct in the sense that the president didn’t figure prominently into the premiere but wrong to think he has to be a central figure in the show. The writers outsmarted him and came up with a creative way to tell a story about an assassination attempt that doesn’t revolve around a presidential character. Making the president secondary reenforces the fact that the show’s central conflict is the Sanders family versus Agent Duncan Carlisle.

The Sanders family is not endearing. Labeling them all unlikeable blinded him to the beginning of the storylines that have played out since. The father’s affair, the daughter’s pregnancy and the son’s drug problem all played major roles in advancing the story and the characters later on. They helped pull the family together for its attempt to escape, which cemented us on their side in their fight against Agent Carlisle. Speaking of…

Carlisle is dumb. He was sort of right in asserting Duncan Carlisle was not smart enough to execute an assassination plot because the show has since revealed he is not the mastermind. We’re getting glimpses of who might be, and I expect we will soon know for sure as we head into the second half of the season. Then we will fill in the answers the reviewer claimed should have been answered in its first episode.

In his last attempt to sound intelligent, the author posits that Carlisle and Dr. Sanders know each other. It’s pretty sad, really, watching someone grasp at straws to prove his value as a blogger. It’s especially sad in this case, because the blogger is me!

I really blew it on this one. I was certain Hostages stunk. The early ratings backed me up and continue to with last week’s episode hitting a series-low 1.1 share. But I can’t hide behind the ratings.

Hostages has done a great job of giving us a story I didn’t see coming. I was so focused on the “assassinating the president” part that I didn’t see what the pilot put in front of us. It isn’t about the president at all. It’s about how this doctor and her family – her imperfect family – handle Duncan Carlisle holding them hostage.

It resembles Lost in that way. Being taken hostage and ordered to kill the president is the Sanders’ Flight 815. Being followed and monitored every hour of every day is their struggle to survive on the island. They all must confront mistakes from their life before captivity. The father had an affair, the daughter became pregnant, the son owed money to a drug dealer. Dr. Sanders faces the moral dilemma of her family’s life versus the presidents. When I said I could get behind a good story, this is what I meant!

Duncan Carlisle is a hostage in his own life, pinned in this plot he did not conceive. He cannot walk away and must, just like his captives, improvise his way through a situation that was never supposed to go on this long.

If I though it was so bad, why did I watch after the premiere? I’m not sure. Maybe I didn’t trust what I wrote. I enjoyed finding ways to say it stunk and got so caught up in the fun that I wrote what I thought would be entertaining instead of being accurate. Hostages is what I profess to enjoy about TV. Its characters are real and their decisions are driving the story, and I missed it.

CBS, like all networks, stupidly does not keep shows online during their first season. I cannot for the life of me understand why. If a new show picks up buzz halfway through its season, wouldn’t they want new viewers to be able to catch up? Instead they’re telling us, “Too bad. We don’t want you watching our new shows unless you were there in the beginning.” They learned nothing from the way Breaking Bad grew its audience through Netflix.

Unfortunately that means if you took my advice and stopped watching or never watched Hostages you don’t have a way to catch up. Blame me. When it comes on Netflix I encourage you to check it out. It’s good stuff.

Image credit: CBS.com

Person of Interest: The perfect scene

root_tbThere are just some scenes. As you watch them, you know you’re watching the writers, actors, editors and everyone involved at their best. Michael Emerson gave us a lot of them as Ben Linus; he gave us another one as Harold Finch.

The plot from last week’s Person of Interest was too complex to summarize here, so click over to CBS for the full recap.  It brushes over the scene with barely a mention, so that is where I will focus.

It is the last scene. Jason Greenfield is on his way to Cartagena, Timothy Sloan is safe, Jason Collier is still free. Much to her frustration, Root is not. Shaw clubbed her after they helped Greenfield escape the CIA and turned her over to Harold.

Here it is.

Everything thing about the exchange is gold. The dialogue is crisp and the footage is edited for perfect timing, showing the right reactions to the right words at the right time. Harold and Root. He wants to keep The Machine hidden, she wants to set it free. For the moment he has the upper hand. Physically, he has her trapped and cut off from any electronic communication that could connect her to The Machine. (You remember what a Faraday cage is, I hope.) Mentally, he poked a hole in her belief that she has a special communion with it. They kept the shot of her face reacting to Harold’s final line so we could see her realize he may share it, too. Perfect.

What Harold knows about The Machine’s new third category, which Jason Greenfield fell under, is unclear. He may be holding Root because The Machine needs him to or because he wants her cut off until he can figure out what is going on.

What is going on with Root and The Machine? The episode gave us a little more to add to the piece I posted last week.

Watch it here from CBS.

The third category and what we know about it may not be any more than what Harold does. Root’s mission from The Machine was to use Shaw to help Greenfield escape CIA custody and flee to Cartagena in Columbia. There he will seek out a bar with a man named Ruiz. Why? Root does not know, she leaves big-picture questions to The Machine. It sees itself (I’m going to avoid using feminine pronouns to describe The Machine for the sake of simplicity in writing about an inanimate female character and an animate one) facing an existential threat that, apparently, Root can help it neutralize. That’s why one of its first acts after rebooting was to retask Root to the “Analog Interface” and break her out of the psychiatric hospital.

The source of the threat could be Peter Collier. Collier is revealed to be the leader of a hacker group by the name “Vigilance.” Wayne Kruger, you’ll recall, found a data mining company that made him a target for Collier in the season’s second episode. Murdering Kruger was the event that caused Jason Greenfield to report Vigilance to the government, which is how he ended up in a cell next to Root at a CIA black site. That is exactly where The Machine knew he would be, and putting Root there to break him out shows how well The Machine can predict events. It makes you wonder how far into the future it can see.

Vigilance protests government surveillance. Jason Collier, meet Edward Snowden. I said before I down want the show to incorporate that affair into its storylines, and I can’t be certain this wasn’t the direction the writers planned for season three last spring. After Harold and Reese saw the week’s number to safety — Jason Greenfield’s brother — Reese expressed his suspicion that we haven’t heard the last of Collier and his band of hackers. I guess that’s how it will be. Person of Interest is a well-done show, as evidenced by the scene I broke down at the beginning, so I trust they can do the story well.

Image credit: CBS.com

Note: I’d have the video embedded instead of linked if I knew a d*rn thing about how the Internet works.

Fall catch-up: Person of Interest season three

Shaw on Person of Interest
Samantha Shaw (Sarah Shahi) on
Person of Interest Photo: CBS.com

The final episodes of Person of Interest’s second season were fantastic, but as I look back on them they feel more like a series finale. The start of season three reinforces the feeling. The two-man team of Harold Finch and John Reese is now a team of five. We knew it would expand to three with the addition of Samanatha Shaw, but I did not see Fusco and Carter coming so fully under Harold’s umbrella. The plots The Machine involves them in are more complicated now and require the extra people. This is great for the show. The Harold and Reese duo was beginning to grow stale. I think it is better to shake that up now before it turns into a drag the show can’t recover from.

Shaw’s snarky and no-nonsense style plays well against Finch, and Reese appreciates her style for the way it knocks Harold off his guard. The most recent episode gave us the background we need to appreciate her character and her…odd…range of emotions. The writers did a great job of showing how her personality was present at a young age and contrasting her childhood and adulthood with a young girl from Russia who fancied herself a spy. The end of the episode took care to show us that Shaw has emotions, they’re just muted. Now we can wait to learn more about how  she became involved with Hesch and Northern Lights.

Detective Fusco got his new lease on life late last season and is now a normal enough detective that he has the freedom to answer Finch’s every call. Joss Carter on the other hand was demoted for snooping too close for HR’s comfort after it took out her boyfriend and fellow detective Carl Beecher. The HR storylines have never been my favorite part of the show. I hoped after both seasons it would recede from the show, and it appears that hope will again go unfulfilled this season. Officer Carter’s partner is, you guessed it, in HR’s pocket, but she was onto him and forced him to work for her in a great scene at the end of this week’s episode. HR wants to find Mr. Reese and I have to say I have no desire to see this storyline.

The most mysterious character in Person of Interest has always been The Machine. Last season climaxed with it rebooting and self-relocating out of its original hiding place inside a nuclear facility. How it came back and how it changed was set to be a major part of the season, but it has been almost nonexistent.

When it does play out, it comes via Root. She got the final scene last season to answer a call at a yellow pay phone a psychiatric hospital. The “new” Machine took it upon itself to help her break out by speaking to her in the same “God mode” it did while ,it rebooted. Amy Acker’s perfection for the role of Root shined in her counseling sessions with the hospital’s psychiatrist. After telling him for weeks that “God” was talking to her, she predicted to him exactly what was about to happen before she escaped during their final session. His reaction was fantastic and Acker played up every bit of the patient curing the doctor.

How The Machine interacts with her could provide clues to its new personality. We have no reason to think Finch created or knows of a way for it to access its own God mode to interact with anyone. In fact he seemed bewildered when he arrived at the hospital after Root’s escape. Is this a new ability it created for itself? A side effect of the virus-within-a-virus Harold created that infected it last season? We will find out.

We will also find out who the mysterious Ma’am was that Hesch visited at the end of last season. He and Ma’am view her as enough of a threat to warrant his attempt to eliminate her in the hospital; Harold obviously feels the same because he locked her away in an institution. Maybe those two will team up this season to ensure she isn’t able to achieve her goal of freeing The Machine?

I have one bone to pick with some of the early storylines. Not long after last season ended, the Edward Snowden story launched government surveillance to the top of the world’s radar. Every time a new revelation came out about the government tracking phone calls, reading emails or hacking bank accounts I couldn’t help but think, “That’s The Machine!” It was kind of spooky.

The Machine’s mystique — fed by its secrecy — is integral to the show’s make up, not just within the show but in viewers’ minds. The thought that government could be capable of the electronic dragnet Finch uses helps us believe in the story. It is too fantastic to be real, therefore it must be entertainment. To find out it exists in real life is as if Harold would turn to the camera in the middle of an episode to confess that he is a real life NSA employee.

How the show deals with this, if it does at all, could elevate the show even higher or sink it. That’s why I would prefer they ignore it entirely and go on with the story exactly as they imagined it before anyone heard of Edward Snoden. Maybe that is what they are doing, but too many of this season’s episodes have devolved into a lecture about online privacy.

I think we are one or two episodes shy of seeing everything we need to know about what this season will contain. For the most part, it’s on the right track to maintain its position as the most enjoyable show I watch.