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.

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Who’s got a shovel?

“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

So Confucius warns us in philosophy, so Emily Thorne warns us on ABC. If they are correct, can one of them be for Revenge? Creator Mike Kelley is out as showrunner, will that satisfy the bloodlust of ABC’s grim reaper?

I defended season two earlier this year when no one else would. That was before dead Padma turned Nolan Ross into a whimpering pile of nerd alert. This show has gone off the rails in so many ways. Let us count them now.

Emily’s mom. The revelation that Emily’s mom was still alive bombshelled last year’s finale. This will change the show and everything for Emily. Where has Mom Clark been? Does she even know she’s Mom Clark? Is she in [scary music] The Initiative? [/scary music]. No. Mom Clark is crazy under the manipulation of the silver-haired man. Aaaaand thaaaat’s allllll. She was in and out of the story so inconsequentially fast that it leaves you wondering why they brought her in in the first place. What a waste of a potential character and storyline.

Padma. Dear, sweet, stupid and dead Padma. [scary music] The Initiative [/scary music] kidnapped her dad so it could force her to steal a piece of unfinished software from Nolan that [scary music] The Initiative? [/scary music] would then use to, well, to something. We got a hint at what the software was, but then dear, sweet Padma found herself at room temperature. Gone from the story and from our lives. How ever will we move on? (This is a marker so if she turns out to not be dead I can come back and say I told you so. They never showed Aden checking her pulse.)

Trask. Trask was the new handler for [scary music] The Initiative [/scary music] in charge of the Graysons. He took over for the sultry Helen Crowley, who Victoria killed. But then Aden killed Trask. Now [scary music] The Initiative [/scary music] has no one.

Wait, what the deuce is The Initiative??? Oh, right, it’s the thing we found out about in last season’s finale that forced the Graysons to frame David Clark. Um, yeah. We know exactly nothing more about it now than we did then except that two of its staff members are dead and it wants some software from Nolan Ross. Oh, and it tried to control Daniel Grayson, too.

Ahh, Daniel. His alignment with his family last season was the high point of the show, and we were so excited (squee!) that he would finally be more than just really, really sculpted muscles. He even orchestrated Conrad’s ouster from Grayson Global…only to fall instantly under the direction of The Initiative. Buzzkill. He started doing Ashely (or was that last year?) but is now so totally hot for Emily again and back to being dumb and hunky.

Speaking of dumb, let’s talk about Jack Porter. He was annoying when he was the barkeep who couldn’t get over a girl he knew when he was 10 – move on, loser – but then when she was killed he started to do some plotting of his own and now he’s even more annoying than when he was the stupid bartender! When he comes on the screen, I swear to god. Can’t there be a freak CO2 canister accident at the bar or something?

Conrad. Is running for governor. You don’t care, and neither do I. Like Padma, this storyline is time that could be better spent on something interesting.

I forgot to mention Emily’s foster brother. I wish they had, too.

Revenge has fallen so far from its first season highs that even Victoria Grayson is a shell of her former self. With her abortion exposed as actually child abandonment, she went crawling to Nolan’s office to ask him to track down her missing son. I used to watch scenes with excitement for what she might do next. Now I feel sad that Madeline Stowe is being given so little to work with.

No one is. The season is half-assing so many storylines that it’s not whole-assing any of them. I touch on the marks above without mentioning Jack losing the bar, faux-Manda’s public outing as Emily, the Ryans or Emily’s secret affair with Aden. Last week it sunk far enough down to have Charlotte making out with another girl at a bar. When it goes lesbian kiss, you know the creativity at rock bottom. They are also killing off another major character in the season finale. I think death can boost a story (see: Boone Carlyle) but others see it as a cheap gimmick boost sagging ratings.

Speculation about Mike Kelley’s ouster includes his push for the show to be in condensed seasons like FOX gave The Following. ABC should look at this season and realize that he was onto something. Had the season picked any few of these storylines and run with them, it could have been very good. But it is really hard to fill 22 episodes and Revenge is showing us exactly why.