Even reviewing these episodes two at a time, I still find myself running at least two weeks behind – and the season finale is tonight!Outlanderhas recently been put on the backburner in favour ofOrphan BlackandPenny Dreadful, but we're on the home stretch now and I always planned to see this through to the finish line.
The first of these two episodes is very mellow and slow-paced in comparison to the rest of the season, and so – almost to make up for it – the second is packed full of drama. The Watch deals with Jenny's difficult childbirth and the arrival of unwelcome guests in Lallybroch; whilst The Search has the women come into their own as rescuers as they head off after Jamie following yet another Claire/Jamie separation.
Time for another round of "this is different from the book and even though I can understand why I'm still going to have a grumble about it."
Some say that the greatest weakness of Susana Clarke's novel is its meandering pace, even though I say that's exactly what I love about it. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is not a story you can rush; instead you have to savour the world Clarke has crafted and the lives of the characters therein.
And though I'm meant to say of course this sort of thing can't be sustained in a television series, Penny Dreadful is a testimony to the fact that slow and careful pacing is possible in forty-five minutes, a time span that show fills with so much rich characterization and juicy plot developments that it somehow feels much longer.
I feel like this was the lightest Penny Dreadful has ever been. And that it was the lightest it's ever going to be. It also felt like something of a fourth-episode breather before everything gets geared up for the second half of the season, though the final act certainly brought things to a head more quickly than I had anticipated.
Wow. Is it safe to say that this was the best episode of the season? Because I haven't been this pumped up by an Orphan Black episode since Donny confronted Vic and Angela in the van. Finally, some concrete answers, some insight into why this clone conspiracy is happening in the first place, a major death that looks like it'll stick, and forward momentum in everyone's plots.
It was also an episode that was big on dreams and visions and symbols, so let's get down to it.
Let's get this out of the way first: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell one of my favourite books. Seriously, in my top ten books of all time. (Kanye: "All time!") Having said that, you'll now be expecting me to follow up with: "so my expectations were extremely high for this adaptation" – but no. It's precisely because I love the source material so much that I tempered my anticipation, and as such was able to enjoy this on its own merits – though that's not going to stop me from lamenting all the little things they got wrong. Because that's what the internet is for.
There has been a strange – almost eerie – sense of concordance across the shows I'm currently watching, with various elements that reflect and contrast and mimic each other. Penny Dreadful and Salem are natural viewing partners on Monday nights, and though the latter is infinitely less compelling than the former, the difference in quality and the treatment of their subject matter (witches and demons) provide an interesting comparison.
Meanwhile,Orphan BlackandPenny Dreadfulare each making use of scorpion symbolism in regards to a specific character: while Helena is carrying on an internal dialogue with the part of her brain that manifests as a scorpion, Vanessa is drawing images of one in her own blood – and as we find out in this episode, such images are a reference toherself (having been nicknamed "little scorpion" by another character). In both cases, each scorpion initially appears as something threatening; something demonic – though on closer inspection they provide commentary on each character's moral ambiguity.
And though I don't watch Game of Thrones, I follow the storyline through YouTube clips, Tumblr GIF sets and on-line reviews, and I'm well aware of what happened to Sansa Stark this week (as it happens, the regularity of such things occurring is precisely why I keep that show at arm's length). And so it's telling that between Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful, two shows that regularly depict horrific violence towards women, the former did so this week in a way that was met with disgust and defensiveness, and the latter did so to acclaim and captivation.
The portrayal and exploration of violence against women (up to and including rape) is not a subject that is (or should be) strictly off-limits. The problem lies in the fact that it's often so woefully mishandled, too often used for shock value or titillation, and usually done with such staggering ignorance as to its impact, its aftereffects, and in some cases what it actually is, that the constant discourse that ensues across hundreds of reviews, articles and outraged Tumblr rants is just plain exhausting.
Which is why, when it's done right, it's a cause for celebration. Subdued celebration. Okay, maybe not celebration at all. Just relief.
And perhaps that reaction is an indication of the larger problem.
The twins are finally reunited, and yet they don't make the happy connection that many other characters manage to achieve throughout this episode. If anything, this stands as a sobering reminder that however much we may enjoy Helena's character, she is still an unhesitating and remorseless killer.
Damn I love this show. It has everything I never even knew I wanted: campy gay curators teaming up with werewolf protectors, Victorian patriarchs getting everything they deserve, Eva Green storming/gliding/strolling about in period garb, and an evil villainess who has no sign of a tragic backstory but is just delightfully, unabashedly evil.
Again, this will have to be a "cliff notes" version of my usual episode reviews, but hopefully quantity will make up for quality as there's a LOT to say about this episode.
I'm back! Yes, I'm sticking with The 100 for now – I like the premise and I really like the female lead, and my dashboard is so filled with it that I'm beginning to feel left out of the loop. I'm going to continue watching and commenting in three-episode helpings, just for the sake of getting through the season in a timely manner.
You know who I wasn't particularly interested in seeing ever again? The Proletheans. So guess who returned this episode? The Proletheans.
Here’s the thing. A religious faction has always been a part of this show. In the first season it was comprised of Maggie Chen, Tomas and Helena. The first two had discovered that clones existed and so were using Helena to get rid of what they considered an aberration. The how, when and why of all this has yet to be explained (and probably never will be) and they were replaced in early season two by the Proletheans, who killed off Tomas and have since shown a vested interested in the clones (specifically the idea of experimenting with their fertility).
And yet we know at this stage that the creators of the clones are the military and the Dyad Institute. So beyond the thematic importance of fundamentalist religion's obsession with controlling the bodies of women, why keep bringing in the redneck nutjobs?
Right now you should be doing one of two things: a. watching Orphan Black or b. getting ready to watch Orphan Black. It's currently in its third season, but the thing is – the less you know about this show beforehand the more you’ll enjoy it when you settle down to let it amaze you with its brilliance. The only thing I knew going in was simply “clones” and “Tatiana Maslany is a goddess.” So go. Watch it.
For those already in the know, you’re well aware that I could have put ANY of the clones on this list by dint of Maslany’s tour-de-force performance as all of them, adding nuance to each character right down to their body language, speech patterns and personal quirks. Her performance is utterly immersive, whether it’s as tough-as-nails Sarah or intellectual Cosima or feral Helena. So why go with Alison? As she herself admits, she can add nothing substantial beyond money to the clones’ efforts to try and figure out who they are and where they come from. But she pings one of my favourite character qualities of all time: Hidden Depths. On the surface she’s a high-strung and rather bitchy Soccer Mum, but as each episode goes on we discover just what she’s capable of.
More than any of the other clones, she has the most to lose, living out the suburban life of a wife and mother, but she nevertheless steps up and comes through for her “sisters” when she’s needed, whether it be posing as Sarah in order to retain visitation rights with her daughter, or teaching the other clones how to use a firearm. As her life begins to unravel and she veers towards more self-destructive tendencies, the sheer amount of pressure that she’s under keeps her relatable (hey, I’d like to see how well you handle the thought of your own husband and neighbours spying on you) even as she provides most of the comic relief.
Yet there’s something about Allison that makes you protective of her – the way she was happy with her life only to find it crumble down around her ears; the way that she desperately tries to cling to the way things were even though she knows deep down that she’ll never get the normalcy she craves. By season three she's managed to claw back some semblance of respectability in her community – though she's emerged from her crucible with more than a few sharp edges, and is now ready and willing to employ them.
I know it's been slow around here, but I'm knee-deep in assignments with a deadline looming. Since I desperately want to get on top of them before Penny Dreadful starts up, I'm going to have to give Outlander short-shrift in the coming weeks. That's more so than usual, considering I'm already doing episode reviews on a fortnightly basis.
So The Devil's Mark deals with a good old Burn the Witch storyline. This form of execution (or at least the threat of it) pops up in almost every story that takes place at any point during or before the 18th century. It's almost always used to demonstrate the paranoia-fuelled superstition and innate misogyny of the past, for though there were certainly many men across the years that were tried and found guilty of witchcraft, it's a threat that's overwhelmingly aimed at women and inextricably tied up with the idea of female promiscuity – as seen rather eye-openingly in Geillis's confession on the stand.
Basically it's the old timey version of slut-shaming. Only with more horrible deaths.
And unfortunately for me, it's also inherently wrapped up in memories of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Put an angry mob in a courtroom screaming "burn the witch!" and I'll inevitably look around for the duck and the giant scales.