It's been one heck of a month, both personally and globally, and it seems like I woke up every morning to even more awful news. If it's any consolation, we're now officially halfway through 2016. It really can't end soon enough.
But having been given a brief respite in my studies, I found a lot more time to devote to my reading and watching material. There was some bittersweetness and frustration to be found in the conclusion of Penny Dreadful and The Musketeers (though I've not yet watched the entire season of the latter), and any renewal of The Tunnel is still left up in the air. However, we have one more season of Orphan Black to look forward to, though it will be the show's last. Can they stick the landing? Here's hoping.
My run-down of Eighties Fantasy Films That Weren't That Bad is also about to wrap up, concluding with the original Ghostbusters as a sort of lead-in to the swiftly approaching remake. Apart from that, I revisited another video game from the 90s and made a tiny (tiny!) dent in my TBR pile.
With the surprise ending to Penny Dreadful I'm down to reviewing just The Musketeers – which is also on its final season. I'm starting to regret complaining that I had too many shows to watch.
Apparently the airing of this episode was delayed for a week in the UK, and (though I've got all the season downloaded) I decided to be a good little viewer and watch the show at the same pace as everyone else.
I have however heard some of the rumours about what to expect in the coming episodes – and it doesn't sound like this show is going to help raise me out of the gloominess that the Penny Dreadful finale instilled.
Well, I'm not sure what to do with this. If you're anything like me, you feel completely blindsided.
I had forgotten that the last two episodes of this season would air on the same night, and the moment I saw the change in opening credits I knew I was watching a Grand Finale. Which means I initially tuned in to Penny Dreadful expecting at least one more week of viewing, as well as a forthcoming announcement for a fourth season.
Nope, this is it guys. The show is finished.
I have no idea what was going on behind the scenes, but it feels like John Logan either got bored with his creation and scurried to wrap things up, or was told half-way through writing/filming this season that he wasn’t going to get another one. The latter option seems more likely, but the Variety interview with Logan and Showtime president David Nevins suggests the channel was quite keen for another season, only for Logan to decline.
Logan goes on to say he always planned to end the show like this, though between the lack of any announcement regarding this season being the last and the extremely strange trajectory that these final two episodes took, I find that hard to believe.
Granted, there are aspects to making a television show that can't be controlled (things like actor availability, network demands, budget constraints) and there were a few times in which Penny Dreadful clearly had to write around real-life problems: for example, Sembene's actor quitting the show to seek out greener pastures (not that I blame him) and Simon Russell Beale's theatre commitments necessitating the late arrival of Catriona as a replacement who ended up being the most bizarre case of an Eleventh Hour Ranger I've ever seen.
And let's face it, we've seen multiple times that Logan is excellent at atmosphere and build-up, but terrible at climatic payoff. Remember when Mina was abruptly shot in the head? Or when Vanessa faced-off against a doll instead of Helen McCrory? Or when we spent nearly two seasons with Inspector Rusk only for him to die without achieving anything? Or when Dorian... just Dorian in general?
But these two episodes felt utterly at odds with the story that's been building for the last three seasons, and as a finale it makes the odd decision to dish out good/satisfying endings in reverse order of how important a character is. The more central a character, the more frustrating their send-off.
As such, there's no better way to tackle this review than to go through each character one at a time...
So we reach the end of season four! And perhaps not a moment too soon, as I've been pretty wrung out by these last few weeks of watching/reviewing.
A few days before this episode aired, it was announced the forthcoming fifth season would be the show's last, something that I had thought was old news. Seriously, I've been going around telling people there was a five-year plan for a long time now.
In any case, it's nice to get confirmation, and I'm reasonably confident Graeme Manson and John Fawcett can stick the landing – perhaps with only a few balls still left up in the air. (For instance, I think that scene in which Delphine gave Shay a Dyad card with numbers on it has died on the vine).
This finale felt different from past seasons, namely because it lacked a degree of closure and happiness that were found in seasons two and three (the clone dance party, the shared dinner at Bubbles). This is more like season one in that it's a straight-up cliff-hanger.
The links I've provided below the cut deal a lot with fan entitlement and the ownership of stories, subjects that provide a natural companion to the release of two recent trailers. Because each one features a Disney Princess – one from my childhood and one from my region of the world – they generated a lot of personal thoughts as to what such characters mean to me, and how far I can claim them as my own.
As I mentioned on my Orphan Black episode, I'm getting fatigued with all this watching/reviewing, not helped by the fact I'm starting to see some gaps appear in Penny Dreadful. Yes, this show has always had plot-holes galore, many of which I could either gloss over or chalk down to the genre (Gothic cares little for logic or continuity) but after watching this episode, I feel the show has lost its lustre a little. Or maybe I'm just tired.
When a story begins, it's easy to believe there's a master-plan in place, that everything happens for a reason, that it'll all eventually have satisfying payoff – and though I still think Logan has things mapped out in broad strokes, enough supporting characters and secondary subplots have been discarded that I'm beginning to detach myself from the characters/plots I am invested in as a pre-emptive protective measure.
Why was this episode the catalyst? I couldn't tell you, but I just couldn't muster up a lot of excitement for this one, and I can't even effectively explain why.
I have to say, watching and reviewing three shows at the same time has been exhausting. I'm glad there's just one more week of this before I'm down to only two shows, and just three weeks before I'm left with only The Musketeers. Perhaps then we'll start seeing some more variety on this blog!
It's the penultimate episode of Orphan Black, and though I've been loving this season, it still feels as though there's a lot of ground to cover in the finale – even given the fact that Evie is more or less defeated.
Okay, that was... rather uninspired. It's not that stealing grain, scapegoating refugees and profiteering off the king is a bad evil plan – just one that makes for an uninteresting story.
Granted it's only the second episode, and sometimes it takes a while for a new season to find its feet. But I couldn't help but feel that this was a very formulaic episode. The bad guys monologue to each other. The good guys investigate. Someone is thrown in a prison cell. There's a feisty love interest. Some swordfights. The one-off patsy is taken out, but the seasonal bad guy lives on to douche another day.
Could it be that the writes have simply run out of ideas? In which case, it's probably just as well this is the final season.
Oh Penny Dreadful. You and your terrible anti-climaxes. After the abrupt deaths of Mina and Evelyn Poole in prior seasons I suppose I should be used to it now, but still, taking out two of your significant supporting characters with blink-and-you'll-miss-it gunfire has certainly raised the bar for your "it's not about the destination because the destination ain't that interesting" mode of storytelling. Okay, so I'm slathering on the sarcasm here, and the truth is this show does compensate for its let-downs by providing great build-up, but this time around the discrepancy in trade-off was a little more pronounced.
I went on a day trip today to a place called Castle Hill, named for the limestone boulders that are reminiscent of an old abandoned ruin (at least that's what the brochure says, but to me it looks more like an alien landscape).
The last time I was there I was twelve years old and on my way to school camp, so it was a rather surreal to return twenty years later to find it relatively unchanged – though I wasn't able to find some of the landmarks that I recalled from last time.
It was about a two hour drive from my house, and as you can see under the cut – it's a pretty spectacular destination.
This was a surprisingly straightforward episode. Your average episode of Orphan Black is packed with so many twists and turns and surprises that it's forever teetering on the edge of incomprehensibility, but this one involved significant steps forward and a near-perfect example of the Unspoken Plan Guarantee (because did anyone truly believe that Alison would betray her seestras?)
It was still a rather low-key episode, and much of it was setup for the final two episodes, but I glimpsed Helena in the "next week" promo, so it's clear we're heading into endgame now...
We made it to the finish line! I have to admit, season two of The Tunnel wasn't quite as compelling as its first, though I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was the lack of any juicy Karl/Elise interaction. Their dynamic felt a bit muted, though this final episode did a lot to make up for it.
I also found it more difficult to follow the narrative thread this time around. A rewatch would probably clear up some of the intricacies, but The Musketeers has finally started so there's precious little time for that!
Just as one show ends (The Tunnel) another begins, though the third season of The Musketeers has been jerked around considerably in regards to its airdates. Apparently the entire season has already been broadcast in Turkey – and possibly a few other countries – leading to all sorts of spoilers crossing my dashboard in the preceding months.
Maybe it's just me, but that lack of care makes it difficult to really throw myself back into the story. I watched this episode not as the culmination of a suspenseful build-up, but after noticing a review for the first episode on someone else's Tumblr and realizing: "oh crap, I gotta get onto that."
And as it happens, this season is our last. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed: three strong seasons is nothing to be ashamed of, but I felt The Musketeers had a life-expectancy of at least five (putting it on par with Merlin). Apparently it hasn't been doing as well as I assumed, or perhaps it was just too expensive for its own good.
Still, it's better to end something while it's still engaging than drag it out forever, and we know in advance to savour every moment.
I've just finished watching Undercover, and though it tripped a little at the finish line, it still made for a riveting drama throughout.
Sophie Okonedo's Maya Cobbina was the centrepiece and the highlight, a criminal law barrister who is a popular contender for the next Director of Public Prosecutions – significant not only because of her gender, but her race as well. If she gets the job, she'll be the first black woman in Britain to hold the position.
But because it's such a high-profile job, she has to be squeaky clean. At first glance, that's no problem. She's got integrity, passion and commitment. Her husband Nick says of her: "Maya is the most honest person I've ever met," and it's true.
But the underlying premise of the drama is that her husband of twenty years is not who he says he is: back in the nineties he was an undercover police officer sent to spy on Maya, only to fall in love with her. Now with her new career looming, his superiors want to reactivate him as a plant and pass on what she plans to do about several high profile cases.
In a way it's more Nick's story than Maya's (he's the one with the internal conflict) and yet there's no displacing Maya as the show's main character. I read a few reviews that complained she was too good to be true – unfailingly righteous, compassionate and dignified – yet I fail to see why that's a problem.
There is plenty of room for inspirational women as well as fallible ones in fiction, and in the context of this particular drama it's her inherent goodness that makes her husband's betrayal so tragic. Only someone as brilliant as Maya could cause a man to bury himself in a twenty-year deception just to be with her, and as she starts putting the pieces together it's impossible not to empathise with her dawning realization that her precious family life is a lie.
I'm a sucker for female characters that are strong and vulnerable, and that's precisely the characterization at the core of Maya.
After last week's Bottle Episode, it was a no-brainer to ensure that this week the show's scope opened up to include previously untrod territory not only in the geographical sense, but in regards to Ethan's backstory. (And the drastic change in scenery was probably convenient for the showrunners considering they could film this and the last episode concurrently).
It's about as far as you can get from a single-room episode.
But perhaps the most interesting thing about this foray into Ethan's past is not what we learned, but what we DIDN'T learn: we still have no idea how or why Ethan is a werewolf. It was widely supposed it was a curse laid upon him by the Apaches after he slaughtered their people, a theory strengthened by the appearance of Kaetenay at the start of this season, but if Kaetenay is the reason for Ethan's monthly transformations, he didn't take responsibility for it inthisepisode.
What we get instead are two sides of the same story told by Ethan and Kaetenay to Hecate and Malcolm: that Ethan joined the army on the behest of his father and participated in Native American genocide. It ended with him murdering his commanding officer and offering himself to the Apaches to scalp.
Instead Kaetenay turned him into a weapon to use against the white invaders, which eventually culminated in Ethan giving the tribe details of how to best steal weapons and food from the Talbot Ranch. Though he stipulated no one was to be harmed, almost his entire family was brutally slaughtered, which pretty much explains the entirety of Ethan's character and his prevailing hatred toward his fathers.