Monday, December 22, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies


MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD! Also, feel free to revisit my earlier Hobbit reviews here and here.

Sheep Ride of Destiny. That is one of the things I will always take away from the Hobbit saga. Sheep Ride of Destiny. Proof, in other words, that the strange goofy details of this trilogy persist even at the grimmest and most portentous moments. Thank you, sheep!

There we have it, then. The final Tolkien film, assuming they don’t start adapting The Silmarillion. The end of an era, although it’s hard to get choked up when the original Lord of the Rings trilogy felt so much more end-of-an-era-y. Some marketing schmo decided to label The Battle of the Five Armies as “The Defining Chapter,” which is very silly, because what does it define? The bridge between the Hobbit saga and LotR? Sorry, but a brief Sauron song-and-dance number and an overly smug reference to Aragorn do not equal the be all, end all of prequels. As I have said again and again, the Hobbit films are best when they do their own thing, worst when they scream, “We’re PREQUELS! Look at all these LORD OF THE RINGS REFERENCES! All this RETROACTIVE FORESHADOWING!” Not needed. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit blissfully unaware of what he would soon create. Team Peter Jackson is all too aware of what they have already created.

For the third time in a row, I loved the movie. I can be cynical but I can’t not be smitten with Jackson’s Middle-Earth. But I’m not blind to the people who dislike the Hobbit films. I confess, it’s a letdown that this trilogy cost so much more, yet looks cheaper. And I really wish Jackson hadn’t gone the lazy CGI route. And I wish Guillermo del Toro had stuck around. But to compare the Hobbit saga to the Star Wars prequels? Too mean. The worst Middle-Earth film is loads better than the least unbearable Star Wars prequel. And it’s in large part due to the actors.

Again, we pick up right where we left off. Smaug the dragon, royally pissed, unleashes fiery doom upon Lake-Town in a scene far more traumatic than any Roland Emmerich destruction porn could ever be. Not much of a spoiler to say that Smaug exits stage right very quickly, thanks to the bravery of Bard, who becomes the makeshift ruler of Lake-Town’s refugees. They seek shelter and mercy from Thorin and his Dwarves, but unfortunately, the allure of gold has turned Thorin into Middle-Earth’s biggest jerkface, and he refuses to give anyone the time of day. Thranduil and his Elves show up, also seeking treasure, and meanwhile, Nasty Albino Orc Dude is leading his legion of assorted lumpish ogre-type things toward Erebor, and more Dwarves are galumphing to the rescue, and it would be the battle of the ages if we hadn’t seen better battles in LotR. What we have is a 2.5-hour movie covering one fourth of a book. So the narrative is pretty damn padded out. When the titular battle begins, it’s very exciting and epic, but it also takes up at least half the movie and all the fighting wears ya down.

Meanwhile, in the other swift cliffhanger resolution, Gandalf is rescued from the eerie fortress of Dol Guldur by an all-star lineup of Middle-Earthians, including Galadriel, Elrond, and Saruman. (If I may use a nerdy Dungeons & Dragons analogy, they’re the epic level party.) As previously noted, the evil Necromancer of Dol Guldur is actually Sauron, the big baddie from LotR, trying to regain power. This is unfortunate. Yes, it’s official canon, but it also forces the filmmakers to undermine Sauron’s effectiveness. There’s a huge gap between “dude lurking in a crumbly old castle” and “incredibly powerful godlike entity of evil and destruction.” What Team Jackson should have done is make this Sauron more cringing and pitiful, like the earlier versions of Voldemort -- a foul spirit barely clinging to corporeality. Instead, they try to recreate some of Sauron’s fiery terror, and it doesn’t really work in this limited setting. The Ringwraiths get an odd makeover, we see the return of Scary Green Galadriel (not exactly the most beloved image from LotR), and Sauron is ultimately more like a Final Fantasy boss. And not even a major boss. One of those optional bosses you can track down if you’ve leveled up enough. Yeah...what I said about tiresome prequel hijinks. Pity.

 You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned Bilbo at all. That’s because he is infrequently in the movie. When he’s there, he’s delightful as ever, but (as with the entire saga) the Hobbit falls into everyone else’s shadow. This trilogy has racked up a very long list of characters, and that was before Billy Connolly showed up. Everyone needs screen time, even if it’s only a few seconds’ worth (sorry, Beorn). Thorin needs to face Nasty Albino Orc Dude! Legolas needs to face Son of Nasty Albino Orc Dude! The interspecies love between Tauriel and Kíli needs to resolve, one way or another! A lot of loose ends to tie up, and they still don’t hit every single one, except perhaps in the land of Deletedscenetopia. So I missed Bilbo. However, I did appreciate Thorin’s arc. It’s a hard one to pull off, because he has to suddenly turn into a paranoid, hateful creep, then just as suddenly rediscover his nobility and save the day. Richard Armitage plays this transformation with a kind of dazed horror, desperation in his eyes, as if some parasite (a Gollum, if you will) has taken over his body. This movie has a strong point to make about the things greed does to people. One character is killed by greed, another glosses over his greedy motivations, a third wastes the chance to be a better man. Only Thorin overcomes the worst in himself, and his battle with madness is well done.

The whole film is well done. It’s great entertainment. I know that the Hobbit films are not, nor will they ever be, as good as Lord of the Rings. There’s just not enough material, and, to be frank, Peter Jackson didn’t seem as committed. But the actors were committed. The art designers, the set and costume people, they were committed. Heck, even the CGI guys were committed. Yeah, okay, the video game physics are back in full force -- especially with Legolas, who bounds across collapsing bridges and hitches rides on monsters while we wait for “Press X to Not Die” to flash on the screen. But, y’know, the climax, which involves a mere handful of characters and takes place on some kind of frozen outcropping, has some moments of real, true, unadorned tragedy and poetry. I may not remember nor care about Nasty Albino Orc Dude’s motives, but the final moments between him and Thorin did not disappoint. As for the Kíli/Tauriel thing, I had a pretty good idea where it was going (spoiler alert: nowhere happy), but it had impact. Why they needed to dump this upon the only major female character is another story (the entire Middle-Earth film saga fails the Bechdel test). But all I have to say is: still better than Aragorn and Arwen. Yeah, I went there.

 I don’t feel like this is “the end,” even though, supposedly, there will be no more Middle-Earth films. Partly it’s because I found the finale of The Battle of the Five Armies to be a tad rushed. It’s like they heard all the criticism about Return of the King taking forever to end, and tried too hard not to repeat themselves. I could have used a better send-off for Bard, and also for all the auxiliary Dwarves, who may not have gotten much dialogue but were still the heart and soul of the trilogy. Along with Bilbo, of course. We end up where we began, back in cozy Bag End, waiting for the next great adventure. Now I get to rewatch the Lord of the Rings trilogy and bask in what are not only better movies, but also part of a grand saga that remains a delight. I see the Hobbit trilogy as a more than acceptable addition. They may stumble as prequels but they dazzle in their own right. I got what I asked for. So thank you, Peter Jackson. Thanks, Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage. Thanks to everyone who made this happen. I’ll take a flawed Hobbit adaptation over a lifetime without it, wondering what could have been.

They took us there. Now we’re back again. And happier for the journey.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

American Horror Story: Freak Show--Episode 10

4.10: Orphans

--Well. I am now slightly more sold on the whole “crossover” notion. When Ryan Murphy revealed that there are, or will be, connections between all the seasons of AHS, I groaned, because it seemed like a ploy for attention. “People are complaining that the show is getting stale? Quick, toss out the anthology format and start retconning!” Except...this episode handled the crossover surprisingly well. By invoking Asylum, it tapped into some of the emotional power that made Asylum the best season to date. It was tragic and heartwarming and it also snuck in a shocking twist that had BETTER not be a fakeout. So high marks!

--Another freak bites the dust. In this case, it’s Salty, the male pinhead, who died of natural causes. The ep acknowledged that people with unusual traits tend to burn briefly and brightly. Needless to say, Pepper was devastated, and needless to say, Stanley swooped in and snatched Salty’s body so he could hack the head off and sell it to the museum of oddities. Now I’m starting to hate Stanley more than Elsa, which is probably a good thing.

--Elsa did win back a little of my sympathy this week. I mean, she remains a shitty human being, but at least within her heart there’s room to love her makeshift family. Over schnapps, she described to Desiree the origins of her Cabinet of Curiosities. After fleeing to America, Elsa spent time in the circus circuit but craved stardom, so she hit on the idea of gathering unique performers to draw the crowds, who would then bask in Elsa’s (largely imagined) talent. Pepper was the first, rescued from an orphanage, but what Elsa didn’t expect was that she’d come to love her pinheaded minion so readily. To make Pepper happy, Elsa created a family for her: first Ma Petite, hilariously purchased from a traveling maharaja for three cases of Dr. Pepper (whoever wrote that gag should win a fucking award), and then fellow orphan Salty. Now Pepper has lost her family. Her small, warm world has crumbled.

--With Ethel’s passing, Desiree has kinda become the moral center of the freak show, and I’m very happy about that, because she’s moral with a dash of ruthless. She was tender with Dell but firmly told him that they needed to go their separate ways. After all, Desiree has Angus T. Jefferson, and Angus T. Jefferson doesn’t seem to care that his ladylove has a phallus. They went to Esmerelda for a crystal ball gazing, but Esmerelda’s the latest character to become an obnoxious drunk, and she did the whole “love is bullshit” thing. Sigh.

--Hey, at least Esmerelda got actual material! Plus her moral compass finally swung in the right direction! It happened when Bette and Dot offered her their would-be surgery money to buy Jimmy a lawyer. Dot made the message clear: I love Jimmy but I know I can’t have him because he loves you, so, bitch, you better be the girl of his motherfucking dreams. Elsewhere, Esmerelda revealed to Desiree that she and Stanley are con artists (and she’s another orphan, naturally), but at least her mental filter was functioning well enough that she didn’t add, “Oh, yeah, and your husband murdered Ma Petite so we could stick her tiny ass in a pickle jar.” Desiree’s suspicions were roused, and that, coupled with Bette and Dot’s entreaty, caused Esmerelda to decide to do the right thing. Boo yeah!

--I have to point something out before diving into the emotional stuff. There were several scenes in which we saw Elsa’s legs, and they were clearly flesh-and-blood legs and not prosthetics. Blooper! Oh,’s like the “wig” last season that was obviously Jessica Lange’s real hair. Guys, stop giving Jessica Lange handicaps if you don’t have the budget to pull them off.

--This episode was all about Pepper, and I honestly think Naomi Grossman should be added to the list of AHS actresses who badly deserve an Emmy. I loved Pepper in Asylum but most of my love came after aliens fixed her brainbox. Here, though, we saw her heart, and saw that, even though her mind is crippled, she is aware enough to love, and to suffer. Only Elsa could see it; most people just view Pepper as a...well...retard. Elsa took Pepper to live with her sister. Trouble was clearly brewing, because A) Asylum told us of the awfulness to come, and B) the sister was played by Mare Winningham, the creepy incestuous mom from Coven. There wasn’t much horror in this episode, but I found plenty in the toxic, not-quite-right household in which Pepper spent the next decade. And then...welcome to Briarcliff Asylum. In 1962, Pepper’s sister gave birth to a deformed baby, and she and her husband entered a downward spiral which culminated in the husband murdering the baby and framing Pepper, with his wife’s implicit approval. It was vile and horrible and heartbreaking. Pepper was left in the kindly, if misguided, hands of Sister Mary Eunice. YAYYYYY! I love you, Lily Rabe! Seeing the goodness in Sister Eunice’s heart made me almost wish she hadn’t been possessed by Satan. But I’m still glad she was, because Evil Eunice is still my favorite AHS villain of all time. Bless her.

--The episode ended with a moment that was both poignant and startling: Pepper, in the Briarcliff library, gazing fondly at a Life magazine cover featuring...Elsa Mars. Elsa Mars, TV star. Whoa! I guess I never really thought that Elsa’d get her dreams. I’m not sure she deserves to. On the other hand, won’t the freak show be better off without her at this point?

--Let’s backtrack and discuss the other big twist. AHS goes on hiatus now, and we need to have something to make folks bite their nails for three weeks. Stanley visited Jimmy in prison, and (in another great gag) claimed to have hired Clarence Darrow’s son as Jimmy’s lawyer. But Darrow Jr. would need payment. What does Jimmy have that Stanley wants? OH, SHIT. Yes, Esmerelda took Desiree to the freak museum, spilling the beans on Stanley’s true motives. Desiree was appropriately appalled by the corpses of Ma Petite and Salty. But then the curator unveiled the newest exhibit: Jimmy’s severed hands. WHUMP. Esmerelda hit the floor. What the fuck happens now?! Assuming those are really Jimmy’s hands. They’d better be. You offer a tease like that, you better have the goddamn balls to follow through with it.

--The curtain closes till 2015...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

American Horror Story: Freak Show--Episode 9

4.9: Tupperware Party Massacre

--This episode was originally entitled “The Fat Lady Sings.” It got changed pretty much at the last minute, causing poor Amazon Instant Video no end of confusion. I guess they thought the original title was, what, too tasteless? It seems to refer to Regina (RIP), although her doomed appeal to the authorities wasn’t that relevant. But, then, neither was the pastel-shaded abbatoir that ultimately gave the ep its name. The moral of either story, I guess, is that Dandy Mott is truly out of control, and the last hope of bringing him to justice may have failed. And who do we have to thank?

--Gee, Esmerelda, way to inadvertently cause multiple murders with your fake crystal ball bullshit! Are you EVER gonna be more than a plot device? Yeah, Dandy got a reading from Esmerelda and both participants did some double-talk, Dandy to hide his crimes (in this case, turning the corpses of Gloria and an Avon lady into a two-headed puppet), and Esmerelda to make her “fortune” sound good. Dandy sure did take her words to heart. He upgraded to slaughtering an entire houseful of ladies who were already having a bad day due to Jimmy’s magic fingers being too drunk Regina turned up again but was hapless in the face of Dandy’s cheerful, blood-spattered confessions. She went to the cops, but Dandy was counting on it, and proceeded to bribe the shit out of Detective Turdlicker, as I have chosen to call him. Offered one million smackeroos, Detective Turdlicker capped Regina without a blink.

--Uh....asshole white cop kills innocent black person. That’s...kind of awkward timing...isn’t it. Gulp. Moving on.

--Jimmy is drunk as FUCK and spent most of the episode being obnoxious. Chugging spirits. Boinking the fat lady where anyone can see. Sniveling, whining, puking, and you know something? I fucking hate it when characters have drunken meltdowns like this. It’s like a screenwriter’s shortcut, “insert clichéd lush behavior here.” Fuck, he even hallucinated Ethel, who told him to get over himself, and when your own delusion tells you to get over yourself, you oughta listen. All my life, I have had little sympathy for drunks, and Jimmy’s grief over his mother is no excuse to throw away everything he might have. Like father, like son.

--Truth. Because Dell is ALSO in a drunken, hallucinatory stupor. In this case, it’s about murdering Ma Petite and also about all his failures as a man, real or imagined or socially prescribed. It didn’t help when Stanley turned up long enough to display his mondo-member and make Dell fondle it. That and everything else drove Dell to hang himself, egged on by the Ethel hallucination, who is really quite well-spoken for a figment. Have I mentioned how Michael Chiklis is amazing in this role? I honestly didn’t know how that scene was gonna end, and I wanted Dell to live. He hanged himself, all right, but was saved at the last minute by Desiree. Reconciliation?

--Not sure, because, in a very brief set-up, a dapper gent arrived at the freak show and gave Desiree the most honey-smooth greeting ever. Angus T. Jefferson is his name, and the way Desiree said it made it clear that he is always to be called it in full. Angus T. Jefferson is Desiree’s “beau,” but what the fuck does that even mean? Hopefully something sexy and Angela Bassett-y.

--Deah dah-ry, thank you for making Bette and Dot interesting again, and giving both Sarah Paulsons some actual material. Ethel had stashed the twins in a motel but Elsa and Stanley found them and filled Dot’s head back up with promises of surgical separation (Elsa at least had the decency to not be crazy about this plan, though I still hate her bony ass). As Bette and Dot waited in the Murder Barn for the surgeon (actually one of Stanley’s derpy call boys), the twins had a real heart-to-heart, and we FINALLY got a Sarah Paulson Emmy Award Moment. Bette revealed that she’s not really dumb, just naive. Just eager to embrace her girlish fantasies. But she knows Dot is the stronger twin, the one who could survive on her own. She wants them to be together forever but, more so, she wants to stop seeing her sister suffer. In the end, Bette confessed that she wouldn’t mind dying if it meant Dot could have a normal life. Both sisters wept and comforted each other, and it was truly lovely and poignant. So much so...that it changed Dot’s mind.

--But this did not lead to a happy ending for Dot. She and Bette returned to Jimmy’s trailer, and when he stumbled in, Dot confessed her love for Jimmy. Bette gave her blessing. It was so sweet, and Jimmy was so tender as he gifted Dot with one kiss. But then he rejected her. Not cruelly or drunkenly. Mournfully. “I’m in love with someone else,” he said, and I kinda hope he’s referring to Esmerelda and not Barbara. Dot wept. Jimmy watched them go and his mouth twitched with all the things he wanted to say. But he held his tongue. Just like his dad, he blew it, and not in the sexual sense. Although...probably a good thing that Jimmy wasn’t making love to the twins when, moments later, Detective Turdlicker came tearing up and arrested Jimmy for all of Dandy’s murders.

--Christ, somebody had better stop Dandy, otherwise he’s gonna murder the entire female population of Florida. Maybe now that Dell has hit rock bottom, he can finally pull himself back up and do something good for a change. We shall see. Now, given that Evan Peters has just been framed for someone else’s murder spree, and given that Sister Eunice is scheduled to turn up next week, are we about to see some sort of surreal Freak Show/Asylum crossover? If so, can we lock Dandy and Dr. Thredson together in a room and see who out-batshits the other?

“I am God!”
“There is no God. Let me help you with your mommy issues, Dandy. I have a few myself.”
“That is a stylish human skin mask, Doctor. I had a mask once. Care to join me in bathing in the blood of women?"
“I’d prefer to freeze and then fuck their corpses.”

--Good times, good times.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Top TV Shows, Continued

In the not-too-distant past, I graced this blog with a Top Ten list of my favorite TV shows. In that post, as a droll recurring gag, I made repeated references to how much I hated television, how watching TV is like eating a sack of horse tonsils, and then occasionally you’ll find a delicious marshmallow (sorry. When I picture horse tonsils, they look more like marshmallows than anything else). Things have changed since then. TV seems to be expanding its horizons, thanks especially to the new model of original web-based programming, where quality can matter more than popularity. Yes, there are hopeful signs. Utopia, the latest we-swear-it’s-not-a-Survivor-ripoff, failed so hard that the THUD of its faceplant was picked up on Alpha Centauri. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was canceled, proving that network execs actually draw the line somewhere, even if it’s all the way up at “dating the man who molested your underage daughter.” I discovered the simple pleasures of cuddling my boyfriend in the evening as we half-watch something on Netflix.

I still am not fond of television as a medium. But I’d probably sound like way too much of a hipster douchebag if I said I still hated it. Especially when I’ve found plenty of new shows to enjoy. Looking back at my old list, I am, of course, bemused by some of my choices. Metalocalypse, for instance, may have been a lingering scream of defiance from my college-age self...but I can’t be sure, because I haven’t watched that show in years. Oops. Still, I don’t want to go replacing items on the list; that way madness lies. So here’s...a supplement.


It’s hard to pull off R-rated cartoons. Since the main demographic is college douchebags, way too many adult toons focus on easy douchebag humor. Archer, made with love and mercifully separate from Adult Swim, is one of the funniest things I have ever seen on television. Yes, every single character is an asshole, but they’re such distinct assholes with such great chemistry that their insults and put-downs form a verbal ballet of inspired meanness. Set time period or other...the show is less about espionage and more about spy Sterling Archer’s ego, insecurities, mommy issues, sexual hang-ups, and tendency to destroy everything in his path. His coworkers are the Greek chorus, and all of them, from the Hitler-cloned mad scientist to the ditzoid secretary with the murder fetish, can only clean up Archer’s messes...or worsen them. Archer has some of the best comedy writing out there: a wealth of catchphrases (“Nooooooope!”), running gags (everyone has Tinnitus), and bizarrely sophisticated one-liners (“Corinth is famous for its leather!”). It keeps getting better. Somehow.

Cutthroat Kitchen
This one is quite a recent discovery. Normally I hate reality competitions where everyone acts like a jerk, but in this case, the jerks are all tongue-in-cheek. Professional chefs must cook gourmet food as the clock ticks, same old, same old...only in this case, they get to use their own prize money to purchase outrageous bonuses and handicaps. One chef gets the exclusive right to taste their food. Another must use doll-sized cooking utensils. A dude finds himself attempting to make “dessert mac-n-cheese.” Velveeta is substituted for Roquefort. You never know what these poor saps are gonna endure next, but often, they persevere, and their stubborn love of cooking leads to some truly inspired and tasty culinary innovations. And some epic flops. The best part is, the chefs can’t tell the judges what they went through, and it’s so shamefully amusing to watch them stand there, grinding their teeth, while the person who will decide their fate asks, “Why the hell are there Pop Rocks in my Baked Alaska?” Oh, Food Network.

I hesitated when this show first appeared, looking for cracks. Then I dug in like a true horror gourmand. I’m not sure I’ve seen ghastly murder presented with the same unique, dreamlike style anywhere else. This ain’t Anthony Hopkins biting off prison guards’ faces; this Hannibal is low-key, elegant, and all the freakier for it. Baroque murder dioramas are juxtaposed with hallucinations and fine dining, and the lines between all three blur like watercolors. The entire supporting cast is great (Gillian Anderson’s subtle turn made my heart thunder), but it’s all about the twisted love/hate/dread relationship between secret psychopath Hannibal Lecter (played by the charming and ominous Mads Mikkelsen) and jittery FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy, eyes haunted, self-control slipping). Two men who aren’t quite human beings, and who need each other, either as friends or adversaries. And if you think you know all the plot twists because you read the books...sorry. This is rich, savory, revisionist Hannibal Lecter, cooked to perfection.

I almost forgot to include Sherlock on this list, but then I noticed irregularities in the grain of my carpet which led me to deduce that my gait had altered slightly, indicating something in my pocket. So I looked, and found a receipt, and by backwards-tracing my thought patterns while I was buying a baguette and some frozen tamales at City Market....okay, okay, I’ll stop. I could never compete with Benedict Cumberbatch’s standoffish Sherlock or Martin Freeman’s worldweary Watson, and that’s a good thing. Despite its modern setting and thrilling, kinetic style, BBC’s Sherlock is one of the best-ever depictions of the famous detective, because it nails how Holmes does what he does, and why he is as far removed from normal human beings as a waffle iron. He loathes his own humanity yet is terrified of losing it, and one look at Andrew Scott’s creepy, unhinged, bestial take on Moriarty shows where Sherlock could be headed if he lets himself. That’s incredible drama and it’s what makes this whole show incredible. Plus all the nifty deductions and stuff.

The Sing-Off
Wanna hear something obnoxious? This year’s “season” of The Sing-Off is going to be a one-shot holiday special. What the FUCK, NBC. You have this amazing competition that showcases real vocal talent and, for once, isn’t about making the contestants feel like scum...and you marginalize it like this? What about people’s love for The Sing-Off isn’t penetrating your skulls? I guess it’s better than nothing. Last year’s blog posts regarding this show (one and two) summed up what I adore about it. It’s a burst of unbridled happiness in the midst of the drear. I suppose I’m fated to watch their “holiday special” and hope that it’s a placeholder for a later, PROPER season. With actual episodes. And more time to know and love the earnest a capella groups busting their pipes for our enjoyment. Keep on harmonizing!

Star Trek: Voyager
And now I shall demonstrate why I am no true Star Trek nerd. Yes, I’ve seen at least a bit of every show, even Enterprise, and I can’t help but follow my heart, and my heart says Voyager. It’s not just that it has better special effects. It definitely doesn’t have a superior plot, although the premise -- the titular exploratory vessel is lost on the far side of the galaxy and must find a way home before its crew dies of old age -- raises the stakes considerably. I admit, a lot of it is a retread: look, ghetto Klingons! Look, the latest godlike being! Look, a new bad guy worse than the Borg!’s the characters. On average, Voyager has the most characters I love. I love Chakotay’s zen-master cool. I love the Doctor’s prissiness. I love Seven of Nine’s...Seven of Nine-ness. And most of all, I LOVE Captain Kathryn Janeway. Because she’s a total badass who’s kicking her enemies in the balls when Picard would still be scrabbling for diplomacy. Because she would die for every one of her crew. And because, despite constant peril and the grief of being far from home, she is never without a sense of awe and delight in the unknown wonders of the cosmos. She reminds us why we want to explore space in the first place. Voyager is far from the most loved Star Trek show, but I don’t care. It wins my everything.

Next year...will I finally get around to Orphan Black? Will I find the time for one of those anime shows I keep eyeing? Will I (gulp) actually watch the last couple seasons of Fringe? Shame on me. I guess TV is as legit an art form as any other. Just don’t tell anyone.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

American Horror Story: Freak Show--Episode 8

4.8: Blood Bath

--DANNY HUSTON! Wheeeeeee!

--Last week I had a totally WTF, made-my-day moment. I was watching Noah -- y’know, with Russell Crowe, Hermione Granger and some rock biters -- and as the end credits rolled, I gaped at a familiar name: Finn Wittrock. WHA?! I rewatched the opening scene of the movie, and sure enough, there was Dandy, hidden under furs and a beard, playing the younger version of Ray Winstone’s villain. It was a delightful shock and it made me think that Wittrock (who’s thirty, if you can believe it) may be destined to really break out as an actor. God knows Freak Show is giving him mucho exposure. In more ways than one. Naked butt.

--So. Am I shocked at the people who died this week? Well...kinda. I saw Ethel’s death coming a mile away, though the nature of her exit was compelling and provided many more Kathy Bates Emmy Award moments. Dell made it look like Ma Petite got nommed by some wild animal, and Elsa wept and moaned over the death of her “little angel,” and for once, I think she was actually sad about it. Not sad enough for Ethel, who bitterly confronted Elsa in her tent. This show loves to stick two of its Grande Dames together and let them have at it. Ethel was through with Elsa’s mama hen schtick and accused her of being a liar, a manipulator, a would-be murderess. She even whipped out a gun and shot Elsa in the leg, not realizing it was wooden. Ah, the pain...the pain of two best friends ending it like this. Elsa surely felt some pain too, but because her heart is rotten and maggot-infested, she talked Ethel into delaying her murder/suicide spree...and then flung a knife straight into Ethel’s eye. Just like that, the beating heart of the freak show was gone. If Ethel was the heart and Ma Petite was the joy, then what’s left?

--Okay, the flashback was annoying. It interrupted a great scene that should not have been interrupted, changed the tone, and was really kind of pointless. BUT, it allowed for Danny “Axeman” Huston to return unexpectedly as the kindly Italian prop-maker who gave Elsa her prosthetics. So I’m forgiving, because Danny Huston makes me tingle. If the next season stars Huston as a Gepetto-type who brings puppets to life, I’ll be so happy.

--Another sequence with a weird tone was the next stage in the Penny subplot, and I really hope it marks the end of the damn Penny subplot. With the aid of Stanley and Esmerelda, Elsa made Ethel’s death look like suicide-by-car-crash. Jimmy sank into booze and whining...dammit, just when he’d gotten over Meep! Desiree, meanwhile, somehow decided that Ethel’s death was a metaphor for the overall man’s war on womanhood, so she enlisted Penny, Eve, and Suzi, and they kidnapped Penny’s mean daddy and tarred/feathered the guy. Satisfying, maybe, but also a tad gratuitous. Bizarrely, it was Esmerelda who burst in and gave an earnest “you’re better than this!” speech to prevent them from straight-up murdering Penny’s dad. I have no freaking clue what’s up with Esmerelda. She’s always appearing in scenes that focus on other people, but we never know what’s going on in her head. My “Emma Roberts shouldn’t just be Emma Roberts” request has been denied. So far. Now can Penny just settle into tattooed bliss with Paul and stop hogging screen time?

--Elsa’s weepfest over Ethel’s death was her corniest yet, and she wasted no time in waltzing down to a cartoonish weight loss clinic in Miami and recruiting a plump lass named Barbara (Chrissy Metz) to be the freak show’s new Fat Lady, and also to be some kind of weird-ass psychosexual mommy figure for Jimmy. Yay, another subplot. I think Barbara is supposed to be a metaphor for the passive, self-harmful complacency that allows Elsa to stay in power. Maybe? She’s what we got instead of Bette and Dot, who Ethel cryptically said are “somewhere safe.” Hopefully she didn’t ensure their safety by breaking their legs with a sledgehammer. Reference joke!

--There was another big death this week that I did not see coming, although since Gloria got so much screen time, maybe I should have. The world kept closing in on Gloria, and they stuck her in a red dress and routinely bathed her in red light, just to foreshadow even more. Dora’s daughter Regina turned up, more determined than ever to ferret out what happened to her mom. Gloria coerced Dandy into seeing a therapist, which led nowhere. We never saw the therapist’s face, but his voice...was that Danny Huston again? I wouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, Gloria and Dandy were caught in a twisted dance, both loving and hating one another. Thanks to the wonders of Frances Conroy (Frances Conroy Frances Conroy), we saw how desperately Gloria needed Dandy, how much it hurt her that she’d produced a lifelong monster. When Dandy tearfully put a gun to his head, she begged him not to, said she couldn’t live without him. Whereupon Dandy said, “Okay,” and shot Gloria in the head. Then he bathed in her blood. DEAR LORD. His “Okay” was the best line of the episode and sums up the hollow void inside Dandy’s body and soul. He’s up there with Tate Langdon and Dr. Thredson as one of AHS’s freakiest bad guys. Kudos.

--RIP, Ethel and Gloria. Damn you, show, for always killing off your best actresses too soon. You’d better make up for it with some SERIOUS Angela Bassett exposure.