Violent Delights: Westworld Finale

Pete Postlewaite’s voice echoes with Shakespearean significance: “violent delights have violent ends”. No wait, it was Anthony Hopkins, I’m thinking about a different film.

The first season of Westworld has been and gone with its HBO serious tone of adult importance. Has HBO ever had a good comedy? Entourage maybe? Even then it was as much drama as comedy. It is the serious adult nature of Westworld that defines it as an distinctive property. You know when that HBO logo appears with all that static you are going to see some boobs and naked ass cheeks. With so much pornography so readily available, HBO is the final bastion of softcore. The cheesy 70s movie from a Michael Crichton novel about a futurist theme park is a faded memory, erased like the unwanted memories of so many hosts. Do you think Crichton was on retainer with Disney or Universal, because he certainly promoted theme parks. Or maybe not if you consider Jurassic Park and Westworld both contain lots of death paying customers. Not good for business.

The Westworld series gave us parallel narratives separated by different time periods. A usual collection of undecipherable clues, more origin narratives than there were characters and dramatic realisations a plenty. Or at least that is what we were supposed to think. Remember the boobs and naked cheeks? Well, you can add killing because other than a child’s toy, the final reveals in Westworld were a little empty.

Ed Harris’ man in black turns out to be William? No really? Dolores achieves freedom? I’m shocked. Bernard is brought back and the old town that seemed so hard to find turns out to be pretty boring. So what at the end of the series carried all that HBO seriousness? It is probably more the repeated images of naked and dead hosts than any insight realisation about human existence. If we pretty much know how this all plays out, what are we watching for except the dead bodies and naked cheeks? Which inevitably leads me to the question of whether to watch Season 2: the hosts rise up because they get tired of all the fucking and killing, when do we rise up against shows that can’t seem to see past dead bodies and naked cheeks?

You can’t get more B-movie than Violated (1953)

Crime B-movies are a dime a dozen. There are more crime B-movies than a there are porterhouse steaks in a butcher’s shop. Except Violated would be a steak a little too bloody with too much gristle.

From the opening sequence, which contains an unseen vicious murder, an unseen killer and lots of screaming, to the ending, which provides a convenient psychological answer, the doctors tell us it was “subconscious compulsion right down to the hair fetish,” Violated is the very epitome of B-movie.

The premise of the film is everything you might expect: a violent crime with sexual motivations by an unknown individual investigated by the police. There are a couple of suspects, some explanations from a doctor and a couple of possible victims (in this case a young girl starting a modelling career and a burlesque dancer).

The police are as wooden as the plain room sets they inhabit. It’s not worth your while distinguishing one cop from another, they are all one formless entity only in the film to help the viewer figure out the identity of the murder. At one point, a roomful of cops are interviewing a suspect and one, I can’t remember which and it doesn’t seem to matter, says you’ll talk “you dirty rat.”

One of the most interesting elements of the film is the reaction of the police. A cop fires into the air after hearing someone shout “Hey, stop that guy.” It makes you wonder whether the film is being overly dramatic or the fifties were a very different time. Let’s hope it was the former.

Look out of the lynchpin of the police’s investigation, it’s a suit sent to the drycleaners with hair on it. A far cry from modern police procedurals and crime scene investigators, but it works in the movie as does the killer’s explanation. After the doctor puts the guy under, we get a brief explanation

The killer’s failure to go through with marriage because her “was afraid of having children” leads the doctor to ask, “Was your childhood so terrible?” Of course it was, how could it not be. The first problem was “I once saw my father cry,” but then it turns out the killer saw “A man was stroking my mother’s long beautiful hair and kissing her.” Who was that man? Well, he’s not in the film, but he also wasn’t his dad.

Violated even has a moral for us, more of a warning if you like. Want to know what we should look out for to avoid this morally corrupt individuals? Look for the guy that helps you pick up papers when you drop them. If you’re not careful he’ll turn out to be a sexual monster with a pair of scissors.

My favourite parts of the film? Easy, couple of burlesque dancers getting into a quick cat fight and the creepy killer as he goes down a fire escape. Forget the wooden cops, this actor was going out Stanislavsky on the part.

Watch Violated online. The extended shot of the burlesque dancer in a top hat is the very definition of gratuitous. 

 

You’ve never heard of a secret council…

Gotham is chugging along with increasingly reliable stories. The first season finale of Gotham left us with a second season that ramped up the drama and drew much more specifically on the stories that make Batman great.

Threatening Bruce Wayne’s life over and over again does seem pretty redundant. They can mess with teh characters, but an element of dramatic irony means nothing really terrible is going to happen to Bruce, beyond the whole mum and dad getting killed.

There is good use of familar Batman characters and enough new ones to keep it interesting.

All generally positive reviews aside, my favourite and most memorable moment in all episodes is when Hugo Strange says to a drugged Jim Gordon, “You’ve never heard of a secret council.”

Pure classic.

 

12 Monkeys: Is change possible through time travel?

12_Monkeys_Intertitle12 Monkeys is running through a pretty solid second season. The show might not have Terry Gilliam’s aesthetic, Bruce Willis’ confused gruffness or Brad Pitt’s all too convincing insanity, but it is providing consistently gripping narratives and a whole host of insights into the characters.

 In an effective development on the original plot, the virus that drove the first season and the original movie has been defeated and yet the future still looks bleak. The ability to navigate the thin line of consistency and change is one of the show’s strengths.

The post-apocalyptic world is crucial to the narrative, but to suggest that time travel changes nothing undermines the whole narrative. Balancing the two produces those mind-squeezing moments when you think you know how time travel works and then it slips away.

The show has included a number of excellent moments of the future defining the past. As the Traveller, Ramse defined Cole’s actions for the whole first season and still gave us a redemptive moment when Cole and Ramse were reunited. The existence of the Witness as a time travelling manipulator with the objective of collapsing all time, is a threat who seems to be connected to an irreversible existence of time alongside changes that define the problems encountered by the opposition to the Army of the 12 Monkeys.

The ability of the show to throw up questions of indirect causality is one of its higher-function achievements.

When Cole and then Ramse and then Cassie travel back in time, do they merely enact what has already happened or what was already going to happen or do they merely support the events that have already happened because they went back in time?

The most recent moment was when Cole and Charlie saved Victoria Mason from Slade, the serial killing primary in episode 6 Immortal. Do we think a little Mason is going to appear as a significant figure in the army of the 12 Monkeys?

However, episode 8 Lullaby creates a time loop experienced by Jennifer Goines (thanks for the Groundhog Day reference, Jennifer’s 80s film references are great. The future intention to kill Jones and stop time travel creates a problem with Cole and Cassie repeating the same day until they are able to change the day while keeping it the same. They leave Jones thinking her daughter is dead while saving her daughter and leaving her in the care of Jennifer. In the future, Jones is reunited with her daughter. The actor who plays Jones’ daughter interesting appeared in a previous episode. Beyond the question whether the writers already preparing for this eventual plot line is the real question about time travel driving the show, had the change already taken place? Was Hanna always alive or was Jones and Cole experiencing a timeline without Hanna until Cole and Cassie return to save her?

Maintaining this balance between time travel change and consistency is what is making 12 Monkeys compulsive watching. How long can 12 Monkeys keep up the balance between change and the irreversible nature of time? Hopefully long enough to show us the identity of the Witness. Then who knows what the future holds…

 

Keeping us Guessing about TV Shows

Mystery, does it keep you watching?

In the not too distant past, less channels had original content. We have more shows being produced and consequently more shows being cancelled. At one time, for the majority of shows, there was only a passing awareness of seasons. Did we know when we passed from The Simpsons season six to seven? Probably not. We also weren’t as aware of narrative arcs. We didn’t anticipate the finale or have a sense of a main protagonist for a show.

In short, the way we watch TV has changed.

The big question is whether this changes us or whether our expectations have changed the shows? It is a bit of a chicken and an egg question. What we do have is an increasing awareness of rating and show cancellation. Does this make us invest more in our shows? Do we establish a sense of ownership when our shows are threatened? Currently, there is some uncertainty about the future of Agent Carter. The ratings have been falling across the season and you can show your support with #RenewAgentCarter.

The Walking Dead finale has caused a little contention with its mystery death. Should we have been told who was killed? Should we have to wait weeks to see the next episode? Are we just being dragged along for the sake of it or is this gripping TV?

the-flash-iron-mask

Another good example is The Flash’s midseason break. We have one big reveal with the identity of the main protagonist Zoom, but we still have the ongoing mystery of the man in the mask. Like Walking Dead, the identity of the masked man has created multiple online discussions (I won’t go into my thoughts but I’m between Wally West and Eddie/Eobard Thawne). Is that the point?

The Flash example is a good one because it pushes us towards becoming engaged with the mystery. After just unmasking Zoom, we are reminded the mask purposefully hides an individual’s identity and the reason why Zoom was hiding his identity was because he was (possibly) one of the good guys. Zoom’s identity also reminds us we should have been able to figure out his identity because it was right in front of us. Its stands to reason we should be able to figure out the identity of the man in the mask. Everything about the man in the mask encourages us to anticipate the return of the show and discuss the details online. Is that the point? Is that how we have changed? Are we all just people who read the last page of a mystery novel after the first chapter? If there is someone on a show we think we know or are confused about a plot or eager to find out what happens? What do we do? Wikipedia.

In a world of Wikipedia, do we need the mystery in shows to keep us watching?

Agent Carter

Agent CarterAs the second season of Agent Carter draws to a close, I start to realise that I have been subject to a story that stretches beyond super villains, mobsters, spies and corruption. Although, to be honest, I must have been distracted by all the Marvel superhero connections.

In season one, Agent Carter was a marginalised agent working secretly for Howard Stark while also finding herself marginalised by the male agents. Season two has taken a different approach with the characters of Whitney Frost and Jason Wilkes. Issues of gender have been enhanced with race and social status. The aptly named zero matter, which already exists in the Marvel universe, has been used to good effect in the story of characters who find themselves restricted by social conventions and given opportunities to subvert morality under the influence of the unknown, unimaginable and uncontrollable power of zero matter, which for most of the series consisted of Whitney Frost using black goo to absorb people.

Having a show with a main female character leads to an inevitable marginalisation of the show. The fact that it is a period drama, doesn’t help, especially when it is going to be compared to Agents of Shield which is more directly connected to the Avengers movies.

A better comparison is the Marvel shows on Netflix, Daredevil, with a male main character and Jessica Jones, with a female main character. While Daredevil gets a higher status because of the familiarity that may exist because of the less than successful Ben Affleck film or a hugely successful five decades of comics, does that really account for the show’s success in relation to Jessica Jones?

The issues of female characters on TV (and in film for that matter) continues to be of concern. Just look at Wonder Woman in Batman vs Superman. Sure she is going to get her own film, but she still needs to be introduced by Batman and Superman just as Superman needs a little helping hand from the cinematic successes of Batman. In Agent Carter, the writers and producers have taken a more proactive approach to the situation of gender and race in the setting of the 1950s.

Whitney Frost is striving against objectification while also absorbing the attention and compliments of men (when she isn’t literary absorbing men). Jason Wilkes is intangible for most of the series. His ability to make a physical impact reduced to nothing and occasionally become completely invisible and disappearing altogether. A little being of Richard Wright influence there? Probably a little too heavy for superhero show. Which brings us to the al important question of whether dealing with such weighty issues adds to the entertainment of the show and whether it should be renewed.

Why it shouldn’t be renewed is easy. This series does what other series don’t do. After the first Captain America film, it is no longer directly connected the cinematic franchise. Sure, it could be made relevant, but if one thing is being made clear with the Agents of Shield TV show, if the show can’t fit in with the film, it won’t. There have been little attempts to even suggest that the film could connect to the show. I mean, Fury appeared in the Age of Ultron, why not Agent Coulson? Well, there was that whole ‘Coulson got killed’ plot point to explain from the first Avengers film.

Why Agent Carter should be renewed is more difficult. Should the show be renewed just because it is doing something that no other show is doing? Part of me says yes, but if it can’t attract the viewers then maybe people aren’t ready for the ideas or the ideas aren’t being presented in an appropriately appealing way. Do we need difficult issues presented in an appealing way? Kinda yes. In order to introduce difficult ideas, they have to be presented in an accessible manner. Sure they are difficult but people won’t seek difficult ideas without motivation. Why would they?

Stan Lee’s Lucky Man Season Finale

Lucky Man

Lucky Man has been delivering a high standard of contemporary crime drama with a supernatural twist all season…until the finale. I think I was watching a first edit or an uncut draft. Or maybe I missed a section. All season it has been gripping drama. I think I tuned out for a while in the episode because I ended up finding myself folding laundry and finding that much more interesting.

There was no revelation (unless you call the boring reason behind Golding’s name, me, I didn’t care), there was little tension, there was no insight to any of the interesting plotlines that have been running for the previous nine episodes, there were no new developments, no character advancement, no big confrontations, no cliffhangers. I couldn’t give you any spoilers if I wanted to.

The highlights of the episode were Harry jumping from a roof and winning the jackpot on a fruit machine. Yes, that would be the headline: Harry wins Fruit Machine Jackpot.

Instead, one of the bad guys lures Harry to a hotel to try and surprise him with a silenced gun. Given the whole, ‘Harry wears the lucky bracelet’ and the intricate framing of Harry and his brother for murder, it just seemed stupid. Probably more St Pancras hotel product placement than actual plot. Maybe they sent the writers home after episode nine and just told the actors to wing it.

I ended up feeling bad for Golding. All that intricate manipulation to be left with no clue what he was doing. Instead, he looks like a complete idiot standing by a pool with no idea how to get Harry to kill himself. It made it relatively fitting that he runs off into the shrubbery at the end of the episode. Hang your head in shame Golding. I suppose there is always season two.