Friday, November 09, 2012

Buy my book! 'The Revolution Was Televised' is coming out

Updating the old blog for the first time in a while, just in case anyone comes here and is somehow unaware that I've written a book, "The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever," which looks back at the last 15-odd years of TV drama through the prism of some of the best, most important shows in television history: "The Sopranos," "Oz," "The Wire," "Deadwood," "The Shield," "Lost," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "24," "Battlestar Galactica," "Friday Night Lights," "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad." It's part critical analysis, part history, featuring tons of new interviews with people like David Chase, David Milch, David Simon, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, and more.

The book is already for sale in paperback at Amazon, through Amazon's Kindle store, as an audiobook, for iBooks, for Barnes & Noble's Nook and for Kobo. You can find much more information about the book at alansepinwall.com

I hope you like it. It's a book born out of the writing that started on this blog, so I couldn't have done it without you. If you have any additional questions, you can write to me at sepinwall@hitfix.com Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Where you can find my "The Wire" season 5 reviews

As most of you know, I covered the five seasons of "The Wire" out of order online. I didn't start doing episode-by-episode blogs until the fourth season, so I covered that and season 5 as they aired. Then I looped back around to do season 1 and season 2 on this blog, and when I moved to HitFix, I spent the first summer there covering season 3. Everything is covered, everything is easily linked to, etc., and yet a glitch I've never understood in the Blogspot software means that a few times a month, I have to explain to people where the season 5 reviews are.

For whatever reason, when you click on the link for season 5, it takes you to a page featuring only my series finale review and my post-finale interview with David Simon. Some people know to click on the "Older Posts" link below the Simon interview, and some don't, so to save me some time in the future, I'm making this the first post you'll see when you click on the season 5 link, and I'm including links to all the reviews right here. In order:
Click here to read the full post

Saturday, June 05, 2010

You can find me at HitFix

As mentioned here and here, I've accepted a new job at HitFix.com, and will be covering TV there for the forseeable future. The new blog URL is:

http://hitfix.com/whatsalanwatching

See you there. Click here to read the full post

Friday, June 04, 2010

Where you can go to find my Wire season 3 reviews

Updating an old post for completeness' sake. For a variety of reasons too dull to repeat again, season 3 of "The Wire" is the only year of that show I never covered on this blog, but I'm covering it in my new home at Hitfix. So each week I'll come into this post to add links to find both versions of each reviews, so you'll still be able to find links to every one of my "Wire" reviews in one place. (You can find all the previous reviews along this blog's siderail.) Links coming up after the jump...

• Episode 1, "Time After Time": Newbie version & Veteran version
• Episode 2, "All Due Respect": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 3, "Dead Soldiers": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 4, "Hamsterdam": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 5, "Straight and True": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 6, "Homecoming": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 7, "Back Burners": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 8, "Moral Midgetry": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 9, "Slapstick": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 10, "Reformation": Newbie versionVeteran version
• Episode 11, "Middle Ground": Newbie versionVeteran versionGeorge Pelecanos interview
• Episode 12, "Mission Accomplished": Newbie versionVeteran version


"The Wire" is one of the subjects of Alan Sepinwall's new book, "The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed TV Drama Forever." It includes fresh material, including new interviews with David Simon and the executives at HBO who greenlit the show. For more information and purchasing links, go to AlanSepinwall.com Click here to read the full post

Monday, May 03, 2010

Chuck, "Chuck vs. the Role Models": Lady or the tiger?

A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as I loosely translate your nickname from Bantu...
"Dear God, it's us 30 years ago." -Turner
"Sarah, that's us in 30 years!" -Chuck
In recent years, cable dramas like "The Shield" and "Breaking Bad" have suggested that the 13-episode model of a cable season makes better creative sense than the traditional 22-episode broadcast model. When you have only 13 hours to play with, the argument goes, everything is plotted more tightly, there's no filler, and the cast and crew don't burn themselves out two-thirds of the way through each season.

The odd construction of this season of "Chuck," though, is suggesting that tighter isn't always better.

Going into the year, Schwartz, Fedak and company thought they only had 13 episodes to work with, and nearly all of that was devoted to telling the story of Chuck becoming a real spy, the arrival of Shaw and the war with The Ring. There simply wasn't room for goofy, largely standalone episodes like last season's "Chuck vs. Tom Sawyer" or "Chuck vs. the Best Friend." So if you were on board with the Shaw/Ring story, you were okay, but if you weren't, it was largely that week after week. Now, I liked the Shaw stuff a lot more than some of you, but I was worried about the lack of one-offs even before the season began, and there absence was noticeable as the original 13 went along.

With this bonus mini-season, we're sort of getting those little palate cleansers we otherwise might have gotten earlier in a regularly-planned season, just at the end. Until Ellie's friendly Doctors Without Borders pal was revealed to be a Ring operative in the episode's closing moments, this was the second "Chuck" in a row whose only ongoing elements were largely internal (Chuck and Sarah's relationship, Morgan's assimilation into Team Bartowski).

That's been a nice change of pace, as has the lighter tone of these two, and I suspect the creative team recognized how much better the show is when there's more balance between silly and serious, and between arcs and episodics. And if the show comes back next season, for however many installments, I would hope we see more of that give and take, because I have been having a lot of fun watching these last two.

As I had suspected, Sarah and Chuck as a couple have so far provided plenty of story fodder, as well as plenty of humor. I had long ago accepted that Yvonne Strahovski brought so much else to the table that it didn't matter that Sarah rarely seemed to be funny, but for the second week in a row, Strahovski was bringing the laughs. Sometimes, it was more about the characters around Sarah (Morgan and Sarah living under the same roof already is and should continue to be splendid), but other moments like her withering delivery of "You're not asking me to move in with you again, are you?" were all her.

Beyond Sarah being funny - and in a less blissful situation than we got last week on the train - the episode also gave us a tiger (which Chuck refused to kill because "They are endangered, and majestic!"), plus Casey reluctantly teaching spycraft to Morgan, plus Fred Willard(*) and Swoosie Kurtz as the bickering Turners.

(*) I watched a screener of this episode back-to-back with last week's "Modern Family," also guest-starring Fred Willard. The man is everywhere, and his ubiquity gives me an excuse to once again link to "Wha happen?"

Sometimes, "Chuck" casts guest stars for the iconography of them. Sometimes, with John Larroquette last season and Willard and Kurtz here, it casts them because they're funny. I don't know that I look at those two and automatically think Levi+Strahovski+(30 years x 2), but the two old pros played off each other, and off our regulars, quite nicely. And whether writer Phil Klemmer intended it or not, I like how the Turners' staged bickering tied into the fear some had that Chuck and Sarah together would eventually become a bickering couple with no obvious chemistry. Assuming "Chuck" is still somehow on the air 30 years from now (and we'd have to get some really big flash mobs today for that long an extension, methinks), we can worry about them down the road. Right now, they're doing fine, and "Chuck" is doing fine with them together.

For the second week in a row, we got a lot of Chuck and Sarah in one group of scenes and a lot of Morgan and Casey in another. I don't want this to be a permanent state of affairs - Casey needs to be more present in future missions to show his disgust with Chuck and Sarah's new schmoopiness, and, again, Morgan and Sarah look like a comic combo with a lot of possibilities - but right now it's entertaining to see them have to work together. In the silly world of "Chuck," the idea that neither Chuck nor Morgan would ever have to undergo any kind of real spy/combat training is about middle of the pack on the implausibility meter. But in watching the scenes with General Beckman, I get the sense that she has no expectations of Morgan ever amounting to anything; she's just making Casey suffer for forcing her to ever have to deal with the little bearded one. And that's amusing to me - as is Casey's attempt to balance his growing respect for Morgan ("Semper Fi-Dizzle!") with his public persona and usual hatred of nerds, dorks and geeks.

With Awesome again crossing paths with someone from The Ring (is this the third time this season? fifth?), it looks like we're heading back to both more serialized and more serious storytelling in the weeks to come. And that's okay, as I've loved a lot of the darker moments of seasons two and three. I just want there to be a balance, which we're finally getting during this little victory lap of season three.

Some other thoughts:

• This week in "Chuck" pop culture references: Morgan's dream sequence at the beginning was a riff on the opening credits to "Hart to Hart," a late '70s/early '80s detective show about a super-suave married couple who were still sexy and sleuthy in middle age. (Chuck should aspire to be more like Robert Wagner and less like Fred Willard.) Morgan once again talks about learning about guns through "Call of Duty" (then turns out to be inept with the real thing), and I suppose you could call the bad guy (played by Hey, It's That Creep! Udo Kier) keeping a tiger with a fancy collar a riff on Blofeld (who had a much smaller cat) from the James Bond movies.

• This week in "Chuck" music: songs tonight included Mel Torme's "Comin' Home Baby," Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby" and Miike Snow's "Sans Soleil."

• Unexpected quasi-trend: last week's "Cougar Town" had a running gag about Courteney Cox and her friends gathering to watch her son sleep, and here Big Mike complains to Morgan that he doesn't like anyone watching him sleep. We need one more for a full trend, people!

• With Morgan essentially filling the role Chuck had two seasons ago, I liked seeing Morgan and Chuck's collar-stealing attempts intercut with one another.

• Awesome and Ellie's story in the Congo was largely about setting up whatever's coming next with The Ring, but I thought Ryan McPartlin did a great job of showing Devon being so charming and reassuring with Ellie as he promised her a date night under the stars. Truly, he is Dr. Super Fantastic White Person.

Finally, as mentioned several times (including this morning), this is the last review that's going to be posted to this site before I move to HitFix.com tomorrow. I'll be blogging about the rest of season 3, and a lot of other shows, and hopefully "Chuck" season 4, so please come early and come often. Though the timing was largely accidental, it feels kind of right to say goodbye to this home with "Chuck," doesn't it?

What did everybody else think?
Click here to read the full post

Only the beginning

Today's the last day at these old digs. Tomorrow, I move to HitFix, and with that comes one final blog logo featuring the four shows that largely defined my time here with the Blogger site. I kept trying to find a way to squeeze in Tony reading The Star-Ledger, but since "The Sopranos" was in its final days when the blog began, I decided to give him the big picture here and go with "The Wire," "Chuck," "Lost" and "Mad Men" for the last logo.

Still a full day to go here, including whatever news happened, plus tonight's "Chuck" as the final review of this iteration of the blog. Then we move in the morning to HitFix. But before I go, I wanted to look back over the last 4 and a half years at the blog, as well as looking ahead a bit to the new place...

As I've said before, I started out writing about TV online with the "NYPD Blue" website, and nearly a decade into my time at The Star-Ledger, I missed the immediacy of that interaction, as well as the ability to write about shows after they'd aired (when I could discuss all the juicy stuff) rather than before (when I'd have to be wary of spoiling anything). NJ.com was still experiencing a lot of growing pains at the time, and I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to the idea long-term, so on October 7, 2005, so I started the site here on Blogger as an experiment. I figured I'd try it out, see if I liked the process, and also see if anyone but the friends I'd e-mailed the link to might ever find me and care to keep reading.

If you go back and look at those early posts from 2005, the blog then bore little resemblance to what it became. No pictures, no spoiler protection after the jump (and therefore no "just as soon as"), nearly everything done in a grab-bag format where I talked about multiple shows at once, and very few comments - and all of those from my friends.

The outside world began to discover the place on a fluke: while looking over NBC's schedule for the January 2006 TCA press tour, I noticed Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme were listed as panelists for the "West Wing" farewell session, and I threw up a quick post noting this. It turned out to be an error - someone told me later that no one at NBC had even asked Sorkin or Schlamme about it at that point - but somehow, that story got picked up, the link spread around, and suddenly the blog had a small but growing - and smart - audience.

As you guys began to find me, I in turn began to find my way in blogging, and the site slowly but surely evolved into what you see today. People complained about being spoiled on the main page, and I figured out how to hide the bulk of each post on the jump. I noticed that posts dealing with one show at a time tended to get far more comments than the grab bags, and so I began doing more and more of those. And beyond that, I saw that the deeper I went into discussing episodes - moving past the simple "I liked this"/"I didn't like this" of the blog's early days into discussing not only why I liked things, but what I thought they meant - the deeper in turn your comments got, and I started trying to apply the depth and breadth of my "Sopranos" Rewind columns to lots of other shows. When I got bored with summer TV one year and suggested that instead we all watch and discuss "Freaks and Geeks" on DVD, a lot of you went along with me, paving the way for later summer DVD projects, including the early seasons of "The Wire" (with Season 3 coming up in June on HitFix).

Along the way there have been some great highs (the David Chase interview, Ben Silverman telling me I saved "Chuck") and some weird lows (the "Chuck"pocalypse, overwrought discussion of "SNL" in the fall of 2008 leading to the No Politics rule), but the good has vastly outweighed the bad. This blog rekindled my interest in a job I'd been doing for a very long time, and it taught me how to do it in a new way. And I thank all of you for helping me figure that out.

As I said last week, the goal is for as little to change as possible at HitFix, with shows moving in and out of the rotation based on my level of interest (and time). The blog URL, once again, is http://hitfix.com/whatsalanwatching, while the new RSS feed will be at http://www.hitfix.com/blogs/whats-alan-watching.rss. As before, I'll also be using my Twitter account to tweet links to new posts as they go up.

I know some of you in the last week have expressed concern about the design and functionality of HitFix versus this place. Just know that every issue you've raised is one that I'd already thought of, and in turn most of those were ones that Team HitFix was already aware of and working on when I asked about them. (And a few of them may be addressed/solved by the time I put my first real post up there tomorrow.) Because you guys are so valuable to the experience of both reading and writing What's Alan Watching?, I want the new site to be as user-friendly as this one was. I would just ask for your patience, and if you have a specific concern, feel free to e-mail me at sepinwall@hitfix.com.

End of one era today, start of what I hope will be an awesome new one tomorrow. Hope you can come along with me.
Click here to read the full post

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Treme, "At the Foot of Canal Street": The out-of-towners

A review of tonight's "Treme" coming up just as soon as my coffee drink is comped on behalf of my overwhelming righteousness...
"But New Orleans is still my home!" -Antoine
On "The Wire," David Simon was fond of illustrating a thematic point by having characters in very different social circles experience the same kind of event: McNulty and D'Angelo getting chewed out by middle management in the series pilot, or Namond and Clay Davis espousing the same philosophy about free money. With "At the Foot of Canal Street," Simon and company - here with "Wire" alum George Pelecanos scripting a story he wrote with Eric Overmyer - are doing parallel play again, as we see Antoine, Sonny and Delmond all traveling out of town for different reasons.

Antoine is a son of New Orleans, through and through. Born there, raised there, with no interest in going anywhere else (though perhaps he'd feel differently had his musical career gone differently), he has to be goaded repeatedly by Ladonna just to take the bus to Baton Rouge to see their sons, and even then he mainly goes for the promise of free dentistry from Larry.

Delmond is a son of the city, too, but a prodigal one. Never invested in his father's Indian traditions, or the city's music, he got out as quick as he could, and as he tells his manager, while he's from New Orleans, he doesn't play New Orleans. He has a girlfriend in New York (one of several, it would appear), and would be happy to never go back were it not for family or professional obligations.

Sonny's no son of New Orleans, but he wishes he was. He tells everyone, including Annie, that he dreamed his whole life of living there and playing that music. But a year and a half into living his dream, he's still basically on the outside looking in: a street musician always playing in the shadow of his more talented partner. So he journeys to Houston, hoping to be more accepted in the world of New Orleans expatriates than he's been in the city itself.

Ultimately, each man's trip away from New Orleans is only so satisfying. Antoine's time in Baton Rouge prepares him for a permanent solution to his embouchure problem, but the bridge he builds with his sons is only temporary at best; even he can recognize how guarded they are around him after so many years of disappointment. Sonny's fantasy of acceptance only lasts as long as it takes the band leader to spot another, more accomplished keyboard player in the crowd. And while Delmond has access to the finest in New York culture, he finds that professionally, he has to tie himself back to his home city to succeed.

Antoine happily returns to New Orleans. Sonny's trip back is more mixed - Houston didn't quite work out, and he returns to see Annie thriving without him - but at least he takes pleasure in bringing the Houston bouncer along with him, and introducing another outsider to the city he loves. And Delmond isn't going back yet, nor does he seem particularly eager to go.

In the wake of the storm, many natives had to leave the city, and many of them never returned. "Treme" is focusing on either the ones who never left or the ones who found a way back, but "At the Foot of Canal Street" provides a brief glimpse of three worlds that many New Orleanians found themselves in after Katrina.

Speaking of leaving town, Delmond's scenes in New York had to be filmed out of production order, which means I got this episode very late in the process. In the interest of getting the review done in time for posting after it airs, let's deal with everything else bullet point-style:

• I'm sure Baton Rouge has many fine independent restaurants, but of course Antoine's kids would have fallen in love with Friday's and The Olive Garden, wouldn't they?

• Ladonna does Antoine a good turn, largely for the sake of those boys, but you see in the trip back to the jail to confront her brother's impersonator that she is not to be messed with. Khandi Alexander beautifully portrays the character's soft and harsh sides, doesn't she?

• Once again, please go read Dave Walker at the Times-Picayune for his weekly explanations of all things New Orleans on "Treme." I'm sure he will have much to say on the notion of the lagniappe.

• As Dave has written about in the past, many of the characters on "Treme" are based on real-life New Orleanians. Much of Creighton's character in general and his YouTube rant in particular come from the late blogger Ashley Morris, for instance. Delmond, meanwhile, owes quite a bit to Donald Harrison Jr., who was also the son of a Mardi Gras Indian chief and left the city to play jazz from a different school. What's interesting, though, is that it appears Delmond will be touring with Harrison (who already played alongside Delmond in the pilot episode); I'll be curious to see if the two characters bond over their shared past, or if Harrison will mainly be there to play music while Delmond lives out a fictionalized version of his story.

• Anwan Glover returns as the fake Daymo, and we get two other "Wire" alums in small guest roles: Jim True-Frost (aka Prez) as Delmond's manager, and Steve Earle (aka Bubbs' sponsor Walon, and also the singer of the season 5 theme song) as one of Annie's musician friends (the other was played by Earle's son, Justin Townes Earle). And unlike most of the other famous musicians who wander through this show, Earle isn't playing himself.

• Darius and his aunt Lula return, and things seem to be setting up nicely for Albert to take the kid under his wing to teach him some combination about life, contracting work, and Indian tribes. With Lorenzo leaving town and Delmond never showing an interest, Albert's got to have someone to pass this stuff on to - just as the writers need a novice character for him to explain the culture to, the way Lester had Prez on "The Wire." (Also nice to see that Albert is just as gracious with the ladies as Cool Lester Smooth.)

• I thought it was a nice touch that the insurance salesman understood what a horrible thing he was doing to Albert and so many customers like him, and that he acknowledged it a bit by explaining that he sleeps at night by drinking.

• I was waiting to see if or when the show would address Michiel Husiman's slight Dutch accent, and here Sonny talks about growing up in Amsterdam. (And his friends, in turn, allow Pelecanos to throw in a joking nod to the Hamsterdam story from "Wire" season 3.)

• Though Creighton has plenty of venom for the rest of America, he seems to be softening just a bit towards Davis, doesn't he? He gives him a ride back to his busted car, empathizes with him about the stolen instruments - and the diminished nature of lagniappe - and looks like he can relate as Davis goes to town on the inflatable lawn display.

• Janette, on the other hand, has far less patience for Davis as things go from bad to worse at the restaurant, and then as he turns his attention from her troubles to appearing to flirt with Annie at the bar. And as with McNulty poring over tidal charts on "The Wire," this show isn't afraid to spend long portions of episodes just watching characters work in (near) silence, here with Davis composing his political "pot for potholes" song.

• Very funny reaction from Rob Brown after Delmond's girlfriend pretends to spot Janet at the party.

Finally, in case you've missed the news, this is the last "Treme" review I'll be doing before I relocate to HitFix.com. I'll still be reviewing every episode there the exact way I did here, so just change your bookmarks accordingly.

What did everybody else think?
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Breaking Bad, "One Minute": The magic bullet

A review of tonight's insanely great "Breaking Bad" (aka The Best Show on TV Right Now) coming up just as soon as I look like a TV weatherman...
"I'm just not the man I thought I was." -Hank
Um...

uh...

um...

WOW.

Sorry, just need another minute to pick my jaw up off the floor after that.

What an incredible, bananas finish to the strongest episode yet of this third season. As written by "Breaking Bad" newcomer Thomas Schnauz (another of many "X-Files" vets Vince Gilligan has brought in) and directed by Michelle MacLaren (who joined the staff full-time after last season's gorgeous "4 Days Out"), the parking lot climax was a perfect model of suspense filmmaking. We'd already been primed all episode to fear that the Cousins could hit Hank at any moment (every time the elevator doors opened, I know I gripped my armrest), but then to have someone(*) warn Hank ahead of time kicked things up several levels. Suddenly, we and Hank were in the same mindset, looking around every corner, jumping at shadows (and/or men with squeegees), waiting for the two men to come and wondering if an unarmed Hank possibly had a chance against those two unrelenting figures of death.

(*) So, is there anyone it could have been other than Gus? Gus clearly wanted the Cousins the hell out of his territory, and I can see him warning Hank in the hopes that he might be lucky enough to take them out - or, at least, to bloody them enough that they'd have to re-cross the border in a hurry rather than hanging around in the hopes of also killing Walt. Other than Mike making the call on Gus's behalf, there doesn't seem to be a character in a position to know or do anything about the planned hit. For that matter, I'm not sure how even Gus would have known that Hank had roughly a minute to act, but I'll accept that he could for the sake of what that call added to the scene.

In many ways, the parking lot shootout evoked the failed hit on Tony Soprano from the end of "Sopranos" season one, down to the use of an SUV as a weapon. But I'd argue this scene one-upped that. Violence on "The Sopranos" always had something of a black comic tinge to it (the lead-up to the hit is Tony wandering around in a depressed stupor, and the hitmen were introduced in a scene played for laughs because of Uncle Junior hiding in the back of a car), and these guys didn't have the kind of mythical build-up the Cousins got. And on top of that, Tony Soprano was the star of the show, and it wouldn't work with him dead, whereas "Breaking Bad" would miss Hank but could easily continue without him. So the danger was far more real even without the Cousin factor.

In the end, though Hank is tough and resourceful, he won the only way anyone could against these two: through luck. He was warned in advance and was still in his car. Leonel's(**) gun also happened to fall right where Hank could reach it, and Marco conveniently had an extra, special bullet in his jacket pocket courtesy of the friendly gun dealer, and the duo's flair for the dramatic gave Hank just enough time to find the bullet on the ground and load it and shoot out the back of Marco's skull before the shiny ax could finish its backswing.

(**) Nice of the show to finally give the Cousins names - and a backstory - right before Hank killed one and either crippled or killed the other. The flashback with a middle-aged Tio at the height of his powers was chilling in its portrait of the culture those two grew up in. With Don Salamanca as the dominant male in their lives, and giving them "lessons" like that one, is there any wonder how they grew up to be these two unflappable killing machines? Note also that Leonel, the one who as a boy cries over Marco's destruction of his toy, is the one who's now hardcore enough to tell the other to finish the job rather than staying to help him. Tio made him that way.

But here's the thing: even without those crazy final minutes, "One Minute" still would have been one of the best "Breaking Bad"s to date.

What an amazing showcase for both Aaron Paul (who seems a lock to repeat his Emmy nomination next year, and possibly to win it if he submits this episode) and Dean Norris (who sure deserves to join Paul, but may not in what's always a crowded category).

Hank's beatdown of Jesse brings both men to a crossroads. Having lost his girlfriend, his partner, and now his source of income in the RV, Jesse finally tumbles over the abyss after Hank puts him in the hospital. Acting with half his face hidden by some really convincing prosthetics, Paul showed us a Jesse even colder and angrier than he was in his "I'm the bad guy" phase earlier this season, giving a riveting monologue(***) about all the ways he intended to punish Hank - and the way he'd drag Walt down with him if the DEA came after him.

(***) If the parking lot scene reminded me of "The Sopranos," Jesse's speech was like a more controlled version of Al Capone's speech from "The Untouchables" about what he wanted done to Elliott Ness.

But when Walt returns to Jesse's hospital room later in the episode to try to save his former brother-in-law, Jesse's evil calm is replaced by raw, unbridled pain, as he unloads on Walt with the laundry list of all the ways his life has gotten worse since Mr. White came back into his life. These are words Walt has needed to hear for a long time now - to have someone he can't tune out explain how toxic he's become to everyone in his life - and it's to Walt's credit that he already seemed aware of this after first seeing Jesse's ruined face. When he chews out Gale for screwing up the temperature, it comes in part from his need to feel superior to others (he does this shortly after Gale starts working two steps ahead of him), but also clearly out of guilt for what he saw happen to his previous lab assistant. Walt is a monster, but there's enough humanity left in him to recognize the pain he's caused, and the debts he owes, and so he manages to talk Gus(****) into letting him fire Gale and bring Jesse into the Walt-cave.

(****) And Gus's willingness to go along with that plan torpedoes my theory that he was using Gale to appropriate Walt's methods and then say goodbye to the loose cannon. It's entirely possible he still has that in mind (maybe the Walt-cave is tricked out with surveillance gear?), but could Gus have far grander plans for Walt that extend past the initial three month agreement?

And in the wake of putting Jesse in the hospital and his own career on life-support, Hank finally lets himself open up to Marie. Getting back to my fear of the elevator doors, when Hank got on the elevator the first time with Marie, I was expecting Cousins and was then floored to see husband and wife sobbing in each other's arms (and amused to see them completely composed by the time the doors opened on the ground floor, because there are some things Hank Schrader will not show the world). Even better than that scene, though, was Hank getting ready for his hearing with OPR, where he talked about his PTSD (in terms he could use), and about how much he's been struggling since he killed Tuco.

So here's what I wonder: the shootout with Tuco is what started Hank down this mentally unhealthy road, and the exploding turtle made things worse, but he finally seemed to be at peace by the time he left the DEA field office, knowing he'd probably lost his job but wouldn't go to jail. Now that he's barely survived a horrific ordeal, seen more people killed in front of him (and because of him) and killed one or two more himself, what happens? Does Hank's psyche shut down on him again, or does knowing he overcame two unbelievable bad-asses give him a new sense of invulnerability? And will this give him a road back into the DEA? Surely, the Cousins are in a law-enforcement database somewhere, and the man who took them out is about to become a legend - and someone who perhaps might be put back on the trail of Heisenberg.

It certainly makes sense for the show to have Walt being pursued by a (former) family member, but how will Hank (and Marie) cope with being thrust back into this violent world right when it looked like he was out for good? And now that Hank has taken out three members of the Salamanca family, will the cartel be even hotter for his blood, or might they want to stay far away from the brewer of Schraderbrau?

Damn, damn, damn that was good.

Some other thoughts:

• Of course the only thing Walt could tell Jesse to heal their rift was that his meth was good. That was all Jesse wanted to hear when he showed the stuff to Walt in the high school parking lot - really, it's all he's wanted to hear from the guy since the partnership began. Jesse (whose parents have cast him out) needs a surrogate father even more than Walt (who has a good relationship with Walter Jr.) needs a surrogate son.

• As Hank beat on Jesse and asked how Jesse knew his cell phone number and wife's name, I began to worry that Walt took things too far with that gambit. I understand why Hank has blinders on about Walt, but sooner or later, he has to make the math work, doesn't he?

• Note that the Tio/Cousins flashback also included Tio on the phone discussing the start of the cartel's business relationship with Gus, whom Tio dismissively refers to as "The Chicken Man."

• Saul had a few good funny lines at Jesse's expense (comparing him to Rocky, then Ringo), but the scene in the hallway - shot, appropriately, in half-darkness - where he started preparing Walt for the idea of killing Jesse was a reminder that this guy is not a joke.

• Hands up: who would be happy to go to their local supermarket and buy a "Breaking Bad" brand pre-made PB&J sandwich, cut up Walt-style?

• A few years back I was in a car accident where I broke several ribs, and I am very familiar with that pain assessment chart. After Jesse's half-face stared at it, I may never think of that thing the same way again.

Finally, in case you've missed the news, this is the last "Breaking Bad" review I'll be doing before I relocate to HitFix.com. I'll still be reviewing every episode here the exact way I did here, so just change your bookmarks accordingly.

What did everybody else think?
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The Pacific, "Part Eight": Jarhead in love

A review of tonight's "The Pacific" coming up just as soon as I make a table appear out of thin air...

After three harrowing episodes focusing on Sledge's time on Peleliu, "The Pacific" takes a sharp right turn, leaving Sledge and Snafu behind for a bit (other than a brief cameo at the top of the episode) to spend the hour on John Basilone, who hasn't been a major part of the miniseries for a month.

I can see how that would be jarring to some. "The Pacific" has been a more sprawling, less tightly-focused miniseries than "Band of Brothers" was, but that's been by design, as the creative team has tried to show a broader picture of the Pacific theater than they did of the Atlantic. So that means not only bouncing from character to character as we cover different island conflicts - here with Basilone being killed during the early hours of the Iwo Jima invasion - but also showing how different kinds of characters were affected by the war.

Where Sledge was a naive kid emotionally unprepared for what he saw on Peleliu, and where Leckie was a cynic and iconoclast, Basilone was a career military man (first in the Army, then the Marines) who knew what he was getting into when he went to war, and had no regrets about the fighting, the command structure, or any other part of being in the Corps. Given the man that we saw in the early episodes, and the brief, frustrated glimpses we got of him on his war bond tour, it's not a surprise that Basilone would have declined promotion, a cushy detail or an outright discharge in favor of going back into action. But it was still moving to watch his journey, from bored and out-of-shape celebrity to misunderstood drill sergeant to inspiring leader of men, and to see that even though he didn't survive Iwo Jima, he was every bit as brave and resourceful there as he was on Guadalcanal.

But this hour is as much the story of Lena Riggi as it is of Basilone.

Unlike Stella, Leckie's Australian girlfriend Stella from the third episode, Riggi was entirely real: the woman Basilone fell for, courted and married before shipping back out to the Pacific. So where Stella ultimately was more symbol than character, Riggi gets to be both a stand-in for the many women who lost loved ones in the war as well as her own person, well-played by Annie Parisse in a nice romantic duet with Jon Seda. While the story hit some familiar war movie beats (Basilone and Riggi even huddle up on a wave-swept beach in a scene evoking the iconic kiss in "From Here to Eternity"), the idea of them as kindred spirits - fellow non-coms who feel most at home in the military, and who fully understand the dangers and responsibilities that come with the uniform and the stripes - made it feel unique to them, and compelling.

Now, by the time Basilone pushed his superiors to let him be a regular Marine again, a lot of time had passed since Guadalcanal. Other famous heroes of the war had emerged, and while Basilone still didn't have to buy himself a drink anywhere he went, it's understandable that one of the two young men who form the foundation of Basilone's new squad wouldn't have heard of him, and that both might at first think the hero of Guadalcanal was overdoing it in training them.

But as we see when everyone lands on Iwo Jima (in another Hell-on-earth sequence to rival the airfield crossing on Peleliu), Basilone knew what he was doing, both in terms of training the men and in terms of what he'd need to do to survive. That he died doesn't mean he was wrong - as he told JP back in the second episode, life and death in battle is often a matter of luck and inches - and even in the moments leading to his death, he was still thinking clearly, helping others and not blinking in the face of an unbelievable onslaught.

And for all his heroism and celebrity, the final shot of the Iwo Jima sequence - with the camera pulling up to show Basilone lying among so many other dead men - was a potent reminder of the hundreds upon thousands of less famous Americans died under similar circumstances to the great John Basilone, and how many of them left their own version of Lena behind.

Some other thoughts:

• When Google is not your friend: after Anna Torv turned up in the fifth episode as Virginia Grey, I decided to do some web-searching to find out more about the real Grey. One of my first stops was her IMDb biography, which told me, "During her participation in WWII bond drives, she developed a close relationship with John Basilone, US Marine Medal of Honor winner, who was later killed on Iwo Jima." Whoops. And that, boys and girls, is one of the reasons I've been so strict about trying to avoid spoiling the fates of Basilone, Sledge and Leckie.

• There are, of course, many books about John Basilone. The one I've been perusing for background detail has been James Brady's new one.

• I liked how the gravel falling on Basilone's face after he was shot resembled the pencil shavings that go flying throughout the miniseries' opening credits sequence.

What did everybody else think?
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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Doctor Who, "Victory of the Daleks": Cookie, monster

A quick review of tonight's "Doctor Who" coming up just as soon as I enjoy a nice biscuit...

Perhaps because I came to the series with the Russell Davies reboot, I've never much cared for the Daleks, and in particular have grown frustrated in how frequently the series appears to kill the entire race off, only to bring them back almost immediately. So I was especially disappointed that Steven Moffat felt compelled to do this again, only three episodes into his tenure.

There were some fun things on the side of "Victory of the Daleks" - The Doctor's friendship with Winston Churchill, British Spitfires turned into space ships(*), The Doctor and Amy helping Bracewell embrace his programmed humanity - but the only portion of the episode tied directly to the Daleks that I found myself interested in was Amy not remembering the events of "The Stolen Earth." I'm assuming that will be part of the season-long arc with the cracks in the universe (which once again appeared as the TARDIS was leaving, making me wonder if The Doctor is somehow causing the cracks).

(*) Last week, there was some discussion of Moffat starting to incorporate a lot of specifically American references into this most British of shows, and here I saw a couple more of those: the Spitfire assault on the Dalek ship looked very much like the climax of "Independence Day," and of course the Union Jack gets raised like the American flag at Iwo Jima. Hmmm... On the other hand, Moffat's understandable Scottish pride continues, not just with Karen Gillan's awesome pronunciation of "Dalek," but the casting of Bracewell as a Scotsman.

Hopefully, the stupid pepperpots - now in their United Colors of Benetton look - will go away for quite a while so Moffat can focus on other things.

Keeping in mind that we are NOT going to discuss episodes that have yet to air here in America, what did everybody else think?
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