Maddox Beck, eco-warrior, and presumed-dead member of terrorist group The Front, thinks there are too many people on the planet, and has stolen a 700-year-old painting which, when viewed under a certain light, contains coded directions to the whereabouts of a virulent strain of pneumonic plague which he wants to weaponize and release. So far, so Alias, and fortuitously in tune with current events, although luckily for the producers’ location shooting budget the painting points Beck no further than an ancient crypt in Staten Island, followed closely by the Blacklist taskforce. When they get there, though, the ancient bones containing the plague virus have been moved, but whoever moved them has left some cryptic markings.
Much as I love The Blacklist, there are times when the fundamental stupidity of the premise does get to me, and this week had a couple of examples, I’m afraid. I could just about live with Aram deducting in a matter of seconds how a few centuries-old scratches on a tombstone led inevitably to a church in New York (“Cubits!”) because one of the strengths of The Blacklist is the speed of its storytelling. But what happened thereafter was just willfully absurd: facing an eco-terrorist holding an existential threat to humankind, do you perhaps surround the church with hundreds, if not thousands, of highly-trained operatives? Nope; once again you send two people into the field, one with PTSD, one a trained profiler with extensive but secret links to a supercriminal, and you make damn sure that they get separated so that one of them can be cracked over the head.
Well, you know how the rest of this plays out – virus, quarantine, antidote, major character infected. And not only is Red blithely using the taskforce to do his dirty work – he seizes a key from a Beck acolyte which we will no doubt find out more about in due course – he’s now sufficiently relaxed to be able to recruit one of them to perform some personal inquiries for him as well. Doesn’t anyone care about that?
Actually, this week I liked the backstory more: having Red wait in line at the DMV in order to speak to the person tracking “the girl” – his daughter or someone else? – was both amusing and cynical; his interaction with Aram (becoming more and more valuable to the show by the week) was inspired; Keen using a lookalike to divert and unsettle the bodyguard allocated to her by Red was well done; and yes, dammit, I still want to know what’s behind that door. Next week, apparently. Equally welcome were the intrusions of emotion: Keen confiding that, yes, she does feel a twinge of jealousy about Red’s pursuit of “the girl”; and right at the end the first twinklings of a proper Blacklist ship. Perhaps not the one that some of us have been waiting for, and perhaps – how can I put this – not entirely colour-blind, but nonetheless quite nice.
Once again with the soldiers. There’s a Navy SEAL serving in Afghanistan – or, as Grover puts it, “defending our country” – when his seven-year-old daughter is kidnapped from school. Not that he knows about it, because he’s on a secret mission, and Steve and Danny can’t find out what it is or where he is because it’s a secret. It’s also a piece of misdirection, as it happens, but it does mean that we can salute the brave American soldier one more time. Oorah. Has there ever been a show that isn’t actually about military service which holds it in such high, almost fetishistic esteem?
Now, we know that a TV kidnapping isn’t just going to be for money – it never is – so we need identity and motive. And to trace the kidnapper the family needs to do the usual things when he phones – keep him on the line, tell him you’re getting the money together but need more time, ask for proof of life, and so on. You know, I think I could run one of these investigations by now, particularly as the casting of (MODERATELY BIG TV STAR) and (MODERATELY BIG TV STAR) as two of the characters would immediately alert me that the motive would have something to do with them, and so it proves.
There’s a nod of the head to Jerry’s subplot, and a bit more than that to Danny’s – Bad Dude has Danny’s brother, and will exchange him for the $18.5m he says Danny’s brother owes him. At the moment, the only way I can see this becoming interesting is if Danny goes rogue to raise the money and doesn’t tell Steve about it. A solid, routine episode all round, then: OK, but nothing like as good as last week’s insane drone-fest.
Women In The Workplace Watch: Kono gets to interview schoolfriends of the kidnapped girl, presumably because she has a uterus. It’s already looking as if this season might be a bonanza for anyone who thought that season 4 gave us just too damn much of Kono.
This week, Jill and pals take a break from sex games and stealing religious symbols to try a little suffocation instead, taking turns to be shut up inside an old fridge for as long as they can bear/survive it. My God. My idea of taking a risk at that age was back-combing my fringe.
Dweeb or not, though, I have no interest in ever experiencing for myself the sheer horror of the moment when the handle of the fridge breaks off, with Jill trapped inside….. My GOD. It’s a terrific scene, with Jill’s terror mirroring the increasing panic of her friends (and me) outside until REDACTED turns up and… EH?! I was as surprised as Jill was, but this arresting sequence captures perfectly both Jill and friends’ appetite for self-destruction and the nagging suspicion that maybe REDACTED, mad though he is, might actually know a lot more about what’s going on than all the sane folk.
Chief Kevin is certainly struggling to differentiate fantasy from reality. His dreams are getting even weirder, he can’t remember adopting the aggressive dog tied up in the backyard and he’s beginning – at last – to get a little wary around Amy. There have been little hints over the past few weeks that she has less than platonic intentions toward him, but they’ve been a bit more ambiguous till now; this week both Jill and Kevin seem acutely, legitimatel, suspicious of her hanging round him, and her attitude towards Kevin’s relationship with Nora is definitely a warning flag.
Said relationship with Nora continues to be lovely, mind you. Their cute little chat in the car, Nora’s awesome dismissal of the GR…. it’s all so sweet. And then it all turns very HBO, if you know what I mean – this is not a show for the shy.
As Kevin tries to balance his suddenly flourishing love life with his nutty family one, however – the magazine thing is very Lost-ish – stepson Tom has troubles of his own, with the BEST development in the Holy Wayne/baby story ever. It’s not a huge surprise, but it’s still a shock, and it suddenly makes that storyline several thousand times more interesting. Hurrah! I’m running out of ways to say it but “Solace for Tired Feet” was another superb episode of one of the best shows on the box. Once again, I loved it.
I can’t imagine I would ever tire of seeing Sally in religious mania mode (“Yum yum, crispy piggy! Yum yum!”). She’s decided to use the forthcoming Presidential debate to confess to the nation about her murder of Daniel Douglas. Normally, that sort of thing would be pretty good for her opponents; not this time, though, because there are too many people in on the cover-up. So Fitz is asked by Olivia to provide Sally with a sign from God by throwing the debate, which seems unlikely because he’s in sparkling form during rehearsals. (I also can’t imagine I would ever tire of seeing Mellie play Sally in a mock Presidential debate.) As a backup, Jake puts a sniper in the studio to ensure that if Sally looks like grassing herself up she won’t be allowed to.
A Presidential debate in which all of the candidates are murderers and there’s a gun trained on one of them: that’s what I watch Scandal for. That and Cyrus finding out that James is Publica, then begging for forgiveness. On the other hand, I don’t really watch for Quinn’s career problems, so the episode sags a little in the middle.
And on top of that, I was actually getting distracted by the way in which the actors seemed, quite deliberately, to be mimicking each other. To start with of course all of the characters speak in the patented Shondaland way to speak this way your sentences have to run into each other before a. Random caesura. But this week it’s more than that: Leo is now more or less impersonating Cyrus; Quinn is trying to be Olivia. And, most of all, Jake is channelling Rowan once again: as well as a back-off-little-man warning to Cyrus, the episode is topped and tailed with his explanation of how B-613 starts to take over your life, leading to – well, something of a dramatic development in the Daniel Douglas story, and presumably to a major character being “written out”. ‘No Sun On The Horizon’ wasn’t Scandal at its best, but it certainly had its moments.
First, a confession. I had myself convinced for some reason that the 28th was a Wednesday and The Flash would therefore make its UK debut at 8pm on Sky 1 tonight. The 28th was, of course, a Tuesday, however, which means that The Flash started last night and I’m an idiot who can’t read a calendar. Episode 1 is going to be repeated at 7.30pm on Sunday, though, and it’s also on Sky Go so you can still catch the “high-speed adventures of the fastest man alive” if you so wish. Based on the comic-book character – like just about every tv show and 3/4 of the movies these days – it’s a spin-off from the Arrow stable, it’s doing great business for the CW and advance reports (and unpopculter e) suggest it’s silly but lots of fun. I’ll check out ep 1 and report back in due course.
Talking of Arrow, meanwhile, the green-clad Batman-adjacent vigilante also swings back into action himself this week as season 3 kicks off on Sky 1 tomorrow (Thursday) at 8pm. On the basis of the appalling pilot a couple of years ago, I had thought Arrow might be the worst tv show in the world, but people absolutely love it so I went back recently and tried a few season 2 eps and…. it’s not the worst show in the world. I still think the flashbacks are the pits (Oliver’s wigs – OMG) and Oliver’s secret identity is so blindingly obvious that everyone in the country, let alone everyone in Starling City, should know it by now. But Oliver’s tech whizz Felicity is charming, their relationship is UBER-shippable, and it’s developed into perfectly watchable stuff, if a little bogged down by Oliver’s endless angst and everybody trying to take over Queen Consolidated – the Meade Publications of DC TV shows – all the time. Anyway, I’m not a regular viewer so I’m unlikely to be even an occasional reviewer but if you’re at a loose end, you could do a lot worse than try an ep. Fastforward through the flashbacks, though. Life is TOO short.
And finally on the genre front (for this week, anyway), we have another tv spin-off in the form of Dominion, starting on Syfy UK at 10pm tomorrow. A sort-of-sequel to 2010 film Legion, it’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy series about humanity being under attack from angels. Yes, you read that right. In fairness, Giles from Buffy, Jim Robinson from Neighbours/Caleb from Ugly Betty/Alan Dale from every tv show ever made and, er, Louise from Hollyoaks are all in it, so that’s something. But on the other hand, it’s had some truly terrible reviews (our own e being one of the many unimpressed) and the trailer – the trailer looks really bad, you guys. Really bad. If I can bring myself to try it, I’ll let you know…
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, the final episode in season 2, encapsulated the strengths and weaknesses of this excellent but inconsistent show. The main selling point continues to be the relationship between Bill and Ginny: as they worked towards curing Bill’s impotence, they grappled with the unpleasant possibility of being professionally bested by Dr Kaufman, author of the inferior ‘Man And Sex’, and of seeing a sanitised version of their own research broadcast on CBS. Even by Bill’s standards, his tactics to avoid the latter are breathtakingly selfish, earning him a rebuke from an old friend making a welcome return to the show. And they might cost Ginny her children, even if that’s a storyline I otherwise find it hard to get too worked up about.
The subplots, though, continued to disappoint. Libby’s continuing relationship with Robert still seemed as if it arose because of a desire to do something with Libby, and to do something about race. Hey presto: Libby and an African-American. (Although we did find out that Libby has known about Bill and Ginny for years.) And turning the tables so that Flo is reluctant to be seen publicly with Austin, because she thinks her family will regard him as a blond airhead, was a neat trick, but probably no more than that. (It also left unaddressed the potentially more interesting issue of whether Austin’s sudden willingness to hang with Flo was because of personal ambition, or because he likes her.) I’m probably being inconsistent, though, because even though the idea of Lester and Barbara fixing each other through love is melodramatic and manipulative, I found it sweet and touching.
So: overall, a good if mixed episode, ending a good if occasionally variable season. It’s that which stops Masters of Sex from being promoted to the TV premier league: the show didn’t quite make the leap that, say, The Americans made between its first two seasons. Still, the fact that we live in an age when something as daring, intelligent, thoughtful, and well-acted as Masters of Sex isn’t even close to being the best thing on TV is something to give thanks for, and “Fight” was one of the best episodes of anything I’m likely to see all year.
Something about a secret society seeking immortality by possessing other people’s bodies, BBC America’s Intruders could either be very scary or very silly, with a decent chance of being both. Reviews haven’t been kind, but John Simm and Mira Sorvino are amongst the cast and it’s only eight 45 minute episodes – if you want to give it a go, the series kicks off on BBC2 at 9pm tonight (Monday) with a double bill, so best get comfy behind that sofa.
The BBC also brings us a different type of scary this week in the form of The Missing, another eight part drama, this time about the abduction of a five year old boy on holiday in France and the devastating effect it has on his parents, played by James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor. It sounds pretty grim but, if you’re made of sterner stuff than me, you can check out episode 1 tomorrow (Tuesday) on BBC1 at 9pm everywhere in the UK except Scotland which for some reason has it at 10.35pm.
And still to come later this week: The Flash, Arrow and Dominion. I’ll be back to talk about them over the next few days…