Fitz and Olivia are post-coital but nonetheless angry with each other, although the measure of their solipsism is that they’re having a screaming match about Jake, while they know him to be standing outside the door. Unwilling though they might be to admit it, however, there are bigger issues than their relationship to be dealt with: specifically, a reporter has a story about the presumptive Vice-President, Andrew Nichol, taking non-prescribed oxycontin in the Governor’s mansion a few years ago. Nichol concedes that it’s true, and Olivia is deputed to handle the story.
Except it isn’t true: Andrew’s covering for Mellie, who after being raped by Fitz’s father attempted suicide by overdose, and was saved by Andrew. (I couldn’t quite get the timeline right: did the overdose happen minutes or years after the rape? If the former – which was implied by Mellie’s horror of being touched – why was she talking about the son who might be Big Jerry’s?) In the present day Andrew’s still in love with Mellie, of course, and it might be reciprocated: they kiss in the White House, under portraits of previous First Ladies, their eyes looking on in silent and reproachful judgment.
In Race For The White House news, Hollis Doyle is back, and promising support for Sally if she’s prepared to appoint an Energy Secretary who will have an open mind about “drilling in that gas station they call the North Pole”. Sally’s PTSD-ing about her murder of Double-D, though, and Publius is still leaking information about that as well, to the point where Cyrus hires Charlie to deal with whoever Publius might be, meaning that David Rosen – attending a meeting with a journo on James’s behalf – nearly gets himself killed by accident. (Whether the bag-over-the-head was necessary seemed to me to be moot: couldn’t Huck and Abby just have tapped him on the shoulder and told him to leave?) Anyway, Hollis seems to have shifted to Fitz’s camp, joining such trusted public figures as Adnan Salif, with suitcases full of cash to be laundered through Fitz’s campaign, at the behest of the show’s newest baddie.
And for the Gladiators, there’s still not much going on: Adnan is holding ‘Clearwater’ over Harrison, yet another top-secret something-or-other with a code name. Fitz is a monster on a leash. Quinn is trying to demonstrate that she’s as good as anyone in B-613. Mellie’s questioning of Fitz about what it’s like to be as hot for someone as he is for Olivia has more power and pathos than the OPA staffers’ storylines put together. Overall, in fact, ‘We Do Not Touch the First Ladies’ felt a little unfocussed: entertaining, but not quite as on-point as Scandal usually is.
Public Service Announcement 46 of 2014: How To Get Away With Murder, Scorpion, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Big Bang Theory
Lots beginning over the next couple of days. Let’s start in Shondaland: as well as the return of old warhorse Grey’s Anatomy for its eleventh season (tonight, Sky Living, 9pm), Ms Rhimes has exec produced new show How To Get Away With Murder, which is created by Peter Nowalk, a writer and exec producer on Scandal. How To… stars Viola Davis as defence attorney and law professor Annalise Keating, who along with her students becomes involved in a murder. Unsurprisingly, Keating also has a complicated home and professional life. It’s been reasonably well-received by critics, its ratings are holding up, it’s already had a full-season order, and it looks like another hit for Shonda. I’ll be watching: I’m not anticipating week-by-week reviews, but then I thought that about Scandal (tonight, Universal, 10pm).
The other big new drama of the week is Scorpion, in which a maverick misfit computer genius and his maverick etc. friends are recruited by the Department of Homeland Security to do the sort of thing that mavericks etc. would do in a show like this: unsolvable crimes are solved. Now, Scorpion had poor reviews, but for now at least the viewers are turning up in considerable numbers, suggesting that it’s doing something right (Thursday 23 October, ITV 2, 9pm).
As, apparently, is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., although I’ll be fecked if I know what it is. I reviewed the first half of season 1 and eventually gave up, although our friend Tim over at Slouching towards TV kept going for the whole run. It’s now back for a second season, and fairness compels me to acknowledge that the general view is that the show improved a little after I stopped watching. I’m not starting again, though (Friday 24 October, Channel 4, 8pm).
A much safer bet is The Big Bang Theory, back for its eighth season. There’s a simple reason why it’s America’s top-rated comedy: it’s very, very good at what it does. And there’s a simple reason why the cast members are worth every dollar of their new pay deals: they make CBS an absolute fortune (Thursday 23 October E4, 8.30pm).
And American Horror Story returned yesterday for its fourth season, subtitled Freak Show (Tuesdays, FOX UK, 10pm).
All six of these shows, incidentally, are at worst a few weeks behind American transmission, suggesting that UK broadcasters are finally getting that particular message. There’s more to come before the end of October as well; and more still in November.
The cold open: a spookily deserted O’ahu. We then go back seven hours, to see Steve and Danny sitting in an office bickering, while an unseen female voice questions them. She claims it’s a Governor-mandated “annual psychological audit of personnel” but it’s totally couples therapy, and it also gives the show a chance to provide a recap for new viewers – how Steve and Danny met, how the Five-0 was put together, that sort of thing. Then we cut to a couple running up a Hawaiian hill to be confronted by… “What is that?” wonders the woman, but whatever it is it mows them down in a hail of machine-gun fire. Bang bang bang. Credits. New credits, in fact, including both Chi McBride and Jorge Garcia, confirming their status as permanent cast members.
Anyway, the mysterious shooting thing turns out to be a drone. Not just any drone, but a domestic weaponised surveillance drone, stolen from a military contractor, and controlled – of course – by a disaffected ex-employee. Now, in real life I have the usual liberal objections to drones: in the military context, they dehumanise and sanitise the act of killing; in a domestic context, they have uncomfortable implications for privacy. Put them in a TV drama, though, and I’m singing and dancing; and it has to be said that hovering a combat drone over a crowded beach has a considerable eerie power, all the more so when it opens fire again. Which leads to everyone in O’ahu being told to stay inside in anticipation of further attacks, hence the cold open.
Is it terrorism? Possibly; Disaffected Ex-Employee explains that he wants America to feel the same fear as those against whom drones have been used. “You’re comparing sworn enemies of the United States to innocent civilians?” snaps Steve, and for a second I thought, oh no, we’re back in oorah territory. But Disaffected is allowed to make the point that plenty of civilians have died in American drone attacks, and we move on.
Because it’s all a distraction anyway for the main event, which is the extraction of someone or other, using a plane which is going to land in Main Street, O’ahu, at the behest of the SRS, a terrorist group comprising “the best” ex-Soviet intelligence agents, which presumably means that the ones which weren’t quite as good have to go off and form their own terrorist group. What if they’re late developers? And then the action really starts: on the basis that you send a thief to catch a thief, the only way to stop a drone is with another drone, and the episode becomes a delirious round of drone vs drone, drone vs plane, bullet-spraying drone chases, and so on.
There’s a curious postscript setting up a number of possible longer arcs: something about Danny’s brother, Adam proposes to Kono, Chin tries to get IA off his back, and some bad men are after Jerry. I’m comforted, though, by the fact that neither the recap at the start nor the coda mentioned Steve’s mom or Wo Fat, both storylines which, for me, have outlived their usefulness. We can worry about that next week, though. Bromance, drones, gunfire; I loved every last second of this.
Bromance Watch: DUDES. Couples therapy!
Women in the Workplace Watch: The show’s latest piece of fluff seems to be Max’s new assistant Dr Shaw, whose major contribution is to confide, through Max, that she thinks Danny is cute. Thanks, Dr Shaw. Could you run along now, please? The men have work to do.
“Oh, FFS!” Watch: DRONES.
(This episode was brought to you by: the Sheraton Waikiki, which has presumably paid more than the Hilton Hawaiian Village this time round.)
Period hospital drama The Knick, from celebrated auteur Steven Soderbergh, with movie star Clive Owen in the lead role, would like you to think it’s a bold and exciting new look at a part of medical and social history that is usually ignored, romanticised or soft-soaped. A shame then that it chooses the oldest, most hackneyed way to kick off the season: we open in a brothel and, within seconds, are treated/subjected (depending on your point of view) to a full-frontal nude shot of an unidentified woman (she’s wearing a shirt but it’s open) wandering in for no good reason other than to murmur something to our hero as he lies in a drug-induced stupor.
I nearly switched off at that point, because, FFS, in this “Golden Age of TV”, can we not come up with something a bit more original, a bit more evolved, than using yet another nameless, character-less female body as tv shorthand for the flaws proudly toted by yet another sodding “anti-hero” in yet another sodding cable drama which thinks it has something interesting and daring to say about the human condition but is happy to treat half of that human condition like slabs of meat to do so?
Find a new way to tell us your hero’s troubled, guys. FIND A NEW WAY.
Sigh. Set in 1900 New York, The Knick revolves around the mega-talented, super-tortured (excuse me while I put my eyes back in, they rolled right out of my head) Dr John Thackery, the Chief Surgeon at the titular Knickerbocker Hospital. He’s a genius, a drug addict and a jerk; he’s horrible to the nurses (obv), worse to the African-American surgeon who wants to work for him, depressed after his partner’s suicide but, obviously, still the greatest doctor of all time.
Yes, it’s Gregory House’s racist Grandpa.
Because it’s 1900, however, he doesn’t have quite the success rate that his progeny at Princeton-Plainsboro does. Thackery and his staff are constantly pushing at the boundaries of medical advancement, losing patient after patient in the process. Social welfare laws are in their infancy, with poverty, racial and sexual discrimination, corruption and the spread of tuberculosis all woven seamlessly into this first ep. Soderbergh and co have (it seems anyway, I’m no historian) done their research, and it’s all – the surgeries, the withdrawal-induced sweats, the venality of local officials, the grim and pitiless life of the poor – presented with a clinical and unflinching eye, in the usual Soderbergh style. Unfortunately, however, it’s also saddled with a clinical and cliched script: the dialogue is stilted and dull, the characters stereotypes, and Thackery, at the centre of the whole thing, is not so much an anti-hero as an asshat. All this is dressed up in oddly twee, hokey period costume, which may be accurate, I don’t know, but feels strange when the show is holding itself out as daring and innovative, and soundtracked with a series of weirdly incongruous, staccato electronic beats, more reminiscent of the 1980s than the 1900s. As a whole, it’s a jarring mish-mash of styles and attitude, and the only new, warm thing about it is the extra blood and guts. In short, I hated just about every second of it. I won’t be watching again.
So, last week’s violence-fuelled burst of activity was a blip. Bill is impotent again, just in time for the CBS crew to arrive at the office and film a documentary about the Masters/Johnson study. This presumably adds to his awkwardness in front of the camera, although in the present age when every academic talking head on TV looks as if they’ve had years of training in the art of appearing on screen – and for all I know they have – it’s refreshing to see a character who doesn’t know what to do. Libby watches Bill and Ginny being interviewed, though, at ease with each other if not necessarily with the situation, and a penny starts to drop.
Which leads to the first of two potentially problematic storylines. Libby is given a lift home from CORE by Robert, delivers a powerful monologue about what society expects – has always expected – of her, then they have sex. It’s a development which has looked inevitable for some weeks, even if – on one view – she’s an aristocratic blonde who can’t be satisfied by her whitey husband, but can be by the potent African-American. (And a man who hasn’t given the slightest hint that he likes her on any level.) On the other hand, it has to be good for Libby to make love with a man who possibly wants her. Hmm. Let’s see where it goes next week.
And in the second, Flo confides her sexual fantasy to Austin, then asks him to act it out. It amounts to something close to a “rape” fantasy, which is a minefield I’m not going to wander into. Except to say that (a) as the ensuing scene proves, if you’re going to do that sort of thing then, as Dan Savage says, you gotta storyboard that shit in advance and in detail; (b) the aftermath, in which it becomes clear that Flo’s confidence hides something of a lack of self-esteem, is actually quite moving. And suddenly I’m hoping that she and Austin have a proper relationship.
The final scenes, though, cut to the heart of the relationship between Ginny and Bill: Bill admits that he isn’t personable, he doesn’t smile, he’s uncomfortable in his own skin, and wonders aloud why on earth anyone – particularly Ginny – would find him attractive. Which, in fairness, is something one viewer at least has been troubled by for a while. But Bill’s self-loathing runs deep, and it may be that the only person who can fix him is Ginny with her magical powers; in fact, the final scene has her cradling him in what looks like a Pietà, and for a fleeting moment I genuinely wondered if I’d been watching this show too superficially: is it all metaphor? Is Ginny, in fact, not just supernatural, but divine? Probably not. An excellent episode, though.
After a reasonably promising start to the season last week, Trylon and Perisphere (yes, I know what they are; but no, I have no idea at all why the episode should be named after them) wasn’t as good. Unsurprisingly Carrie is having little success in bonding with her daughter Frannie – nice work, casting department, Frannie looks very much like Damian Lewis. Frannie is largely being looked after by Carrie’s sister Maggie, who presumably has nothing better to do; although it’s probably just as well, because when Carrie bathes Frannie it nearly ends with Frannie being drowned. This scene proved somewhat controversial when shown in America, although I’m not entirely sure why; it didn’t strike me as either exploitatively filmed or wildly out of character for our Carrie.
Anyway, Carrie is told by Lockhart that she’s being permanently recalled to America as a result of the wedding/bomb epic fail, which is bad news on two levels: she likes her job, and she wants to avoid her daughter. But then she finds out that Lockhart had been warned that Sandy was possibly trading secrets for intel and did nothing about it, and leverages that to get a transfer to Islamabad. We’re left once again to contemplate that she’s exquisitely, almost risibly ill-suited to running the Pakistan outpost of the CIA, but she’s been in the wrong job since the very first episode of the first season, so I think we just have to go along with it.
And meantime Quinn, still somewhat PTSD’d by the events of season 3, and further traumatised by the mission in episode 1, is in an alcohol-medicated Zen-like simmering calmness which threatens to boil over into violence at any time, and does so when two bros in a diner insult his breakfast companion. In passing, or perhaps not so much in passing, it should be noted that the incident takes place the morning after Quinn beds a good-looking plus-size woman. It plainly isn’t a pity fuck, it isn’t played for laughs – it’s played straight, as if two people having sex is sexy – and he takes her for breakfast. Well played, Homeland, even if Quinn’s probably destined to end up banging a skinny blonde chick in Islamabad.
Which is presumably where Homeland will take us next week, even if the episode took longer than it needed to in getting to that point; this one and last week’s were shown as a double-bill in America, and had I also watched them that way (ahem) this would presumably have thrown the drop in quality into even sharper relief. I’m guessing. Still, both this episode and last week’s were better than anything in the first half of season 3, and that’s something to be grateful for.
Clara’s back in the TARDIS again and all’s right with the world, except it isn’t because she’s lying to both the Doctor and Danny about it and, oh yeah, the TARDIS is shrinking.
Yep, it’s all fun and games – “you and your big old face,” heh – till somebody has their nervous system flattened and dissected by wall-dwelling alien monsters. Better get the local misunderstood graffiti artist (who is lovely), a bunch of
red greenshirts on community service and a local train driver to help, eh?
Especially since the Doctor’s stuck in the TINYDIS and Clara’s in charge – and doing a bang-up job of it, too, if you ask me. Although the Doctor doesn’t seem all that pleased about how good she is at being him because he’s so “inhuman” and all.
Come on now, guys, this notion that the Doctor’s a heartless and terrible person because he actually gets on with things instead of wringing his hands and wailing all the time is beginning to seriously get on my nerves. He isn’t heartless or terrible and neither’s Clara when she’s filling in for him, so enough with the self-loathing and the existential crisis, please. Aside from that, I really liked this – funny, exciting and Rigsy was great. Danny “getting territorial” is a bit of a worry, though. The Clara Oswald I know wouldn’t stand for being told where she can go and who she can be friends with, and nor should she.