It’s looking as if season 2’s plot might be an upgrade on season 1’s, but not radically different: The Network (I think) wants to convince everyone to be vaccinated against Russian flu, so has plans to cause a worldwide pandemic, and for that matter panic, by releasing another strain of flu, known as Jimmy Deesh – L.
With less work required on the part of the viewer to uncover what’s going on, there’s more fascination to be found in the shifting motives and allegiances of the characters we know from the first season. Thus Dugdale is in with The Network for some reason – protecting his family?- and is prepared to rat out an earnest geek-chick scientist who’s found out something about the new, non-Russian flu, and who also fancies him. Arby might be playing both sides, although he too is looking for a deal to protect the mother and daughter we saw him living with last week. Wilson – on Team Network from the first season – is forced to team up with Lee, who of course was on point for the infamous eye/spoon incident, something to which Lee keeps alluding.
All fair enough, although I’m having a little more difficulty seeing Milner’s new-found vulnerability as entirely in keeping with her season 1 persona: Jessica escapes; Anton is, inevitably, identified as Philip Carvel, thought dead (which doesn’t mean he is Carvel, of course); and as a result of both developments Milner is so far off her game that she inadvertently discloses to Ian that she knows Beth is with him and the rest of his gang. (Beth, incidentally, is being deployed rather as Deb was in later seasons of Dexter, on creative swearing duties: “Oh my fucking fuck!”)
Like episode 2, then, it’s very good; and, like episode 2, the issue is whether “very good” is quite good enough after the outstanding first season.
OMG, you guys.
100 days of tv-time have gone by since Nikita ditched her friends and made a dash for… er, Canada. On the way, however, she’s acquired a surname (Mears?!) and the frenzied attention of the media and the FBI as they hunt the supposed murderer of the President. Said friends meantime have acquired a plane(!), a Conspiracy Wall and their own leads in Operation Save Nikita Whether She Likes it or Not. Michael may be nursing a wounded heart, but he’s very clearly in charge, striding around doing spy stuff in some very becoming sunglasses, looking all moody and handsome. Alex “thinks she’s Batman”- activist and philanthropist by day, secret operative and Shop-fighter by, er, other parts of the day – with Sonya as sidekick. Ryan has been demoted from boss back down to boffin. And Birkhoff continues to be the wonderfully snarky glue holding the team together. And flying the plane.(!)
After a bad dream and a staring contest with a wolf, though, Nikki decides it’s time to come back and clear her name, putting her faith (and evidence) in the hands of a conspiracy theorist tv journalist (much like she did with Ryan, only this guy’s a bit less annoying and not on the government payroll). Of course, Amanda and the Shop are on her trail, however, with the Feds on speed-dial. Just as well then that Michael, Birkhoff and co are on the case, even if they’re still in the huff, or Nikki would be up a creek without a paddle. Or on a roof without an ex-fil route, if you want to be accurate about it.
Now when I initially sat down to watch this, I wasn’t in the mood at all and the opening sequence with the wolf – what exactly was all the wolf imagery about? The wolf in the opening sequence, the Blue Wolf plane, the Wolf codenames Michael was using? – didn’t exactly change that. But as soon as Nikita, in a manoeuvre that was entirely foreseeable but still a thing of beauty, turned the tables on the police who tried to take her in (the first time), the excitement kicked in, my mood lifted and I was right back on board. Hurrah!
The apparently omniscient Amanda did try to spoil things, of course; she’s so stupendously annoying now that I had to fight the urge to throw things every time she Mwah-ha-ha’d onto the screen, but the rest of the episode more than made up for it.
All the action set-pieces were great, in particular, and there were a couple of jaw-dropping twists which I genuinely did not see coming, especially the one towards the end which had both Birkhoff and I staring dumbfounded at our screens.
Speaking of whom…. Birkhoff himself was his usual magnificent self throughout and, in fairness, it wasn’t all carnage and craziness: the newsroom cellphone-palooza was hilarious, as was Ryan being unceremoniously ordered to “talk to Nikki before she tries to shoot the fan!” Heh. But my favourite thing about the ep? Well, duh. Step forward smoulderingly resentful Michael, all “I’m here to help you ex-fil,” “Birkhoff, GET ME THAT ADDRESS!” and the moment that launched a thousand swoons: when he took Nikita’s hand and helped her out of the air vent….. Oh my. SQUEEEEEEEEEE.
Continuing my season-end reviews of shows we didn’t have time to do on a week-by-week basis, Fargo finished its run with an episode which dealt with Lester Nygaard’s Poundstretcher Walter White, the Mephistophelean Lorne Malvo, and tied up enough of the loose ends to be satisfying. It probably wasn’t quite the best episode, but it was a fitting end to a season which, not surprisingly, has earned Emmy nominations all over the place. As we noted earlier, the vagaries of the Emmy process allowed True Detective (eight episodes) to submit itself in the Best Drama category, while Fargo (ten episodes) put itself forward as a miniseries.
And I’d like to think it’ll win one or two. Fargo had pretty much everything you could look for in a TV drama: it was elegantly and meticulously plotted, and modestly adventurous in its storytelling, in particular in episodes 8 and 9. On top of that, it had a spectacular bodycount, a Conspiracy Wall or two, a ship to die for, and some genuine visual flair: Malvo’s single-handed assault on the mob HQ, for example. And on top of that it had a top-notch cast, with wonderful performances from Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, and Colin Hanks, all of whom are Emmy-nominated; and Bob Odenkirk, Keith Carradine, Adam Goldberg, Oliver Platt, Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele providing the show with a deep bench.
But the first among equals in the cast, of course – of course – was Allison Tolman as Deputy Molly Solverson, radiating dogged intelligence, warmth, and uncomplicated decency, which is probably no easier to portray than the complicated kind. It was a remarkable performance, which has already earned her a Critics’ Choice award to go with her own Emmy nomination. One trusts that we’ll be seeing a great deal more of Tolman, although it won’t be in season 2 of Fargo: the show has been renewed, but showrunner Noah Hawley has indicated that it will be set in 1979, and will be set at least in part in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, picking up on an allusion made by Molly’s father Lou.
So I feel as if we kind of sold Fargo a little bit short; we covered the first two episodes, then due to pressure of time we left it there. As it happens, though, it’s probably my favourite new show of the year so far. I thought it was wonderful.
To Los Angeles for Nationals, then, in ‘City of Angels’, and it’s a sign of how long this school year has been going on for, one way or another, that I’d completely lost track of where we are in the chronology of this particular iteration of the national competition. Part of it is fairly standard: the parade of rivals: particularly Throat Explosion, led by Jean-Baptiste (Skylar Astin), with something of the look of a young David Walliams about him, and the usual insight into the macho, aggressive, backbiting world of, um, teenage showchoirs.
But part of it isn’t standard at all. There’s a real sense of finality: the show’s full time move to New York City is only a couple of weeks away. What I really wasn’t prepared for, though, was how often Finn would be referenced, including numerous clips of Cory Monteith himself. I think it would have been easy enough to brush off were it just about a character who had been written out because the actor had gone on to other projects, but the nature of Monteith’s tragic death is a long shadow that the show is never going to be able to outrun, and the ante is upped this week with a return for the much-missed Mike O’Malley as his stepfather, and Romy Rosemont as his mother. In consequence, it’s more moving than I anticipated.
For narrative reasons it makes a degree of sense for New Directions to finish as runners-up at Nationals – it means that Sue can make good on her promise to close the glee club if it failed to win. On the other hand Glee never really bothers about narrative continuity, and given how high the emotional stakes are it would have been easy enough for the writers to allow New Directions to finish with a triumph, then shut them down anyway. So I suppose it was a brave choice to allow Young David Walliams and his Throat Explosion the win, and it gave Sam’s tearful breakdown in Will’s arms – “I did my best, Mr Schue” – a powerful resonance of its own. In fact, it turns out that New Directions’ performance is, in itself, a Finn tribute, featuring his three favourite songs, and when Sam finished by thrusting Finn’s drumsticks into the air – well, day-um. Curse you, Glee; you got me again.
The Nationals episode is normally pretty good musically, although this season the waters are muddied by Throat Explosions’s winning performance of ‘Mr. Roboto’, quite the silliest song in the history of popular music. (And mashing it up with “Counting Stars’ doesn’t make it any less silly.) ‘I Love L.A.’ is OK, as is ‘Vacation’. The New Directions, though, in presumably their final competitive runout, really bring it home: ‘More Than A Feeling’ and ‘America’ are both fine, but the Finn-centric ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ is as good as you could wish for.
Time to look at the Outstanding Lead Actress categories, but let’s get the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” out of the way first: yes, Tatiana Maslany’s work in Orphan Black was stunning and she absolutely deserved to be nominated. But if the Emmys have taught us anything over the years, it’s that deserving and getting are two very different things (HOLLER to BSG, The Wire and Jon Hamm!) especially as the sheer avalanche of tv available (via the multiple methods we can now watch it on) continues to overwhelm both viewers and critics. Orphan Black may have a huge following online but, in the non-virtual world, its viewer numbers are microscopic and, as I’ve said before, it’s a (very) niche tv series on a niche channel with such a bold, progressive attitude that both its flaws and its good points mean it won’t appeal to everybody. I wasn’t all that surprised to hear that Tatiana Maslany wasn’t nominated for Orphan Black; I would be flabbergasted to hear that more than a handful of the voters had ever watched it.
On to the Lead Actress in a Drama nominees, then. I feel a little bit of a fraud commenting on this category but at least the fact that only one of these shows is on my current watching list means my focus is pure when deciding who I’d like to win: Julianna, Julianna, JULIANNA.
She’s one of my favourite actresses, she and The Good Wife had an incredible season this year and she rules. So there you go. But, I say again, deserving and getting are two different things so whether she’ll win (again – she did win for TGW in 2011) or not is another matter.
La Margulies’ understated style of acting is, of course, the opposite of that favoured by Claire Danes, who took home the Emmy the past two years for Homeland, a programme which has long confounded me with its success. I hate, hate, HATE it but so many people love, love, LOVE it. Or love, love, LOVED it: three seasons in and the shine finally seems to have come off Homeland for a lot of people, which may well irreparably harm Ms Danes’ chances of a three-peat.
Looking at the other nominees, I’m sure Michelle Dockery from Downton Abbey is a lovely woman but she has about the same chance of winning as I do, and I’m not actually nominated. Jed is a big fan of Lizzy Caplan in Masters of Sex and he’s far from alone, but that’s also a somewhat niche show with a bold, progressive attitude and I don’t see that translating into a win with this crowd. House of Cards may be more in the Emmy wheelhouse, but if Robin Wright didn’t win last year, I don’t think she’ll manage it this time around. Which leaves us with Kerry Washington from ratings juggernaut Scandal, who didn’t win last year either. Hm. On one view, Julianna Margulies could be the front-runner – she wasn’t nominated last year, and this year her show was completely rejuvenated but missed out on a Drama Series nom, so there might well be an impetus to mark TGW’s achievements through her instead. Oh yeah, and I really want her to win. We shall see.
Moving on to Lead Actress in a Comedy, the wonderful Amy Poehler should win it but probably won’t since one of the great Emmy mysteries is its lack of love for Parks and Rec. Veep however has no such problem; Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won twice for her performance and the show itself has just walked away with the Comedy Award at the TCA. Which suggests both the Emmys and the critics love her and her show, so I wouldn’t bet against three-in-a-row. After all, who’s to stop it from happening? 2010 winner Edie Falco is also beloved but reports suggest Nurse Jackie itself is not ageing all that well, and 2011 winner Melissa McCarthy is very popular too but much more so than Mike and Molly itself so I don’t think either of them are going to take home the statuette this time around. Newcomer on the Emmy block Taylor Schilling might in theory therefore have an opening with the very zeitgeisty Orange is the New Black, but I think – to be blunt – she’s too young and too new for the Emmy crowd: they like their winners with a nice, long, showbizzy history. Lena Dunham might have a lot of showbizzy connections, meanwhile, but she has the same problem – she doesn’t have history. Not yet, anyway. But Julia Louis-Dreyfus is steeped in it: she won for Veep, she won for The New Adventures of Old Christine and she won for Seinfeld which just celebrated its 25th anniversary. Which makes this year’s Veep voting conditions a perfect storm of nostalgia, goodwill and an actress/show combo the Emmy people adore: I think JLD will triumph once again.
Maggie Q’s new show Stalker may be causing a lot of controversy in the US before it’s even aired but, here in the UK, some of us are still waiting to see the end of her old show Nikita. That wait is nearly over at last, however, as the fourth and final season arrives on Sky Living on Monday night (21st) at 9pm.
The second and third seasons had their flaws – Alex, Ryan, Alex, Amanda the Mad Scientist, Alex – but there was plenty of great stuff too so, as long as Nikki, Michael and Birkhoff are around, I’m in. And we’re only getting 6 episodes this time, which hopefully means time to wrap up the story without getting bogged down in nonsense like the Zetrov carry-on. Yay! Anyway, check back here for reviews of every ep, laced with a liberal amount of shipping and squeeing. In fact, let me start practising now: Mikita 4eva!!!!! SQUEEEEEE!!!!!
“The following takes place between 10pm and 11am”. WHOA. Thirteen hours?
Anyway, with minimal fuss Chloe’s back on the team, “backdooring” a satellite in order that she can access the usual “schematics”, allowing her to get back into the old routine of talking Jack through a building: this time, it’s the one where Cheng and his team are waiting to be shipped out of the country. And while they’re doing that, Kate’s trying to rescue Audrey. It’s all against the clock, of course, because the Chinese armed forces are getting closer and closer to the American base in Okinawa, which in turn runs the risk of starting a nuclear confrontation. The effect is only spoiled a little by everyone obeying what must presumably have been a Presidential edict to pronounce it “nucular”, in the approved Dubya style.
Kate manages to rescue Audrey, which is good news for Jack, still shooting Chinese people with the assistance of the faithful Belcheck. At one point they pull off a “synchronised shot”, which basiucally means that they shoot one person each at the same time (it’s not the gun and meat cleaver incident. It’s still to come), which they’re able to do because Chloe’s watching on her laptop for what I think are called “heat signatures” in 24-speak, thus enabling her to predict when Jack and Belcheck will be encountering redshirts. And just as I was idly wondering why Cheng couldn’t do something similar, one of his tech drones backdoors the backdoorers, and all of a sudden they know where Jack is.
Still, back with Kate and Audrey, the sniper who was keeping Audrey pinned down has been taken out, and everything’s ticking over nicely. Until – OMG! – a second shooter appears, and kills Audrey, who at least gets the honour of the silent 24 countdown. But Jack has to be told about this, and he just crumbles, in a way we’ve rarely if ever seen: once again, he’s forced to confront the fact that more or less everyone he loves eventually dies, precisely because of their connection to him, and that even if what he does is necessary it means that he can never have anything within hailing distance of normal human relationships. He seems to contemplate suicide for a moment, but then remembers that there’s still work to be done.
Now, students of 24 will recall that when Renee – a woman he shagged once – was killed Jack went absolutely apeshit, (inaccurately) banging on all the while about how close they were. It’s therefore no surprise that the killing of Audrey – someone with whom he did actually have a relationship – is, ultimately, bad news for Cheng and his team, or at least the ones who wanted to live more than a few minutes. (It’s here that we get the gun-and-meat-cleaver killings, inter alia. And there’s a lot of alia.)
So Jack proves to the Chinese Detective’s satisfaction that Cheng is indeed still alive, thus averting a Sino-American war, then cuts Cheng’s head off. Ouch. That’s the main plot done, although the Russians haven’t forgotten about Jack: they abduct poor old Chloe and ask Jack to trade himself for her; which, eleven hours later, he does. For shippers it includes a lovely moment where Jack and Chloe hold hands; theirs is the most enduring bond in the show, and it means that Jack can permit himself the merest hint of a smile as he’s helicoptered to Moscow.
The real coda, though, is an astonishing scene on the airport tarmac, beside Air Force One and his daughter’s coffin, in which POTUS calmly explains to Prime Minister Stephen Fry that the intolerable grief he, POTUS, is feeling will pass soon, as his illness means he won’t be able to remember anything about it. It’s one of the most powerful scenes in the history of 24 – hell, it’s one of the most haunting things I’m going to see on TV this or any other year – and William Devane acts the heck out of it. As I love, love, love 24 I hope I can be forgiven for saying that in concept and execution it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a critically-acclaimed cable drama with an audience in the low hundreds.
All of which provides a fitting end to a wonderful episode, and a triumphant season. Kiefer Sutherland has, of course, nailed it, as he always does, but there are a few other factors which made the season work. As I suggested in my comment on episode 10, the characterisation of Mark Boudreau has been more nuanced than the usual bad-guy-working-from-within. It’s actually possible to see him as a good guy of sorts: Jack, after all, was an international fugitive, wanted for very good reasons by the Russians, with whom America would be keen to maintain a working relationship. And his apparent subverting of the Presidential decision-making process was really nothing more than a well-intentioned attempt to cover for a President who wasn’t entirely capable of discharging his duties. In another world you could see Boudreau as 24’s next President-in-waiting; and, given the circumstances, I’m not entirely ruling it out. And it would be good to see Tate Donovan back.
The big winner from this season might well be Yvonne Strahovski, who has been outstanding from first to last. We’ve seen her develop her American serial drama acting chops on Chuck, where she got better year by year, then emerge with considerable credit from the wreckage of Dexter. (It’s also worth saying that, for a show which is frequently criticised for its ideological stances, 24 has rarely fallen into the trap of unnecessary sexualisation of its – admittedly few – female characters; Strahovski is a very attractive woman who wasn’t required to play it up.) She’s now a proper star, and I hope she gets parts worthy of her.
Which, for the avoidance of doubt, would of course include a reprise of her role as Agent Kate Morgan in a future season of 24. No decision about renewal has been announced yet, although in a sense that hardly matters; after all, the show has been cancelled once already, and if this season proves anything it’s that the concept is robust enough to be revived whenever everyone’s in the mood to. I thought this season was fantastic, and I’d watch the shit out of another one.