Operation Brody is under way in ‘Good Night’, the sort of episode that cable budgets and audience expectations make possible – set largely in two locations, with Saul’s Mission Command only slightly better lit than Team Brody’s position, in darkness, on the Iran/Iraq border. Saul’s plan, it will be recalled, is to get Brody into Iran as a defector, there to kill the head of the Revolutionary Guard, before being extracted (except he won’t be, probably). But people just won’t leave Brody the hell alone, so there’s plenty of explosions and gunfire, even if because of the lighting it isn’t always clear who’s doing what. Eventually, though, the decision is made to pull the mission; Brody, though, goes rogue, assigns to Carrie the responsibility of exfil, and manages to make contact with Majid Javadi. He’s in.
Back in America, Quinn has found out that Carrie’s pregnant, and he manages to stop his heart from breaking for long enough to suggest that since she’s compromised she shouldn’t have anything more to do with the mission. This, of course, goes down very badly with Carrie, who claims that it isn’t Brody’s baby anyway. Does this mean a comeback for Young Josh Homme, I wonder? Quinn even manages to hide his disappointment – if barely – when Brody survives to the end of the episode.
The defining moment of the episode has already come, though, when an IED explodes under Brody’s vehicle, which is blown apart, thrown in the air, and flipped over. Carrie’s lip trembles; Mission Control is on pause, deciding whether to torch the remains of the vehicle via drone to make it look to Iraq as if America has dealt with an al-Qaeda incursion, rather than revealing the existence of the mission. Brody’s dead. Except, of course – of course – he’s still alive, because by now it’s clear that the writers are so in love with their superhero lead (rather like in Dexter, not-coincidentally another Showtime series) that he’s going to survive everything which can be flung at him, and if he’s ever killed off it’ll be because there’s nowhere else for the show to go.
So this was OK: better than the first half of the season, not as good as episodes 7 and 8, about as good as last week, with a similar feeling that the main plot points could have been done and dusted in about half the time.
Eff me. Eff. Me.
I referred to last week’s episode as a kind of Scandal’s Greatest Hits. This one, though, was better: turbo-charged and filler-free, in which every major storyline of the past two seasons was picked up, thrown into a blender, and fired out again.
To start with poor old Cyrus is running his shuttle diplomacy again: assuring Mellie that Fitz wants to come back to her, while at that precise moment Fitz is pleasuring Olivia in the White House basement (not a euphemism, although it might be); reminding VP Langston, preparing to run against Fitz, that her only two jobs are to not die and to stay loyal. Then, though, he suffers an inevitable-in-hindsight heart attack.
While that doesn’t entirely slow him down – his attempt to continue running the White House from the ambulance is Scandal all over – there’s too much important business to be dealt with this week for Cyrus’s illness to be allowed to get in the way. Thus Defiance is finally (?) laid to rest, as the once-idealistic Rosen decides that it’s time to play by everyone else’s rules; poor old Jake ends up in the Huck Pit; and Olivia and Fitz find out things about each other that they would, perhaps, rather not have known. You’d have to say that (the then technically single) Olivia humping Jake ranks as pretty small beer when set against Fitz’s murder of a Supreme Court Justice, but you just know they’ll find a way to forgive each other. In fact, just about the only time when the episode paused for breath is when Fitz made his intimate, oddly moving, yet disconcerting gesture of supplication to Mellie – and even that carried two seasons’ worth of backstory with it.
But as disconcerting shit goes, it had NOTHING on Quinn. Now, the writers had a potential problem this season with Quinn: crucial to season 1, but somewhat peripheral in this season, particularly in the absence of a regular Case of the Week. The solution – to make her an eager apprentice to Huck – was ingenious and amusing. So when a perturbed Huck observes that Quinn reminds him of himself, I thought: heigh-ho, we know what he means, and that looks like a season 3 marker. But then OH MY GOD THEY WENT THERE OH MY GOD. No wonder Huck looked so appalled at what he had wrought.
And there was still time for a further flourish or two: Olitz hits the media, and we found out who the head of B-613 is – well, we know who he is, but we found out who he is.
Gosh. I loved season 1 of Scandal, but it couldn’t even begin to prepare you for season 2 which, at times, felt as if it was rewriting the TV drama rulebook in front of you. There wasn’t a bad episode in the whole thing. Season 3 stat, please, More4.
Hmm. Bit underwhelming this week: the Number is a very pretty doctor who gets stuck in one of those “do this awful thing that you really don’t want to do, or we’ll do a different awful thing you *really* don’t want done to someone you love” binds that were really unusual and exciting once, but are now everywhere, especially on this show.
As if sensing they needed to mix it up a bit, the writers did try to flesh things out with a bit of world/arc-building, but the characters they picked weren’t intriguing enough for that: I could have done without the return of smart-alec Leon (who will no doubt be back again some other time, oh joy) and I don’t need Wesley as a recurring super-villain either, POI has quite enough of them already.
And, while I’m complaining, I really don’t need every character to re-hash or explain obvious plot points, thanks. There was far too much of that in the suddenly banal dialogue but the worst was that idiotic moment where Carter actually drew a line between the 66 and the 11th…FFS. POI isn’t usually quite this contemptuous of the audience, is it?
All of which makes it sound like I hated “Critical” and I didn’t. It was a solid, speedy popcorn thriller condensed into a 40-odd minute ep instead of dragged out to twice its length like a movie would have done; the Reese-in-action bits were great and I was, in fairness, mildly entertained throughout. But I wasn’t massively invested in any of it except the sub-plot with Carter (still rocking her “Sandy from Grease” fringe and ponytail, I see) and Snow, which I loved. More of that, less of Leon please.
Red’s still in the Red Box, but within seconds of Keen being dragged in front of it by Garrick he’s gouging Ressler’s open, cauterised, bullet wound, and pointing a gun at him. Not surprisingly, this restores Ressler to some sort of consciousness for long enough to provide the Red Box-opening code, and Garrick takes Red away.
Garrick does, of course, note that Keen seems to matter to Red, and files that piece of information away. Meantime, it’s torture porn time again, as Red gets suspended from a ceiling smacked around a bit, and injected with that old 24 favourite: the drug which increases your sensitivity to pain. Red bears it all with a certain, albeit reduced, amount of sang-froid; a necessity in the circumstances, as his chip has been removed and no-one knows where he is.
Keen starts looking, though, and discovers a couple of things: there seems to be a mole who leaked the information that Red was at the black ops site (in all honesty, I could go quite happily for a few years of TV watching without having to play yet another game of guess-the-mole), and that her house is being monitored by the apple-eating guy. There’s an interesting if unsurprising discovery for the viewer as well: she trusts Red, international super-criminal, more than she trusts Cooper, and as a result of following a tip from Red she ends up being assisted by Red’s factotum, the discernibly female “Mr Kaplan” (Susan Blommaert). Mr Kaplan is great, by the way. She can come back.
But all of this is by way of setting up yet another plot arc for this season and the just-confirmed second season which lies beyond it: the guy who paid Garrick to abduct Red reveals himself, and it’s Big Name American TV Actor, who usually radiates avuncular charm but is playing against type (i.e. Alan Alda). Now, where he fits into everything isn’t entirely clear – there’s some oblique chat which makes it clear that he and Red have history, and that Alda’s gang have been letting Red live because they don’t much care for what would happen were Red to die, but beyond that there are few clues.
There’s another death to come, but at the business end of this episode the show sets up such cliffhangers as it feels necessary – Red, now out and chip-free, tells Keen that he isn’t her father, as if that were an end to it, and reminds her to “be careful of your husband”.
And that’s your lot until January. I was expecting a great big shock at the end of this episode, and it’s significant that The Blacklist didn’t see the need: after ten episodes, the writers are clearly confident that the show can manage without one. And they’d be right – The Blacklist started good, got better, won over quite a few sceptics, and ended its pre-hiatus run with a thrilling two-parter, healthy viewing figures and a very early renewal for a second season. In case it isn’t clear, I like this show a lot.
It’s twerking week at McKinlay High. Sue’s horrified, so she and Will go through the motions – she fires him, he pleads the First Amendment (yes, really), he ultimately trades his constitutionally-guaranteed Right To Twerk for more compassionate treatment of Unique (yes, really) – but it feels tired. As does much of the rest of the episode: some fairly large topics, such as bullying, gender identity, infidelity, loss, and slut-shaming, are picked up, but generally just to be swiftly dropped again. Still, at least Dan Savage’s excellent It Gets Better project is promoted, so there’s that.
Perhaps it’s all a symptom of the show’s post-Finn grieving process, and this is explicitly referenced in the New York storyline, where Rachel (looking, poor thing, measurably thinner) and Kurt decide to do something radical to shake themselves out of their rut: tattoos and piercings ensue.
Nothing much in the music, either: Unique’s ‘If I Was A Boy’, and Rachel and Ioan Gruffudd’s ‘You Are Woman, I Am Man’ were the pick of a small and uninspired bunch, with Marley’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ and the cast’s ‘On Our Way’ just about OK, and Will’s falsetto-tastic ‘Blurred Lines’ a tiny bit disturbing.
OH. MY. GOD.
Ok, “Masks” lost me a bit early on with that silliness about cranial needles and “judgement centres somewhere around the brain” – I mean, Amanda as some kind of master-manipulator psycho-brain-surgeon? Wtf? – but that ceased to matter very quickly when the story threads from the past few weeks all came together and everything at Division suddenly went completely, totally and utterly MENTAL. In a brilliant way. I have no idea how Nikki and co are going to get out of this one, but I’m very, VERY excited to find out….
Since The Hunger Games was one of my very favourite movies of the past few years, and one of the very, very few recent blockbusters which was actually a terrific, intelligent film with something serious to say as opposed to a loud, empty mess designed to sell lunch boxes (yes, Marvel and Man of Steel, I’m looking at you), I was both looking forward to and slightly worried about how Catching Fire was going to go.
Thankfully, lightning has struck twice for the franchise, because, while the first one is better (as with the books), the second movie in the series is excellent too. Jennifer Lawrence – who is just marvellous in every film and every thing she does – heads up an astonishingly accomplished cast, the story is compelling, lovingly and beautifully-realised, and, apart from being a little slow to start (and Gale being a complete pain), the 146 minute running time just zips by. The best blockbuster of the year, by miles.