The Blacklist s3 ep 21

The Blacklister of the Week – and, if all goes to plan, for at least a season elsewhere – is Susan “Scottie” Hargrave, played confidently and with brio by Famke Janssen. (It’s worth noting in passing that one of the benefits of the Golden Age is that actresses aged over 40 get proper, and recurring, roles, at a time in their life when the film industry remains less interested in them than it should be.) Scottie is, with her unseen husband, the ruthless guiding spirit behind Halcyon Aegis, a sort of private black-ops contractor hired, from time to time, by the US government to do the sort of thing it can’t do. I would have thought that to be a very short list, judging by the number of governmental in-house rough-stuff artists we’ve seen on TV over the years.

Anyway, Red believes Scottie to be behind the attack on Liz’s wedding – and thus, indirectly, her death – and he is in no mood for effing around. Scottie gets word that one of her operations has gone south, and she gets there to find Halcyon Aegis redshirts lying all over the place and a typed note from Red inviting her to have a chat. She ignores this, but knowing that sooner or later Red will catch up with her she sets a trap for him, which of course he evades with the usual suavity.

Meantime, back at the task force there’s a surprising development: Aram, who as recently as last week I described as one of The Blacklist’s MVPs, has pushed his luck and become annoying. Dude. You are not the keeper of the Liz flame, and presuming to censure Tom for honeytrapping someone is going too far, as is your workplace crush on Samar. Might be time to grow up, and part of that would involve ignoring Tom’s romantic advice. Although he won’t, and because this is TV it’s entirely possible that Samar will reciprocate rather than raise a grievance for sexual harassment, in which case Aram halting the defusing of a bomb so he can trip over his petted lip might just come up again.

But the point of the episode is to get Red and Scottie into the same space, in order – from a plot standpoint – that Red can find out who hired her to capture Liz; and – from a value-for-money standpoint – we can see James Spader and Famke Janssen squaring off. It’s worth the wait, even if the key piece of information it yields is that the man with the plan is one Alexander Kirk, so far (I believe) unknown to us, if not to Red. Which sets us up for the season-concluding two-parter.

Judged as a standalone I thought this was excellent. How much of that is attributable to Janssen’s presence we can debate; this would, I think, have been a strong episode anyway, with Red killing people all over the place, and a snappy, witty script (I preferred Red’s “God, that door is slow. I was hoping for a more dramatic entrance, but what the hell”, to Ressler’s sardonic “Oh, the new Agent Keen” directed at Tom, but there was plenty of that sort of thing). The big question is whether Janssen can carry the spinoff, and for that we’ll need to wait and see.

It does occur to me once again, though, that The Blacklist is in danger of spreading itself too thin. I know that it’s basically The Spader Show, but it suffers from time to time because his superlative acting overshadows everyone else in the cast. Would it not be better to bring Janssen onto The Blacklist itself as a full-time cast member, occasional adversary, and possible age-appropriate will-they-won’t-they for Red?

Scandal s5 ep 21

I was in a bad mood when I sat down to watch this – personal shizzle, largely inconsequential. Sometimes, when a show lifts my spirits, that can work in its favour. Not this time, though; ‘That’s My Girl’ annoyed me more or less from the first scene, in which Jake kills his father-in-law so that his wife can claim her inheritance, and the money can be funnelled towards some B-613 purpose or other. I mean, I know that Jake’s always been a stone-cold killer, but there used to be a grander purpose: the protection of the Republic. Killing your wife’s father for… some money? Come on, Jake.

Jake is integral to the main plots of the week too, in which the Presidential candidates, Mellie Grant and Frankie Vargas, choose their running-mates. Olivia and her Gladiators – who, let’s face it, have barely had a proper job to do all season – screen some potential candidates for Mellie, ending up with Governor Bill Wagner, entirely perfect apart from the minor inconvenience of some college-age coke dealing. Despite Huck and Quinn’s best efforts the media get hold of that, so back to square one. Fitz, meantime, accommodates Mellie’s every whim with amused, out-of-here-soon tolerance. I’m still OK with Fitz/ Olivia/Vermont as endgame, and he clearly is too.

Over on the Dem side, Cyrus offers the position to David Rosen – which leads to an even-more-grotesque-than-normal makeout session between him and Elizabeth. But Cyrus – under threat of being unmasked as the creator of the Harrisburg shooting which propelled Frankie onto the national stage – is told by Rowan that Jake is going to be on the ticket, and Cyrus complies. Except, of course, as we saw last week, Jake wants to get away from Rowan. (I say again: you’re prepared to kill an old man for some cash, Jake. Why not kill Rowan?) Olivia engineers this, in what is quite a powerful scene: Rowan has a gun to Jake’s head, but she knows Rowan won’t pull the trigger, and he doesn’t.

So Jake gets away. Happily, there’s a vacancy for Mellie’s VP candidate, and Jake can just slot right in there. Yeah, whatever. Meaning that Frankie suddenly has a vacancy. One marital reconciliation later, and Cyrus is the Democratic candidate for Vice-President. Yeah, whatever, and I wouldn’t go making Tom an enemy quite so readily. (Although it’s worth noting that Scandal’s commitment to progressive politics hasn’t been entirely forgotten: I’m reasonably sure I remember Cyrus, years ago, observing that as his sexuality meant he could never run for elected office he’d done the next best thing and become the power behind Fitz’s throne. Now, though, he’s a viable candidate.)

Jake’s final misstep of the season is to suggest to Olivia, seconds before going on stage with Mellie, that the two of them could run away together, become lovers again rather than brother and sister, and “dare to be normal”. Of course, whatever else you can say for Papa Pope, that’s the very, very last thing he’s brought Olivia up to be. So she brutally shuts that idea down, makes it clear through inference that Jake is now her bitch rather than Rowan’s, and gets him the hell out on that stage. Which Rowan is able to watch, approvingly, on TV; he kind of knows what’s happened, and he also knows that his daughter is pursuing her route to power again. Hence the episode title.

So another season finishes. The infuriating thing about this show, of course, is that every now and again it soars, and it entertains, and it provokes, and it makes its points about power, gender, race, and sexuality; and that’s what keeps me watching, as much of a prisoner of Scandal as Jake is of the Pope family. For the first time, though, I’ve really started to wonder whether I’m in until the end; and, judging by the viewing figures, I’m not alone. The next season is going to be a truncated one, due to Kerry Washington’s pregnancy, and it might be worth considering whether it should be the last. Either way, it’s possible it’ll be my last.

Public Service Announcement 19 of 2016: The Catch

The latest show off the Shondaland conveyor belt arrives in the UK tonight. The Catch, in fairness, has a slightly unusual and intriguing genesis, as it comes from an original idea by novelist Kate Atkinson, whose work I like a lot. It revolves around hot-shot fraud investigator Alice (Mireille Enos), who is engaged to hot-shot financier Ben (Peter Krause). Unfortunately Ben is also a hot-shot grifter, who disappears before the wedding, leaving Alice to track him and his fellow con artists down with the help of her team of, uh, gladiators?

As you can probably tell, I’m kind of hoping for White Collar crossed with early Scandal here. But will I get it? On the one hand, the critical response has been ambivalent. Against that, Enos and Krause are attractive leads, and Sonya (Penny from Lost/Olivia from FlashForward) Walger is in the mix as well. Its first season runs to only ten episodes, which is always welcome. And – unlike our beloved Limitless – it’s been renewed. If this had come along maybe six weeks ago, there’s no chance I would have had the time to watch it. But with quite a few of my regular shows finishing up their runs for the summer, I might just have the capacity. We’ll see (tonight, Sky Living, 10pm).

Also starting: season 2 of Coach Taylor in Bloodline (tomorrow, Netflix).

Limitless s1 ep 15

640-4Oh wow. After a couple of weeks of treading water, Limitless came roaring back this week with an utterly fantastic episode. Confidently writing its own mythology from the start – the title, ‘Undercover!’, inviting direct comparison with the dazzling ‘Headquarters!’ episode; and the subtitle, ‘A Romantic Caper in Three Assignments’, telling us exactly how it’s going to do it – the show then did its very best to deliver on its promises.

There’s a framing device – Brian, being interviewed, explaining how something or other went down – but that needn’t detain us. The premise is that the FBI’s list of undercover agents has been stolen, but not yet leaked, so the agents still in the field need to be brought in before they’re in danger. Five agents haven’t yet been found, so Brian and his “team” are asked to help. He tracks four down pretty quickly – and even this brief sequence is a model of wit and invention – leaving only one, Lucy Church, thought to be undercover at a corrupt hedge fund.

Brian manages to find Lucy as well (hee on the big signs) but she wants to stay undercover, because she’s found out that the hedge fund has been laundering money for an upmarket escort agency, The Blue Limit, which has been using trafficked women and holding their passports so that they can’t escape. So it’s agreed that she can have two more days to bring the traffickers in, with Brian’s more or less willing help. First up is a Blue Limit benefit – is this a thing? Benefits for high-class knocking-shops? – at which Brian is undercover! as a client, with Lucy on his arm.

Having worked out who has the passports, undercover! assignment 2 for Brian is temping at The Blue Limit, where he steals the passports – then spends an afternoon making some money betting on horse racing, in order to give the trafficked women some funds as well. Now, because Lucy is hot, and Brian is Brian, and it’s a romantic caper, there have been sparks flying all over the place from their very first meeting. But this convinces Lucy that Brian is a nice guy – which he is – and the two of them totally Bollywood. How Rebecca feels about this is hard to discern; she certainly approved of Brian in a suit, but the show is still leaving itself some wiggle room if it decides not to pursue Brebecca (?).

And the third undercover! assignment is at a company called Edelweiss, whose name keeps cropping up in The Blue Limit’s ledgers. By this point Brian’s NZT has run out, and it shows. (Interestingly, we will find out in due course that Lucy has worked out Brian’s deal. Also – once again – Brian off NZT is still as moral as Brian on NZT, if not as brilliant.) The Big Bad behind the trafficking is at Edelweiss; Lucy gives serious consideration to killing him, but Brian – still holding himself partly responsible for the death of the custody clerk in last week’s episode – just about manages to talk her down. Lucy will then disappear out of Brian’s life, Cheshire Cat-like, leaving her smile behind, and I’d be happy to see her back.

But it’s not all romantic capers, and as ever, the show manages to balance the fun and the darkness: Rebecca is invited for a meeting with Sands, who offers her a generously-compensated job working for Morra. Rebecca not only declines the offer but discloses to Sands that she’s investigated him and discovered that he was bought off by Morra himself. Which is smart, but puts Rebecca in even more danger. Undercover! is an excellent demonstration of why this show is so very much more than a standard procedural, and of why we’re going to miss it.

Game of Thrones s6 ep 5

*SPOILERS*

A moment of silence, first, I think, for a man of almost no words.

Hodor.

The second Stark servant/ protector to die for the cause in two weeks, gentle, loyal Hodor has now given up both his vocabulary and his life, and for what? For Bran, a walking Wiki whose principal purpose at this stage is to keep dreaming chunks of exposition that apparently couldn’t be shoe-horned into the plot any other way, while everyone else sacrifices their lives, caves, weird and ancient trees etc round about him.

Sigh.

The scenes with the Night’s King and the Walkers are obviously amazing and terrifying, with Summer, the Children of the Forest and the Three-Eyed Raven’s deaths horribly, beautifully-realised, but, my GOD. Poor, brave, tragic Hodor; for decades, doomed to serve in sadness and doomed to die in pain, thanks to bloody BRAN. If I were Meera Reed, I’d take my Walker-killing spear and walk myself the hell away; after all, the queue of people left to die so the second-youngest, second-blandest (sorry, Rickon) Stark can live is suddenly looking very, very short.

Moving up the Stark ranks, the not-exactly-bland but not-in-any-way-exciting-to-watch-any-more Arya is this week sent to see a sort of Pyramus and Thisbe-style play which summarises seasons one and two, presumably for the benefit of any new viewers who decided episode five of season six was the ideal time to pop in and see what all the fuss was about. As far as this long-time viewer’s concerned, however, the play’s clever but both unnecessary and way too long, since it neither advances the plot, nor tells  us anything new about Arya or anyone else. Unless telling us something new means that startling, completely ridiculous scene where a character we’ve never met before announces he has genital warts. While SHOWING us them. I’ve complained about gratuitous female nudity on GOT before – no need for the breasts this week, either, by the way – and I know one view is that the way to address this is to balance it out with gratuitous male nudity, but, to be honest, I’m generally quite happy for people to keep their bits and pieces to themselves, and just get on with the story.

Speaking of which, Arya’s story obviously stalled in Braavos ages ago, but thankfully Jon’s and Sansa’s have started to move at lightning speed to make up for it. Sansa, in particular, has another stupendous week this week. Her unyielding, unflinching confrontation of the oleaginous but still largely inscrutable Littlefinger is terrific; powerful, fearless and strong, Sansa is nobody’s pawn any more. Or at least, she’s trying not to be. He doesn’t have to pose as her friend to manipulate her though; despite her anger towards him, Littlefinger still manages quite easily to drive the beginnings of a wedge between her and the former Lord Commander, much to Jon’s suspicion, Brienne’s unease and my increasing anxiety. Making Jon a coat like Ned’s was a thoughtful touch, giving me hope that these two sad, crazy kids will pull together again, but I’m worried. Very worried.

Would that I could say the same about the other strained sibling alliance of the week, as Yara and brother/ doormat Theon try to persuade a bunch of people who literally drown their potential kings – sort of like the Salem test for witches, only if you don’t drown you get to be king, instead of getting burned at the stake – that they don’t need a King, they need a Queen. If I cared about this storyline or these two characters at all, I’d be mildly perturbed that a man who happily confessed to killing the previous king, his own brother, is seen as the best candidate but it’s the Iron Born and they’re miserable, so I don’t.

Which leaves us with the week’s strained non-sibling alliance, as Tyrion and Varys spend the week recruiting a priestess of the Lord of Light to assist the pro-Daenerys cause. If the High Sparrow situation weren’t enough of a warning about the dangers of making political alliances with religious fanatics, NotMelisandre’s plans for the “purification of non-believers” and musings on the night Varys was castrated are a GIANT NEON STOP SIGN but, despite her being creepy as all get-out, Team Meereen presses on. I doubt this will end well, but who knows, maybe she’ll cure Ser Jorah before she starts ceremonially burning folk. Hodor.

Person of Interest s4 ep 22

Person of Interest’s use of theological allegories has been unmistakeable during this season, even more so than before, and calling your final episode ‘YHWH’ is a clear statement of intent. But there’s more than one god at work here, and Samaritan has gone to war: a series of power surges across America which might be the start of The Correction, whatever that is, but which are also having an effect on The Machine.“The Machine is dying”, observes Root, so she and Finch try to save it, although she also makes it clear to The Machine that it – he? she? – needs to step up.

Meantime Reese and Fusco are still being held by Dominic, who wants the same sort of arrangement with them as he believes Elias to have. Uh, no, says Reese, who knows the sort of person he can do business with when he sees one. So everyone’s about to die; fortunately The Machine gets its circuits in gear at that point, and in a delightful moment starts using Reese as another human interface, providing instructions via fax and then directly to Reese himself, allowing him (“Hell yes!”) to escape, and with the assistance of Fusco- freed by the playing-both-sides Harper – to arrest Dominic and Elias.

But what of The Correction? Control has had enough of Greer running the world, so trains a gun on him, while The Machine directs her disciples to pick up a few items: copper wires, compression algorithms, piezoelectric batteries, other sciency things. It looks as if The Correction is going to be a bomb attack on the Supreme Court, but that’s just a feint: it’s actually a Samaritan initiative to rid the planet of people who are getting in the way of a better world. So, among others, Dominic and Elias are sent to an awesome farm in the country. At least I think they are; there seemed to me to be, although I might be imagining it a degree of ambuguity about whether their injuries were fatal. If we lose them it’s a shame; Dominic (Winston Duke) has been a very good character, and Enrico Colantoni as Elias has elevated Person of Interest every time he’s been in it, as well as providing a personification of the show’s occasionally slippery morality.

Of which we get more here: it could be argued that eliminating certain people would lead to a better world, although that depends on how you define “better”, and your level of comfort with ends justifying means. Crucially, though, Samaritan also wants to get the disloyal out of the way. Disloyal, one wonders, to whom? Well, probably to Samaritan, which also means an exit for Control.

And while that’s going on, the power surges are getting closer and closer to The Machine, who becomes ever more human, and directly addresses Finch. Significantly – and I think I’ve said this before – Finch has always regarded The Machine as his child, rather than (as Root does) as a parent/deity, and The Machine sees things the same way: ”Father, I am sorry”, it says to Finch. “I failed. I didn’t know how to win. I had to invent new rules. I thought you would want me to stay alive. Now, you are not sure. If you think I have lost my way, then maybe I should die.” But Finch isn’t having that – although there’s a Biblical precedent, what father sacrifices his child? – and saves an iteration of The Machine, before he, Reese, and Root, walk out to face the next battle against Samaritan.

Which, as we now know, will take place in a fifth and final season, which has just started in America. There is, of course, no word on when UK viewers will get it, although such has been Channel 5’s egregious treatment of the show that I’m fully expecting all 13 episodes to be burned off one night in 2019. It would be nice to get it soon, though: this season wasn’t quite the best thing I’ve seen on TV this year (step forward, Fargo and The People v O.J. Simpson), but as network shows go it is, at the moment, almost without peer.

Blindspot s1 ep 20

*SPOILERS*

Hooray! Having realised that they have three tremendous assets in Patterson, Borden and the chemistry between Patterson and Borden, the Blindspot writers decide to give us some of what we want this week – not all of what we want, though, since Tree Tat Man is not only still alive but now talking about jazz, FFS – in the form of a story that gives the two nicest folk on the show plenty of excuses to hang out and be lovely, while also blowing stuff up and shooting a fellow in the head with a nail gun. Awesomesauce.

At the root of this week’s nonsense is a terrified, autistic young girl named Maya, found wandering the New York streets, whose chief method of communication is drawing: tats, terrorists and all sorts of top stuff which gets Mayfair so excited she keeps saying mad things like “we need to get through to her and we need to do it NOW,” because the finer points of looking after traumatised, deeply vulnerable children was obviously not something they spent too long on in her year at Quantico.

Luckily for both Maya and the viewing audience, however, lovely Dr Borden is on hand to gently remind everyone of the need to check themselves before they wreck themselves, and, using the therapist’s two greatest tools – empathy and a doe-eyed, multi-tatted amnesiac – manages to get all sorts of handy info from the wee girl, which, for various “danger blah target blah you know what I mean, blah” reasons, means he has to take her away to his remote cottage in the country. (I swear the idea didn’t sound this creepy when Borden suggested it.)

Patterson, who is a genius after all, immediately volunteers to accompany him, but Mayfair is too wrapped up in her own “old girlfriend’s faking her death / new girlfriend, er, isn’t” drama to get with the Team Patterden program quite yet. “Why do you wanna go?” she asks, suspiciously, and since Patterson can’t say “because I want to play house with the kindest, handsomest man in the FBI,” she goes with the lame but hilarious “I like cottages.” Heh.

A quick, surprisingly adroit intervention from Kurt saves Patterson further blushes, however, and means everyone gets what they want: Kurt and Jane get some road trip alone time to talk about having kids and other big life stuff everybody regularly discusses with colleagues they don’t fancy the pants off of at all, nuh-uh, while Borden and Patterson get some road trip alone time to make One Direction jokes (no judgement here, dude) and charm both each other and, oh yeah, young Maya. Remember her?

Unfortunately for Maya, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (WTF?) certainly does, and the only thing surprising about him being a bad guy is that the two geniuses on the team don’t notice it much earlier. But if they had, we wouldn’t have had a glorious shoot-out at the cottage, Patterson taking stock of Borden’s cleaning supplies and announcing “This is all looking promising, we could use some of this to kill someone,” and Patterson thereafter blowing up Borden’s house, so it’s all good. Or, more accurately, it’s all crazy bonkers but also (aside from Tree Tat going all gross and sappy) great fun and actually a little moving every now and again, so, one more time for the road then: hooray!