Timeless s1 ep 6

I discovered last week that The Alamo isn’t my thing. On the other hand: post-WW2 American politics? That is very, very much my jam. So a Watergate-themed episode of Timeless, and specifically one which turns on the 18 minutes excised from President Nixon’s White House tapes, is always going to appeal to me. As it happens, I thought it was the best episode so far.

Flynn and the BTM are in Washington, D.C., in June 1972, on the very day when Nixon recorded the tape which was later “inadvertently” “edited”, with Flynn intending to seize the tape before that can happen. Wyatt, Lucy, and Rufus therefore need to stop him, although were I part of the LTM team my hand would have been in the air at this point asking whether we could, at least, hear what was on the tape first? As it happens Flynn’s a man after my own heart: not only does he capture the three of them to stop them interfering, he’s already got the tape and he plays it. This reveals that Nixon was talking about – oh yes – Rittenhouse, and he also mentions a missing “doc”. Flynn then sends Lucy and Rufus to recover the document, while holding onto Wyatt, threatening to kill him if they’re unsuccessful. And, meantime, Rufus is secretly reporting to someone in 1972, who wants him to “destroy the doc” But it isn’t a document, it’s a doctor, and she’s connected to the Black Liberation Army, which for once means that Lucy feels less comfortable than Rufus.

On top of that there’s stuff about Flynn’s Secret Pain, Wyatt’s Secret Pain, Rufus’s Secret Recordings, and Lucy’s Secret Conversations With Flynn, not to mention her biological father, who is inevitably someone we already know. Plus a splendid Conspiracy Wall. I loved it.

Public Service Announcement 2 of 2017: Homeland, Apple Tree Yard

At least part of the excitement of anticipating a new season of Homeland is wondering which version we’re going to get: the tired, directionless Homeland of season 3, say, or the taut, exciting Homeland of season 5? I thought the move to Berlin last time round reinvigorated the show, taking it out of its America-centric bubble and allowing it to respond in something close to real time to developments in Europe. (The involvement of the refulgent Nina Hoss didn’t hurt either.) So I’m slightly disappointed that season 6 moves the action to New York, and a little perturbed that it’s set in the period between the presidential election and the inauguration: as I’ve said more than once, what’s actually happened in America over the past year has made it very difficult for drama to respond. You can’t outflank the actual President for idiocy, absurdity, or malevolence; and choosing instead to go with a female President, as Homeland has apparently done, runs the risk of looking like wistful liberal wish-fulfilment. But let’s see. Weekly reviews as usual, and once again Channel 4 should be commended for keeping us close to American TX (Sunday 22 January, Channel 4, 9pm).

And, starting at the same time, there’s a BBC drama which – I know, I know – might be worth a look: Apple Tree Yard, an adaptation of Louise Doughty’s bestselling thriller about a middle-aged woman who embarks on an exciting but risky affair. There’s some serious talent in the cast: Emily Watson, Ben Chaplin, and Mark Bonnar. It’s four episodes long, which sight unseen I’m prepared to bet will be one too many, but I might try to fit this in (Sunday 22 January, BBC 1, 9pm).

Hawaii Five-0 s7 ep 3

Alicia, the retired profiler unwillingly dragged into the Five-0’s investigation of the killer with a thing about chess – who I’m going to call the Knight Stalker until I can come up with something better – wakes up to find a blood-soaked corpse beside her in bed. Ew. Ew. The corpse, of course, has a pawn in its mouth. “She’s invested now, which is good”, sniffs Danny; which seems a little bit callous about an incident which would have any normal person in intensive therapy for the rest of her life, a life which would be cut short by her complete inability to go to sleep.

We’ll return to the Knight Stalker in due course. Meantime, though, there’s a Case of the Week: victim A fell around 10,000 feet, then through the roof of someone’s house, and victim B was the (very) unlucky householder, who got shot. In due course the dots will be joined and it will turn out that a drug cartel is hunting its boss, for the purposes of killing him rather than extracting him from Oahu. This plot is H50 by-the-numbers, although it has a nice ending: I didn’t for a second think that Steve was going to exchange a bag containing $10 million in drug money for the cartel boss, but nor did I expect the bag to contain REDACTED.

Meantime Kono has been called to the police station, where an old surfing adversary, Rosey Valera, is in custody. (We never find out what for, as it happens.) It turns out that Rosey gave up surfing and signed up for the army, but lost her legs in an IED explosion. I could perhaps have done without Kono lecturing Rosey about accepting help – “You have too much pride!” – but it is, I think, a well-meaning if slight storyline. Moreover, given how much screentime the show has lavished in the past on images of the “perfect” body, male and female, it’s good to see that Rosey (played by Kanya Sesser, born without legs) gets to put a bikini on and go surfing with Kono.

And, finally, back with the Knight Stalker. There’s a common link between some of the victims – they were being investigated by a Detective Lau, who then committed suicide. Lau is exhumed, which inevitably establishes that he was in fact murdered, so Steve and Alicia head over to the office of Dr Madison Gray, the psychologist Lau was seeing before his death. Before Dr Gray comes in, though, they find a book about medieval chess in her office, immediately making her the number one person of interest. Dr Gray, incidentally, is played by Elisabeth Röhm, who was Deputy District Attorney Amanda Taylor in Stalker. (I’m delighted that so many Stalker alums are turning up in Unpopcult-endorsed shows.) Not as good as the first two episodes in the season, but fine.

Blindspot s2 ep 9

*Spoilers*

OMG.

Phase 2’s in 12 hours! (Except it isn’t.) Jane grabs files and a phone which have “accidentally” been left in her orbit! (Except they haven’t.) Before Kurt and Co can storm in and crack Sandstorm heads, Allie’s hurt in a terrible accident! (Except she isn’t.) Connor phones Kurt! (Except he doesn’t.) And Dr Borden’s a very honest man who would never….

Yeah, I think you know where I’m going with this.

This week’s frantic Blindspot has everyone on the Joint Tat Task Force falling for every trick possible; from Jane not even questioning the sudden and magical appearance of everything she needs to lure the team to Big Trap Farm, to Kurt not registering how much of a coincidence it is that he’s suddenly needed in a hospital across town when he’s just about to do his Big Man on the Task Force thing and Shut. Sandstorm. Down, to Patterson not realising that a charming, handsome, incredibly sweet man who brings you breakfast in bed at the beginning of an episode of procedural drama is either a mole or a goner by the end of it. Or perhaps both.

It’ll take more than a building falling down on them to bring down the JTTF though: Kurt races back to dig everyone out with his bare hands, Kalinda and Reade almost die a couple of times but nope, and if anybody out of the main cast might not make it past this week, well it’s not going to be Patterson is it?

(NB – it had better NOT be.)

Luckily for the JTTF, of course, Sandstorm isn’t quite as rock solid as Shepherd thinks; turns out Jane’s instincts about Roman are at least half right – she can’t turn him, but he can’t wholly turn against her, either, which means bro and sis end up on the run from everyone, and Jane does something so completely ludicrous but so utterly Blindspotty that I would have clapped my hands had they not been busy holding my head at the time. This episode was insane. Super-exciting and fun, but also crazy bonkers. Which is absolutely what you want from Blindspot, so I’m definitely not complaining.

Nashville s4 ep 21

Rayna and Deacon are in New York City for the benefit concert she promised to do a few episodes ago, although Vita, the car-dwelling thief who inspired it, has just disappeared from the show’s collective memory. Rather like poor old Riff, it’s like she didn’t ever exist. But then Rayna finds out that Older Girl is working with Big Name Producer, who is also a big sexual predator; he tried to force himself on Rayna years ago when she was young and vulnerable.

Rayna can’t get hold of OG, so manages to persuade The Huffington Post to publish an open letter which calls BNP out by name. This all seems to happen unrealistically quickly, but what the hell, it’s the last episode of the season. Then, unable to bear the thought of what might be happening to his daughter, Deacon disappears, which generally means that someone’s going to have to be hosed off a wall. He gets there, though, in time to stop BNP; and, for once, manages not to hit someone – although, paradoxically, it’s someone who deserves a beating – and he and OG get the hell out of there.

The most entertaining and moving storyline of the week, however, belongs to Juliette, who’s in LA for the Oscars. She invites Avery and Cadence – and, as it happens, Layla – to join her, which of course puts Layla’s pert little nose out of joint. Juliette then discovers that someone – *ahem* Layla *ahem* – has leaked details of Jeff’s rooftop plunge to the press, and Jeff’s sister sues her. She settles out of court – again, this all happens unrealistically quickly, but what the hell etc. – then gives an interview during which she admits everything, thus finally giving herself a chance to move on.

But does Layla get away with it? Well, no. Glenn finds out what she’s been doing, and sacks her as a client; then Avery finds out too, and sacks her as a girlfriend (“You’re crazy, and we’re done!” – great line), before more or less reconciling with Juliette by phone. I do feel kind of sorry for Layla, who’s had a rough couple of seasons. Which all started with her gay husband, Will. This week he manages to get himself on the Cynthia Davis show after launching a sort of country music protest outside her studio. (The song that he and Luke do, incidentally, is something like the best thing Luke’s ever done on the show.) Kevin watches approvingly. Luke matchmakes a little, then gets out of the way. What a season Luke has had.

The news isn’t so good for The Exes, though, and therefore not for me. Scarlett decides that she needs to tell Gunnar how she feels, but at the precise moment when she’s doing so Autumn dashes into the room and proprietorially coils herself around Gunnar. At that precise moment. My note on this scene is simply “OFFS”. A subsequent conversation doesn’t sort things out, and so Scarlett and Gunnar decide that it’s time to pursue solo careers, much to the horror of their manager dude (who, it should be said, displays the patience of a saint throughout, combined with tact, and with genuine affection for his charges. Rather like Glenn and Bucky, as CJ has already observed).

So The Exes – still on tour – hit the stage for the last time, faces grim; not for the first time, it’s very Civil Wars. But as they unfurl another of their lovely, angsty songs, they make eye contact, the onstage chemistry reasserts itself, Gunnar FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY realises what time it is, and they make out. On stage. On effing stage. As a very longstanding, and intense, Gunnlett shipper I tried manfully to underreact, but let’s be honest; I squee’d my head off. I suppose all that leaves is a nagging sense that I never quite worked out what Autumn’s game was, and that Alicia Witt, an interesting actor, was somewhat underserved. Still, Gunnlett!

And then… well, at the time the episode was being written and filmed, it looked as if it was going to be the Nashville series finale, so just about everyone else gets a happy ending as well. OG comes back to Rayna and Deacon, who kiss. Will and Kevin kiss. Luke realises that his ex-wife might just have been the love of his life, and calls her. (Whoever she might be. We haven’t seen her yet.) Juliette decides that the Academy Awards can get on just fine without her, so boards a plane to go home to Avery and Cadence. As it happens, though, the writers and producers had time to pull the happy Julvery reunion scene which had been filmed, and instead insert one in which a distress signal is received from Juliette’s plane, in order to give us a cliffhanger for a possible fifth season; then, after being cancelled by ABC, Nashville unexpectedly did indeed find itself a new home on cable channel CMT.

There’s no word yet whether UK viewers will get to see that fifth season, which has just started in America. Still, I will totally be there if we do. The advance word on season 4 was that it was something of a letdown. But despite the welter of annoying characters (e.g. Deacon) and annoying storylines (e.g. anything with Deacon) I generally loved it, and this was a terrific way to round the season off.

This Is Us s1 ep 6

Work and sacrifices are this week’s themes, as, in the past timeline, Jack’s choice between the freedom and risk of starting his own business and the drudgery and safety of a desk job in someone else’s is made both simpler and sadder when he finds out Randall’s gifts need the kind of attention a public school can’t give and a private one charges plenty for. Whether that’s the right decision for Jack we don’t know yet, but it’s certainly the right decision for Randall – in the modern day, nobody understands what he does, and he’s a little sore and self-conscious about it, but, unlike his dad, he absolutely loves his desk job. Which is wonderful, because boring or not, we can’t all be rock stars; the best we can hope for is to be good at something we like, and Randall’s got that sorted.

Kevin’s not quite found that happy place yet, though. He’s continuing to struggle with his job, so the increasingly unpleasant Olivia decides to help out and move their relationship forward a few steps in the process. It was obvious from the first time we met Olivia that she and Kevin would end up sleeping together, but the part about it being in a stranger’s bedroom at the memorial service for a man neither of them knew caught me somewhat by surprise, even if it does mean Kevin has to open up about his grief over his dad’s death. Whether Olivia’s sacrifice of basic human decency to get him there and get a better performance out of him is justified, is a different issue entirely.

While Kevin and Randall take a deeper look at themselves, their jobs and whether they need to change, however, Kate’s new job ends up being about the same thing every other Kate story’s about. Having to climb all the stairs in the world to get there notwithstanding (a plus-size person faced with a huge staircase! Oh, how we laughed. *rolls eyes*), at first, it seems like she’s hired because she’s going to be terrific at the job. And she is terrific at it. But then, it turns out she’s mainly hired because – as with everything in Kate’s life – she’s overweight. Her employer wants someone to talk to her apparently also overweight – the girl looked fairly average-sized to me – in that special fat language those of us who aren’t a size six use to recommend snacks and diet plans to each other. FFS. I love this show, and the rest of the episode is excellent, but at this point I have to wonder whether the writers are trolling us with Kate and her storylines, because this is getting beyond a joke.

Sherlock s4 ep 3

imageWe open with a horribly frightening scenario, uncomfortably reminiscent of real-life events in the not too distant past that I’d rather not think about: a little girl wakes to find she’s the only person awake on a plane full of unconscious crew and passengers. A mobile phone suddenly starts ringing, breaking the silence around her, and she answers, panicked, only to find the voice on the line is….

Well, that would be telling. It turns out, however, that the little girl on the plane isn’t even the scariest situation this episode has to offer, as we move through a terrifying incident at Mycroft’s house, and on to a tense stand-off at Baker Street before finally ending up in what is a long waking nightmare at Sherrinford itself, courtesy of one Ms Eurus Holmes; a magnetically chilling portrayal by Sian Brooke of a woman who has an intellect “beyond Newton” and a capacity for endlessly imaginative and expansive cruelty beyond all of us.

imageAll this makes The Final Problem the darkest, most complicated Sherlock yet, weaving a deeply disturbing family history that has previously remained oblique and undiscovered to both us and Sherlock himself, into the show’s already established mythology and relationships, and giving us a villain who’s not only much cleverer than our heroes and all our previous villains, but seems, for most of the episode, utterly and solely devoted to the pursuit of the most appalling psychological torture and revenge.

This is not Sherlock as cheerful whodunnit or even meta buddy comedy then, but Sherlock as psychological horror film; for most of the ninety-minute running time, the only sounds coming from my sofa were gasps and whimpers – in fairness, they did find time for a little of the trademark Sherlock humour but, for the most part, this was black and uncompromising; the scene with the governor, the scene with Molly, the sudden realisation of who Redbeard really was – my God.

If the horror was a little too much at times, though, the chemistry between and consistently outstanding performances of Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Mark Gatiss helped keep the heart in there too, adding, as Eurus might say, “emotional context” to an episode which, without it, would just have been thoroughly unpleasant. As it was, The Final Problem may have been somewhat traumatic to watch, but it was also gripping, mesmerising viewing and a fine, fitting way to end the series, if end the series it does.

The fate of the show isn’t clear yet; although they all seem keen to return, Cumberbatch, Freeman and showrunners Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss are all much more famous and in demand than they were when they started their “Holmes and Watson as young men in a modern setting” project, and it’s not as if it’s easy to make 3 feature-length movies with writers and a cast like that on a BBC Drama budget. It’s also subject to the law of diminishing returns – I still think that this version of Sherlock is, for the most part, brilliant, but it’s fair to say that the number of people who agree with me has decreased significantly over the past few years. There’s no denying any new series of Sherlock is an event, though; if we got a fifth one, I’d be far from the only one pleased and watching. Ups and downs and focus on Mary and Moriarty aside, I do still love this incarnation of the Baker Street Boys. For now, then, I’m not saying goodbye to them, just farewell. It’s been a blast.