Homeland s8 ep 6

Max, captured at the end of last week’s episode by a Taliban fighter, tries to get away and is shot. But he survives, of course, because he’s Max. He’s relieved of the flight recorder, mind you, which is sold on and last seen on a pack animal heading into the Afghan hills. I mean, how would you even start to try to find it? I think they emit a signal so that they can be found after plane crashes, but I might have completely made that up, and I’m not Googling it. 

Carrie, meantime, is concerned that the search for Max isn’t at the top of everyone’s list of priorities, so she reaches out to Yevgeny. He, in turn, says that he’ll make a call to his contacts, but that she’ll need to turn off the CIA’s surveillance for two minutes so that he doesn’t risk burning his source. This isn’t a particularly easy thing to achieve, but after an inspired bit of tradecraft with a photocopier she manages to do it. Even without anyone knowing about that, though, she’s in trouble: her last conversation with Yevgeny has now been transcribed, and it’s clear she completely lied about it. More than that: it was her idea for POTUS to visit Afghanistan in the first place. So was it Carrie who – perhaps inadvertently – leaked the details to the Taliban through Yevgeny? Saul, with the FBI now breathing down his neck, is required to intervene.

Before that, though, he is also required to restrain himself from ripping his own beard out by the roots in fury when he has to provide counsel to the new POTUS, President Idiot. G’ulom has taken advantage of the assassination of the Presidents to take 300 Taliban prisoners, house them in a football stadium, and threaten to kill them unless Haqqani surrenders himself. Saul and Wellington patiently talk Commander-in Chief Idiot through how this is actually a bad idea, how it will revive the Taliban insurgency, how G’ulom should stick to due process, even how to pronounce G’ulom’s name. This all last for at least a minute when Idiot speaks by phone to G’ulom, and is persuaded that, actually, slaughtering hundreds of political prisoners in a stadium might be a good thing.

So everything is about to go very wrong: Haqqani’s missing, the flight recorder which might prove that the Taliban didn’t kill the Presidents is out there somewhere, as is Max, and Carrie’s been having secret meetings with a Russian operative. She pleads her case to Saul, but he takes the view that she has to leave Afghanistan stat and return to Germany: he rushed her back to work, he concedes, way too soon. (I was actually beginning to wonder when and if Carrie’s mental health was going to be referenced again.) She’s escorted to the airport, and almost on to a plane. It’s the “almost” which is, of course, the problem: she ducks through a doorway and down a flight of stairs, where she’s picked up by Yevgeny. It’s another good, solid episode. I’d quite like an outstanding one, though.

Hawaii Five-0 s10 ep 13

I’m sure that most episodes of TV are skilfully pieced together in the editing suite, sometimes from scenes filmed weeks or months apart. And this applies to Hawaii Five-0 more than most, I would guess, given its enlightened approach to cast members taking time off here and there. Even allowing for that, though, this was a strangely disjointed episode, which felt as it it was explicitly driven by the availability, or otherwise, of its actors.

Which makes it all the odder that Danny – who spends at least half a season out of sight – is featured, even if only in a subplot about his son, Charlie, being bullied at school. He’s called into a meeting with the principal, but presumably Claire van der Boom, who plays Danny’s ex-wife, had something else to be getting on with at the time of filming, because Danny is accompanied by Steve. (I know.) The two of them then track down the father of the boy who’s been bullying Charlie, using flashing lights and sirens to stop his car, which should really get them fired. But it all – miraculously – has a happy ending.

The main plot, though, involves Grover, who is playing a round at an upscale club when he’s diffidently approached by the head of security, Zev (Alon Aboutboul), asking for some discreet assistance in respect of a dead body found in the club’s cryotherapy chamber (I didn’t know, until this, that these are a thing. No wonder we’re heading for the apocalypse). Grover quickly establishes that there’s been a murder and, assisted by Zev, discovers a link to a gigantic counterfeiting/laundering scheme. Tani, the only Five-0 member who’s actually turned up for work, helps from the office.

So what of everyone else? Junior leaves a message on Tani’s voicemail telling her that, as a reservist, he’s been deployed somewhere or other. Ideally in a couple of weeks the Five-0 feels obliged to invade a hostile foreign country to bring their boy home. Quinn is… oh, can’t remember. And Adam is in Tokyo, all troubled of expression and lit by moody neon lights. He wants – and gets – a meeting with a Yakuza boss, at which he pleads his case to be installed as oyabun in Kenzi’s place. This is agreed to, but on condition that he gets himself back into the Five-0 and spies for the Yakuza. I really hope that this is Adam embracing his destiny and not playing a tedious long game.

The Nest ep 1

Glaswegian self-made millionaire (or, at least, very rich guy) Dan Docherty and his West End-y wife Emily share their gorgeous lochside home with a terrible Secret Pain: a history of miscarriages, unsuccessful fertility treatment and unfulfilled desire to have a child. A chance encounter (or IS IT?) with 18 year old hoodlum Kaya – who’s about as far away from self-made, millionaire and West End-y as a person can get – leads to the girl outright stalking Emily and, instead of getting arrested, somehow persuading her that she (Kaya) is absolutely, divinely meant to carry the last remaining Docherty embryo, in exchange for a complicated mix of gratitude, affirmation and cold, hard, cash money.

Dan D is suspicious, as he absolutely should be, since a) none of this makes any sense, and b) Kaya radiates Big Psycho Energy from every pore, but she is relentless and Emily is determined that this is “meant to be”: “There’s a lot of magical thinking on both sides”, says the clinic which declines to perform the procedure. That’s a kind way to put it. I went for “This is LUNACY.”

This might also be the kind of thing I would have liked a few years ago but, aside from the fun of spotting all the Glasgow locations and that glorious house in Cape Cove, I didn’t enjoy this first episode at all. It could have been a thoughtful, sensitive examination of the moral maze of surrogacy and the divide between rich and poor, and maybe I’m being unfair and the rest of the series will be, but the complete absence of any subtlety in this initial instalment makes me doubt that very much.

Instead of eliciting any sort of empathy for her situation, everything about Kaya – terrifying stares, menacing behaviour, every look and move soundtracked by the music of “if you’re not scared yet, you’d bloody better be” – is so parodically sinister that Emily’s insistence on proceeding with the surrogacy scheme is both infuriating and utterly inexplicable, even if the show does try: “It’s grief,” says Dan’s patient, sensible sister Hilary. (There’s that kindness again.) And it’s not just Kaya who’s obvious either. Her neighbour Doddy starts off seeming like a decent guy but, instead of foregoing the cliché and keeping him that way, of course he isn’t. Her social workers could avoid the hellishness apparently about to befall everybody if they’d follow the “procedure” they keep referring to and report her. And local-boy-made-too-good-to-be-true Dan clearly has some sort of terrible secret/criminality going on which I would guess will be revealed/ used as blackmail material somewhere around episode 3. I don’t know if I can be bothered sticking around that long. Since everything is undoubtedly going to go terribly, avoidably wrong for the Dochertys, I found episode 1 an exasperating combination of wildly stressful, completely suspense-free, and utterly one-note. Lockdown means I’m sitting in my house with time on my hands, but it also means I’m more than anxious enough about real-life already, thanks. In fairness, that might have been a factor in my reaction to The Nest as well but, either way, I don’t need a tv show, however beautifully-shot, winding me up any further.

The Good Doctor s3 ep 17

Everything feels surreal just now, not least watching a TV show in which the hospital staff is dealing with lots of non-Covid-19 cases, and everyone’s standing mere inches apart and touching their faces – and each other – all the time. Still, let’s go on.

Patient of the Week number 1, in a solid but not exceptional episode, is Wes (Harold Perrineau, once of Lost and presently of The Rookie), who runs a survivalist programme for at-risk youths; but who, perhaps ironically, is suffering from a serious infection after being pricked by a cactus while on one of his camping trips. While the ARYs ponder whether Wes is perhaps the best person to provide them with survival tips, Morgan and Park try to keep him alive as his kidneys fail. His heart is too weak to cope with dialysis, so he needs a transplant, and one of his boys – Max, aged 16 – is a match. However, Max is too young to give consent, and is sufficiently estranged from his family that the decision about whether the transplant can go ahead needs to be taken by Lim, as head of surgery. And she is tough: she says no, although she’s willing, at Wes’s request, to lie to Max and tell him that his kidneys weren’t suitable after all.

The second Patient is Alice, who suffers from persistent dizziness to the point where she can barely stand up. No-one has ever been able to diagnose the cause, so Shaun, Claire, and Melendez go full-on House, with a white board and everything. It turns out that Alice has, in fact, already had a diagnosis, but she doesn’t like it. At one point she’s offered surgery which her husband is so opposed to he threatens to leave her if she has it, taking their daughter with him, which seems a bit… much? Anyway, because Shaun’s on this team he comes up with a better idea – the usual save – and they all live happily, and together, ever after.

The personal storylines are a bit of a mixed bag this week: for now, I’m not all that bothered about Park’s son Kellen, his panic attacks, and his pot vaping with one of Wes’s boys. I’m more invested in Claire and Melendez, of course, and this week Dash – the widower (?) of Claire’s friend Kayla, who we first met in season 2, appears at the hospital and asks Claire on a date. What does she think of that? What does Melendez think of that? He encourages her to give it a try, although with a hint of wistfulness, I’d say.

And Shaun has convinced himself that Lea’s rejection of him last week was no more than conditional: he wants to be with her, he’s used to overcoming obstacles, and this is no more than an obstacle to be overcome. He can change, he can do things differently, and he can make her love him. This sort of delusion is, of course, found among the neurotypical as well, but Lea – having perhaps soft-pedalled the message last week – this time makes it entirely clear that she doesn’t want to date him because of his autism, which is something he can’t fix. I was never entirely on board with Shaun and Lea as a romantic couple, and from my point of view we’re done here. I suspect that won’t be how the writers see it, mind you. 

Public Service Announcement 17: The Nest

BBC Scotland has been doing an impressive job in the drama stakes recently. The Nest, starting tonight (Sunday) on BBC1 at 9pm is their latest contribution: an interesting-looking five-parter about well-off Glasgow couple Dan and Emily who enter a surrogacy agreement with Kaya, an 18 year-old from the other side of the tracks who would like a bit of the high life herself, thanks very much. The trailer does have a slight whiff of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle crossed with Hollyoaks Later by way of River City, but the subject matter still has a lot of potential whether done straight or salaciously, it has Martin “Line of Duty” Compston speaking with his own accent and it’s got to be better than Belgravia. I’m going to give it a shot.

Homeland s8 ep 5

Good news for those of us who’ve been missing our fix of 24: this uneven but occasionally breathtaking episode plays out, unusually for Homeland, more or less in real time. Troops from the Steedley outpost, including Max, get to the crash site and confirm that the President is dead. Actually, both presidents: American and Afghan. As the escort helicopter was definitely shot down by the Taliban there’s a general assumption that the same happened to the helicopter carrying the presidents, but Saul isn’t necessarily buying that: could it have been the ISI, maybe, or even just an accident? Carrie thinks she’s onto something when she discovers that the helicopter carrying the presidents was swapped at the last minute, and that the engineer who did it has disappeared, but when he’s tracked down he’s with his pregnant Afghan girlfriend, and the word seems to be that helicopters are breaking down and being changed around all the time. So maybe not sabotage.

And maybe not the Taliban either: Saul speaks to Haqqani by phone, and reassures him that he doesn’t think that Haqqani was behind it. However, it seems that the Afghan constitution works in the same way as the American one, because G’ulom has stepped up to the top job, and his first action is to declare martial law and blame Haqqani for the assassinations. Saul tells Haqqani that he needs to get out of Kabul, because G’ulom’s thugs are looking for him.

Meantime, though, the platoon from Steedley is trying to secure the crash site, and therefore the body of the President. But it’s under attack from a squadron of Taliban fighters, and having some difficulty in holding the line. Saul is determined that the American troops should stay in order to preserve any evidence about the cause of the helicopter going down, but with assistance unlikely to get there in time that looks unlikely. It also risks the Taliban taking possession of the corpse of the President, with all the possibilities for, uh, making mischief which go with that. The alternative is for the Americans to fall back and for the site to be bombed, obliterating everything, including the deceased presidents and the flight recorder. 

And the decision falls to the new President, Ben Hayes, who seemed to be something of an idiot when he was VPOTUS. “Tell me what to do!” he demands of Chief of Staff David Wellington, who manfully stops himself from slapping the Commander-in-Chief. Anyway, new POTUS orders the bombing of the remains of his dead POTUS, and Carrie – horrified by the possibility of saving the lives of a few American soldiers – persuades poor old Max to go back in and get the black box, just before the site is blown up. And as the rest of the Steedley soldiers are shot, or retreat, Max is left on his own, desperately clutching the (actually orange) black box, and being held at gunpoint by a Taliban soldier. At the start of the season I noted that Max is quite the survivor. if he gets through next week, I think he’s going to make it all the way to the end.

Belgravia s1 ep 1

New period drama Belgravia begins, somewhat incongruously, in Brussels, the day before the Battle of Quatre Bras.

Ambitious victualler (pronounced “vitler“, to rhyme with “Hitler” which is unfortunate, but the only thing I can think of) James Trenchard supplies Wellington and the British army, so his merchant class family are tolerated by the ton but with no real enthusiasm. This is a problem, not only because Trenchard really wants to be a high-society guy but also because daughter Sophia (pronounced “Soph-I-ya”, to rhyme with “Mariah”, and, er, Take us high-ya) wants to marry top-tier aristo and wartime boyf Lord Bellasis, and actually believes it’s going to happen. Girl

Trenchard’s wife/Sophia’s mum Tamsin Greig is the odd one out in the family, insisting that true love isn’t going to trump the system and that they should stick to their own social sphere, but Trenchard and Sophia are undeterred. So off they all go to the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball to embarrass themselves a bit, before dinner and true love are inconveniently interrupted by the outbreak of battle. FOREVER.

Sophia and her dad are stupendously annoying throughout this part of the timeline, which I feel bad about writing in my notes (and even worse about writing now) because a few minutes later we hear that Lord B died in battle. Then we hear that Sophia died not long after (because of *GARGANTUAN SPOILER*, which we’ll come to shortly). And then we realise that for the rest of his life her poor pops has to carry the guilt of encouraging his daughter to think she was actually going to be Mrs/Lady B as opposed to a wartime diversion which ultimately killed her. But a) I’m getting ahead of myself and b) as a wise woman once said, truth hurts.

Anyway. Battle’s over, Boney’s on the run, and exactly twenty-six minutes into my recording of the show, we jump forward to “Twenty-Six Years Later”. This coincidence is one of the very best things about this episode, which probably tells you something, but I’m getting ahead of myself again. “Twenty-six years later”, Mrs Tamsin Greig Trenchard is at yet another high-society shindig, this time an afternoon tea thrown by the snide-ish Duchess of Bedford (this show is really into Duchesses). Poor TGT is basically there on sufferance, again – twenty-six years is a long time to be hanging about folk who clearly don’t want you around. Happily though, she gets chatting with Lord B’s auntie, the now Dowager Duchess of Richmond and Lord B’s mum, the Countess (for a bit of variety) of Brockenhurst, both of whom are happy in a poignant, wistful smile-type of way to reminisce with someone who remembers the old days, and can help them catch the audience up with what’s happened over the past twenty-six years. The regal Harriet Walter as the Countess is given some incredibly banal and clunky exposition to spout, but these scenes are nonetheless genuinely moving – partly because Walter, Greig and Diana Kent as the Dowager Duchess are all great in them but, also, I suspect, because these are the characters writer Julian Fellowes actually likes and respects. Yes, the two redoubtable, blue-blood old Ladies with noblesse oblige running through their very veins, and the dignified tradesman’s wife/social inferior who knows and respects her place: I don’t want to start shouting about class warfare but I don’t think it’s any accident that the three characters who are emblematic of the class system and the very epitome of upholding the status quo have been written by the Downton Abbey guy to be the only tolerable characters in this entire show.

Fellowes’s treatment of everyone else, by contrast, is not only even less subtle but markedly less sympathetic. Trenchard is a slightly tragic cartoon. Sophia is soundly punished for trying to marry up – here’s that *HUMUNGOUS SPOILER* I mentioned – with a fake wedding, a secret baby and, just to put the tin lid on it, death in childbirth. Tamsin and Trenchard’s son Oliver grows up to be “a gentleman” in name but not in manners or work ethic. Oliver’s rich, social-climbing wife is only in it for a scene but is so parodically snobbish and disrespectful to her parents-in-law that I would fully support ITV1 turning this into Victorian Dexter and having one of them bump her off. And the servants are nothing more than a bunch of caricatures; after the woefully ham-fisted scene with Oliver and Mrs Oliver, we’re immediately plunged into an even hammier one where the downstairs staff (made up exclusively of clichés who, again, Know. Their. Place.) argue over which of the upstairs folk they should have more time for, and whether Mr Oliver and his wife have a point. SPOILER: they do NOT.

Sigh. I suspect the forthcoming episodes will bring us the story of Sophia’s baby growing up, the lengths gone to keep him a secret, and the continuing dilemma about whether to let the Countess know she’s a granny. Unfortunately, since the frocks have been all right but no more than that, there’s been no hot couple to ship and there’s been absolutely nothing to squee about, I absolutely don’t care about any of that other stuff, so I won’t be watching again.