Spiral (Engrenages) s7 eps 1&2

*SPOILERS*

Eh bien. REDACTED est mort, which would have been considerably more shocking had it not been spoiled by advance publicity and my EPG but we are where we are. Our characters, however, need to be moved into place and, as usual, won’t let anything like rules, common sense or their own welfare stop them. Gilou, now heading up the squad and apparently a model detective and supervisor as opposed to the walking disaster he was for years, insists on taking the case on even though the personal, visceral connection means there’s no way it should be his to take – perhaps he’s not changed that much after all. Because Beckriche is weak, Bremont is impossibly nice and it would be a short series otherwise, he gets what he wants. Laure, exactly where she should be, in rehab for her terrible depression and anxiety, does exactly what you think she will, which is, as usual, the worst thing for her. Not so much persuading as completely ignoring her doctor, she strong-arms her way back onto the team, never mind that Gilou is in charge now instead of her, and neither of them really understands how to work with each other if she’s not the boss and he’s not worshipping at her feet. And Roban, now back at work after his illness and treatment tries to manipulate his way onto the case (in less crude but no less determined fashion than the other two), gets immeasurably and somewhat hypocritically annoyed when the powers that be manipulate him right back off it, then manipulates his way right back on again anyway. Fond as I am of Roban, I fear I may be getting a little fed up with his constant gaming of the system. There’s still compulsory retirement to stave off, and you might think even he can’t stop the inexorable march of time and bureaucracy but I wouldn’t bet on it.

While les cops and M le Juge are on the outside, however, chasing down the gang of feral teens, weapons and whoever/whatever else might be connected with REDACTED’s décès, Joséphine is still on the inside: on remand for attempted murder and in no danger of getting out any time soon, despite Edelman’s efforts, if the justice system doesn’t move it along a bit. No Juge Roban schemes for her. Normally, in Spiral monde, her story should eventually intersect with the main plot but it’s not entirely clear how at the moment, unless…. No sooner does the governor mention the prison drug ring to her, than she’s infiltrated it, got herself framed, got herself unframed, then finds herself back in their clutches and worse off when she was before. So peut être les teens and l’argent and whatnot are connected to the prison drug smuggling? We’ll see. Meantime, this was a decent enough start to the series – well-plotted, reasonably fast-moving and as well-acted as ever. There are, however, a couple of buts. Firstly, like I said, we’ve been here before with Roban and his wangling, and, fantastic character though he is, ennui with his M.O and his endless tangles with his bosses is creeping in for me, at least. The dèja vu is such that he even has the hint of a complicated/forbidden love interest again, which is the same kind of love interest Roban has just about every season. Change the record, mes amis. Which brings me to the second “but”; possibly in a bid to avoid ennui with everyone else and their M.Os, the writers have very clearly changed the dynamics this year so that Laure and Joséphine, both previously calling the shots in their professional lives to the detriment of their personal ones, are now very much struggling with the loss of those positions of authority in addition to all the rest of their problems. I understand why they’ve done it and it’s maybe a bit much for me to complain about them doing something different with these characters when I was just saying I was bored with them not doing something different with another. But in a show which has been largely defined by these two deeply flawed, steel-spined women unapologetically dominating everyone else for years, I don’t think I really like it.

Advertisements

The Blacklist s6 ep 19

Episodes of The Blacklist which aren’t named after a Blacklister are rare indeed – this, I think, is the fourth in the show’s entire run – and that means we’re getting A Very Special. And there probably haven’t been many episodes as special as this one. It’s Liz, finally face-to-face with her grandfather Dom, being told all the big stuff: what happened to her mother; what happened to the real Red; and, biggest of all, who on earth is the person now pretending to be Red?

That ‘Rassvet’ (Russian for “Dawn”, I believe) is a spectacular success is not a surprise, because the team behind The Blacklist has been turning out high-quality material for six years now. The real star, though, is whoever was behind the inspired decision to cast Gabriel Mann as Ilya Koslov. Mann, of course, was the MVP in Revenge as the delectable, elusive Nolan – sidebar: is there ANYTHING on TV at the moment which is as much fun as Revenge was in its pomp? – and he’s absolutely and 100% the right guy to take us through Koslov’s metamorphosis into… well, into Raymond “Red” Reddington.

As much of this episode was told in flashback, I’m going to assume that we got most of the truth; I don’t think The Blacklist is tricksy or meta enough to give us flashbacks to things that didn’t happen. Having said that, though, the way in which Red demanded that Dom tell him exactly what he disclosed to Liz presumably means that there are one or two secrets still to be unpacked. Frankly, if more flashbacks means more Gabriel, I’m here for that.

Sanditon

*Spoilers*

Oh, guys. Know your audience. And finish your stories accordingly.

Sanditon and I have been on something of a journey. I love Jane Austen, and I turned my nose up at this version when it first started on the basis that it very clearly wasn’t Jane Austen: the daft, uninspiring first episode was very much in the ITV period drama house style in that there was no subtlety, no nuance and no trust in the audience to understand anything unless you spoonfed it to them. Every character was drawn in crayon, every plot point battered home with a sledgehammer and every interview or article about it determined to tell us how sexed up the whole thing was going to be. None of that changed as the series progressed, but either something else about the show did or something about me did: as the season strode on, across beaches and cliff tops, with nude scenes and anachronistic hairstyles, angry glowering and knockabout farce, it still wasn’t Jane Austen but it also, somehow, was in that Andrew Davies and co gleefully plundered plot points and character archetypes from every one of her books (and many more books besides) shoved them all in to a big pot, substituted a lot of modern attitudes and sensibilities for the period ones that these books were actually about, and, cackling loudly, turned the volume and the heat all the way up to 11 just to see what would happen. And oh, the sheer, ridiculous joy of the result!

The peak of this glorious nonsense was episode 6, the ITV Regency equivalent of the Fast and the Furious where our very angry hero Sidney Parker (Theo James) and our sparky, plucky heroine Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williamson) bickered their way around seedy London falling in love/ looking for Sidney’s kidnapped ward Georgiana (Crystal Clarke), culminating in a high-speed carriage chase on the road to Gretna Green and a jump from one carriage to another that Vin Diesel would have been proud of. Sidney’s top hat may not have moved an inch but, if I’d been wearing one, I’d have thrown it in the air in delight.

Other sub-plots and characters of varying degrees of silliness and stereotype abounded, as well as a surprisingly poignant Gothic melodrama about the tormented, icy-but-not-really Esther Denham (Charlotte Spencer) freeing herself from the manipulative, sleazeball step-brother she fancied herself in love with, and finding happiness with woke king Lord Babbington (Mark Stanley) a nineteenth-century man so patient, kind, feminist and understanding of the dynamics of coercive control in destructive relationships, that he should teach courses to twenty-first century ones. I could go on, but the short(ish) version is that as Sanditon got into its stride, both it and I began to enjoy ourselves immensely because turning one’s nose up isn’t nearly as much fun as shipping one’s brains out, is it? Which makes last night’s ending even worse.

Undeniably dashing though he was, this version of Sidney Parker was something of a problematic fave from the start, with his propensity to berate our heroine loudly and brutally in the early episodes making me wonder, initially anyway, if maybe poor Charlotte might be better off with someone (like that nice Mr Stringer) whose default mode wasn’t to keep giving her a row. Or if, at the very least, said problematic fave should be taking lessons on how to be a feminist ally from good pal Babbers. I mean, I know Sidney’s ex broke his heart and all but a) that was years ago and b) it’s hardly Charlotte’s fault. Or anyone else’s.

Since I’m a sucker for a handsome, brooding face with a tortured past, though, Sidney worked his way out of the “Danger! High Voltage!” zone and into both my heart and Charlotte’s pretty easily, earning our forgiveness with some smouldering looks, some lovely smiles and some very pretty apologies. And lo! I was sold on Sidlotte and settled in for my Charlotte’s happily ever after, because that is how these stories are supposed to work. Bit of arguing and misunderstanding, some obstacles and shenanigans that get in the way in middle, then a big romantic finish. That’s what I want, that’s what the audience for this type of thing wants and that’s what the format of this show promised. Only that’s not what we got, is it? Nope, instead, we got the drama equivalent of a cold shower followed by a kick in the gut as Sidney sold himself to his mean girl ex to save his idiot brother (played by Britain’s equivalent to Jim Carrey, Kris Marshall) and had the audacity not only to beg Charlotte for absolution, but to stop her carriage in the last few seconds of the series (giving us all a moment of false hope so thanks for that) and do it a second time. FFS, MAN. First of all, Charlotte may not think badly of you but I certainly do, and second of all, what kind of ending is THAT?!

Of course, the answer is it’s the kind of ending you might write if you really want a second season and don’t care how your audience feel about the end of your first. No word yet as to whether there will be another run, though, so instead said audience has been left uncertain, unsatisfied and very upset. I know it’s just tv, but it’s tv we invested in with a very specific goal, and for what? I went to bed on Sunday night so disgruntled I dreamed my own Sanditon epilogue (it wasn’t my best work), and just woke up feeling even more annoyed. Know your audience and finish your stories, guys. I don’t mean that every loose end has to be tied up or every question has to be answered, but every story has an ending that fits the material and this sure as hell wasn’t it. Like last week’s The Capture, and plenty of other series recently, Sanditon’s writers put the prospect of a second outing over a decent, satisfying end for the first one and have spoiled it for me and plenty of other people as a result. If you’re going to adapt Jane Austen at all, maybe ask yourselves what she would do next time, because this ending? This? Jane Austen would never.

Public Service Announcement 62 of 2019: The Good Doctor

ABC’s The Good Doctor returns to UK screens tonight for its third season. It’s a mostly excellent and occasionally outstanding medical procedural in which Freddie Highmore plays Shaun Murphy, a gifted surgeon who has high-functioning autism. In its first year it was very much about Shaun, but  it detectably became more of an ensemble show during season 2, focussing less on Highmore’s character and more on the rest of the (talented, it should be said) cast. Which meant, in turn, that it became a bit more of a standard snipping-and-shipping hospital drama, but without any drop-off in quality, which is a nice balance to strike. As with the first two seasons, I’ll be reviewing episode-by-episode (tonight, 9pm, Sky Witness).

Public Service Announcement 61 of 2019: Dublin Murders

I rarely watch TV or film adaptations of books I’ve read and enjoyed, because… well, what’s the point? I know the story, I know the characters, and I know the ending. And if anything significant has been changed, it’s unlikely to be for the better.

I’m almost prepared to make an exception for the BBC’s new eight-parter Dublin Murders, though, because I love the books on which the show is based – In The Woods and The Likeness, the first two in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series – so much. In the parallel universe in which so-called genre fiction is treated as seriously as so-called literary fiction, French is even now wondering whether there’s room on her mantelpiece for any more Booker Prizes. In The Woods, in particular, is one of the best books I’ve ever read: it’s both a thrilling and complex murder mystery, and a nuanced and empathetic exploration of childhood trauma and adult relationships. And that’s barely the half of it.

So… maybe? On the other hand, though, the tie-in editions of In The Woods and The Likeness are badged as “the inspiration for” the TV drama, which doesn’t entirely fill me with optimism. Oh well. Maybe not (Monday and Tuesday, 9pm, BBC One).

Public Service Announcement 60 of 2019: Spiral (Engrenages)

Bonjour mes amis, and bienvenu to saison sept of Spiral, aka Engrenages, which returns to BBC4 tonight (Saturday) at 9pm in – of course – the channel’s favourite/ unpopcult’s nemesis, the double bill format. You know how we feel about them. Anyway, saison six ended on a less than heureux note with Roban sick, suspended and possibly suicidal; Laure having a mental health crisis about her baby; and Joséphine being arrested for attempted meurtre. And Pierre, the handsomest man on television, still very dead. Dieu. Anyway, saison sept shows no signs of getting any cheerier, but that’s hardly off-brand for this show, even if, much as I love it, Spiral and I are both getting a little long in the tooth to be continually wading through misery. I ended up liking saison six much more than I thought I would though, and the cast is still tremendous, so let’s see where this one takes us.

The Blacklist s6 ep 18

At the start, a female student is murdered, frozen – yes, it’s a cold open – and displayed outside. The MO is identical to that of The Brockton College Killer, one Tobias Carlyle, found guilty of three homicides and imprisoned a few years ago. However, his case has been re-opened as a result of a hit podcast casting doubt on the reliability of Carlyle’s conviction. Red suggests to Liz that the Task Force might like to investigate the possibility that the new killing is by someone hired by Carlyle to throw doubt on the original verdict. For once, he appears to have no ulterior motive, except that he’s also a fan of the podcast, thinks Carlyle is guilty, and and doesn’t want him released. Aram, who is – of course – also a fan of the podcast, gets all excited about another suspect, a professor at Brockton known to have a taste for younger women.

Within the first few minutes, though, a long-running plot arc bursts into life, when Liz confesses to Red that it was her who turned him into the police, and Dembe also admits to keeping her secret. Red, trying to decide what to do, seeks the advice of Dominic Wilkinson, Katarina Rostova’s father and Liz’s grandfather. And that, in turn, dovetails with the third plot, in which Ressler continues to try to find out Red’s real identity. In keeping with the mood, Ressler ultimately tells Liz what he’s been up to, while admitting that he’s hit a brick wall: all he has is a photo of an old man, someone he believes to be Katarina’s father… who Liz recognises as the Dominic guy she met last season.

In the Blacklister plot, Tobias Carlyle’s conviction is overturned, and he’s released. But has a guilty man been freed? Or was it the professor. Or… someone else? I didn’t know where this was going for most of the episode. Liz turns up on the doorstep of the man she now knows to be her grandfather. Red forgives Dembe, but Dembe – who can’t forgive Red – walks away. I really hope that isn’t the last we’re going to see of Hisham Tawfiq. That possibility aside, though, a very strong episode.