This Is Us s1 ep 16

 

Saying too much about this episode and spoiling it would be a disservice – it’s one to be watched alone rather than read about. And truth be told, I’d like to minimise the risk of sobbing all over my screen (again), so I’ll keep it brief.

Randall and William are headed to Memphis so Randall (and the audience) can learn a bit more about his father’s story and the “whole other family” he has out there; which means that, yes, it’s road trip time. Few shows can do the road trip episode well, but by focussing on the depth of the relationship between these two wonderfully-drawn characters played by two incredible actors in Sterling K Brown and Ron Cephas Jones (both of whom can move mountains with little more than a look), This Is Us does it brilliantly; in their hands, this episode becomes a hauntingly beautiful elegy for life, love and family which I genuinely don’t have the words to describe. I started crying quietly early on (when they visited REDACTED’s resting place) but for the last fifteen or so utterly devastating minutes, I was inconsolable, and the deeply melancholy feeling hasn’t really left me since. Which is a strange way to recommend what is supposed to be entertainment, but there we go. This was piercingly sad, but exquisite.

Homeland s6 ep 8

Carrie is distraught about Franny being taken into foster care, although from what we see of Franny, no longer having to cower in a cellar while the strange man who lives in the basement shoots people outside her apartment, she’s doing just fine. Anyway, Saul needs Carrie to focus: he wants her to help arrange a face-to-face between Javadi and the President-elect. The meeting duly takes place, but Javadi performs an unexpected about-face and tells Keane that Iran is indeed breaching the nuclear deal, thus burning Saul and Carrie’s credibility in one go. Javadi, it turns out, has assessed the state of the market and decided to invest heavily in shares in Dar Adal. The Prince of Darkness himself, meantime, is covering as many bases as possible, this week hanging out with an alt-right wingnut who is determined to convince the world that PEOTUS’s dead war hero son was, in fact, an unprincipled coward.

This part of the episode is good enough. The way in which Astrid is treated, though, isn’t easily forgiveable. She and Quinn are at the supermarket, and he thinks he sees her speaking to Carrie’s neighbour, thus suggesting that Astrid is part of the conspiracy against him. Back at the lodge he confronts her about it, and when she denies it he punches her in the stomach and storms out, although not before claiming that they were never friends and that they just slept together because they needed company. When he comes back – having laid out a complete stranger – she eventually squeezes a grudging apology out of him, then waits expectantly for him to say that he loves her, or something. He doesn’t; or, at any rate, he doesn’t have time to, because Carrie’s neighbour starts shooting at them. Astrid goes for the gun she keeps in the car, only to find that Quinn removed the bullets from it earlier, and she’s killed (I think). It’s a pretty shameful way to treat, and a miserable ending for, a strong female character, who was one of the best things in the show. And, once again, I have to wonder whether getting rid of Quinn at the end of the last season might have been preferable.

Hawaii Five-0 s7 ep 12

We left off last week with the Five-0 in Mexico, and Chin in the hands of a drug cartel intent on executing him by throwing him to a pack of hungry dogs. Adam turns up to help, although – as he acknowledges – that puts him in breach of parole. I suppose if I were ex-Yakuza and just out of prison after pleading guilty to homicide I wouldn’t be quite so blasé about my situation, but that’s Adam the OG for you. Anyway, I was expecting an episode filled with a race against time to find Chin, but no: he’s rescued before the opening credits, and he’s back in Hawaii with his niece before the first ad break.

So we need a Case of the Week, and it arrives when car salesman Mitch Lawson is beaten to death. It looks impulsive rather than planned, so Lou – who has some experience in the area – goes undercover at Mitch’s workplace, a situation which could probably have been mined for more humour, although Chi McBride is excellent throughout. Anyway, the culprit is found; it was a consequence of an argument over a car that Mitch wanted to sell, but a colleague had already punted to someone else. Once again, though, this happens at an unexpectedly early stage in the episode, giving Lou time to observe that there must be something else going on. Why would Mitch get so agitated over the sale of a car? Unless… the car had something in it? Indeed it did: Mitch is discovered to have had ties to drug smugglers, so the car will have been brimming with heroin? But no; it was nothing to do with drugs, in fact, and so an episode which starts with Chin wearing a metal collar in Mexico ends up with a dirty bomb in motion on Oahu. Entertaining for sure, but it all felt a little like side 2 of Abbey Road: a few half-developed ideas edited together in the hope of coming up with something coherent. Good news, though: H50 has been renewed for an eighth season. Mahalo.

Scandal s6 ep 5

From the start it’s clear that ‘They All Bow Down’ is going to be about Jake and Vanessa. Heigh-ho, I thought; the writers are going to have to try very hard to come up with an episode which gets me to care about them, particularly given that we barely know Vanessa and the role has been recast anyway, with Jessalyn Gilsig taking over from Joelle Carter.

In the present day and in flashback, then, we get to see what Jake has been up to since election night: unsurprisingly, he’s been killing people, meeting Rowan, and being mean to his wife, who has hit the bottle (“Liquor cabinet is back that way”) as a result. It’s not terrible, but it’s uninteresting; and oddly reminiscent, with its drunk wives and catfights, of something like Dallas: even the blocking and cinematography felt very 80s.

If the episode was trying to make me feel uncomfortable, it occasionally succeeded there: Vanessa’s repeated references to Olivia as Jake’s sister, for example, something which I picked up during last season; and the way in which Vanessa oscillates between crudely insulting and self-abasing. As far as I can see Joelle Carter simply had other commitments, but I wonder whether she would have taken the character in a different direction; Jessalyn Gilsig is a good actor, but I can’t see Carter, a somewhat flintier screen presence, making Vanessa quite so needy.

The episode saves its two big twists for the end. Firstly, Jennifer Fields, killed by Jake, is in fact alive, although until we know why there doesn’t seem to be much point in applauding the writers. I’m more concerned about the woman in red who seems to be the show’s latest boss, a Big Bad of whom even Rowan is scared. Scandal really, really doesn’t need further exposition of the management structure of B-613.

 

24: Legacy s1 ep 5

Carter and Grimes are on the move to their meeting with evil arms dealer Gabriel, armed with the schematics to the McGuffin missile system. Grimes shows off his battlefield grooming skills along the way by shaving off a full beard with a pair of nail scissors, and generally tidying himself up – Gabriel, he confides to Carter, likes it high and tight. This whole escapade is deeply troubling to Mullins, who correctly concludes that Andy was a crucial part of stealing the schematics, and suspends him. Rebecca tells Andy that he did the right thing, which is easy for her to say as she hasn’t been suspended. She will for the next few minutes be interrogating Henry Donovan; the Henry Donovan who’s the father of Senator Donovan, her husband. Her father-in-law. I know we keep asking this, but does literally no-one in the TV crime-fighting world have any conception of conflict of interest? Anyway, Henry denies the confession he made to the Senator about how he was responsible for the leak of the list of sleeper cells.

Ah yes, the sleeper cells. The USB drive is proving to be a tough nut to crack, but one name is extracted out of a total of 15. Jihadi, Jr. would prefer to wait until they have all 15 – that’s what his father wanted – but some redshirt in his team goes ahead anyway, alerting the sleeper for whom they have details, and finds himself on the wrong end of a bullet from Jr. The sleeper agent is Khasan, Amira’s brother, who is busy fighting with his father, who’s turned up out of the blue to get in the way and provide a couple of minutes of plot filler.

On the way to the Gabriel meet Carter has to field a phone call from Nicole, his wife, who’s just about had enough of life chez Isaac: his reaction to being sold out by Aisha is a paranoid investigation of everyone in his team, and when Nicole intervenes he pushes her away with such force that she ends up on the floor. But he apologises, so that’s… OK? It’s yet another subplot which just doesn’t work. Admittedly Gabriel turns out to be good for something when he visits a richly-merited death on Grimes before cutting his own throat to prevent being interrogated by CTU, but it isn’t enough to save the episode. And although I’ve been moderately critical of this show until now, I feel as if I’ve actually been cutting it a bit more slack than I should, because I retain a considerable amount of residual fondness for the franchise. Thus far, though, 24: Legacy hasn’t been anywhere near good enough. By coincidence, after watching this episode I moved onto Designated Survivor, which reminded me of one of the things we’ve lost: Corey Hawkins is a decent actor, and good in the action scenes, but Carter is a very different kind of lead character, and doesn’t have Kiefer Sutherland’s compelling intensity, weariness, and desperation. On the bright side, though, the ringtone is back.

Designated Survivor s1 ep 12

*SPOILERS*

As seasoned tv-viewers will know, there is nothing more frustrating on a tv show than the people who know crucial things not telling the other people who need to know crucial things about the crucial things, while simultaneously sharing said crucial things with the people who really have no business knowing anything at all.

As if conscious that the first half of the season involved a little too much of that (don’t make me say it all again), Designated Survivor now seems determined to make up for it at warp-speed; suddenly, the right people are telling the other right people EVERYTHING, and, finally, somebody is telling the First Lady and President Jack Bauer himself that just because she’s a member of the First Family, none of it is any of her beeswax. (Yet another week  when an unapologetically madcap tv drama shows an infinitely better grasp of ethical responsibility than the people currently in power in real life, then, but there we go.)

The bar is set early and high by Agent Q filling PJB in on the the past eleven episodes (come on in, new viewers, the water’s lovely!), and only stopping when Mrs B wanders in, all faux-innocence, with some brand new “look at me, being all shifty – maybe I’m the mole” incidental music accompanying her, to try and get some of the goss. PJB is keen to share, of course, but Agent Q and Agent Mike know better, and, for the first time all season, PJB realises that, saintly as she may or may not be, Alex is his wife not his National Security Adviser and zips it. If this turns into an excuse for a marital discord plot, rather than an “Alex is secretly evil” one, I will be most disappointed.

One traitor at a time, though. The Pres is ready to go the full Bauer on MacLeish – the latter’s “look at me and my All-American awesomeness” speech on live TV providing even more incentive to gut him like a fish – but there’s a little more work to be done first, so Agent Q reaches out to the one man she can trust to help; the man who turns out, somewhat surprisingly, to be Reed Diamond. This development caught me on the hop, since Reed Diamond usually plays (and indeed until this week was playing) the one man you can’t trust to help, but Agent Q’s sure he’s “beyond reproach” and full of “integrity” and – catching me on the hop again – the pair of them are suddenly not only working together but also flirting together to save the Republic, and whoa, that came out of nowhere, huh?

Not that it gets in the way of the work, oh no. “You can’t afford to have feelings,” Reed points out (“even though you clearly are having feelings” being my response) so, resisting the urge to pucker up for now, off they go to bring down MacLeish, and tie up the loose ends of the “Jason Atwood’s still in an orange jumpsuit” sub-plot, both of which turn out to be short but tragic work. Poor Luke. Janice from Stalker is RUTHLESS. And so is this show.

With Lady Macbeth MacLeish turning out to be even more of a fanatic than she seemed, then, the MacLeish story is over a lot more abruptly than I thought it would be, shocking me (and Agent Q) yet again. Wow. That was…. WOW. I feel like faster, closer back-up might have helped, but at least everything’s recorded this time – nobody wants to see Agent Jinx Q locked up for yet another assassination attempt (and a successful one, this time) she just happened to have a ringside seat for – and the by-now smitten Reed sees and hears it all. There’s hope for those two crazy kids, and very possibly the Republic, yet.

While one ship nudges out of port, however, another has run aground. PJB does try to smooth things over between Aaron and Emily, but since his attempts are accompanied with a warning that “he might still be a traitor, so maybe don’t snog him again just yet” (not a direct quote), and an instruction to Agent Mike to “discreetly” shut down the guy’s access to everything he needs to do his job, because of course he’s not going to notice a giant red “ACCESS DENIED” banner flashing across his screen, this doesn’t really fix things.

Poor, lovelorn Aaron copes with his heartbreak by apologising for stuff that isn’t his fault; poor, lovelorn Emily copes with her heartbreak by playing mournful airs on the piano (when did this piano show up?) and poor, FFS ENOUGH of this, CJ copes with her heartbreak by eating a large packet of Kettle Chips. Sigh. At least this gives Seth, my favourite character in the show, yet another chance to showcase his estimable counselling skills, but what with propping up Alex last week and Emily this week, is it not about time Seth got a plot of his own again, as opposed to “supporting the women of the Bauer Administration through times of heartache”? Maybe next time, I guess. Either way, this was a fantastic episode – thrilling, shocking and a whole lot of fun. Designated Survivor is awesome.

Public Service Announcement 10 of 2017: The Catch

CJ offered to cover the return of The Catch in her PSA the other day, but I declined because I thought she’d be mean about it. (And I was right. She would have been mean about it.) It’s strange that I kind of feel the need to be a little protective of this multi-million-dollar drama series, produced by the most successful network TV auteur of her day (Shonda), and starring some very well known actors (Enos, Krause, Walger, Simm). But it seems to me that The Catch hasn’t quite found its audience, and I think that’s a shame: it’s a breezy, engaging procedural/heist/caper drama with some good plots, great clothes, and a ship or two. Most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s looking at the moment as if this second season might be the last, although that might not be a bad thing, as The Catch is very much a show which shouldn’t outstay its welcome. I reviewed all of season 1; little chance of that this time round, given how much else Unpopcult has on its plate, but it’s a show which is definitely worth a look (tonight, 10pm, Sky Living).