For the People s2 ep 10

Bit of a shame, this: the last ever episode of For the People. There are no cliffhangers, and one or two happy endings, so it may be that the writers knew what was coming. In the Case of the Week,  Jay’s immigrant parents are intimidated at a polling station. This turns out to be part of a well-funded and co-ordinated campaign across the state. Roger (the delectable Ben Shenkman) is told not to prosecute anyone for it – it’s a Federal matter, and his boss doesn’t want to get into trouble – but he does so anyway. Meantime Seth is given a mob case – and a bodyguard – and Jill tells Roger that they can’t be together, as their relationship is incompatible with their respective positions.

Well, if we’re getting closure, I thought, the ONLY happy ending I want is Jill and Roger. Which is duly delivered: Roger successfully prosecutes the man funding the voter intimidation, then resigns, which means he and Jill can be a couple. Kate is prosecuted to his position. Seth isn’t killed (my guess is that would have been the cliffhanger, had there been one). Sandra finally makes out with hot investigator Ted. 

Throughout the show’s run the predominantly young cast gave it their all: my favourite continued to be Susannah Flood as Kate, and I hope to see her again in something which gets more than two seasons. But the whole thing was also grounded in four terrific performances as the seen-it-all-before oldies: Shenkman, Hope Davis, Vondie Curtis Hall, and Anna Deavere Smith all adroitly combined idealism with experience in their roles. It’s a satisfactory end to a show I really liked, but  the viewers just didn’t turn up. In another era, For the People might have got the attention it deserved; but if you want intelligent, well-acted, issue-driven TV drama you’ve got more choice than ever before. The Golden Age will have its casualties, and this was another.


The Blacklist s6 ep 14

The Osterman Umbrella Company, this week’s Blacklister, is a group of relentless assassins-for-hire. Its specialism is killing burned agents on behalf of their former employers: so if the CIA, or MI5, or whoever, has an ex-operative they want rid of because he knows too much, they outsource the wet work to Osterman. Red has word that the next hit is on American soil. Well, Cooper doesn’t like that – the CIA can do what it likes abroad, but a killing in the USA is his business – and he reaches out to an old CIA friend to try to get details by asking nicely. Red, meantime, takes a more direct route, and obtains a name. And while that’s going on, Aram has taken Samar on a romantic getaway to a luxury lodge with no phone reception or internet connection.

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t spot what was going on until the last possible moment: Samar, of course, has just left the Mossad; her illness, which Aram told Levi about last week, means that she won’t always be able to keep secrets; and the Mossad has hired Osterman to kill Samar. She manages to escape, just about, and plans to go away in order to be safe: Aram insists on going with her, but we kinda sorta know that he’s not going to be able to, even as she assures him that they can go abroad and be together forever.

What it all adds up to is, firstly, a fitting farewell to Mozhan Marnò, who is leaving at her own request as far as one can see; she’ll be missed, but I suppose if the grass isn’t greener she can always return. Secondly – and I know I’m repeating myself – this is yet another ridiculously good episode. Not just because of the action and plotting, but because of the way that the history of the show informs the drama: Samar’s apparently pointless exit interview last week very much had a point, for example; and Aram’s mancrush on/terror of Red has always been a bit of a Blacklist running joke, right up to the point where it suddenly wasn’t, as Aram finds out about the part Red played in the episode’s denouement.

Public Service Announcement 56 of 2019: The Hot Zone

The Hot Zone is a six-part drama series based on Richard Preston’s best-selling non-fiction book about unpleasant diseases; specifically, an incident when an Ebola-like virus was found in America. It stars Unpopcult royalty and proper Big TV star Julianna Margulies, and there’s a decent supporting cast as well: Noah Emmerich, James D’Arcy, Topher Grace, Robert Sean Leonard, and Grace Gummer, among others.

I can’t decide whether to watch or not: on the one hand the reviews were pretty good when it was shown in America, and it’s undoubtedly an interesting topic. On the other, I tend to skip articles about medical crises – antibiotic-resistant bacteria, fast-spreading haemorrhagic viruses, and so on – because it all strikes me as a frighteningly plausible way in which human life might end, if we don’t overheat first. And, as our CJ sniffed, the shower scenes in The Hot Zone are unlikely to be particularly sexy (Tuesday 10 September, National Geographic, 9pm).

The Blacklist s6 ep 13

What a terrific episode this is. It starts with Red swaggering his way through a huge got-out-of-jail party, with lots of guest stars from the show’s deep bench: Glen, Heddie, Max; even Vontae, who now seems, delightfully, to be a part of Red’s support network. Meantime, Dembe is in Cuba, checking up on rumours that legendary (and real life) conman and fugitive Robert Vesco, thought to be long dead, is in fact still alive. This is of considerable significance to Red: Vesco, at one time his mentor, swindled him out of a vast sum of money before going on the run, reputedly in order to pursue the location of a shipwreck full of gold. So if he faked his own death, Red wants to know.

Vesco, of course, did indeed fake his own death. Keen and Ressler pursue a lead to small-town Nova Scotia, where he is inexplicably hiding out. He escapes them, and runs… straight into Red’s back seat. Money, demands Red. I want my money. Well, says Vesco (a tremendous turn by Stacy Keach), I don’t have your money, but I think I know how to find the shipwreck: help me and I can settle up.

This leads to a treasure hunt, a heist, and a chase all in one, as Vesco and Red decipher clues in old poems while Keen and Ressler follow close behind. It’s inventive and fun, and even if it could be argued that there wasn’t much point to it in the context of The Blacklist’s overarching backstory, since when did everything have to have a point?

Even the Samar plot arc was sweet rather than tiresome this week: she has to endure an exit interview conducted by the Mossad – which is, I suppose, a public sector employer after all – and supervised by the returning Oded Fehr as Agent Levi Shur. The Mossad wants to find out if she’s turned; she wants to conceal her medical condition from anyone who doesn’t need to know about it; and it develops in a way which ultimately obliges Aram to realise just how much he loves her.

“This”, grouches Ressler after the final twist, “was a complete waste of time”. You couldn’t be more wrong, Donald. You could not be more wrong.

Darkness: Those Who Kill eps 1 and 2

My sight unseen PSA of Darkness: Those Who Kill was reasonably accurate. Many of the Scandi-noir tropes are present and correct; forests, snow, a body in a lake, a moody piano-driven soundtrack, a brooding male cop with a complicated love life (lead detective Jan is furrowed of brow and tortured of mien), Secret Pain (Louise the profiler has something in her past), interior design (Louise’s apartment is quite something), and a familiar face or two (Mette from The Bridge and Anne Sophie from Borgen, for example). And, of course, the most important ingredient of all: the repeated, inventive, and/or sadistic abuse of young women, which is there in bucketloads.

But it is, also, quite good. A woman has been missing for a few months, and Jan (Kenneth M. Christensen) is convinced that it’s linked to the disappearance of another woman ten years before. Fortunately, he doesn’t need to spend several weeks convincing a sceptical police hierarchy that he’s right; a couple of this-has-to-be-more-than-coincidences later, Louise (Natalie Madueño), a former police profiler who left for the UK then returned to Denmark in mysterious circumstances, is persuaded to come back for just one more case and to confirm Jan’s theory. And when a third woman is abducted, Jan and Louise are on the case. And on each other? Well, maybe. Time will tell: Jan is still making out with his ex, and Louise is working in a shelter with survivors of sexual abuse, which might be a hint as to what happened to her either before or during her time in the UK.

It’s a psychological thriller rather than a whodunnit: the identity of the perp is revealed, to the viewer at least, in the first episode; and to Jan and Louise in the second, although there’s an unexpected twist right at the end of the second episode which, together with the allusions to Citizen Kane and Psycho – that’s some highbrow company to be keeping, producers – more than kept me interested. Madueño and Christensen are properly engaging screen presences, and I’m probably shipping Jan and Louise as well. I expect to watch the rest of the season, and I’d say it’s worth a look.

Public Service Announcement 55 of 2019 – Darkness: Those Who Kill (Den som dræber – Fanget af mørket)

What did BBC Four do before Scandi-noir? Anyway, its insatiable appetite for the inventive murders of young Scandinavian women is fed tonight at 9pm with the first two parts of Danish drama Darkness: Those Who Kill (Den som dræber – Fanget af mørket). There’s a missing woman, a possible connection to a murder 10 years previously, and a determined detective (Kenneth M Christensen). You know the drill. As far as I can tell it’s quite good.

Incidentally, if the name rings a bell it’s because there was a first season of Those Who Kill a few years ago, but apparently it’s an entirely different cast this time round.


The Blacklist s6 ep 12

This episode is the second leg of a double-parter, and it’s a little less satisfying than last week’s. I suspect that might be because it’s very evidently setting up the President’s consigliere McMahon as the Big Bad for the back half of the season. Mind you, she’s significantly more convincing in that role than the (nominal) President himself, a milquetoast who at one point is reduced to bellowing “I am the President of the United States!” at Cooper. Dude: if you have to say it…

Anyway, we pick up with Red still strapped to a gurney, needles in his arms, executioners waiting for the good word. And Cooper still trying to persuade POTUS to stay Red’s execution, because Red – and only he – knows where to find the person who killed Ava Ziegler, the murdered German diplomat (INSECTS). This works out, and Red is sprung having been given 48 hours to find the assassin, cheerfully admitting to Dembe and Liz on his way out that he has no idea where Ziegler’s killer is. 

Meantime McMahon is quarterbacking a search using Bastien Moreau, this and last week’s Blacklister, for the MacGuffin-y dossier which contains proof that she and POTUS are part of a conspiracy against America, or…something? It scarcely matters at this stage, I suppose; Red has already seen her for what she is. And when he and Moreau confront each other, he is able to use that information to turn Moreau against McMahon. Moreau, you see, is ideologically-driven rather than a gun for hire, and thought he was working in the service of a German nationalist group called, improbably, Black Fist.

Moreau is captured by Ressler, but shot – by another of McMahon’s operatives – before he can provide any useful intel. By then he’d dropped the dossier – in USB drive form – in an unsuspecting schoolkid’s bag. Red’s immunity agreement is restored, and the lovely Vontae is paroled as part of the deal. Answering my question from last week, everyone agrees to pretend that Red has broken out of prison, so that he can go back to being a CI: or, as Cooper puts it, “We have our work cut out for us. We know there are people plotting against our country. As is all too often the case, we’re looking straight down the barrel of what’s wrong with the world. But tonight, we’re also witness to something pretty great: the man we hate to love lives to fight another day”. Red, unsentimentally, remarks on how the Task Force office “reeks of stress and anxiety, coffee and deodorized body odor”.

So we’re back to normal. Except that McMahon herself is going to be overseeing the Task Force. And that Samar is leaving the FBI, because of her health. As ever I’ve tried not to look for spoilers, but it did feel like farewell. I hope not.