Thursday, 30 April 2009

Review: Lost #514 ('The Variable')

514: 'The Variable'

Wr: Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
Dr: Paul A. Edwards

On the 100th episode milestone for the series, the time of reckoning has begun when Daniel Faraday comes clean regarding what he knows about the island.

For its 100th hour, Lost treats us to the life and times of Daniel Farraday, one of the most complex and intriguing figures on the show. 'The Variable' has been a long time coming, since we've been missing the crazy time-travel-obsessed fruitloop for a good six episodes now, but thankfully, it's worth the wait. This is effectively the sister episode to season four's fantastic 'The Constant', with Daniel the counterpoint to Desmond (hell, there's even a relation exposed midway through the episode) and while it doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of that one, it's only really because we've become so familiar with time travel as a concept, and the fashion in which it works in Lost, by this point that it's no longer an intriguingly original technique. Back in year four, Des's time-hopping beguiled and fascinated; here, ther narrative's similar predilections are almost passé. Still, that doesn't stop this from being a quality hour of television. There's a prominent feeling of impending doom running throughout the hour as things begin to unravel... and when all hell does break loose, it's gripping, as first Dan and co. are forced to take up arms and then Radzinsky exposes LeFluer's deception. God knows how they're all going to get out of this one.

Off Island, the dual juxtaposing of Desmond's current condition with an exploration of Eloise and Daniel's turbulent history is an interesting one, particularly as it exposes the somewhat callous nature of Dan's mother herself. It's also immensely satisfying to see Alan Dale caught up in the mix - the revelation that he is Farraday's father isn't particularly unexpected but it is rather satisfying nonetheless and the scene between the two is beautifully and delicately handled. Of course, all of this begs the question of Dan's birth and why, exactly, Eloise left the Island but given the cyclicality implied at hour's end, it could merely be that, paradoxically, she knows she has to. I must confess, I did become a little concerned when Farraday began telling Dr. Chang the truth, and started spouting off about 'variables' and the possibility if changing the future, but thankfully, it appears the writers have remained faithful to their original principles by sticking to the 'what happened, happened' adage. In fact, the episode goes one better, as it makes the entire time travel concept come full circle, creating a paradox wherein Eloise meets her son before he is even born and is thus made aware of the unalterable nature of his 'path', his 'destiny'. This event will surely become the catalyst for her own dalliances in relativistic physics, completing the cycle. How apt, too, that she mistakenly murders the only hope of change, thereby sentencing everyone to the current timeline and sealing their fates. Poignant. But Daniel... poor Daniel! It's certainly sad to see him go (I'm going to assume that with such a fatal looking wound and the diegsis of the episode, he has snuffed it) but a decision to be commended nonetheless. Unquestionably, this is a fantastic episode on the whole that illustrates still further the intelligence and skill of the writing staff, proving yet again that they are in complete control of their vehicles. I defy anyone to watch this and imply that they're just 'making it up as they go along'. Top class. 9.4

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Fabulous July Risings: 'Break Your Name (Live)'

Filmed live at The Dog and Parrot, 25/04/09.

Supporting A Wilhelm Scream in September.

Best thing since sliced bread.

Oh and my digital camera does a mean sound recording.

So say we all.

Review catch-up: Fringe

115: 'Inner Child'

Wr: Julia Cho & Brad Caleb Kane
Dr: Frederick E.O. Toye

Synopsis: Olivia makes a bond with a mysterious child that was living alone underground. Meanwhile, a serial killer re-emerges.

Review: After the game-changing revelations of 'Ability', 'Inner Child's simple tale of the empath and the psycho initially feels a little underwhelming. There are no references to Massive Dynamic or ZFT and barely even a whiff of anything that advances the season-spanning narrative (no, I don't count Olivia's sister.. in fact, I'd rather not think about why she's still hanging around like a bad smell at all, thank you very much), other than the implication at episode end's that the child may be a younger Observer and hence, that the man we've seen at the scene of all the bizarre occurrences this season is probably not the sole weirdo of his kind. This is perhaps a little more significant than it may at first seem, however, as the CIA agent's refusal to disclose any further knowledge as to how the child was in the sealed underground chambers hints at the possibility that the agency had a part in orchestrating this, suggesting that the Observers are perhaps 'grown' in this way. I have to admit, I didn't see the connection, despite the glaringly obvious fact of the similarity in appearance and, as a result, this was somewhat satisfying. Not every episode has to be mythology-laden in order to succeed of course, and 'Inner Child' is, for the most part, a good example of what Fringe can achieve when thrust into 'stand alone' mode. The Artist is a suitably macabre villain and, sensibly, is pushed to the background in favour of concentrating on the child who, let's face it, is a fascinating enigma, very well played (and that's saying something when you consider he doesn't have a single line). Olivia's bond with him is engagingly written and transposes onto the viewer. The only problem really is that the viewer understands exactly what is going on about twenty minutes before the characters figure it out. Now, sure, dramatic irony is a perfectly valid narrative device but when it's unintentional, as here, it falls flat and frustrates rather than captivates. It's glaringly obvious from the moment that the child writes his first upside down words that he has a connection to the killer and, more importantly, to Olivia since it is only she that he reacts to. And then, much later, a 'revelatory' scene is delivered in which Dunham realises that there is a connection and everyone acts as if it's the biggest shock since the Red Sox won the World Series (see what I did there?), while the entire viewing audience mutters a collective, "well, duh". This is a problem that Fringe needs to rectify if it is to concentrate on 'curiosity of the week' instalments. Still, generally enjoyable and a fittingly intriguing return. 8.5

116: 'Unleashed'

Wr: Zack Whedon & J.R. Orci
Dr: Brad Anderson

Synopsis: A man-made creature attacks Charlie and Walter's history catches up with him.

Review: Regrettably, Fringe falls back on the 'monster of the week' formula with 'Unleashed', as if struggling to come up with a fresh psuedo-scientific-but-more-like-paranormal premise. While the beast we were treated to in 'The Transformation' was well realised and rather frightening, largely because it was borne of a human being, the glorified python-eagle-bat thing we get here is just lacklustre. The effects aren't exactly offensive but they certainly don't impress either, failing to gel well with the live action and feeling like the CGI add-ons that they are. The only really believable moment in which the lovely thing appears is in the sewers towards episode's end, and that's mainly because it's dark. Oh, and they probably spent a bit more money on getting us that aggressive facial shot. I suppose the sequence with the child playing is okay too, primarily because our view of the creature is largely restricted. Of course, I can forgive disappointing special effects if the narratalogical substance is strong but, unfortunately, that's not the case here. Olivia, Walter and Peter effectively run around chasing a genetically modified monster for forty minutes while Charlie threatens to give birth to its larvae. While it's nice to see this peripheral character get a slice of the action, and some form of back story, his recovery is never in question and the concept itself doesn't exactly enthuse. The plot feels like it's being stretched thin, a fact backed up by the constant stops and starts in the story (going to the animal experimentation lab, leaving, going back again) and the injection of YET ANOTHER CASE OF RELEVANCE TO SOMETHING WALTER HAS HAD A HAND IN BEFORE. Granted, it turns out that he isn't responsible for everything this week, but the fact that it's used as a plot device in any shape or form at all is enough to get the eyes rolling. Still, at least John Noble gets to be angry and heroic for once instead of just loopy. 7.1

117: 'Bad Dreams'

Wr: Akiva Goldsman
Dr: Akiva Goldsman

Synopsis: A suicide incident occurs at Grand Central Station, which Olivia dreams about. Meanwhile, shocking details emerge about the ZFT manuscript and Olivia's past.

Review: Now THAT's more like it. 'Bad Dreams' pulls off that most tricky of feats and manages to incorporate a thoroughly engaging self-contained 'curiosity of the week' into a narrative that essentially serves to advance the season-spanning plot. As a result, this feels like something of a treat, marrying the two most commendable elements of the show in one highly entertaining package. Predicating the story on Olivia is a deft structural decision as it guarantees the viewer's engagement from the get go and while it is evident to everyone with even an ounce of sense that it is not she who is prompting these horrific events, that hardly seems to matter. The writing staff do an excellent job of illustrating the kind of fear and horror that would inevitably result from these sort of prophetic dreams, and Anna Torv certainly rises to the challenge in her portrayal of the character. To make matters more palatable, the story doesn't spend 35 minutes believing that 'Olive' is the culprit and then the remaining 10 reeling from the 'shock' that she isn't; no, this is brushed aside after the first act as ZFT connections are unpacked and contemplated. The plot moves at a decidedly brisk pace, opening up a number of interesting points to ponder along the way, and builds to a fantastic crescendo as first Olivia, Peter and Walter get a marvellous scene together in the Bishops' apartment and then Dunham gets to confront her ex-testing partner atop the rooftop. The set-up of this sequence is fantastic: watching the guy slowly acquire 'followers' is decidedly disturbing and, just to place the icing on the cake, we have THAT squirmy moment when one of the bodies falls to her excruciatingly believable death. Massive kudos to Akiva Goldsman (writing AND directing this one, to maximise the realisation of artistic vision) for keeping the camera fixed during this moment and not following her descent: the impact is far stronger this way. In fact, Goldsman does an excellent job with the orchestration of action throughout the episode, as evidenced by both the deliciously eerie pre-titles sequence and the slow-building horror of the scene in the restaurant. And then there's that closing moment, hinting further at Walter's former involvement in Olivia's life which is obviously going to have a massive impact in future episodes. Excellent stuff then, with some token same-sex snoggage to boot. Well, I'm sure someone enjoyed it. 9.2

118: 'Midnight'

Wr: J.H. Whyman & Andrew Kreisberg
Dr: Bobby Roth

Synopsis: Someone is killing people and draining their spinal cord fluid. Olivia, Peter, and Walter go to great lengths to stop the deaths, which are happening more and more frequently.

Review: Hmm. Curiously, while 'Midnight' essentially follows the same narratalogical pattern as last week's stellar episode, 'Bad Dreams', by counterpointing a fringe science case with some plot elements that advance the show's over-arching mythology, somehow, it doesn't manage to hit the kind of giddy heights that Akiva Goldsman's episode did. Perhaps it's the central concept that's to blame here: while it's hardly bad, it just doesn't have the same level of gravitas as a 'man whose emotions dictate the responses of others'. Essentially, what we have here is another genetically modified something or other that has been altered for the worse, to the detriment of mankind, by the evil folk at the ol' ZFT to 'show off' to the scientific community. And sure, the minutiae of the transformation have their appeal: 'spinal fluid' draining is suitably grotesque and those piercing blue eyes are a very memorable image, but that doesn't save them from ultimately amounting to very little other than window dressing for the real drive of the narrative, which, unfortunately, appears to be a moral lesson about the nature of love. Oh just look at the wheelchair-bound doctor, sacrificing himself and devoting all his time to his demented, spine-sucking lover! And how poignant the juxtaposition, eh, with poor Rachel and her impending divorce and custody battle! Erm, no. While the scientist's motivation is at least acceptable as a logical component of the story, even if it does begin to wear a little thin and it is glaringly obvious as soon as two and two are put together that he will die to save her, all this gumf with Olivia's sister is just plain irritating. Get rid of it as soon as possible please as it does nothing but distract from the thrust of the plot, creating lulls in the action that suck you right out of your engagement with the episode. In a pleasantly surprising move, we actually do acquire some information about ZFT (I was sure the guy would snuff it before he could reveal anything) but sadly, it's nothing we hadn't guessed at already. Still, at least it's moving the plot forward somewhat, indicating that we might get a stellar ol' season finale. As with many Fringe episodes, 'Midnight' is far from a shoddy hour of television. It's competent, fairly well written and has some interesting concepts at its heart. It just lacks that extra ingredient to make it something truly great. 7.8

Overview: 'Heroes' season three

Well, given that Heroes likes to complicate matters by splitting its seasons into volumes, I have responded in kind and produced some lovely averages for both Villains and Fugitives, as well as an overall one for year three. Exciting times, huh?


301: 'The Second Coming': 9.3
302: 'The Butterfly Effect': 9.3
303: 'One of Us, One of Them': 8.3
304: 'I Am Become Death': 8.8
305: 'Angels and Monsters': 8.9
306: 'Dying of the Light': 9.2
307: 'Eris Quod Sum': 8.7
308: 'Villains': 8.2
309: 'It's Coming': 9.0
310: 'The Eclipse, part one': 6.7
311: 'The Eclipse, part two': 6.7
312: 'Our Father': 9.0
313: 'Dual': 7.3

Villains average: 8.4

Best episode: 301: 'The Second Coming': 9.3
Worst episode: 310: 'The Eclipse, part one': 6.7


314: 'A Clear and Present Danger': 8.5
315: 'Trust and Blood': 8.6
316: 'Building 26': 6.2
317: 'Cold Wars': 6.6
318: 'Exposed': 6.4
319: 'Shades of Gray': 7.8
320: 'Cold Snap': 8.3
321: 'Into Asylum': 6.9
322: 'Turn and Face the Strange': 7.1
323: '1961': 6.4
324: 'I Am Sylar': 8.6
325: 'An Invisible Thread': 6.7

Fugitives average: 7.3

Best episode: 324: 'I Am Sylar': 8.6
Worst episode: 316: 'Building 26': 6.2

Overall average for season three: 7.9

Overall best episode: 301: 'The Second Coming': 9.3 (from volume three)
Overall worst episode: 316: 'Building 26': 6.2 (from volume four)

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Review: Heroes season finale (#325: 'An Invisible Thread')

325: 'An Invisible Thread'

Wr: Tim Kring
Dr: Greg Beeman

Synopsis: Nathan tries to prevent Sylar from meeting the President. Sylar has his own agenda regarding his partner. Hiro finds there are consequences that come with the return of his powers.

Review: In keeping with the remainder of this most turbulent and underwhelming of volumes, 'An Invisible Thread' draws Fugitives to a close in a frustratingly schizophrenic fashion. There is much to enjoy here but sadly, it's weighed down by several disagreeable plot decisions that take the wind out of the episode's sails. Starting with the positive, Zachary Quinto is once again the beacon of light in Heroes' arsenal, proving without a shadow of a doubt that he's the best damn bad guy on TV. The scene in which he physically manipulates Claire is marvellously choreographed, combining his considerable acting talents with some skillfully slow-paced direction and decidedly eerie dialogue to create one of the creepiest scenes of the year. Surprisingly, HRG and Danko get a rather excellent little scene together in which some minor atonements are (potentially) made for the mistakes of the past, which is also superbly shot from afar to underline the distance that remains between them and the individuals they seek to 'protect'. The storming of Building 26 is brief but satisfying as Hiro and Ando take logical steps to ensure the safe rescue of the heroes. Nathan's death, while hardly unexpected, is fantastically gruesome. Greg Beeman pulls no punches in his direction here, lingering on the guy's slit throat as he bleeds out and subsequently snuffs it, which only further strengthens the credence of having Sylar as the central focus of the episode. And then there's the introduction to Volume 5 which, while made problematic through a particular plot decision that we'll come to in a second, does seem to offer considerable potential, particularly for Adrian Pasdar who will evidently get a chance to demonstrate his talent in portraying an unravelling Nathan Petrelli. Oh, and I'm not entirely convinced that the woman responsible for the mysterious drownings is a resurrected Tracey Strauss... if you cast your mind back to the early episodes of the season, it is remarked that there are three 'models' of Ali Larter, if you will. The remaining one is Barbara and while the manipulation of water does seem to tie in with Strauss' ability (freezing, ice, you get the picture), my money's on it being the other one out for some form of twisted revenge. But I guess we'll see.

Anyway, these elements are all certainly laudable, but they are hampered somewhat by certain other plot decisions that function rather less well. First, there's the disappointing resolution of Hiro's body's rejection of his power which seemed like a prominent obstacle last week but which amounts to little more than a few headaches and a brief collapse AT THE MOST CONVENIENT TIME in this episode. How about we see the two have to resort to more creative tactics to complete their mission, rather than being able to achieve their goal 'just in the nick of time'? Then we have Danko who, after having been built up as a legitimate threat for the entire volume, is passed off with barely a second thought here, cast aside in favour of bringing out the big guns with the Sylar confrontation. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm hardly advocating that the entire episode be about Ivanek but you'd think they could give us a form of closure more satisfying than being jabbed in the neck with a syringe. What else? Oh, there's Cristine Rose's woeful overacting when she finds Nathan's body which is just terrible and really should've been reigned in. The big fight scene between Peter, Nathan and Sylar criminally occurs OFF CAMERA which is just a complete kick in the face to the entire viewing audience. If you can't afford to give us an effects-laden action sequence guys, DON'T WRITE IT INTO THE SCRIPT AT ALL. Find another way. Don't hint at it but lock the door on us! This is absolutely the worst decision that could've been made as it just disheartens the viewer, leaving us bitterly disappointed. And then, of course, we have the biggest offender: how Nathan is, ahem, 'resurrected' and Sylar, ahem, 'killed'. While I do ultimately like the potential that comes with the solution that we're given, I certainly don't like how we got there. This smacks of a complete cop-out on the part of the writing staff, as if they felt gutsy for five minutes and then started worrying about it too much. Nathan's death, up until Parkman meets Sylar, comes across as a refreshingly bold move, a fairly shocking plot twist that makes the episode stand out. As soon as the 'resurrection' begins, all of this positivity fizzles to nothing. Heroes bails on yet another death, further denting the audience's trust in the writing staff as it just feels like we're being messed around. Characters die, they come back to life, they're good, they're evil, they have powers, they don't have powers. There's nothing constant about the show anymore; it's in a perpetual state of flux, moving pieces endlessly around a chessboard with no direction or aim. As a volume and season finale, 'An Invisible Thread' is entirely fitting in that it is a perfect representation of the show's current status, with all its various qualities and failings on display. It's just a shame that, at the point where Kring desperately needs to restore the viewing audience's faith in his ailing show, he couldn't really deliver. 6.7

Review: 24 #720 (3am - 4am)

720: '3am - 4am'

Teleplay: Alex Gansa & Chip Johannessen
Story: Juan Carlos Coto
Dr: Michael Klick

Synopsis: The nation remains vulnerable as Jonas Hodges' life lies in the balance, and his boss stands at the epicentre of the mounting terrorist threat. Meanwhile, Jack hurries to expose Tony Almeida's doublecross.

Review: Interestingly, while this is something of a transitional episode, beginning the process of setting things in motion for the events that will unfold in and around the - undoubtedly explosive - finale, it is also thoroughly engaging, which is something of a rarity among 24 episodes of its ilk. Usually, these hours contain a considerable amount of padding, trundling along at a fairly mediocre pace, and tend to be average at best. However, '3am - 4am' circumnavigates this problem through the implementation of a number of sophisticated techniques. First, there is its continuation of the narrative saturation that began last week, as minor clues as to the nature of the mysterious group that is pulling all the strings behind the scenes are peppered throughout the hour. We don't get wholly conclusive answers but certain elements are uncovered and we begin to understand Tony and the LAWYER FROM HELL's mutual motivations. I think, at this point, we have to give up on the notion that Almeida's betrayal will ever be anything other than a shocking plot twist, with the most surface-level of attempted explanations (the government failed him after Michelle's death and he wants revenge), but frankly, I'm okay with that. This is the Tony I wanted to see from the moment they introduced him as the potential bad guy in the first episode, even if the logistics of his apparent assistance of the FBI and Jack seem a little baffling and hell, at least they haven't made it 'all about the money', since HE is the one suggesting that they commit another atrocity within the next few hours. The strategy that is subsequently implemented is highly interesting and it's good to actually see it being orchestrated from the villain's perspective, rather than simply having the good guys react to intel or a series of events. It lends a certain eeriness to the proceedings, selling the threat to a greater extent. And how good is the scene in which EVIL LAWYER discusses the plan with the shady group members? Joseph Hodges deserves major credit for the considered use of technology in constructing dramatic ambiguity: the disguised conference call is thoroughly logical and brilliantly covert. Add to that Michael Klick's superb direction, using minimal lighting and filming from behind objects to make the group members barely visible, and you have a scene that forces the viewer to be active in their response, squinting to catch a glimpse of the individuals or trying to peer around the objects in a manipulation of visual dimensions. '3am - 4am' is also marked by several other excellent sets of scenes, not the least of which is Jack's confrontation with Hodges, in which Sutherland and Voight are absolutely pitch perfect in their delivery. It's also wonderfully shot, all grainy camcorder angles on Jonas and shadowy lighting on Bauer. Then there's President Taylor's dressing down of her daughter, which is a delight to see, Jack's excellent, excellent shouting down of the terminally irritating Janis (a nation high fives itself!) which is even supplemented with a gloriously harrowing descent into the effects of the virus, and Chloe's reaction to both Bill's death and Tony's turn, in which Rajskub is surprisingly and pleasingly subtle. The only mildly objectionable element to speak of is Olivia's determination to kill Hodges but even this is passable due to its believability, and I'm only really ranting because I loathe her character. Actually, within this, there's even something to praise: the man that Olivia contacts to recruit for the job is briefly seen in bed with another man. It's very much a 'blink and you'll miss it' moment, and it isn't referenced or acknowledged in the dialogue at all, which, frankly, is a huge step in the right direction in terms of televisual representation of non-hetero sexualities. It's a throwaway feature, entirely inconsequential... exactly as these things are in reality. 24, you just about made my day with that most minuscule of details. Now, if you can just remove the references to the FBI being 'CTU lite' (which we all already know), that'll be grand, thanks. Pretty excellent stuff. 9.0

Review catch-up: Supernatural

415: 'Death Takes A Holiday'

Wr: Jeremy Carver
Dr: Steve Boyum

Synopsis: Sam and Dean seek help from Pamela, who sends the brothers to the spiritual realm. They discover Alastair attempting to break the seal causing mayhem in the mortal world by stopping death from occurring in a small town.

Review: A return to the season-spanning narrative after several stand alone hours, 'Death Takes A Holiday' benefits greatly from a highly sophisticated script by Jeremy Carver that manages to sustain a prominent level of unpredictability while also advancing several character arcs and tugging at the heartstrings in more ways than one. Pamela's death is certainly unexpected but it's an absolute corker: the scene is shockingly gruesome and, better still, pays off as more than simply the casual slaying of a dangling plot thread by tying the whole thing into the advancement of Sam's (presumed) descent to the dark side. On the flip side of this sudden departure is the prolonged death of the 'limbo child', which becomes progressively more morbid as the episode progresses. Kudos to casting for an inspired choice here - the kid does a highly commendable job of invoking our sympathies while remaining believably flawed, never traversing into the mawkish. And on top of all this, let's face it, the central premise is just damn cool. Another corker to add to a season chock-a-block full of them. Scary, gripping, moving and fecking epic. They don't come much better than this. 9.4

416: 'On the Head of a Pin'

Wr: Ben Edlund
Dr: Mike Rohl

Synopsis: Someone has killed seven angels, and Castiel and Uriel recruit Dean to interrogate their prisoner, Alastair, to learn who the killer is.

Review: What was I saying about it not getting any better? Jeez Supernatural, you're so far ahead of the game with this one, the competition needn't even show up. Where to begin? 'On the Head of a Pin' is probably just about as perfect a marriage of emotional investment and narrative progression as you are likely to get. The developments here are colossal, changing the face of the forthcoming battle considerably by exposing Uriel's betrayal, which is a shocker in itself, and opening Castiel to the possibility that blind obedience may not be the most optimum course of action. In this, Misha Collins gets a chance to step up and boy, does he. Every word, every nuance, is loaded with the pain of his struggle between head and heart, and the subsequent inclusion of the still-excellent Julie McNiven as Anna only accentuates matters. And then, of course, we have the other gargantuan revelation: that Dean initiated Lillith's plan, that his was the first step along the rocky road to Armageddon. This is an exceptionally clever plot device as, not only is it a completely logical explanation for the angels' choice of the Winchester boy (and therefore immensely satisfying for the viewer), but it also gives Jensen Ackles the opportunity to play some of the most complex emotional beats of his career. The scene at episode's end in which he rejects his destiny is so well written, it almost hurts to watch... which, it must be said, is something that characterises about 50% of the rest of the episode too. The torture sequences between Dean and Allister are positively horrific; so much so, in fact, that there are several incendiary critiques in reviews on from offended viewers who 'no longer have the stomach to watch the show'. This is a shame, of course, as the violence is never gratuitous. It almost always cuts away at the gory details, stopping short of showing the actual event, but then, it is the implication that we receive from agonising squeals, short spurts of blood and facial expressions that makes it all the more harrowing. And, at the end of the day, it is completely necessary for the progression of the plot: when faced with the man that made him maim innocents for thirty years, would Dean really just sit down and chat? No, he'd gut the bastard. It helps, of course, that the guy that plays Allister in his new form - Christopher Heyerdahl - is deliciously weird and eerie, giving the discourse between the two parties an extra lick of horror. All this and I haven't even mentioned Sam's little secret, his dirty demon blood fetish, which continues to linger in the background, threatening to explode into a game-changer the likes of which we have never seen, and is responsible for one of the best deaths I've seen all year in Allister's 'comeuppance'. Honestly, I thought Supernatural had reached its peak with that phenomenal season opener but this? This is actually better. In fact, 'On the Head of a Pin' is probably the best Supernatural episode yet produced. A near perfect example of what this show can be. Unrelenting, harrowing and f-ing brilliant. 9.7

417: 'It's A Terrible Life'

Wr: Sera Gamble
Dr: James L. Conway

Synopsis: Dean and Sam now lead ordinary lives. Dean works in the corporate world at the Sandover Bridge & Iron Company along with Sam who works as a Tech Support. Both have no idea who the other is until their colleagues start killing themselves.

Review: Supernatural's done a retcon episode like this before in season two's 'What Is and What Never Should Be' but that certainly doesn't negate the impact of this one. Sera Gamble's script is decidedly well written, veering from satisfying character witticisms and self-referential humour (the sight of Dean in his three piece suit and general business gear is one to cherish) to introspective realisations that further advance Sam and Dean's respective character arcs while also reminding us all, for the first time in quite a while, as to why the brothers work so gosh damn well together. Let's face it, we could all do with having that one explained to us again after so many weeks of butting heads and the continued unravelling of the long road to opposing sides. And while it is obvious from the get go that the brothers are not going to remain working at Sandover Bridge & Iron Company for the rest of the season, that's hardly the point. Sensibly, Gamble has this 'alternate life' actually be real: this is not a dream or a separate reality but the removal of memories. This validates the narrative, making it seem less superfluous, and brings the whole thing to a logical and satisfying conclusion. Granted, the supernatural element of the plot is hardly original, but then, it doesn't have to be. 'It's A Terrible Life' is less about saving the employees of Sandover Bridge & Iron Company and more about saving Dean... and in that, it succeeds admirably. Oh and some of those 'suicides' are deliciously gory. Yum. 9.0

418: 'The Monster at the End of this Book'

Teleplay: Julie Siege
Story: Julie Siege & Nancy Weiner
Dr: Mike Rohl

Synopsis: Sam and Dean come across a series of novels called Supernatural depicting their lives as demon hunters in detail. The brothers meet the author of the comics, Chuck, who explains he has visions of Sam and Dean in action then puts their adventures in his novels.

Review: An episode so metatextual, Dean and Sam might as well turn to camera in the last moments and scream "We are in an episode of Supernatural!", 'The Monster at the End of this Book' has to win the award for most creative plot premise of the entire 2008/09 television season. Okay so, Dean and Sam, who are characters in a television show called Supernatural, meet up with a guy in the programme called Chuck who has written a series of books called Supernatural that feature the two characters and depict their adventures. These books are all named after actual episodes of the show, leading to a hugely satisfying fangeek moment in which the author wishes he'd spent more time on the 'Bugs' and 'Ghost Ship' stories, implying that they were somewhat underwhelming, which is the general consensus in consideration of those particular instalments. So, as a result of this intertextual, self-referential craziness, all sorts of questions about the nature of reality and identity are addressed as Dean and Sam are forced to consider the possibility that they may be figments of Chuck's imagination and completely under his control. The events that he conceives of, or rather dreams, all unfold as he states they will, despite the duo's best efforts to prove him wrong, leading to a further contemplation of the concept of free will. Of course, the ultimate explanation is rather less philosophical but it certainly doesn't nullify the impact that the first thirty minutes or so has on the viewer. This is weighty stuff, giving us considerable food for thought, all of which is most welcome. On top of this, the episode actually manages to be thoroughly engaging, benefitting greatly from turning on the head of a pin from smirk-raising humour in Sam and Dean's efforts to prove Chuck wrong, to all-important mythology progression in Sam's encounter with Lillith. The motives and responses of the players are interestingly unpredictable here as Dean actually considers the evil one's offer to have potential, whereas Sam rejects it. Further evidence that the writing staff are deeply invested in their characters, allowing them to make the less obvious decisions but for the most logical reasons. 'The Monster at the End of this Book' is a wonderfully creative, thoroughly original hour of television that dares to do something a little different and tie it into the on-going narrative to boot. This isn't just a throwaway curiosity, it's an absolutely crucial moment in the arc of the season and as such, it's unmissable. Oh and it helps that it's freaking awesome too. 9.6

419: 'Jump the Shark'

Wr: Andrew Dabb & Daniel Loflin
Dr: Philip Sgriccia

Synopsis: Sam and Dean are on a hunting trip when they receive a call from an Adam Milligan, who is trying to find John Winchester. They discover that Adam was conceived 19 years ago when his mother fell in love with John Winchester.

Review: Or 'the episode that had Supernatural fans crapping themselves in the fear that their show would be forever ruined'. I guess 'Jump the Shark' was a snappier title. It's fitting, of course, that Dabb and Loflin choose to name their second episode of the season, after the similarly introspective 'After School Special', after the phrase given to the moment that a television show abandons its credibility and is no longer as good as it was, since it shows an awareness of the danger inherent in what they're doing here. The inclusion of a third Winchester brother veers dangerously close to the lamentable concept of 'retcon', re-writing the mythology of the show to suit a desired narratalogical twist (in most cases, something that acts as a last ditch effort to pump shock and surprise into a show), and when poorly handled, it spells disaster for everyone. Thankfully, this highly talented writing duo, who have an excellent handle on the motivations of the Winchester brothers (something that was a stand-out characteristic of their earlier episode), avoid this problem by handling the issue delicately and logically, presenting the viewer with something that is completely believable and ties in well with the history already established within the show. Another brother does not denigrate John Winchester's character in any way as he was without a partner since his wife died when Sam was a baby... and his reasons for not informing his other boys are utterly, painfully obvious. It's a deft narratalogical touch to have Adam Milligan be unaware of the concept of 'hunting', to show another side to John, a side that is able to be a standard dad and shows a considerable amount of compassion, given that he clearly wanted to spare the kid from the life that the rest of his family has had to lead. This, in turn, leads to some fantastic emotional interplay between Sam and Dean as they grapple with how to deal with their new brother and Jensen and Jared both rise to the occasion yet again. It's almost a shame that Milligan is written out of the show so fleetingly. I understand that this is the most sensible course of action, since the disturbance of the central structure is what cripples so many shows (two's company, three's a crowd... I'm talking to you, Scooby Doo - Scrappy?! Please!), and that this is executed in the best way possible by incorporating the kid into the supernatural element of the hour, but there's a whole wealth of possibility that is lost by laying him to waste. Plus, Jake Abel does an excellent job of displaying shades of Winchester determination, that allows you to believe him as the brother, while also making the character considerably different to Sam and Dean. And he's rather hot. Still, credit to Dabb and Loflin for surprising us all here: the initial reactions bemoaned the transformation of a two into a three, and they are proved wrong. The level headed determined that, given the episode's title and the show's track record, this would turn out not to be a third Winchester brother and that things would be okay. Wrong. Adam Milligan exists, he lived, he is a reality for Sam and Dean. And in that, the writing staff give us the best possible outcome of this most dangerous of plot devices. 8.8

Monday, 27 April 2009

Review catch-up: Desperate Housewives

516: 'Crime Doesn't Pay'

Wr: Jamie Gorenberg
Dr: Larry Shaw

Synopsis: In a gesture of friendship, Bree tells Lynette she'll help Tom secure a new job, but the best intentions will reach a tempestuous end and reveal Orson's shameful misdeeds. Gaby finds herself in a precarious position when Carlos' adulterous boss begins using her to cover for himself as he continues to cheat on his wife. Meanwhile, Edie digs into Dave's past after a chance encounter with an old acquaintance.

Review: Regrettably, having written the review for this episode and the next earlier today, the electricity went off in my house and I lost every bloody word of it. Thus, I'm gonna type this thing as fast as I can - I have to be out of the house fairly soon in order to do a quiz and PROBABLY CONTRACT SWINEFLU - so forgive me if it's both a little brief and mildly incoherent. The main bugbear of this episode is Orson's kleptomania which, frankly, I can do without. Sure, it gives the guy something to do for once as he's been sadly neglected for the majority of the season, and since the midway point of year three for that matter, but it's inherently flawed because it denigrates his character. While the notion that he is miserable due to the loss of his livelihood and feeling inadequate when compared to his hugely successful wife is a good one, full of dramatic potential and coming across as very three dimensional and real, the vessel through which this is channelled by the writing staff is problematic. We don't sympathise with what is a fully understandable plight... we distance ourselves from a no-good thief. Elsewhere, Gaby and Carlos's storyline continues to be fairly passable, although I have my doubts as to whether Sheila would actually murder her husband, things continue to crawl along at a snail's pace in Edie and Dave's storyline (and where exactly is the camping trip promised a couple of episodes ago? Oh yes, saved for Sweeps, gotcha) and Lynette and Tom's narrative has considerable weight and a few decidedly humorous scenes but the pay-off, that Mrs. Scavo is going to go back to work, just feels like a bit of a retread. Let's hope they can avoid the inevitable plot beats that they've succumbed to in the past in the episodes to come. Not a bad hour but considerably average. 7.4

517: 'The Story of Lucy and Jessie'

Wr: Jordon Nardino
Dr: Bethany Rooney

Synopsis: When Susan tries to impress Jessie (guest star Swoosie Kurtz), a teacher at work, Jessie comes away with the wrong impression. With the wrong intent, Gaby convinces Carlos to hire Lynette, and Carlos finds himself working with an old acquaintance (guest star Lesley Boone as Lucy). As Orson's shameful habit grows, Bree will protect herself from embarrassment at all costs, and a suspicious Edie slyly digs further into Dave's past.

Review: Along with 516, my review of this episode disappeared when I suffered a most unfortunate power cut and so I'm going to be fairly brief, while trying to salvage some of what I had written. 'The Story of Lucy and Jessie' might as well be called 'the one with the token lesbianism' thanks to that ratings grabbing scene between Gaby and Susan, which probably shocked delicate sensibilities all over middle America, but what the hey, it's mindless, fun and refreshing to see such non-heteronormative beats treated with little fanfare within an episode of prime time television (even if the fanfare in the media was gargantuan... seriously, it was all over the TV and newspapers days before the episode aired). Swoozie Kurtz is excellent as the smitten Jessie and her story with Susan is both wickedly humorous - check out that scene in the classroom, where subtext becomes text within about 30 seconds for evidence - and decidedly sweet. Our other new character, Lucy, is certainly less likeable, although she is clearly meant to be so. The decision to gel Lynette's story with Gaby and Carlos's looks to be a promising one, getting the Solises in particular out of the repetitive narratalogical rut they've been stuck in since Carlos magically recovered from being blind. However, the ease with which he becomes President of his company is a little ridiculous. What else? Still no sign of the camping trip although at least Edie's on her way to digging up the truth and the writing staff sensibly concentrate on Bree's reaction to Orson's kleptomania in order to keep this rather unsavoury and irritating storyline interesting. Pretty damn good all round then. 8.3

518: 'A Spark. To Pierce The Dark' (1/2)

Wr: Alexandra Cunningham
Dr: David Grossman

Synopsis: Bree considers selling her business to save her marriage. Lynette is threatened by her new boss, and boundaries are crossed for Gabrielle and Carlos. Meanwhile, Katherine is caught in the most unexpected of circumstances and Edie's worst fears come true.

Review: And so Dave, Mike and Katherine finally go on that camping trip that we've been promised for about four weeks (despite it being 'this weekend' when it was originally mentioned) and, frankly, it's a bit of a damp squib. The story takes up around 1/6th of the episode's total airtime and what we do get is pretty laughable. There's very little build up, no increase in the dramatic tension, as they set up camp, wake up in the morning and Dave mis-fires when Edie calls him. I don't know about you but I was expecting a solid concentration on this narrative, featuring something a little more elaborate than snipering from on high. Still, with the long-awaited marriage of this story with Edie's, we do get some sparkling dialogue between the two characters and a confrontation scene to die for... quite literally, actually, as the poor woman appears to snuff it (or nearly at any rate) at hour's end. Of course, one does wonder why, upon learning the truth about her husband, Edie would simply call him up and INVITE THE PSYCHOPATH BACK TO HER HOME rather than, you know, getting the hell out of there and calling the police. Don't try to weasel an explanation out of the loon you fool, RUN! And hit a tree. And get electrocuted. Call me cynical but isn't that a little much, guys? Would it have been so bad if she'd simply died from the mangled car? Did she really need to get an almost comedic electrocution? *sigh* And, of course, this also involves Orson who, regrettably, learns nothing from his wife's sage words and proceeds to rob a house in the middle of the night. This story is escalating out of control, leaving no room for sympathy with his character, and unless it results in MacLachlan being written out of the show, I don't really see the point. A bit of a mixed bag, then, although Lynette/Carlos' storyline is somewhat enjoyable, if only because Lucy is a self-righteous, manipulative cow and it's good to see her put in her place. 7.9

519: 'Look Into Their Eyes and You See What They Know' (2/2)

Wr: Matt Berry
Dr: Larry Shaw

Synopsis: As the women look back on Edie's life, Susan recalls their first meeting, Lynette reflects on a memorable afternoon out, Bree is reminded of the thoughtfulness she bestowed upon Orson, and Gaby remembers fondly a night of friendly competition.

Review: Coming so hot on the heels of 'The Best Thing That Ever Could've Happened', it's understandable that a number of viewers may feel rather underwhelmed by this episode. After all, this is essentially simply the 100th hour but with Edie as its focus rather than the local handyman. However, this is an important distinction as, let's face it, we care far more about the plastic-surgeried one than we ever did about some random dude we'd never met before. And there's enough well written, reflective dialogue and mildly amusing anecdotes to keep 'Look Into Their Eyes and You See What They Know' afloat. This is an honourable ode to Edie Britt, demonstrating her inherent friendliness as she makes mates with Susan when they first meet, her devotion to her family, however ludicrous that might seem, as she explains to Mrs. McLuskey why she handed Travers over to his father, her carpe diem attitude when she competes with Gaby in the club (okay, okay, this one's a little... cheesy), her strength of character as she kicks the apathy out of Lynette in a wonderful little storyline that gives Felicity Huffman some excellent material too, and, in the episode's highlight, her compassion as she visits Orson in prison and gives Bree a much needed lesson in appreciating what she has. Granted, this is all filler, distracting from the development of the on-going storyline, but if they'd simply thrown a funeral into the beginning of the episode and got on with things, where would the justice have been? As a central character, Edie deserves a goodbye we can all invest in and that, boys and girls, is exactly what this episode is. 8.6

520: 'Rose's Turn'

Wr: David Flebotte
Dr: David Warren

Synopsis: Carlos finds Lynette in a precarious position, which she chooses to hide from Tom, and Gabrielle hastily covers for Tom's coy behavior. Orson tries to hide the truth about his wounds from Bree, while Katherine confesses to Mike, which leads to a surprising realization. In the meantime, Susan confides her dark secret in Dave.

Review: Generally, this is a fairly solid episode that manoeuvres everyone into position for the amateur dramatics that will inevitably ensue in the finale. Sensibly, the writing staff continue to marry Gaby and Carlos's storyline with Lynette and Tom's, which keeps things fresh for all parties and ensures that they don't fall back on old tricks. While Lynette's fall in the tub and subsequent embarrassment at her nudity is mildly amusing, it's the scene at the dinner table that really packs a punch, containing some stellar one-liners and crackling with every increase in the undercurrent of emotional tension. The fallout of Orson's duplicitous antics during 'A Spark. To Pierce The Dark' is well handled; credit to Marcia Cross for doing an upstanding job of portraying Bree's colossal disappointment in her husband, as well as her stiff upper lip, which is perfectly in keeping with her character. Oh and nice to see Shawn Pyfrom in a shirt that accentuates his nipples... *ahem* Erm, anyway... Susan's encounters with Dave are well written too and shine a much-needed light on the reality of the Dash accident, illustrating that no, the writers hadn't made a massive gaffe by making Dave persue Mike rather than Susan. Of course, now it looks like we're going to have one hell of a showdown in the coming weeks that'll tug on the heartstrings and keep nails being bitten all across the world... despite the fact that THEY'RE NEVER GOING TO KILL LITTLE MJ. Good stuff, then, with the only real letdown being Mike's apparent questioning of his relationship with Katherine which comes just too close to season's end for my taste. Please, please, please don't have him run to Susan in 522. Please? 8.4

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Review catch-up: 24

711: '6pm - 7pm'

Wr: Alex Gansa
Dr: Brad Turner

Synopsis: Jack and Tony hatch a plan to interrogate Burnett inside the White House, but it is interrupted when Senator Mayer and the President discover his activities. Chloe is under suspicion from Janis when she helps buy Jack some time by deleting Burnett's name from Dubaku's list. Renee traces Juma's team to the docks where she makes a split-second decision that puts her life in jeopardy.

Review: As usual, a certain amount of disbelief-suspension is required if one is to get the most out of '6pm - 7pm', but it's worth it in the end as there is certainly a great deal of good here. While the notion that Juma has managed to hot foot it to the United States within a few hours and remain completely undetected is farcical at best, and the fact that his team's plans of their target include a gigantic image of the outside of the building itself (it might as well have a neon sign next to it reading 'DIS IZ DA WHITE HOUSE') is a bit silly, the strength of Kiefer Sutherland's more-amped-than-usual performance in the interrogation scenes and a great deal of the dialogue between he, the President and the smarmy Senator thrusts these niggles to the back of the mind. There's a delicious current of foreboding running through this episode, as the juxtaposed dramatic irony of our knowledge of Juma's presence and the loons at the Oval Office's refusal to believe what's in front of their eyes greatly amplifies the tension and sets things up rather nicely for what is sure to be a kick ass instalment next week. It is a little frustrating that the authorities are so quick to reign on Jack's parade, forcing him to end an interrogation that is so obviously going to produce results, when he has proven over and over again THAT HE IS ALWAYS RIGHT, and Chloe's covert antics and subsequent arrest are eye-rolling in the extreme, but, on the whole, this is a solid effort and a major improvement on last week. 8.5

712: '7pm - 8pm'

Teleplay: Evan Katz
Story: Manny Coto & Brannon Braga
Dr: Brad Turner

Synopsis: Juma and his men take the White House by storm, killing most of the Secret Service and trapping Taylor and Jack in the saferoom. His efforts to extract her are thwarted until he is informed that the President's daughter is in the White House as well. Renee and Larry try to convince Vice President Hayworth to let them rescue the President, but Hayworth will not budge until the FBI can produce proof that she is not in imminent danger.

Review: What was I saying about suspending your disbelief? On any other show, an episode like this would have fans throwing their television sets off rooftops, bleating "jumped the shark, JUMPED THE SHARK!" but in the weird and wonderful world of 24, the production staff can get away with having a group of mercenaries hold the President hostage in the most secure building on the planet with the greatest of ease, through drilling a human-shaped hole in a storm drain within about two minutes, walking through a hole in a wall that must surely have been chiselled for the last eight months by the knife-wielding flunky who pushes aside the DASTARDLY SUPPLY CABINET in a sort of homage to The Shawshank Redemption, and by having the good fortune of Ms Taylor and Jack Bauer locking themselves in a 'safe room' that just so happens to contain no secret exit, no food, no weapons of any kind and, even more crucially, no communications device for that pesky business of contacting the outside world. No, on any other show, this sort of casual disregard for common sense would be pointed and laughed at by its fanbase, derided as the point of no return and brutally kicked to the curb in favour of first season re-runs. However, in 24 land, none of these things seem to matter. We are so caught up in the unrelenting drama of it all that we forget to consider the concept of believability until about seven hours after we've recovered from having our emotions and senses knocked around. There's no denying that this is hugely intense stuff, played to perfection by all without ever a whiff of the dreaded ham creeping cautiously in. Check out Jack and Alison in the safe room, Aaron and Olivia as they struggle to escape the building and warn the outside world, and even Renee and Larry as they desperately try to win over the clearly barking Vice President: the interplay is wonderful in each and the suspense is kept at breaking point throughout as we're really not sure how the hell they're all going to get out of this, quite frankly rather epic, one. And then there's the first appearance of the excellent Jon Voight to relish too and it's a beaut as he plays darts while the entire US political system comes crashing down around him. Screw realism... THIS is what makes damn good TV. 9.0

713: '8pm - 9pm'

Wr: Manny Coto & Brannon Braga
Dr: Brad Turner

Synopsis: The siege on the White House reaches an explosive end after Jack and Bill work together to try to save President Taylor. Meanwhile, Jonas Hodges makes moves to cover his own tracks, starting with Ryan Burnett.

Review: Um. Really? Is that it? The siege on the White House is over within the first ten minutes of this slightly patchy episode, and it's all thanks to some magical canisters of mysterious gas that just so happen to be conveniently placed in the previously useless safe room. Well, you know, who needs communication with the outside world, weapons and food when you've got GAS? This is a fairly disappointing deux et machina that is really unnecessary when you think of the myriad other possibilities that the writers could've used to allow Jack and Bill to gain the upper hand. With Buchanan's noble suicide (a wonderfully executed scene, by the way, and the subsequent, obligatory two minute mourn by Kiefer is just as effective), Tony Todd and his Band of Merry Cockroaches are vanquished to the annals of 24 villaindom as just another bunch of power-hungry, America-hating loons who serve as a front for the other, more deeply buried, conspiracy-type-thing that is going on behind the scenes. And sure enough, Jon Voight's admittedly excellent Jonas Hodges is PLANNING SOMETHING EVEN BIGGER! It's not over yet! We're peeling the onion again! Seriously guys, this is the third about face in half a season and while I am slowly falling in love with Voight's character (and therefore, potentially, his story), the stops and starts are starting to become a little tiresome. And while the dastardly Quinn seems like an admirable addition, given that he is at least given some weight as a legitimate, competent threat, the sequence in which he frames Jack for the murder of Ryan Burnett is just plain ridiculous. Oh look, some more mysterious gas... this time, it incapacitates you for precisely three minutes! Riiight. Surely it would've made more sense to have had him create a form of diversion so that the hospital has to be evacuated or something? Did we really need this credulity-stretching plot? Oh, but we have to have Bauer on the wrong side of the law YET AGAIN otherwise it just wouldn't be 24! Forgive me if I roll my eyes. This certainly isn't a bad episode, don't get me wrong, but it could have done with a little extra attention. 7.3

714: '9pm - 10pm'

Wr: Juan Carlos Coto & Evan Katz
Dr: Brad Turner

Synopsis: Jack seeks Senator Mayer's help to help discover the connection between Juma and the company that hired the man who killed Burnett. In an effort to track down Jack, Larry recruits Morris O'Brian in exchange for Chloe's immunity. Ethan becomes suspicious of Olivia when a reporter obtains leaked information about the internal affairs of the White House after Juma's attack.

Review: Oh look... everyone's chasing Jack again! Well, there's a turn up for the books, eh? While I have bleated on and on in previous reviews about the necessity of suspending your disbelief when watching 24, this is about seventeen steps too far. Come on guys, are we really supposed to accept that every single person in the FBI, never mind the White House, actually believes that Bauer, the man who has saved America and the entire world countless times in the last ten or so years (that's show chronology, by the way) and has halted TWO terrorist attacks on the country in the last fourteen hours, would just abandon his MO and start ruthlessly killing valuable suspects and, even worse, a perfectly innocent United States Senator? Give over. Every time Jack's loyalty is called into question, he proves it. Every time someone questions one of his decisions, they are ultimately shown to be wrong and he is right. President Taylor would know this by now. Larry Moss would know this by now. Hell, THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE KNOW THIS BY NOW. I cannot buy a single second of the clambering to accuse him of the deaths and while, yes, they sensibly have him contact the FBI and profess his innocence, the ease with which everyone jumps to the conclusion that Jack is a killer is just laughable and, above all else, bloody annoying. Presumably, the writers orchestrate this in the belief that it will create engaging conflict. Actually guys, it's about as engaging as watching twenty kids drag their nails down a chalkboard. While screaming. Get the analogy? If you can put all this aside, '9pm - 10pm' is actually quite enjoyable, however, and it's largely down to some stellar writing and acting in Bauer and Mayer's sequences together. There's a real believability to their conversation and the pair come across as actual flawed human beings rather than two dimensional ciphers for opposite sides of a political debate. Jon Voight's scenes continue to delight in their screwball lunacy, Carlo Rota actually gets something decent to do as the doting Miles O'Brien, completely owning Larry and Janice in the scene where he helps them, and Ethan looks like he's about to unravel after the revelation that his (supposed) misstep has led to a potentially crippling situation for the White House. Good to see this excellent actor getting something he can really sink his teeth into. Oh, and then there's that lovely trick with the screwdriver that Kiefer pulls off at episode's end. Now if only they could do all this without resorting to the frankly tired 'Jack vs. the world' motif. Sigh. 8.0

715: '10pm - 11pm'

Teleplay: Alex Gansa
Story: David Fury
Dr: Jon Cassar

Synopsis: Jack and Tony manage to locate the incoming biological weapons, but must convince a civilian security guard to go along with their plan when men from Starkwood show up to claim the weapons. After gaining control of the cargo, Jack engages in a gunfight with the terrorists and risks exposure when the canister is damaged. Ethan makes a drastic decision which upsets President Taylor.

Review: '10pm - 11pm' is very much a game of two halves with the first coming in a little weak and the second really picking up the pace. To begin, we have Ethan resigning as President Taylor's Chief of Staff in a rather stifled scene that overstays its welcome. Then there is the annoyingly unnecessary set up of security guard Connor Trineer's moral dilemma as the father of an unborn child which, while thoroughly believable, is nothing other than extraneous and serves to distract from the main thrust of the action. And then, of course, there's Taylor's absolutely ridiculous appointment of her daughter as her temporary Chief of Staff. What's the betting that, by the end of the day, she'll have made such a 'good impression' that she'll ultimately end up in a permanent post? Actually, scratch that. She'll be exposed as the duplicitous, evil little bitch that she really is and will have a showdown with Ethan. Or maybe that's just my personal fantasy. Anyway, however you look at it, this is just plain dumb. You're telling me there's no one remaining on staff in the White House who would be better suited than the President's fricking daughter? What about Tim? What's preventing this faithful aide from stepping up? Ack, this sort of rank nepotism is just irritating and smacks of lazy writing. Plus, every second that Olivia spends on screen is a second wasted, in this writer's opinion. What is exactly IS the point in her character, other than to piss every member of the viewing audience off? She's Sherry Palmer lite, an annoying vulture picking at the scraps of the overblown buffet that is the White House operation. And somewhere along the line, that metaphor went horribly wrong. Anyhow, if you can look past these disappointing elements, there's a great deal of good to be found in the later moments of the hour. Cassar shows his skill as a director yet again in the confrontation sequence at the warehouse which looks absolutely fantastic and could be one of the finest in the show's history. It's also very well written, making the right narratalogical movements in exactly the right places and ultimately leading to a rather dramatic, if surely superfluous (seeing as Sutherland is signed on for an eighth season), closing cliffhanger. Highly tense stuff then... it's just a shame the rest of the hour can't live up to these standards. 7.6

716: '11pm - 12.00am'

Wr: Manny Coto & Brannon Braga
Dr: Jon Cassar

Synopsis: Tony leads a group of FBI agents into Starkwood with the help of Hodges's aide, but finds that his intel might not be as accurate as he thought. Olivia moves her way deeper into her mother's inner circle when she is appointment as acting Chief of Staff, and chooses Aaron Pierce to be her personal bodyguard. Jack learns harsh news about his future after being examined by CDC.

Review: While it is certainly refreshing to see Kiefer Sutherland taking a back seat and allowing one of the innumerable other characters in the show to take centre stage and prove their mettle (and also to see him removing his clothes for the first time in a couple of seasons, much to the delight of many fans across the globe, no doubt, but not this particular one... euww!!), one has to question the writing staff's decision to have Jack genuinely be infected by the pathogen. The reality of this situation is that every bugger watching 24 is well aware that Sutherland is signed on for at least another season of the show. If you're a bit of an aficionado, you'll know that Cherry Jones and Annie Wersching at least are also on board for year eight (that'll be President Taylor and Renee Walker for those not in the know... so you can rule out their deaths any time soon) and so it is a 99.9% certainty that next year will not be some form of 'prequel' season, set years ago. Therefore, with Bauer guaranteed to be present and correct in the subsequent season, HE WILL NOT DIE IN THIS ONE. Thus, any shred of suspense that may have been generated by this storyline is completely obliterated. The viewer becomes detached from the supposed horror of the situation because it is inevitable that it will not come to pass. Oh sure, it is likely that Coto and Braga will argue that it's not all about the question of Jack's survival, but rather about giving him a handicap that will complicate matters in the next few hours, or perhaps about giving Sutherland some serious acting challenges and harrowing emotional scenes (which he will rise to, as always), but that doesn't escape the fact that the audience will not be as invested in these because, ultimately, they'll turn out to be an overblown red herring. Surely it would've been more sensible to have infected ANY OTHER CHARACTER?! Ah well, the decision's been made now and I suppose we'll simply have to relish all the fine beats that Kiefer's going to unleash at us in the next few hours... and take comfort in Carlos Bernard's step up to centre stage, where he proceeds to be just about as bad ass as his fellow ex-CTU agent. It's a shame, then, that Seaton's duplicity is completely obvious from the moment that Jonas tells him to 'get creative' with Almeida and is it somewhat takes the wind out from under the sails of the Starkwood storyline. Still, with Jack's life falling apart on one hand and the FBI investigation amping up on the other, there's a great deal at stake and, therefore, a lot to sink our teeth into. Let's hope the promise that we see here is fulfilled better in the episodes to come. 7.5

717: '12.00am - 1.00am'

Wr: Chip Johannessen
Dr: Brad Turner

Synopsis: Hodges threatens war on the FBI if they do not retreat from his property, but quick thinking by Tony and Moss shed new light on the whereabouts of the biological weapons. Jack begins to show symptoms of his exposure, but refuses to try a possible antidote when he learns it would involve stem cells from his daughter. Olivia is blackmailed by a news reporter into giving up the breaking story unfolding at the White House.

Review: Ah, so it's Kim who's going to cure our budding anti-hero, fixing him with her genetically compatible Bauer blood/stem cells/ah, God knows what as I don't understand science. Well, I suppose it's preferable to the ludicrous deux et machina of having Hodges whip an antidote out of his back pocket in the 24th hour. It does mean we will probably have to endure Elisha Cuthbert attempting to act for a few episodes, of course, but Kiefer's so good, he'll undoubtedly be able to disguise her woeful inadequacies. While the decision to infect Bauer remains questionable, some good has certainly come of it here as not only is Kiefer particularly adept at making the illness seem believable and horrifying, but the scene between he and Renee when he discusses his daughter is absolutely stellar, striking at least four for emotional believability. Elsewhere, the Starkwood storyline continues to move at a refreshingly intense pace as Tony infiltrates the compound once again with a guy who looks a hell of a lot like Joey Potter's dad from Dawson's Creek and all hell seems about to break loose as Jonas reveals he's got some bad ass looking missiles pointed at several American cities. The explicit marriage of this story with the Presidential one works very well, giving Cherry Jones the chance to do more than simply react to events and get into the thick of the action (well... for the first time since she was kidnapped by Juma, at any rate). And how about Hodges committing murder, eh? The scene in which he confronts the Starkwood chairman is simply excellent as both actors give it their all and Voight demonstrates his incredible ability to move from lucid, logical businessman to sociopathic loon in the blink of an eye. It's a deliciously creepy sequence that sends shivers down the spine, lending further credence to the character as a legitimate threat. The only disappointment here, really, is Olivia's storyline which is predictable in the extreme and only serves to further illustrate just how much of a waste of space she is. No one cares, bump her off please so we can get back to the real storyline. A solid effort on the whole though and proof that perhaps, just perhaps, 24 could actually survive without Kiefer Sutherland. Just a thought, you know. 8.5

718: '1.00am - 2.00am'

Teleplay: Manny Coto & Brannon Braga
Story: Howard Gordon
Dr: Brad Turner

Synopsis: Hodges meets with President Taylor to outline his demands involving Starkwood having a seat at the highest government level, but Tony's plan to detonate Starkwood's weapons systems dramatically reverses the control of power. Renee calls in Kim Bauer to see her dad, who refuses to get her involved in a possible treatment option to stop the degeneration caused by the bioweapon. One Starkwood operative manages to sneak a canister off the premises and is pursued by Larry.

Review: Wow, so much to talk about and so little time. Let's begin at the end, just to be contrary, with THAT plot twist. Well, while virtually every functioning brain cell that I have tells me to absolutely loathe Tony's 'turn', I'm going to reserve judgement until the forthcoming episodes have given us more of an idea as to what in the holy Hell is going on. To be perfectly honest, I bemoaned the revelation that Almeida was actually a good guy earlier in the season as I think, as the writers had the balls to turn him into an embittered, establishment-loathing baddie with a completely logical set of reasons for it, they should also have had the balls to follow through and give us THIS Tony for the duration. Still, I warmed to his old, Bauer-helping self, as was inevitable given Bernard's considerable talent, and now I'm unsure as to whether I really WANT to see the Almeida that I longed for after the first couple of hours. The problem now, of course, is going to be reconciling his helpful antics with the FBI with his treacherous MURDER OF LARRY MOSS which, let's face it, was freaking awesome. Just when you think 24 is settling into a familiar pattern, getting fairly safe with its narratalogical decisions, along comes a plot development that sucker punches you in the gut and reminds you that the writing staff aren't afraid to take the road less travelled every so often. Anyway, here's hoping Tony's 'turn' is suitably explained and that we can all buy into it, rather than it coming across as a desperate attempt by an idea-deprived writing staff to keep things engaging. In a way, I am rather concerned that this will turn out to be the case, especially when you consider that this season seems to chop and change as it sees fit: we've had the Dubaku plot, the Juma plot, the Starkwood plot and now, it appears, the 'this is bigger than you can imagine President Taylor, mwahahahahahaha' plot, all in the space of eighteen episodes, which doesn't exactly indicate a confidence in narratalogical structure. Still, this is mere conjecture for now so we'll leave it to one side and celebrate the culmination of the Starkwood extravaganza which looks and feels spectacular: some serious dough has spent on those sets, believe you me. The adrenalin rush of the race to destroy the missiles in the first twenty minutes is thoroughly addictive, and counterpointed nicely with a stellar set of scenes between President Taylor and Jonas Hodges, in which the battle of wits feels as epic as the physical battle going on down the road. This then gives way to a more reflective second half as Tony seems destined to get a pardon and Jack has a wonderful scene with Kim, in which Sutherland manages to disguise Cuthbert's poor acting skills, and then, of course, we have THE BIG ONE. This all makes for a highly engaging hour of television, shocking, surprising and entertaining virtually every step of the way. Let's cross our fingers and toes that Tony's turn doesn't transpire to be an ill-thought out damp squib. 8.8

719: '2.00am - 3.00am'

Wr: David Fury
Dr: Michael Klick

Synopsis: As the nation remains vulnerable, Jack Bauer endures the worsening pathogen pain. The FBI deals with recent deadly developments while matters involving key players takes this day into a unexpected direction.

Review: What a turn up for the books, eh? After the 24 fan community hummed and hahed about the logistics of Tony's turn last week, worrying their collective asses off that it would fall flat and read as little more than a desperate attempt by the writing staff to keep the momentum going or incorporate some unnecessary shock value into the show (and I will admit that, yes, I had my doubts too... in fact, I still do), '2.00am - 3.00am' turns around and smacks us all in the face with a top class set of scripts that magnifies the tension, amplifies the suspense and sets the action counter to overload. There's so much interesting stuff going on in this one it's almost too good to be true and the fact that Olivia and Janis barely get a look-in only helps to strengthen matters. So there's the imprisonment of Jonas and the visit from the LAWYER LOOKALIKE (a truly bizarre plot development that) which adds oodles of intrigue to the plot, making throwaway references to 'the group' and their various motives, how Starkwood shouldn't have 'shown its hand' and so on and so forth. While I'd hate to see the end of Jon Voight's time on the show at this stage, given that he plays such an incredibly good part, his acceptance of the suicide pill adds an extra level of depth to his character and nicely juxtaposes against the medical emergency that we subsequently see occur with Bauer towards episode's end. Carlos Bernard does a magnificent job as duplictious Tony, trying to keep everything under wraps, and it's a commendable writing decision to have the narrative structure pivot on Almeida's perspective as we get to witness how he disguises his actions and his frustrated reactions when they begin to fall apart. The sequences in the abandoned building are astonishingly well done and genuinely horrifying in places: the explosions are immense and the chaos that ensues in their aftermath is excellently realised. And then, of course, there's the confrontation with Jack which oozes antagonistic chemistry and bodes well for the inevitable showdown that is to come. Let's hope it's the truly epic one that these two deserve. Credit must be given elsewhere to Annie Werschung for hitting one out of the park in Renee's response to Larry's death and, yet again, to the writing staff for creating a palatable sense of mystery throughout the hour. As we don't yet understand Tony's allegiances, and the lawyer's hints at the nature of the group with whom we are now dealing are distinctly cryptic, the viewer is kept guessing as to the truth of what is actually going on. Yes, there are some further glimpses with the appearance of Will Patton but even this is fairly brief and doesn't give much away. The writers are keeping their cards firmly to their chests and it works very well, encouraging us all to return for more in the weeks to come. Let's just hope we don't have to see very much of little Terry as well. 9.2

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Live review: The Living End (Club Academy Manchester, 21/04/09)

Let's get one indisputable fact out of the way before we begin. The Living End are an absolutely stellar live act. There's no end of talent in the three-piece's collective fingertips, no shortage of expertise in their blistering, sweat-drenched performance. They are masters of their craft, knowing exactly which buttons to press and when, which party tricks to unleash and which to keep under their sleeves for another day. The flamboyant riffery added to their four-minute slabs of purest punkabilly is taught, impressive and never overstays its welcome. The pauses for crowd participation are perfectly timed in the most obvious of songs, never falling flat enough to hear the tumbleweed breezing through the back of the venue. And front man Chris Cheney knows exactly when to climb atop Scott Owen's immensely impressive chequered double bass so as to elicit the maximum level of applause and the most digital cameras held aloft, desperately trying to capture the perfect image of the moment. Yes, The Living End know what they do and they do it bloody well; just as they should, as they've had plenty time to practise.

It's around fifteen years now since these Australian punk kids began playing Stray Cats covers together and ten years since the entire population of their native country went out and made their debut major label single the biggest selling of the 90s. Having been thrust into the limelight so suddenly, they've had to up their game over the years: it's what comes with headlining open air festivals like Big Day Out, in front of thousands upon thousands of screaming Antipodeans. And this is why you would imagine that tonight's gig, in the few-hundred-holding Manchester Club Academy, would be something of a treat for them. The days of playing venues with no security or gap between stage and audience, where you can see the whites in the eyes of everyone in the building, are long gone for these guys Down Under. This is the dictionary definition of 'intimate', the kind of gig that their fans back home have wet dreams about attending, and it's why the few people that are here are bouncing off the walls in adulation.

It's mostly die-hards in attendance this evening, people who live and breathe The Living End, who have the lyrics to their B-sides tattooed onto their skulls. There are no hangers-on, very few casual observers who've popped in from the pub over the road out of curiosity. This is hero worship, no question about it. It's why, every three minutes, there are umpteen separate shouts for different personal favourites from every corner of the venue. It's why the crowd collectively chants the chorus to much-adored second album track 'Uncle Harry' between songs. There is so much love for The Living End's history that they just can't help but be vocal about it. It's a shame, then, that the boys choose to ignore this clearly white hot atmosphere and play silly buggers with their setlist.

The unusually mediocre White Noise, the 2008 LP that received its first physical release in the UK this week, is the order of the day here. Oh sure, at least 50% of the punters know it already (damn you Pirate Bay!) but that doesn't shake the overwhelming sense of disappointment that comes with choosing some of its bloated, dad-rock-esque numbers over the wealth of far superior material in their back catalogue. Cheney and co. run through six of these: surprisingly intense opener 'Raise the Alarm', the Living-End-by-numbers title track, the excellently riffed but depressingly cumudgeon 'How Do We Know', the mutually unremarkable 'Loaded Gun' and 'Hey Hey Disbeliever' and the horrible misstep that is 'Sum of Us', which is so chilled it freezes your aural senses. And sure, almost all of them are passable, improved somewhat by increasing the tempo and injecting some energy into their haunched musical corpses. Well, except 'Sum of Us', which is just inexcusable, especially considering they play it as the first song of the two-track encore, just when the buzz for the band is at its peak (you can practically feel the let down in the air). But at the end of the day, we'd all rather have something, anything, else. Even their 'Tainted Love' cover. Yes boys, the album is that lacklustre.

Of course, we all understand that they have a record to promote and six songs from a fourteen track album isn't really overkill when you think about it, right? Wrong. When your entire set is fourteen songs long, it certainly is, and when one of the other 'tracks' is 'E-Boogie', a talent-showcasing instrumental in which Chris noodles with a beer bottle for five minutes, that leaves just seven slots in which to fit four prior albums worth of material, which seems a little under representative. Naturally, the crowd laps every second of these up though, from the rabble-rousing call to arms of 'Prisoner of Society' to the rather poignant, given the current climate, 'All Torn Down'. And while they play an extra-bouncy 'Second Solution' and a highly energetic 'West End Riot', there's only room for one track from Roll On, one from Modern Artillery and, you guessed it, one from State of Emergency. Frankly, that's criminal when you consider that the venue has an 11pm curfew; with fourteen tracks, The Living End make it to 10.35, leaving twenty five minutes of wasted show time. You'd certainly be forgiven for feeling more than a little cheated. They're rarely on these shores, when they are they'll play about three shows, and they give us slim pickings? Their Australian gigs regularly contain over twenty songs. Just because the venue is smaller and the crowd slimmer, doesn't mean we deserve less.

As 'West End Riot' draws to a close, the last song of a disappointingly short two track encore, and Chris says goodnight to his audience, a wave of disappointment sweeps across the building. You can almost hear 500 minds collectively wondering "is that it? Really?", and that's not to say there's no appreciation for what we've been given. The Living End are a thrilling live experience and this is no exception but most of the people at the Club Academy this evening already know this. Sure, if you're unfamiliar with the band, you'll probably walk out thinking that your eyes have just witnessed the greatest thing ever; but the rest of us, well, to paraphrase a song of the band's own, we wanted more. Shame they couldn't find it in their hearts to give it.

Overview: 'Battlestar Galactica' season 4.5

Well, Battlestar Galactica has now thrown down the curtain and joined the choir invisible and we have a complete 'season 4.5' to derive some lovely averages from. So, how did this year's run of episodes fare? Drum roll please...

Ratings for all season 4.5 episodes

411: 'Sometimes A Great Notion': 9.6
412: 'A Disquiet Follows My Soul': 9.2
413: 'The Oath (1/2)': 9.4
414: 'Blood on the Scales (2/2)': 9.2
415: 'No Exit': 9.2
416: 'Deadlock': 8.0
417: 'Someone To Watch Over Me': 9.0
418: 'Islanded in a Stream of Stars': 9.0
419: 'Daybreak, part 1': 8.5
420: 'Daybreak, part 2': 9.5
421: 'Daybreak, part 3': 7.0

Season average?


After so many high scoring episodes (including a phenomenal 9.6 at the start), that's a bit disappointing, really. That slightly less-than-stellar series finale really made an impact.

Best episode: 411: 'Sometimes A Great Notion', scoring a whopping 9.6
Worst episode: 421: 'Daybreak, part 3', coming in at a depressingly average 7.0. Pity that, given that it's the last episode of the show ever!

Best moment: So many to choose from but I have to go with Dee shooting herself in the head in 'Sometimes A Great Notion'. What a shocker. Millions are still reeling.

Worst moment: The notion that 37,000 people would allow all of their technological advances to be flown into the sun and start again, completely from scratch, as savages, as 'Daybreak, part 3' would have us believe. Not on your nelly.

Review catch-up: Heroes

318: 'Exposed'

Wr: Adam Armus & Kay Foster
Dr: Eric Laneuville

Synopsis: After a tip from "Rebel", Matt and Peter hurry to rescue Daphne and find evidence that may expose the government's plans to capture those with powers. Sylar uncovers the truth about his mother from past memories on his father, while the Hunter hatches an explosive plan of his own.

Review: Writing this review seven weeks after the original broadcast of the episode has proven to be a somewhat frustrating experience. I really cannot remember very much about it. Unfortunately, this is considerably telling, indicating that there was nothing particularly memorable about the instalment to set it apart from the other hours in the Heroes arsenal. In the end, I resorted to trawling through the archives for a synopsis and determined that, yup, nothing of much consequence happens in 'Exposed'. Claire helps handsome, buff COMIC BOOK STORE GUY (oxymoron? Go figure)-cum-young-Aquaman escape from the clutches of the evil Nathan Petrelli regime. This is plot stretched wafer thin, barely able to maintain its own momentum. Hell, I know I was drooping during it. Sylar remembers his dad murdering his mom and mysteriously saves Luke when he would normally abandon him/slice his brains open. This is passable, sure, but that's got a lot more to do with Quinto's acting chops than it has with the quality of the writing. The story, again, is predictable and rather trad, taking baby steps toward its ultimate goal and not even having the decency to make them particularly surprising. And then there's Matt and Peter's attempt to expose the duplicitous Denko which, again, seems to lack that oh-so-crucial element of engagement, primarily because we're all painfully aware that it won't come to fruition. Sadly, it seems that in the desperate desire to appease a vocal minority bemoaning the overly complex nature of the show, Tim Kring has overreacted, his knee has jerked, and now Heroes has abandoned the complex altogether. Shame really. This isn't a bad hour of television by any standards... it's just rather blase. And that's not what I expect from this show. 6.4

319: 'Shades of Gray'

Wr: Oliver Grigsby
Dr: Greg Beeman

Synopsis: Sylar finds his father at last, Claire must decide whether to help a sworn enemy, Danko digs into the secrets of the Petrelli family, and Matt must find a way out of an explosive situation.

Review: For all there are some significant game changing moments in 'Shades of Gray', they essentially act as window-dressing to the episode's real feature: giving Zachary Quinto a chance to remind us all just why he's the coolest villain on network television. The interplay between Sylar and his long lost father is definitely the highlight here. John Glover is excellent foil for Quinto, capturing the sad, lonely callousness of this most wretched of men with great ease. It's a shame that the encounter, while superbly written, ultimately amounts to very little other than Sylar returning to his former self (with a possible minor variation in his potential assisting of Danko), and therefore comes as a bit of a predictable waste of time. Still, for a good thirty minutes, this is riveting stuff. The supporting stories are a slightly mixed bag: while Nathan's fall from grace is executed quite well (even if that shove through the window is completely telegraphed), the Claire/Puppeteer narrative just feels like another exercise in water-treading. The same beats are reiterated here as last week: should young Bennet save the day and risk her life or stand aside and let the big boys do their thing? Oh sure, David H. Lawrence XVII is a joy to watch but was his return really necessary? It seems utterly superfluous and, in any case, didn't he die, like, six episodes ago?! Oh yeah and, writing staff, unnecessarily lascivious comic book store scene where everyone lusts after Claire? Yawn. 7.8

320: 'Cold Snap'

Wr: Bryan Fuller
Dr: Greg Yaitanes

Synopsis: The identity of "Rebel" is revealed. Noah wants Danko to let Tracy go in the hope that she will lead them to Rebel. Hiro and Ando continue with the mission that Rebel entrusted to them, to keep the new hero safe.

Review: Is Bryan Fuller a Godsend? Is his return to the Heroes writing staff the change that is needed to give the show a much-needed shove in the right direction? Well, judging by his first effort since Pushing Daisies well, the pun is just far too obvious, yes and no. 'Cold Snap' certainly sees a general upswing in quality: the script is solid, engaging and eventful and contains some of the most sparkling dialogue we've heard in aeons. There's an emphasis on character development here but not at the expense of the story, which is the problem that has plagued Heroes since Kring pressed the 'reset' button at the beginning of volume four. While fans have been crying out for a return to the halcyon days of the first season, it hasn't really been achieved... until now. Although arguably, this is not an exact return to form, it still shows promise. Tracey Strauss gets a satisfying character-arc-resolving death and it looks well cool. Rebel's identity is revealed and it's entirely logical. Hiro and Ando get an amusing side-stpry involving 'baby Matt Parkman' that's silly but rewarding because it advances things. Daphne's swan-song is unexpected and engaging, even if one does feel rather like the aforementioned 'reset' button is being pressed on characters far more frequently than it should. I mean, she renounces her entire relationship with the guy after professing her undying love like, three episodes ago. It's a bit much, a bit fast - one of the paradoxes crippling Heroes is the juxtaposition between slow-moving action and ludicrously-paced allegiance/personality shifts - but as it seems to signify the end of this problematic storyline, I'm willing to overlook it. A good effort on the whole and hopefully a sign of things to come. 8.3

321: 'Into Asylum'

Wr: Joe Pokaski
Dr: Jim Chory

Synopsis: The heroes try to mend their broken relationships as Nathan and Claire seek refuge in Mexico and Peter and Angela hide out in a church. Danko's bid to wipe out the superpowered population intensifies as he unites with a surprising new ally.

Review: Heroes crawls to a snail's pace with this rather more reflective hour. It's a brave decision to concentrate so squarely on character in the manner that 'Into Asylum' does: there's barely a substantial plot development in sight, save for Sylar's rather cool (no matter how you look at it) acquisition of the ability to shapeshift. Instead, we spend a little time exploring the inner workings of Angela Petrelli's warped psyche and attempting to reconcile the differences between Claire and her biological father. The former is actually quite interesting, even if it does drag in places, as it finally offers the potential for some explanation as to the woman's bizarrely malicious nature, teetering towards redemption. The latter, unfortunately, is not so successful. Sure, we get a nice moment of truth between the two when they return, inebriated, to the apartment but the extraneous sequences in which they indulge themselves in tequila shooters are just plain mind-numbing. Get to the (blatantly obvious) point already! There's the aforementioned Sylar's thread to consider too and this certainly helps pick things up as Zachary and Zelkjo just ooze chemistry. At least, with this and certain aspects of Angela's story, the mood is lifted from catatonic to passable. Perhaps not the wisest pace change but certainly not without merit. 6.9

322: 'Turn and Face the Strange'

Wr: Mark Verheiden & Rob Fresco
Dr: Jeannot Szwarc

Synopsis: Someone close to Danko is put in the line of fire as he spearheads the anti-superhuman operation. Meanwhile, Noah's marriage continues to crumble while Hiro and Ando continue their journey to save Matt. Angela faces some demons from her past.

Review: Thankfully, 'Turn and Face the Strange' picks up the pace somewhat after last week's slightly frustrating navel-gazing, although it's not without its problems. Yet again, the plot feels like an overblown run around, with characters and allegiances shifting around for no apparently good reason. So someone has yet another, all-too-easy confrontation with Danko (you'd think the man would at least change his locks or, you know, move house after Petrelli AND Sylar have been able to find him... what does he do, advertise in the local press?!) AND LETS HIM GO. Oh sure, we all get that Matt Parkman isn't a killer but how about taking the morally ambiguous ground for once? Being brave and not making the obvious narratalogical decision? And then, just to make matters worse, having Hiro arrive just in the nick of flaming time and saving the day, fixing Matt's apparently 'broken' character with a visit from his bairn? A bairn, who, I might add, is responsible for one of the most vacuous plots ever to grace the show in the whole 'Ando makes a funny face' trope. I get that this was an attempt at injecting some irreverent humour into the show, building on the 'cutesy' appeal of the Japanese characters, but let's call a spade a spade here... it stunk, no two ways about it. I'm also rather dubious about Angela's sudden revelation and need to gather everyone at this random, abandoned palce so they can 'finally know the truth'. Um, how many times has that sentence been uttered in the show's three year run? Frankly, I'm sick of 'peeling the onion', as it were, finding that there's some secret, probably not so major and really rather throwaway, revelation about the characters' pasts that we weren't previously privy to (and that, usually, retcons what has already been established). What's with the grave-digging, too? Is it really necessary? Why isn't Angela mucking in? And why do they all obey her every, generally evil and malicious, whim? *sigh* Sounds like I hated this one, doesn't it? Well, I didn't really. Greg Grunberg is excellent when he's confronting Zelkjo, Jack Coleman is given HRG's best material in eons as he gets to go super-paranoid on his poor wife's ass and the shapeshifting development continues to show great promise for Sylar's storyline, which Zachary Quinto clearly relishes. I just wish they'd take a little more time to think their stories through before executing them. With a smidgeon of extra attention, the frustrating gripes could be ironed out. 7.1

323: '1961'

Wr: Aron Eli Coleite
Dr: Adam Kane

Synopsis: Angela uncovers the dark secrets of her past, while Mohinder learns of his father's involvement in a forgotten government operation.

Review: And so Heroes lets loose with the flashbacks again, lending credence to the notion that it's becoming the new Lost. The black and white retrospective was an original and rewarding concept when it was first utilised in season one's 'Company Man' but by this point, it's so old hat, so passe, that you wonder why the production staff seem so obsessed with it. Oh sure, it looks nice and gives the director of photography an opportunity to revel in all the chiaroscuro possibilities, but as a viewing experience, it's tiresome... particularly when one considers the rather blase and ultimately pointless nature of the episode itself. Great, so it rebuilds the seemingly annihilated Petrelli bridge, bringing Angela, Peter, Nathan, Claire and HRG back together in at least a fairly understandable fashion, but the method by which this is achieved is pretty lacking. We aren't given enough of an opportunity to engage with Alice in order to empathise with her plight and, in any case, it's a bit difficult to believe that she's been living in that government bunker for fifty years. Furthermore, there's some woeful over-acting from a large number of the cast, not the least of which is Christine Rose who is uncharacteristically hammy. Perhaps it's the less-than-stellar dialogue that hampers things. Still, it's not all bad: there's a promising cliffhanger, young Alice and Angela are arguably better than their adult counterparts and there's a lovely nod to continuity with Angela's sock-stealing, which is actually referenced in 'Genesis' (the pilot episode) and given a thoroughly logical explanation here. It's just a shame that, for a show so desperately in need of some forward momentum, it continues to produce episodes like '1961' which, while passable in their own right, when taken altogether, frustrate rather than satisfy. 6.4

324: 'I Am Sylar'

Wr: Adam Armus & Kay Foster
Dr: Allan Arkush

Synopsis: Sylar, still engaged in an unlikely alliance, faces an identity crisis as his newest power begins to affect him in strange ways. Hiro and Ando try to bring down Building 26 as Matt grapples with fatherhood. Nathan begins to unfold a plan to to set things right.

Review: Or 'the one with the homage to Richey Edwards'. Did ya see that pain-inducing, self-mutilating episode title reveal? Bet that would've hurt more than '4REAL'. Anyway, 'I Am Sylar' is a vast improvement on '1961'. The episode shows considerable promise because it actually drives its myriad narratives forward in a variety of exciting ways. Hiro and Ando finally get to do something of consequence in their attempt to gain access to Building 26 and it's all mired in some wonderful, meaningful character development that's been a long time coming. Hiro's mysterious nosebleed is also unexpected and shocking, leaving the viewing genuinely intrigued to see what happens next. Sylar's story is also engaging. In fact, it's generally excellent. There's some superb dialogue, fantastic acting and really interesting beats in his confusion with the development of his shapeshifting ability and, like the Japanese boys' story, it's mostly unpredictable. The return of Gabriel's doting adoptive mother is a lovely touch and plays beautifully, demonstrating yet again why, when written right, the brain slicer is the best damn character in the show. And what's more, we get Micah in the mix too which is always a treat. Even the Petrellis get a fairly decent plot this week as Nathan confronts his doppelgänger and nearly snuffs it. All good, then? Well, almost. If only it weren't for Matt Parkman's uninteresting dalliance with his ex-wife which essentially runs around in circles and does nothing. He's gonna help take down Danko, he isn't, oh wait, he is. It smacks of filler and sadly, illustrates just how thin this whole 'fugitives' story really is. Thankfully, this doesn't detract too much from the quality of the hour, although the jury's out on the closing scene in which Sylar heals from THE ONLY THING THAT CAN KILL HIM. This kind of thing never bodes well. Time will tell though and for now, I'll make do with this being the best damn episode of Heroes in ages. 8.6