Viewers witness a grand betrayal in the ‘Vikings’ Season 2 finale

While the Vikings raided and conquered many lands during the 8th and 9th centuries, Season 2 of History Channel’s Vikings showed how much struggle there was for power within the Northlanders themselves. Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) staved off attacks by Jarl Borg (Thorbjorn Harr) and Rollo (Clive Standen), Borg by himself, and in the season finale, “The Lord’s Prayer” he survived the full-scale attack by King Horik (Donal Logue) and his people.

Vikings Season 2 Finale Floki

For much of the episode we knew Floki (Gustaf Skarsgard) held the cards, not knowing if he would betray Ragnar or Horik. He is a wild card–an unpredictable force to swing the tide one way or another but the strength in this season has been spent fleshing out several characters and thankfully, Floki was high on that list. In Season 1, he was known simply as Ragnar’s shipbuilder, trusted friend and mischievous Pagan fundamentalist. He remained a fan-favorite and his devotees were given a hard pill to swallow in the season premiere when Rollo nearly killed him. His mistrust in Athelstan (George Blagden) multiplied this season and in the last three episodes of the season it appeared that a rift was forming between he and Ragnar. He went so far as to “poison” Torstein (Jefferson Hall) and Rollo with shrooms, while stalking Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) through the finale, all for a taste of the action. He wound up remaining true to Ragnar, a popular decision surely with fans but let’s face it, if he betrayed Ragnar, he would’ve joined Horik as a bloody pulp.

Siggy (Jessalyn Gilsig) was another who appeared early on to angle her way in, against Ragnar but only for self-preservation. Rollo looked like a lost cause early in the season and she justified her bedding Horik as purely a political play. It distanced her from Rollo and in part he respected her less. But only the audience knows the favor Siggy performed for Horik and son, Erlendur and that may have been the tipping point. I think it’s reasonable to believe Siggy, a political player, to be loyal. She is in no way a warrior, so she would only reclaim a point of power if she aligned herself with someone who could give her that which she desired most. She lost her children, so what else does she have to lose, but Rollo? Feeding information to Horik seemed to be to her advantage, at least until she was whored out. It’s also plausible to believe that she was in the game until Horik asked her to kill Ragnar’s children.

After Ragnar’s negotiations with King Ecbert (Linus Roache) and an unwillingness to be satisfied with fertile land,  one could see Horik feeling less significant as a king. Horik’s best play was Floki and Siggy–not the strongest strategy, but that’s how well-guarded Ragnar was. Floki certainly would have been a big score, especially when he could build Horik a fleet of warships. Siggy however is a pure and calculated politician, a close friend to Lagertha, and she helped raise Auslaug’s children. She is a survivor who has a reasonable beef with Ragnar–he did publicly kill her husband thereby stripping away her power–but asking her to kill out his children, incurring the wrath of Ragnar’s camp? One thing Siggy is not, is stupid.

vikings season 2 Horik

The character of Horik became a bit of a letdown as the season went on. He seemed like he was a king who was willing to get his hands dirty. I admired his desire to raid and his introduction in Season 1 made me excited for Season 2. From his perspective, one could get behind his ideals, his desire to raid and conquer new lands, and even get revenge at Wessex. He exhibited rage in killing some of Ecbert’s messengers and appeared to be formidable on the battlefield. However when it came to his plan to assassinate Ragnar, Horik took the cowardly way out and had others do his dirty work.

He’s the one who sent Ragnar to Jarl Borg to settle the land dispute for him. He’s the one who chose to dissolve the partnership with Borg before raiding Wessex, then tried to repair it when Ragnar sought revenge. Horik’s time was running out. What I found most interesting about the portrayal of Horik was that there was never a time that he was respected as the king, that the people looked to him to be THE person that will help their civilization prosper. He had to remind Ragnar that he was the king when things went sour in Wessex. His tactics during the raids were second-guessed and Rollo certainly didn’t respect him. In his defense, we never saw Horik in his territory with the people who worshipped him; it’s just we rarely saw anyone kneel down or acknowledge Horik as a person of royalty. That may have been by design or the way that Donal Logue played it, either way it’s an interesting choice and different way to portray a king.

Both Horik and Borg came after Ragnar, but under different circumstances. Borg couldn’t be bothered by anyone but the minute Ragnar showed up representing Horik there was trouble brewing and that’s simply a man standing his ground and surviving. Borg pitted the Lothbroks (or Lodbroks, depending on what you prefer) against one another because he was being threatened. Again, Borg felt he was being taken advantage of by Horik (another who didn’t bow to Horik) and observed how Rollo was being overshadowed–that’s a smart strategy even if it didn’t work. But Horik saw his influence dwindle, and backed into a corner once Lagertha became Earl Ingstad, ensuring every decision would be a debate. Yes, Jarl Borg talked to the skull of his first wife and yes, he tried to kill Ragnar’s family but only after he was wronged and humiliated. Borg took the Blood Eagle with grace, bravery, and suffered through it without screaming. He knew his treacherous ways caught up to him. Horik knew the moment he lost too, but then again, he was never in the position to win.

vikings season 2 finale praying

As for Floki, Horik played with his desires, and certainly stoked the hatred and mistrust for Athelstan. That’s one thing Floki was not bluffing about. But it’s the behavior with Helga that provided such a good smokescreen. Floki is certainly aloof enough and is such a devout believer in the gods that he’d be insecure as a potential father. He probably does believe that his child is cursed and yet is still wacky enough to name the daughter Angrboda, after the the famed giantess of Jotunheimr, who also was the mistress of Loki and eventually bore three monsters. It even seemed reasonable enough to believe that he wanted nothing to do with the child but after the finale played out, it was clear that Floki was on a mission to play out the ruse against Horik and protect Bjorn. The worst thing that could happen to Floki was Horik smelling the wind of his trickery and have him and his family killed or he would have died protecting Bjorn. He protected Helga and Angrboda in the end and one must respect the man for that.

Season 2 ended on a much clearer ending point, without any major dangling thread. There’s many questions for Season 3, especially regarding King Ragnar’s next step and how long his peace treaty with England stays in place. And let’s not forget Princess Kwenthrith. But this season has been full of fantastic moments that were brought to a resting point during the long break. There were less time jumps than the inaugural season, mostly because History and creator Michael Hirst knew they had an audience who was willing to see these stories play out and now the planning begins for how far to carry the show.
Vikings Season 2 Bjorn
We never expected to see the Vikings be defeated in battle, but it was clear that something was broken from within the structure of the alliance–the Vikings ceased to look super human. Rollo, barely escaped death. Athelstan’s personal identity remains a struggle but he valued his friendship with Ragnar more, culminating to a moment where they prayed together. This was a crucial moment in the relationship of Ragnar and Athelstan, who had a choice to stay in Wessex or be in Kattegat with the Vikings. He chose Ragnar and in turn was allowed to be whatever he wanted to be. Ragnar praying with Athelstan was fully accepting him, his beliefs, and respected him for his differences. No longer was Athelstan a slave, a ground-level shield man, or a low class citizen–despite whatever the rest of the Vikings think of him. To Ragnar, Athelstan was a friend and perhaps the one person he knows won’t be hunting for his head when he’s king.
Bjorn realized that love can be complicated when class gets in the way, and even more so when the two parties are equal. King Ecbert turned out to be a fascinating character study who admired the Pagans and their dominance before Christianity spread; he was also intelligent enough to see Athelstan as an asset (or property)–as did Ragnar–and realized that diplomacy is as valuable as conquering land.
The season may have ended with a majestic crane shot of Ragnar sitting atop a mountain, fitted in King’s attire, but we got a real glimpse into the Lodbrok legacy that stretches beyond Ragnar. We got to see Bjorn sprout up and become a ferocious warrior, (perhaps him finding the King’s sword was symbolic of his own eventual path). Lagertha’s pride allowed her a unique opportunity to become an earl and become an ally to Ragnar, while Auslaug gets elevated from princess to queen with four sons to carry on after him. The stories of the Vikings don’t end with the life of Ragnar Lodbrok and should we see fourth and fifth seasons in the distant future, the future of Vikings continues to be a malleable thing. Finally, there’s Rollo who continues to overcome being tested and thrown obstacles in his path. Who knows if he and Siggy can trust each other, but their quality of life should improve after remaining loyal to Ragnar. “The Lord’s Prayer” was a finale that was remarkable  in nearly every way, but that could be said about the entire season. For now, we must wait until February 27 for Season 3.

FX’s ‘Fargo’ is as good as the Coens’ masterpiece

Before I sat down with the first four episodes of FX’s limited series, Fargo, premiering April 15 at 10PM, I reacquainted myself with the 1996 Coen Brothers’ crime classic. It’s been over a decade since I last saw the film and like a winter squall blustering through, my memories of it had become buried deep in snow. However, after this viewing, I had this insatiable desire to soak in this world for a longer duration.

billy bob thornton fargo

It wasn’t just any small town that had been rocked by bloody murders and criminal activity, it was this specific ivory landscape that stretched as far as the eyes could see. Its citizens were as foreign and distant as Hawaii or Alaska as were their special brand of talk and affection. Fargo felt like the Coens picked up a snow globe unlike any other and then gifted it to everyone who had seen the film. One might be asking, how could they touch perfection? TV is looking hard at how it can make movies better or believe that more is better. Who knows how many seasons they are going to fit in before A&E’s Bates Motel brings us to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho? Doesn’t all of that water down the original piece of art? Those are valid concerns but Fargo isn’t your average movie tie-in TV show.

FX’s Fargo is a 10-episode, one-season run with a different set of characters in the same setting. It steps back in time but only to 2006 and once again, big city murder and crime are making life difficult for the small town folk. One in particular is insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) whose only crime when we meet him is being a downtrodden victim of life for too long. He works in a hamster wheel, selling insurance; he continues to be bullied by his high school nemesis, and it’s only worse at home. His wife Pearl (Kelly Holden Bashar) emasculates him at every opportunity. This is as good as life would get for Nygaard; then all of that changes when he is confronted with his antithesis.

Bill Bob Thornton describes his character, Lorne Malvo as not having a conscious, who is animalistic in nature, and never for once looking back in life. Malvo is a confident man, intimidating, and completely aware of his surroundings–qualities that make him a good hitman, a smart drifter, and the most charming of antagonists. But he doesn’t just take orders, he has his own rules that only he plays by, not necessarily having a goal in mind, just doing the necessary things he needs to or wants to do. There is however one thing he is fascinated with: finding the weaknesses in everyone, exploit them and have some devilish fun until the novelty wears out.

martin freeman fargo

Rather than find out what happened to Marge Gunderson a decade later, bits and pieces of her spirit make it into young police deputies from different cities, Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) and Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks). Solverson is not pregnant or even married but she does have a sounding board in her father, Lou (Keith Carradine). Grimly is a good deputy, but on one night fails to do his job when he  gets scared. He’s not allowed to do that, but confronting a man of Malvo’s demeanor is rare for these parts of town. It’s a natural reaction to being threatened and resisting that is a decision that often goes unheralded in those who serve and protect. Grimly is the one of the few sweet faces of innocence, swimming in shark-infested waters and you hope he doesn’t get gobbled up. Again, Marge is not mentioned, but she is reworked in these two heroes and that familiarity is comforting.

That’s the craft of executive producer, showrunner and writer Noah Hawley (Bones, The Unusuals) who threw Jerry Lundegaard, Carl Showalter, and Gaear Grimsrud amongst others in a wood chipper and spread some of their qualities into Nygaard, Malvo and other supporting characters. You’ll hear the echoes every once in a while but these characters are much more complete, fully flawed, but equally irresistible. It’s a world populated with eccentrics, brought to life by a star-studded cast. Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad) is a negligent and opportunistic buffoon of a deputy chief Bill Olson; Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) is a self-bronze tanning bottom feeder; Oliver Platt plays a local celebrity who’s life is flipped over by Malvo, and Kate Walsh is a seductive former stripper who suddenly finds herself a widow and lone mother of terrible children. Julie Ann Emery, Adam Goldberg, Russell Harvard, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, and Joey King round out the first-rate ensemble.

Hawley is so good at understanding what the Coens did so well with dialogue and set direction, that if you didn’t know he was the writer, you’d swear that Joel and Ethan Coen wrote this too. They did approve of this story, serving as executive producers with Warren Littlefield and that alone should convince you to tune in, but trust me when I say that it is Hawley’s work that will keep you cemented to your monitor of choice for 10 weeks.

allison tolman fargo

Like the film, this is not a whodunit or a mystery but there is a lot of dog, cat and mouse. We are merely observers of Nygaard and Solverson potentially rise up to the challenge of their catalysts, Malvo and Olson respectively. With the help of Grimly, can Solverson overcome the barricades that Olsen puts in her way and figure out who is terrorizing the townsfolk of Bemidji, Minnesota? Once Nygaard crosses a line, what will stop him from doing something else with his dark side?

Fargo has all the makings of the next hot thing in water cooler talk. Be prepared for audiences torn between the breakout performance of Tolman’s Deputy Solverson, and those rooting for Malvo to get away with all of his violence and tricks. It is sure to be one of Thornton’s most unforgettable roles. The same could be said for Freeman, who will play his first character of such compromising makeup that it will be challenge to find sympathy for him. Yet somehow, he manages to do so with expertise. Nygaard is a more pathetic version of Walter White at the start of Breaking Bad, but there are no false crutches of family  for Nygaard to depend on. He’ll work hard to toe the line of reprehensible and endearing schlub. Where he ends up though, is anyone’s guess.

Given the harsh winter that most of the country has suffered, I take no pleasure in urging anyone to endure the sight of so much snow, but after seeing the first four episodes of Fargo, I can assure those with a taste for high-level drama that it will be worth it.  The premiere is astounding, with the stakes and risks escalating with each chapter. Every scene feels like it’s a movie, full of depth and detail cinephiles will pour over and every episode opens magnificently with the disclaimer that “This is a true story…” with a sweeping score by Jeff Russo and closes with cliffhangers that linger for days. There are plenty of awkward moments to hush the audience one moment and a semi-regular dose of black humor to bring out the joy in the darkest individual.

FX has become the factory of fan-favorite television and after reinventing comedy and anthology television, they look to master the limited series. With no worries about ratings equating into renewal or cancellation, there is no reason to guard material for later seasons. Everything is on the table to tell the best story immediately. By the fourth episode, audiences will understand the minor relationship between the movie and film, and it is indeed a very cool one, but the FX’s Fargo is its own creature with many more points of interest that it will stand on their own. I can only hope that after 10 episodes, I’ll be equally satisfied as I was with the film but again wanting to live in the world of Fargo – just a bit longer.

Focusing on ‘Vikings’ Season 2 Episode 7: Blood Eagle

I severely doubt there was a more compelling hour of television this week than what transpired in History Channel’s Vikings episode 207, “The Blood Eagle” so let’s break down some of the biggest moments, what built up to them and how they’ll impact future episodes.

vikings 207 jarl borg

The Blood Eagle
I would be remiss to begin breaking down this episode from any point except the end. Jarl Borg’s (Thorbjørn Harr) execution was the most brutal, horrific yet riveting ordeal to play out on TV in a long time. The Blood Eagle sounded like a cool visual when mentioned at the end of the previous episode, then reality started to sink in when Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) walked Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig) through it. But actually seeing it? That was a game changer. I didn’t think Athelstan’s (George Blagden) crucifixion could be topped, but I was wrong. Borg said it best in that it is “astonishing to those who watch”. There were so many points to gloss and I’ll start with Ragnar actually performing the act. There wasn’t some executioner who got his hands dirty. This was Ragnar, barefoot and in white robes, so that we could see all of the blood splattered. The last five horror films I’ve seen couldn’t have horrified me more than what my mind imagined what Ragnar’s point of view was digging into Borg’s warm body to rip out his lungs. Borg wronged him, his family, and his people and there wasn’t anyone who was going to do this but him. That deserves some mad respect.

Next, as people were wincing (even Torstein) or became repulsed by the ritual it was attended by everyone. Borg’s wife even passed out understandably, but it was refreshing to see no one having trouble keeping their food down. Those are some serious hard asses in Kattegat. The toughest of them all? Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), who didn’t even blink an eye or shift her body language. Ragnar wanted Borg to scream out so he would not enter Valhalla’s portal, but after some initial cries, and after collapsing once, Borg remained tough as nails once he saw the raven. He even laughed. That meant Odin’s presence was there and that symbolized he would in fact be permitted into Valhalla. Rather than show his anger, Ragnar had to have respected that stepping off the stage.

I’ve never been so glad to see a scene play out in slow motion, because Thorbjørn Harr’s performance was savored over a longer period. The camera work, the way that scene was lit, and the cumulative assault on your eyes… THAT is how you exit a TV series and I’ll miss him dearly. Harr is an actual descendant of Vikings and his ferocious and primal performance was exactly what we needed to see to play against Fimmel’s usual reserved and contemplative take on Ragnar Lothrbok. Harr gifted the audience with rawness on camera and yet still remained a mystery whenever he talked to the skull of his first wife–which was creeeeepy! Part of me hoped that it would have been Horik (Donal Logue) on the cutting block instead, but no character has had such a ball-wrecking impact this season than Jarl Borg. I think the only scenes I had a problem building up to this was Horik’s visits with him, building up false hope of release and revenge, only to see that neither Horik or Borg were in a position to change the situation. Horik probably realizes his mistake not to bury their differences before the raid on Wessex now. There are rarely any wasted scenes so this must have some significance later.

Kings Meet
King Ecbert (Linus Roache) of Wessex & King Aelle (Ivan Kaye) of Northumbria decided to join their kingdoms with their children to prepare for any future Viking raids and eliminate the weak kingdom in between. Ecbert’s proposal of alliance strengthens both sides, but he admitted just prior that he would easily turn on Aelle’s smaller kingdom. Remember, Athelstan told Ragnar that Ecbert is a lot like him when they first raided Wessex, that he goes against the grain, that he does the opposite of what’s expected of him. One has to question if he is a man of his word–probably not– but what is his ultimate gain in this? Obviously, his fascination with the Roman Empire when they were Pagans fuels Ecbert and he doesn’t hold his fellow countrymen in as high regards as they would think. I like Roache’s efforts. There’s probably a few ways to play this character, and most productions might play him as over-the-top, but even though he stands on the opposite side of the Vikings, he comes off as very affable.

vikings 207 kings meet

Ragnar dreams of Athelstan
The seer confirms Athelstan’s survival and his struggle with his identity and demons. As we saw since Ecbert spared his life, Athelstan has been blessed in his love of his work as a monk but also his open embracing of Pagan culture and religion. Is Athelstan merely blending in to survive once again, or has he fallen back into who he truly believes he is? What will he do when the Vikings and British clash once again? Is he true to any side or is just a survivor?

Two Weddings and “Floki… the father…”
Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård) and Helga (Maude Hirst) are expecting a child, prompting Floki to propose. The interesting conversation that comes out of this proposal though is bypassing the blessing of Ragnar. On the surface, one could see it as dissension beginning to set in with Ragnar’s people, but it could also show that Floki doesn’t want to get involved with all of the politicking that Ragnar is doing. He just wants to build warships and raid. But times have changed and Ragnar has not always had Floki’s back. He has always been suspicious of Athelstan and anyone who dares challenge the Viking culture and fundamentalist Pagan lifestyle. This could be Floki beginning to draw a line in the sand or merely wanting a moment of privacy for him and Helga. Still, it was strange seeing King Horik attend the wedding and not Ragnar considering the bond between them. We’ll see if this is Horik’s way in to betray Ragnar, or if Floki is part of an elaborate takedown of Horik, because I can tell you one thing, I do NOT want to root against Floki.

This ceremony is juxtaposed with the wedding of Aelle and Ecbert’s children in another comparison between the two religions, cultures, and spirit. As seen with Athelstan’s experience with the beaten woman, the contrast in religions show the difference in the treatment in women. Judith (Sarah Greene) is sworn to obey and serve her new husband Aethelwulf (Moe Dunford), Helga stands on equal ground with Floki and each is asked that their decision to wed is their own choices. Floki endeared himself more fans by digging through the grave sites for a sword to hold up at the ceremony. The tribal, almost tantric music in this montage underlines how much more fun Pagans have.

Vikings 207 Floki Wedding

Ragnar Lurks in the Shadows
There was a pivotal scene showed Ragnar lurking in the shadows while watching his brother spar publicly. After explaining to Rollo (Clive Standen) that he listens to King Horik because he is the king and he knows his place as Earl, but we know he’s sizing up Horik. Every one of their meetings since roping in Jarl Borg to Kattegat has been intense and tension-filled. Here, Ragnar proceeds to observe all of the moving parts around him, or is he orchestrating it all?

He sees Bjorn’s infatuation with Porunn, Aslaug with Helga, and Floki with his son. Those seem harmless genuine scenes he was snooping in on. However, Ragnar targeting Siggy’s (Jessalyn Gilsig) bee line around the room was key, talking to Helga, Rollo, and King Horik. That doesn’t bode well for Siggy as we see later when Rollo has rough sex with her and is enraged when she comes clean about her motive for an affair with Horik was for his benefit should the alliance between Horik and Ragnar dissolve. Can she be trusted? Hard to say and Rollo is in a tough spot.

Now, Ragnar may have been looking out for his brother, but he knows that he must be careful around Siggy. Already brewing a bad taste for King Horik, he knows that Siggy is in his ear means he is going to watch her more closely. The only one who can save her in the future is her friendship with Lagertha. However, she did glance towards Ragnar’s way at the end of this scene, which leads me to believe all of this could have been orchestrated by Ragnar as an elaborate foil to Horik’s plans. We’ll have to see how this plays out and this is classic Ragnar Lothbrok though, displaying his ability to sit back and observe and then calculate his next move. This was a great contrast to other scenes in the episode where we see his more savage side coming out meant to confuse onlookers, whether it was skinning a rat in front of Horik or shooting arrows at Torstien (Jefferson Hall) while drunk.

Meet Earl Ingstad Again
Okay, Ingstad is really Lagertha and she truly is an Earl now that her husband’s head is separated from the rest of his body. As Ragnar’s horse circled Lagertha’s, the spark between these two still lives, but there is a difference. Lagertha is on equal standing with Ragnar as an Earl and holds power now. She still may fall below kings, queens, and princesses, but she now has her own people, warriors, and followers and she’s going to battle with Ragnar instead of staying at home. Aslaug respects her, likes her even, so Ragnar may be able to eat his cake and have it too after all. No one here is going to say Lagertha was wrong in leaving Kattegat, but polygamy did exist back then, and while our modern moral values have existed for a long time, there’s nothing that states that Vikings shared them in that time period. History books can be the most accessible spoiler for any fan when it comes to Vikings, but based on what’s played out so far, Lagertha appears to be sticking around for a long while, and I doubt that the approval by fans is anything but unanimous in that development. We’ll see if her forces are enough to take on the next raid to England but this is building up to what should be a great battle.

We’ll see what happens next week in “Boneless” when it appears that Horik will make his most aggressive move against Ragnar. Watch Vikings Thursday nights 10/9c on The History Channel or online here.

‘American Horror Story: Coven’ 3.12 Review: Three Blind Mice

AHS 312 The Coven

With the showdown with the witch hunters behind them, the penultimate episode of American Horror Story: Coven, “Go to Hell” wisely put the focus on the search for the next Supreme. But before that could start, the series had to deal with Fiona (Jessica Lange), the current reigning leader of the coven and unresolved matters stemming from last week’s schizophrenic episode, “Protect the Coven.”

Saying this was a restoration to peak form for American Horror Story would be an understatement. This episode was full of the tight, seamless storytelling we’ve celebrated for much of the series, with plenty of in-your-face moments, gushing rivers of gore and intrigue into which one of the witches is powerful enough to pass the Seven Wonders or die trying and that’s exactly what Fiona wanted to happen. Plus Madison (Emma Roberts) got a royal thumping by Misty Day (Lily Rabe), fulfilling one of the most anticipated moments of he season.

On top of her weekly snooping, Fiona knew that the wonders would reveal her successor; if her cancer-ridden body could live to see the day, she would make sure that witch dies to absorb their power to continue on as the Supreme. But with the chance of losing the race with the reaper, Fiona was surprisingly admirable, and made an attempt to take care of her matters and that would ironically, be her downfall.

By affirming Cordelia’s (Sarah Paulson) powers were always within her and perhaps amplifying that act by passing along her mother’s necklace to her own daughter, Fiona helped restore Delia’s second sight. Not only could she see the truth with one touch, now she saw a future where Zoe (Taissa Farmiga), Madison, Misty, Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe), and even Cordelia herself were murdered at the hands of her mother. It took a long road to get here, but Cordelia was a player again.

The Supreme was going to stay the course and use the Axeman (Danny Huston) to carry out her dirty work once again. But what Coven showed us thus far, is that people do not change, (as we’ll delve into Delphine later) and no one escapes punishment. Fiona was irresponsible, selfish and negligent as a mother and Supreme. For someone who could contemplate killing their own daughter, her followers, and leaving behind her psychopath lover, she is not only a witch, but a wicked one at that. And in passing on her mother’s necklace to Cordelia, she may have passed on her taste for vengeance.

As far as we know it today, Fiona’s final moments included fixing herself a drink and about to go into another story of yesteryear while arrogantly turning her back on a broken-hearted axeman. It encapsulates everything she did to the coven for all of those years after being absent as a leader. I won’t say it’s the last we’ve seen of her. There’s always that possibility given the power of the Supreme, but if not, it would be a fitting end.

AHS 312 Queenie

Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) reinvented herself as a tour guide to her own home after knocking out Marie (Angela Bassett). It’s amazing what a makeover and some revisionist work can do! In that period, she might have made a sequel to About Schmidt. Ironically, no one commented on the striking resemblance of the tour guide with the painting of the madame of the house. So much for being immortalized.

Was LaLaurie’s tale supposed to be redemptive? I doubt it. Check the title of the series. Isn’t it more of a “horror” story that after a repugnant character is shown their crimes, ignorance, and monstrous acts against humanity, she refused to change?I think the line where the tourist asked, “When do we get to see the attic torture chamber?” it’s shows that people don’t want to hear about the good stuff. No one cared to see Delphine redeem herself. People just want to remember the bad. Delphine may have made a point that repenting for one’s sins are a modern day joke, but sadly, there are still many that live their life this way:

LaLaurie: I won’t profess to be sorry, because I’m not! You made me weep… for the state of this world, a world of lies, that makes promises it cannot keep–to tell a colored man that he can be equal to a white man? There’s a cruelty, I’m not going anywhere.

Ignorance can be tolerated. Intolerance is another thing. At that point, Queenie used her growing powers to reach out to Papa Legba (Lance Reddick) and most of all, her smarts, to figure out that the most vile character on television was vulnerable.  Queenie tried though, and that showed great strength on her part to try and save Delphine’s soul. At some point though, a lost cause, is a lost cause. But I believe her story leaves a greater impact than Delphine’s mutilations.

Some would say that there was no growth to Fiona, Delphine, or Marie, and I’d acknowledge that to a degree, but I would rather look at the honesty maintained by each character rather than being overcome by some epiphany of sudden saint hood. The day we met Fiona, she was looking for a way to escape aging and death. Yes, she was already dying of cancer, and tried to give up control of her life for love, but dammit, this woman wanted to live, and live life hard – by any means necessary.

Delphine was a miserable excuse for a human being, and all of the centuries of hate and torture couldn’t be erased with movie marathons to cleanse one’s soul. Delphine’s eternity spent in hell with Papa Legba and Marie might be enough for viewers, but anything imaginable is letting her off too lightly.

As for Marie, she was clouded with her own desire to live forever, as the other women who we believe to have perished in this episode. She protected her own unlike Fiona, but suffered the consequences of being too proud. Her ongoing act of kindness could not outweigh the annual heinous act of sacrifice.

Chasing immortality and arrogance made the three mice blind, so it’s only right that Cordelia and Queenie make it right. There’s no telling if any of them will stay dead, but the finale could be the cattiest royal rumble we’ve ever seen and before we lay down our bets on who comes out on top, we’ll leave with a quote from the former Supreme.

Fiona to the Axeman: You have been the most delightful distraction

‘Justified’ 5.3 Review: All Roads Lead to Boyd Crowder

Justified Season 5 Episode 3: Good Intentions

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Having too much information makes it easy to think you have an episode figured out, and that’s exactly what the writers wanted you to believe in “Good Intentions.” So when the US Marshals arrested Charles Monore’s (Xander Berkeley) for racketeering with the Tonins in last week’s episode, “The Kids Aren’t All Right,” Raylan (Timothy Olyphant) wasted no time using all of his possessions including his car and house like Spanish Fly to woo Allison (Amy Smart). We learned that Raylan’s new squeeze likes to smoke weed and planted crystal meth on her ex-husband, who came after her to get revenge. But guess who Raylan decided to side with? Even Rachel (Erica Tazel) thought this was another case of a Bonnie and Clyde act working Raylan and exploiting his weakness to score and protect a woman. Could anyone blame her?

For every good thing Raylan accomplishes he neglects something else, like the rules and procedures on the job. Rachel may not have a large role, but whenever the writers decide to pair them up like chaperone and pestilent child, she helps remind us how much of an arrogant and irresponsible Marshal he can be and plenty of his troubles are self-inflicted–and yet despite his flaws, we forgive him, just like his enablers.

We love seeing Raylan misbehave. But coming out of this episode, Raylan seems to be more of a background character in this season to the other lead, Boyd (Walton Goggins), who has his hand in every cookie jar, trying to keep his crime ring running on vapors, getting his fiancée out of jail, and keeping his scent away from the authorities. All of the major roads in Season 5 lead to Boyd and that would be the best thing for the series to build towards after being pushed to the back of the line by the Bennett clan, Robert Quarles and the Drew Thompson.

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Most assuredly a source of pressure is Ava (Joelle Carter) who is incarcerated for moving the Delroy’s corpse and while she’s seeking for a sign of love and compassion from Boyd to keep her going, his lack of concern for her while in the midst  of identifying Candy’s (Cathy Baron) real name might have dealt some reality to Ava. Some things can’t be fixed or forged. She might have to survive on her own behind bars and right now and nothing could be further on Boyd’s mind at this moment than those dreams of living in suburbia. But, is his mind on another woman?

This was a clever and pivotal scene for Boyd, revealing his bare chest and back for Mara (Karolina Wydra) to look him over and see what she needs to do fake his death and properly doctor a corpse so that her husband thinks Boyd is dead. There’s a moment there where one could believe he’d betray Ava, poetically in the same important spot where he and Ava touched each other’s gunshot wounds.

That was the beginning of their romance and the first declaration of honesty and emotion. He undeniably flirted with Mara, and some may believe he was left with a lasting impression, and it would be a shock to see one of TV’s best romance be sullen with the temptation of a black widow. Justified shippers had to have been squirming with Mara’s every touch while the vocal stylings of Cowboy Junkies’ siren, Margo Timmins framed the hot scene. Boyd’s love for Ava is one of his most endearing and defendable qualities.

However, Mara has exemplified more wickedness in three episodes than Ava could have ever cooked up. She’s working all of the angles, as if she were reading a book written by Boyd. He has to be wise to that, right?

Boyd: Pussy is a powerful thang.

Indeed. As we teased last week, Candy is Teri, the lovely whore who bore her way into Johnny Crowder’s (David Meunier) heart, and as if Boyd didn’t have enough to worry about, nothing consumes the attention like family spurned. We know Johnny wants to kill Boyd, he’s tried to work with Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) to make that happen, he’s professed his love for Ava, and he tried to use Limehouse against them. If there is an eventual showdown between the two lead characters, Raylan is going to have to wait in line behind Johnny, the Crowes, and maybe even Duffy if Boyd keeps screwing up.

This partnership between Boyd and Duffy only works if money is being made, but it seems like Boyd can’t catch a break and he has extended his payout to Mara and now Mooney to do dirty work for him under loose promises of large sums of cash, while Duffy has just one reliable employee, Mike (Jonathan Kowalsky). Cyrus leaked the Canadian dope shipment to Candy, Messer skimming was discovered by the Crowes, and the only guy who could legally get Ava out of jail Boyd nearly beat to death. How much incompetence will Duffy take before Boyd is in danger? What loose thread does Boyd take care of first?

Meanwhile, Darryl Crowe (Michael Rapaport) continues to come off as a lightweight stock villain, but that might have to do with being a Crowe, being from the South, or maybe Rapaport’s wavering accent. That’s how Justified seduces viewers into relaxing. Remember Mike O’Malley’s Nicky Augustine or Mykelti Williamson’s Limehouse? It’s still too early to tell what these Crowes are up to and what kind of threat they’ll post to Raylan or any other character. Those familiar with the series should be reminded that Justified is a slow burn, but ultimately, they’re more flies in Boyd’s ointment. At some point we’ll see Boyd boil over, but will it happen before Duffy becomes more the alpha as the season progresses?

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Other Justifications

• We’ve always seen Dewey (Damon Herriman) as the flea-bitten lowlife with a low IQ, and despite whatever criminal activities he’s up to the audience has always felt sorry for him. Whether it’s Raylan deputizing him, making him believe he has four kidneys, or trying to buy a ski-mask in the middle of summer, if you can’t find just a little bit of your heart to root for him, then you’re missing out on a lot of joy in the series. Even when he was rewarded with all of that money due to Raylan’s actions, you had to be happy for him.

But those days appear to be numbered. Now he is getting Boyd telling him to stand up to his bushwhacking bully cousins (admirable), who in turn tell him to confront Boyd about skimming off the top of his profits (not so admirable). Right on schedule, Messer was revealed to be untrustworthy, and now we’ll see if Dewey is willing to get his hands dirty. Will he cease being as lovable–you know, as much as a white supremacist bearing Hitler-loving tattoos can be? Will he undergo a large transformation this season?

• The patsy lawyer hired by Boyd to go through the motions by being present for every meeting Boyd has with Ava is one of the funniest running gags. That he’s listening to opera in the headphones is even funnier. Maybe he need some Beats.

• Raylan roughed up Allison’s ex with a baseball bat, which is another scene where we get to see him swing the pine, or in this case, aluminum. As we’ve seen in the past, there have been plenty of baseball references (one of Elmore Leonard’s favorite pasttimes), including Raylan being a famed Harlan High School baseball star.

• I can honestly say that Wynn Duffy’s hired muscle, Mike had to have been the easiest recurring role on Justified. Often times he’s silent, standing by Duffy’s side, only to be asked to step out of the trailer bus. Sure enough, I had to swallow my words as he fired a fatal bullet to Monroe who was looking to confront Duffy. And just like that, he’ll probably be put away behind bars, leaving Duffy to find a new bodyguard.

Duffy: Mike’s a stone-cold killer.

Other Justifiable lines: 

Duffy: Is that a BB gun?
Jimmy: He had it with him.
Duffy: The more you pump, the harder it shoots?
Cyrus: Haven’t you ever seen an air gun?
Duffy: [Shoots at Cyrus’ face]
Cyrus: Ow! Jesus, man! You almost took out my eye!
Duffy: Yeah, I know I missed. [Shoots at Cyrus’ neck]

Dewey to Boyd: There’s a restaurant in Corbin with full licenses listed for half of what I paid for Audry’s. I could see if this peeling curb might hold the price down…

Duffy to Raylan: You want to protect me from a situation you created?

‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Episode 3.11 Review: Toil, Tone and Trouble

American Horror Story: Coven Season 3 Episode 11: Protect The Coven

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The battle between the witches and the witch hunters shook down in “Protect the Coven” and it was over before it started. Fiona (Jessica Lange) and Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) managed to arrange a meeting with Harrison Renard (Michael Cristopher) and his firm at a posh executive conference room. Sitting across from Renard and flanked by four of his goons, they offered the witches a 100-year truce with no hunting during that time – a laughable insult to the Supreme and her new bestie.

Their counter-offer of an indefinite cease-fire, plus mansion and private jet service were disregarded quicker than you can peel-and-eat a Louisiana crawfish, prompting the Axeman (Danny Huston) to make short work of the conference room. It was one of the goriest scenes you’ll see this winter–and it was such a guilty pleasure play out. Seriously, how rare is it that we get to see a man hack the hand off of one guy, and then use severed hand, which is still armed, to shoot another? And I couldn’t be the only one to hoot when the 64-year-old Lange swung the final blood-gushing blow. It was par for the course for the episode, which included the creepiest scene to date with Spalding (Denis O’Hare), Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) gouging her eyes out with pruning shears and not just the sight of Madame LaLaurie’s (Kathy Bates) very first “human experiment” but her latest with one of Fiona’s hired helpers.

I guess the 1900 minutes of watching Roots (original + Next Generation), Mandingo, and B*A*P*S did nothing to persuade our dear Delphine to see the light. Admittedly though, these scenes are getting harder to sit through and maybe that shakes out any hope for redemption for LaLaurie. She’s done too much and could live her entire immortal life never seeing the wrong she inflicted on so many. Watching those films might have enlightened her and make her less ignorant, but that doesn’t absolve her of her sins nor does it change the way she thinks. I can buy that, but what consequences has she suffered for her horrible acts? Getting to kill her zombie-fied daughter?

Finding new and indelible ways to make soup? Maybe whatever change we thought we might be seeing probably evaporated when Queenie turned her over to Laveau. Seeing the reversal in LaLaurie isn’t a surprise, but it was deflating, especially when we had to sit through another torture scene, but this wasn’t the only problem with this episode.

“Protect the Coven” was so schizophrenic, as if it were a composite of several short films from different directors. In addition to the above, there was the recurring jazzy noir scene between Fiona and the Axeman plotting against the other witches, then the aforementioned board room massacre. But in the episode’s second segment, we stepped inside Madame LaLaurie’s mind–for the first time in the series–as she narrates and details both her depressing existence and how her habit of dismembering blacks goes deeper than skin color. A greenhouse scene between Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy) and Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) continued some of the fabulous work by Conroy from the previous episode, “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks,” and sounds of the theremin. Let me stress that nothing was wrong with any of these scenes separately, but there was no connection to one another, which tends to happen occasionally when you have two dozen ongoing subplots.

But that isn’t new to Murphy and company (in particular, the usually excellent Jennifer Salt who wrote this episode); it’s common place to have a lot going on, but there’s usually a tighter or more artful composition in editing. So like Kyle, all of the parts work, but it’s all been put together haphazardly.

Then there was the final scene which was an emotional tug of war between Zoe and Kyle on their bed as she was trying to persuade him to runaway with her on orders by Myrtle. The oddest thing about this scene is it ends with Peters grabbing Farmiga at the head forcefully, and as she’s calming him down, it cuts to a scene styled after a Danny Boyle film, complete with electronica booming and no dialogue; the lovebirds sprint through a transit station to board a bus to Orlando. Fade to black. There are no happy or sugary sweet endings to any AHS character, so this wasn’t just some false sense of security, you can almost count on something terrible to happen next. Like what you may ask? I don’t know… maybe this?

Madison: As for you, Ken Doll. Putting you together was fun, but taking you apart is going to be even more fun.

But it never did, so it’s sure to be saved next week, but the tone of that scene as compared to everything else was so… off.

The witch hunter thread had hit a dead end, it was one of the least likable things about this season, and hopefully with it out of the way, Coven can use the final two episodes to get back to the real intrigue. Maybe we’ll find one of these witches to hitch our wagon onto that we’ll truly care about to pass the Seven Wonders. We all know there’s no hope for the coven–it’s a dysfunctional house full of immortal freaks (LaLaurie, Spalding, Laveau…) and selfish, but lovable catty bitches (Fiona, Madison, Queenie, and Myrtle Snow). Those who are on neither side–Cordelia, Zoe, and Misty– have been underdeveloped thus far. One bit of business that must be done immediately in the penultimate episode, “Go to Hell,” is to get Misty May out of that tomb.

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Double Toil and Trouble

• Marie Laveau’s inappropriate’s “Amens” get me laughing every time.

• This catty exchange at Nan’s funeral was one of the best recaps of the entire season:

Fiona: You’re alive?
Queenie to Laveau: Bitch! You left me for dead.
Laveau: Ohhh, girl, I thought you were. Oh, get yo ass over here!
LaLaurie: [Spits at Laveau] That’s for dismembering me!
Laveau: [Slaps LaLaurie] And that’s for coming back!

• I’m torn between choosing my favorite character this season but Conroy has made a strong push at the end with lines like these:

Myrtle Snow: Oh, figs are mother nature’s brown diamonds. In the fall, the rotting leaves smell like an Olympian’s ejaculate. Figgy pudding clears the blues and cures acne. I’m mad for it!”

• There’s a millinery shop in New Orleans that is making a fortune from making the variety of black hats for the show. At Nan’s burial, everyone sporting a new black hat, even Kyle who had a winter skull cap.

• The face that Evan Peters makes as Zoe was trying to find out what happened to Nan (above), is sure to become a fan favorite animated gif.

‘Justified’ Episode 5.2 Review: Chipping away at Raylan’s World

Justified Season 5 Episode 2: The Kids Aren’t All Right

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Every new season of Justified is like getting a block of sandstone you chip away at, knowing you’ll unearth a treasure, a precious fossil or gem perhaps. But it requires patience to get that treasure out and hours of work. The season premieres are usually front-loaded with information; they are usually followed by some stand alone episodes containing more of that stone being chipped away – a little here, and a little there. Episode 502 continues that annual trend as our attention is diverted slightly from what transpired in “A Murder of Crowes” to follow up on one of our favorite recurring characters: Loretta McCready (played by Kaitlyn Dever, who never fails to impress).

You might remember her as the young girl Mags Bennett took in during season two, after her sons killed Loretta’s father. We also got to see her in season three living with a foster home in Lexington. We always knew that she’d never fly straight, but to get involved with Memphis Rodney “Hot Rod” Dunham (Mickey Jones) and trying to scam him of his money is like Icarus flying too close to the sun. ‘Goddammit, Loretta,’ indeed!

This girl is on a one-way path to a correctional facility, but what I like most about Raylan’s evolving relationship with her is that he recognizes her for who she is, and what she’ll eventually become. She has a way of manipulating just about anyone and eventually got Raylan to do what she needed him to do, but he got smart to her bullshit soon enough and calls her out for her lies. You almost want to believe that he’ll take her in and be her legal guardian, but she is obviously a lot of work, and right now, Raylan isn’t even bothering with his own infant daughter. Still, Loretta is one of the more interesting side characters on the show in the way she speaks and how she handles herself in the face of some of the most frightful people on the show. Of course, when you have deputy Raylan Givens in your back pocket, you can act tough. Hot Rod is no slouch, but Raylan diffused that situation using his classic method of snake charming his prey before snatching victory away with a threat.

Raylan: …I’ll kill four of you before you even clear your weapons, and I’ll take my chances with the other two, and you see this star? That’s going to make it legal. Now, do we have an understanding here?

The woman who drew Raylan’s attention the most though was Loretta’s social worker Allison (Amy Smart), who fast-talked her way into Raylan’s mind.

Raylan: Do you have a card or something?
Allison: A card? I thought finding people is what Marshals do.

Be careful, Raylan. Women are your weakness and… ah who are we kidding? Raylan knows what his problem is and he’s never going to change. Lindsey didn’t have to work hard to break Raylan down before scamming him last season. Hopefully he stays ahead of Allison though before he’s done in again, thinking with his… well, gun first.

Framing the main story were subplots that continue to feed into what will be the larger story. The biggest one I want to focus on first is Boyd Crowder’s (Walton Goggins) miscreants that feed off of him. Getting his latest dope shipment has proved to be more difficult than he cares to admit to his frantic fiancée, Ava (Joelle Carter) who remains incarcerated, and I must say lovely, even in prison blues. We already saw in the season premiere how Boyd had to travel to Detroit, and ultimately deal with Canadians to pay for one final shipment of dope and that prized parcel was intercepted by someone, most likely whoever Candy (Pop Rocks blow jobs, get it?) the hooker works for, thanks to that lunkhead Cyrus'(Bill Tangradi) tip. Actually we all know who Candy works for because we’ve seen her before under a different name and if you recognized her, then you can see where this might be leading to.

Boyd has been blindsided a few times this season already. Could he be off his game? Does he need Ava at his side? To be honest, it’s been a rough dating back to the second half of last season, and he could be caught off guard again because he can’t be bothered by anything else. He’s trying to assess the damage that was done in trying to beat the life out of Lee Paxton (Sam Anderson), who survived his pummeling, but barely and Paxton’s wife, Mara (Karolina Wydra) is trying to work Boyd for 300 large, to stay silent as a witness. All of this gets even more complex as we are left with Paxton waking up in his hospital bed. Gotta give it to the old man, he is a fighter and is one of the few people who can save Ava. Should Boyd find out, Mara’s days could be numbered.

Then again, she’s feeling the heat of playing Mooney (William Gregory Lee) like a fool, which is one subplot that could be too much. There are a lot of shady characters in the cast, but there are few that I could care less about than Mooney. Sure he is there to pressure Mara into action, but this show is about Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder, not Mara Paxton and in two episodes, we’re seeing her just as much as our leading men. There are some criminals who slip through the cracks like Lindsey or Charlie Weaver. So we’ll see how good of a crook Mara is; she hopes to make it back to Europe, alive. If not, hopefully her eventual demise and the Mooney thread better develop into something good.

Finally, there is the Crowe family which is slowly migrating north to Harlan. Surely acting on Jean Baptise’s (Edi Gathegi) tip about Dewey’s (Damon Herriman) legal windfall, Daryl (Michael Rapaport) looks to move in on his cousin’s *cough cough* empire. Right now it’s a little hard to see Rapaport’s character being more than a scummy redneck. Along with Dilly (now deceased) and Danny (AJ Buckley), it feels like a Bob Newhart joke is in there somewhere (remember Larry, Darryl and Darryl?). That is sure to change in due time, though for now, there’s a lot to live up to with the Bennett Clan, Drew Thompson, Robert Quarles or Arlo as far as Raylan’s adversaries go. The family doesn’t stop at Daryl though and I’m hoping we haven’t seen the last of Wendy (Alicia Witt), Danny and the rest of the clan.

Like Darryl or not, the Crowes will be a big part of the season. The TV spot released before the season, where Raylan dodges a flock of black crows coming at him tells us so. Dewey can’t run a business, much less a whore house that feeds into Boyd’s bottom line. That means Darryl is chasing up the Dewey tree and will eventually cross paths with Boyd and/or Raylan again, but this time it will be in Harlan, not Miami. Wynn Duffy (Jere Burns) will explain the difference in venue.

And this might just be me reading too much into everything but the extra attention on Wade Messer (James Le Gros) in the first two episodes has me thinking he’s a bigger player. As the conduit between Dewey and Boyd, his conversation with money collector Carl (Justin Welborn) is suspicious. Messer is always looking out for numero uno and will be present for most things dealing with the Crowe subplot.

All of these threads are sure to get their day on the stage, and this episode kept the momentum going from the premiere and was a good precursor before everything falls in place. Until then, we’ll keep chipping away.

Other Justifications: 

• Art (Nick Searcy) is starting to look into the murder of Sammy Tonin and seeing if there was a connection to Nicky Augustine’s runway execution in last season’s finale. It’s poetic that Boyd make an analogy to supplying drugs to cell phones. Too bad the service didn’t drop out while Raylan was talking to Sammy.

• A sly little appearance by Xander Berkeley (24, Being Human, Nikita) as a henchman helping out the Dixie Mafia. I don’t know about some of you out there, but I was hoping Rachel (Erica Tazel) was going to get a chance to smoke this guy before the end of the episode. It appears his car and his home will be used by Raylan though until Art reprimands him.

NBC’s ‘The Blacklist’ – If It Tastes Like Chicken…

The first day of a new job can be a memorable moment in one’s life for some and an insignificant, ordinary day for another. On the pilot episode of NBC’s new profiling FBI procedural, The Blacklist, it’s hard to tell whether the first day of Elizabeth Keen (Megan Boone) is either memorable or just another day.

She’s late for her first day at the FBI in the counter-terrorism department when helicopters and black SUVs swarm her residence. If only the FBI were that diligent in keeping their tardy employees in order. Elizabeth’s been named by a mastermind criminal, Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington (James Spader), as the only agent he’ll speak to with the information to catch another person of interest, possible terrorist Ranko Zamani (Jamie Jackson). But before she can find out what intelligence Reddington has on a kidnapping, he creeps her out by knowing secret details of her life, including having a father who was a criminal and knowing her mother died, dealing with some deep issues. Coming from a stranger, that kind of reveal is always comforting.

Yes, it’s another fully loaded FBI procedural that is NBC’s answer to gluttony of shows centered around the Bureau. CBS has Person of Interest, USA has White Collar and Covert Affairs, there was 24 on Fox and now there is The Following. I’m sure I’m forgetting a dozen or two. It’s the latter show that it’s nearly impossible not to compare The Blacklist to, minus the fetish to see people murdered every episode of course.

Spader’s Reddington is a well-manicured know-it-all who has some master plan, and network of international villains that the FBI would like to get their hands on. Reddington can lead them to these people, as long as he can do it through one Agent Keen. She, along with the other agents are at the mercy of Reddington, his list of reasonable demands and he seems to have super human abilities, like being able to repel out of a hospital high rise without anyone knowing, and surviving a pen-stabbing in the neck.

Seriously. He does.

The pilot episode was directed by Joe Carnahan (The Grey, The A-Team) and it has a cinematic quality. It moves at the speed of an intense Luc Besson-produced film and truth be told, it is entertaining much in the same way Covert Affairs is, minus the catchy theme song. There is plenty of choreographed violence, Silence of the Lambs-like riddle solving and dire situations that you’re waiting for Taken’s Bryan Mills to swoop in on and kick some tail.

But we don’t have the benefit of Liam Neeson. We have James Spader and TV fresh face Megan Boone to carry us through each episode. Spader manages to always add that cerebral element to whatever show he’s in and so he’s believable as a crime syndicate puppet master, while the relatively unknown Boone is not only easy on the eyes, her character has her own set of secrets that piques a viewer’s interest.

What criminal activity was her father up to, and how was it hidden from FBI records? How did her mother die? How does Reddington know so much about her? Elizabeth is honest and upfront with her new powerless boss, Sr. Director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) that she is trying to fool herself thinking that adopting a child will allow her to heal from all of the psychological damage of her own parentless-childhood. But by the end of the episode, another set of questions get added to the fold, as the identity of her husband is put into question, and somehow Reddington knew it all along, because he’s the Oracle, too.

There’s a lot being thrown at the audience and one has to wonder if they can keep every episode cocked and loaded with this much ammunition. The Following fizzled out quickly when there was little redeeming quality to all of the senseless killing. The Blacklist is hoping all of the mystery in connecting Keen with Reddington will be a big enough of a dangling carrot to string the audience along. The other reason to come back is to watch TV’s latest odd couple check off a laundry list of terrorists and criminal deviants while kowtowing to the biggest villain of them all, Reddington. How long can Spader being bad carry a series?  How long can we stomach a rookie and a criminal run the counter-terrorist division of the FBI before it gets too illogical for the logical viewer?

If you like your procedurals that are filled with FBI agents who simultaneously look both foolish and brilliant, while the bad guy unbelievably trumps everyone in the story, then The Blacklist might be for you. This new series has its share of eye roll-inducing scenes, mixed with plenty of moments to tickle your need for joyful, casual entertainment. Consider The Blacklist the latest in what appears to be a new sub-genre of FBI agents and maniacal masterminds working together, spinning out of the relationship of Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. Let’s just hope it can be a unique enough recipe to keep us coming back.

‘Burn Notice’ 100th Episode Review: Playing Hard to For-Get

For its 100th story, “Forget Me Not,” Burn Notice needed to tell the story of how Michael (Jeffrey Donovan) and Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) met, before it rides off into the sunset. But how did we come to that meeting when last we saw Michael, he was in the Dominican Republic trying to keep his deep cover from being blown? And what was the meaning of this line:

Michael: That’s the kiss you give when it’s over.

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It meant that Michael blew his chance for eternal happiness with Fiona, even after saving her from Dexter Gambler, (Nick Tarabay, Spartacus: War of the Damned) the spy Randall Burke’s henchman sent stateside to confirm Michael’s mission. She wouldn’t have been caught to begin with, if her, Sam (Bruce Campbell) and Jesse (Coby Bell) weren’t trying to deal with the fallout of Michael’s deal with the CIA.

Michael was just following orders, but hasn’t he dealt with enough crooked CIA brass to know that this was going to go south? Unfortunately, he put his friends in greater danger, along with Madeline (Sharon Gless), who seemingly forgot everything she has been through in the first six seasons to know that anytime someone asks about Michael to keep her trap shut. Maybe if Madeline told him about Charlie, that would have forced Michael’s hand to walk away. Something tells me Charlie is a storyline that will come up later. Agent Strong (Jack Coleman, Heroes) was counting on Sam and Jesse (and reluctantly Fiona) to track Gambler down and was willing to risk their lives if it meant getting closer to catching Burke. Conspiracy theorists will probably think Strong is looking to eliminate Michael’s crew, just to get Michael to go over the edge. There’s certainly enough evidence of that in the past.

One of the frustrating elements of Michael is that he’s so gung-ho to work with the CIA but they’ve never had his friends or his back. The only one to really cared for Michael and his crew was Agent Pearce (Lauren Stamile) and she was sent away for helping them. This temporary job for Strong doesn’t feel like it’s going to help Michael’s dilemma, since he’s still needing to break protocol. So it is painful to watch Michael choose the anguish of working with people who don’t care about his circle over his own friends but that didn’t stop this from being a classic.

The most memorable Burn Notice episodes are when they change up the formula and Michael spying in on his friends and being their guardian angel whenever they got in trouble was a nice twist. We got to see Michael’s wicked skill with a sniper rifle and we also found out that he likes to daydream when surveillance goes long. But if he’s missing Fi, maybe he’s second-guessing his decision to make the deal with Strong. It’s certainly affecting his abilities as a spy and the emotions he has for his friends are making this partnership difficult.

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That was the opportunity to see how Michael and Fiona met and we got to hear Fi speak in the Irish accent again, a treat we haven’t had the pleasure of hearing since the pilot. Of all of the exotic places they’ve traveled to together, an underground Irish pub seemed the most unlikely spot but Burn Notice has never been one to dress up the show’s most burning questions (like the origin of the Chuck Finley alias). The flashback itself was a nice contrast to play out as Michael actually looked at Fiona with passion, admiration and infatuation compared to him taking her for granted in the last two seasons and it tied to a solution for the Gambler situation. After emptying four automatic rifles into Gambler, consider that problem dealt with.

The story about Fi’s father willing to die for his beliefs and family also showed why Fiona acts how she does, and why she would have rather died fighting for what they wanted, than give up to the CIA and plea bargain. It gave significance to her actions, and stayed true to her mold. In the end, Michael’s deal with Strong didn’t keep Sam, Fi, Madeline, and Jesse any safer, so really, what does Michael have to gain working with Strong, or any other CIA member for that matter?

As for that goodbye kiss, Michael now knows Fi has moved on and that’s never an easy pill to swallow–as a character and for fans of both. She has a man that’s willing to fight for her, protect her and that peck on Michael’s cheek, well that said it all. The death of their relationship should be official (even though there are still 11 eps left). He had his chance and he obsessed over the burn list, and felt the need to dig further until he got to Anson and Card. This show needs to continue to have real consequence to the main characters, so while it was difficult to watch Fiona go her separate way, kudos for Matt Nix and the writers for not bringing our lovebirds back together. Let’s just hope it stays that way all season. One has to put themselves in Fiona’s place to see that for her to have the life she wants, it can’t be with Michael and that’s going to be tough for a lot of fans to accept. This one was a heart-breaker.

Spy Notes:
• Madeline’s elevator ride was a phenomenal way to start off the episode and lead into the first commercial break, taken straight out of some horror film when the ride down suddenly switched direction. Once the door opened, Madeline had her gun loaded and pointed. What a way to open the 100th episode, “Hi, Mom.” More and more of Michael and Madeline’s conversations build into arguments and breakdowns. “You can’t call! You can’t write! You just have to wait!” Mind your manners, Michael, that’s your mom.

• Sam didn’t like being spied on, especially in the morning at his girlfriend’s penthouse. We’ve never seen Sam Axe so violated.

We’d like to hear what your most creative scenario as to what Sam and Esla did that Sam was embarrassed about.

‘Burn Notice’ Season 7 Premiere Review: Michael Cuts the Cord

You almost won’t recognize the season premiere of the last season of Burn Notice, because Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) has grown a beard and seemingly found himself in a Guy Ritchie film, bare-knuckle boxing and being hit with an uppercut, laying him out parallel to the ground mid-air as he falls flat on the floor. Minutes in, the details of the CIA deal Michael made to keep his friends and family clean of his mess, are cross-stitched with the present day events. Michael’s new handler, Andrew Strong (Jack Coleman, Heroes) has some personal crusade against a terrorist, Randall Burke (Adrian Pasdar, Heroes) and needs the old Michael Westen to resurface, “The one that got the job done no matter what.”

BurnNotice 701 Michael Undercover

This is a mission that’s sure to lead to more trouble for Michael but he’s at the end of his rope and the only types of deals left are the ones no one wants. Michael is forced to cut the cord with his Miami crew, but what works for Michael doesn’t necessarily work for Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), Sam (Bruce Campbell), Jesse (Coby Bell) and his mother, Madeline (Sharon Gless).

Life appears to move on. It’s been almost a year since they last saw Michael and Madeline’s main concern now is not worrying about Michael, it’s earning custody for her grandson Charlie, since Ruth fell off the wagon. Jesse is either back at his security firm or is running one on his own, Sam is poolside drinking mojitos and attached himself to another sugar momma, and Fi in her own words has a “new house, new business, and new man.” They should have known though that they’ll never be free of Michael’s work because a spy named Dexter Gamble (Nick Tarabay, Spartacus: War of the Damned) has been tracking each of them down, hoping to get information on his whereabouts.

EDITOR’S PICK: Predictions on the final 13 episodes of BURN NOTICE

I like the new storyline for Michael’s mom because it does continue the story of Nate’s passing, and at the least gives her someone to keep her company in the house. She quit smoking for Pete’s sake! It is sad to hear about Ruth, though, and some resolution to whether or not she can be welcomed back in Charlie’s life might be a subplot, let’s just hope they don’t use the kid or Ruth as other people victimized by Michael’s job.

Fi’s new boy-toy, Carlos Cruz (Stephen Martines, The Closer) is the latest to try and melt her heart from Michael’s freeze job. And while Fiona’s heart will always have a place for Michael, it makes sense to see her move on and forward. She feels as if they all sacrificed their lives to make him happy, only to watch him compromise himself to become a CIA tool. Yes, Michael’s gesture was caring, but only after he dangled the lives of his friends and family too many times to count. I feel the need to continually bring that to the table since many fans are still puzzled by Fiona’s attitude towards him in last season’s finale.

BN701BAs for the rest of the show, it’s the same comfortable clothes you love wearing–that is if you’ve stuck it out for this long. There are sexy montages that transition from the Dominican to Miami, makeshift explosives, spies with terrible fake accents, and any changes to the show are stylistic filters to assist with the storytelling to differentiate the settings between Miami and the Dominican Republic. Michael cover is good until Dexter gets to Madeline and senses that it’s been blown.

If there’s one criticism of the premiere is that it’s awfully heavy on Michael’s play-by-play spy tips, especially when he’s explaining the reason he’s getting beat up at a fight club, is drinking profusely, and why “deep covers are used to get to the hardest targets…” We also learn how to get pass metal detectors and guard dogs, oh and how to survive a claymore blast, demonstrated amusingly by Sam and Jesse, which was the best part of “New Deal” by far.

Overall the premiere is a blast with the weight of the Dominican story being appropriately serious while the comings and goings in Miami to cover the whole spectrum of comedy to intensity when Madeline unknowingly meets Dexter, thinking he’s a custody judge. Since Michael’s already climbed up and over what we think to be the top of the burn list, there’s no ultimate goal or end game we feel like we’re driving towards–yet anyway. There is no big villain revealed to be the puppet master or some glimmer of hope that Michael will be able to work his way out of this deal. So there’s a slightly anti-climactic feel to this premiere as it’s sure to be laying the groundwork for the big series’ end. As critical as we’ve been the last season or two, we do genuinely want this final season to ramp up to an incredible finish and give the fans the end they deserve.

Ultimately, this is where Michael wanted to be, working in the CIA, but outside the boundaries. We’ll see if Michael goes off the deep end for Strong, and returns to the fabled lawless mercenary. Outside of the present situation, we have no reasons to expect the final arc will encompass seven seasons of viewing, but there are still 12 more episodes left before we say our final goodbye. It’s time to savor each one of them.