Weekly TV Recap
24th April 2016
Game of Thrones
(Season 6, Episode 1: The Red Woman)
Game of Thrones is back at last, but was it worth the wait. Well, as with most seasons of this show, episode one is mostly spent playing recap and catch up, to keep us up to date with the latest goings on in Westeros and set up where the season is going.
We open where series five ended, on the Wall, with Jon Snow… still dead. How long he remains that way remains to be seen. I’ll tell you now, at the moment, Jon Snow is my favourite character. He hasn’t always been, there are other characters that I liked but have fallen out of favour because their plots are stagnating (Dany, Arya), or they died, or I find them more interesting but they don’t have enough screen-time to cement themselves as a favourite (Brienne, Littlefinger), but yes, right now I really like Jon Snow, because he truly is a force for good. So I hope the rumours are true and that he’s coming back.
A couple of things of note happen: oddly enough this episode makes me feel sorry for both Cersei and Mellisandre (thanks to a pretty huge reveal about her character), and then there’s Dorne. Oh, Dorne. I’d have been happy to have left Dorne behind after last season, but we’ve no such luck, I’m afraid. I’m hopeful that this big change-up might lead to something interesting, but I’m not anticipating much. Then there’s perhaps the best scene of the episode, featuring Sansa, Theon and two of my favourite, Brienne and Podrick, finally back and kicking arse after a whole season of waiting around.
Other than that, we’re mostly recapping and catching up with Arya in Bravos, Dany and the Dothraki (who have some surprisingly humorous banter), Tyrion and Varys in Mareen, and others.
Things should pick up soon. The trailers have promised a season stuffed with amazing moments and (I hope) some jaw-dropping twists. Previous seasons haven’t disappointed. I’m on the edge of my seat.
Once Upon a Time
(Season 5, Episodes 19: Sisters)
Somehow, Once Upon a Time has achieved the impossible. ‘Sisters’ is an episode packed full of pretty much every one of my pet peeves. It’s a focus episode for two of my least favourite characters: Zelena and Cora. It’s an episode mostly centred around redeeming a villain. The whole plot centres around a giant retcon and amnesia. There’s a filler subplot for the minor characters which could have been its own episode, but with such little time that it might as well not be there.
And yet, somehow, ‘Sisters’ might be the best episode of series five’s second half so far.
I don’t know how they managed it either. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. It’s not any particular outstanding moment of acting or the writing, they don’t seem any elevated from the usual standard. I guess, all I can really think of is that, although it is dealing with tropes that I hate, its doing them in the right way.
Most of them, anyway, not all. Nothing’s going to put Zelena or Cora on a higher level than Regina or Emma or even Henry in my favourite characters roster. Similarly, the whole “villain redeemed” plot has been repeated so much in this show (and others) that nothing will make it feel any less stale, and they don’t really do anything new with it, either. Cora doesn’t really sacrifice anything or come to any startling realisation. She says sorry to her daughters and that’s her unfinished business over with.
The key difference is that neither of them are being infuriating here. Zelena doesn’t spend the whole episode moping, feeling sorry for herself, whining about her baby or at Regina (like she has been since season three), and she shows a level of intelligence by faking out Cora and spotting the mind-altering drug in the water. On top of that, we haven’t seen Zelena and Cora interact before, so that’s a new dynamic. Cora herself, in the past, still believes that love is weakness but she’s unapologetic about it. Enchanted Forest Cora is a Cora in full villain mode, and that’s the best mode for any villain in this show to be in.
Now for the flashback itself. I should despise that Regina and Zelena met as children and that Cora wiped their memories of it, because it is such a blatant retcon, so simply hand-waved away with “magic memory erasing water”. But, surprisingly, it’s handled well. I like that its Cora that brings them together in the first place, they don’t just coincidentally run into each other (which is a trap this show has fallen into with its flashbacks in the past). The young actors portraying the teenage siblings aren’t the greatest, but I like their interactions. The fact that Zelena is visibly older but sort of mentally younger – falling to the younger Regina’s level when they play because she’s never had someone to play with before – that’s an interesting dynamic. I kind of wanted to see more of them spending time as sisters, and that’s the best possible outcome, because even though they don’t get a huge amount of screen-time together, it does mean something when they’re torn apart.
This does feel somewhat like a bottle episode. Subplot aside, the focus really is on the Enchanted Forest flashbacks of the young girls. Whenever we switch back to the Underworld, its three actresses in two small rooms, just talking. Its small, intimate, and that’s what a story like this needs. No giant explosions or lives on the line. Just a broken family talking things out. This all leads to a conclusion that is perhaps too cheesy, but at least feels earned.
Meanwhile, our subplot deals with James, Charming’s not-so-pleasant twin brother, taking David’s place in order to kidnap Zelena’s daughter and hold her hostage. First off, thank goodness Zelena herself has no idea this is going on because I don’t think I could handle more of her angsting over her baby. Secondly, this sounds like the sort of plotline that would usually be used for an episode’s main plotline but I am so very glad that they didn’t do that, because it would have dragged and made for a pretty mediocre episode. Plus, there’s more proof that you should never go to the docks in the Underworld. Nothing good ever happens there.
Finally, though I don’t think we’re going to get any other Greek Gods at this point, it’s looking as though Gold and Peter Pan are hijacking the plot and I always welcome more of those two. Looking forward to seeing where this goes. Kudos, Once Upon a Time.
(Season 2, Episodes 12 – 20)
I have now finished watching this show and will be (briefly) discussing its finale. Also, due to the events of “Not What He Seems”, it will now be impossible to talk about this show without addressing a large plot twist at the end of that episode. If you want to go completely blind of spoilers, only read up until the SPOILER WARNING.
It’s the mark of a great show, in my eyes, when you get stuck in a sort of a loop, or paradox, where when episode ends you want desperately to go straight to the next episode without a breath, but at the same time you want to wait as long as possible so it will never end.
For example, after watching episode 17, I meant to wait until next week to move onto the three-part finale. Gravity Falls, however, got to me. I finished the show. I couldn’t help myself. And that, really, should be all I need to say, and is pretty much all I can say without spoilers, but before we move into more detail, I will just give a very brief round-up:
Gravity Falls truly is a great all-rounder type of show. It’ll entertain children, but it has great characters and an ongoing mystery plot to keep adults hooked too. Even the bad episodes have something to enjoy, but when the episodes are good, they are amazing. It really is one of most consistently great things I’ve seen in a while. As a writer – particularly a children’s writer – it’s a set a high bar, but I like having something to strive for.
Okay, now for the detail on the last episodes…
~ SPOILER WARNING ~
Basically, as of ‘Not What He Seems’ the Author is introduced and is an important character from there on out. For the purposes of this review, I will not identify the character by name, but refer to them only as ‘the Author’.
Again, this is going to be tricky to talk about without just concentrating on the three-part finale, but I will try my best.
Episodes mostly dedicated to backstory can be difficult to crack; after all they are kind of telling-not-showing by nature. ‘A Tale of Two Stans’, the proper introduction of the Author, finds a sort of balance whilst also being probably the most mature episode of the whole show. A rollercoaster of being uplifted by Grunkle Stan and the Author’s tale, then heartbroken by it, then that moment of hope, then hearts breaking all over again.
‘Dungeons, Dungeons and More Dungeons’ suffered from an issue that a few episodes in this show have; it took a while to really get going, not really picking up until half way through the episode when the villain of the board game was accidentally summoned. But when it did pick it, up was funny fare, made even funnier by its uncanny resemblance to a particular episode of Yu-Gi-Oh.
I didn’t think ‘The Stanturian Candidate’ would stand out at first; it seemed like standard harmless filler, but when it’s revealed as the return of Gideon and the twins are put in some real danger. It was good to see Grunkle Stan as the hero. Then there was the cliff-hanger, and though I knew the outcome it promised was coming, it still caused chills.
‘The Last Mabelcorn’ furthers the plot fantastically. Its episodes like this that really show why Dipper is my favourite character. Mabel might face personal conflict, but Dipper’s fear of who to trust is both personal and externally important, in that his choices could cause consequences for the whole town, if not the world.
I’m one of those people who is usually drawn to side characters (or villains) as my favourite. I find a lot of fiction I enjoy suffers from bland-protagonist syndrome, where the lead is left as a sort of blank slate for maximum reader empathy whilst the characters around them are more quirky and colourful (let’s face it, whose favourite Harry Potter character is Harry Potter?). However, I don’t think protagonists should be blank. The audience should identify with them for their traits and flaws, not for lack of them. For me, a show (or film, or book’s) strength is truly shown when the protagonist is my favourite character, and whilst Gravity Falls technically has two, yes, Dipper is and always has been the one I empathised with most. His flaws are understandable, his arc is strong, he grows as a character (which is Mabel’s greatest downfall, she fails to learn her lessons. Yes, that’s the point of her arc, but it’s a point in Dipper’s favour). Much like Jon Snow above, he’s an anchor in the sea of strange that is Gravity Falls. I may write an entire article about this sometime, for now we’ll move on.
Oh, and ‘The Last Mabelcorn’ has an incredibly funny subversion of unicorn mythology that I dare not spoil for you. Every moment with the unicorn had me in stitches.
‘Roadside Attraction’ on the other hand, was standard harmless filler. Nothing really wrong with it but with the light-hearted tone and not even a mention of the Author, it felt more like it belonged back in season one (or at least before ‘The Last Mabelcorn’, since why are they going on a road-trip after such a big deal was made about Bill-proofing the shack?). I kind of wish we had another episode with the government agents instead of this, because I think just one more episode focussed on the Author was needed (maybe some more interaction between them and Mabel?) to really ground their place with the Mystery Shack crew before the finale. It’s a weaker episode, but only because of its placement.
I feel much the same about ‘Dipper and Mabel vs. the Future’ as I did about ‘The Last Mabelcorn’, but at last we see both twin’s choices (and their separate brands of selfless- and selfish-ness) have consequences. Oh, and that cliff-hanger? Terrifying.
And then there’s ‘Weirdmageddon’. I dare not say a word about the three-part finale (with forty-minute third part) except that I applaud the effort that must have gone into it. It’s full of references to movies like Mad Max, of all things. The animation (though it’s been great through the whole show) takes a huge step up. The ending was several punches to the heart after another (oh, and watch through the credits, you’ll see some lovely little scenes playing during them, and there’s a very short something to see when they finish too). Is there anything more I’d have liked to see? Yes, some closure for Blendin Blandin (who just sort of disappears and isn’t seen again), and as I said earlier a bit more time with the Author in the Mystery Shack and perhaps one final confrontation with the government agents (who are dealt with a little too simply after half a season of build-up, hiding in the background), but that’s all I can think of about now.
I think ‘mature’ might be the best word overall to describe Gravity Falls in general, compared to other children’s fare, and to (kind of) explain why I like it so much. It’s that true sort of mature, an understanding that being “dark” doesn’t mean death and swearing and people beating each other up for no reason. Its families and friends being torn apart and fighting to get back together. It’s not being afraid to show characters feeling fear, or heartbreak. It’s dealing with real issues through fantastical means. It’s not censoring death or talking down to its audience. But, on top of all of that, it’s optimistic and hopeful and funny. I saw Captain America: Civil War the other day (and the review is coming this week), but I think there’s a lot of overlap between Gravity Falls and that movie, in that they are so great for being mature in the best possible way.
It’s everything, as a children’s author, that I want to write about. Its quality to strive for.
And it’s really hard to talk about without spoilers.
Favourite five episodes (which I probably should have done at the end of season one, but nevermind):
Northwest Mansion Mystery, Dreamscaperers/Gideon Rises (counting as a two-parter), Weirdmageddon (counting all three parts as one), Sock Opera, Not What He Seems.
Overall rating: 4.5/5
That was a long one. I’d have written more about Game of Thrones, but OUaT and Gravity Falls got away from me a bit. But if anyone has any recommendations for something new to watch, to replace Gravity Falls, I am open to all suggestions.
Until next week J