Weekly TV Recap
8th May 2016
Game of Thrones
(Season 6, Episodes 2 and 3)
So, everyone left episode 2 talking about only one thing. I, however, am not going to mention it at all. The night may be dark and full of spoilers, but I am kind enough to give you another week of leeway and avoid talking about that particular subplot for the time being. That said, it will be impossible for me to talk about the rest of the series without mentioning it, so this is your warning.
Now that’s been said… That Ramsey Bolton, am I right? Who would have thought that anything would have Game of Thrones fans longing for the days of Joffery? Sansa and Theon may have escaped his wrath, but Ramsey compensated by quickly dispensing of his extended family and bringing him two new playthings to torment. I won’t lie, I’ll miss Roose Bolton, but (Red Wedding aside) in a world filled with schemers he was rather overshadowed by Tywin and especially Littlefinger. The return of Rickon and Osha was at once a pleasant and unpleasant surprise. I knew Bran was coming back, but I wasn’t expecting to see them again, so it’s great they haven’t been forgotten about… unfortunately the situation they’ve been delivered into doesn’t bode well for them…
Elsewhere, Kings Landing saw the welcome return of Olenna Tyrell and her sass, but for Cersei, Jamie, Tommen and the High Sparrow, we’re mostly treading water. In Bravos, Arya got a training montage (sadly with no 80s music), we finally returned to the Iron Islands for the introduction of a new character with plenty of potential (and more stuff for Yara to do, hurrah!), and Daenerys returned to her season one Dothraki roots, which looks to be interesting. The standout scenes, however, were between Tyrion and the dragons in episode 2, and Bran’s vision of a superbly done fight, featuring a young Ned Stark, in episode 3. Both scenes left me wanting, though, as the dragons remain underground and the promise of the answer to a mystery six seasons in the making was left for another day. I’m pretty sure the showrunners knew this, though, and are holding off on purpose. Time will tell.
Once Upon a Time
(Season 5, Episodes 20 and 21)
We once again find ourselves in a scenario where, between them, Firebird and Last Rites make up one whole pretty good episodes, since where Firebird falls, Last Rites mostly succeeds, and vice versa. Firebird was strong overall. It was a fairly tense race against time to get out of the Underworld, and it was interesting to see a new dynamic to Hades after his heart was restarted and he began “helping” the heroes. Though I was disappointed that Gold and Peter Pan weren’t the episode’s true villains, their subplot was pretty engaging, and freeing Zelena early meant that nothing was dragged out too long. Watching Gold get revenge on his father, through passive aggression and eventually killing him altogether, was the most entertaining part of the episode, and a well-deserved ending for this show’s best badguy. And then there was a beautiful scene of closure between Emma and Hook, as she was forced to leave him behind in the Underworld. It was a sweet and powerful moment.
Which Last Rites, unfortunately, then undid (along with any promise that Hades might have been redeemed, though it was at least something different that he did, in fact, love Zelena all along, he just couldn’t give up his lust for power and just have her, he had to have both. It’s a similar thing to what they’ve been doing with Gold, but not as drawn out). Hook’s return feels awfully like an undeserved reward for Emma (who honestly didn’t do all that much to save the day, that was all Regina, Robin and Zelena), and feels flat coming straight after their heartbreaking farewell just one episode prior. You killed the god of the underworld, have your love interest back. Considering what happens to Regina (and, to an extent, Zelena) in this episode, they had better be pretty pissed off.
So it’s goodbye to Hades, but I will give some props to Last Rites for what they did with Arthur. You know by now that I consider the attempt at adapting Arthurian mythology to be full of interesting potential, but ultimately disappointing, and I honestly believed that the showrunners had forgotten all about the Camelot cast; so it was good to see Arthur get some closure here, and redemption, in the form of the pretty strong buddy duo subplot with Hook. I’d honestly have watched a whole season of those two bro-ing about in the Underworld.
Next week is a two-part season finale and it looks like Gold has tricks up his sleeve. I’m hopeful.
I want to briefly touch on the new comedy from Blackadder writer Ben Elton, about William Shakespeare (since, if there was ever a year for a staple British sitcom about William Shakespeare, it’s this one), featuring David Mitchell in the title role. I’ve not much to say other than it was about what I was expecting. There’s nothing hugely original in here, plenty of dry wit, and some jokes on the plays themselves (and especially the time they were written in) that are fairly predictable if you know the plays, or are familiar with Blackadder. Its predictable, but still, it’s enjoyable.
I hope that by starting off with a take on one of the most commonly known and therefore commonly parodied Shakespeare plays – Romeo and Juliet – they are playing their cards close to their chest on this one, and will bring out the big guns for the later episodes. But really, in parodying Romeo and Juliet, you’re never going to top that one scene in Hot Fuzz, are you?
Mostly, I find amusement here in assuming this takes place in the same universe as Blackadder, and therefore this Shakespeare will be punched by a time-travelling Edmund as revenge for the 3-hour Kenneth Branagh Hamlet movie.
And now I have a great desire to watch some Blackadder…
The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses
(Henry VI: Part One)
And speaking of Shakespeare…
Not that you’d have known it, but this week saw the return of The Hollow Crown, the BBC adaptations of Shakespeare’s History plays. The first season, back in 2012, saw superb productions of Richard II, Henry IV parts one and two and Henry V, all lavishly set and brilliantly acted, but the real genius of this series was in its presentation, being told in order, using the same actors for roles that crossed from play to play (save where the characters had aged), making it feel more like an ongoing, connected series than a collection of televised Shakespeare plays. This new series is doing much the same, the continuous thread being the Wars of the Roses, starting with Henry VI, part one of three (Henry VI being, of course, Henry V’s son).
First off, I have to mention the absolutely dreadful job of advertising the BBC has done on this thing. The first season was poorly advertised too, but I saw at least a couple of ads just before and during the series run, and at least then there was the excuse of the London Olympics overshadowing everything. This year there is no such excuse. It’s being broadcast earlier in the year and it’s the big Shakespeare anniversary this year. The only hint that this season was coming – before it showed up on iPlayer – was that season one was repeated over the past few weeks (which I assumed was due to the anniversary, nothing more, and that the new plays were to come later). So shame on the BBC for that. Moving on to the actual play.
We pick up practically where the last left off, just after Henry V’s funeral, which was portrayed in that adaptation’s slightly bleak ending, and we know that things aren’t going to go very well for the (still infant) Henry VI thanks to that play’s epilogue (which I’ve always found unintentionally amusing. Here’s this great war story, ending in victory and a scene of romantic comedy… followed immediately by the revelation that it was all lost soon after). This play is not quite as uplifting, and ends on a tearjerking note, but it is never dull, which elevates it over 2012’s Henry IV part 2, in any case, which was a slog whenever Jeremy Irons or Tom Hiddleston were off-screen. If anything, this is looking to be more of a complete “series”, telling one long story, than that previous series, with its Wars of the Roses tagline and foreshadowing of Richard III at the end.
The whole thing comes together thanks to some engaging and powerful performances. There’s not a dull note in the cast (though some of the casting choices are interesting – wasn’t Margaret of Anjou 13 years old when she married Henry VI? And are Gloucester and Winchester Henry’s literal uncles? As in brothers to Henry V… because in what universe is Hugh Bonneville younger than Tom Hiddleston, or order to already be played by Bonneville at Henry V’s funeral? – or distracting, such as Joan of Arc’s Northern accent that makes me think she’s about to announce that “Winter is Coming!”) but the standouts are Hugh Bonneville as, to all intents and purposes, the main character of the play, and Laura Frances-Morgan as Joan of Arc, who isn’t nearly in this enough (I don’t know to what extent the play has been abridged, as I’m not nearly as familiar with the Henry Vis as other Shakespeare plays).
I hope that parts 2 and 3 of Henry VI are just as engaging, and not just pit-stops on route to Richard III. Without Hugh Bonneville’s presence, it remains to be seen, and I envision if there is a blip it’ll be the mid-point of part 2. But this series has pedigree behind it, and I’m looking forward to more, if only to explore some Shakespeare plays that aren’t quite as known as the staple Hamlets, Macbeths and Midsummer Night’s Dreams.