Things I Watched That I Loved: Week of March 3rd, 2013
Is it just me, or was TV insanely good last week? I have a lot of favorites, but I tried to keep the list short. Warning: This post discusses plot points from recently aired episodes of The Walking Dead, Switched at Birth, The Americans, Justified, The Good Wife, The Lying Game, and The Carrie Diaries.
1. The Walking Dead
Episode 3×12, “Clear,” aired Sunday, March 3rd, 2013
Was this the best episode that The Walking Dead has ever done? I’m not sure if I would go quite that far, as it didn’t include Daryl, but it was definitely up there. The return of Lennie James as Morgan Jones made for powerful television. This kind and good man, who once saved Rick’s life, taught him how to kill Walkers, and put him on the path to find his family, reappeared as a broken man who has lost everything. In the absence of any family and friends, Morgan has gradually fallen into madness, burdened with a single purpose that he must fulfill at any cost; he will clear the world of as many zombies as he can before he dies.
Morgan presents an alternate future for our hero. Morgan once had a wife and son, just like Rick. Both men lost their wives to zombies, but the families handled it very differently. Carl killed his mother, but Duane could not. Rick still has Carl, but if any of them had made different choices, or just had worse luck, they could easily be in the same position. More specifically, Morgan provides a stark warning to Rick: this could be our hero’s future, if he follows the path towards increasing solitude that leads to Crazy Town. Rick has been seeing visions of his dead wife, and increasingly detaching himself from the rest of his group. He is failing as a leader, because his focus has moved inward, towards the voices of the dead. But “Clear” shows us that Rick is not yet too far gone. He can still reconnect and remember what’s important … before he holes up in an empty building, with only grenades to keep him company.
Ultimately, it seems that The Walking Dead is showing us that humanity cannot survive alone. (This is some “Live together, die alone” stuff. Jack Shephard would really fit in.) Continuing this theme were the awesome scenes between Michonne and Carl. (Related: Michonne is still the best at everything and she should be running the group and also the entire world at this point.) This teamwork was an important step in accepting Michonne into the group. “I think she might be one of us,” Carl tells his dad, and Rick listens. Our heroes have lived in fear for their lives for so long that they have forgotten how to trust and how to get along with others. Even in a zombie apocalypse, you have to give some people a chance some of the time. Michonne has proved her worth and trustworthiness in a multitude of ways, and now Carl and Rick can finally see it. If they had realized it earlier, would they have stopped to pick up that poor backpacker on the side of the road? Maybe.
2. Switched at Birth
Episode 2×09, “Uprising,” aired Monday, March 4th, 2013
There was a lot of build-up to this all American Sign Language episode, but it did not disappoint. In case you missed last week’s Q&A with Katie Leclerc, I would recommend going back and reading what she had to say about the making of this episode. I’ve always thought that the silent scenes of Switched at Birth were the strongest parts of the show, especially any silent arguments. The lack of spoken dialogue really forces us to pay attention to the actors’ body language, expressions, and the subtext of these exchanges. I love how they really forced me to put down my phone and laptop, and really pay attention to what’s happening on screen. An entire episode of that? The best. Also, I was more aware of the actual ASL signs in this episode, and I would like to point out that the sign for “lackey” is amazing.
The main storyline of “Uprising” involved the students’ plan to “Occupy Carlton.” The school board voted to shut down their school, but they refused to let it happen. Inspired by the protests at Gallaudet University, the Carlton students were determined to make a difference. But what I really appreciated about the episode was the conflict. With “very special episodes” like this, you run the risk of being overly earnest or preachy. But “Uprising” wasn’t that simple. Everyone didn’t make up and hug at the end, after learning an important lesson. Instead, there was fundamental disagreement over what the kids were fighting for, and how they would get it. And the parents and teachers, with the exception of Melanie, were not shown to be supportive or understanding of this endeavor. This is still an uphill battle, and it is far from over.
While the episode did so much right, and challenged me to really think about things in different ways, I also had some frustrations. It seems that the show is building up to another love triangle involving Daphne and Bay. Again? Seriously? Blech. The show is so much stronger when the two main girls aren’t being pulled apart by soapy love drama. While the family issues and the Deaf vs. Hearing conflicts are so well done, it feels like a mistake and a disservice to stir up manufactured drama to divide the female leads.
3. The Americans
Episode 1×06, “Trust Me,” aired Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
There were three main storylines in “Trust Me,” and I was riveted by all of them. First, Elizabeth and Phillip were kidnapped, undergoing interrogation about their involvement with the KGB. While the kidnappers purported to be U.S. government agents, I figured out the twist from the start. Given the events of last week, and the discovery of a mole, it would only make sense for the Soviets to investigate their own agents—especially the ones who had the most access to sensitive information. Elizabeth and Phillip betraying their government would be a huge blow to the Soviets. But even though I figured it out, that didn’t make it any less satisfying.
Elizabeth’s reaction, upon finding out that it was her own people who took her, was intense. She felt completely betrayed by her country, and by Margo Martindale’s Claudia in particular. Elizabeth delivered quite the beating, and might have killed the woman if it weren’t for Phillip’s intervention. And the way she took down that big guy who tried to grab her in her house? Insane. But there was a lot more going on than impressive physicality. I said last week that the episode was Keri Russell’s best work, but she just gets better every week. The scenes between her and Matthew Rhys after they left the warehouse were insanely good. They have fundamentally different ways at looking at the world, and once again this episode put that on display. Elizabeth: “I was ripped from my house, I was attacked by the people I believed in, the people I trusted most my whole life!” “Yeah, I think that says it all,” Phillip replied. It really does. (But despite all that, I have to admit that I’m just really invested in these two working it out.)
With mom and dad MIA, the Jennings kids were left alone at the mall. Paige and Henry decided to find their own way home, making the ill-advised decision to hitchhike. I spent most of this subplot screaming at the TV: “Noooooo! Don’t do it! Don’t get in the car! Ruuuuuunnnnnn!” So stressful. My blood pressure is going up just from writing this.
Meanwhile, the Jennings’ neighbor, FBI agent Stan Beeman, had his own life or death stakes to deal with. The way that Stan and Nina worked together to save Nina’s life and frame Vasili was incredibly satisfying. Annet Mahendru is incredible as the terrified FBI asset, bringing so much to the complicated and conflicted role of Nina. And planting diamonds in someone’s tea? I’ll have to remember that one for the next time I have to frame an enemy government agent. And the scene at the end between Stan and his wife Sandra? One conversation told us so much about those characters, their history, and their relationship. Is there any show on TV right now that does a better job portraying the complicated aspects of marriage?
Episode 4×09, “The Hatchet Tour,” aired Tuesday, March 5th, 2013
This was an important episode, as the identity of Drew Thompson was finally revealed. The choice of Shelby, played by Jim Beaver, was perfect. I can’t believe the thought never occurred to me before, because the details come together so nicely. But beyond the big reveal, there were three scenes in particular that really stood out to me as among the best in the series.
First, let’s start with the light and humorous. Boyd and Ava house-hunting! I could watch a whole series about that. The dynamic between the couple and the realtor was enlightening, in that it highlighted aspects of both Boyd and Ava’s pasts, and why they care so much about changing their place in the world. Their shared history of being fighters helps us to better understand their connection to each other as well. And when Boyd later sent Ava away, after the truth about Ellen May came out, it was heartbreaking. They may be criminals, but I can’t help but pull for those crazy kids. (Don’t you dare touch a hair on Queen Ava’s head, Justified writers. Ahem.)
Second, the scene between Raylan and Wyn Duffy in the trailer was excellent. When Raylan asked whether Wyn was responsible for Arlo’s death, and Wyn expressed true surprise and genuine sympathy, I was moved. And Raylan’s response? Timothy Olyphant is so great with subtle little moments like that. The choice to respond without his trademark sarcasm, and to truly show that he’s grateful for that little bit of respect shown to his dead father, was perfect.
And the third scene that floored me was Raylan and Hunter’s final scene. This exchange was prefaced by some history about Raylan’s mama, when Raylan learned that Arlo once stood up for his mom’s honor. Raylan was truly shocked, and it punctured the hard shell he has built around himself, just a tiny bit. Later, Hunter told Raylan that he’s sorry about Arlo. At first Raylan does his Raylan thing and is sarcastic. “We had a nice visit before he passed. Told me that he loved me and that I was a good boy. Said he was sorry for all the times he was a dick, that he would miss seeing me grow up, but that he’d be watching over me every day.” Hunter: “That sounds like Arlo, all right.” Raylan: “What can I say? The man never let me down.” Classic. But before Raylan had a chance to leave, Hunter gives him some advice. If he takes after his mother, “and not that old son of a bitch,” Raylan might just turn out all right. “But I wouldn’t count on it. Because I think we both know whose voice it is makes you do what you do.” Fathers and sons, you guys. Fathers and sons.
I liked some other stuff too:
- The Good Wife remains excellent. Highlights from “Going for the Gold” included everything that Elsbeth Tascioni said, including telling Kalinda, “You are a crazy woman” and later declaring, “We don’t want to win!” Sham scam for the win. And of course the Eli-Peter stuff was the tops. “I really miss having you run the show, Eli.” Me too, Peter. Me too. That hug? Sniffles.
- Episode 2×09 of The Lying Game, “The Grave Truth,” was actually really good and turning point for the series. The truth is out! At least some of it. This episode fixed several problems with the show, including turning Sutton into a real and dynamic character. My biggest problem with the show was the fact that Emma was a fully realized character with conflict, while Sutton was a mustache-twirling piece of cardboard (with good hair). Not that she needed to be redeemed exactly, but she needed to seem like someone with layers. And now she does!
- I have been catching up on The Carrie Diaries and I’m so glad. Episode 1×08, “Hush Hush,” was huge for the series, as Carrie’s lies finally came out. I’m so glad that her dad and Larissa know the truth. (See last week’s post for my declaration that people knowing stuff is THE BEST. This is still true.) And I loved the way that Carrie’s choices were handled, making her dreams for her future and her love of Manhattan more important than her teenage crush. (But that teenage crush is still John-Hughes-movie level dreamy. Excellent face, Austin Butler. Keep that up.) And I’m loving the pop culture stuff each week. Last week we learned that Donna LaDonna’s favorite movie is Rocky III. For serious. “Are you kidding? Muscles and guys punching each other, Mr. T … yes please.”
- You can listen to my thoughts about The Following on the VRO: “Let Me Go”
- I discussed my take on Pretty Little Liarson the VRO as well: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”
- The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is just so good right now. I love it so.
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