Tag Archives: Entertainment

Why I’m Done with “The Handmaid’s Tale”

With only so many hours in the week to devote to television, certain shows just get the axe. The latest show in that category for me in Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Sure, the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic novel started out great in season one. The roles were well cast, the script was top notch, and the world-building conveyed a sense of dystopian dread. What’s more, Season Two has those elements too. The problem isn’t in the execution, the problem is that the show just doesn’t reward continued viewing.

I want to be clear, I don’t mean “reward” as in happy endings. Here is what I mean:

1. The main character has no agency

With due respect to Elisabeth Moss, who does great work on the show, June is not a compelling protagonist. If conflict is the essence of good storytelling, there has to be potential resolution to the conflict. The person “versus” themselves, another person, society, or nature needs to engage the conflict. Win or lose, the conflict needs the potential to end.

June, on the other hand is trapped. Season two has doubled down on this, teasing the audience with potential resolution before snapping back. She’s a mouse stuck in a maze. It’s an elaborately constructed maze, but even so, after watching for a while, you just feel bad for the mouse.

2. The antagonists aren’t compelling

There’s a scene in season two where Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) literally twirls his mustache. That about sums up how deep the antagonists’ motivations run. We get it: they’re monsters. Maybe that’s good enough for a two hour horror movie or even one season, but that just isn’t good enough for a multi season story.

The antagonists are played by fine actors, and the characters can be interesting. Ann Dowd’s Aunt Lydia seems to revel in torture at times, but care about her charges at other times. Still, that’s about as deep as it goes. One character contradiction does not make the character an interesting villain.

3. The antagonists always win

The triumph of the antagonist is not a flaw by itself. It is, however, a flaw when the antagonists are bulletproof. Even a hurricane lets up eventually.

Now, I heard the antagonists were set back in a recent episode that I didn’t watch, but I’m not convinced that the show is capable of setting them so far back that it undoes their invulnerability up until this point. In fact, undoing Gilead too hastily would be almost as bad as making it nearly invincible.

4. It’s the human misery hour

What’s the worst outcome you can imagine? That’s what happened on The Handmaid’s Tale. That’s not an inherent flaw: The Wire was often bleak and so is Game of Thrones. The problem is that it’s the same story over and over.

Men are murdered. Women are enslaved or murdered. Sometimes there’s torture. Rinse and repeat. It’s too repetitive, and repetitive misery borders on misery for misery’s sake.

In conclusion, if I want to watch a dark series, I’d rather rewatch The Wire or Breaking Bad than continue with The Handmaid’s Tale. So I’m done with it. So long, Gilead, you horrible monstrosity.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

The Americans: The Complete Series

“When a person is born, he can embark on only one of three roads of life. If you go right, the wolves will eat you. If you go left, you will eat the wolves. If you go straight, you will eat yourself.”

-Anton Chekhov, 1878

We’ve become accustomed to television series that end in ultimate victory, ultimate defeat, or some combination.   Most of the time, this takes the form of tying up loose ends in a clearly defined and satisfying manner.  The Americans does not end neatly.  It was never about tying up loose ends.  It was about the lies the characters tell themselves and each other.

The Americans has one of the strongest pilots and series finales of any great television drama. The pilot works because it sets up everything that the show will become best known for: suspense, car chases, 80’s musical cues, and tensions within and without the Jennings household. The pilot sets up a world and makes the viewer want to keep visiting it.

Right now, its last episode feels like the best conclusion of all time, although I’m sure some of that luster will fade as time goes by.  Or maybe not.  Philip and Elizabeth escape, but lose their children, and part of their souls, in the process.  We, the viewers, might seek justice for all of the horrible things these two have done in the name of Mother Russia, but dishing out cosmic punishment was never The Americans’ game.  No, the real enemy was never the KGB or the FBI.  The real enemy was always the enemy within.

Elizabeth was ever the zealot, and at times, purely evil.  She may have done one good thing by icing Tatiana, but does that make up for everything else she has done?  There is a brief dream sequence in the finale that serves the purpose of showing that, in the end, Elizabeth has given up on and destroyed herself in service of a lost cause. She ends the series alive, but filled with regret.

Philip was never as committed to the spy game as Elizabeth.  He seemed to fall into the life by inertia – it gave him an outlet for his violent anger and an excuse to leave a bleak future in Russia.   He experiences more character growth, and with it growing guilt, than any other character on the show. The guilt may come crashing down on Elizabeth in the very last episodes of the series, for for Philip, there hasn’t been anything else for a long time.

Stan is a more sympathetic character, but far from perfect.  After all, he killed a Russian agent in cold blood back in the first season amd destroyed the lives of both Nina and Oleg.  In the end, he’s left with the guilt of not finding out about the Jenningses sooner, and suspicion that his wife might not be who she says she is.

The Jennings children fare better in the end, especially Henry, who by all accounts will be able to move on with his life if he chooses to do so.  Paige may have a harder time, but there’s not proof that she knows much of anything or that she was training to be a spy herself.  All Stan knows is that she knows, he doesn’t know the extent of her actions.

The Americans wasn’t a perfect series. Like most dramas, it had its weak points. Season five was a let down, although it certainly wasn’t bad. Indeed, almost every great drama has a weak season or two, oftentimes the second to last one.

Still, by dwelling in the dark corners and avoiding spy versus spy clichés, The Americans started and finished better than arguably any other show. The show had its share of climaxes and showdowns, but not at the end of the day. No, in the end The Americans wasn’t about the wolves eating or being eaten. It was about the wolves eating themselves.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

New Girl: The Complete Series

Wanted: a new fun show to watch. Must be loaded with silly jokes and funny actors creating memorable characters. High drama and misanthropy need not apply.

In 2011, Fox answered this ad, although they didn’t realize it at first. When they landed a show starring Zooey Deschanel, they figured they were getting some version of the role she had been typecast in for most of her career (“adorkable”). What they didn’t bargain for was that Deschanel would become one of the best comedic “straight-men/women” in television. She would be a new Mary Tyler Moore, but instead of a newsroom in Minneapolis, she would have a loft in Los Angeles.

In a era where even television comedies got serious, New Girl stood apart. It wasn’t quite a Seinfeld-esque show about nothing, but it certainly wasn’t a show with deep themes or innovative storytelling. It was simply a show about a group of misfits slowly growing enough in confidence in themselves to evolve into adults.

New Girl was mostly about the jokes, but the jokes were sustained by the growth of the characters. Jess, Nick, Schmidt, Winston, and Cece shed insecurities, but none of them lost the silly quirks that made them fun to hang out with every Tuesday.

Television comedies often find success with misanthropy and sarcasm (Seinfeld, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) or satire (The Simpsons, 30 Rock). It seems rarer that a successful television comedy is centered on character growth and being fun to spend time with. New Girl rightfully joined shows like Parks and Recreation in this latter category.

Now, we must never forget, there is but one rule. Floor is lava.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode Four

A day late, but here is your weekly Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings!

1. Elsie

She’s alive!  Why, how, or for how long, we don’t know.  But she’s alive!

2. Maeve

Bring on Samurai World dammit!

3. Dolores

Dolores got the week off, but the murderous robot queen can’t fall past third right now in my opinion.

4. William

Why did William bother trying to keep James Delos alive?  We may never know.

5. Robert Ford

However, I’ll bet the end of Ford’s “game” involves Ford still being alive in a robot, then shooting William in the head.

6. Bernard

Bernard’s journey was far too confusing to comment on this week.

Also receiving votes: Teddy, William’s Daughter, Charlotte Hale, Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore, Arnold,  Young William, Clementine, Ser Pounce, Roxy Music, giving the devil an offering, and shots of nitroglycerine.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode Three

I was impressed with the third episode of Season 2.  The introduction of the other parks gives the show a new lease on life so to speak.  That said, here is your weekly Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings!

1. Maeve

I’m not sure where Maeve thinks she is going, but she has some clear advantages.  First, the Delos Corporation mercenaries don’t seem to be looking for her.  Second, she has a group with diverse skill sets that is, importantly, only half robot.   On the downside, the whole group might be lost in Samurai World.

2. Dolores

Westworld’s other sentient robot overlord has the most firepower, but look at her closest associates and look at Maeve’s.  I mean, c’mon, Teddy?  Really?

3. Charlotte Hale

Pros: Charlotte has unexpected survival skills.  Cons: Charlotte had her goons charge a fortification head-on with windowless cars.

4. Robert Ford

Ford’s cat and mouse game with William got a break this week, thus the drop in the Power Rankings.

5. William, the Man in Black

And William is still losing said cat and mouse game.

6. Bernard

Bernard isn’t controlling events at this point.  Rather, he seems to be pulled along by other players, especially Charlotte.

7. Teddy

We already know Teddy’s decision to have mercy on the other robots will not end well for him.

Also receiving votes: Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore, Arnold,  Young William, Clementine, Ser Pounce, brainless military maneuvers, predictive text, and fans of Rudyard Kipling and Rule Britannia.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode Two

After a bit of a Dolores focused episode, there isn’t a lot of movement this week on the Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings.  But, out of force of habit, I’ll publish one anyway.

1. Robert Ford

I don’t know about you, but I thought it was hilarious when the army leader, after giving a long winded lecture to William, switches gears and delivers a personal “*#%*% You” from Ford.

2. Maeve

Dolores IS just playing Ford’s game, she just doesn’t know it.  Even though Dolores let Maeve pass freely this time, more conflict between the two, self-aware robots feels inevitable.

3. Dolores

Did Arnold design Dolores to retain memories on purpose?  That’s what I’d like to know.

4. William, the Man in Black

If the big reveal of this season is “Delos/William use Westworld to scoop up personal data and sell it to advertisers,” I’m going to be vastly disappointed.

5. Karl Strand

6. Bernard

7. Charlotte Hale

The next three stay put on the rankings, since, you know, nothing happened to them this week.

 

8. Teddy

Teddy, on the other hand, is always in last place.

Also receiving votes: Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore,  Young William,  Ser Pounce, robot cocktail hour, zombie robots, and splendor.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe

Westworld Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings, Season Two, Episode One

I’m not above copying an idea, and what works for Game of Thrones can work for Westworld. This is assuming that Season 2 doesn’t go off the rails after three episodes only to rebound in the last five minutes of the season (cough, Season One, cough).

That said, the Robot Apocalypse Power Rankings are nigh. Repent!

1. Robert Ford

Fire me will you? How about I kill everyone (including me) with my evil robot creations! Muhahahahahaha!

2. Dolores

While Dolores is a robot, her insatiable thirst for vengeance is an entirely human reaction to a lifetime of being tortured, raped, and murdered every day. She’s become Skynet from The Terminator (1984) and the Maschinenmensch from Metropolis (1927) all rolled into one.

3. Maeve

What Lee, the buffoon writer, doesn’t get is that Maeve doesn’t care if her child isn’t really “her child.” She’s found purpose, and that purpose is recusing the one good thing she found in her entire screwed up existence.

4. William, the Man in Black

Ford respected William more than any non-Arnold human. Ford’s crescendo is murderous, suicidal, and specifically designed to give William exactly what he wants.

5. Karl Strand

New character alert! Strand is the leader of the group that Delos has charged with cleaning up Ford’s mess. He has lots of guns and soldiers! What could possibly go wrong?

6. Bernard

Things aren’t going well for our robot/clone/whatever. There’s only one reason why he’s ahead of Charlotte.

7. Charlotte Hale

Bernard is still alive in the “flash forward” scenes, helping Strand. I don’t see Charlotte.

8. Teddy

Poor Teddy. Designed to be the Ned Stark of this world.

Also receiving votes: Hector, Ashley Stubbs, Lee Sizemore, Elsie Hughes, Arnold, Armistice the Snake Woman, Young William, Clementine, dead tigers, the Sea, Chinese island making technology, Ser Pounce, and a feast for robot vultures.

(C) 2018 D.G. McCabe