Zoning Out: “Walking Distance”

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The past is an elusive thing, we remember it but our memory is constantly changing, forgetting, being influenced by the world we are experiencing right now. I’d argue instead then that the the core of our memories for the past are more intangible. They don’t feel concrete, they’re simply impressions and feelings that we associate with the past we held on to. These aren’t always positive, in fact for a lot of people they can be down right awful, but when they are positive we tend to call it nostalgia.

Nostalgia didn’t occupy the same place in society in 1959 that it does now. So much of our pop culture is based on things that remind us of our childhoods, things that are often based on entertainment from the childhood of it’s creators. Think about how many peoples favorite movies are Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, all properties created from the nostalgia of their creators. It’s odd then that “Walking Distance”, one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of The Twilight Zone, feels very much out of a modern mold at first glance. Working off the classic template of a disillusioned man, and it is almost always a man, who seeks to leave his stressful modern life and return to his carefree youth, “Walking Distance” might at first seem fairly rote. For all its acclaim I found it fairly pedestrian, well acted, well directed, until the show put it’s own personal exclamation point on what could have been the same story I’ve seen a million times.

walking-distance8I’m speaking of the conversation that Martin has with his father, a masterpiece of acting, writing, and directing. Backed by a custom score made for the episode by Bernard Hermann, a titan of the industry who would do work for The Twilight Zone multiple times over its run, Martin and his father discuss how Martin needs to leave the past to his past self. While looking to find the joy in modern life through embracing ones inner child or teenager isn’t exactly a novel idea what makes it work for me especially here is the scene that proceeds it.

In that scene Martin attempts to reach his younger self and tell him to enjoy every moment of his youth but in doing so causes young Martin to fall from a carousel and injure his leg. We learn at the end of the episode that Martin now carries a limp from that fall, a fall he himself caused. This is what really got me, the idea that by lionizing the past, by yearning to return to it, we are not only harming our memories of the past by making them into something they’re not but that we also hurt ourselves in real lasting ways. We leave wounds in ourselves that stay forever.

Martin’s father addresses this by telling him that there isn’t any space in the past for him anymore. It’s not his summer anymore, it belongs to the past, to the Martin who exists there, not to the modern Martin. He shouldn’t try to make something that belongs to the past belong to the future as well. The conversation is incredibly well acted, with everyone playing their part in a subtle way that makes you feel that they really are father and son. Gig Young, a two time Oscar nominee before he played Martin and who would go on to win an Oscar for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, is incredible. The way he plays Martin, transitioning from a worried, almost fatherly adult, to a scared child, and back to an adult in the space of a couple of minutes is nothing short of spectacular.

MV5BNjZjMGUwNmYtNzM4NS00NDI5LTkzMTMtYzEyNzQzOTQ0ZWUxL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDgyNjA5MA@@._V1_While I’ve already heaped a lot of praise on Serling in the past few reviews for his scripts, this is the one that feels the most personal. It’s easy to see this a reflection on Serling’s own past and the way he has felt about it . Often Serling’s status as an auteur when it comes to The Twilight Zone is a bit overstated, ignoring the other talented figures who contributed to the show and the nature of network television production at their time. I don’t want to down play the strength of Robert Steven’s direction here in his second and final episode (he also did the exceptional pilot episode) but if there has been episode so far that feels like it could have only come from one person, it’s this one.

I’ve struggled often in looking back at the way I used to be, to the my own better days, and giving in to the desire to try to get back. If this was an episode that felt deliberately personal to Serling, so to did it feel very close to my heart. I want to feel like the man that Serling describes in his closing narration, someone who doesn’t yearn for the past but when reminded of it smiles. He hears the past, as a wish, as a “wisp of a memory” and knows that it isn’t too important really. Serling says that trying to go back home again is something that all men try at some point. For those who like me have been trying for a while, we should take Martin’s father’s advice to stop looking behind us and to “try looking ahead”.

Rating: 9/10

The Twilight Zone

Season One Episode Five: “Walking Distance”

Written by Rod Serling

Directed by Robert Stevens

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Zoning Out: “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”

fb0c4f863213d6fafd97d34104f63b2cI’m sort of having trouble figuring out how to look at this episode. It’s hard to see it as anything other than a bit of a Sunset Boulevard knock-off with a science-fiction twist and yet I think this is one of the best episodes so far. Maybe that’s because it’s about an evergreen subject, one more relevant than ever, Hollywood sexism.

See, Barbara Jean Trenton is a former star of the screen and now that she’s older her opportunities have dried up. She refuses to do bit parts or play a mother, and so has retreated back into her old films. Her agent arranges to have one of her former screen partners come by. She’s horrified to see that he has aged and stopped acting, instead becoming the manager of chain of grocery stores.

I think that’s why I like this episode, it would have been easy to just do a Sunset Boulevard clone and while that is a lot of what it does, this episode goes the extra mile to give it just that little something extra. “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” takes the time to show someone who has chosen to stop looking into the past, someone who has chosen to get out of the game. For many shows, that would be enough, saying this is a corrupt and sexist organization and the only way to win is to not play the game.

MV5BMjllYzkxZjUtNDQ0Ni00OTU2LThkMmUtZjRkNDEwMDY4MzIwL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDgyNjA5MA@@._V1_However, The Twilight Zone acknowledges that this second act in American life is a luxury that is often only afforded to men. Barbara recognizes that what sway she may have had in 1950’s American life was based on her youth and fame as an actress, fame that has dried up as she lost her youth. There’s a subtle bit of commentary with how much older Jerry is than Barbara, speaking to the way Hollywood often teams up young women with men twenty years their elder as romantic partners. Jerry has the luxury as being seen as a whole person, of being judged on their skills, instead of by their gender.

This fact is echoed by the other two male characters in the episode, Barbara’s agent and the head of the studio she used to work for. Both of them make an effort to help break Barbara out of her existential funk but they both do so by appealing to vanity and to her past, not realizing that by doing so they are enforcing the same societal norms that lead to her present state. Instead in the end she retreats both literally and metaphorically into the past, becoming a part of the films that she used to be so renowned for. But, and this is important, it isn’t into an old film, instead Barbara creates a film resembling the ones she used to be in but set in her current home and starring her as she is now.

image-w1280In doing so Barbara has created a world, a society that judges her on her skills, especially that which she values most, acting. “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” recognizes though, that this is merely a wish, one that may or may not even be real. When Barbara’s agent finds her handkerchief lying on the ground it is an admission that this isn’t real, but it could be, that Barbara’s wish may come true. Yet by having a man say this and be the one to find it instead of Barbara’s maid, it’s a statement that it is sexism that is holding this back from happening.

Hollywood sexism is an evergreen subject, and one that can be a bit tricky to handle. I don’t know if this episode is ever a perfect handling of it, and I think a lot of that comes down to the time period. More than that though it’s a symptom of having been directed and written by two men. I think a lot of what I find in the episode is meaning that was found through the performance of Ida Lupino, an accomplished director in her own right, as Barbara. Not to say this isn’t well written, it is but I think it loses something that could have been brought to the surface from someone who had really experienced this sort of sexism. I still believe that “Where is Everybody?” is the best episode so far but “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” makes a strong case.

Rating: 8.5/10

The Twilight Zone

Season One Episode Four: “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”

Written by Rod Serling

Directed by Mitchell Leisen

Zoning Out: “Mr Denton on Doomsday”

maxresdefault (3)“Mr Denton on Doomsday” is quite interesting as it is the first time that the show leaves the modern-day setting that it had in the first couple of episodes. It’s also the first of the episodes to have a real cast of characters beyond the main character, or the antagonist. It’s a nice opening up of the world that the show can inhabit. On my first viewing I enjoyed it but mostly thought it was just fine, a little disposable, but as I thought more and more about the episode I came to appreciate what it’s doing. See, at its core “Mr Denton on Doomsday” is taking what is a pretty straight forward western story and using it as a way to talk about addiction in a subtle way for the time.

The episode begins with the titular Denton, played by Dan Duryea, drunk and being taunted by one of the other gunslingers in the town to sing for a drink. After diving in the dirt for a broken bottle of booze he finds a gun, appeared there by a mysterious man in black. Denton, a former expert duelist, picks up the gun and finds that his shooting touch has returned although he swears he isn’t in control. He embarrasses and defeats the gunslinger, and decides to get sober.

twilight-zone-mr-denton-on-doomsdayHowever, Denton feels no joy at this, explaining that the reason he had become an alcoholic was that he once was a great shooter perhaps the best in the west. People came from far and wide to challenge him, and the stress and pressure led him to drink, culminating in a moment in which he shot a sixteen year old. After that he hung up his guns and sunk to a low point. Knowing that now that he has picked up the gun again more will come to challenge him, he sobers up in order to die with dignity.

Finally, a challenge comes. Denton realizing that he will probably die tries to slink out in the night. As he walks through town he comes across the man in black from before. He reveals himself to be Henry J. Fate, a name that is way too on the nose for the role he plays, and offers Denton an elixir that will make him the fastest shot in the world for about ten seconds. As he draws his gun against the challenger he sees that he also has a bottle of the elixir. They both draw and shoot each other in their shooting hand. The doctor tells them that neither of them will shoot again, and the episode ends with Fate leaving town and tilting his hat to Denton.

MV5BMWZiZDRhYjEtZTViOS00MDRmLTlkNjAtY2JhOTcwNzg5OWVkL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDgyNjA5MA@@._V1_The episode for the most part is competent and while the first two episodes were actors showcases this one belongs to Rod Serling. He turns a story that takes western motifs and uses them to talk about addiction and recovery. This is expressed through Denton, who we first meet as an addict, an alcoholic, who has turned in one addiction, violence, for another. Through the episode we watch his recovery, his relapse, his low point, and finally a turning point where he finally decides to get well. It’s an episode that rewards looking deeper into it and succeeds because of its script. Perhaps not as good as “Where is Everybody?”, it is still an excellent episode. and well worth a watch.

Rating: 8/10

The Twilight Zone

Season One Episode Three: “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”

Written by Rod Serling

Directed by Allen Reisner

Zoning Out: “One for the Angels”

The-Twilight-Zone-One-for-the-Angels“One for the Angels” is a bit of a let down. It’s a perfectly fine episode but ultimately it has a hard time following up the great opening provided by “Where is Everybody?”. It’s well written and well acted, especially by Ed Wynn as the main character, however it all feels a bit familiar. Maybe that’s a symptom of time but nevertheless it’s true.

“One for the Angels” begins by showing us a pitchman, named Lou, hawking his wares on the steps of a building, selling toys, ties and other small trinkets. As Lou begins wrapping up he notices a man who seems to be watching him and taking notes. This, as Rod Serling tells us, is Mr. Death played by Murray Hamilton. As this is told to us Death looks straight into the camera and smiles, a moment that I think is supposed to be played straight but gave me a bit of a chuckle.

murrayhamiltonAs Lou returns home he hands out some gifts to the children who are playing on the stoop of his apartment building. He enters his apartment and begins his daily routine, and there is Death, telling him that he will die at midnight. Death in this interpretation, is played mostly like a bored office worker, at one point Lou asks him if he’s a census taker. Lou tries to plead with Death and is told that there are only three ways to prolong his life once he’s been chosen. These are hardship, being on the verge of a great achievement, or unfinished business. Lou takes that last one to heart, saying that he’s never made a truly great pitch. Death agrees, and grants him a reprieve from dying. Lou takes this as a chance for basically immortality, throwing away his salesman case and pledging to never pitch again.

As Lou leaves his apartment, Death tells him that someone will have to take his place. Lou see’s this happen as one of the children he saw earlier is hit by a truck. From here it is pretty obvious what will happen, as Lou choose to pitch his wares to Death, selling him everything he has until after midnight. Having made Death miss his deadline and having finally made the great pitch he had always wanted Lou chooses to go willingly. As the episode ends he asks if he will be going “up there” and Death answers that he is.

The-Twilight-Zone-One-for-the-Angels-3Like I said, it’s all a little bit clichéd and obvious especially as the follow-up to an excellent opening. While Hamilton and Wynn do excellent work with what are rather underwritten roles. The direction by Robert Parrish is also fairly workmanlike nothing too flashy but sufficient enough to keep the story moving. It all works but in the end what it’s working towards is just not that exciting. It never really feels like it reaches beyond simply being a story about death, fear, and in the end the good nature of the average man. While that isn’t necessarily a bad theme, it’s all telegraphed and obvious lacking the subtlety and metaphor of the previous episode. Serling and company can and will do better than this one in the future.

6.5/10

The Twilight Zone

Season One, Episode 2 “One for the Angels”

Written by Rod Serling

Directed by Robert Parrish

Zoning Out: “Where is Everybody?”

MV5BYTZhYmNhZTktMDZkMi00Yzk3LTkzNDAtYzYzZmEzZDY5MjViL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDgyNjA5MA@@._V1_The Twilight Zone is an anthology show that aired on CBS from 1959 until 1964. Created and written predominantly by Rod Serling the show dove in and out of several different genres; science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and social commentary. It is perhaps one of the most critically acclaimed and influential works of popular genre fiction from the 20th century, and has influenced countless works. It’s been rebooted twice, had a movie made, and will be getting a third reboot soon with Jordan Peele at the helm.

I first came to the show in middle school when a teacher showed us “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” during a lesson on tolerance and cold war paranoia. Since then I’ve seen it in bits and pieces, catching parts of marathon or specifically watching episodes that I have heard are must-sees. With that passing knowledge of the show I’ve always wanted to delve deeper, see more. So, with the free time that I have found myself with recently I decided to finally take the plunge. Starting today until I get done with the series I’m going to watch and review one episode a day of the original series and the movie until I finish, that’s 156 episodes of television and a movie. A warning, this show has been available to watch for over fifty years at this point, and is famous for its twists, which I will be spoiling. Most episodes are only about twenty-two minutes long so I’d check them out before reading, and with that preface let’s get on with it. So without further ado, lets begin our new feature “Zoning Out” with The Twilight Zone Season 1 Episode 1 “Where is Everybody?”.

“Where is Everybody?” is an absolutely explosive opening to a television show, a statement of purpose in every way possible. The episode is a gripping exploration of paranoia and loneliness anchored by the direction of Robert Stevens and a captivating performance by Earl Holliman who is the sole person on-screen for a solid three-quarters of the episode.

The-Twilight-Zone-Where-Is-EverybodyThe episode begins with Hollimans’s character wandering on a dirt road, walking into a diner. He finds it empty, but the jukebox is playing music. He wanders through the diner looking for any people but is unable to find any. He drinks a cup of coffee and talks about how he doesn’t seem to remember his name, or much of anything about himself, only that he’s hungry. Not being able to find anyone at the diner he continue to walk along the road until he comes to a town named Oakwood. Once again the town seems deserted but the man can’t seem to shake the sense that he is being watched. Everywhere he goes it seems that there must be people there, a recently put out cigar, water running in a sink. He grows more and more paranoid and stressed until he enters a bookstore. There he comes across a rack filled top to bottom with copies of “The Last Man on Earth” and he bursts out into the street screaming in terror. He then waits on a bench playing tic-tac-toe until the lights come on at night.

He see’s the movie theater marquee light up, showing “Battle Hymn” a film about the Air Force starring Rock Hudson. From the poster he determines that he is a member of the Air Force, since he’s in a fighter pilot jumpsuit. There in the theater he see’s the projector go on, and upon seeing that there is no one in the projector room, runs into a mirror in the theater lobby. He bursts out onto the street, pressing the intersection walk button on a street crossing as he cries for help.

It is here where the twist is revealed, that this has all been a delusion conjured up by the man, astronaut Mike Ferris, to overcome the loneliness of an isolation chamber that he has been in for over two weeks. The people watching Ferris in the chamber report to the press that this is all in preparation for a trip to the moon in which he will not have contact with any other person for the duration. As Ferris is taken away from the chamber in a stretcher he looks up at the moon and tells it that he’ll be up there soon.

CBS_TWILIGHT_ZONE_001_IMAGE_CIAN_1280x720_1202655299954The easiest thing to talk about is the central performance by Holliman, who manages to convey both the fear and loneliness of having suddenly appeared in a world without any other people. It’s a performance that relies a lot on the tone of his voice, and his body language to reflect a man who is constantly on the verge of falling apart. His performance is also greatly aided by the direction of Robert Stevens. It’s a thin line that he has to walk, conveying both a claustrophobic sense of fear and paranoia, and the crushing loneliness that Ferris feels.

Stevens conveys this through blocking, set design, and camera placement that seems to enclose Holliman behind bars, or inside frames within frames, closing the frame down on him as he seems to lose his cool. It’s at these moments of maximum tension, when Holliman is most paranoid and manic that the camera will cut to wide empty shots where Holliman is isolated. It isn’t the most complicated or inventive technique but it works wonders.

It’s easy to see this episode as a commentary on the sort of paranoia that must have been prevalent within the United States during the height of the Cold War. The second red scare had only just ended and the idea that you were being watched can’t have been a rare one. But oddly the episode ends on a hopeful note, with Ferris being mostly okay, and promising to head to the moon shortly. If the episodes main story is one of Cold War fear and paranoia then the twist reveals that out of this fear, there can still come a good ending, one that advances mankind.

Yet, I can’t help shake the feeling that the twist doesn’t quite work. It doesn’t add much to the episode and unlike most of the best twists doesn’t seem to add any new meaning to the main episode. It seems to serve merely to hammer home the point that loneliness is unnatural and humanity needs companionship, both of which are made more than well enough in the body of the story. But that is a small nit pick in what is generally a great episode.

While never reaching the heights that the best of the show can reach, “Where is Everybody?” is a great jumping on point, an excellent distillation of what the show can be. With this as the start of the journey I’ll be taking, it’s hard to not be excited to see what else Serling and the rest of the creative team of The Twilight Zone can come up with.

Rating 8.5/10

The Twilight Zone (1959)

Season 1 Episode 1 “Where is Everybody”

Written by Rod Serling

Directed by Robert Stevens

TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 2: Stormborn

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Okay, lets talk about this weeks Game of Thrones episode Stormborn. I think last weeks review/recap was a bit too full of plot details and a bit light on my actual thoughts about the episode so I’m going to try to give more of my thoughts on the episode from here on out. Overall, I was pretty disappointed, Stormborn felt to me like it had a some good moments but there were definitely some I didn’t like especially the ending. I’ll sum up the episode pretty quickly and then move into my thoughts.

Stormborn begins with Daenerys and her crew beginning to formulate their plan to take control of Westeros without destroying it all and leaving Daenerys to be “Queen of the ashes”. Cersei attempts to rally some of the lords from the rebelling kingdoms, including Randyll Tarly, to her side by playing on their xenophobia of the Unsullied and Dothraki, and Maester Qyburn reveals that they are developing a weapon to combat dragons. Sam at the Citadel attempts to heal Jorah from his greyscale despite the Archmaesters objections. Arya, after meeting back up with Hotpie, learns that Jon is alive and the Starks control Winterfell. While traveling she comes across Nymeria and a pack of wolves that reveal themselves to her and then disappear.

In Winterfell Jon decides to accept an invitation to meet with Daenerys at Dragonstone in order to attempt to secure the dragon glass beneath the castle. When he leaves, over the objections of the lords of the north, he leaves Sansa in charge of the north. Back at Dragonstone Daenaerys and Tyrion reveal their plan to Elleria, Yara, and Olenna, a strike on Kings Landing by the Westerosi forces and an Unsullied attack on Casterly Rock at the same time. Grey Worm and Missandei reveal their feelings to each other before they are separated. Yara and Elleria are attacked by Euron on their way back to pick up the Martells army, and Yara’s fleet is destroyed while Theon flees and is left floating in the ocean on debris.

euron1.1500866247  Okay, so a lot happened in this hour and it did move the plot set up in the previous episode along. First the good stuff, the opening scene with Daenerys et al is great. After only having a few silent minutes of Varys and Tyrion in the previous episode we get a scene devoted to them, I love when Game of Thrones touches on political intrigue and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion is just such a joy to watch. Furthermore Varys explaining his shifting loyalty by saying his loyalty is to the people was such a great monologue and a great moment between Daenerys and him. I also really enjoyed the scene with Missandei and Grey Worm, which is perhaps the most touching sex scene this show has ever produced and really a nice breath of humanity in between what was a really exposition heavy episode.

As opposed to last week I enjoyed Sams storyline, Broadbent as the Archmaester is a joy as he plays the character in such an academic way, and the beginning of the surgery to remove Jorah’s scales was genuinely hard to watch. I loved the match cut from that scene to the man eating the meat pie, and like Arya in that scene as she come to resemble the Hound more and more including gulping down a flagon of ale. Finally I really enjoyed Euron once again as he shows up to destroy Yara’s fleet. Euron is just such an over the top character and he is a joy to watch on-screen, it’s so much fun to watch him just be crazy. It also helps that he rid of us of at least most of the Sand Snakes.

Cersei-Qyburn-StormbornOf course bringing up the Sand Snakes means we have to talk about what didn’t work. While the Winterfell scenes are crucial to the plot and well acted, they’re kind flat and predictable overall just sorta okay. But my true ire is reserved for the scene where Qyburn reveals what his weapon is to kill dragons. This is built up with Qyburn saying if they can be injured they can be killed, something we are all aware of having seen said injury to a dragon previously in the series. With a swell of ominous music he reveals his weapon and it isn’t some sort of magic or anything, it’s just a ballista, that’s it. It’s not even a particularly large ballista and with the level of military technology present in Westeros it boggles the mind that this is a new invention. It bothers me that we will invariably see this weapon take down a dragon at some point because to be honest the entire moment felt a bit silly.

There is also the sea battle that finishes the episode. I’ve never been a huge fan of Theon and Yara’s story and them getting attacked and destroyed by Euron was pretty predictable. It could be seen from a nautical mile away, especially after the previous episode where Euron promises to return to Cersei with a gift. It should have been treated as a big moment and yet to me felt very small.The direction was awkward and seemed to minimize the battle taking what was a big naval battle and shoving it into a small corner of one ship. It just really didn’t work for me tonally and outside of Euron the scene was utterly forgettable.

That describes a lot of the episode to me, forgettable. Some good moments in the episode and a lot of setup for storylines that feel like they’re going somewhere cool. However, there are only five episodes left in this season and so far the show has yet to reach the breakneck pace it should have to reach the ending.

Rating: 7.5/10

Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 2: Stormborn

Directed by Mark Mylod

Written by Bryan Cogman

 

TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1: Dragonstone

game-thrones-7x01-dragonstone

“Shall we begin?”

Daenerys Targaryen utters these words at the end of the Season 7 opener of Game of Thrones, Dragonstone, marking the start of what is the shows final act. Dragonstone acts as stage setting episode, and after over a year away it’s pretty welcome. The episode begins with what at first appears to be a flashback to a feast held by Walder Frey at The Twins. But, quickly the mood of the scene shifts and it is revealed to be Arya Stark using faceless man magic to impersonate Walder and poison the Freys. In one fell swoop she eliminates their whole house, just another part of the culling of characters and plot lines Game of Thrones has been undertaking as it nears its climax. As Arya leaves she tells one of the survivors to let people know “Winter came for House Frey”. It’s an exciting way to start an episode and a season, and hearing the theme music right after was a great way to get sucked back into the world of Game of Thrones.

From there the story slows down a lot, a necessity when we have to catch up with TV’s largest ensemble. We check in with Jon Snow and Sansa Stark as they hold court in the newly reconquered Winterfell. The seeds of disagreement between the two begin as they differ on how to handle the lands controlled by houses that had betrayed them and fought against them. In the Jon decides to make them swear fealty and allow them to retain their land, over the protests of Sansa who wants to give their land to people who had been loyal to the Starks. After Sansa and Jon talk about how they face trouble from both the north in the form of the army of the dead, and from the south from Cersei. Sansa and Jon reveal their differing views on ruling, with Jon having seen the example of Lord Commander Mormont and trying to model his leadership after him.  On the other hand we have Sansa who has had her worldview shaped by living in Kings Landing and seeing Varys, Cersei, and Littlefinger work their plans. I’m excited to see these two philosophies play out through out the rest of the season.

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In Kings Landing Cersei begins to formulate her plan to take back the rebelling kingdoms now that she is queen. It’s a couple of very strong scenes, especially one where Jaime attempts to have a conversation with her about the suicide of Tommen and what her end game is. Cersei appears to be unraveling, declaring Tommen’s suicide to be a “betrayal” and telling Jaime she is attempting to create a long-lasting Lannister dynasty. That Jaime and her are the only Lannisters left, as Jaime reminds her, doesn’t really seem to cross her mind. In her quest to defeat her rivals she invites Euron Greyjoy to Kings Landing where he proposes marriage to her, she refuses but he promises to go and bring back a great treasure to prove his loyalty and importance. Euron is a lot of fun to watch in this scene, dressed like a pirate and completely bonkers. It’s nice when Game of Thrones leans into its occasional pseudo-soap opera atmosphere, and Euron as a megalomaniac over the top bad guy is perfect for what appears to be our last human antagonist of the show.

In the newly shown Oldtown we are treated to a montage of Sam going about his tasks in the Citadel as he learns to become a maester, this thing goes on way too long. The first time soup is match cut to a used bed pan it’s a little funny but by the third time its gotten a little tedious. In fact the entirety of Sams storyline seemed like a big journey to get to the knowledge that there is dragon glass under Dragonstone. Plus, it kinda wastes Jim Broadbent who shows up for one scene to deliver a great monologue about how the maesters are the institutional memory of Westeros and how they’ll still be here after everything. Hopefully he’ll continue to show up but this is the one part of the episode that really didn’t do much for me.

The-Hound

We then come to the Hound, in what is probably the best scene of the episode. The Hound along with the rest of the Brotherhood without Banners arrives at the cottage of the family he had previously robbed in a previous season. There he finds the corpse of the daughter and her father, bloodied and with a knife, Beric Dondarrion deduces that the father murder-suicided them rather than freeze or starve to death in the winter. As Thoros builds a fire in the hearth he asks the Hound to look into the fire where the Hound has a vision of the army of the dead marching on the wall. That night the Hound buries the dead while the snow falls in one of the striking visual moments of the episode. Rory McCann continues to be one of the best actors on the show, imbuing his character with little moments of humanity and continuing to build a complex and deep character.

In the other standout scene we humanize the Lannister soldiers as Arya comes across a group of them cooking dinner. Here we get the oft-mentioned Ed Sheeran cameo that to be perfectly honest wasn’t much of a big deal. After singing a song and getting a few lines he moves to the background. Instead it is the other soldiers who tell Arya how they miss home, want to see their wives and children, it may be a bit clichéd, but it’s an important reminder that even though we mostly follow nobles and people of privilege the fighting is done by regular people. It’s quiet moment that doesn’t end in a speech or violence but is content to just be that, quiet. It’s a moment in an episode that has to cram in a lot of information where the show just takes a breather.

Finally the show finishes on a wordless sequence that features Daenerys arriving to and entering Dragonstone. All told visually, and with stunning visuals at that, the sequence is stunning. At the end Daenerys walks past the carved map of Westeros in Dragonstone, mirroring the painted map that Cersei and Jaime Lannister look at in their scenes. At the end of a strong, albeit not perfect, season premiere Daenerys turns to Tyrion and says her only lines of the episode, kicking off what promises to be a great season of TV.

“Shall we begin?”

Rating: 8.5/10

Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1: Dragonstone

Directed by  Jeremy Podeswa

Written by  David Benioff and D. B. Weiss

TV Review: GLOW Season 1

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At one point during the penultimate episode of the first season of GLOW, Netflix’s new show from creators Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive, a character states about wrestling that they’ve “come close to getting what all the fuss is about”. That’s how I felt throughout the shows strong freshman effort. I don’t watch wrestling, I don’t know much about wrestling, and I don’t think I’ll ever be a wrestling fan. It’s not because I dislike wrestling, it’s just not something that holds much interest for me. But when the wrestling truly begins in earnest in GLOW it is genuinely captivating and exciting. Mensch and Flahive, along with executive producer Jenji Kohan create wrestling scenes that manage to be funny while also informing character and advancing the plot. It’s just a shame that it takes so long to get to them.

GLOW the TV show is loosely based on real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a women’s professional wrestling league begun in 1986 and lasting in some form or another until the present day. It begins with struggling actress Ruth Wilder (Allison Brie) receiving an invitation to audition in 1985 for an all women wrestling show. Directed by Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), a sleazy former exploitation film director and produced by Sebastian “Bash” Howard (Chris Lowell), a trust fund kid paying for the league with his parents money, the fictional GLOW gathers together a bunch of misfits and follows them as they struggle to launch their wrestling league.

If a group of misfits try to do something unique and struggle to overcome outside barriers while also learning to accept the others in the group sounds like a bit of a sports film cliche, that’s because it is. However, GLOW uses this setup as a springboard to showcase a variety of captivating and compelling supporting characters. Characters such as Sheila “the She-Wolf” (Gayle Rankin) who always appears dressed as well, a she-wolf, or Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade (Britney Young) who simply wants to follow in her wrestling family’s foot steps feel like they have real reasons to want to wrestle, to fit in somewhere. Maron hilariously steals every scene he’s in, and Lowell adds depth to a someone that could have been a stock rich kid character. It’s a real joy to watch these actors play off of each other and this interaction provides many of the shows plentiful laughs. When GLOW wants to be funny, it can be really funny.

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It is when GLOW wants to be more dramatic that it can grind to a halt. Chief among these is the shows most annoying subplot, the fallout between Ruth and her best friend Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin) after Ruth has a brief affair with Debbie’s husband Mark (Rich Sommer). Debbie, a former soap drama actress, eventually joins GLOW as it’s lead wrestler and main draw while also attempting to reconnect with her estranged husband. While Gilpin’s performance as Debbie is great, managing to be both funny and heartfelt, the scenes devoted to her attempting to save her marriage feel like something that has been done a million times before.

That is the one main problem with GLOW, that the dramatic beats of the story aren’t anything new. The league will need money, certain people will have a falling out, friendships will need to be mended, and at the last minute someone will bail them out and they will succeed against the odds, learning something about themselves through wrestling. It’s something that’s been done before. These characters are so good it does them a disservice to put them into cliched dramatic moments. It also takes time away from one of the shows real strengths, watching these characters behind the scenes of creating a wrestling show. We don’t see much them learning to wrestle until episode 5, and there isn’t a training montage until episode 7 which is also when the first real wrestling event occurs. The scenes of them learning to wrestle and wrestling in front of a crowd are such a joy that you wonder why it took them so long to get there.

That isn’t to say to that every dramatic moment the show has is bad. A late season abortion story line manages to be both funny and grounded, it feels in character and never become preachy. Another solid dramatic moment is when a character reveals that she is Sam’s daughter, a move which reveals new things about both of them and creates a new interesting character dynamic that can be interestingly explored in a future season. Even the more dramatic interactions between Ruth and Debbie can be good, with both Gilpin and Brie showcasing real dramatic skills that make you feel and empathize with both of them.

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But where GLOW really shines is when it devotes its talented actors and strong characters to wrestling and comedy. While never treating the act of wrestling itself as a joke it creates situations within the ring that manage to be very funny with one notable moment being a match involving KKK members and a welfare queen. This is also one of the moments that touches upon the ability of wrestling to perpetuate negative stereotypes by showcasing them, an interesting thread that is hopefully expanded upon in further seasons. GLOW also leans into it’s 1980’s setting, never becoming a parody of the 80’s, but mining it for some really funny jokes such as a house party a drug toting robot butler.

When GLOW is firing on all cylinders it is a genuinely great show that can bring a smile to your face and make you laugh while also making you wish you could spend more time with its characters. When it’s off it can feel like a prequel to a much better show that appears right around the corner, where it isn’t bogged down by cliched dramatic beats. Luckily for us, GLOW is firing on all cylinders far, far more often than not. GLOW season 1 may be uneven at times but it creates compelling characters, memorable scenes, big laughs, and ensures that you’ll want to get back in the ring for season 2.

Rating: 8/10

GLOW Season 1 (Netflix, 2017)

Starring:  Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young and Marc Maron.

Rated TV-MA