Monday, May 16, 2016

Madam Secretary S2 Finale Review: Elizabeth almost got fired and Dmitri comes home

Well, there you have it. The second season of Madam Secretary had come to an end. I was expecting to be a shocking end where Elizabeth gets fired and would have to do whatever it took to get her job back in season three. I never expected it to be a promotion of sorts when President Dalton said that he wants Elizabeth to be his Vice President.

The other biggest shock, aside from the jumping to conclusions firing of Elizabeth, is the engagement of Stevie and Jareth. I was a bit surprised that the eldest McCord would accept Jareth’s proposal so quickly, but she was being proposed to in a restaurant with hundreds of eyes watching so she must’ve felt pressured into saying “yes.” Fortunately, Stevie, after some wise words from Henry, was able to come to her senses and convince Jareth to wait a while before they decide to tie the knot.

In light of this, I just want to say, gentlemen, let that be a lesson to you all should you ever plan on proposing marriage to your significant others. Don’t propose in a place where they might feel pressured into accepting; it might be the right decision at the time, but they might have second thoughts afterward.

While we are on the subject of marriage, it was quite nice to hear about how Henry proposed to Elizabeth. One can only hope that no one else saw the misspelled question. Well, aside from Elizabeth of course. At least the proposal worked, and that’s all that matters, yes?

The scene where Matt was delivering the commencement speech that Elizabeth was supposed to give hit a bit close to home. We live in a world where chasing after a chance to be in the limelight is our only goal in life. The question is, what do we do once we are in the limelight? How should we handle ourselves when that attention turns into a permanent spotlight? We all want to be well-known in our own way, but after we get that fame, will we be able to avoid the Downward Spiral?

As I watched the last few minutes of this second season finale, I had a feeling in the back of my mind that the Russians would double cross the United States when the latter traded Peter Buckley for Dmitri Petrov. I was close to being right if it wasn’t for what happened next. Guess the Russian Foreign Minister was telling the truth after all. Though I have to admit, that ending was a bit predictable. Dmitri spat at Henry as if saying, “Thanks for nothing, Professor.” but then turned around and hugged Henry, as if to say “Thank you for coming to get me.” I’m sure that he will hug Henry a little tighter when he finds out that his sister Talia has been released. Onward to season three!

Photo via CBS

The Players of Game of Thrones Challenge Tradition in a Terrific Hour

With Bran’s visions, Dany’s power check, and Tommen’s lessons from the High Sparrow, “Oathbreaker” is an hour of learning for the many character of Game of Thrones, an episode steeped in the history, both known and unknown, of the world of Westeros. In the process, it accomplishes two important things in rather elegant fashion, returning the show to some of its core examinations of faith and tradition of earlier seasons with some wonderfully rich material, and consolidating its world even further than the first two episodes did, bringing characters like Osha and Rickon back into the fold, while saying farewell to the would-be usurpers of the Night’s Watch.

Naturally, the episode begins where last week’s ended, where Jon Snow has some awful news for the many faithful of Westeros, revealing that after he died, he experienced a whole lot of nothing wherever he went. A quiet, powerful scene reveling in the silence between Davos and Jon, the opening images of “Oathbreaker” establish the core philosophy of the episode: everything is to be questioned in this new world we’re living in. When someone comes back from the dead (and not in the creepy, Iceman of the Dead resurrection sort of way), the natural order of the world falls askewer, and that titled perspective frames a lot of what is to come, in subtle, effective ways. Jon isn’t supposed to be alive: the rules of the world dictate that once a man is dead, he is dead – but at this point, Jon’s not even the only dead man walking around the world of Westeros (hey, Gregor – looking terrifying!), which means everything’s up for debate when it comes to tradition and logic on Game of Thrones.

That includes the history of Westeros: in the biggest tease of the series, Bran and the Man Who Became One With Tree watch Howland Reed, young Ned Stark, and crew take on Arthur Dayne and partner outside the Tower of Joy, where Ned’s sister Lyanne was being held captive – and presumably murdered, if we’re to believe the tales of history. Of course, as Bran learns, the dry ink of time and the fluid penmanship of oral history are quite different: turns out Ned didn’t win that battle, and was only able to make the promise to his dying his sister (whatever that promise was) was because one of his buddies stabbed Arthur in the back, denying Ned and Arthur the supposed “honorable”, natural end to their battle. A small detail, yes, but the ripples of these discrepancies found in supposed truths spread throughout this hour, and make for some intriguing stories for the future to explore.

Thematically, Dany’s conversation with the High Priestess of the Dothraki widow’s home explores this same idea: the elderly woman once dreamed of glorious destiny like Dany, only to find out her own story would turn out to be very different. Like anyone with a dream, reality often turns out different: even on a simpler level, Dany might call herself the Queen of Meereen, but is she really their savior and leader? Dany’s reality check in the widow hut isn’t exactly the most dramatically engaging or satisfying scene: however, it’s importance in continuing this thread of challenging traditions becomes stronger every time the camera cuts back to Dany’s determined face. After all, she is the Unburnt: nothing has stopped her before, so some old woman lighting big ass candles telling her to check herself isn’t exactly the most disheartening image. But as the old woman and Jon both know, sometimes we can experience every step and decision of our path to glory exactly as we dreamed it; even then, however, what we believe to be our destiny may not be what we once thought.

There are moments where these themes seep to the background for plot-related scenes like Varys’s wonderfully slimy discussion with the traitor Valla (and Osha and Rickon ending up in the “care” of Ramsay Bolton – but what can we say about that except “Oh, f***”), but for the most part, “Oathbreaker” is fixated on this exploration of tradition and legacy, and how often reality and humanity break the long-held ideals of the world (even with Gilly and Samwell; don’t you put Gilly in a farmhouse!). Cersei has it in abundance, with her son bucking to the high-minded rhetoric of the High Sparrow – but like her brother, Cersei’s ready for a little revisionist history of her own, ready to make the rules up as she goes along, whether it’s through the powers of the Mother or her own badass stare down face. And as Varys’ birds become the fluttering objects of someone else (there we again, breaking tradition), Game of Thrones feels like its returning to its root, exploring the dynamic relationship between truth, faith, and honor, and whether any of those ideas really exist at all in the mud-and-viscera caked landscapes of Westeros.

While it’s not a particularly momentous hour full of memorable images and iconic scenes, what “Oathbreaker” is building towards is something exciting for Game of Thrones. Long lost characters are being pulled out of the woodwork, while tired characters are being removed for the picture (adios, Alliser, you cranky motherf**ker), giving Game of Thrones some much-needed breathing room for the episode to explore the various oathbreakers of its world, from the reluctant detractors (Ned and Jon), to the most arrogant, brazenly defiant against history (just about everyone). This consolidation pays off in a number of ways throughout “Oathbreaker” – but perhaps the most promising sign of all is how this hour carefully weaves its themes together through all of its stories, creating one of the most unified, enjoyable journeys around the world of Westeros we’ve had in some time.

Silicon Valley Review: Go Around The CEO?

Silicon Valley does a lot of things well. The cringe-inducing moments that happen each episode only happen because you care about the main characters so much. If you didn’t care what happened to Richard, Jared, Dinesh, Gilfoyle, and yes, even Erlich, you wouldn’t be inclined to cringe when they get themselves into a another mess. But, they do it all the same, and you cringe all the same. But at least it’s extremely hilarious on the way there.

This week on Silicon Valley: Jack remains hell-bent on the box platform, causing Gilfoyle to begin looking for work elsewhere. As a part of that process, Gilfoyle finds out that EndFrame has their complete formula. He also receives a bunch of courting gifts from companies. Dinesh buys himself some jewelry. Erlich offers to speak to Jack on their behalf. Richard goes over Jack’s head to Laurie, which creates more problems than it solves. The guys to decide to build the platform anyway, which results in a devastating moment.

As complicated and cringe-inducing as the plot points of this show can be, Silicon Valley is still a hilarious show. This episode was evidence, as it had the biggest plot twist of the season so far (and getting there was PAINFUL) but they still induced plenty of laughs along the way. One of the best marks of a good comedy, for me anyway, is how often I laugh out loud during the show. “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack” had plenty of laughs to go around.

Probably the best part of this episode, for me, was having Erlich back in the main story with the other guys. Last week, though his interactions with Jian Yang were hilarious, I was disappointed at his involvement level in the main plot. But this week’s episode nearly went full-Bachman, and for that I’m truly grateful. Though Erlich can be ridiculous, he’s one of the funniest characters on the show. Much more show when his interaction is not limited to Jian Yang (though that little yell he gave when Jian Yang went for a slice of pizza? Gold.). You’ll see in my favorite quotes, but Erlich back in the main action was a huge highlight of this episode for me. T.J. Miller is a riot.

Aside from that, I love when Silicon Valley supplements the plot of each story with a running joke. This week was Dinesh’s gold chain. No matter how anxiety inducing the plot had become (and it really had, by the end there), there was always a crack about Dinesh’s gold chain to bring everyone back down to Earth a little bit. The show handles the running jokes masterfully, and inserts them when you least expect it, which is key to a good recurring bit.

As always, here are some of my favorite quotes/moments from the episode:

“First, I’m changing my LinkedIn status to ‘looking for work’.” – Gilfoyle
“You have seven tubs of it. You could be the mayor of Popcornopolis”- Erlich
“Geez, Monica. He’s not that bad.”- Richard, missing the point
“Sorry Django.” “Django?” “UNCHAINED!”
“When George Washington founded a little startup we’ve come to know as these United States of America, and he was tired of getting s**t from his CEO, King George, what did he do?”- Erlich
“No, Dinesh. That chain is insane. And not in the membrane”- Erlich
This episode had no shortage of laughs. It was also an excellent setup for what comes next. That was the end of my screeners, so I’m as excited as anyone else to find out what happens, now that Jack has discovered the gang’s secret plot to build the platform anyway. “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack” was an exercise (a successful one, at that) of keeping the plot fresh and intriguing, and still bringing the laughs full force.

What did you guys think? What’s going to happen to the guys? Let us know in the comments!

Silicon Valley airs Sundays at 10/9c on HBO

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