Reviews, Recaps, and Personal Thoughts on All Things TV

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Backstreet’s Back ALL RIGHT (or someone else, spoilers duh)

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Game of Thrones is back! Jon Snow is back! Even Ned Stark is back (kinda). It is an exciting time to be tuned it to Westeros, because Game of Thrones is entering uncharted territory. That’s right, this season they are going off book, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Because, seriously, have you read the 5th book? I tried. I tried so hard. I got maybe a quarter of the way through (which, in my defense, is like 300 pages) and I just couldn’t do it anymore because NOTHING. IS. HAPPENING. Do I need 3 pages of Tyrion musing about turtles? No. And honestly, that is really all I remember from the 5th book because literally nothing else happens. And so it is with extreme excitement that I let this season take me beyond the books to heretofore unseen places and storylines, with nary a turtle in sight.

And I’m okay with the show runners doing whatever they want to this story, because it is going places and I am 110% here for it. A brief recap of where we left off last season:

In King’s Landing, Cersei gave a little too much power to a religious extremist group who imprisoned her, as well as Margaery and Loras Tyrell for the sins of incest, homosexuality, etc. Cersei confessed to her crimes so she could be released, but in exchange had to walk the streets of King’s Landing naked and shamed in front of all of the people she has ruled (who obviously hate her, for good reason because she’s a total bitch). As of the opening of season 6, the Tyrell’s are still held captive, refusing to confess.

In Dorne, Jamie travels to fetch his niece/daughter, Myrcella, and take her back to King’s Landing. Myrcella is very much in love with betrothed Dornish Prince, Tristane, and doesn’t want to leave. Ellaria Sand returns to Dorne, mourning Oberyn Martell, who got his skull crushed by the Mountain during a duel (it basically exploded, I’m still not over it). She is hell-bent on vengeance and seeks help from the Sand Snakes (a group of Oberyn’s bastard daughters, both by Ellaria Sand and other women), who are also interested in avenging their father. Oberyn’s brother, Prince Doran, wishes to maintain peace. So the sand ladies take things into their own hands (and whips), poisoning Myrcella just before she gets on the boat that is to take her and Tristane back to King’s Landing. Myrcella tells Jamie that she knows he’s her Uncle-Father, and she’s okay with it. But then she dies.

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Heyyy Uncle-Father

In Braavos, Arya is still training with Jaqen H’ghar and all the weirdos at the House of Black and White. She insists that she is “no one” when asked but she is still holding on to a part of Arya that she doesn’t want to let go. Jaqen obviously knows this. A man knows a lot of stuff. He knows that Arya assumes a disguise in order to murder one of the men on her hit list (Meryn Trant who, it turns out, was into molesting kids almost as much as he was in to cutting people’s heads off, so no one is even remotely sorry that he’s dead now). BUT, since Arya disobeyed orders and acted in her own interests, she’s blind now.

Across the sea, Tyrion emerges from his smuggling after killing his father with an arrow to the crotch. Varys came along too and tries convincing Tyrion to join the Targaryen cause. Ser Jorrah, who is depressed and in Daenerys’ exile, comes across Tyrion and kidnaps him to take him to Dani to try and win retribution (I guess?). On their way there, they are attacked by stone men who infect Ser Jorrah with greyscale (though he has revealed that to no one–and I can’t help noticing he’s still going around touching everyone he pleases!). Tyron meets Dani and joins her Queen’s Guard. Ser Jorrah enters the fighting pits to impress the queen because the dude just cannot take a hint. Then the Sons of the Harpy show up, trying to assassinate the queen. Jorrah saves her, and it looks like a pretty stick situation, until DROGON comes out of nowhere, obliterating Dani’s enemies as she mounts him and together they fly away into the sunset! BUT then she gets kidnapped by the Dothraki.

At Winterfell, Roose Bolton legitimizes his bastard, Ramsey, and arranges that he marry Sansa Stark. Sansa is brought down from the Vale by Littlefinger, who she trusts (girl, that’s a mistake), and he leaves her there with her future husband. Theon, of course, is there (or at least what’s left of him is there. That does not include his penis. That’s gone forever). Surprising no one, Ramsey brutally rapes and tortures his new bride, but Sansa and Theon manage to escape and run away.

Also at Winterfell, Brienne and Pod had reached out to Sansa pre Sansa getting married and offered their protection, which she denied (girl, that was a mistake). Stannis marches on Winterfell (girl, that was a mistake) and his army is completely obliterated. Brienne comes upon a dying Stannis and avenges the gay love of her life, Renly, by chopping off Stannis’ head. Everyone collectively breathes a sigh of relief because no one likes Stannis because he’s so boring plus he just burned his daughter alive.

Which leads me to: The Wall. Where all kinds of shit is going down. Like the White Walker army attacking and killing the crap out of the Wildlings. Stannis was at the Wall with the Red Woman, his family, and Ser Davos. Stannis’ daughter, Shireen, and Davos had formed a special friendship as she taught him how to read. This girl is like the sweetest little thing you ever could see. She also survived greyscale (so don’t give up hope, Ser Jorrah!). But perhaps greyscale would have been preferable to what did happen to her, which was death by fire. Melisandre saw Stannis’ victory at Winterfell in the flames but he needed to make a sacrifice of someone with king’s blood. Well, in his general vicinity, that was pretty much only Shireen. And Davos wasn’t there to save her, as he had already headed towards Winterfell. The fire was lit and this poor child was burned alive. All for nothing because Stannis lost anyway (which Melisandre was really bummed out about).

So, finally, we come to Jon Snow. He who knows nothing. He with the fantastic hair that looks so amazing when snow falls in it. The Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Murdered. Stabbed to death by his own Brothers. The closing scene of the season is Jon Snow lying dead in the….well….in the snow.

Thus began the year of speculation! Is he really dead? Turns out yes. But does he stay dead. No he does not.

(Okay, I guess that recap wasn’t so brief but I had to set the stage!)

Game of Thrones hit the ground running this season, pushing the story forward at a quick but satisfying pace. In the 2 episodes that have aired so far, already 3 significant characters have been killed (Balon Greyjoy, Prince Doran of Dorne, and Roose Bolton). Sansa was rescued by Brienne. Tyrion unshackled the freaking DRAGONS (in a heart-pounding scene for sure–could he have dragon’s blood in him? Hmm?). Melisandre was revealed to be secretly super old (which absolutely none of us saw coming). Ramsey brutally murdered his father’s widow and newborn son (it was grisly and completely unnecessary that we had to watch/hear that. Too far GoT. Seriously, too far). The more boring storylines (and by that I mean nothing has really happened yet): Arya is still blind, and Cersei and the Lannisters are plotting their revenge.

But now we get to the most intriguing storylines. First, Bran is using his mystical white eye warg powers to insert himself into moments in the past. The first of these puts Bran at Winterfell, where he sees young Ned Stark practicing sword-fighting with brother Benjen, as his sister Lyanna rides up on horseback. We also see Hodor, but he was a boy named Wylis back  then and could still speak English. The preview for next week promises more flashback scenes. GIVE ME RHAEGAR FLASHBACKS AND GIVE ME THEM NOW. My hopes and dreams are that these scenes will culminate in the reveal of the highly popular theory that Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. I’m thirsting for that story, and the show better quench it because I deserve it! We all deserve it.

And finally, we’re back to Jon Snow. Surprising probably no one, he does come back from the dead. Melisandre sensuously washes his wounds (so many abs, so many abs), cuts his hair (tone it down lady, don’t cut it all off), and mumbles a bunch of Valyrian (I think) over him, all resulting in Jon Snow drawing breath and being alive again. YES.

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The show has consistently done a good job of taking the story from the books and condensing it down, either eliminating minor characters (or storylines) completely or replacing them with more important ones. (See: Sansa Stark as Ramsey’s wife, instead of Jeyne Poole from the books who is masqueraded as Arya. So confusing. Or Ellaria Sand as the one pushing for a war with the Lannisters, instead of introducing a new character to do so.) And now that they have surpassed the plot of the books, they’re doing something even better: Removing all boring moments from the books and giving the fans storylines that are interesting and satisfying.

As of the end of book 5, Tyrion had yet to meet Daenerys. In the show, not only has he met her, he now advises her and befriends her dragons, all while maintaining a comedic wit that the show desperately needs to break up the horror of most other plots. I have no idea what’s going on with Sansa in book 5 but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get much further than the Vale. In the show, she has now escaped Ramsey, learned that Bran and Rickon are alive, reunited with and forgiven Theon, and has been saved by Brienne. And on and on it goes for each character. And now, the icing on the cake, we are getting flashback scenes. I’m so excited I feel like I’m taking a ride on that dragon, soaring over my enemies (namely father of the realm G.R.R.M., the maintenance people who won’t come and fix my bathroom ceiling, and any and all haters). I cannot wait to watch the rest of this season.

Side note: Do you think anyone is going to get raped this season? Who am I kidding, it’s Game of Thrones, of COURSE someone is getting raped.

Why ‘The Walking Dead’ is Still Unwatched on My DVR

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SIGH. I’m starting to really get tired of The Walking Dead’s shit. Over the past 6 seasons, the show continuously got better and better. And yet, it was getting better at telling the same damn story. That story being: Who are we after the world collapses? And, also, this is the world we live in now, you have to adapt to it.

Well, fuck, I’m bored as hell with that! The first half of the current season was spent introducing us to a slew of new characters that we all know are gonna die eventually and probably pretty soon. All of these characters have had the privilege of living behind the walls of a neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia, where some temporary geographical circumstances had the worst of the zombie mobs kept away from this pristine little place. All of the people inside are, obviously, totally oblivious to how the world works now. In marches Rick and his merry band of badasses who have seen some truly horrific shit, and now they have to co-mingle with a group of doofuses and, boy, do they butt heads! lol

Except, you know what? I already saw HOW many seasons of people accepting this new world? I’m over that. I got it! It sucks and you either die or you live. I don’t need to see the character development of some rando Joe Schmo who’s going to die in the next 30 minutes anyway. I don’t even need new characters! Stick to the main characters you still haven’t killed, they’re the only ones we care about.

I also really don’t need characters like Morgan believing that there is still redemption to be  found in all humans, and that killing is a mistake. Nobody has time for this shit, Morgan. I know you’re plot point one, but see plot point two: This is the world we live in now, adapt to it!

Not only am I just generally bored with the storylines, but the show gives us so much awful and hardly any relief. I know it’s a show about zombies eating people and people killing people. But the audience does get invested in these characters. Not only are they consistently killed, but we’re also hardly ever given some happy moments or satisfying ones.

Take the shit this season pulled with Glenn and the dumpster–we thought he was dead (which was awful), now he’s alive (but the reason is bullshit), and for most of this season, we’ve been waiting for Glenn and Maggie to be reunited. It happens, but WE don’t see it. I briefly saw Glenn walking toward Maggie in the infirmary after the zombie shitshow was over and all the annoying characters got eaten. I thought I was going to punch something. You put me through all of those hours of agony, and then you don’t even give me anything in terms of a reunion? Nothing? You couldn’t give me Glenn’s hand on a baby bump, or a simple kiss? Am I machine without feelings?

And people die now just to die. Their deaths don’t add anything to the story. Hershel’s partial beheading was the last death to really mean something to me on this show. His character was important. He had become a voice of reason and a leader. He was a good man. And killing him pushed the show’s storyline ahead.

Beth’s death? EFF. THAT. That was ridiculous. And what is Maggie going to do if Glenn dies? She’ll be sad. The end. What intriguing storyline can there possibly be with that? They’ve run out of character arcs for these people, so now they’re just doing cheap tricks (like pretending to kill Glenn) and recycling old storylines with new people.

And now I hear all of this talk about Negan, from the comics. I hear that he’s a horrendous person. I hear that he kills a beloved character by bashing his brains in with a baseball bat. So Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead is sitting unwatched on my DVR. Because here’s what I’ll find when I hit play: Boring overused storylines, death and pain and no satisfaction or gratification, and the promise of terrible things to come. I just don’t know if I can do it anymore. Nah, you know what, I’ll probably just go watch it.

No, wait, there was a moment of satisfaction recently. When that weird kid got eaten by the zombies. Finally. Yeah, that part was great.

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Tiptoe through the tulips indeed, Sam.

 

#TBT Completely Valid and Legitimate Ramblings about ‘The Bachelor’ (from 2 years ago)

It’s been a long time since I posted and I very much want to get back into writing about things. So I’m sharing with you thoughts on The Bachelor that I posted to Facebook on this day 2 years ago. Remember the season with Juan Pablo? Yeah, me either. Timehop had to remind me.

February 26, 2014

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Douchebag alert, douchebag alert.

You should know that I only watch The Bachelor during Fantasy Suite episodes and for purely sociological reasons. I’m being serious when I say I don’t watch for entertainment value (though I’m not proud to admit that I do laugh at it). I don’t like the way it portrays women, nor glorifies a man who is a self-important douche, and I understand even less how all of the women proclaim to “fall in love” with him. Most of all, I just do not understand how this show happens. Last night, one of the women was a pediatric nurse, and the other an assistant district attorney. These are intelligent women, with a lot going for them.

The Fantasy Suite episodes are the most fascinating of all though because it’s the episode where each woman in turn gets to publicly decide whether or not she’ll have sex with the guy by spending a night in the “Fantasy Suite.” I was appalled last night that all three women chose to have sex with Juan Pablo (single most ridiculous Bachelor name ever) after the conversations they had with him. Every time one of the women would try and talk to Juan Pablo, he would say, “You’re doing a lot of thinking tonight,” and then start to kiss them. (Because thinking would definitely lead to the obvious conclusion that Juan Pablo’s a piece of shit, and he can’t have that.)

One woman said, “I’m in love with you” and when he said nothing back, she quickly said, “I understand that you can’t say anything right now!” and started kissing him before deciding that, yes, she would go to the Fantasy Suite with him. The self-consciousness it must take to be on this show. The fear of rejection so vast that she would rather end all conversation and have sex with the man, than maybe hear that he doesn’t love her. It’s delusional and it’s sad and I think it’s how many women in America approach and react to love, or the desire to be loved.

Another woman said, “I’m in love with you,” and Juan Pablo said, “I didn’t know that. I…..like you. Like……” and then kissed her and then SHE had sex with him. These women delude themselves into thinking they are in some kind of relationship with an emotionally unavailable man who wouldn’t even be available if he was dating ONE woman. But the women just can’t or won’t see what’s in front of their face.

The MOST frustrating thing in last night’s episode, though, was Andi. Who did go to the Fantasy Suite but woke up the next morning proclaiming to the cameras that it was a “nightmare” and that she was “Not in love with Juan Pablo, and never will be.” And I’m sitting on the couch like, “All right! Finally! Bring it, girl!” But THEN, when she confronts JP about it, he simply says, “Okay. If you don’t feel it, you don’t feel it. I respect you.” Which I thought, okay, that’s legit. But then Andi started to get ANGRY because Juan Pablo wasn’t upset that she wanted to leave. And she started to get into an argument with him, trying to get some sort of emotion out of him when it was clear that he didn’t care and wouldn’t ever care. I mean, it was her own damn fault for sleeping with him, I’m sorry it took her so long to open her freaking eyes.

I instantly started to lose respect for as she pathetically tried again and again to get him to feel sorry that she was leaving. She got hung up on the semantics–she claimed he said she was in the top 3 by default, but he claimed he never used that word and told her she “BARELY” made it to the top 3. Which, in my opinion, is WAY more offensive. She just kept bringing up, “You SAID ‘default.’ You said it.” And I think this is what’s happening to these women on the show. They get so caught up on a tiny, trivial thing that they fail to see the huge picture (in this case, that he actually said something way more offensive than what she was offended about).

Glaring communication errors aside, I think the reason the women act the way they do (participating at all, catty competitiveness towards the other women, agreeing to share a man with 27 other people, claim that they are “falling in love” with this man–and maybe even believe it, agree to have sex with him, desire a proposal from him) is most closely related to the cognitive dissonance theory that is used to explain why normal, intelligent people who also have a lot going for them would participate in crude and violent hazing rituals (either as the one being hazed or the person doing the hazing) to gain acceptance and entry to a fraternity or sorority.

In these women’s desire to find “love,” what we’re really talking about is the desire to not be rejected. To have validation. They’ve come to the wrong place. Because the very act of appearing on The Bachelor–manipulated and edited to portray the worst about women–gives you a huge audience. And everyone in it is judging and rejecting you. Not just Juan Pablo.

Another Year, Another Controversial Rape Scene on ‘Game of Thrones’

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Some things come around every year. Birthdays. Holidays. Paying your taxes. Uncomfortable rape scenes on Game of Thrones. This most recent rape scene (yes, these are sentences we write now when talking about Game of Thrones) occurred in the 6th episode of season 5, entitled, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.”

The victim was the unfortunate and forever-tormented Sansa Stark, whose storyline throughout the show takes her from bad situations to worse ones. The rapist is her new husband, Ramsay Bolton, whose onscreen time has been used to demonstrate how sick, twisted, sadistic, sociopathic, and cruel his character is. The additional uncomfortable element added to this scene is that Theon Greyjoy (also named “Reek,” the man who Ramsay tortured, imprisoned, and psychologically broke) was forced to stand and watch it happen.

I have to say, I was really surprised that this particular rape scene elicited any sort of controversy. What did viewers think was going to happen? That Ramsay—who cut off Theon’s penis, who literally hunts the women in his life down and kills them because they’re boring—would marry Sansa and suddenly be a loving and gentle husband?

Game of Thrones has always been pretty liberal with their rape scenes. The show has been criticized heavily in the past for its gratuitous depictions of sex and women’s bodies, and for its numerous (numerous!) depictions of rape. And in the past I’ve been on board that ship, at the helm, with my arms flung out wide like, “Jack, I’m flying!” with my opinions on the problems with these particular scenes. However, the rape of Sansa Stark made sense narratively; it wasn’t gratuitous, and it had a purpose to the character’s arc and this season’s overall storyline. Did I want to see Sansa raped? No. But it certainly made sense to the narrative. And besides, was there any doubt that’s what would happen upon seeing Ramsay’s “I do” face?

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Of course, though, I do have teensy problem. As Sansa is getting brutally raped, the camera zooms in on Theon, who was forced to stand there and watch. We, as the audience, can’t see Sansa’s rape, we can only hear it and interpret it in the horror, anguish, and turmoil on Theon’s face.

I’m down with this scene portrayed as it is but I do take issue with rape being used as the catalyst for a man’s storyline and personal character growth. Because watching that scene, we are to assume that the show is leading Theon toward some kind of redemption story, one in which he takes revenge on Ramsay, or at least tries SOMEWHAT to help Sansa. Either way, the focus of that scene was not on Sansa’s pain, but on Theon’s.

And this is always how it seems to go down when it comes to rape on Game of Thrones. Rape or almost-rape are used on this show in one of two ways: It happens but we all just pretend it didn’t, or it is a catalyst for a male character’s story development. And that really grinds my gears. As if I’m not sick enough of male narratives, they also get to have a better storyline than a woman because she was raped? Games of Thrones has often been criticized for using women’s bodies as props and set dressings, and to use violence against women as a backdrop to a man’s storyline is…ugh, just ugh.

Let’s look at the evidence. In season 1 of Games of Thrones, Daenerys is consistently raped by her husband, Khal Drogo. How does this plot progress? It finds Dany having a pretty girl-on-girl moment with her handmaiden in which she is instructed on the ways to please a man. During the next rape session with Khal Drogo, Dany tells him, “No,” while getting on top of him and taking control of the situation. Drogo then falls in love with her and then it was like, “Hey, she was never raped, Drogo was just doing sex all wrong lol!” Ah, love.

In season 2, Sansa is almost raped during a riot in King’s Landing, but in swoops the Hound to save her. The Hound is mean, and terrifying, and just so complicated, and his rough exterior seems to soften only for the beautiful and innocent Sansa Stark. What will happen with the Hound next? I mean, he saved a girl from getting raped! He has depth!

In season 3, Jamie lies to his captors that Brienne is very wealthy and will fetch a handsome ransom price, so no one should rape her. Brienne is the strongest woman in Westerns, hands down, but she is never given the chance to take control of a situation in which she is victimized, because Jamie is always there to save her. He ensures she does not get raped while they are being held captive, and he also risks his life by jumping in to a bear pit to save her life (though she was probably capable of saving it herself, but I guess we’ll never know). Am I saying I want female characters to be raped? No. Am I saying I don’t want male characters to stop a rape if they can? No. I’m just saying I’d like female characters to be able to command their own storylines for once. Jamie going out of his way to help Brienne is a huge part of his redemption storyline. It’s where we finally see that he is a good person inside, even though he’s done terrible things. Seemingly, in the books, Brienne exists just to propel  Jamie’s story forward. (Mercifully, the show is giving her her own independent storyline this season.)

And there was season 4’s rape of Cersei Lannister. This one was the worst rape scene because the showrunners insisted that it wasn’t even rape, c’mon. The problem that I had—well, the BIGGEST problem that I had—with this rape scene was that it was purposeless. It didn’t happen like that in the book. And while the scene we saw on television was exactly the same scene from the book, the exception was that in the show Cersei was raped and in the book it was consensual. To change just this one factor was very jarring and it challenged the integrity of the character of Jamie as a whole, and destroyed all of the character building that we had to have Brienne almost get raped like 12 times to get! And for what? That scene made no sense, and then it was never brought up again.

And just this past week, we had yet ANOTHER attempted rape. Sweet Wildling Gilly was almost raped at the hands of two brothers of the Night’s Watch. But poor, sweet, weak Sam stepped in and saved her (but not before getting the crap beat out of him). As Gilly nurses Sam back to health, she admonishes him for trying to save her and makes him promise that he will just be sure to take care of her baby should anything happen to her (anything being, we can assume, rape followed by death). And then, as a reward for Sam’s bravery and character development, she climbs on top of him and has slow, awkward, fully clothed sex with him. The story here wasn’t about Gilly at all. The story was about Sam showing his strength and courage and how that should be rewarded.

And see, it’s just a damn shame. The females of Game of Thrones have great stories in them. But the show seems determined to have them resigned to the reality that they might get raped, and to exist mostly to drive a man’s story forward.

As I said before, I support the narrative choices the showrunners have made in having Sansa be raped by Ramsay Bolton. I’m just crossing my fingers real hard that the story be Sansa’s to tell, and not Theon’s or anybody else’s.

Check back for next week’s essay: Even More Objectification on Game of Thrones or, Why Did That Sand Snake Take Off Her Clothes? C’mon.

‘The Following’ Wears Its Sophomore Season Well

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The Following, Season 2

The Following, debuting its first season in January of 2013, had an interesting premise and a lot of potential but suffered from poor execution and over-the-top writing. The premise: Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is a serial killer and author who garners a cult following which finds inspiration in the works of Edgar Allen Poe. This following helps him to escape prison and begin writing his next novel, whose central character is FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon), the man who put Carroll behind bars.

The premise is intriguing, especially with the added element of Edgar Allen Poe’s macabre work from which to draw imagery inspiration. However, the execution left something to be desired. Though the characters weren’t quite one-dimensional: Ryan Hardy was destroyed by the Joe Carroll case; shot in the chest and requiring a pace maker, he became an alcoholic to escape the demons that still haunted him, and believed that death followed him wherever he went. Joe Carroll wanted to write his next novel (his first one was a flop) centered on destroying Ryan Hardy’s life. Add to that mix that Ryan was in love with Joe’s ex-wife Claire, and that Joe had a young son, who he was intent on being reunited with, and I was still intrigued. Also compelling was the fact that the central characters come to learn that people in their lives that they’ve known and trusted for years were actually followers of Joe, who were placed there so that they could strike at the opportune moment.

The problem with all of that, however, is how melodramatic and ridiculous the show ended up being. After Carroll escaped prison and met with his followers at a giant estate that became their headquarters and hideout, he managed to kidnap his ex-wife and son, and yet still allude the FBI for an entire season despite the fact that he stayed in one place for most of said season. The FBI was seemingly incapable of accomplishing anything. The characters of the cult were annoying, dispensable, and always doomed to fail—which made them boring and predictable.

Joe Carroll himself was the biggest problem of all. He was supposed to be brilliant and charismatic, but he strutted around his mansion screaming about metaphors and reciting his own terrible prose that it was hard to believe that he could ever inspire dozens of people to not only follow him, but to become murderers.

Ryan Hardy was a tortured person who was forever one step behind Joe Carroll, and forced to feel bad for himself as people around him died. The story was predictable, the ending foolish and laughable (Joe Carroll appeared to “die” by blowing up in a lighthouse, but his face as he screamed, “No! Noooo!” behind a wall of flames was so absurd that it had to be staged). The season ended with Ryan believing Joe was dead, and reconnecting with his love, Claire, only to have one of Joe’s followers pop out of nowhere and stab the both of them.

And now we get to season two. Which is such a markedly different show that I am shocked and pleasantly surprised. When season two opens, it’s been a year since Ryan and Claire were stabbed, and you learn immediately that Claire did not survive. But Ryan turned his life around—he quit the FBI, he goes jogging, he’s sober—and works as a criminology professor in New York. But at night, he becomes a secret vigilante, hunting down the remnants of Joe Carroll’s followers (called “Carrollers”) outside of the law.

Removing Ryan from the FBI was one of the best decisions this show could make. Ryan Hardy became so boring and tortured acting as the good guy. Playing by a specific set of rules, where else could his character go except to remain tragic and stuck repeating the same damn plot points? But Ryan Hardy as vigilante? So much better. He seeks revenge, and he will kill. Oh, and he believes Joe is alive.

And of course Joe is alive. He’s living in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere with a prostitute who wrote to him in prison, and her daughter. He’s in hiding, with a glorious beard and an attempt at an American accent. He claims he has reformed, and hasn’t killed anyone since he staged his own death. And it seems it’s true—he is truly struggling with his identity.

But when a cult of copycats, wearing Joe Carroll masks, storm a New York subway and murder a car of people shouting, “Resurrection!” and “Ryan Hardy can’t stop us,” it unfolds a chain of events far more interesting than anything that happened in season one.

Suddenly, there is a new cult, trying to draw Joe out of hiding, and it works. And Ryan Hardy continues to work outside the law (except with the help of his law-enforcement niece, which conveniently allows him to continue to have access to tracing phone calls and the like) helping to erase the ridiculousness of the first season with the FBI appearing to be completely incompetent.

The new cult is the best part of this season (and the show, I believe). Led by an art dealer named Lily, the cult is a hodgepodge of international orphans that Lily picked up over the years and formed a family (they all call her Mother) of twisted psychos. It’s clear that Lily wants Joe to complete that family.

What set this season apart for me right from the start was how it actually works as a suspenseful and creepy show now. Credit has to go predominantly to the brilliantly talented Sam Underwood (who is really good at playing psychos), who plays a set of sick and twisted twins—Luke and Mark. Luke slicks his hair back and Mark wears his on his forehead but you don’t need that small physical distinction to tell them apart because Underwood is a master. Luke is more assertive, more cruel and violent, but more charismatic (the kind of charisma that I think James Purefoy is lacking as Joe Carroll). Mark is bashful, shy, almost sweet, and struggles with emotion.

Together, they murder for their mother and then “have fun” with the body. It is implied that Luke enjoys having sex with corpses, but Mark likes to talk to them as though they were alive. Luke and Mark are chilling and strange.

And yet I find myself most drawn to this family of psychopaths this season. Ryan Hardy’s storyline takes a backseat to the intrigue of this new strange cult, and I find myself actually hoping that they don’t get caught, so I can see how they handle situations next. The characters are wholly more interesting than anything we saw from season one, and the show made a smart decision to kill off almost all of the original members of Joe Carroll’s cult, leaving only Emma (who they’ve somehow made less annoying, though I don’t know how). Gone, too, are the Edgar Allen Poe references and inspirations, which were becoming tedious and contrived.

Even Joe Carroll is a better character this season. He doubts himself, questions his identity, and feels failure—as a writer, as a leader, as a father. When we see Joe murder this season, we believe that he is a serial killer who takes pleasure in the sick things he does. There was some disconnect with that in season one but, removed from his cult, there is more of a realness to him that makes him more believable.

I truly had no idea how The Following could pull off a second season without just repeating the same storylines from the first season. But it’s like watching a completely different show. They removed the elements that weren’t working, took the characters out of settings that were doing nothing for them, and introduced a slew of truly intriguing and scary characters. The acting is better and the writing is better. Whereas the first season was utterly predictable, I believe this season has the potential to shock me—and I hope there will be twists. I truly struggled to get through the entirety of the first season. The second season has done the unthinkable: Made me excited to tune in every Monday. Should I say it? I’m going to say it: I’m a follower.

LOST Can Still Be Great, Despite Its Short Comings

“I can’t go play a rock concert after this! This…doesn’t matter. None of this matters. All that matters is that we felt it.” –Charlie Pace (Sideways world), 6×11 Happily Ever After

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LOST was one of the most creatively ambitious, epic, and polarizing shows on television. Debuting in 2004, it was an immediate hit that, over its six seasons, developed a rabid cult following of people who both thought it was great and people who felt cheated by the entire series. With a large, international cast, LOST told the story of a plane of people who crash-landed on an island (also known as the Island, a character unto itself) that possessed, among other things, mysterious smoke monsters, magical healing properties, remnants of a sociological experiment gone wrong, and the actual manifestation of the demons of the past that haunted each character.

Season one was very deeply about the characters themselves, with every episode focusing on a different character and the audience learning, through flashbacks timed perfectly to parallel with events on the Island, who these people were before their plane crashed, and just how broken their lives had been. The mysterious happenings of the Island took a backseat to the ways in which these characters began to wipe clean the slate of their existence with the fresh start they had been given in this place.

Season two delved much further into the mythology of the Island, focusing centrally on the existence of a hatch that was opened at the end of season one, that housed secrets of people who had been there before, and also introduced a creepy clan of Others that shared the Island with the survivors and appeared to worship some benevolent god-like man named Jacob (who is introduced much later).

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Over the next four seasons, the show attempted to balance its storytelling between Island mythology and character development, and it didn’t always work. Many, many questions were asked and never answered. The final season, which finally introduced Jacob and suggested that he was, all along, the very central key to the show, chose to go back and centralize the kind of excellent character storytelling that they did in season one, to the frustration of many (including myself) who just wanted answers. Jacob was only an idea for five seasons, until suddenly he was everything the show was supposed to be and apparently held all of the answers. Only Jacob’s character served to further confuse the mythology of the show without actually answering any of the questions before him or after. The concept of Jacob had thrilled me for five seasons but when we finally got him, I was disappointed that he wasn’t what I thought he was going to be nor was I even sure what he was at all. And the most disappointing part of all is that Jacob didn’t even really seem to fit into the story lines told throughout seasons one through five, when I thought he would close the circle of the show and bring everything together.

Full disclosure: I was obsessed with LOST. When I was in high school, my parents bought me the first season for Christmas because they thought I would like it, and so I sat down with the DVDs and a bowl of clementines and marathoned the first season (my first ever binge-watch!), which hooked me almost instantly. It then became a sort of hobby through the second half of high school and all of college. I would watch the episodes, and then I would re-watch them and devour them. I would go online and discuss it with strangers. I would read theories and form my own. I would research philosophy, religion, freaking quantum physics (though with that last one “research” is synonymous with “Wikipedia”); anything that I thought could help me better understand and appreciate the depth of what I was consuming. I would quote the show constantly. I had to create a website for a Digital Publishing class I took my junior year and I created a fan website for LOST. I had to give a speech once and I chose to talk about “Fate vs. Choice” because of the themes I studied while watching LOST.

I was obsessed, but not maniacally so. I just loved it. It was so much fun to me to take part in those things, to become more intelligent overall because I could take one show I was watching and branch out from it to learn things about the world, and myself. I felt this way growing up with Harry Potter, too. You better understand other things you’re learning in school because you can see those things applied in media you love and admire. In loving LOST the way that I did, and assigning it value in my own life, LOST made me a better student, a better writer, a better consumer of media, and a better person and friend, because that’s just what healthily engrossing yourself in things you love can do to you. And when LOST was over, I very seriously asked myself, “Well…now what am I going to do with my life?” There has never been a show before nor after that was so central to what I chose to do with my time.

ImageLOST still remains one of my favorite shows of all time, but four years after the series finale, I do see its flaws in a way I didn’t when I was so much a part of it. I still find the show absolutely brilliant, but I also can’t deny my disappointment with much of it. Like how it never really seemed to choose what it really wanted to be about, which left the series as a whole feeling a bit lopsided and all over the place. This also contributed to the opening of storylines that the writers could never devote proper time to, because they had to continuously introduce new story lines that were apparently more focused on where the show needed to go. (I’m looking at you, mysterious painted woman holding a rat from Ben’s past. Like, what?)

When fans demanded answers to these questions, the ones the writers gave seemed to be afterthoughts and were wholly unsatisfying. (The Numbers were really just Jacob writing a chalk list on a wall of potential candidates to replace him? What? I read a way better theory online two seasons prior where the Numbers were an equation that was part of a Chaos Theory. And I loved that fan theory so much more, because it made the Numbers intriguing and important without really needing to be explained or a part of the story beyond that they existed on the Island and suggested something terrible was coming. That’s so much better! Chalk list??? CHALK LIST? But I digress.)

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So yes, the show went off into a million directions, many of which led nowhere. Again, things either weren’t explained (like, um, WHAT IS THE ISLAND?) or were explained poorly and to nobody’s satisfaction (the whispers are the voices of dead souls trapped on the island? I would have preferred you left that one unexplained). By the time LOST was to its final season, there was no way everyone could ever be satisfied. There were too many doors (hatches?) that had been opened, that they couldn’t possibly ever shut all of them, even if they wanted to or tried. I understand the biggest angers among fans, I do. I wanted to know what the Island was, too. But I have a feeling that if they answered it concretely, I would be disappointed (much like the Numbers), and as someone who spent a large amount of time enjoying dissecting the mystery myself, I thought, “Isn’t it better to speculate about something long after it ended than be disappointed in the moment? Isn’t it more satisfying that way?”

I think many would say no. But what I have come to decide about LOST is that it shouldn’t be about the big picture. From the beginning, LOST was a story of a group of people who were figuratively lost in their lives, who then crash landed on an island and then were literally lost in the world. But the core of the show, and the show at its absolute best, was these people. Who they were before the Island, and who they became after it. How they changed each other. And when you make that the most important idea that the show could explore, what the Island was doesn’t matter, really. The only thing that matters is that it’s where these people found redemption. (Which I believe is what Christian is telling Jack, in this scene.)

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All of the other sci-fi stuff, that was cool—the Others, the Hatch, the Numbers. It was cool and I liked it and I don’t know if 4 years later I really feel particularly cheated that many of those questions weren’t answered either. For me, LOST has always been about how it made me feel. I think it’s possible to have profound scenes throughout a series with arguable flaws, and the series can still be great, because those scenes made you feel something at all. When John Locke has a crisis of faith over the meaning behind pushing a button in a hatch on an island, I don’t necessarily need to know what that button means or why it’s there or how it fits into the story. That stuff doesn’t matter to me! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still desperately wanted to know. But my desire to know wasn’t greater than or equal to the emotions I felt when I realized the button was a metaphor for faith, and the way that fit into John Locke’s life as we knew it through flashbacks and his time on the Island.

And it’s the scenes like that that make LOST a great show. Is it flawed that the catalysts they threw at their characters to incite amazing scenes like the Man of Science, Man of Faith conversation ultimately led nowhere? Perhaps. But LOST was so ambitious, with such a deep and sprawling story and it’s not surprising that they maybe couldn’t get it all right. (Also of note, season 3 of LOST—widely accepted to be its worst season—was a victim of the infamous 2007 writer’s strike. All shows suffered.)

The ending of LOST was the most polarizing moment of the series. But I found it absolutely breathtakingly perfect. And I still do. Four years later, the moments I recall when I think about the end of the series aren’t the answers, or the showdown between Jack and Locke/the Man in Black. The thing that I remember is the emotional moment of all of them reuniting in the church, and how that made me feel.

ImageIn the end, LOST became a series of striking character studies. I’m not sure if the Island was ever supposed to make sense, or if it just existed to propel our characters towards their destiny, or if the writers just screwed up. I can understand if you needed it to end a different way. But to me, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I felt it.

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