Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Halfway Sunday

For the last few weeks, Sunday has been by far the best TV day of the week.  You've got Mad Men and Game Of Thrones, plus Silicon Valley, Veep and a bunch of other stuff worth watching.  And yet, this golden time will soon be ending. All these shows listed are at the halfway point or past.  I guess shorter seasons lead to higher quality, but those long waits are tough. (Plus there's that silly splitting of the final Mad Men season, so we only get seven episodes this year.  We'll hardly get a head of steam going before it's over.)

Anyway, decent Mad Men on Sunday, "The Monolith," but not a major episode.  Don returns to work, which might have been a big deal, but by the end we're just about back to where we started.  He comes in, allegedly the new Don, but realizes when he's put on Peggy's team that he's being treated as a nobody.  He petulantly won't work and even starts drinking.  He needs Freddy Rumsen, of all people, to set him straight.  Next day are work it looks like he might buckle down and fly right--which, as noted, he also might have done from the start.

I can sort of understand why the rest of the partners are upset.  Don, for all his genius, made everything about him, and was unbalanced.  But is his unwanted return that bad?  Do they really want to sabotage anything he does?  Don has enough reputation that you'd think they could put him in charge of some account, rather than hold him down.  (For that matter, can't Don, who signed an agreement limiting his power, understand he's got to win their trust again?)

I'm hoping Don shakes things up in the rest of this half-season. (Cutler seemed worried enough that he wanted Ted back in town.) And I hope he wins his way back into the hearts of Peggy and Joan, two woman he's helped through the years, and whom until recently he had great relationships with.  There were lots of references to the Mets, and the year in 1969, so maybe he'll make a comeback.

Meanwhile, the one person who might be Don's champion, Roger, was out trying to save his daughter, who's abandoned her son and is off on a commune.  He tries to understand, but dammit, she's a mother, she can't do this. This allows her to throw his parenting back at him, so it doesn't look like it'll work out well.

Oh yeah, Sterling Cooper has a computer now.  Good for you, Harry.  It's bigger than a hundred breadboxes--in fact, they've kicked the creative team out of their space.

"First Of His Name," this week's Game Of Thrones, had some major revelations early, and some major action late, but mostly seemed an interim episodes as well.

We start with Tommen's coronation.  You don't want the Iron Throne to be empty for too long.  People applaud--hey, he's got to be better than Joffrey.  Margaery seems read to swoop in--an idea that apparently pleases the regal pubescent.  Cersei talks to her, but unlike previous, much nastier conversations, the two seem to come to an understanding.  Though I think perhaps Cersei is lying in wait here, and doing the bidding of her father, who understands the people you need to make alliances with are those you don't trust.

Daenerys has a war council.  With Joffrey gone, and Meereen's fleet seized (without her permission), should she sail across to King's Landing and take over?  Only Jorah seems to question the wisdom.  She's got 10,000 men, which might take the city, but couldn't control all of Westeros. He also explains that Astapor and Yunkai have fallen back into slaver hands.  Dany decides to stay in Meereen and rule, and millions sit back in their chair and sigh.  We've been waiting a long time for Dany to make her big move, but it looks like we're gong to have to wait at least another season.

I think she's making a huge strategic blunder (if this were real life).  Word is spreading of her victories, and her power, so, no matter how disorganized they are at King's Landing, they should start sending out assassins to take her down.  And why get bogged down in Meereen?  Because she's got to prove she can rule, and be kind, before she goes to King's Landing? That's not how it works.  Screw 'em. Take it while you can, and if you feel guilty, then send out a fleet and recapture the three slaver cities and run 'em how you want.

There's only one good argument for staying put--the dragons. I can see waiting until they're fully grown, and she's learned how to ride them. Because once they're ready, they're more important than any army in conquering a land.  But no one mentions that.

So right now, on the Dany, Margaery and Cersei front, we're waiting for big moves.  Next we come to the Vale, and we get some action, even if it's not the violent kind.  Littlefinger and Sansa approach the all-but-impregnable Eyrie.  No army can take it (but a dragon?).

Baelish announces himself, and his niece Alayne. You can't announce her as Sansa, she's in hiding. Once they get to the throne room, there's crazy aunt Lysa and her troubled son Robin.  She already knows all about Sansa.  I guess I can see this, but should little Robin know?--he doesn't strike me as that reliable. Speaking of which, Robin throws his gift from Petyr out the moon door--somehow I don't think we've seen the last of that door.  So who will go through?  Littlefinger seems too wily, and would they bring Sansa all this way just to kill her (especially when Littlefinger sees her as a replacement for Cat)?  So I'm guessing before the season's out, one of the Arryns are gonna see what it's like to fly. (Sounds like a job for Robin.) Or someone else will approach and Littlefinger will make his move.

And now we get the biggest news of all. Lysa has long loved Petyr (even though he only had eyes for Cat).  At his behest, she poisoned her husband, John. If you'll recall, that's the incident that started this whole series moving.  So everything is all a plot from Baelish, presumably to take over the kingdom. Maybe he also wanted Cat, but now he's got Sansa.  Wow!

Back at King's Landing, Cersei is still compliant--she assents (can she fight it?) to Tommen marrying Margaery in a fortnight, followed by her marriage to Loras the following fortnight.  So it looks like we're gonna get two weddings and a funeral (following the trial).  Tywin is doing it all for family, but the big news is the Lannisters are out of gold, and owe a whole bunch to the Iron Bank of Braavos.  They need the Tyrells--and the Martells, while we're at it.  (And Davos's plan to contact the Bank is looking smarter--they can back Stannis and get back what they're owed.)

Meanwhile, we get to everyone's favorite part of the show, Arya and the Hound. She's saying her prayer before sleep--all the people she plans to kills. A few are already gone (though she's not yet aware of Joffrey), but she's ready with replacements.  New names, I believe, include Walder Frey and the Red Woman.  (All Melisandre did was take Gendry away--take a chill pill, Arya.) As a kicker, her last name is the Hound. He can laugh now, but I don't see it ending well for him.  Arya is a determined girl.

Back at the Eyrie, we get a reminder of how crazy Lysa is. She's thrilled to have her true love back, but is jealous of Sansa, enough to threaten her. She's also right, but that's beside the point. Though it does seem, under Petyr's tutelage, Sansa is becoming a much better liar.

Over at another series just starting up, we've got the adventures of Brienne and Pod. He's not much of a squire, but he's faithful.  She'd rather he go home, but he would never leave his duty--besides, he's got nowhere to go. He'd be killed in King's Landing. This is a new Brienne. She's always been tough, but now she's gruff.  For the first time she seems to be the one in charge (as she never was with Renly, Cat or even Jaime).  She's perhaps also bitter that she had to leave the one man behind--the Kingslayer--who may just understand her. 

Arya practices her dancing master movies, while the Hound rolls his eyes. She stabs him in the stomach, but it won't pierce his armor.  He knocks her down and reminds her why Meryn Trant killed her teacher--your guy had a stick while Meryn had a big sword and armor.

Cersei speaks kindly to Oberyn.  They commiserate over their children.  I still say it's not a new Cersei, who's learned something from her son dying, but the old Cersei, biding her time, praying brother Tyrion will die (and Jaime can go to hell, too).

Now we get to Craster's Keep, the big action of the week.  Locke (though he's a newbie at the Watch) is sent ahead as a scout. We know he's a secret agent, but could he be helping Jon Snow here?  Locke discovers where Bran is being held, and the returns with the news--here are where the guys are, and stay away from this one hut (where Bran is, of course).  So it looks like he's got what he wants--he's going to kidnap Bran, who's the most valuable person in the North.

Bran, Jojen, Meera and Hodor are tied up, but Jojen can see Bran will get to the weir tree, where he needs to go.  Next thing you know, Karl comes in and threatens everyone, especially Meera.  Then Snow leads his men into the Keep, not a moment too soon.

Jon loses some men, but kills all the mutineers.  He personally kills Karl with a sword through the throat.  While the fight is going on, Locke comes to Bran and takes him away. Bran, finally doing what I suggested he do last week, takes over Hodor, who pulls out his chains.  Hodor catches Locke and snaps his neck.  And somewhere in King's Landing, Jaime's phantom pain disappears.

Bran is ready to make himself known to Jon, but like all Stark kids, he never quite makes the connection.  This time, however, it's voluntary. If he reveals himself, Jon will take him back to Castle Black, but he's got bigger things to do. Bran has to stay mum. It's a pretty good moment.

Less good a moment is when the women of the Keep decide to go out on their own. They want the Keep burned and fear they won't be treated well in Castle Black, but it seems to me either place would be better than going out in the wild--to face Mance Rayder, White Walkers and the elements--just to make a point.

So where do we stand?  Jon's mission successful, with the real threat--Locke--gone, even though he wasn't aware.  Castle Black under siege, sort of.  Bran to continue on his mission. Lots of activities coming up in King's Landing.  The Lannisters trying to consolidate their power, but their grip is shaky.  Dany set to rule, whatever that means.  Brienne searching for Sansa, though we know where the girl is. Petyr sitting safe in the Eyrie, waiting for all the damage he caused to play out.  Arya and the Hound approaching the Eyrie, but seemingly far away.  Unseen include Theon, Roose Bolton and his Bastard, Mance, Ygritte, Stannis and Davos and Melisandre, and Tyrion (!).

PS  I don't usually do this, but I found the AV Club review, which I linked to above, so wrongheaded I want to comment on it.

It’s intriguing that “First Of His Name” should arrive at the halfway point of Game Of Thrones’ fourth season, the year in which the show has received the loudest criticisms of its depictions of sexual violence. [...] It is, however, indication that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (credited once more for the script) recognize their show’s degree of cruelty and how it’s disproportionately directed at its female characters.

What is this nonsense?  They're still going on about Jaime taking his sister by force?  Have they been watching this show?  It's full of violence--Theon, to pick but one example, spent a whole season being tortured, including having his penis cut off, but I didn't hear anything about violence against the male characters.

In fact, if you stacked up all the bodies (including this week's, where a bunch of men died in very ugly ways), the dead men would vastly outnumber the dead women.  Same for cruelty, if you could measure it.  And the main women in the show--Daenerys, Cersei, Melisandre, Ygritte, Olenna, Margaery, Brienne, Meera, Yara Greyjoy, even Arya--tend to be smart and powerful in their own way, and know how to dole out punishment.  Meanwhile, if you think being a man puts you on top, ask Ned Stark, Robert Baratheon, King Joffrey, Robb Stark, Viserys Targaryen, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, Pyat Pree and Khal Drogo how easy it is to be in charge.

Daenerys, a character defined by liberation and characterized by the unhindered travel of her dragons, issues her decision to rule from incredibly cramped chambers.

Looked like a large room in a palace to me.  Maybe our screens showed it differently.

Cersei [has] seen the Iron Throne claim a husband and a son...

Claim a husband?  She had that husband killed.

For all this, however, there’s still a sense within “First Of His Name” that Cersei and Margaery control their own fates in King’s Landing. There’s such power in the way their conversation at Tommen’s coronation is presented: Elevated above the masses (like Dany in her Meereen stronghold), eyes locked straight ahead until a potentially wounding jab can be struck.

Maybe, but my reading, for now at least, has Cersei doing what her father wants.  Of course, she may just be kissing up to the trial court, hoping they'll find her brother guilty. And Margaery needs to tread carefully as well.

It’s an emphasis on parrying over thrusting that’s underlined in the expertly choreographed sequence of Arya’s sword-fighting practice. [...] The Hound may outmatch her in size and armor, but she manages to land Needle’s point on his abdomen nonetheless.

This is ridiculous.  The Hound pretty much lets her land the blow, knowing her Needle can't pierce his armor. It's practically the point of the scene.  If he truly thought she were dangerous, he'd knock her unconscious, or perhaps even kill her.

Things are often taken by force in Westeros, but the blood on Hodor’s hands indicates that the show does not endorse or condone such methods.

I don't think the show spends too much time judging its characters in any case, but Hodor killing Locke was definitely what needed to be done. If Erik Adams, who wrote this review, is aware of a better way it could have been done I'd like to know.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I think the blood on the hands scene shows Hodor does not necessarily endorse or condone such methods. He is a kind and gentle sort and was manipulated into a more violent act than he otherwise would have taken. Or as he would comment "Hodor."

4:06 AM, May 06, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bran should have made Hodor capture Locke and then, through several years of therapy, rehabilitate him.

10:59 AM, May 06, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget the third judge at the trial is Margaery's father, hence another explanation as to why Cersei is suddenly so amenable.

4:40 PM, May 06, 2014  
Blogger New England Guy said...

I like envisioning the Hodor therapy- I'm thinking Bob Newhart voice saying "Hodor" instead of "How does that make you feel?"

4:42 PM, May 06, 2014  
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