A Look at True Blood- Season 7 Premiere: “Jesus Gonna Be Here”

Well, that was a premiere.

True Blood returns for its seventh and final season with mixed results. While things got off to a frantic start, I didn’t feel that much attachment to the characters, primarily because the cast has expanded that I found it difficult to keep up with who’s who. That and an early ending make for a very frantic moving premiere.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Hep-V vampires attack Bon Temps

The season picks up immediately following the ending of Season Six, with the Hep V-infected vampires attacking the social gathering. Some are killed, others are kidnapped, but upon hearing a whistling sound, the infected vampires scatter. Among those missing are Holly, Nicole and Arlene.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Andy tells Jessica that Tara has been killed

Andy gets a frantic call from Jason for help. Jessica will still standing guard to make sure Adilyn remains safe, but Andy orders Adilyn to not invite Jessica into their home. Sounds simple enough.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Lettie Mae believes that Tara is dead

Oh, and after the attack, Lettie Mae is covered in blood, meaning that Tara is apparently dead.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Sam, Alcide, Jason, Bill and Andy planning after attack

Once everyone has regrouped from the attack, Bill states that the Hep-V vampires nest throughout Bon Temps, preferably in buildings without windows. So it’s dangerous for humans to travel alone. Well, it’s already been dangerous to travel alone, but I guess it’s more dangerous now. The plan is for the vampires to escort their humans home and the town will meet at the church tomorrow to plan.

Sookie, hearing the spiteful thoughts of everyone around her, leaves Sam’s bar without a word.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Vince confronts Sam about his shifting

Vince confronts Sam about seeing him shift. Sam would prefer that his transformation is kept under wraps. People are already hurting after the attack, so revealing this would freak them out even more.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Sookie finds a body

On the walk home, Sookie ignores Alcide’s phone calls and flat out ditches her phone altogether. She also trips over the body of a young blonde woman.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Pam plays Russian Roulette in Marrakesh, Morocco

Meanwhile, in Marrakesh, Morocco, Pam plays Russian Roulette with one of the vampires there. Round after round and neither gets the bullet. Pam’s opponent has lived 27 times, and now 28 when he survives again. But then he pulls the trigger and bam goes the vampire! With that game settled, Pam continues her search for her maker.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Adilyn and Jessica bond

Back at House Bellefleur, Adilyn tries to make conversation with Jessica and begins by apologizing about Tara’s supposed death. Adilyn still has nightmares about the time Jessica almost drained her. She should hate Jessica, but doesn’t. Before the conversation can switch to James for long, Jessica spots a vampire in the distance.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Sookie and Alcide argue

Alcide finally arrives back and confronts Sookie about walking home by herself. Sookie, however, is more ticked off not just about everyone’s thoughts, but that Alcide himself partially blamed her for the attack. Alcide counters that it isn’t fair of Sookie to push him away just based on his thoughts.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Violet and Jason run into Vince and his squad

Jason and Violet have a run-in with Vince and three other small town Americans who are prepared to take matters into their own hands, starting with Violet. Jason tries to intervene, but he’s torn between two sides. However, Violet’s threats are enough to ward off Vince and his team. Jason isn’t too pleased with Violet’s behavior. Hey, you belong to her, pal. I wouldn’t complain too much right now.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Lafayette and James light up and swap stories

Lafayette and his vampire, James, head to Lafayette’s humble abode. Lafayette lights up in order to get in the right mindset. Though Lafayette should be upset by Tara’s supposed death- her second death- he actually isn’t. Heck, he’s actually relieved, as fucked up as that is, and he admits it. After all, she’s already died once, so he doesn’t feel anything this second time. Plus, you know, Tara was technically already dead.

James shares his story: all of his friends died in Vietnam. He was a draft dodger, however, because he didn’t believe in violence. During one Christmas, officers came to the house of his best friend, Danny, to deliver the news to his parents that their son had died in battle. When James went over to offer his sympathy, Danny’s father beat him and called him a faggot. A vampire took pity on James and turned him that night.

Since then, James sees zero point in feeling pain. You can laugh, cry and smoke, but to the larger universe, it makes no difference.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Jason upset that Violet won't let him fuck her

Jason is still enraged about Violet embarrassing him like that. More than that, he’s got a major case of blue balls since Violet still won’t let Jason have sex with her. Jason’s solution? They’re gonna fuck right then and there.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Violet switches positions

About damn time. Violet presents herself and the two bone on the police cruiser.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Adilyn watches Jessica stand-off with another vampire

Jessica and the vampire hidden in shadows continue their stand-off. The unknown vampire wants a taste of Adilyn’s blood. Jessica, thinking quickly, gives her blood to Adilyn. That way, if the two are separated, Jessica will always know where she is.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Willa and Reverend Daniels watch Lettie Mae

Lettie Mae speaks of hearing Tara’s voice, which doesn’t help her current state in the eyes of Willa and Reverend Daniels. Willa doesn’t have a place to go because she roomed with Tara. Daniels, calling Will a lost sheep, offers her a spot in the church cellar.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Pam continues her search for Eric

Back in Morocco, Pam continues her search for Najat and throws down a wad of cash to show that she’s serious about her quest. She’s given a map, but whatever she does with it is her choice.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Sookie and Alcide make up

At Stackhouse Residence, Sookie disrobes and gets into bed. But she’s not wearing any night clothes under her robe, so why even wear a robe to bed if you had nothing on? Why didn’t she just walk around the house naked? I think we would have all appreciated that. Anyway, I’m going on about this much more than I should. Sookie and Alcide are the only ones in the house. I’m thinking about this much more than I should, but moving on, the two apologize.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Bill and Andy find bodies in Hep-V hideout

Bill and Andy arrive at an abandoned building where Bill believes the Hep-V vampires are nesting. The two eventually find a room with bodies suspended upside down and drained.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Vince and company show up to confront Bill and Andy

Vince and his entourage also arrive and are incensed by what they find. They turn their ire to Andy and Sam for convincing the citizens to trust vampires. Bill jumps to Andy’s defense, saying that the idea to mix vampires and humans was his idea and that Andy wasn’t even at the social gathering when the attack took place.

Looking for blood, Vince tells Andy to leave so he can kill Bill, but Andy wants to do it himself for all of the trouble Bill has caused him.

However, Vince falls for the ruse quick enough for Bill to train his gun on one of Vince’s followers, Lou, played by Lucas Adams. Andy asks Lou if he’s ever fired a weapon, which he hasn’t. Pulling the trigger means that his life will change forever. Andy already knows what that’s like. Lou eventually lowers his gun. Bill is thankful, but Andy makes it clear that he only helped because he needs Bill to help him save Holly, Arlene and the others.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Kidnapped Humans

The kidnapped humans aren’t having any fun in their situation, though it’s Deputy Ellis who ultimately loses his life when a vampire decides to feed on him.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Adilyn invites Jessica in

Jessica’s most amazing standoff continues to the point where dawn is coming. Jessica refuses to budge, but she’s not given a choice when Adilyn, against Andy’s wishes, invites her into the house. The wandering vampire soon burns a fiery death.

At church, the population discusses the attack, but goes silent when Sookie arrives. Lettie Mae doesn’t want her there, as she blames her for Tara’s death.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Sookie's speech

Sookie finally reveals that she can hear everyone’s thoughts and despite what everyone thinks of her, she still loves everyone she’s met. They aren’t wrong. Sookie is partially responsible for what’s happened, but Bon Temps can’t go back to the way things were. Sookie, however, knows vampires better than most and wants to help. Will the people let her?

Well, we don’t know, since that’s where the episode decides to awkwardly end.

This is a very messy beginning for True Blood’s final season. So many characters carried over from last season leaves little room for the regulars to develop. There’s a lot of set-up, but with few exceptions, we as an audience aren’t given time to soak in what we can gather from the premiere.

The stakes for this season also don’t seem as high compared to previous seasons mostly because the Hep-V vampires just appear to be wild, but should pose no threat for the more seasoned vampires. I’m not saying every villain has to be the level of Russell, but compared to previous seasons, the Hep-V vampires just seem like an irritation than an actual threat.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Arlene and Holly

More than that, if the Hep-V vampires are capable of killing and draining humans, why go through the trouble of kidnapping Arlene, Holly and the others? Just seems like it’s there to give Andy and Sam someone to find.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Mob rule

Also, humans seem to be playing a bigger role in fighting back against vampires, as seen with Vince’s team not wanting to play nice with the vampires or expecting any progress from Andy, Sam or Bill. Problem is, of course, they’re ill-equipped and not well prepared.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Jason, Sookie and Lafayette

The issue with the premiere for me is that it moved too fast. We didn’t need to see nearly every character’s storyline because we can’t absorb all of the information. Less is more in this case. It also doesn’t help that, in instances where we deal with one set of characters, we have to cut away to another group before coming back to them, rather than just making one scene a few moments longer.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Andy admits that he needs Bill's help, but they still aren't on good terms

At least Andy’s attempting to be taken seriously, even if Bon Temps isn’t on his side right now. He still doesn’t trust Bill and I can’t say I blame him, but I did like how he talked Lou out of pulling the trigger and changing his life forever.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Violet and Jason bone on the police cruiser

Another man trying to be taken seriously- Mr. Jason Stackhouse himself. Let’s be honest, chances are no one will ever take him seriously. At least he got rid of his blue balls by taking Violet. Who knew that he just had to demand sex in order to get it?

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Adilyn and Jessica

One of the character interactions I enjoyed this week came out between Adilyn and Jessica. Despite what Jessica did last season, you can see she’s at least making an effort to get to know Adilyn a little better. And their moments were slower paced, so the buildup of trust between the two felt natural and not rushed. And now we see how much Adilyn will trust Jessica after inviting her in. Side-note, they didn’t really think this protection plan out that well. I mean, unless the vampires have somewhere to go during the day, I don’t think they’d just park out in front of their humans’ home and let themselves burn.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- James about to feed on Lafayette

Another chance for development came from Lafayette’s interaction with James. I sort of feel like Lafayette is speaking for the audience when he mentioned how numb he had become to all of the crazy shit that he’s seen. Tara’s second death didn’t carry any weight because he’d already seen her die, so seeing it again doesn’t do anything.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Sookie asks the congregation to let her help

And then there’s Sookie, who miraculously managed to walk home by herself without a scratch. I agree with Alcide that it’s not entirely fair of her to judge him based on his own thoughts, but at the same time, she got a huge burden off of her chest when she revealed to everyone that she can read their thoughts. The question is whether her speech at the end will do any good, since the episode just abruptly ends.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Pam

As for Pam’s search for Eric, it’s a nice distraction away from Bon Temps and she’s driven to find her maker, so she has good motivation. Plus she still gets good, snarky lines.

Jesus Gonna Be Here- Pregnant Nicole

Oh, and can we kill Nicole? I don’t care if she’s pregnant. Kill her. I do not like this character.

By the way, is the show really trying to convince us that Tara is dead? We didn’t see it happen and given how the show made a big deal of bringing her back by turning her, I call foul on this, and I know I’m not alone here.

All in all, this was a mixed bag for the premiere. The pace felt too frantic with too many characters shoved on screen, only a few getting decent development. Hopefully the Hep-V vampires actually prove to be somewhat of a threat. The episode began fast, but after the opening, it just fizzled. Maybe I’m just burned out by the series as a whole, but this was not a strong opener for the final season.

A Look at Obvious Child

Obvious Child- Poster

One of the biggest strengths of Obvious Child is how unconventional it feels. It breaks a lot of conventional rules about gender roles in comedy  From the lead’s very first line, we see and hear that our protagonist is foul mouthed and has no qualms about that. We’re asked to accept her for who she is. The film takes what some would consider a touchy subject and treats it with dignity respect instead of just lightly treading on the topic.

The movie has been labeled by some as abortion comedy, but I don’t feel that’s a fair or even complete assessment. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to even call Obvious Child a romantic comedy instead of just a comedy that happens to have some romantic elements in it. The movie is more about a woman discovering her limitations. Thanks to Gillian Robespierre’s well written script, the film doesn’t dress up the topic of abortion in coded language- it spells it out through genuine conversations that feel real. There’s no politicized debate and the abortion isn’t called a mistake or unwanted pregnancy- it’s an abortion, plain and simple.

Obvious Child- Donna Stern, played by Jenny Slate, does stand up

The film starts off by introducing us to Brooklyn stand-up comedian Donna Stern, played by Jenny Slate. First thing she tells us that she likes to hide what her vagina does to her underpants, which is make them look like little bags covered in cream cheese. If you’re not on board at that point, folks, you may as well stop now. But yes, Donna has a human vagina. However, she doesn’t just have fun with it by herself. She shares it with her boyfriend, Ryan, played by Paul Briganti. And lucky for Donna, Ryan has a working dick. She’s very candid about their sex life, much to Ryan’s annoyance.

Obvious Child- Ryan breaks up with Donna

So it’s no surprise when, in the unisex bathroom littered with graffiti on almost every surface, Ryan tells Donna that he’s not a fan of her being so open about their relationship. More than that, he’s been sleeping with Donna’s friend, Kate. Donna’s always at the comedy club, so Ryan never had an opportunity to talk about this before. In fact, he can’t even look her in the eye when he breaks the news. Obvious Child- Donna drunkenly calls Ryan

Now in a drunken wreck at home, Donna leaves Ryan many a voice message. Coming to console her is roommate Nellie, played by Gaby Hoffmann, who allows Donna to mope, but also tells her to forget about Ryan. The next day at Donna’s job, which happens to be an Unimpressive, Non-Imperialist Bookstore, Donna learns from the store’s owner, Gene, played by Stephen Singer, that the landlord is kicking them out and the store will be closed. Well, at least he gave you advance notice.

Obvious Child- Donna meets with her father, Jacob, played by Richard Kind

So Donna shares her bad news with her father, Jacob, played by Richard Kind. Jacob, who works with puppets, never liked Ryan and essentially tells his daughter that it’s not the end of the world. He thought his life was over when he and Donna’s mother split, but he’s doing fine. Besides, he believes that creative energy really comes through during a person’s lowest point. Right from the start, I already like Donna’s rapport with her father.

The relationship with the mother isn’t as warming. Donna’s mother, Nancy, played by Polly Draper, wants Donna to work for one of her students, but Donna would do nothing of the sort. Nancy is firmer than her ex-husband, pointing out Donna’s flaws, such as her inability to do her own taxes, which Donna believes no one actually knows how to do. She might be right on that one. However, Nancy at least believes that Donna can do much better than Ryan.

Obvious Child- Teary-eyed Donna stands outside Ryan's house

Donna has a chance to prove her right when she stands, teary-eyed, across the street from Ryan’s home. She debates whether to go his door, but flees when she spots him, Kate and their dog. When it comes time for Donna to deliver another set at the comedy club, she drunkenly makes her way to the stage and spills more information on her personal life than one needed to hear. She even manages to slip in an Anne Frank joke. When it ends, her friend, Joey, played by Gabe Liedman, tells her the honest truth that the set was as bad as it sounded. At least he’s honest.

Obvious Child- Donna meets Max at bar

Donna makes her way to the bar and starts flirting with the guy next to her: nice-guy Max, played by Jake Lacy. There’s some light teasing that goes on between the two. Max, originally from Vermont, is in Brooklyn to work for a client for a few weeks at a computer program company. A couple too many drinks later, Max discovers for the first time that he and Donna probably won’t get arrested for taking a leak in public. Max needs to get out more often. When he accidentally farts in Donna’s face, she finds it funny instead of repulsive. Who knew that’s all it took to get a woman to laugh? And after a long night of drunken misadventures, Donna tries to sneak out Max’s home without being detected. She also makes sure that Max didn’t notice her cum-crusted panties on his face.

Obvious Child- Donna and Nellie in fitting room

Weeks later, Donna and Nellie try on clothes when Donna notices that her boobs hurt. Nellie casually suggests that Donna may be pregnant, but Donna has never been late before. So when Nellie asks whether Donna used a condom during that one night, Donna remembers seeing the condom, but can’t remember what she and Max did with it. One pregnancy test and clinic visit later, Donna learns that she’s pregnant.

Obvious Child- Donna schedules her abortion

So, she would like an abortion, though the way she says it sounds like she’s ordering it from a drive-thru. Despite not taking an extended period of time to think about it, Donna is already certain that this is what she wants. The woman at the clinic schedules it two weeks from the current day, meaning the operation would take place on Valentine’s Day. Donna can’t move it to February 15th, because that’s her mother’s birthday. Well, looks like Donna’s gonna have an abortion on Valentine’s Day!

We’ll hold it there. Again, what makes Obvious Child work is how open and honest the conversations are about what some would call controversial issues. I wouldn’t call this an abortion movie at all. In fact, the actual decision to have an abortion and the subsequent procedure are decided upon pretty quickly.

Obvious Child- Donna at abortion clinic

Look, your personal opinion of abortion is your own. Pro-choice? That’s fine. Pro-life? That’s fine, too. This film wasn’t made to start a dialogue on the ethical implications behind getting an abortion. In fact, Donna makes up her mind pretty quickly about getting an abortion. The complications come when she learns about the cost, setting a date and whether she decides to let Max in on her upcoming procedure.

Obvious Child- Nellie talks about abortion

This led to one of my favorite sequences in the film where Donna asks Nellie, who has had an abortion, what it felt like. The movie doesn’t make light of abortion. We hear how Nellie felt pain afterward and still thinks about it, but she doesn’t speak with regret in her voice. This not only shows how natural of a decision this was for Nellie, but also how willing Donna is to seek outside advice on something she hasn’t experienced yet. In fact, aside from one line about men in white cloaks who legalize cunts, we don’t get deep into the political discussion over abortion. Thank goodness for that. If I wanted to hear pundits or imitation pundits discuss abortion, I’d turn on the news or scroll through any social media website anytime abortion is back under the spotlight.

Obvious Child- Nancy and Donna

One of the central messages of the film is about accepting our limitations and realizing what we can and cannot do. This is just one in many of Donna’s adventures as she comes of age. She’s not fully prepared for the real world, as her mother reminds her. We know that she has great potential, as evidenced by her test scores, but Donna finds solace in joking about bodily functions. More on that in a moment.

Obvious Child- Max and Donna party

For Donna’s reckless action, there are consequences not in the form of the pregnancy, but the strained relationship with Max that comes from her withholding information from him. Should others who played a part in making the baby be entitled to know about a pregnancy? Does the woman owe the man anything by telling him? Should she keep it to herself? The film asks these questions, but never offers answers, which is good. Answering that serves to divide viewers, so we’re left to come to our own conclusions. From the first words that come out of Donna’s mouth, the movie’s tone is established as light hearted. It does a good job of capturing the image of a bunch of 20-something hipsters trying to make sense of their lives and figure out what they want to do in the world. This is accompanied by good writing. Robespierre’s script portrays the characters as brash and open, which works because their conversations don’t feel forced. There’s even a bit of meta humor at one point when Donna talks about how much she could never get into romantic comedies and would rater watch anything else. Obvious Child- Donna in bathroom

As far as the humor itself, I personally have no issue with it whatsoever. We live in this age where you see women experimenting with blue humor, even though comedians like Sarah Silverman have been doing this for years. I wouldn’t say Sarah’s potty mouth is as groundbreaking as some would claim, but I do find it as a breath of fresh air. Maybe it’s because I’m a sick bastard, but I’m a proponent of more ladies letting loose with the potty humor so long as it’s written well and not so over the top that it’s ridiculous. Bridesmaids- Food poisoning moment

That’s my main issue with the food poisoning scene in Bridesmaids. Funny movie, but that scene, to me, tried too hard to be crass and blue. Here, Donna has no qualms whatsoever talking about how she loves to let loose a giant fart after her boyfriend leaves for the night. She talks of cum crusted panties and bodily functions as naturally as one would discuss the weather. And Slate’s delivery makes the jokes come off as normal conversation as opposed to forced. Am I saying that more women need to be more open about their bodily functions? Well, it’d be a nice change of pace, I’ll say that much. And even though Donna’s humor will be seen as gross for some, there are points when she realizes she’s gone too far, as we see when she bombs on stage during her second performance. But that scene came on the heels of her breakup, so it feels natural that she would be a mess on stage, given what she put herself through leading up to that set. She’s able to laugh at herself and some will find Donna whiny, but she’s fragile. I’m not saying that’s an excuse, but I get why some won’t find her funny. This humor isn’t appropriate for everyone.

Obvious Child- Donna's pep talk to herself in the mirror

As far as Donna herself goes, she feels like a big kid who still has a lot of growing up to do. She wants to make people laugh and relies on her parents and friends for guidance. Don’t get me wrong, she’s also irresponsible, such as when she forgets about the condom, but she’s trying to figure out where she fits. What she does know is that she is not ready for motherhood. Not yet.

Obvious Child- Depressed Donna after break-up

This is, hands down, the best thing I’ve seen Jenny Slate in so far. She has such great range in the film and is good with the physical comedy as much as she is with the stand-up. Forget most of what you’ve seen Slate in until you see this film, because her performance is different than any of her past works. Many reviews reference Saturday Night Live, Marcel the Shell, and Parks and Recreation when discussing Slate’s work, and that’s fine.

Together- Doug unsure how to react after learning Sarah had an abortion

What strikes me is that few people bring up House of Lies, where Slate plays the girlfriend to one of the main characters, Doug. Granted, Slate’s character, Sarah, only appears every now and then, but what screen time she’s given on that show is evidence of her ability to work both comedy and drama, which she also does here. Obvious Child- Donna and Nellie in bookstore

The side characters are used to good effect. Nellie is very outspoken and teeters on being a feminist but, to me, never fully comes across as one. She’s the one who believes that the woman owes the man no explanation regarding an abortion, so her ability to speak her mind is useful when Donna is down in the dumps and doesn’t know what decision to make next. She’s a bit brash, but not overbearing. And the fact that she’s had an abortion gives her instant credibility when she talks about how it will feel and what, if at all, effects it has on a woman’s life. She doesn’t say what Donna wants to hear, but should hear. She speaks ill of Ryan, as does everyone else in the film that isn’t Ryan, so she may be jumping on the hate bandwagon, but we don’t spend much, if any, time with Ryan since he’s not a central character.

Obvious Child- Max comes bearing flowers

Max is sweet from start to finish. Unlike a lot of love interests, Max doesn’t have any ill-intent toward Donna. In fact, during the morning after sex, she’s the one sneaking out of his home. He has a boyish charm to him and never comes off like a stalker or a man who randomly appears to make drama for the main character. You’d think there was a glaring flaw, such as that he cares too much, but even that is shot down because when Donna refuses an offer to hang out, he doesn’t beg and plead for a schedule change. 135989_bf

More than that, in another change of pace, it’s the man who finds himself getting hurt by the woman’s actions, not because of the abortion secret. At one point in the film, Donna invites Max to one of her stand-up sets. However, he arrives when the set has finished and rather than the two hanging out, Max can only watch as Donna awkwardly explains that she’s going to hang out with another friend. Only later does she apologize for her leaving him to dry, but in that one moment, he appeared genuinely hurt by a woman that he cares about.

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Slate and Lacy are fun on-screen together and they have a lot of little moments where their chemistry shines, such as Donna’s surprise when Max warms up her bread or how funny she finds it when he accidentally steps in dog poo. Though we didn’t need as many close-up shots of it as we did.

Obvious Child- Donna and Jacob

Both Jacob and Nancy are supportive in their own ways. Jacob, like Donna, finds solace through humor. I actually wish we got to see more of them together because the two have very good chemistry.

Obvious Child- Nancy consoles Donna

And Nancy, despite calling out her daughter’s flaws, had a tender moment when she talked about getting an abortion while in college: a secret she kept from Donna until she needed to hear it. Again, it shows how abortion is something that many women deal with and, through whatever means, will go to any lengths to fix. And that’s their decision.

Obvious Child- Donna and Sam

I have two very minor issues with the film. One involves a scene with David Cross’ character, Sam, who is an old friend of Donna’s. He just kind of randomly appears and the scene between Donna and Sam felt like it was all improvised. Cross had one or two funny lines, but ultimately, the scene didn’t add anything to the overall plot. I just feel David Cross could have been used better. And for a film that does such a good job of avoiding typical movie tropes and clichés, it did it one time in a moment that I hoped wasn’t coming. As mentioned, Max is in Brooklyn to work for a client at a computer program company. Nancy wants Donna to work with her, but Donna does not want to work for one of Donna’s clients. Can you guess who one of those clients is? Obvious Child- Donna learns that Max is her mother's student

Yup, it’s Max, and I find this to be an issue because it felt too coincidental for him to be the one working for Nancy at the exact time that he and Donna have been hanging out. Just felt like a reason to get Donna and Max together for an awkward moment.

Obvious Child has nothing to hide. The script provides some very frank discussions and creates characters who feel real. This sets them apart from other movies that deal with pregnancy or abortion. Director Gillian Robespierre knew exactly what kind of film she wanted to make and she never needed to shove an agenda or spoon-feed scenes in order to get an emotional reaction out of its viewers. Abortion is just one part of the larger story about a woman who still has a lot of growing up to do. What’s most obvious about the film is that it isn’t here to preach about abortion- it’s about a real issue that men and women must confront and discuss. It’s how the film approaches the subject with such honesty and respect that makes Obvious Child feel like a breath of fresh air.

A Look at Californication- Season 7, Episode 11: “Daughter”

I suppose it was only a matter of time. We get a sort of surprise confrontation and family drama all centered around Hank’s past. The issue of having two families stems from something he either said or did, but little is actually resolved. Other events help push the plot forward a bit, but not by much. Like last week, the episode comprised of shenanigans we’re used to from Californication, but at least the writers had the restraint to keep the cast size to a minimum.

Daughter- Levon and Julia watch Santa Monica Cop while Hank sleeps

The episode begins with Hank, Levon and Julia watching the pilot for Santa Monica Cop. Well, Levon and Julia are watching it. Hank’s asleep. He wakes up just in time for the ending, and neither Levon nor Julia are fans. Maybe the episode Hank wrote will be better. Levon decides to call it a night, leaving Julia to advance on Hank since they haven’t been alone together in a long time. Well, maybe if Julia hadn’t randomly popped by last week, there would have been time for that later.

Daughter- Levon wants to sleep in the annex

But the two head to Julia’s room. Before things can get steamy, Levon enters with his blanket. He’s worried about his future since he believes the show will be axed. To alleviate his fears, he asks his mother if he can sleep in the annex. Where is this annex?

Daughter- Levon sleeps in annex, which is right next to Julia's bed

It’s right next to the bed. So no sex tonight, Hank. Probably for the best.

Daughter- Rath tells the crew that Santa Monica Cop has been canceled

The next morning, on the Santa Monica Cop set, Rath assembles the team with some bad news: they’ve been canceled. Technically, they’re only being asked to shut down production and go on hiatus, which is just the nice way of saying canceled, let’s just admit that. While production has been a pain in the ass, at least it’s been a short pain in the ass. Savor the little things, you know. But Rath tells everyone to appreciate what you have while you have it. He’ll be in his office drinking if people want to stop by and say goodbye.

Daughter- Charlie and Marcy talk about Stu's offer before they decide to bone

Charlie receives the bad news from Hank, but he remembers that Marcy still has to fuck Stu. As the man of the house, Charlie is upset that he can’t provide for his family. However, it’s Marcy’s turn to provide, even if that means spreading her legs. Marcy has a proposition: if she has to fuck Stu, Charlie should be able to go out and fuck any woman that he wants, as long as Marcy doesn’t know about it. Soon, Charlie is hard and Marcy is wet. It goes without saying that they’re sick people, but they take advantage of this opportunity and bone.

Daughter- Rath and Hank talk about their respective futures

Hank enters Rath’s office to find his boss strumming a guitar. Rath isn’t too bummed out about the cancelation. Television is what he does best. He figures the studio will make a deal where he’ll be asked to help save another disaster or write another pilot. But he doesn’t think Hank should work on another show since it’d be a waste of his ability. No. Rath thinks that Hank should write his own show about his life, family and the women he’s encountered. Getting very meta, Californication.

Daughter- Charlie shows Lisa his moves

Charlie sets Marcy’s idea into motion to bone a random woman. He finds a pretty young thing by the name of Lisa, played by Cerina Vincent, better known as Mya from Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. Charlie’s nervousness goes away when the two start drinking together. Despite wearing a wedding ring, Charlie tells Lisa that he has an arrangement. As a liaison, he would do many things to Lisa in a hotel room.

No kissing, though. Lisa doesn’t think that’s hot. Instead, Charlie will start with fondling in order to get a sense of her ass. After that, he’d stick his cock in her mouth. Good, since Lisa likes it dirty. After that, Charlie may even wrap the phone cord around Lisa’s neck. For a public demonstration, Charlie pulls Lisa toward him and demonstrates how he would go in circles, which keeps him in the game longer.

Daughter- Lisa's boyfriend, Mark, shows up

So when Lisa’s boyfriend, Mark, played by Scott Anthony Leet, returns, he shows Charlie what he would do to him in a hotel room: punch him in the face. You could’ve warned him, Krull!

Daughter- Levon shows up for pizza and movie night

At House Runkle, Levon arrives for pizza and movie night. Hank, emerging from the shower, should probably just have this night at Levon’s own place instead of a place where he doesn’t even live. Whatever. He does have some good news: Rath plans to keep Levon on for as long as he can. After that, he’ll have to find a job on his own. He can’t just luck into one. When Hank goes to get ready, Levon accidentally knocks over a glass. Before he can contend to it, the doorbell rings. Thinking it’s his mother, Levon rushes to answer it, but surprise-surprise.

Daughter- Becca has returned

Becca has returned. Needless to say she’s thrown by the fact this stranger knows so much about her, yet she’s never seen or heard of him at all. It also doesn’t help that Levon thinks that Becca is much hotter than the pictures. Please don’t whip out your cock, Levon. Karen’s parking the car, so you can already sense a fun conversation approaching.

Daughter- Hank and Becca reunite

Hank emerges and enjoys the reunion with his daughter, who lets him know that she’s got big news. Good to know, so does Hank! And that’s the perfect time for Julia to enter and tell Becca that she should be excited to meet her brother. Gonna be a long night.

Daughter- Marcy signs Stu's contract

Marcy arrives at Stu’s, and both he and Irma are more excited about this endeavor than Marcy will ever be. Stu lets Marcy know that the offer still stands, so she signs a contract that she doesn’t bother to fully read and the deal is done. Why does no one ever read the contract? So Marcy wants to just get it over with, but Stu’s head isn’t in the game. He needs time to prepare. Marcy won’t wax him, so that window is closed.

When Marcy leaves, we see that Stu has a mannequin that he uses for practice. Can’t say I’m surprised. I mean, Irma seems available, and I can’t imagine Stu not wanting to have sex with his maid.

Daughter- Becca learns about Levon and Julia

Back at the Runkle household, Becca learns that her father impregnated a woman right before he met Karen, who he them impregnated. She’s not too surprised, given the story of her life. Karen and Julia speculate whether Hank slept with both of them at the same time. That’s not impossible. Oh, Becca isn’t a fan of Levon referring to Hank as his father.

Daughter- Awkward family time

Hank, caught between two sides, leans toward Becca, prompting Levon to call himself and Julia the dirty one-night stand of families. Well, you both did just appear.

But onto Becca’s good news. Her trip was amazing, but more than that, she’s getting married! Roscoe popped the question and Becca accepted.

Hank doesn’t accept that. And now, being the protective father, he tells Becca that it won’t happen. Smooth move, Hank. The night comes to a close with Becca wanting to go home, wherever that is.

Daughter- Becca and Hank talk

Later on, Hank heads to Karen’s and joins Becca on the roof. Becca isn’t angry about Levon. She’d like to get to know him and is glad she’s no longer an only child. A mature way to handle this, as Hank correctly points out that Becca has always been the mature one in the family. Becca wants no condescension. After all, she’s not giving him any about his long list of chronic fuck-ups.

Hank insists that the marriage is a bad idea because Becca is young, but honestly, can he say he’s happy that he never got married? But what if Becca doesn’t know what she’s getting into? What if Roscoe turns out to be the one? Becca isn’t concerned about that. After all, Hank loves to talk about how he got it right with Karen. Becca is just going with her gut. Hank, in good conscience, cannot endorse Becca’s big move, which is pretty fucked up, considering everything Becca has had to swallow. Her good news has been wrecked by his past coming up to haunt him.

At this point, Hank doesn’t know what to say. He says he’s sorry, but Becca just tells her father that the marriage will be in New York and he can be a part of it, if he wants to be. But damn it, she came with good news and she won’t allow him to make her miserable.

End episode.

To sum up this episode, it dealt with going after your true desires in spite of the potential consequences. We saw this play out with Charlie and Becca, above all others. More than that, the episode acknowledged how unprepared we are for what could be life changing decisions. These characters have been asked to swallow and stomach so much misfortune, so they may feel they deserve a bit of happiness. In Becca’s case, she feels she’s ready to take on more responsibility.

Daughter- Hank hears that his wreckage has ruined Becca's good news

Hank’s line about how a morning of awkwardness is far better than a night of loneliness sums up his life to a tee. But I’m better a night of loneliness would have been preferable to the awkward situation he found himself in with this episode. Despite one fucked up circumstance, we can still emerge from it as a better person because we took the plunge and decided to act on our gut instinct, something that Hank knows all about. And not only has it caught up to him, it spoiled his daughter’s good news.

Daughter- Rath suggests that Hank write his own show

Rath had it right when he told Hank that he should write his own show. Throughout the series, we’ve heard characters say that Hank has untapped potential, but he squanders it. Hank can’t just focus on one thing, as we see through his two families. But, as Karen points out, he doesn’t get to wallow in his own pity.

Daughter- Becca asks Hank if he's happy that he never got married

I feel Hank is being very unfair to Becca. It’s ridiculous of him to pass judgment on her decision to get married, considering all that she’s had to endure. For Hank’s talk about wanting to prove he’s grown up, this felt like a step backwards for him. He’s tried to worm his way out of so many situations, but he did seem to have real regret in his voice when Becca called him out for all of his crap.

Daughter- Becca asks Levon how he knows about Karen

And I am glad to see Becca back. While Hank believes that Karen centers him, I believe that Becca grounds him. She’s more willing to call him out on his crap than Karen, I think, because Karen eventually is charmed over by Hank trying to woo her. But Hank’s not trying to woo Becca. Her reaction to Julia and Levon was what I expected. It’s almost as if she’s become numb to her father’s actions, but she handles it with maturity. She never raises her voice, loses her temper or becomes unreasonable. She behaves like a rational adult, and that shows through Madeleine Martin’s performance.

I like how Becca has never been afraid to call out her own father because of the bad example he’s continued to set. And she has a good point: she’s had to put up with her mother and father’s bickering for years. Becca has seen some pretty sick shit. Let’s not forget the naked woman with no hair on her vagina that she found in Hank’s bed. Stuff like that you can’t just ignore. And Becca couldn’t- it’s been right in front of her.

Daughter- Becca reveals that she's getting married

She deserves a shot at happiness and it’s not asking Hank much of anything to have some faith in her. Becca has matured into a young woman who is ready to take on the real world and fend without the help of her parents, and she’s not showing any signs of hesitation. It may be foolish and reckless, but that will be her decision. If you ask me, Becca earned this chance a long time ago.

Daughter- Charlie and Marcy bone

There were some moments in this episode, most of which come from Charlie and Marcy trying their luck with different partners. Charlie probably shouldn’t have been so open with a woman that he just met, but hey, any woman that’s not Goldie is an upgrade in my book.

Daughter- Stu fucks a mannequin

And Stu fucking a mannequin? Yeah, not too surprised by that one.

If I could define this episode in a word, it would be “awkward.” We got some uncomfortable situations with the characters realizing that their actions don’t produce the desired reaction. What should have been a joyous occasion had been dampened by Hank Moody’s past yet again. Becca going with her gut was a good move for her, and I’m happy she’s not allowing her father to guilt or talk her out of it. Once again, the characters acknowledge how flawed they are, which is fine. However, this is something we’ve known for a long time. After so many years, and with only one episode left, I’d like to see them grow up.

A Look at The Walking Dead #128: “After All This Time, She Should Be More Prepared”

The Walking Dead #128 Cover

The Walking Dead #128 gave us a further look at life in Alexandria since the time skip. I don’t have a problem with the setup that this and the previous chapter have taken since it reintroduces us to the characters we’ve watched grow, but also introduces a new dynamic with Magna and her group of survivors.

The Walking Dead #128- Andrea speaks with Magna

When so much of the series have emphasized the need to survive, it’s actually a nice change of pace to have a slower chapter that’s clearly building toward something, since Magna has her suspicious about Rick and everyone else. I doubt she has evil intent toward them or that they’ll suddenly turn into the villains of the arc. After all, it’d be foolish to just openly accept someone with open arms and not be suspicious of them in the slightest.

I don’t think the newcomers intend to cause harm. They, like everyone else, are just suspicious. As Magna pointed out, if something looks too good to be true, then it probably is. From an outsider, Alexandria, like Woodbury, appears innocent enough, but you have this feeling that something sinister lies beneath the sunny surface. However, Alexandria, as far as we know, has maintained stability since the end of “All Out War.” It does sound too good to be true, so you have to wonder if Magna’s onto something that Rick and the others aren’t letting on.

Going back to Andrea for a moment, I like the leadership role she’s grown into. Before, Rick would be the one asking the list of questions and interrogating newcomers, but I can completely see Andrea taking on this responsibility. She’s already proven her worth as the best sniper the group has, so why not let her take on the task of clearing new people into Alexandria?

The Walking Dead #128- Carl is glad that Rick is letting him go to the Hilltop

I like where Kirkman is taking the relationship between Rick and Carl. Rick can’t stop Carl from growing up, as much as he’d like to hold onto his little boy forever. Problem is that his little boy has grown up right before his eyes and seen some horrible things. Letting Carl take on an apprenticeship will not only give him something to do, but a sense of purpose. Since Carl lost his eye, there were moments where he doubted his ability to perform. Now, after watching others work to better Alexandria, he feels he can and should do more. It was a nice moment when Rick told Carl that he would be going to the Hilltop. This is something Carl’s wanted for a long time and now he’s got it.

The Walking Dead #128- Carl and Negan

Now we’ll have to see where this leaves his talks with Negan. Is Negan fostering a bond in hopes of escaping? Who knows?

The Walking Dead #128- Eugeue talks to Rick about Rosita

As for Eugene and Rosita, I’m just hoping for some scene between the two of them. Other than that, I can’t say I’m too invested in their relationship, or the crumbling of it.

Again, this issue was about reestablishing the characters we’ve watched grow, while also showing us the progress they’ve made. They’re rediscovering civilization in the midst of an ongoing zombie apocalypse. Now they find a group of wandering travelers, just like they used to be, and must establish trust if they’re to keep their civilization going.

 

A Look at Fargo- Season 1 Finale: “Morton’s Fork”

Oftentimes, game-changers come from people we don’t expect. These people aren’t the most bombastic or the type that want attention, but can be the quietest or most reflective. All it takes is one change to turn the normal into frantic or inhuman, as has been the case since Lorne Malvo came to Bemidji. Since Malvo’s arrival, the simple life that Bill spoke of clashes with Malvo’s sense of morality and idea that there are no rules. And throughout the series’ run, the ordinary have had to contend not just with a force they don’t understand, but also the worst it brought out in others.

“Morton’s Fork” dealt with choices, addressed confronting past mistakes, who changes from them and who refuses to change. It’s about a few good people who refused to let evil reign. They didn’t stand up to make some grandstanding gesture or for praise, but because it was the right thing to do. The episode continued with the arc of a man who had the worst in him brought out and when things worsened, rather than own up to it, he continued to cower in fear. Lorne Malvo, a man whose past we didn’t know much about, stirred chaos by showing the worst in people, but also bringing out the best. Life before Lorne Malvo arrived was simple. But here, characters have to make the difficult choices that no one wants to make- the right choice. Now, what’s ‘right’ is subjective, but like Malvo’s warning, making the right decision can save your life.

Morton's Fork- Lester plants car keys in Linda's hand

After a brief look at a downed snowmobile and a deep hole in the middle of a long sheet of ice, the episode picks up after the events of the previous one. Lester watches Lorne Malvo leave Nygaard Insurance before he gets out of the car. He enters and finds a pool of blood still spreading around Linda’s head. After going through the safe, he sticks the car keys in Linda’s hand before heading to Lou’s Coffee Shop.

Morton's Fork- Lou tells Lester that someone came asking about him

And at Lou’s, Lester sits down under the guise that he’s waiting for someone else, so he orders for two. Well, at least he’s thoughtful after the fact. When Lou leaves to prepare, Lester slips out of the shop and makes a phone call to the authorities about shots followed.

Once Lester returns, Lou lets him know that someone recently stopped by and asked about him. Lou wasn’t a fan of the fella’s demeanor. At this point, Lester remembers that the plane tickets are still in his coat pocket, but police cruisers are already speeding by the shop.

Morton's Fork- Gus, Greta and Molly watch Deal or No Deal

Gus, Greta and Molly, meanwhile, enjoy “Deal or No Deal” when they get a call about the shooting.

Morton's Fork- Bill and Molly examine Linda's body

So when Molly arrives, Bill is already there. Molly notes that Linda is wearing Lester’s coat, meaning maybe Linda wasn’t the intended target. Lester enters and gives the performance of a lifetime at the sight of his dead wife that he didn’t know about. He accounts for his recent whereabouts by mentioning that he was at Lou’s. Despite losing yet another wife, Lester will still be questioned at the station. He would like a few moments to say goodbye, and while Molly would prefer Lester not mess with an active crime scene, Bill gives him a few moments. Unfortunately for Lester, those few moments aren’t enough for him to retrieve the tickets.

Morton's Fork- Lorne Malvo overhears on radio that police have picked up Lester

Elsewhere, at a lonely cabin in the woods, Lorne Malvo listens to the chatter on his police radio. Upon hearing that Lester Nygaard is at the police station, he grabs his tools and heads off.

Morton's Fork- Lou tells Molly that a peculiar fella stopped by the shop

At the Bemidji Police Department, Molly confirms that there were plane tickets in Lester’s coat. Lou tells her about his encounter with the man who asked about Lester, the same man from the surveillance photo that Molly quickly shows him. The plan is to go after Malvo directly. Lou tells his daughter that there are two options for dealing with things like this: do or don’t. Instead of letting Gus know that Molly will be out all night, Lou plans to get his gun. I mean, he could do both.

Morton's Fork- Malvo steals codes from federal agents car

Outside, we get a brief look at Malvo breaking into a car and stealing a book of codes from the glove compartment.

Morton's Fork- Lester questioned by police and federal agents

Inside, Lester must now contend with not just Bill and Molly, but Federal Agents Budge and Pepper. The agents let Lester know right off the bat that they aren’t there to talk about Las Vegas. They show the photo and state the name of Lorne Malvo. Lester’s not getting any backup from Bill this time, so he first asks for a lawyer, then dances around the question. He tries to talk up the fact that his wife is dead, but no one’s buying his act. Solverson tells Lester that Malvo won’t stop killing.

Morton's Fork- Gus finds Lou on his porch with a shotgun

At seven in the morning, Gus prepares to leave for the day, only to find Lou sitting on his porch with a shotgun. Well, at least he wasn’t pointing it at Gus. Lou tells Gus that Lorne Malvo may have returned and that Lester is being questioned.

Morton's Fork- Molly briefs squad on Lorne Malvo

Back at the station, Molly details the squad on how to pursue Lorne Malvo, including his new look and car. She gets a phone call from Gus, who warns his wife to not pursue Malvo. He knows that she’s good, but there are forces that she cannot control. And with the family they’ve started, Gus doesn’t want Greta to attend another funeral. Sheesh, Gus, have a little faith in your wife. She’s a much better shot than you are.

Anyway, Molly promises that she’ll run things from the precinct and won’t leave until she gets word on Malvo. Gus would prefer that she only leave when she hears that Malvo’s dead.

Morton's Fork- Gus about to enter Lorne Malvo's hideout

As Gus continues along, he spots a lone wolf in the middle of the road. He follows it to a cabin, where, from a safe distance, he spots Lorne Malvo exiting the cabin and driving off in a red BMW. When he feels Malvo is a considerable distance away, Gus, instead of calling the police, heads inside the cabin.

Morton's Fork- Bill tells Molly that he plans to quit

Molly tells Bill that the federal agents will take Lester home. Bill, however, is ready to call it quits. He can’t stomach what he’s witnessed over the past few weeks. He misses the good old days of good mornings and people having positive feelings. Nowadays, Bill always has to look over his shoulder. He just wanted pancakes and a V-8, but that’s harder to come across. He wants Molly to take over as Chief. He now sees the true cop instincts in her that Vern always saw. Molly will have to talk to Gus first, though. That and, you know, have the baby. There’s still the matter of the department’s trap for Malvo. They’ll need help from the federal officials. After all, they’re not equipped for urban warfare.

Morton's Fork- Malvo calls the Police Department pretending to be a federal agent

Outside, however, Malvo, under the guise of calling from the FBI, calls the police department and says that he’s there to speak with his agents. When Cindy refers to the two by name, that’s all he needs. He makes a second call to the operations department at the FBI and now, under the guise of Agent Budge, says that the local police department can handle themselves. However, Pepper recently called about backup, but if everything is fine, then the backup can be canceled.

Morton's Fork- Malvo at the car dealership

Malvo then drives to Double L Motors. He tells the owner, played by Andrew Neil McKenzie, that he’s looking to get a new car, particularly one that looks like an undercover car. Soon enough, the two are off.

Morton's Fork- Lester tells Molly that he's not a monster

In custody, Molly informs Lester that the federal agents will take him home, but Lester doesn’t want them in his house. Before leaving, Lester tells Deputy Solverson that he doesn’t quite know what she’s had against him since they met, but regardless, he is not the monster that she apparently thinks he is.

Rather than acknowledge that, Solverson tells the tale of a fella who was waiting for a train. He had a pair of gloves with him. As he boarded, he dropped one of the gloves, but it wasn’t until the train started moving that he realized he only had one glove. And once the train began pulling out of the platform, the man opened a window and dropped the other glove on the platform. That way, whoever finds them can just have the pair. Lester doesn’t get it.  He leaves.

Budge, Pepper and Lester leave the police department, unaware of the car looming behind them.

Morton's Fork- Budge and Pepper drive Lester home

Lester tells the agents that he didn’t do what they think he did, but Pepper decides to ask Lester about the riddle from last week. Lester, however, figures it out: take the rabbit across the river first, since the fox won’t eat the cabbage. Then, go back and bring the fox across, but before heading back, put the rabbit back in the boat. Get the cabbage and leave the rabbit. Again, the fox won’t eat the cabbage, so all that’s left is to go back for the rabbit.

Bingo.

The agents decide to stick around for a bit. Lester heads inside and removes something from Chaz’s box of hunting gear.

Morton's Fork- Lou and Greta on the porch

Greta eventually joins Lou on the porch and the two talk of Lou’s days as a state cop. He once did a stake out in 1979, from dusk until dawn. It wasn’t who they were waiting for, but what. Soon, Greta heads back in, but rejoins Lou with her own shotgun. Atta girl.

Morton's Fork- Molly tells Cindy that she's about to leave

All is quiet at the police department. No reports of Lorne Malvo just yet. Molly decides she’ll go to Lester’s. Cindy, not wanting to be left alone, decides to lock down the entire station.

Morton's Fork- Budge and Pepper see unmarked car approach

Back at Lester’s, Budge and Pepper speak of dreams when an unmarked car approaches. Thinking it’s their backup, the two, guns drawn, approach.

Morton's Fork- Car lot owner apologizes

Who they find, however, is neither their backup nor Lorne Malvo, but the dealership owner, who simply apologizes. Looks like this is a dream.

Morton's Fork- Malvo approaches Budge and Pepper, preparing to kill them both

But why’s he sorry? Because Lorne Malvo approaches from behind and kills both men before approaching the owner.

After taking some time to hide the bodies, Malvo enters Lester’s home and hears Lester frantically calling the police for help. He even goes as far to say that he’s in the bathroom, which has no lock on its door. Come on, Malvo, you’re smarter than this.

Morton's Fork- Lorne Malvo caught in bear trap

But apparently so is Lester. Malvo takes one step too many and steps right into a bear trap. Lester emerges from the bathroom and misses his one shot. Malvo uses this opportunity to throw Lester’s award in his face.

Lester retreats, but soon comes out and follows the trail of blood outside. He sees no sign of Malvo and has a brief look of satisfaction on his face.

Morton's Fork- Malvo pops bone back into place

An injured Malvo returns to the cabin and hobbles to the couch to stitch himself up. He manages to force the bone back into place when he spots a wolf outside.

Morton's Fork- Grimly approaches Malvo with a gun

Postal Worker Gus Grimly slowly approaches from Lorne’s left, gun in hand. He tells Lorne that he figured out Lorne’s riddle about why the human eye sees shades of green more than any other color. Technically, Gus, Molly figured it out. You just happened to be sitting there.

Malvo’s response? “And?”

Gus unloads three shots into Malvo’s chest. For a moment, it seems like all is now well.

Morton's Fork- Malvo still alive after being shot three times

But Lorne Malvo is still alive. Bleeding and injured, but still alive. He looks at Gus Grimly, the man he once intimidated, and laughs.

Gus fires two more shots and finishes off Lorne Malvo.

Morton's Fork- Gus and Molly with Malvo's body

Sometime later, Molly arrives at the scene of the shooting and embraces Gus. He takes her inside and shows her not just Malvo’s body, but a briefcase. The same briefcase we saw Malvo with last week.

Inside the briefcase are many cassette tapes. Molly picks the one labeled “Lester Nygaard” and listens as Lester tells Lorne Malvo about his dead wife in the basement of his home.

Morton's Fork- Lester on a snowmobile, two weeks later

We flash forward, two weeks later in Glacier National Park, Montana. Lester rides along on his snowmobile before spotting some officers straight ahead. This is it, Lester. The end of the line. Ready to face up to your crimes?

Morton's Fork- Lester speeds away from the police again

Of course not. Lester speeds off, the officers in pursuit behind him. Lester’s snowmobile crashes and he’s forced to head the rest of the way on foot. He’s so desperate to get away at this point that he pays little attention to the notice of thin ice or the officers’ warning him to stop.

Cracks race across the ice and Lester Nygaard soon falls in.

Morton's Fork- The end with Greta, Molly and Gus

Molly, Greta and Gus again watch “Deal or No Deal.” Either they really like Howie Mandel or there aren’t any other game shows on the air. Molly gets a phone call and tells the person on the other side to let her know about what the divers find. Gus also received a call earlier. He’s receiving a citation for bravery. But, as Molly points out, he’s afraid of spiders. Gus informs her- and us all- that even Buzz Aldrin was afraid of spiders, and he went into space. Not sure how true that is, Gus, but this is your moment, so enjoy it.

Molly’s moment? She’s gonna be Chief.

So here we are, at the end of Fargo’s 10 episode run. Throughout the series, we’ve watched the good guys slowly realize the reality of their situations when confronted with a force like Lorne Malvo. We’ve also seen them react, sometimes with uncertainty, when facing a difficult choice unlike anything they’ve ever faced. And in those instances, such as with Gus and Molly’s search for Malvo in the snow, you don’t get much time to think about your next move. And when your life is on the line, you can either accept fate or challenge it. And when you challenge fate, is it right to commit a morally questionable act for the sake of the greater good? The show allows characters and viewers to come to their own conclusions.

I’m impressed that the tone of the show has remained consistent throughout. When a show begins, a lot of ideas and concepts may be tossed out by the time the series ends. Fargo, however, has maintained the same dark humor that captures the spirit of both the original film and most Coen Brothers’ films that I’ve seen. Fargo is still a crime drama, but it has a lot of elements of a black comedy that stay the same from start to finish. So it’s not uncommon to find yourself laughing at certain scenes before you’re reminded just how bloody this show can be.

Morton's Fork- Lester looking through blinds

This goes hand in hand with great direction and writing. Nothing ever moves too quickly and the direction allows the atmosphere and tension to build to satisfying payoffs, or keeping the tension high enough to maintain viewer interest, such as Lou and Lorne’s conversation last week. We’re allowed to take in the full scope of scenes and not just cut away as soon as a scene is finished. When Gus kills Malvo, we don’t just instantly break to a different scene. We soak in what has happened, just as Gus does.

Morton's Fork- Lou has a gun

One of the series’ overarching themes has been about good versus evil. Darkness always lurks wherever there is light, here in the form of Lorne Malvo. It’s optimistic to think that humanity is always capable of doing good things. Think back to when Gus told Molly that he remains optimistic that people are good instead and not liars. Molly believes that living in this world means being a bit more realistic than that, which is true. And it’s something that took Bill until the very end to realize, after holding out so much hope that people were, at their core, good.

That rage is in us all. It just needs a little push. Once you’ve been corrupted evil doesn’t need to watch its creation wreck havoc. It’s satisfied in proving that someone with good intentions could fall. Malvo didn’t need to keep tabs on Lester- he moved right on to Stavros Milos. His job was done.

Morton's Fork- Molly tells Lester about the fella with a pair of gloves

Folks like Lou, Molly and Gus have no intention of just letting evil reign. They fight it because someone has to. They protect others not for commendation, but because of their selflessness. This hearkens back to Molly’s tale about the fella and the gloves: your loss becomes someone else’s gain. It’s why Gus took it upon himself to confront Malvo, why Lou waited on his daughter’s porch with a shotgun and how Lester just couldn’t comprehend the idea of doing something good for another.

Four of the main characters have come a long way since their arcs began, so I’ll try and analyze them as best I can.

Morton's Fork- Lester demands to be let go or put in jail

Let’s begin with Lester. Mr. Nygaard began as a sad, spineless sack of a man who was just going through everyday life without a care. He had a wife and family that thought little of him. And seeing Sam Hess just served as a reminder that little had changed. Since meeting Malvo, Lester has shown some semblance of having a spine. In fact, one would think his initial fits of rage were justified. Considering how much Pearl belittled him, was Lester right to kill her? He didn’t seem to think so after bashing her head in, over and over again.

Morton's Fork- Lester wants one last moment with Linda

As time passed, instead of owning up to the mess he created, Lester made new ones and did everything he could to avoid Deputy Solverson’s advances. And rather than just ignore Malvo, Lester kept crossing his path and, as a result, dug a deeper hole for himself. Framing his own brother for his wife’s murder and sending his new wife to die in his place show how far he had fallen. Sending Linda to his death was really what took all sympathy from me for Lester, because I wanted him to own up to what he’d done. But he was only out for himself, which is why he couldn’t grasp the idea that giving up something of his could make someone happy.

Again, when a year had passed, Lester had it made with a new wife and the recognition he sought. But that wasn’t enough. He wanted Malvo’s acceptance. He got it with a price. Lester’s problem is that he lacks control the way Malvo does. He’s always been side-stepping justice while being his own hero. Each time that smug grin curls across his face, he’s just glad that he avoided another messy situation.

Morton's Fork- Lester waits

That’s not to say he’s entirely a coward, as he did get the jump on Malvo through Chaz’s bear trap. And wouldn’t you know it? He ends up with yet another bloody nose as a result of someone who had it out for him.

Morton's Fork- Lester about to fall into ice

And given how Lester was already walking on thin ice, how appropriate that this is how he meets his end?

Morton's Fork- Lester sees that Malvo is gone

It’s amazing how Martin Freeman has transformed himself into playing this despicable character. This is a far cry from the jokey Tim we’ve seen him play on The Office or the bumbling, but brave Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit films. Lester has always been the prey and had no sorrow for anyone else. He’s expressed shock and relief, but only that he managed to escape death one more time.

Morton's Fork- Molly on phone with Gus

Then there’s soon to be Chief Molly Solverson. As Bill mentioned, we’ve seen Solverson’s smarts from the beginning. It’s one of the things Vern noted about Molly when we’re first introduced to her. She sees the world for what it is and understands that Malvo would not stop.

As much as she may have wanted Lester to see justice, she, like Malvo, gave him a warning that he had put his life in danger. Molly didn’t stay on this case for glory, fame or to receive a promotion. She did it because it was right and because she ended up being right. Her gut instinct is what led her to this point, even if I do think some of her hunches were a bit too coincidental.

Morton's Fork- Molly with Bill before he tells her that he's quitting

It took a long time for Molly to get recognition from Bill. Her arc has been about her becoming more assertive. When she first wants to question Lester, Bill is adamant about her leaving Lester alone and sticking to the drifter theory. And once she became pregnant, Molly had even more to lose, but she remained on the case and never lost her resolve. She had nothing to prove because she knew she was right about Lester, but she never boasts about it.

I’ll be honest: I’d never seen or heard of Allison Tolman prior to Fargo, but after this, I would love to see in her more. She gives Molly such dimensions and can portray a variety of emotions on-screen. Like Bill, she’s loving, but firm and protective when she needs to be. I never got tired of watching her perform.

Morton's Fork- Gus shoots Malvo

Mr. Gus Grimly has come full circle since we first met him on that lonely night. He started off at a fork in the road when he let Malvo go, and now he found himself at another one with his decision to take on Malvo by himself. The situation has been reversed. Back then, Gus was in a position of vulnerability. Now, with an injured Malvo before him, the odds were in his favor. Gus is, at heart, a good man, but he’s also a little scared. The policeman’s life was not for him, and he knew that.

Morton's Fork- Gus calls Molly

Again, those who we feel have little power can often make the biggest difference. Gus wanted simplicity, and he got it. But upon spotting Malvo, he found himself back in an active role of trying to help take him down. More than that, this gave him a chance to right the wrong of letting Malvo go. Also, like Molly, the stakes are bigger for him because he’s more concerned about his future than Molly is.

Morton's Fork- Greta has a shotgun

But Lou and Greta, who have great chemistry despite only having a few scenes together, are more than ready to take on whatever comes their way. I liked their moments. They weren’t long, but just enough to establish a rapport between the two.

Morton's Fork- Malvo spots a wolf

And then there’s the man himself, Lorne Malvo, evil incarnate. All the man has ever needed to do is set people over the edge and let them do themselves in. And we learn that Lester is just one of many, as witnessed with Malvo’s tapes of past victims. This served not just as a payoff to Malvo listening to one of the tapes, but it shows how much influence he wields on hapless citizens. He is, indeed, the architect of man’s own destruction.

It’s interesting how much changed as a result of Malvo’s actions. If Malvo hadn’t come to town, none of the bad or good things that happened due to his arrival would have happened: Pearl’s death, none of the people Malvo killed, Bill deciding to leave the force, Lester’s new life and his fall from grace, Chaz’s arrest, none of it would have happened. Heck, Gus and Molly probably never would have met.

Malvo has almost been untouchable, like a ghost. You never know when he’ll appear, what he’ll do or why he does it. He exists as a predator, whether stalking his targets, listening to cops via police radios or throwing federal agents off his tail. Molly saying that Malvo may not be a man rings true, as he almost appears invincible. As the ambush by Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench proved, however, he can be harmed. Like Lester, he protects himself, but operates within his own code and set of morals. It helps that we know little about his origin, because that would take away from the mystery surrounding his character.

Morton's Fork- Lorne Malvo smiles as he's dying

He’s methodical in his approach and waits for his prey to make a move, taking every step possible to figure them out. More than that, he never thinks twice about a decision, but does take as many precautions as possible to eliminate any distractions, which explains the usefulness of the police radio.

And yet, despite ending up in a situation where he faced death after already being injured, Lorne Malvo just smiles. He shows no fear, even though he’s fully aware that Gus could and would kill him. He accepted it, as if daring Gus to go through with it.

Morton's Fork- Malvo confronted by Gus

Billy Bob Thornton breathed such life into this character and he has menacing eyes. I get sucked into every single line of dialogue he says and his performance is, by far, the most memorable of the show.

Morton's Fork- Bill tells Molly that he wants her to take over as Chief

Brief aside, even though I’ve never seen Breaking Bad, I did really enjoy Bob Odenkirk as Bill. He realizes the reality of the world around him and knows that there won’t be a simpler time anymore. When he demanded that Lester answer the agents’ questions, it shows that he can’t let past associations cloud his judgment. For so long, he’d been willing to look the other way, but Malvo’s presence has changed his view of the world. Yet there’s no anger or even sorrow when he decides that he will quit. He’s accepted it and it was as great moment for him.

Morton's Fork- Molly listens to Malvo's conversation with Lester

It’s the same sort of acceptance seen in Molly’s face upon listening to Malvo’s tape of his conversation with Lester. Sure, she may have been right, but there’s no need to gloat when Lester was just one of many others who gave into Lorne Malvo.

I don’t have any real complaints with the episode. The qualms I have are extremely minor and don’t take away from my enjoyment of the episode. While it may not have been necessary, I felt we’d been building to some sort of confrontation between Molly and Malvo. Instead, we’re stuck with their brief encounter in the snow and that’s it. The man who has slipped past her radar meets his end at the hands of her husband. I just wish they’d had at least one scene of dialogue together. That’s just me, though. Not having it doesn’t detract anything.

And while I would like to have seen some resolution to Stavros Milos’ and Mr. Wrench’s respective storylines, for the purposes of the overarching storyline, it may not have been necessary.

Morton's Fork- Budge and Pepper realize this is a dream

Budge and Pepper ultimately didn’t add much to the overall storyline. Part of it has to do with how late they’re introduced, but they weren’t really necessary, especially since the Lorne Malvo issue was handled without federal assistance. Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, as always, have impeccable chemistry and brought some humor and discussion of life versus reality to the series, so that I’m appreciative for. Plus, they did give Molly the validation and credit she wouldn’t get from Bill until later, so we have that to thank them for.

Morton's Fork- Car lot owner and wife at Lou's Coffee Shop

Oh, and side-note, the dealership owner is the same man we saw during the pilot who wanted to buy insurance for him and his wife. He’s also briefly seen at Lou’s Coffee Shop when Lester arrives. Nice little additions.

No Country for Old Men- Anton patches himself up

And Lorne Malvo’s work on his leg was almost exactly like Anton Chigur patching himself up in No Country for Old Men, even down to the needle he gives himself.

This was a strong finish for Fargo and incredible work from Noah Hawley. This was an ambitious project and there’s a lot of heart put into this series. Like True Detective, Fargo pits light against the darkness. And like that series, light wins. Like Molly said on multiple occasions, chin up- the good guys are winning.

I hesitate to call this the end of Fargo since there’s apparently word that there may be a Season Two and this series becomes an anthology, similar to American Horror Story. Either way, if Fargo ended right here, it would still be on a high note and one of my favorite new shows of 2014. But if there’s a possibility that it could continue, all we can do now is wait and see. Regardless, fantastic job.

 

A Look at Californication- Season 7, Episode 10: “Dinner with Friends”

“Dinner with Friends: Or How Almost Every Character from this Season Struggled for Screen Time.”  To be frank, this episode was all over the place.  What started off as a night between Hank and Karen turned into a haphazard mess with so many characters brought in to contribute something to the overall episode.  Like “Faith, Hope, Love,” this felt cliché and too coincidental at times to have certain events play out the way that they did.  As we approach the series finale, Karen pops the question that we’ve been wondering for the longest time; when will Hank let her go?  Can he?

Dinner with Friends- Hank propositions Karen with dinner

The episode begins with Hank paying Karen a visit.  Karen is making dinner, but Hank suggests that the two go out instead to a new pop-up restaurant: Abbot Kinney.  Hank’s making it hard for Karen to say no, but she concedes.

Dinner with Friends- Dinner at Charlie and Marcy's place

The two end up at House Runkle.  Not the ritziest locale for dinner, but it’s something.  Charlie and Marcy are out having dinner at Abbot Kinney.  Hank figured that a home cooked meal would be more charming.  Karen still won’t sleep with Hank, which wasn’t even in his mind.  That’s what he says, anyway.  But Hank admits that he’s been adrift: ever since Levon and Julia rocked his world.  He’s been down roads that have led him to back alleys- I guess those are deleted scenes- but he kept his eye on the prize.

Karen asks why Hank doesn’t want to start with someone else.  Good question.  Hank is aghast at the idea.  Why should he pursue a new life before perfecting the old one?  That’s not a good question, Hank.  It is what it is, but Hank doesn’t agree with Karen’s sentiment.  Despite all of the craziness that he’s endured, all he’s ever wanted was her.  However, as Karen points out, their rocky history should be a clear indication that they are just not compatible.  Correct!  Points to Karen!

Maybe they should just eat.  Karen is actually impressed with the dinner, which is great, because Hank didn’t make it.  He opted for some high-end takeout.  But she’s at least a bit charmed by his failed attempt to charm her.

Dinner with Friends- Julia shows up

Knock number one at the door and in enters Julia.  She felt bad and wanted to see how Hank was doing.  When Karen spots Julia, she insists that she stay, much to Hank’s chagrin.  After all, Karen insists, the two need to bond since their paths will cross.

Dinner with Friends- Marcy meets Julia

Marcy barges in an angry huff.  During dinner, every credit card was declined.  Charlie got angry, which led to the restaurant calling the cops.  Charlie enters soon after, while Marcy seeks outside counsel.  She finally mentions Stu’s offer to Karen, who is initially intrigued by the idea, but still shoots it down.  Though Stu has a pretty huge cock, Julia says that she prefers a pretty penis, sort of like Hank’s.  Marcy can so testify.  After all, she did tug on it back in Season Four.  By accident, mind you, but still.

Dinner with Friends- Krull has arrived

Knock number two at the door and Krull enters with pages for his rock and roll memoir, including a salacious instance where he walked in on Atticus blowing himself.  Well, there’s one guy who could do it!

Dinner with Friends- Levon brings in prostitute, Mi, played by Hana Mae Lee

And then Levon just walks in, accompanied by a woman who isn’t Nikki.  No, he’s with a pretty young Asian thing named Mi, played by Hana Mae Lee from Pitch Perfect– a movie I know very little about, but that’s beside the point.  And wow, does she embody a lot of stereotypes from her mannerisms and speech.  Mi has been around.  She knows Krull from the time he rubbed one out on her.

Levon met Mi at a comic book store on Sunset and owes more money than he has.  He’s done everything to Mi, in the butt and all.  But she did make him wear a condom, even though that made it harder for him to climax.

Julia wants Levon to lay off the hookers.  Again, she wants him to lay off the hookers.

Dinner with Friends- Rath arrives to speak with Hank

Knock number three and Rath enters to speak with Hank.  Why?

Dinner with Friends- Rob Lowe returns as Eddie Nero

Because Rob Lowe is back!  Eddie Nero enters in a police uniform and riding a wheelchair.  He’s moist and getting into character for a role he’ll have on Santa Monica Cop.  He figures it could land him an Emmy nomination since a lot of big name celebrities are coming to television.  Truer words were never spoken, Nero.  But right now, he needs Hank to write hi a killer monologue.  While Nero likes Rath, he finds him terse.  Hank, however, can provide a golden shower of verbiage.  He said it, not me.

Just to show how into character he is, Nero whacks Charlie on the knee with his nightstick before he also recognizes Mi, from the Sunset and Gardner.  He apparently pooped on her.

Dinner with Friends- Levon is glad that Rath isn't talking to Julia

So when all the craziness has calmed for the moment, Levon goes over to Hank, ecstatic that Rath is talking to Karen, if only because he’s not talking to his mother.  Nero is, however, and Levon’s stink finger is powerless against him.

Dinner with Friends- Hank slides in on Rath and Karen's conversation

So Hank decides to squeeze his way into Rath and Karen’s conversation.  He laments that his dinner has been thrown off, but Karen- who points out that she and Hank aren’t together- wants to keep talking with Rath.  After all, she can catch up with Hank anytime.  Less so with Rath.

Dinner with Friends- Stu enters with money, contract and love for Marcy

Knock number four and Stu enters.  He brushes past Leon- Levon’s a hard name to remember- to talk with Charlie and Marcy about their deal.  Well, more like he’s ready to put his money where his mouth is, as he presents a suitcase filled with cash.  Marcy is enticed, despite Charlie’s warning to resist.  Nero asks why Stu wants Marcy, of all people.  Truth be told, Stu has never felt more alive than when inside of Marcy.  It was like walking into the most wonderful candy store in the world.

Dinner with Friends- Stu and Charlie's amazing slap fight

Marcy thinks that Stu has lost his mind, but Stu goes further: he offers 10 percent upfront for Charlie and Marcy to do as they please.  Charlie, still wanting to go forth with Krull’s book and tired of being insulted in his own home, strikes Stu with Nero’s nightstick.  This leads to the most amazing slap fight ever before the two are broken up when Nero fires his gun- a real gun, which Rath did not expect.

Dinner with Friends- Eddie Nero confesses that he didn't make love to Karen

Nero believes that men should not fight like this.  Last time he was in a fight, it was with Hank over Karen.  A fight that he lost.  However, Nero admits that he did not have sexual relations with Karen.  He did prematurely ejaculate, but Karen just made it seem like they made love.  She didn’t want to betray Eddie’s confidence, after all.  Nero wants a second chance, but Karen’s not in the mood.

So he turns to Julia, who we learn once dated a paraplegic until Levon scared him off by threatening to push him into traffic.  The man was good at oral, though.

Dinner with Friends- Mi holds everyone hostage

And then, out of nowhere, Mi grabs Nero’s gun and demands that everyone hand over their valuables.  When Nero gives pursuit, Mi pushes him over the balcony.

Well, that was a scene.

Dinner with Friends- Hank walks Karen home

In the aftermath, Hank takes Karen home.  She’s not pleased at his sexual exploits- when is she ever?- but she accepts that it’s his life.  She believes that Hank thrives on chaos and needs to be in the middle of a mess that he created.  Bonus points to Karen!  She believes this makes him attractive, but also impossible to live with.  Karen loves Hank, but cannot be with him.  Hank cannot accept that.  That’s also what makes him attractive.  As Karen bids him good night, Hank lights up a cigarette as the episode comes to a close.

Dinner with Friends- Hank, Julia, Charlie, Marcy and Karen shooting the shit

This episode felt too formulaic for my liking.  The focal point of this could have been just Hank and Karen’s relationship, but maybe the writers opted to include more people since the two got so much screen time last week, even though it was mostly through flashbacks.  But maybe due to the so-called drama of the previous episode, this one felt like it needed to cheer people up by making us laugh.  In doing so, the episode felt overstuffed and tried to assign tasks or memorable lines to as many characters as possible.  Californication has been able to juggle multiple characters and balance out development before, but here, it came off as a jumbled mess.

“Dinner with Friends” also suffers from repetition.  Levon still has daddy issues and is into prostitutes.  Julia questions Levon’s morals.

Dinner with Friends- Marcy and Charlie talk about Stu's offer

Charlie and Marcy grapple with Stu’s offer.  We’ve seen these characters go through these trials already.  The episode tried to put a spin on things by having Levon hook up with a new prostitute or having Stu and Charlie fight, but this doesn’t change the fact that we’ve crossed these bridges before.

Dinner with Friends- Levon tells Hank that Julia is emotionally vulnerable

Also, Levon first didn’t want Hank and Julia to fool around.  But then on the set of Santa Monica Cop, he was thrilled about the idea of them reconnecting.  Now he doesn’t want them messing around again?  Pick a side and stick with it, man!  I hesitate to call this a filler episode since we do get some plot progression, but it came through clumsy execution.

Dinner with Friends- Hank confesses that he didn't cook dinner

Hank is as stubborn as he is charming.  Somehow he’s always able to charm any woman that comes his way, but Karen centers him.  He’s living in his own world and won’t accept the reality of his situation.  Karen has no desire to be with him, but he thinks that he can still charm her.  He sees them living the happily ever after ending teased at the end of Season One.  That’s not out of character for Hank, but I want to see him do some of the growing up that he spoke about.  If Hank doesn’t believe in anything else, he believes that he and Karen are destined to be together.

But seven seasons of ‘Will they, won’t they’ should be enough of a sign that the two just can’t work.  Heroic gestures don’t work with Karen because she’s known Hank long enough to see how he operates.  He’s the architect of his own destruction and drags everyone else down with him.

Dinner with Friends- Hank intervenes

And this includes his mentality of keeping Karen away from any other man, as seen when he interrupts Karen’s conversation with Rath and denying that Rath is his boss.

Dinner with Friends- Karen tells Hank that she can't be with him

Karen, however, spells everything out a bit too clearly.  In fact, it’s as if the show has become self-referential in that she says everything that the audience is thinking.  She’s ready to move on and deserves better than Hank, but allows him to rope her back in.  Not that Karen can just go on with her life without interruption.  Hank will always be there to try and win her back.

Dinner with Friends- Marcy and Karen are not pleased

And what specifically is Karen so upset about?  She seems to be at the point of acceptance with Hank’s sexual misadventures, but then she’s always angry at him.  Given the laundry list of Hank’s deeds, I’m surprised she even gives him the time of day.

I’m surprised at how little Karen’s car accident is referenced.  The show built it up to be a big, dramatic deal, but really, you could probably walk into this episode having not seen “Faith, Hope, Love” and think nothing happened to Karen at all.  And if Julia felt bad for Hank and wanted to see how Karen was doing, then why wasn’t she also at the hospital during “Faith, Hope, Love?”

Dinner with Friends- Marcy and Charlie after Stu confesses how much he wants to be inside of Marcy again

And the whole ‘will they, won’t they’ is just as lazy with Charlie and Marcy.  We know they have money woes and that they’re grappling with whether to accept Stu’s offer.  We’ve also seen Charlie and Stu come to blows, so having Stu here to show off his money just seemed like an excuse to have Charlie fight him again.

Though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like Marcy’s acknowledgement of the one time she touched Hank’s cock back in the fourth season.

Dinner with Friends- Eddie Nero knows that he pooped on Mi

And if the series is ending soon, I am glad to see Rob Lowe again, if only because Eddie Nero is a very memorable character in my eyes.  Plus, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen Lowe on television since he left Parks and Recreation.  Talk about two different characters that are worlds apart.

Dinner with Friends- Mi with Eddie Nero

Oh, and what the hell was up with Mi?  Maybe Levon should just stick to Nikki.

Look, I know it seems like I’m bashing the episode, but I did laugh at moments like Stu and Charlie’s fight, the return of Eddie Nero and, Hank trying to woo Karen with dinner he didn’t even prepare.  As always, the writing and performances are spot-on, but “Dinner with Friends” felt like more of the same.  It’s like the writers know they’re retreading old territory.  To me, the backbone of the show has been the enduring strength of Hank and Karen’s relationship.  After seven seasons, though, Karen is ready to call it quits and tells Hank this right to his face.  But he won’t accept that.  He believes they can work, but considering their past, Karen doesn’t think that’s possible.  At this point, the ‘will they, won’t they’ speculation grows worn and tired.  Shoving in as many characters as possible doesn’t help, either.

 

 

A Look at The Immigrant

The year is 1921.  You and your sister have come to America to start a new life and hopefully pursue the American dream.  However, making it in the land of the free and home of the brave is no simple task.  You have no money, you’re not married and apparently have no valid residence.  On top of that, you’re known to have very loose morals.  Along comes a savior with a lucrative offer.  Do you take his offer, regardless of the consequences?

The Immigrant Poster

The Immigrant offers a look at an individual who finds themselves in a horrible situation where the use of her body becomes her one way toward achieving their goal.  The film asks us to consider whether it’s sinful to do horrible things in order to survive.  Does using your body for money become more acceptable if the long term goal is to save someone else?  Let’s dive right in.

The-Immigrant- Magda and Ewa arrive in America

The film begins in the year 1921.  A Polish woman named Ewa Cybulska, played by Marion Cotillard, and her sister, Magda Cybulska, played by Angela Sarafyan, come to Ellis Island, New York City as immigrants who have escaped the ravages of the Great War from their homeland- Poland.  They wish to make a new life for themselves.  Magda has a slight cough, which Ewa tells her to cover up so the two won’t be separated.

It’s no good, though.  After a brief examination, a doctor decides to quarantine Magda due to her lung disease.  Ewa is forced to move on by herself.  At the check-in, a clerk deems that Ewa is ineligible to continue because she’s not married and has no money.  More than that, she’s accused of having low morals due to her actions on the boat over to America.  Ewa insists that she be let through, as her aunt and uncle are waiting for her, but the clerk tells her that the address is not valid.  All of this could lead to Ewa being liable to a public charge, but she may be sent back to Poland.

The Immigrant- Ewa meets Bruno Weiss

In comes Bruno Weiss, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who notices Ewa’s fluency in English and bribes an officer to let her go.  Bruno tells Ewa that he works for a travel society and can guarantee Ewa work, so he brings her to his home.

When they arrive, Bruno offers Ewa a sewing job.  She’ll have to fill out some paperwork, first.  Ewa, wary of her surroundings, looks to leave, but Bruno warns her that the streets of New York City are dangerous for an unescorted lady.  She decides to remain.  Sometime later, Bruno tells Ewa that he received a telegram regarding Ewa’s health: she has tuberculosis and requires a lot of money to pay for her health care.  So Ewa will be a seamstress at the nearby theater.

Ewa meets some of Bruno’s other employers at a bathhouse, where she learns that Bruno can have a bit of a temper, but is a good guy.  All of the girls there needed help once, but Bruno helped them land on their feet.

The Immigrant- Bruno and Ewa at dinner with other patrons

That evening at dinner, Bruno introduces Ewa to Rosie Hertz, played by Yelena Solovey, the owner of the Bandits’ Roost theater.  Rosie believes that Ewa will make a nice fit for their type of work.

During a wager that Ewa is not a part of, she takes some money from the money hat when she thinks no one else is looking.  However, Bruno notices and confronts her about this when they arrive back at Bruno’s.  Bruno admits that he himself has done terrible things to get where he is now.  That’s the nature of the lives they live.  Bruno doesn’t think that Ewa is being very smart.  He wants to help her, but she must be open to his offer.

That offer means dressing up as Lady Liberty and showcasing her body in front of a crowd of whooping, hollering men.  Ewa isn’t entirely ready, so Bruno offers her some absinthe to ease the tension.  During this, a man arrives with his son.  The man tells Bruno that his son isn’t manly yet and needs some “care.”  That care, the man believes, can be delivered by Ewa, but Bruno is hesitant to let someone as fresh and delicate as Ewa partake.

Ewa doesn’t get much of a say in the matter.  She awakens in her bed, quite intoxicated.  The young man, named Leo, enters and tells Ewa that he’s only doing this because his father wants him to.  Bruno, in confidence, tells Ewa that he doesn’t want her to do this, but she has to do this for the greater good: saving her sister.  No one will ever know.  He offers to send Leo away, but Ewa says nothing.  Leo returns and as he reaches out to touch Ewa, we fade to black.

DSC_1034.NEF

After a tense confrontation with her aunt and uncle, which I’ll get more into later, Ewa attends a show at the center where Magda is being held.  There, she witnesses, first glance, the spectacle that is Orlando the Magician, played by Jeremy Renner.  Orlando dazzles the audience and asks why they’re in America: because they believed the American dream was within their grasp.  The moment he lays his eyes on Ewa, he presents her with a white rose and calls her a beautiful wonder.

Let’s hold it there.

The Immigrant gives viewers a distorted look at the American dream.  The land where anyone can make it big is portrayed as corrupt and unpleasant.  This is, by no means, an uplifting film save for Ewa’s drive to reunite with Magda.  Just the possibility of seeing her face again fuels her to make decisions she ends up regretting.  One of the messages I grasped from the film was how survival can lead us further into sin, even if we believe we’re surviving for a noble cause.  If we have the means to survive, we have a responsibility to outlast the odds for as long as possible.

Faith is one of the bigger themes of the film.  Ewa is a devout Catholic.  Throughout the film, we watch her pray to Mary not just for guidance or forgiveness, but that Magda is alive and safe.  Ewa has morals and is clearly worried about the status of her soul.  One of Cotillard’s greatest moments comes through a scene where Ewa confessions how she has used her body for money.  There’s not just sadness or regret in her voice- there’s fear that her behavior has doomed her to damnation.  However, as the priest hears her cries, he reminds her that the Good Lord also rejoices when one of his lost sheep returns to the flock.  Like the parable of the Lost Son, there is always an opportunity for redemption, no matter how far we’ve fallen.  I’ll touch upon this more when discussing Ewa herself, but suffice to say that she is a woman who takes her faith seriously.

The Immigrant- Ewa and showgirl under bridge

The film itself is well paced.  This is not a fast moving movie and director James Gray takes the opportunity to show us every little detail of the gritty streets of New York.  Along with cinematographer Darius Khondji, the world Gray has created runs rampant with corrupt police officers who don’t enforce Prohibition and cramped homes that reminded me of the tenement housing showcased in Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives.  If this is the scene that greets immigrants arriving to America, their perception of the American dream would surely change.  This is a far cry from the dazzling New York life portrayed in The Great Gatsby and stands in contrast to the cultural and economic prosperity representative of what we now refer to as Roaring Twenties.

The Immigrant- An intoxicated Ewa wakes up

Much of the horrific life of prostitution is showcased through dialogue.  Sure, The Immigrant has an R rating, but I’d say that’s more due to the swearing and scenes that include topless women.  There’s no on-screen sex anywhere at all in this movie.  I’m not saying this movie is accessible for everyone.  The conversations alone spell out how women degrade themselves in order to make money.

The Immigrant- Orlando brings Ewa on stage

When Orlando brings Ewa on stage during one of his performances, men in the audience talk of their experiences with Ewa, with one man in particular wanting Ewa to ride his “torch.”  We never sit in on Ewa’s sessions.  Anytime we join her, a session is either about to begin or has just ended.  What happens during these intimate moments is left up to the viewer’s imagination.

The Immigrant- Ewa

Ewa, despite facing many odds, is still a driven woman.  Marion Cotillard found a way to make this character sympathetic and not at all pathetic.  As evidenced when she steals money, one of Ewa’s motivations is desperation.  If she’s going to be in this ugly situation where she must use her body in order to rescue her sister, she won’t just lie down and take it.  She assimilates into her new surroundings.  She has a great moment where she tells one of Bruno’s other women that she’s not “nothing.”  Despite her current position, she ultimately refuses to let Bruno define her.  She starts off with dreams of settling down with a family and kids, but reaching that far off dream comes with a price.

It helps that Ewa has no one to turn to.  We don’t learn much about her home life in Poland aside from the fact that her parents were killed and decapitated by soldiers during the war.  I don’t mind not learning about her past since she and Magda came to America to get away from that.

As mentioned, there’s a scene where Ewa manages to find with her aunt and uncle.  What starts off as a reunion turns into a horrible reality when, after Ewa’s uncle turns her into the authorities on the grounds that his home will not be disgraced by her behavior, Ewa realizes that she has few allies in her corner.  She doesn’t trust Bruno- she just likes the money he gives her.  She doesn’t start off this way, mind you, and it takes her awhile to go from submissive to having control.

The Immigrant- Ewa after first time on stage while Bruno handles proposition

She doesn’t enjoy having sex with random men or parading around like a showgirl, but if it’s for the greater good, she’s willing to take those chances.  The possibility of uniting with Ewa drives her to do desperate things that she clearly regrets.  But she at least grows aware of the violence around her, as seen when she grabs the nearest weapon whenever she feels threatened.

The Immigrant- Ewa and Magda

Again, her faith plays a big part in her drive.  While Magda is very much top priority, she takes any opportunity she can to pray.  She questions whether it’s still a sin to do what it takes to survive when the things you’ve done are bad.  But she questions her soul after she’s allowed a man she knew little about to use her.

The Immigrant- Ewa arms herself with scissors

Though Ewa isn’t as layered as some would like, I understood what emotions she portrayed on screen, and that shined both through Gray’s direction and Cotillard’s performance.  Ewa ultimately believes that landing in this situation is for a purpose far beyond rescuing Magda, as she thinks that God has sent her to rescue Bruno from the darkness.  This concept is introduced late into the film, so we don’t get to explore it that much, but Ewa has so much on her plate already that there probably wouldn’t have been time to fit it in earlier.

The Immigrant- Bruno

This brings me to Bruno, who is given a commanding presence thanks to Phoenix’s performance.  He embodies the slick talker who offers a way out for the desperate and willing.  Bruno isn’t a villain, mind you.  In fact, he’s had his fair share of tragedy that I won’t divulge.  Needless to say, he knows that what he’s doing is wrong, but he sees himself as a liberator to women who he feels need rescuing.

The Immigrant- Ewa and Bruno leave for New York

But as both Orlando and one of the prostitutes tell Ewa, Bruno has his fits of rage.  When he strikes, I wondered whether he would take his anger out on one of the women, but this is no woman beater.  In fact, I can’t recall if he ever laid a finger on any of the women out of anger.  As Bruno begins to develop feelings for Ewa, it leads to a divide between the others.  Not just that, but when Bruno sees that Orlando also cares for Ewa, it’s all he can do to keep her all to himself.  His motivation is love.  An admirable motivation, but still a selfish one, given how much hope he’s given Ewa that she would see her sister alive and well.

The Immigrant- Bruno on the run with Ewa

Bruno doesn’t come off as the typical pimp you would expect.  At least, based on what we’re given here.  He doesn’t rip off the women.  He keeps them in relatively good conditions and housing.  When Ewa is about to engage in her first prostitution stint, Bruno admits that he would prefer that she doesn’t do it, but it’s for a greater good.  He didn’t even want Ewa to be selected because she was new.  Maybe that was more because he wanted to keep her for himself, but he does make an effort to at least try and keep Ewa as pure as possible.  Bruno knows this city.  He gets that there are certain men who would take serious advantage of Ewa, and he never allows that to happen.  When men make catcalls at Ewa on stage, Bruno has her brought off, claiming that Orlando embarrassed her.

The Immigrant- Orlando and Bruno confrontation

And though I like Jeremy Renner in the role, Orlando, or “Emil,” as Bruno calls him, is more of the knight in shining armor archetype.  Most of what we learn about Emil comes through what Bruno tells Ewa.  This could have turned into a conflicted love triangle, but the focus is primarily on Ewa and Bruno.  Emil has good intentions.  He’s a traveler and offers to bring Ewa with him.  He can see the desperation in her eyes and hear it in her voice, but never tries to push her into making a decision.  He acknowledges that she has a right to be happy and can make her own choices.  He’s the complete opposite of Bruno: he’s charming, a gentleman and knows how to dazzle a crowd in ways that don’t involve degrading himself or anyone else involved.

We learn from Bruno that Emil used to gamble, but he’s grown from that, from what we see.  Renner has, by far, the most animated performance in the film.  He’s introduced late in the film, but makes good use of the scenes he’s in.  In fact, one could argue that Emil’s character almost doesn’t even fit in this world, given his cheery disposition juxtaposed against the chaotic world he lives in.

The Immigrant turns the American dream on its head.  In a world filled with chaos, filth and greed, we watch a woman debase herself through sin.  She suffers for a loved one not because she can, but because she feels she has to.  But despite her circumstances, Ewa never loses sight of the greater goal.  The scary part of it all is how true the film is to life, both in the past and present.  How often do we hear of men and women who are forced into impossible situations where they must use their bodies to satisfy others so they can make it to the next day alive?  And how quick are we to judge them as having the same loose morals that branded Ewa the moment she landed in America?

This is a bleak film to watch.  The strong performances from Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner enhanced the film’s enjoyment factor for me.  At the end of the day, the film asks: despite how far we can fall, is there still goodness in us all?  Can we truly redeem ourselves after unspeakable and seemingly unforgivable acts?  Or are some destined for darker forever with absolutely no chance of redemption?  And as much as I distaste the ongoing reality of human trafficking, I can’t help but think about the people who contemplate these questions and more on a daily basis.  Did they have a chance or were they also coerced into the possibility of a new life before being deceived?  How far would they go to have a fraction of the privileges that we take for granted?  It makes my skin crawl to think about it.

I very much recommend The Immigrant.