There’s not enough time in the week to write feature reviews for all 70 of the airing shows that I force myself to watch, so I’m testing out this Weekly Round-up format, with hopefully new posts every Friday. However, for great weekly coverage of The Leftovers, be sure to check out reviews like this one every Monday from the stoic Chris Moore. It’s a show so nice we have to review it twice! Sorry, that was terrible.
The Leftovers – “Don’t Be Ridiculous”
Last week’s season premiere provided a wondrous and fatal (that fucking domestic drone strike) return to this bleak, off-kilter, immersive world through the eyes of its profoundly fucked up male lead, Kevin Garvey, and this week, now through the eyes of its adjacently fucked up female lead, Nora Durst, the barrel keeps on rolling. Nora has long been the show’s most complex and sympathetic character (thanks to both Carrie Coon’s amazing acting abilities and the incredibly tragic past she’s been dealt by show creators Tom Perrotta and Damon Lindelof) and it’s no coincidence that every Nora showcase episode – “Guest” in season one, “Lens” in season two, and now “Don’t Be Ridiculous” in season three – always winds up as a season highmark. This episode was as much as ever about (as all Nora episodes are and really every episode of this show but rarely as much as this one) the extreme ways in which people cope with loss, grief and insurmountable pain, and in Nora’s case, in the face of both the unexplainable (the loss of her departed children) and now as we learn the explainable (the loss of Lilly at the hands of her aggrieved biological mother, Christine). With Nora and Kevin and whoever else that follows about to set sail for whatever the hell crazy shit that awaits them in Australia, it would appear things are about to get even more preposterous and exciting and sad. Definitely sad.
Episode grade: A
Veep – “Library”
What an emotional rollercoaster to turn from the tragedy and bleakness of The Leftovers to the relentless wit and hilarity of Veep; although it could be argued that in the tragedy department the two shows have never had as much in common. As the premiere made very clear, this season is going to be a rough ride for former (never elected) President Selina Meyer, and this episode continues hitting home that very point through her exhaustive efforts to construct a Presidential Library as prestigious and glorified as her predecessor’s. But of course that can’t be; she stumbled upwards into the job and then had it embarrassingly torn away by a younger, elected fellow woman a year later. As Selina tries desperately to reclaim some form of relevance in the public sphere, most of her former team continues scattered across the country. The Jon H. Ryan/Kent/Ben trio shows the most promise, but I’m not sure what to make yet of what’s going on with Dan and Amy’s respective storylines. Those two are at their best when together, as is much of the rest of the team. I hope we’re nearing a (permanent?) reunion of sorts in the next couple episodes.
Episode grade: B
Better Call Saul – “Sunk Costs”
It’s been five long years since Mike Ehrmantrout and Gustavo Fring occupied the screen together on Breaking Bad, and their long awaited reunion on season three, episode three of Better Call Saul did not disappoint. These two men are titans of their respective crafts and it was such a joy just sitting back and watching these grisled professionals size each other up and unite, however reluctantly, towards bringing down a common enemy. And the Jimmy/Chuck/Kim half of the episode was equally compelling, too, just in an entirely different way. The Jimmy/Chuck relationship is the axis on which the world of this show rotates and that conversation the two share in the episode’s first act, and the conversation Jimmy and Kim share in its final scene, cemented a significant turning point. Chuck wants Jimmy out of law practice, and Jimmy (with Kim’s help) isn’t going down without a fight.
Episode grade: A-
Bates Motel – “The Cord”
Bates Motel capped off its psychologically daring, often-frustratingly plotted five-season run this past week in I’d say appropriate, albeit similar fashion. As a deep-dive through the mind of a criminally disturbed and unstable “psycho”-path, this show and this season and episode in particular thrived. But arriving gracefully at those various points of emotional and psychological exploration was never easy for this show and this final stretch of episodes were no different. Romera had to clumsily bust Norman out of jail just like he had to stupidly turn his back to Norman for a prolonged period of time with his gun sticking out of his back pocket because… it’s what the plot required. And the White Pine Bay sheriff’s department had to be incompetent enough to leave the Bates residence and motel unmonitored for a half a day long enough for Norman to recreate the timeline of the show’s pilot in his mind and for Dylan to intervene in the final moments because… you get the point. But that final scene between the two brothers and especially that final image of the two deceased Bates side by side in their graves was perfect, as was so much of this final season when it opted to lean into that emotional well. It wasn’t always pretty, but when it was, it was pretty great.
Episode grade: B+
The Americans – “Immersion”
The lives of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are spiraling, however slowly and painstakingly. Their fatherly spy handler has abandoned them, their daughter is emotionally destroyed as a result of all they’ve shared with her, and their commitment to the Cause is… waning. At least in how far they’re willing to make secondary their family and marriage in service to their spycraft. They do not like participating in the wheat crop operation, and in this episode they, subconsciously even, appear willing to destroy their involvement in it because of the wedge they perceive it to drive in their relationship. There hasn’t been a whole lot of forward momentum flowing from episode to episode in the way that other, better seasons have had, but as long as Philip and Elizabeth and their familial struggles continue to remain the heavy focus (which of course it will, that is The Americans), my commitment to this show will remain firm.
Episode grade: B
Fargo – “The Principle of Restricted Choice”
The plot is kicking into high gear in this second episode and I’m just genuinely thrilled to be along for the ride. Yes, the characters and story (at least to this point) feel a tad on the thin side but those weaknesses are overwhelmed by the first-class performances from literally every actor involved and the unique, familiar aesthetic sensibilities of this world. The Stussy brother feud is obviously the driving force behind all we’ve seen to this point and it’s certainly been ratcheted up to ten with Ray and Nikki’s latest move – I love that pairing by the way, Ewen McGregor is great in both brother roles but so far Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the season MVP. I’m pumped to see where that goes along with Gloria’s investigation of the murder of her step-father. That both her step-father and the Stussy brothers share a last name cannot just be a coincidence.
Episode grade: B+
The Handmaid’s Tale – “Offred”
Wow. This premiere blew me away in 30 more ways than one. From Elizabeth Moss’s intimate, bare-bones performance, the masterful world building, the tense, artful pacing and direction – it’s all there and it’s all great. Even though you still walk away with far more questions than answers, the shadings of answers you do get are enough to paint the picture of this bleak, dystopian version of an imagined future in which women exist on this earth to serve men and bear their babies. Or most women at least; there are some in the premiere that remain in positions of power (chief among them, the goddess Ann Dowd who’s amazing here) that I’m really curious about the how of it all. But damn. So good, so haunting; I’m as excited for more as I am dreadful.
Episode grade: A
Grey’s Anatomy – “Don’t Stop Me Now”
I still watch every episode of this damn show and I ain’t never stoppin’!
Episode grade: A++++