Another amazing week, and with a new Netflix show ready to drop for what feels like the next 10 straight weeks, it doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. I hope to check in with Sense8 and the new Starz series American Gods for next week’s write-up.
The Leftovers – “Crazy Whitefella Thinking”
Kevin Garvey, Sr. has been this show’s secret hidden weapon since its inception – always uniquely memorable in his brief appearances and always pushing the story forward, either on his own or in how he rubs off on his son, Kevin, Jr. But this was the all-Kevin, Sr. power-hour we’ve desperately needed since he popped up last season to casually announce he was heading down to Australia to start the world back up again, and it did not disappoint. His journey throughout the episode is so wildly, endearingly The Leftovers, with one preposterous moment or interaction after another that only remotely makes sense in the context of this broken world and broken man. His mission leading through his rendezvous with Christopher Sunday (what a great name) and what quickly followed was so perfect, the takeaway from both parts obviously being the two separate conversations he shares with Sunday (moments before he accidently kills him, of course) and Grace, the not-Kevin murdering old woman we met last week. Those two scenes blew me away, but for different reasons: the former being the long, near-incoherent (hilarious, perfectly delivered) ramblings of a man in search of a communion with God from within, the latter a tragic, paralyzing confession of a remorseful woman in search of a connection with her deceased children through a God-like figure. With Kevin, Jr. now enroute to Australia, I think the two might just find what they’re looking for, just not in how they were expecting.
Episode grade: A
Veep – “Georgia”
The Meyer-Doyle power-struggle has always been one of my favorite tiny details of the entire run of Veep so I was especially pleased to see it front and center in this episode. He was her after-thought Veep, now she’s the after-thought representative of his State Department overseeing the first ever democratic election in Georgia. Their back and forth over who exactly puts whom on hold was delightful. This episode worked a bit better for me than the previous two just by virtue of so much of the cast finally appearing in the same geographical setting. Something about seeing Ben and Kent huddled around Selina advising her on which deeply unethical financial and political quid pro quo she should consider felt right to me. And any time Minna Häkkinen is also around badgering the shit out of Selina (whether intentional or not) is always gonna elevate any given episode as well.
Episode grade: B+
American Crime – “Episode Eight”
I’ve always admired this show for its bold, form-breaking content matter and artistic sensibilities, even when the actual show itself falls short of its ambitions through various kinks in its writing or portrayal of characters. That said, I found those issues to be less glaring this season, as the show settled into a fairly gripping account of the crippling financial anxieties beholden to all areas of our culture and class system, and the tragedy of the systemic, trickling affects that has on the most powerless and vulnerable among us. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to sell this season as its best for me if not for the all-consuming performances of its two heavy-hitters, Regina King and Felicity Huffman. It’s not a coincidence that their finest performances on this show to date arrived when they were each given the chance to play the season’s most root-worthy and sympathetic characters. The eight-episode order (as opposed to the usual ten) worked to the show’s advantage in enabling it to focus more acutely on its themes and core characters, but there were a few underserved characters and story beats that likely fell victim to it as well. I’m thinking of the Shea character or the character played by Benito Martinez. I didn’t love the final episode as I found much of it to be resolved a tad too hastily, but I admired the hell out of this season probably enough to call it my favorite of the three we’ve seen. I really hope we get a fourth.
Episode grade: B
Season grade: A-
Better Call Saul – “Sabrosito”
The first half of this episode played like a Breaking Bad prequel in the truest sense of the word, as we finally delve deeper into the politics of the same drug cartel Walter White will one day inadvertently challenge to upend. It was so exciting to be back in the good graces of the likes of Don Eladio and Juan Bolsa during the early rise of Gus’s meth empire, and to witness even more of the corrosive blood-feud between Gus and Hector Salamanca that we know many years from now will end in a blaze of bell-ringing glory. And the Jimmy/Kim/Chuck stuff so was great, too! There’s so much going for this show right now it’s almost embarrassing. I’m so pumped to see how this showdown between brothers will play out in court and not if, but how Jimmy and Kim will take down Chuck once and for all. It can’t go any other way.
Episode grade: A
The Americans – “IHOP”
Another week, another really solid episode of The Americans. Even when there isn’t a whole lot going on (as has been the case for several straight episodes, it feels like), there’s still plenty of good stuff to appreciate at the very least. Two characters I wouldn’t have held my breath over ever seeing again – Martha and Gabriel – reunited at last, although I’m not sure what Gabriel was hoping to get out of it. The scene paints a bleak picture of what Martha’s post-American life has become: lonely, completely isolated from society, struggling to learn a challenging new language that would enable her to live a somewhat fruitful existence. And nothing from this chat with Gabriel brings her closer to any of this; just more pain and anger towards the man she thought she loved and could trust. That man isn’t doing too great either, but has he ever been, really? He and his wife have a lot on their plate; too much to realize just how thoughtful and successful their biological son has become almost in spite of them, or just how lonely and homesick their “adopted” son has been as a result of their absence. With Gabriel no longer by their side to sooth them through tough times like these, I can’t help but think trouble likely looms in the near future of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings.
Episode grade: B
Fargo – “The Yanagita Effect”
This season’s been criticized (too heavily, I’d argue) for how closely it’s resembled its past seasons – I say too heavily because if the characters and story continue to be fun and engaging in the face of familiarity (ahem, The Force Awakens), isn’t that what ultimately matters? But damn if this episode wasn’t as radical a departure from anything this show has ever done before. And it was a lot of fun seeing the world of this show travel to LA in the spirit of murder-mystery noir from the point-of-you of a character as fish-out-of-water as Gloria Burgle. Fun, yes, but purposeful? I’m still not sure. The story was advanced if not zero percent, hardly at all, and the mystery she was investigating, while compelling in its own right, ties very little back to the core crux of the actual murder itself. I liked the episode a lot, but whether or not I grow to love it will depend on just how much relevance it has to the rest of the story; it may be some time before we find out.
Episode grade: B
The Handmaid’s Tale – “Birth Day”
The blank, apathetic, almost smirking stare on the face of Offred as she’s casually, routinely raped by her Commander is among the most unsettling things I’ve ever seen on a TV show. There were a lot of moments like that in this episode, as we see the handmaids chant and coo at a fellow handmaid into delivering a baby she will never get to call her own, a baby whose life she will only exist in to serve as a designated milk provider. Seeing that entire process play out coupled with the flashbacks to Offred’s past pre-dystopian birthing experience helped to illuminate the role mass infertility likely played in bringing the world to its current state. As the history and order of this horrifying new world slowly begins to rear itself, I become more and more invested in its main character’s plight and hopeful resurgence. Though I can’t help but feel it’s gonna get a lot worse for her before it gets better, unfortunately.
Episode grade: A
Grey’s Anatomy – “Leave It Inside”
Every episode of this show is magic from start to finish.
Episode grade: A++++