This episode of The Newsroom was the closest the show's ever come for me to doing what I think it wants to be doing: effectively interweaving accounts of principled reporting and the ethical dilemmas of journalism with snappy explorations of its characters' personal lives. Unfortunately, it founders on the same shoals it always does: MacKenzie's and idiot, and Will thinks it's all about him. This week, the reasons we know that Atlantis, the company that owns News Night, is a Fictional News Paradise of Legend are that its gossipy morning show makes a real effort to teach its viewers about a substantive media conflict of interest, and that it took almost a year for one of more than 100,000 people who received a hugely embarrassing email about major figures in the organization to figure out that it might be of interest to media reporters. Not to mention that it’s truly hilarious to think that anyone wouldn’t have known Will and MacKenzie dated when they were together because journalists are notorious gossips, a quality you’d think would be catnip to Sorkin.

nullBut no, the real problem here is the rift between the rest of the episode and Will’s defense of MacKenzie to Nina, a reporter, when he has been tipped off by Gary, the Smart Black Guy Who Isn’t Afraid to Criticize Obama, Validates Jim’s Seduction Techniques, and Also Has a Sideline in Bribery, that TMI takes payoff money from celebrities. “I hired the best EP in broadcasting in spite of her being my ex-girlfriend,” Will tells Nina, who he believes is going after him for sexually slighting her at New Year’s (never mind insulting her job), in angrily warning her to step away from his staff. But nothing in the show indicates that. In fact, everything we see indicates that MacKenzie is a disastrously ill-informed and naive woman.

She misses that her boyfriend Wade is using her to prep for a Congressional run, which would be a heartbreaking tale about a skeptical journalist letting down her guard and being disappointed if she didn’t know so little about everything else. She confesses to Sloan that her economics knowledge only extends as far as thinking “a lot of what’s going on in the world has to do with the economy,” and that her oversight of the economics statements she’s producing consists of the following: “I pretend to read what you give me, then I nod.” Her response to the news that the Army is filling the power void in Egypt? “The army’s not the good guys?” All of this might have been cute for Mary Richards back in the days when she was still ordering Brandy Alexanders during job interviews, but there’s something distasteful about Sorkin’s asking us to buy incompetence in the guise of dizzy adorability. Nina would be justified in investigating MacKenzie’s utter lack of qualifications even if there weren’t ethical lapses in her current performance or errors of judgment in her past.

This glaring contradiction is doubly unpleasant because it sullies the best job The Newsroom’s done so far at actually showing the challenges and pains of directing correspondents on the ground from a cable control room. The reason the coverage of Tahrir Square works is that Will and his team don’t magically discover a major scoop simply because they care about it more than anyone else, or avoid a major error because they’re so much more ethical than their competitors. The episode is, instead, largely about process and the dangers of reporting in a war zone.

First, Elliot and Don’s frustrations, which have been boiling since election night when Don urged Elliot to jump into the scrum of commentary, end up having real consequences. Elliot, who’s been confined to his hotel room giving useless broadcasts that add nothing to the network’s coverage of Egypt, hits the streets after Don’s pestering, and is badly beaten by the crowd. On his return, Don wants to put him on the air for reasons related both to public interest and his own interest. “We show what’s going on. Journalists are getting beaten up,” he urges Charlie, Will, and MacKenzie. “I know that we’re not the story. But Jesus, goddamnit, nobody else is going to know . . . In the media, we’re all effete, elitist assholes.” In a show that’s all about trying to paint a journalist as hero, this is the first moment that’s effectively captured the anxieties of reporters about their standing in the wider world, and the risk and guilt that accompany those times when journalists are recognized by the broader public for their personal accomplishments.

And the show navigates a more difficult set of emotions skillfully, too. “I sent him down there. I bullied him into going out into the street and they beat him up with a rock,” Don confesses to Will. “I know. Everybody knows,” Will tells him, before getting at the petty kind of thinking that can plague journalistic accomplishment. “We’re all jealous it isn’t us with the bruises on our face. You didn’t give him an order. You gave him permission.” That kind of emotion, or the self-congratulatory sequence after the show when the News Night team managed not to disastrously screw up their reporting on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting, are interesting, ambiguous places to be, the actual baseline people like Will and his staff are trying to rise above. It’s not really gossip columnists and media reporters who make up the Pit from which decent newsmen must rise. Instead, it’s their own venality.

But The Newsroom, sadly, can’t linger there, in that rich and ambiguous place. No, it has to end with a recreation of Rudy. After an Egyptian stringer is taken prisoner, so upsetting the News Night staff that they repeatedly injure themselves and corporate refuses to ransom the young man, Will insists on paying for his rescue. Because the self-injuries have to be seen to be believed, watch below:

This all might have been more effective had Will not already tried to bribe Evil Nina, and in a prior episode, privately paid for the cab rides of an undocumented immigrant so the man could get to his job. And it might have worked even better if it was a subsequent attempt to create a complicity between Neal and Will, who ridicules Neal’s internet abilities and obsessions much of the time, but who does seem to respect the younger man’s skills and passion. But no, it has to be about how the whole staff does their bit to pay Will, who makes $3 million a year, for his act of generosity, and then celebrates him publicly.

It’s amazing that a man, and the show that celebrates him, can recognize any news when they spot it, given how much time Will and The Newsroom spend in a self-regarding set of funhouse mirrors that seem to reflect only the most flattering version of Will back to him.

Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture reporter for She is a correspondent for and The Loop 21. Alyssa grew up in Massachusetts and holds a BA in humanities from Yale University. Before joining ThinkProgress, she was editor of and a staff correspondent at Government Executive. Her work has appeared in, The Daily, The American Prospect, The New Republic, National Journal, and The Daily Beast.



The most striking aspect of tonight’s episode was our introduction to German mega-company Madrigal Elektromoteren (and, of course, the short-order introduction and elimination of suit Herr Schuler, who was clearly complicit in the late Mr. Fring’s meth empire, though we don’t quite know yet to what degree). The episode’s opening scene (below), with Herr Schuler absently munching chicken fingers as a scientist explains the money-saving formulas in their dipping sauces, seems absurd at first, until you think of the number of times Herr Schuler had to taste the “authentic” blend of spices for the meth-concealing Pollos Hermanos chicken recipe. Schuler is distracted, and we find out very quickly why: apparently, there are police here to see him, and more of them than last time, according to his assistant. Uh oh.

As Schuler makes his way toward his self-inflicted demise, we’re shown just how far-reaching the Madrigal empire is as he passes the backlit logos of fast-food chains such as Whiskerstay’s, Haau Chuen Wok, Burger Matic (hilariously abbreviated to “BM”), and Pollos Hermanos. (It’s also worth noting that these fast food chains are most likely just a fraction of Madrigal’s overall business; I would imagine a majority of what they produce relates to auto parts, judging from the “Elektromoteren” part of their name.) Schuler pauses to watch two workmen take down the Pollos sign, clearly wondering how such an innocuous-sounding fast food joint could have possibly led to his undoing. For us, one thing’s for sure: Hank’s excellent police work has traced a few of the superlab’s equipment pieces back to Madrigal, and Schuler is on borrowed time. As Schuler passes by his office, he watches one of the Polizei eyeballing a picture of himself and Gus Fring golfing in happier times, and decides this can’t be worth it. Gus must have seemed like such a sure thing. Well, until Walt came along.

Another large chunk of tonight’s show was dedicated to Jesse and Walt’s “search” for the ricin cigarette (below), the loss of which triggered their rift last season when Brock fell ill from an apparent poisoning. Jesse is obviously made distraught by its absence, but Walt can’t really explain to him why one of Saul’s goons lifted it from him without coming clean about the Lily of the Valley, so he gets to work not only hiding the actual ricin vial (it may come in handy again sometime, so he hides it in an electrical outlet; I’m sure that’s going to be important again soon), but also creating a dummy cigarette and helping Jesse discover it in his Roomba to give him some peace of mind (and I have to give it to the sound department here; every sound of Walt and Jesse rifling through the apartment during the montage has a rhythmic quality that syncs with the musical cue, adding to the scene’s urgency while also increasing the fun factor of watching). Executed with perfect Walter White-style conniving trickery, he even gets Jesse to cry from the guilt he feels for even thinking about shooting him last season, allowing Walt to slip right back into father figure mode, further bonding Jesse to him.  Of course, this also gives Walt the perfect opportunity: “What happened, happened for the best, you hear me?…Having each other’s back?  It’s what saved our lives. And I want you to think about that as we go forward.”  “Go forward where?”

It was also interesting to see Mike essentially forced into a position where he had to take Walt’s offer of partnership. Between Lydia’s high-strung desire to eliminate everyone even remotely connected to the Pollos empire and Hank’s discovery of the account in his granddaughter’s name, Mike doesn’t seem to have much choice. Of course, it’s helpful that Lydia still has some methlamine connections, otherwise there’d be no precursor, but her character (played by Laura Fraser) is far too high-strung and nervous (her “you’re really running me through my paces” line when she finds out that the roadside diner doesn’t have any tea other than Lipton’s was perfect) to be good news for the Heisenberg empire in the long run. She’s already sold Mike out to his own guys, and she’ll be sure to do whatever she can to protect herself and her little girl (and her amazing house, too). I suspect that that Mike’s decision to not kill her had something to do with her having a little girl. However, her ability to get methlamine, thus getting Walt’s operation back up and running, will allow Mike to keep earning money for his favorite little girl, as his old Fring account has, for all intents and purposes, gone bye-bye.  Still, though, she may have been able to hide behind the financial machinations of Madrigal’s support of Pollos’ not-so-little secret when Gus was still around, but without him, she’s an exposed nerve, and a very jumpy one at that. Not good for anyone, least of all Ol’ Mike.

Mike’s interaction with Hank and Gomez was fantastic, as well. At this point, most viewers have affinities with both characters (Hank and Mike, at least), so watching them interact with each other is always fun because it’s so hard to pick a side.  Hank is natural police, and he knows how to get under even Mike’s skin. But Mike, being the road-worn soldier that he is, has seen it all, even, apparently, from the law enforcement perspective, and it’s always a pleasure to watch Jonathan Banks play Mike’s eye-rolling resignation, even while realizing the money for which he’s taken a lot of crap is essentially gone. Of course, he saves his pissed face for when he’s walking out the door; as far as Hank and Gomey are concerned (at least, on the record), he’s cool as a cucumber, and only tangentially connected to Fring’s quickly-unraveling drug web.

And, as in Live Free or Die, this episode features yet another cringe-inducing scene with Walt and Skyler (below), in which Walt willfully ignores Skyler’s paralyzed fear in order to feign intimacy with her. She doesn’t say a single word as he prattles on about dinner and how “it gets easier,” and then proceeds to kiss and grope her as she clutches her pillow so tightly it looks like it might disintegrate. “When we do what we do for good reasons, then we’ve got nothing to worry about,” Walt waxes, kissing Skyler’s neck. “And there’s no better reason than family.”  This is no longer Walter White trying to get himself out of the dog house. This is Heisenberg. This is Heisenberg’s house, and he has just found out that Mike is back in, and that the Southwestern meth trade is his for the running, and he doesn’t need to justify anything to anyone. This is Heisenberg telling his wife how it is, and how it’s going to be from now on; that there’s nothing to worry about, there’s no monster under the bed . . . at least no monster that could compare to the one that roams this house.

But, we all know things are going to change, and Walt’s overconfidence will surely play a large part in his eventual undoing. If the M60 he receives on his 52nd birthday is any indication, his current attitude is going to result in Walt finally digging a hole for himself that he can’t undig, and there will be lots of needless bloodshed. 

Dave Bunting is the co-owner (with his sister and fellow Press Play contributor, Sarah D. Bunting) of King Killer Studios, a popular music rehearsal and performance space in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He plays guitar and sings in his band, The Stink, and dabbles in photography, video editing, french press coffee, and real estate. Dave lives in Brooklyn with his wife, son, and sister.



Here's where we start to hope. Here's where we begin fervently, passionately hoping that two outstanding back-to-back episodes of Falling Skies make a trend, possibly the shape of things to come. I say this fully aware that the episode prior to these two was flawed and even irritating. But Molon Labe was excellent television; it was exciting, it was (as I so often say about Falling Skies) surprising, it was absolutely ruthless in its adherence to the realities of the world it is building, and it was full of promise for future episodes. If this show keeps fulfilling its potential, then I will feel genuinely rewarded for slogging through a very uneven first season and several episodes in Season 2 that were almost-but-not-quite, in terms of what excellent televised science fiction could be.

nullMolon Labe cranked the stakes up high. Last week, I noted that we had an excellent episode with no alien creatures at all. This week, there were aliens everywhere, including some sort of creature we've never seen before: a creepy-crawly, gut-wrenching (literally) metal-boring arachnid that may just give me nightmares. We saw other aliens in brand-new contexts as well. We got a clearer look at an Overlord, one of the ten-foot tall "grays" that are running the show, and we see how the other creatures—including Karen, a harnessed human—protect and serve them. And, almost as disturbing as the new spidery things, we saw Karen actually holding one of the giant slug creatures that becomes a harness; a symbiotic alien that merges with and overtakes human teens.

In addition to learning about HORRIBLE SPIDER THINGS and giant slugs, we also learned that the skitter rebellion hinted at in the last episode is real. Skitters are the creepy eight-legged lizardlike foot soldiers of the alien invasion. We recently encountered a skitter ("Redeye") who claimed that some skitters have formed a rebellion against the Overlords, and they wanted to join forces with the human resistance. Naturally, the humans couldn't know whom to trust. Redeye escaped.

Now we know that the Overlord in this episode fears the rebellion, and last week's elaborate ruse to kidnap Ben—our hero's formerly-harnessed middle son—was only done in order to gather information about the uprising, which corroborates Redeye's claims. 

Military stakes were high as well. Molon Labe (or Molon Lave) is an Ancient Greek phrase meaning "Come and take them." It was famously used by King Leonidas I of Sparta during the Battle of Thermopylae. He defiantly refused to surrender his army's weapons, although vastly outnumbered. This battle entered popular culture through the film 300.

Our hero, Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), was a history professor before the invasion, and Falling Skies has struggled to present that effectively. At worst, his history leads to a lot of lecture-hall-style speeches about military history and the Meaning Of It All. At best, Mason’s references contextualize the invasion with a deft hand. To me, this falls on the better side; we have a pervasive sense of history surrounding us. Ben mentions Revolutionary War soldiers in an argument with Tom. This makes sense, given their relationship; surely the historian lectured his kids at home, back in the day, and it strengthens the atmosphere of history without shoving it down our throats. (Their arguments this episode had the feeling of a real family’s arguments, and they were quite moving.)

Another such example is Anne describing Jamil as a "Trojan Horse" in the scene below. I warn you, it's a scary scene that will probably give you the creeps, but it's great.

This week we say goodbye to two regular characters, recurring guest stars throughout the season: Jamil (Brandon Jay McLaren), and Boon (Billy Wickman). Jamil was last week's super-mechanic and Lourdes's love interest: Two very strong reasons for thinking he'd stick around. (He was also played by an excellent character actor with real screen presence who previously appeared as the teacher on The Killing). Boon was recently seen getting his ass handed to him by Tom Mason for letting Tom's youngest son, Matt, serve as skitter bait. If you'd flat-out asked me who the writers would kill, I might have allowed Boon as a reasonable choice, but Jamil? No way. He was gradually worming his way into an important and visible spot, there was that romance, he's a bit of eye candy, and he was becoming vital to maintaining vehicles and other machines.

This is smart writing. Even minor characters, if they're important to us, if we know who they are, are shocking to lose, and they let us know this war is very real. A death like Jamil's matters much more than that of a character we didn't know—which is who writers kill off when they're afraid of alienating their audience.

And what a death! What a disturbing, horrifying, my-skin-is-crawling death! Watch it in the video above (if you're not squeamish, that is).

Last season, Lourdes (Seychelle Gabriel) was super-religious and featured in some heavy-handed sequences about faith in the face of devastation. I can imagine the collective television audience tearing out its hair in frustration. Surely even deeply religious people don't want such simplified pablum! This season, we've had one scene of prayer and that's about it. Lourdes has mostly been in the background as Anne's assistant, with some sweet touches of her burgeoning romance with Jamil. Now, with Jamil dead, we see her lose her faith, all at once. This resolves a question: Is Gabriel a bad actress, or was her material last year badly written? I now feel confident that the answer is "bad actress." The wave of bitterness might have seemed compelling in more skilled hands, but not from her. It's a shame to have a weak actress in the middle of things, because otherwise this cast is strong. I love a lot of the small character roles, and knowing that any of them are expendable gives small scenes a "life is precious" quality; I find myself really appreciating these characters.

The writing this week avoided a number of obvious pitfalls. The first was the "helpless people trapped in the basement" scenario. Recall: Tom goes around back to see if the battle out front is a diversion. It is, and he lights oxygen on fire to defeat a mech (mechanized servant of the aliens). The resultant fireball and explosion traps Anne, Lourdes, and Matt in the basement, unbeknownst to Tom.

Now, a number of clichés were just waiting to come to life at this moment. I expected characters to try to outrun a fireball. They didn't. I expected that much of the episode would revolve around a rescue attempt. Perhaps one of the trapped people would be injured, or in desperate straits, or become a pivotal pawn in the battle occurring outside. Mostly, I expected these three to be helpless. After all, they fit the expected trope: Anne is the hero's love interest, Lourdes is a young woman who had just been in a scene that reminded the audience of her young romance, and Matt is a little boy—the hero's little boy. Brilliantly, thrillingly, none of the action played as expected. None of these people were helpless, Anne and Matt were particularly heroic, and it was Lourdes’s male love interest who ended up helpless (and gruesomely dead), not sweet young Lourdes herself.

Tom had another encounter with another chatty alien. Yep. That gets old. This time, the same Overlord who tortured and interrogated him between Seasons 1 and 2 was his prisoner. The Overlord said a few predictable things about humans and their silly ol' sentiment and their screwed-up planet—things that sounded like they'd been written by Gene Roddenberry. But this time, the encounter was much shorter on words and much longer on action, with a tormented and manipulated Ben present to make sure it wasn't a gabfest. One Roddenberry-style sentence wrapped that part of it up, and then we were back to interesting and unpredictable content.

Now Karen is still out there with a wounded Overlord, Ben has run to join the skitter rebellion, and the surviving Second Massachusetts is on the road to Charleston, where a group of survivors may (or may not) have formed a rudimentary government and restored some modicum of civilization. Anything could happen. Anything.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."




When we first see Elaine Barrish Hammond (Sigourney Weaver)—former first lady, former presidential candidate, and soon-to-be secretary of state—in Political Animals, she's onstage giving a concession speech, dressed in a purple disco jumpsuit. “Postpartisan purple,” says a friend who's writing a book on color. Purple serves two functions in this soapy miniseries: to signal Elaine’s shifting position in the red-blue Tron that is federal government and to provide an easy mnemonic for her alliance with conflicted journalist Susan Berg (Carla Gugino), who also sports purplish hues.

Berg is correct to wear the color of indecision, because she dwells in a twilight world of journalism in which talking about blogs and pageviews is vulgar and one wins a Pulitzer in one’s twenties for covering Southerner Bud Hammond’s Clintonesque infidelities. She has a dangerously high level of access to the Hammonds and has always been the family’s enemy, because she combines the clout of a sterling newspaper and the temerity to say that Elaine is a fool and a bad feminist to have stayed with her philandering husband.

When the show’s pilot aired on Sunday, this seemed like a stretch. If Political Animals is Hillary porn—a revisionist fanfic in which she leaves Bill and runs for president without his greasy hands on her apron strings, or Obama drops Biden to finish the marathon’s last leg with a proven winner—it’s also not a plausible alternate universe. A well-connected Washington friend confirms that, while it’s common scuttlebutt that HIllary will run in 2016 so as to "get a position that's not seen as coming from her relationship with a guy (wife, opponent who lost),” no one in real-life D.C. circles still thinks or cares about Bill Clinton’s infidelities or considers them a hindrance to the career of Hillary, who seems to be doing fine. Also, says my friend, “she'd never leave Bill; she needs him by her side exactly like people like The Good Wife's husband need their wives. It's all a political calculation.”

Then again, the day after the pilot aired, Slate reported, “Protesters threw tomatoes and shoes at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s motorcade Sunday during her visit to Egypt. Although a tomato hit an Egyptian official in the face, the armored car carrying Clinton was around the corner from the incident, reports Reuters. Protesters were chanting ‘Monica, Monica,’ in reference to Monica Lewinsky.” It’s a chilling picture. Just as Elaine can’t take a step without hearing that Bud has, in Berg’s exposition-laden phrase, “been linked to TV star Eva Flores,” Hillary may never quite be free of that cursed cigar.

Aside from being a wistful/schadenfreudistic fantasy about the Clintons and a muddled exploration of modern journalistic dilemmas, the show also wants to comment on feminism. In this season of “Why Women Still Can't Have It All,” in which Anne Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic story has brought work-family conflicts back into popular and two-gender discourse, we have two heroines (in purple), torn between professional ambition and personal and moral responsibility.

It looks so far as though Elaine will be okay with further sacrificing her privacy, since there’s probably not much left for the media to uproot. As for risking being perceived as unfeminine, it’s one of the show’s subtextual obsessions; we must continually be reminded that despite her ambition, Elaine is still smokin’ hot, that she has current sex, that she has a soft, motherly heart that just doesn’t show to those cold reporter and pundits.

But Berg, retroactively sheepish author of the book When Bitches Rule, has a residual yearning for traditional things even as she spews unlikely, and probably punishable, sexist abuse at her hot mini-Wonkette younger colleague. Her newspaper-editor boyfriend is cheating on her with said Wonkette, a demonic robot of new media (“My blog hit over one million unique users this month!”), but he’s such a blank-eyed Bil Keane nonentity that there must be another man in store for her. Perhaps the Hammonds’ anxious son Douglas (James Wolk), Elaine’s chief of staff who’s properly engaged to a nice girl? As the Gallant to his brother TJ’s Goofus, so eager to please his parents that he doesn’t notice his fiancee’s bulimia, Douglas is surely destined for some politically inconvenient temptation.

As for Goofus (Sebastian Stan), he seems to have been dropped into this ostensibly stentorian family from an episode of Entourage. He snorts coke, has nightclub-ownership dreams, says “bro” a lot, and gets away with murder. We’re meant to believe he’s just spoiled, but maybe the family is just afraid of what he’ll do if they don’t tolerate his whining, rudeness, and capacity for public embarrassment. That he was the first out gay offspring of a sitting president is meant to excuse his terrible behavior, and his noodling around on the piano demonstrates that he still has a sensitive soul. But the near-stereotype of a damaged, dangerous gay man is a retrograde premise that may entirely negate the show’s purportedly enlightened inclusion of a gay character. TJ may be standing in for the Bush twins, and seems to enjoy as few serious consequences for his manipulative-addict behavior as did Jenna, Barbara, and Bush Jr.

Perhaps appropriately for the perpetually identity-seeking USA network, in a season of far-fetched political promises, Political Animals wants to include a little something for everyone: a fast-paced Middle East story for the 24 junkies, some goofy canoodling for fans of Dave and The American President, the requisite staff backstabbing and wisecracking à la The West Wing, and a touch of Intervention for the rest of us. As a bonus, Ellen Burstyn, as sexy grandma Margaret Barrish, flings outré zingers in the tradition of Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey.

No one could accuse the miniseries of being intimidatingly cerebral or edgy in its gender politics, but, aside from the winking mise-en-scène of the purple outfits, semiotic crumbs seem to be scattered everywhere. Do they merely allude to familiar things —i.e., Barrish is a secret smoker with killer arms, combining both Obamas in one—or are they Agatha Christie–style clues to a sinister subplot we won’t see coming until the finale?

Americans never do quite seem to shake their royalist roots, and Political Animals is ultimately a familiar story of rich people in nice clothes, plotting successions and scandals from a comfortable position of power. Meanwhile, there’s a story here that hasn’t been told to my satisfaction. You know who really can’t shake her legacy? Monica Lewinsky. She’s in a purgatory of perpetual internship and disgrace despite her subsequent education and accomplishments.

I’d like to see a miniseries starring a Lewinsky character, wearing purple, with a political bucket of blood for the prom-queen politicos who left her high and dry. As Barrish explains to Berg, “You’ll never get to the next great moment if you don’t keep going.” When bitches rule, indeed.

Emily Gordon is the online editor of The Washington Spectator and has written the blog Emdashes since 2004. She tweets at @emdashes.



Tonight’s meh True Blood was proof double-O positive of the Law of Fives. Seriously, if physicists applied themselves, I trust they’d find the Law of Fives almost as immutable as the Law of Gravity, and not nearly as funny.

nullAs much as tonight’s episode sort of amused us it was also reminding us that it was, in this final Alan Ball-written episode of this final Ball-supervised season, one over-repeated riff, theme or trope away from self parody, accidental camp or worse.

What I mean: a troop of rednecks in Obama masks yelling, “Yes we can!” as they blow up a vampire . . . . Well, can’t speak for you, but that’s pretty much what “trying too hard” looks like in True Blood terms.

But back to the Law of Fives: from The Wire to Alias to that other great vamp show, Angel, five seasons is just the perfect amount. Under, say, four seasons, is cruel undernourishment (Deadwood, Firefly, Terriers) and over five seasons, just wears a show down, out or beyond its strengths, even for titans (much of Lost and Buffy’s respective six and seventh seasons, sadly.)

The issues of time and termination are raised right off after Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) and Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgård) lead the forces of the Authority to the insane asylum where the batty nihilist Russell Edgington (Denis O'Hare) is getting ready to wreck havoc on everything he can find.

“Maybe you’re just bored after one thousand years but you not not make that decision for me,” says Bill to Eric, for not playing along/kissing ass with the Authority.

Eric, alas, is being pulled under by some deep seas of ennui now that he’s separated from Pam, the social context of Fangtasia, the love of Sookie (Anna Paquin and hey, remember her?), and now he learns that his sister Nora (Lucy Griffiths) is a crazed member of the blood cult fundamentalist Sanguinista movement. Skarsgård is such a terrific actor—who knew there were so many colorations of “disinterested because of multi-centennial pain”?

Jason, meanwhile, is pulled in the direction of ultimate discovery: a dream brings the vision of his lost father and a possible truth of his death.

Terry (Todd Lowe) is, as psych professionals might say, totally fucked.

He confronts Arlene with getting wasted in Iraq and his unit killing a family and his killing an old woman after she cursed him. “Now I’m being hunted by an evil smoke monster,” he complains, which when we saw them in a flashback looked just like the fire god from Wrath of the Titans but way smaller.  We’ll see what redemption looks like; I’m leery.

The show’s other problematic male, Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), did poorly this week as well. He visited his crazy mom at the convalescent home where Jesus used to work, which meant lots of zany sentences where the name “Jesus” was inappropriately placed in sentences.  Please.

At one point in this very randomly structured episode—I find myself writing about it out of sequence to try and enforce a shape on it which the writers didn't supply—Eric and Bill must glamor Sookie—hey, remember her?—lest The Authority have them killed for seeing something they shouldn’t have seen.

Bill goes gallant. He tells her that not only will she not remember this night, she will not recall ever knowing him and furthermore, she will only love those who live in the sun. Oh, Bill.

Eric, meanwhile, tells Alcide (Joe Manganiello and his freakishly well-defined upper body) to forget as well, and to take care of Sookie—and to develop a deep loathing of any physical contact with her forever.

But ten minutes later, Sookie reads Alcide’s mind and undoes all of this glamoring. Back in the day (last season) not remembering important things could power an entire season.

Now, I guess that the only reason the glamor scenes existed was to remind newer viewers what separates Bill (romantic!) from Eric (scamp!).

By the time Russell makes his appearance—"silvered" and bound—for an execution in the Council’s chambers, there’s an electric friction between the forced civil behavior of the council and Russell’s Southern gentleman nihilist nutjob. The performances come alive, but director Daniel Attias’s staging is clumsy.

Russell finds Roman’s notions of “mainstreaming,” of humans living with vampires in peace, to be nonsense. “Peace is for pussies!” he quips, a born politician yelling his first campaign button catch phrase.

Roman pushes the button on his killer I-Stake app but Russell doesn’t die—treachery!—and the episode flames out with Russell stabbing Roman in the chest: cue scratchy old blues record (a favorite, but tired True Blood trick).

Look, this is a not prime rub Blood. Or rather, the show Ball’s presided over for five years is getting some more parts together for the grand finales.

It’s just that Attias, an extremely experienced TV and film director, doesn’t display the needed élan or post-Hammer sleaze panache that Michael Lehmann or Romeo Tirone bring to knottier scripts.

And I worry this problem will leak into next week’s episode. Until then, we have the relationship between newly turned vamp Tara (Rutina Wesley) and maker Pam (Kristin Bauer) continue to complicate. And Hoyt continuing to debase himself to impress Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) or because he really is a skeezy perv in the making while Jessica continues to solidify as the show’s most essentially decent person—whoddathunk?—and poor Sam the shifter (Sam Trammell) finally gets a family together for reals (if the Obama-faced crew doesn’t kill him.)

And Sookie (remember her?) goes with Jason to the fairy nightclub to learn more about their family/vampire issues. Sookie is actually kind of awesome in this episode: she’s discovered the rich world of grown-up self-loathing and Paquin's having hell’s own time not fluttering around that butter-colored set being all distressed and girly. She’s not angry, or sad either, she’s just over this vampire and fairy shit and her part in it. We forget, sometimes, that Paquin is a superlative, not just good, actor.

And that True Blood is, at heart, an incredibly lively, romantic, old school production. The queer hatred it poked fun at way back in 2008 feels way different now after the real Obama’s monumental legal changes, the elegance of Cooper and the acid of Savage changing the lenses but not the disease.

But the times are right, unfortunately, for the desperate, knowing self-gay-hate and pitiful monsters of desperate abjection and real fear of the terribly beautiful Teen Wolf. Even when it’s working, even when it’s delightful, True Blood already has the feel of a relic. I’m just not sure yet of what.

Ian Grey has written, co-written or been a contributor to books on cinema, fine art, fashion, identity politics, music and tragedy. Magazines and newspapers that have his articles include Detroit Metro Times,, Icon Magazine, International Musician and Recording World, Lacanian Ink, MusicFilmWeb, New York Post, The Perfect Sound, Salon, Smart Money Magazine, Teeth of the Divine, Venuszine, and Time Out New York.



One of the reasons I wish The Newsroom spent more time following its characters as they report stories is that there’s a thesis floating through the show about what happens when people apply the methods they use in journalism to their personal lives. Jim is honest and straight-forward but doesn’t promote himself enough, Maggie is passionate when she has an idea but not always very clear about what he wants, MacKenzie is constantly on the brink of hysteria, and Neal is enthusiastic about everything, be it Bigfoot or his dishy girlfriend. The one person we see doing both a lot of dating and a lot of news work is Will. And as he starts dating with intentions other than irritating MacKenzie in this week’s episode, he can’t shake his on-air persona, and the results prove, if not disastrous, the waste of some delicious-looking drinks.

nullIt turns out that a mission to civilize may work for long-term viewers who only have to deal with you for an hour a night—as you’d think any of the women in his office could have warned Will (even though Sloan tells us herself that she’s a social incompetent). But it’s much less effective when it sounds like you’re patronizing to a woman you don’t even know. First, Will tells a gossip columnist in the middle of a New Year’s Eve party, “You can be part of the change! You don’t have to go back to writing gossip!”—which underscores the fact that, as she’s clearly explained to him, she’s happy with her job and has no particular moral qualms about doing it.

Later, he gets his picture on the cover of a gossip magazine, bumping Jennifer Aniston, because he can’t stop himself from lecturing another date—Kathryn Hahn, who HBO should consider making the star of her own show rather than a vehicle for lessons taught to characters like Will and Girls’ Jessa—on what would happen to her if she pulled a gun on an attacker. Will ends up pointing her own unloaded pistol at her, looking like a jerk in the moment, and in the papers.

Finally, he tells another date that she’s a bad person for enjoying the reality shows the gossip columnist covers, because the “chocolate souffle on this menu is a guilty pleasure. The Archies singing ‘Sugar, Sugar’ is a guilty pleasure. Human cockfighting makes us mean and desensitizes us.” When she asks if he thinks she’s a mean person, he tells her, “Yes, but thank goodness you met me in time!” Throwing drinks in people’s faces seems to be the way powerful women express their displeasure on television these days in shows from The Newsroom to Smash, but Will’s dates are among the most justified libation-flingers anywhere on the small screen.

That’s not to say there isn’t some real pathos here. It’s sad to watch Will joust with Wade and MacKenzie in his office only to go quiet outside it. “Do people really just walk up to people?” Will asks Sloan. “I’ve seen it on TV,” she tells him. Later, when Charlie lectures him on his emotional life, Will lashes out at his boss as a peddler of fantasy. “It doesn’t work like in the movies,” he says, wounded. “It doesn’t work at all.”

The Newsroom might have less gender trouble if it directly and consistently explored the ways in which traits and behaviors that help men succeed in business end up limiting their abilities to have successful, reciprocal relationships with women. But doesn’t go there this time, portraying Will’s dates as a series of shallow shrews and crazy broads, acting as tools of the devious and mostly off-screen Leona, who retaliate unfairly when they toss cocktails at him or land him in the gossip column. The show may think Will is bad at expressing himself, but it doesn’t really bother to question the arrogance of his mission to civilize. This episode is, after all, called “I’ll Try to Fix You.”

But the show does one smart thing: it makes Will’s inability to get over the end of his relationship with MacKenzie look foolish, and it has him suffer real consequences for clinging to his resentment. It turns out that when he renegotiated his contract so he could fire MacKenzie at will, he took a non-compete clause in trade. “How much do you hate me?” MacKenzie asks him, shocked at Will’s stupidity and pettiness, the fact that he’s willing to risk ending his own career in order to retain the ability to threaten and intimidate her. It was one of the first moments when I felt like The Newsroom and I see Will the same way, as an angry man whose superiority complex carries with it the power to harm himself and other people.

And it’s a relief that unlike in the pilot, where Will and MacKenzie argue about their relationship and philosophies of news, oblivious to the fact that their employees are reporting the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the two of them stop this argument (even though I hope they revisit it) to start covering the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. Once again, though, it’s a story about how Will and the News Night team get the story right.

But in a slight improvement from the show’s dominant newsgathering tactic, they don’t score because they have secret knowledge from being related to sources, or living with them, or hiding under their beds, or as is the case at the beginning of the episode (when MacKenzie’s boyfriend Wade tips Will to a hot story about the underfunding of the fight against financial fraud), because they’re dating. The show clearly hasn’t abandoned the idea that that’s how reporters get information: when Will complains that “I’ve got a staff of paid professionals” doing reporting so he doesn’t have to talk to MacKenzie’s squeeze, she tells him that his employees are “mostly using inside sources like Wade.”

This incident is one of the few times we’ve actually seen the process of deciding what to put on air dramatized and given more than a few seconds of screen time, as is clear in Reese's confrontation with Will during a commercial break:

And at least the team makes the right judgment call because of the principles guiding their work. And as the World’s Biggest Don Fan, it’s gratifying that the show’s writers, after spending so much time beating up on him as a weak-willed sellout, let him be the one to tell Will, “It’s a person. A doctor pronounces her dead, not the news.”

The celebration that follows is a little over the top—not making an error isn’t the same thing as advancing a story or getting an exclusive. But it’s the loosest we’ve seen these characters, given that they’re normally composed to the point of rigidity. And I was totally with Will when he declared, “You’re a fucking newsman, Don. I ever tell you otherwise, you punch me in the face,” both because it recognized Don’s integrity, and because it made Will feel like a real journalist. One of the stranger things about the show is that its self-congratulation is so pure: there’s no trash talk, no visceral distaste for News Night’s rivals, none of the slightly creepy but inevitable celebration of scoops in a way that reduces human experience to a victory or defeat. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but I appreciated the venality of the moment. Will and the team are so wrapped up in their own sense of righteousness that they forget the Congresswoman who may be dying, the civilians who are already dead. The Newsroom would be more fun as a show that actually weighs Will’s flaws and virtues without tipping the scales in his favor, that questions whether what the news needs to stand against the suits is not saints, but jerks.

Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture reporter for She is a correspondent for and The Loop 21. Alyssa grew up in Massachusetts and holds a BA in humanities from Yale University. Before joining ThinkProgress, she was editor of and a staff correspondent at Government Executive. Her work has appeared in, The Daily, The American Prospect, The New Republic, National Journal, and The Daily Beast.



In the months since Breaking Bad's explosive season 4 finale, and Walt's certainly premature declaration of victory, we've had a long time to ponder what exactly he meant by saying, "I won."  Sure, he had won the most obvious victory in outsmarting Gus Fring, who, at least with Mike as his right hand, had mostly been able to stay a few steps ahead of the erratic and unpredictable Heisenberg (well, except for the whole Gale thing). But really, what Walt thinks he has won is his own freedom: freedom from the inconveniences that having a boss like Gus Fring brought; freedom to do things his own way; freedom to be the Southwest's real meth kingpin. We've been passing through the looking glass of Walt's need to cook meth to support his family after his presupposed demise from cancer for a few seasons now; it's obvious this guy has found something he's not only good at, but truly enjoys, except for (or more likely because of) all of the inevitable drama, chaos, and destruction he leaves in his wake as a result. And all of this havoc is completely worth it to him as long as he finally gets to be "the man" at something.

nullBut in the drug game, being "the man" is like having a target on your back, and Walt will realize soon enough that his problems have most likely been more augmented by Fring's murder than solved by it. In fact, below, in a callback to Season Two's predictive pre-credit scenes, we see a Walt with a full head of hair distractedly chit-chatting with a Denny's waitress, while nervously checking over his shoulder every few seconds. Breaking Bad’s signature sense of dread is almost overbearing (just watching the scene made me feel like I was about to have a panic attack), and as soon as we see that Walt is actually there to meet Lawson (his black market dealer for all things sidearm-related, played perfectly with cautious resignation ["Good luck, I guess."] by Deadwood's Jim Beaver), we know things can't be going as swimmingly as Walt thought they would when he said, "I won." When Walt uncovers the M60 machine gun Lawson has dropped off for him, it's obvious that something has gone severely pear-shaped.

There could be a few causes of such nastiness, knowing what we know now. Perhaps Hank has finally uncovered his brother-in-law's secret life as Heisenberg, and Walt is preparing for an all-out battle with the DEA. Perhaps the German conglomerate that was funding Fring's operation through the back door is more than a little annoyed that Gus has died, and has come to collect on their lost revenues. There is really no way to predict what Walt will have to defend himself against in the future, given writer Vince Gilligan's propensity for throwing viewers for a loop with left field plot twists. But, whatever has Walt packing such heavy heat is definitely formidable, and watching Walt dig himself deeper into whatever hole he's in will no doubt be equal parts terrifying, hilarious, and beautiful.  

For now, Walt is on top of the world. The drug trade in town has been decentralized, and is just waiting for someone to step into power ("There is gold in the streets, just waiting for someone to come and scoop it up.") His cancer's been in remission for some time, Gus can't kill him, and as much as Mike might want to put a bullet squarely between Mr. White's eyes, he can't until one last issue remaining from Fring's empire (the laptop containing all of the super lab video surveillance) is taken care of. In dealing with the issue, Walt buys himself enough time for Mike to consider joining Walt and Jesse in their proposed partnership. Mike clearly wants nothing to do with Walt; he hasn't ever, really. But the way he sees it, if he doesn't help clear up the hard drive issue, he's equally as "boned" as Jesse and Walt; naturally, in taking part, he inadvertently will be screwing himself somehow. Mike even tries to tell Jesse to take the money he's made and "skip town, today," knowing full well this White guy is rotten. But Mike's already in too deep, and it is not going to end well for him, especially if Gus's broken picture frame has anything to do with it, and I'm sure it will.

Walt's proclivity for self-destruction is exemplified perfectly in the electromagnet scene (posted below), when he (of course) decides to crank the amperage to maximize the likelihood that the hard drive will get wiped, making the box truck topple into the evidence building and putting Jesse and himself directly in danger. Of course, with Mike around, they're able to get away unscathed (for now), and Walt's new level of hubris makes itself painfully apparent when Mike asks how they can be sure the plan worked: "Because I say so." This isn't Walt saying something like this to pump himself up and convince himself it's true (a la "I am the one who knocks."); Cranston's delivery is almost flippant, making it clear that when Walter White is truly comfortable with the level of power he now has, he doesn't need gravelly-voiced machismo to sell it. He seems amused, which is far more terrifying than he ever was before Gus's death. Walt doesn't have to fake it 'til he makes it: he has arrived.

And of course, there's Ted Beneke to consider. I suppose I should have known that without seeing a body in a coffin that then closes and goes into the ground in one shot, there's no guarantee of a character's death on any television show, but I was quite sure that Ted had gone the way of Lindus from Terriers. It seems as though I was incorrect, and Gilligan and Co. aren't quite done with Ted. I'm certainly curious about this decision; perhaps Beneke, despite claiming that he's going to keep his mouth shut, could be the guy to unravel Walt's meth business, intentionally or not, directly or not. It's more likely that Walt, now knowing what he does about the situation, is going to give Ted the dirt nap I suspected he was taking all along, and in doing so yet again leaving more problems to be solved.

Finally, Anna Gunn's portrayal of Skyler has made a subtle but significant shift. We have grown accustomed to seeing Skyler act by turns distant, skeptical, spiteful and angry with Walt, at times unrelentingly (and perhaps cruelly) so. But Walt's new freedom seems to have come at the cost of Skyler's. In Gunn’s spot-on portrayal, Skyler now acts like an abused animal, trapped in a cage partially of her own making, with no escape possible. She slinks around, defeated, and speaks to Walt only when spoken to. Her knowledge of Walt's hand in Gus's death has shaken her to her core, but not as much as the knowledge that she essentially drove Walt to it by giving all of their potential escape money to Ted. Skyler hasn't always been the most sympathetic character, and her involvement with Beneke's cooked books has essentially brought the White family back to square one, financially. But now it seems she has broken under the combination of her psychic guilt at her own complicity and her fear of the husband she thought she knew until recently. Gunn’s performance stands out painfully against Cranston's portrayal of Walt’s overconfidence and obliviousness to Skyler's fragile mental state. In the scene below, Walt tells Skyler he forgives her for the Ted situation, replaying a familiar trope: Walt needs to use Skyler as an emotional punching bag, because if he has nobody to demonize, he's forced to look inward and come to grips with the monster he's created in himself. The hug at the end is so unnatural, I could barely watch. Barely.

Dave Bunting is the co-owner (with his sister and fellow Press Play contributor, Sarah D. Bunting) of King Killer Studios, a popular music rehearsal and performance space in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He plays guitar and sings in his band, The Stink, and dabbles in photography, video editing, french press coffee, and real estate. Dave lives in Brooklyn with his wife, son, and sister.



"Our best chance of survival is his survival."


"Our best chance of survival is his survival."

If you're not watching this show yet, now's the time to start. Sure, it's "low-brow" (whatever that means) and you have to be on board for genre fiction and alien creatures to enjoy it, but with that caveat, this is juicy fiction that at times is more than that. What does low-brow mean, anyway? I tend to object to the often artificial divide between that which is fun and that which is meaningful. Falling Skies endeavors to be both.

It didn't occur to me until I sat down to write this recap that Homecoming featured not one single alien; no skitters, no mechs, no Overlords.* This episode was a wonderful exercise in what a science fiction television show can do, and doesn't have to do, and the ways in which it can thwart convention. The unseen presence of the aliens was everywhere of course, from the way they invade people's bodies (a motif this week) to their violence, to the threat of their possible appearance at any moment. Naturally, the arduous post-apocalyptic circumstances in which our heroes of the Second Mass live are a direct result of the alien invasion, but it's wonderful to know we can have a great episode without ever seeing a creepy, horrifying skitter.

*Newbie catch-up: Skitters are lizard/arachnid aliens who serve as foot soldiers in the invasion of Earth. Mechs are their deadly mechanical servants. Overlords are Roswell-style "grays" about whom we know very little, except that they're in charge.

Not that there weren’t creepy or horrifying parts. The scene when Maggie and Hal come across a pile of leaves that turns out to be a barely-concealed burial ground for de-harnessed teens (hang in there, I explain harnesses below)  absolutely fit the bill. It was strange stuff for sure, right out of a horror movie, but it also had an odd, alien shape to it. The burial space was subtly reminiscent of the pod shape we've such teens sleep in, in past episodes. The woodsy setting with fall leaves covering bluish bodies lent an eerie naturalism to the scene, and then, of course, there was the jump moment, where Karen predictably awakens.

This show has suffered from too many coincidences, as I've pointed out in past recaps. How pleasing, then, to find the script this week specifically addresses the point: Karen, Hal's girlfriend prior to being captured, cannot possibly be so close to their location by coincidence. The Second Mass is about six hundred miles from where they were when Karen was captured. She didn't just happen to show up, near death and in need of rescue, only a mile or so from the unit's current location. She must have been planted somehow, and is therefore threatening.

Karen's presence takes a surprising turn, as Ben finds himself drawn to another formerly-harnessed teen. I have written in the past that Ben's superpowers (the video clip below spells them out pretty nicely) give us hints about what the skitters themselves must be like.* Instead, the superpowers are going to take these kids on a very different journey, as we see in the episode's final moments, and I can't guess what comes next.

*More catch-up: Human children are captured and "harnessed" by the aliens; they have bio-mechanical harnesses attached to them that control them and start making them alien. Skitters were, themselves, once harnessed prisoners on invaded worlds. Ben and Karen are formerly-harnessed but retain a mysterious connection to their former masters.

The clip above does a great job of spelling out what makes these "razorback" kids odd, special, and different (Ben says "razorback" is a nasty nickname given to him because of the spikes remaining in his spine after the harness was removed). They have a connection to the aliens which they can’t understand or control, and now for the first time, we see they also have a connection to each other. We don't know who to trust, and frankly, neither do they.

This show’s writers know how to keep their audience on its toes. There were predictable moments, sure, but the ambiguity keeps things interesting. Especially now that we suspect there are more than two sides: a skitter revealed last week that there is an uprising brewing, skitter versus Overlord. Is it true? Can the skitter be trusted? Again, we don't know.

The episode was so well balanced that I hesitate to call the Weaver story the "B" story, the conventional term for a secondary story in a television episode. In this case, I'm not sure which story is A and which is B.

The Captain Weaver story—in which the commanding officer of the Second Mass collapsed and nearly died when an entirely new and different form of the aliens invaded his body—was foreshadowed, but again, I was completely surprised by the direction it took. He was injured two episodes ago, and we saw last week that there was some problem with the wound site. I thought this would lead into a crisis because of the lack of medical supplies, perhaps another daring raid on a pharmacy with skitters laying in wait. Instead, the writers took us someplace we've never been before, and taught us things about the aliens we couldn't have guessed. Of course, in pop culture, a mechanic can rig up anything, just as a scientist knows all sciences equally well (the "Reed Richards effect," if you're familiar with The Fantastic Four), but the miraculous invention of a blood pump and the generator going out at just the moment when it was complete were the only trite moments in an excellent hour of television.

With all of this—A/B stories taking compelling twists and turns, fuel shortages, weird disease, and the anti-climactic and still-uninteresting return of Pope—there was yet time for good interpersonal and character development. Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) and Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) are going in a good direction. The show opens with a sweetly romantic scene (Tom does a pretty good Weaver imitation), and they fight like grown-ups who know how to fight.

At one point, Tom shouts, "Rebecca stop!"

Yep, Tom has a dead wife and called Anne by her name. It was bound to happen, not in the TV-cliché way, but in the inevitable-in-a-relationship way. It was handled deftly, and the scene had a grounded, human feeling to it.

In fact, almost all of the dialogue scenes had that same quality to them. Ben had a self-effacing ability to stand up for himself, identifying his freak nature as an advantage and arguing his case as if he was just a teen talking about his grades or after-school sports, that is amazing. Hal and Maggie steered away from any number of pitfalls as they nogitated their way arounbd a non-relationship. This episode was written by Ben Oh, who also did the excellent Compass. He knows how people talk to each other, and that's a lovely skill.

This week, even the music wasn't overplayed, which made the dialogue scenes that much more enjoyable.

Thematically, the episode addressed homecoming mostly in its absence. While it's true that both Pope and Karen—characters from past episodes—returned to the Second Massachusetts this week, I think the core of this episode was in the dialogue between Anne and Tom: That was what we had then, this is what we have now. It's good, or it can be, but it's not home, not really. It was especially telling that Tom, in talking about the past, doesn't at first mention people (too painful) or things; he doesn't mention plumbing or cell phones or fresh food. He cites "crisp New England air." Above and beyond the world that was destroyed, Tom is homesick.

As are they all.

Deborah Lipp is the co-owner of Basket of Kisses, whose motto is "smart discussion about smart television." She is the author of six books, including "The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book."



Last week’s shift of morality, from goodness invested in the law and its enforcers to something more complex, appears to have opened the gates for Longmire to grow as a show. In “The Worst Kind Of Hunter,” Longmire continues muddying its moral waters by separating justice from law. The victim, Ed Crawley, is a convicted murderer, out on parole after 25 years and suddenly found dead, apparently mauled by a bear. Many of the people Walt interviews are delighted that Crawley’s dead, to the point of casting disdain on our protagonist for even bothering to investigate the murder.

nullThis is the flip side of the revelation from last week: if the law is insufficient to provide justice, people desperate for justice will go outside the law. Nobody in the episode questions whether Crawley was a murderer. In fact, there’s not even a significant argument as to whether Crawley committed the murder he went to prison for, or whether he deserved to die for it. But there was a crime, and Walt and the rest of his office are investigating.

The officers, after all, merely make up one cog in the system of justice. Even if the courts or prisons don’t work out every time, the cops can’t stop doing their job. That’s the whole point: there are checks and balances, different people making different judgments, all based on different considerations. Regardless of how just one may believe one’s self to be, it’s still the job of the police to accurately figure out who committed crimes. Justice is an abstract concept, created in practice through the interactions of flawed people and institutions.

But you won’t get that from Longmire. The idea that the police need to investigate the crime regardless of whether it’s justified or not is treated as inherently true in “The Worst Kind Of Hunter.” But the lack of examination of justice proves disappointing this week. At the end of the episode, Walt confronts the killer, Crawley’s former warden, and threatens him into admitting the murder. Walt gets his confession . . . and then the episode ends.

That abrupt ending of the policing section of the case has become normal for Longmire, but for the first time here, it’s a severe detriment to the episode as a whole–partly from the editing of the final scene itself. Walt meets with the culprit, accuses him, and threatens him by dumping beef and its juices and smells on the warden, then Walt threatens to release the bear who was used for the initial murder, its senses apparently inflamed by the beef. Walt gets his confession, and then . . . he releases the bear, “Waffles,” anyway.

I can’t tell exactly what’s going in this scene, which is a major part of the problem. Walt, with the gate to the bear's cage almost open, gets his confession. Then Longmire holds the lock. The warden winces. Walt pushes the latch down, maintaining the lock, and turns his attention to the bear (and we don’t see the warden again). He then gives a brief speech to the bear, used as a tool in the initial murder, asking it to stay away from the town, and lets it go. The bear calmly wanders off. It’s a touching scene, but utterly confusing. It doesn’t appear that Walt has actually departed from the place where he confronted the warden, but the warden is gone. The entire point of the threat—that the bear, with its new taste for human flesh, might attack the warden—is lost. On the other hand, the lighting and background seems slightly different. It’s impossible to tell if Walt had been bluffing or if he was in some totally different geographic region when he released the bear.

This directly ties in to Longmire’s apparent distaste for dealing with the consequences of its investigations. Once the warden confesses his crimes, according to the visual logic of the show, he is literally removed from the world. All that matters is Walt’s victory, and his emotional response to the victory, the release of Waffles. There’s no ethical dilemma. There’s no discussion of how right or wrong the warden might have been. No discussion of how his bail would be set, no trial, no regret, nothing. To put it in television terms, we got “Law” but no “Order.”  This is important because without consequence, it’s very difficult to discuss thematic depth. (It’s also unfortunate that it lacks the intensity of last week’s wonderful confession scene.)

It’s a bit of a shame, because some of the ideas brought up by “The Worst Kind Of Hunter” were especially interesting. In the first few episodes, “foreign” influences were portrayed as leading to a kind of corruption in the rural Wyoming town and county. Here, the villain explicitly wants to represent a traditionalist point of view, making it a point to support Walt in the election as an old guy being forced out by a new guy (before his crime is revealed, of course). There’s also a comic subplot in which one of Walt’s predecessors gives unwelcome, overly old-fashioned advice to hammer the point home.

Yet this this tension of change versus traditionalism is nothing more than window dressing here. It’s an aspect of social complication in theory, but almost irrelevant in practice. Without consequences, the mysteries are just puzzles to be solved, nothing more.


Rowan Kaiser is a freelance pop culture critic currently living in the Bay Area. He is a staff writer at The A.V. Club, covering television and literature. He also writes about video games for several different publications, including Joystiq and Paste Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @rowankaiser for unimportant musings on media and extremely important kitten photographs.



The "Cruel Summer" series of articles examines influential movies from the summers of the 1980s. The previous entries in the series have covered THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980), STRIPES (1981), ROCKY III (1982), WARGAMES (1983), PURPLE RAIN (1984), PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985), TOP GUN (1986), and ROBOCOP (1987).

The 1980s were dominated by action movies. Previous decades saw action movies held in more or less proper proportions, with action relegated to war movies, westerns, or the occasional spy thriller. John Wayne, William Holden, Steve McQueen, and Lee Marvin would preside over the action, usually playing men of few words. Then, the 1970s saw a shift towards existential dread as the rise of crime in cities allowed movies to tap into the audience’s fear of social unrest. (The plots of westerns and caper thrillers were too exotic to have any real-world connections. Vietnam had, for the moment, made the gung-ho heroics of war movies seem rather unseemly.) Movies like The French Connection, Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and various blaxploitation offerings gave us vigilante thrills and heroes that restored order in times of civil unrest. Guys like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson were older and still men of few words, but they were now providing comfort and safety.

But the ‘80s saw an accumulation of action movies, with a heavy emphasis on the flexing of one’s muscles. Cop buddy movies, urban vigilante movies, POW rescue movies, Chuck Norris karate movies, Death Wish sequels, you name it, dominated the theaters. The existential dread of the Watergate era had been replaced by Reagan-era optimism. Along with Eastwood, who had managed to become an elder statesman of action, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger had become pillars of American might. The recurring image in ‘80s action movies was of an obscenely pumped-up one-man fighting machine. (It wasn’t a Stallone or Arnold movie until they were fighting the bad guys while wearing a tight t-shirt that accentuated their forearms.) Movies like Nighthawks, The Terminator, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Commando, Cobra, and The Running Man were outrageously entertaining comic-book depictions of outsized masculinity. But by summer ’88 audiences were starting to feel fatigued by all the car chases, shoot-outs, fistfights, and explosions. We kept going to action movies, but we were rarely surprised. That is, until one movie caught everyone by surprise and forever changed the language of the genre.

Die Hard was something new, an over-the-top blowout its director made personal by injecting humor and humanity into its incredible action set-pieces. Director John McTiernan staged the action with a you-are-there immediacy that was different from most other action movies. Your perspective was constantly shifting along with the hero’s, as if you yourself were always under the threat of attack. Die Hard was a ‘70s disaster movie crossed with a ‘80s one-man action vehicle, but it played like a witty character study.

And the character of John McClane turned out to be one of the most endearing action heroes in movie history. As played by Bruce Willis, McClane is a screw-up forced into action because bureaucracy and macho posturing are causing inaction. McClane is fully aware that he’s in way over his head. He sees the dark humor of his predicament which gives his one-liners a playful spontaneity. (“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs!”) The casting of Willis in the lead was a masterstroke. We may now take for granted that TV actors can transition into movies, but back in 1988 it was a rare occurrence. (TV star Mark Harmon made a bid for action superstardom with the summer ’88 buddy thriller The Presidio, but he forgot to bring the humor.) On Moonlighting Willis played a smart-ass cut-up, but what made him instantly likable was the feeling that Willis himself was a smart-ass cut-up. In Blake Edwards’ comedies Blind Date and the criminally underrated Sunset, Willis displayed a knack for light slapstick and farce that, if you weren’t paying attention, could be seen as being one-dimensional. Willis always makes you aware that he knows he’s in the middle of an incredible situation. That’s what makes him such a compelling actor. (It’s also what makes him a star.) We want to see how Willis/John McClane (or Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction or Joe Hallenbeck in The Last Boy Scout or David Dunn in Unbreakable) gets out of a sticky situation. In Die Hard, Willis created a new action movie archetype: the everyman superhero.

The reason we root for McClane is because we know just how outmatched he truly is. As the villain Hans Gruber, Alan Rickman ushered in a new golden era of movie villains. With the exception of the Bond villains (who were just as dashing as Bond himself), the bad guys in movies were almost always secondary characters who rarely registered. (Anyone remember the name of Fernando Rey’s character in The French Connection?) The hero was the star, and stars can’t be upstaged. For the most part, memorable villains appeared only in exploitation movies (Vice Squad, 52 Pick-up) or intense psychological dramas (Manhunter, Blue Velvet). But Die Hard changed all that as the filmmakers realized the best way to make the hero look good is to put him up against someone stronger and in complete control. Previously, villains were the ones that sweated. Here, McClane’s undershirt is drenched in fear and desperation. Gruber is the ultimate villain for the 1980s: a sharp-dressed corporate raider who seizes the Nakatomi Corporation during its Christmas party in order to steal $640 million in negotiable bonds. Rickman infuses Gruber with such high comic levels of contempt and self-satisfaction that we’re genuinely startled when he turns violent. It’s a wickedly sinister performance, never more so than when he compliments Nakatomi president Takagi (James Shigeta) on his suit by flatly saying, “Nice suit. John Philips, London. I have two myself. Rumor has it Arafat buys his there.” Rickman makes being bad look good.

Die Hard looked and felt different from most other action movies. Shooting in widescreen allowed McTiernan to fill the frame with extra information about the Nakatomi building’s layout. Over the course of the movie, as McClane crawls through elevator shafts and ventilation ducts, we become familiar with recurring locations throughout the building. (McTiernan displayed a similar mastery of geography with the jungle-set Predator.) The cinematography by Jan de Bont (The Fourth Man) was quite daring for an action movie as he opted to pan on action instead of keeping the camera static. In an early scene, when one of the bad guys slides down a flight of stairs, the camera slides along with him. The many scenes of McClane running through empty offices and hallways have a thrilling sense of movement. By showing the building under construction, McTienran and De Bont could place fluorescent lights in the ground and have half-finished structures in the foreground. In one of my favorite sequences, as the LAPD S.W.A.T. team prepares a rescue attempt, we’re given several perspectives at once. There’s the computer expert Theo (Clarence Gilyard) watching the S.W.A.T. team get into position on a close-circuit monitor, while Hans looks down from an executive office. We also see McClane looking on helplessly as the police walk right into an ambush. (The climax of this sequence is one of the movie’s highlights.) The nearly non-stop score by Michael Kamen gives each set piece its own rhythm. At various points in the score Kamen incorporates Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” A playful acknowledgement that all an audience might want from a movie is to be thrilled.

There’s a distrust of authority and upper management running throughout Die Hard. The movie aligns itself with the working-class, be it funky limo driver Argyle (DeVoreaux White) or patrol officer Powell (Reginald VelJohnson). It’s when those in power arrive on the scene (S.W.A.T., the FBI, Deputy Chief Robinson) that ego begins to interfere with getting the job done. Of course McClane is a NYPD officer, but we quickly intuit that he doesn’t follow the rules. (Die Hard with a Vengeance begins with McClane on suspension.) This highlighting of the conflict between individual action and teamwork is really a variation on the ingrained conservative value system of action movies. John McClane is no different from Popeye Doyle, except we now cheer him on without reservation.

This conservative streak allows for some satirical riffing on alpha male action-movie heroics. Unlike his Planet Hollywood partners, Willis isn’t afraid to show a vulnerable side. In a brilliant touch that immediately makes McClane relatable, he spends the entire movie running around in his bare feet. We become acutely aware of the beating McClane is enduring, especially when he has to run across shards of broken glass. This is contrasted with the macho posturing of those in charge like blowhard Chief Robinson (Paul Gleason) and the borderline psychotic FBI agents who take over the negotiations. (During the rooftop climax, when the feds are manning a gunship, an agent exclaims, “Just like fuckin’ Saigon!”) Gruber is amused by alL the futile attempts to outsmart him and his men. At one point he asks McClane, “You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?” McClane’s response both mocks and pays respect to old-fashion American heroism.

It’s interesting to note that the summer of 1988 saw established action movie icons attempting to maintain their dominance. Stallone’s Rambo III was so by-the-numbers that even its title was tired. Schwarzenegger tried to make fun of his own image by doing the cop buddy action comedy Red Heat. In a symbolic changing-of-the-guard, Eastwood came out with the final Dirty Harry movie, the surprisingly entertaining The Dead Pool. But Die Hard set the template FOR all future action movies. The most immediate reflection of its impact was Hollywood’S attempt to copy its success with a series of “Die Hard on a …” movies. We got everything from “Die Hard on a submarine” (Under Siege) to “Die Hard on a plane” (Passenger 57) to “Die Hard on an island” (The Rock). (In the best Die Hard clone, Jan de Bont’s spectacular Speed, Keanu Reeves’ Jack Traven is the kind of guy who joined the LAPD because he saw Die Hard in theaters.) The movie’s more lasting impact is shown in the way it presented the hero, foregoing he-man stoicism in favor of intelligence and vulnerability. Die Hard gave us a hero with brains as well as muscles. You can see its influence in characters ranging from Batman to Jack Ryan to Ethan Hunt to Jason Bourne to James Bond (Daniel Craig’s take) to Jack Bauer. One of the movie’s taglines at the time claimed, “It will blow you though the back of the theater!” Boy, did it ever.

San Antonio-based film critic Aaron Aradillas is a contributor to The House Next Door, a contributor to Moving Image Source, and the host ofBack at Midnight,” an Internet radio program about film and television.