Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: April 2016

Monday

25

April 2016

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Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 1

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. As the show has largely deviated from the books I’m not sure how much this matters, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading. 

I found myself constantly wondering about the timeline as the season opener progressed. At the beginning of A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin clarifies that the chapters aren’t necessarily linear and the show hasn’t always been either. The fact that several of the episode’s plotlines, mainly The Wall and Sansa/Reek appeared to happen immediately after last episode while others, mainly Dorne/King’s Landing/Meereen, clearly happened a little while later created a bit of uncertainty for me at least.

Pacing a ten episode season with a massive ensemble cast is very difficult. With that in mind, it seems hard to praise Davos’ bravery at the Wall with him still locked in that room by the end of the episode. I’m inclined to give this a pass, especially since I’m trying to purge the image of old naked Melisandre from my mind and am okay if that involves forgetting the rest of the plotline at Castle Black.

It is also important to note that there will likely only be thirteen episodes of the rest of the series after this season, which makes me think that a Sansa/revived Jon Snow/Stark reunion could happen sooner rather than later, depending on how quickly the inevitable Wildling/Alliser Throne conflict lasts. I say this mostly because Sansa’s story lacks any other logical direction and I don’t see how the merry band of Brienne, Poderick, Sansa, and Reek can wander around in the cold indefinitely.

Though it made sense for Brienne to finally stop wandering around Westeros in search of spare Starks, I have a bit of trouble accepting the fact that this woman obsessed with “duty” killed Stannis in cold blood. Longtime readers know my feelings regarding a certain One True King quite well, but this isn’t so much about what you think about Stannis, but rather whether or not Brienne’s actions were just.

Now you can make the case that Game of Thrones isn’t a show that’s concerned with having its characters have a black and white sense of moral justice, except that’s far truer in the books. We saw this on display in Ramsey’s first scene, where he displays a shocking amount of remorse for Miranda’s death. I was completely taken aback by how sympathetic the character was portrayed as, especially considering how controversial his rape of Sansa was last season. The show made up for this almost immediately with a rather out of place comment by Ramsey to merely feed her body to the dogs. Of course, Ramsey is a psychopath, but we didn’t need that scene to remind us of that. It seems puzzling as to what that scene tried to accomplish besides simply screen time for the character.

I have a hard time buying into the Lannister threat to the Boltons. In theory, this makes sense, but the Lannisters have never looked weaker. Who really thinks they’re in any position to move on Winterfell?

Cersei and Jaime aren’t really up to much at all. The whole prophecy bit made sense and all, but neither sibling seemed particularly troubled by Myrcella’s death and Tommen wasn’t even mention at all. For a show that constantly brings out the question, “who will win the game of thrones,” it doesn’t seem too concerned with who’s actually sitting on it.

The fact that Trystane Martell wasn’t even under arrest says it all about what the writers are trying to do with Dorne. I spent much of last season wondering where all of that was going and the answer is clear. Now that the show is freed from most of its obligations to the books, it doesn’t want people like Doran Martell and Stannis around.

I’m kind of okay with that. Book fanatics have been trying to figure out Doran’s plan for years. The show basically went and admitted that he doesn’t have one at all, but this shouldn’t alarm book fans. The show simply doesn’t have time to integrate a character like that into its end goal in any substantial way.

So why include them at all? I have no idea. The Sand Snakes don’t seem to have much appeal to anyone, especially after they committed needless treason. Is the viewer supposed to feel sympathetic to their desires for vengeance, which involved killing two innocent teenagers? Like much of their dialogue, this plot is laughable.

The Dothraki dialogue was also painful to read. I still can’t believe the writers won an Emmy last year. Pathetic.

Margaery in jail could have been handled better. It took me a while to remember why she was even there (for lying about Loras’ homosexuality). Jonathan Pryce is always a treat to watch, but it’s hard to care about what they’re doing.

I like the direction of Dany’s story. She likely needed Dothraki help even before the Sons of the Harpy burned her Meereen fleet. As a character, Dany works best as the underdog and it’ll be interesting to see how the Vaes Dothrak storyline plays out.

Obligatory Jorah still has greyscale for no reason mention (yes we’re still doing that and we always will). It looks worse. The scene where he and Daario discuss his weird love for Dany was creepy. Not as creepy as old naked Melisandre, but then again few things are.

The Tyrion/Varys exchange was a pleasant throwback to season two, but that also highlighted a major problem with Tyrion’s plotlines since. Tyrion hasn’t really done much big picture stuff since he commanded the troops at the Battle of the Blackwater. He spent season three recovering, four in prison, and five on the road/hanging out with Jorah. Now he has power, but he’s really far away from the main action. Peter Dinklage is one of the show’s biggest assets and while keeping him in Meereen makes sense given the timeline of the books, it doesn’t seem like the best place for him now that the show has gone completely off book.

Which is something that needs to be considered as the show moves forward if the rumors about there only being thirteen episodes left are to be believed. The show doesn’t have a ton of time to waste having Tyrion rule a city that’s relatively inconsequential to the bigger picture. I don’t want to come down too harshly on the whole plot based on five minutes of screen time, but the last season didn’t inspire a ton of confidence in that realm.

Arya is actually still relatively on book. Her blindness only lasts a single chapter in the books though. I don’t think blind Arya is particularly interesting so hopefully the show follows a similar path.

No Littlefinger, Samwell, Ironborne (if they’re actually coming), or Bran this episode. I hope there’s some direction for LF’s incomprehensible Northern plans. I sure don’t see any logic there.

All in all, this was a pretty good premiere. I don’t think it completely fixed the wrongs of season five, but there does seem to be some direction for most of the major players. After last year’s mess, I’ll settle for some entertaining set-up that promises better things to come.

Just a slight programming note. After each episode airs, I’ll do a live video on my Facebook page summarizing my thoughts. Written recaps will be posted on Mondays. Thank you for reading.

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Wednesday

20

April 2016

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AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses, and Coachella

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Like many, I took the news that Axl Rose is joining AC/DC for their upcoming tour with a mixture of disbelief and indifference. The thought of an old tired man joining an old tired band would have been very exciting twenty years ago, but having seen both of them in concert, I wasn’t exactly looking to spend any sum of money to watch that presumed mess. Then Coachella happened.

Axl’s health was a big question mark heading into day two of the three-day music festival. When I saw GNR back in 2006, Axl needed numerous breaks to rest his voice, relying on numerous solos from his nine-piece band as well as a guest appearance from Sebastian Bach to make it through the set. Fast forward ten years, the only things that changed were Axl’s hair (no more dreadlocks) and his new throne, on loan from Dave Grohl after he broke his foot performing a warm up show in Vegas. The thought of a seated Axl may have raised expectations, as the weight of expectations fell totally on Slash, whose status as an elite performer has never been called into question.

At the risk of sounding sarcastic, I really do hope that Axl considers staying in his chair. It did wonders for his performance. Without the pressures to move five or ten feet in one direction, Axl’s voice didn’t just hold up. He sounded near perfect as the band made its way through their hits (and some of Chinese Democracy).

Given that I’d heard the news that Axl was joining AC/DC just a few hours prior to their set and that the band was ones of last year’s headlining acts, I wasn’t too surprised to see Angus Young appear on stage in his signature schoolboy outfit with his new lead singer. The thought of Slash and Angus Young, two of my all time favorite guitarists, performing together would’ve made fifteen year old Ian scream louder than Axl as he sang “Whole Lotta Rosie” while the two rock legends shredded away.

Angus’ performance at Coachella during those two songs was enough to make me a believer in this new era of AC/DC. I don’t blame fans for criticizing the decision to carry on after Brian Johnson announced he could no longer perform due to complications with his hearing. In the past two years, the band has lost founding Malcolm Young to dementia and Phil Rudd to house arrest for having drugs and threatening to kill someone. With 3/5th’s of the band’s core lineup out of commission, no one would blame Angus for calling it a day. In fact, plenty of people are blaming him for choosing not to.

I won’t be after Coachella. I’m not quite sure where the Angus Young who sprinted around on stage like he was warming up for the Boston Marathon came from. But I’m happy he’s here.

It’s been twenty-six years since AC/DC released The Razor’s Edge, the last time the band has done anything remotely memorable. Since then, they’ve only done four major tours, counting the unfinished Rock or Bust, which should finish this June. Despite the band’s long tenure, Angus is only sixty-one, which is the fact that everyone needs to take into consideration when trying to understand why Axl Rose is now in the band.

Guns N’ Roses is similar in the sense that they also haven’t done much since the early 90s. Though GNR is a younger band, Axl is only seven years younger than Angus, a fact worth mentioning since Angus himself is five years younger than Cliff Williams, the only other member of AC/DC to be in the band for longer than ten minutes. While it’s important to note that AC/DC’s dormancy was self-imposed as the band took time off while GNR completely imploded, one important similarity remains.

Angus Young and Axl Rose are two aging musicians who are still capable of delivering first-rate performances. Sure Axl needs rest and a chair, but his voice holds up. I don’t know if that will be true over the course of an actual tour, but that’s a question for another day. Time isn’t on their side, but both appear willing and capable to make the most of what they’ve got left to give.

Coachella’s Angus showed that he’s up to the challenge of performing with an aged singer. He’ll need to solo quite a bit to give Axl the rest he needs (please bring the chair on tour), but it can certainly be done in a dignified manner that doesn’t subtract from the show. I saw on Angus on stage that wanted to push himself as he reaches the twilight era of his career. As David Bowie’s Blackstar showed us, the final act doesn’t have to be a bore.

Fans should be skeptical of an Axl Rose-fronted AC/DC. Axl has no one to blame for his reputation than himself. But don’t count this band out. The music might live forever, but what’s going on right now with these two veteran bands is special. Most importantly, it actually sounds good. I don’t expect new albums that sound even 10% as good as Highway to Hell or Appetite for Destruction, but if this is as good as it gets, count me in.

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Tuesday

12

April 2016

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COMMENTS

Fear The Walking Dead and the Crisis of Character

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As someone who considers himself a casual fan of The Walking Dead, I looked forward to Fear the Walking Dead for two reasons. The cast of the flagship show has grown too large and the plot too convoluted for a show that only produces sixteen episodes a year. Fear offered a simpler approach to the zombie genre.

The trouble with a zombie show that focuses more on character than action is that it needs to actually have compelling characters. For Fear, this shouldn’t inherently be a problem as it doesn’t need to allocate screen time to dozens of characters, but having time to build relationships with characters doesn’t necessarily make them likable or even compelling.

The first episode of Fear offered next to nothing positive for anyone other than perhaps the diehard fans who stick around for Talking Dead. Only two characters stood out as remotely interesting, Salazar and Strand, with two more, Madison and Nick, that I only care about because I like the actors who play them (Kim Dickens and Frank Dillane, the son of Game of Thrones’ Stephen Dillane).

Fear fails because it makes the wrong assumption that its characters have to be tethered to a Rick-like sense of altruism that’s more than a little tired six years into the franchise. I assume someone involved with the creative felt the need to have Madison express a desire to help the refugees on the boat as The Abigail sailed on. As new a show as Fear is, we’re past that kind of nonsense, which benefits Strand as a character who thinks logically. Fear makes the mistake of pitting someone against Strand’s position, which might be natural as far as storylines go, but we don’t need that and more importantly, we don’t want it.

If the reports that this season will spend much of its time on water are to be believed, Fear’s season two is shaping up to look at lot like Herschel’s farm. In other words, boring. The boat might be more fun than the farm, but we don’t have Rick, Glen, Dale, Shane, Carol, Maggie, or T-Dog to keep us entertained. The hints of a Strand/Madison/Salazar conflict offer a flicker of hope for this season, but the downside of that is that it stands to reason that one of them will die, leaving us short a compelling character.

Granted, it seems unfair to completely write off the show. Season six of TWD bears little resemblance to season two. The only problem is that season two wasn’t really bad on its own. It dragged on at times and pales in comparison to every other season, but it wasn’t terrible TV. Beyond that, it always had the comics to show us that better times were just on the horizon.

Here, I don’t know. I’m not sure how much I care. Water zombies are fun, but plodding melodrama can be better found elsewhere. If Fear wants to be a character centric drama, it better work on its characters who for the most part, have less interesting personalities than the creatures chasing them around.

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Tuesday

5

April 2016

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COMMENTS

Halt and Catch Fire Redefines the Second Season Shake-up

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Sophomore slumps are fairly common in television both with good shows and not so good ones. It makes sense if you think about how much more time is fundamentally spent creating a first season than every subsequent one. After all, the first season is the one that determines if a show exists at all. No network would order a show that didn’t at least sound good until season four.

When Halt and Catch Fires second season started off with the main cast splintered off in four different directions, I couldn’t help but feel like this was familiar territory. It’s hardly uncommon for TV shows to separate their casts during finales, only to reunite them a few episodes into the following season. As season two progressed, I realized that bringing back the status quo wasn’t something HaCF particularly cared about. The cast stayed apart and the results were shocking. The show upped the ante and quietly became one of the best on television.

Much like the tech industry itself, HaCF is a show that’s constantly changing as it figures out what it’s supposed to be. Season one was completely powered by the trio of Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, and Mackenzie Davis, with the cast mostly serving as interesting supplementary parts. Three episodes into season two, I found myself wondering why Toby Huss, who portrays former Cardiff executive John Bosworth, was still on the show. It’s not uncommon for characters to linger after they’ve served their purpose, which is how Bosworth usually looked hanging around the Mutiny headquarters. While he wasn’t given much screen time, Huss took every minute he was given and turned his character’s arc into perhaps the most heartfelt story of season two.

HaCF took a big risk in sidelining its lead actor for the majority of the season. Season one was about building the Giant. Season two was about Mutiny and for the most part, Joe McMillan had little to do with it. He didn’t have much to do at all besides clash with his stepfather, played by James Cromwell in a subtle yet powerful performance. As someone who first checked out the show because of Pace’s involvement, I was surprised at how okay I was with his backseat role in the season.

Season two belongs to MacKenzie Davis and Kerry Bishé. Start-ups are chaotic and long hours often lead to short fuses. In Mutiny’s case, the fuses were short with both the characters and their office space, a cramped frat house filled with twenty-something programmers.

While season one had a fairly linear arc, season two was more of a blend. The characters took the front seat and rolled with it, allowing the chaos to heighten the viewer’s experience. HaCF is the perfect binge show because the lines between episodes become blurred to the point where you really don’t want to stop watching when the credits roll. Ten episode seasons make it easier to have almost no filler, a formula that AMC has also used for Better Call Saul.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, HaCF has a significantly smaller following than Saul. Strong critical support gave the show a third season, which could very well be the last if ratings don’t improve. That would be quite a shame as HaCF is one of the most original and entertaining shows on TV. Season two was a masterpiece and even if future seasons take a step back, they’ll still be better than the vast majority of what’s currently on the air.

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