Ian Thomas Malone

TV Reviews Archive

Wednesday

27

January 2021

1

COMMENTS

The Lady and the Dale provides a riveting perspective of a trans pioneer

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Trans people often have to deal with people claiming that the trans identity is some sort of “new” phenomenon, despite all the history to the contrary. The life of G. Elizabeth Carmichael is a pretty wild story even before you take her gender identity into consideration. The new HBO four-part documentary The Lady and the Dale offers a wide-ranging portrait of a colorful American life.

True to its title, the series largely splits its attention between Carmichael and the Dale, a three-wheel automobile designed to be the flagship offering for Carmichael’s Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation, which fizzled out in the late 1970s amid criminal fraud charges for Carmichael. The life of Carmichael and the Dale itself would make for fascinating documentaries in their own right, though co-directors Nick Cammilleri and Zackary Drucker do an excellent job weaving the many strands of their story through the four episodes.

Carmichael, a skilled con artist from an early age, makes for a fascinating subject. Though Liz died in 2004, interviews with her family, as well as archival audio tapes provide a thorough examination of her as a person. Carmichael is a complicated figure, a loving mother and a force of nature in the business world, flying a bit too close to the sun with some of her ambitions.

The series uses extensive cut-out animation to liven up some of the archival footage. This approach makes the experience a bit more colorful, while also adding to the emotional resonance of the material. The pacing is quite exceptional, a highly-bingeable experience that leaves you hungry for more at the end of each episode.

Trans people are frequently accused of deception by our very existence. For Liz, a trans woman, this dynamic is complicated by the fact that she was a literal con artist. Her story, especially her prosecution, exposes some of the ways that marginalized people are treated differently both by the justice system and the public at large. Cammilleri and Drucker spend a lot of time on the media reception to the case, including some fascinating interviews with some of the newscasters who worked on the story.

Popular culture is filled with con artists like Jordan Belfort, celebrated by many for their bombastic greed. Shows like Billions and Succession revel in their protagonists’ abilities to game the system. People like Liz Carmichael get treated differently, not necessarily because of the particulars of their crimes, but because of who they are as people.

Which isn’t to say that Liz Carmichael was actually a hero or that she didn’t deserve to be prosecuted for violating securities law among plenty of other offenses. Liz Carmichael did bad things, but The Lady and the Dale isn’t concerned with judgement, providing testimony from her relatives and former employees that paint a much fuller picture of the woman.

In her own way, Liz was a trailblazer. Trans people still face rampant employment discrimination. To see a woman like her take on the big auto companies can give inspiration to anyone looking to carve out their own mark on the world. For too long, women have been told we can’t succeed in a men’s world. Much of Liz’s problems were her of her own making, but she had some impressive achievements. Above all else, Liz lived her life on her own terms.

The Lady and the Dale thoroughly explores a complicated figure in trans history, a fascinating glimpse at a rebel who dared to dream big. One may not necessarily aspire to be like Liz, except in the courage she exhibited to live her truth and ask for more. Being out can be hard enough sometimes. To remove the weights of discrimination will hopefully create a world where more trans people can wield the power that Liz held, if only for a moment.

Monday

25

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

WandaVision isn’t designed to meet expectations

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WandaVision ushers in a new era for the MCU on the small screen. While Marvel Television only delivered peanuts on its promises of a shared continuity, Marvel Studios has brought the gravitas required to create a real sense of connectivity to its storytelling, largely in the form of its two leads. The Scarlet Witch and Vision hardly got much of a chance to shine across a handful of films that had many other heroes to entertain itself with.

The series largely succeeds on the chemistry of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, perpetually eager to act out WandaVision’s many tributes to classic American sitcoms. There are smiles to be had on everyone’s faces, though the audience knows the idyllic suburb is hardly what it seems. Sparking nodes of Marvel Comics, “House of M” and “Decimation” arcs, the show offers a slow burn that gradually hints at what lies ahead in the MCU’s post-Avengers: Endgame world.

WandaVision embraces MCU mastermind Kevin Feige’s key strategy of gradual plotting, having fun in the present while rarely losing sight of what’s eventually to come. Supporting players Kathryn Hahn, Teyonah Harris and David Payton help paint the portrait of a world that sparks curiosity that its twenty-two minute episode runtimes can hardly satisfy.

To some extent, it’s a good thing that WandaVision leaves the audience wanting more by the time the credits roll. There is also the reality that this is the first meaningful new piece of MCU content since 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home (not counting Marvel Television’s Helstrom, which served as an uninspired curtain call for the company), the longest stretch in franchise history. It’s a burden that shouldn’t be WandaVision’s to bear, the first glimpse of how the future will look for Marvel on Disney+.

The reliance on humor based in nostalgia for sitcoms that aired more than fifty years ago is bound to rub some people the wrong way. As a company, Disney has increasingly relied on nostalgia as a selling point for much of its cinematic portfolio, including their live action remakes and the Star Wars sequels, which often felt like remakes themselves. People are starved for new Marvel content, only to be presented with references to pieces of Americana that their grandparents grew up with.

Television is a medium that tends to save its biggest bangs for its premieres and finales. WandaVision is presented as event television, only to mostly spend its time mirroring more conventional entries in the form. This formula would almost certainly play better if the audience was treated to a traditional twenty-two episode season that used to be the norm. The fact that most of the audience has waited years to learn the fate of Vision after his Avengers: Infinity War demise doesn’t exactly do much to temper expectations.

WandaVision is solid television, albeit not the kind of fare that’s well designed to live up to unsustainable hype. The Mandalorian is really, really good at producing cinematic-quality storytelling in practically every episode. WandaVision sits in the same category as a standard-bearer for a top-tier streaming service, lacking the sense of mandate to be the MCU’s flagship television offering.

Whether that’s fair or not is kind of beside the point. Olsen and Bettany are fun to watch no matter the circumstances or the state of the MCU’s broader portfolio. There’s a natural sense of urgency to want something to happen, but it’s hard to dwell on that too long when the present put in front us manages to put a smile on one’s face each and every week. Maybe WandaVision will overstay its welcome down the road, but for now, the show is still a delight.

Tuesday

5

January 2021

1

COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season 2 Review

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Season two of The Mandalorian began with a fairly daunting task. The show built an enormous amount of goodwill during its freshman effort for crafting a narrative that carried the aura of being far-removed from the rest of Star Wars lore, even if the constant, subtle Easter Eggs tended to suggest otherwise. As the sequel series faltered, The Mandalorian suggested that the future of the franchise rested in standalone storytelling.

All the recent announcements of close to a dozen new Star Wars series throw a wrench in this whole thesis, but it’s clear that The Mandalorian had been inching toward this destination for a long time. The chance to feature series favorites such as Bo-Katan, Boba Fett, and Ahsoka Tano transformed what was once predominantly an episodic meme-factory for the hijinks of an adorable puppet and his adopted father. Season two will be defined as the point where The Mandalorian stopped explicitly being “The Baby Yoda Show,” and not just strictly because the cute little fella finally got a proper name.

The perfectly executed season finale should rightfully spark melancholic feelings toward the change in status quo for The Mandalorian, which now finds itself firmly entrenched in Skywalker lore. Season two featured plenty of episodes defined by their self-contained adventures, from the slaying of a Krayt dragon to the head-scratching detour to ice-spider planet. Individual victories from episode to episode are bound to take a backseat to big mic-drop moments.

The Mandalorian built an enormous amount of goodwill for moments crafted by its own characters. For a man who rarely shows his face, Pedro Pascal brought an impressive depth of emotional range to Din Djarin, subtly setting up the tear-jerking departure of the final episode, where he bucked his traditions and removed his helmet. Those are the kind of set-ups that The Mandalorian excels at, but it’s harder to recreate that dynamic when the complications of decades of fan-nostalgia begin to occupy the same space.

Season two benefited from an untapped reservoir of guest stars, rewarding longtime fans for their dedication in following the animated series, comics, and broader Expanded Universe. Soon there will be other places to find those highs, including The Book of Boba, which will air at the end of this year. The Mandalorian will hardly be the only game in town.

Show creator Jon Favreau improved upon season one in practically every way imaginable. The episodes felt more vital, even as they relied upon their own self-contained adventures. The show eased up on its love of rocky desert planets. Grogu didn’t lean too hard into his status as a walking meme, aside from perhaps the moment where he decided he’d practice the Force by swiping blue macarons. For all the moments in season one that felt like the show was dragging its feet, season two moved the ball forward in practically every episode.

Season two built on the strong foundation of the first while expanding the narrative to define The Mandalorian’s place in Star Wars lore. Favreau accomplished all of this while not losing sight of his two heroes that made all the magic in the first place. A cameo from Star Wars’ original hero may be the most noteworthy thing to come out of the show, but The Mandalorian ensured that the franchise won’t be defined by its first family.

It is weird think that The Mandalorian may have already established its legacy two seasons in. The streaming world it helped established will look very different when the show returns, presumably in 2022. It may be a bit overblown to say that The Mandalorian “saved” Star Wars, a billion dollar entity that can absorb some lackluster installments.

The urge to reach that conclusion comes from a fairly natural point. There may come a day when the show loses itself in endless callbacks, a fate suffered by the sequel trilogy. The Mandalorian is great TV. That’s pretty much the only thing that needs to matter.

Saturday

19

December 2020

2

COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season 2 Review: Chapter 16

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As a franchise, there’s little Star Wars loves more than the past. Two of the three entries in the sequel series existed primarily as shrines to nostalgia, while its middle installment sparked endless controversy for daring to engage the idea that maybe we should, “let the past die.” The Mandalorian has mostly charted its own course, albeit carrying plenty of crowd-pleasing Easter eggs along the way.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a current work possessing deep reverence for its broader lore, as the season two finale proved. Great storytelling can be powerfully enhanced by interweaving the present in with the characters fans have grown to love. Luke Skywalker never looked more powerful than when he was mowing down Terminator-esque Dark troopers one by one, delivering on a wish fans have clamored for since Return of the Jedi.

This episode combined all the best elements of the show, a near perfect finale. The show’s supporting bench was mostly all-hands on deck to rescue Grogu from Moff Gideon’s light cruiser. Dr. Pershing is a fairly compelling tertiary character, though his quick defection to Team Mando seemed a bit rushed.

The stand-off on the Imperial Shuttle was perhaps the episode’s lone clunky bit of fan service, a back-and-forth over the ethics of blowing up Death Stars ripped straight out of Clerks. A chief complaint of the Skywalker Saga as a whole has been how small the galaxy seems with everyone knowing every else. Between the shuttle and Bo-Katan’s instant familiarity with Boba Fett, it felt like this episode was crafting an intimate family drama rather than a giant space epic.

The action sequences were predictably phenomenal, giving the female members of the team plenty of chances to shine while only just barely dipping into the cringey “girl power” energy that Avengers: Endgame consumed to excess. The Dark troopers were appropriately menacing, even in scenarios where they didn’t really get a chance to wield their full power. Mando destroying one with his flamethrower might suggest that they’re easier to beat than the show lets on, but it’s understandable that none of Mando’s crew didn’t want to test this theory too much.

Moff Gideon has been a pretty menacing figure despite only making sporadic appearances. Giancarlo Esposito has a gift for playing characters who display a transactional sense of villainy. For a second, he really makes you believe that he’s simply okay letting Mando and Grogu walk away, before swinging the Darksaber right at Mando’s back.

The fight itself was pretty solid, though the sight of an old man parrying with an armored bounty hunter, albeit one who was recently bashed in the head, ran the risk of carrying on past the point of plausibility. Gideon seemed like a likely candidate to not make it past the episode, though Chapter 16 opted not to add to the show’s body count. All hands are still on deck for an eventual war on Mandalore, as the show is increasingly hinting will be its focus for next season.

Luke’s entire sequence was perfect, a moving tribute to the franchise’s most beloved hero. The use of body-double Max Lloyd-Jones mostly worked, though the dialogue portion was a bit clunky. The sight of R2-D2 brought tears to my eyes, a beloved character who was woefully neglected by the sequel trilogy.

Luke never got a chance to bask in the limelight after beating the Empire. Regardless of how you feel about his well-crafted arc in The Last Jedi, it is a shame that Star Wars turned the page on Jedi Master Skywalker without giving Hamill a chance to enjoy Luke in his prime. This episode was a great tribute for those of us who lament the end of the Expanded Universe.

The most impressive thing about the last ten minutes of the episode was the way it managed to give simultaneously both Mando and Luke their tearjerker moments. Mando taking his helmet off to say goodbye to his adopted son had been hinted at, but it played so powerfully here. Grogu not wanting to leave was perfectly complemented by R2’s exuberance at seeing the young child.

The whole scene worked on so many levels, combining Star Wars’ vast lore with the affection we’ve built for our current cast of characters. The franchise finally used nostalgia not as a crutch, but as a seasoning for its carefully curated buffet of emotion. It’s hard to think that The Mandalorian will sideline its breakout character for very long, but the show succeeded in presenting that as a possibility.

“The Rescue” represented the finest chapter in the Star Wars saga since The Empire Strikes Back. The episode utilized every single moment to its advantage, both in the present and with regard to planning for next season. Both Mando and Grogu will have their hands full with new adventures next year, giving comfort to those who might still be sobbing over the idea of their separation. It’s hard to think of a better way to end this era of The Mandalorian.

If that wasn’t enough, we were treated to an excellent post-credits scene where Boba Fett and Fennec paid a visit to Fett’s old friend Bib Fortuna at Jabba’s Palace. Fett hasn’t had nearly enough chances to shine since his introduction, playing bit roles in the past two episodes. Looks like a spin-off is on the horizon, along with all the other Star Wars projects in development.

Quick programming note. We will return with a review of the season as a whole. Be sure to check out Estradiol Illusions’ weekly podcast recaps. Thank you so much for following along with us every week! Happy Life Day.

 

Saturday

12

December 2020

1

COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season 2 Review: Chapter 15

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This season of The Mandalorian has done a superb job with its big moments. Ahsoka Tano, Boba Fett, and Bo-Katan all shined in their debut episodes. As a medium, television rarely relied so heavily on the giant splashes before the streaming era. The quieter moments need to count too.

The Mandalorian is not very good at stopping to take a breath in order to process its events. Mando has assembled an impressive team of Fett, Fennec, and Cara Dune to help him rescue Grogu, but as an episode, “The Believer” cares very little for any of these people. Chapter 15 belonged to Migs Mayfeld.

For a show starring a puppet and a bounty hunter who never removes his helmet, The Mandalorian has done a fairly decent job building up its supporting bench. Bill Burr shined in last season’s sixth episode as the backstabbing former Imperial sharpshooter. Now imprisoned, Mando needs his services to figure out the location of Moff Gideon, whose imprisonment of Grogu apparently prevented him from making an appearance this episode.

The whole Morak quest was a fairly paint-by-numbers undercover mission. The Mandalorian often leans heavily into Western tropes, but here it was borrowing heavily from the spy/adventure shows that once populated the network TV landscape. It’s fun without being particularly inventive or ambitious.

Most jarring in the episode was the sequence after the undercover Mando and Mayfeld fought off a raiding party, only to be greeted with a chorus of applause from Stormtroopers. We rarely see Stormtroopers winning anything, let alone actually hitting a single target. If anything else, it was entertaining to watch.

Burr did a great job with fairly mundane material. His commentary on the geopolitics of Morak was a clear substitute for American interventionism abroad in places like Vietnam and Iraq, fairly out of place in the Star Wars universe. As the audience, we can follow along with his broad points as they relate to our reality, but that isn’t a dynamic Star Wars has ever really shown to us. The Empire and the New Republic are not really two sides of the same coin.

The dramatic tension in this episode mostly stemmed from Mando being forced to remove his beskar helmet. As soon as the Stormtrooper helmet went on, it became clear that we’d probably get an appearance from Pedro Pascal, mustache and all. Bo-Katan’s statements on Mando’s sect of Mandalorian being extremists set this all up quite well.

Pascal handled the dynamic well, constantly looking like a fish out of water without his security blanket. It’s not a super compelling conflict, since I imagine most of the audience would rather see Pascal on a regular basis rather than stare at Mando’s expressionless helmet. Like Mayfeld’s pontifications on relativism, much of this drama felt like going through the motions.

Mayfeld gets redemption as a character through his ill-advised rant to his former commanding officer Valin Hess (Richard Brake, who’s familiar to Game of Thrones fans as the first Night King). The whole sequence was obviously made to set up his release at the end of the episode, while maybe also serving to show him as not a bad guy. It’s entertaining while also being just a tad too predictable.

The action was mostly good, even if the sight of numerous Imperial officers running to their immediate deaths in the mess room hallway seemed a tad ridiculous. Cara and Fennec had some moments, but Fett was left with not enough to do. I guess we can blame that on some stage fright that some Imperials might recognize his face after his father served as the template for the entire Clone army.

This season has largely been about Mando coming into his own as a father. With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the show wanted to have Mando send a threatening message to Gideon. It did feel rather out of place for him as a character though, needlessly showing his cards.

While a bit lazy in its execution, Chapter 15 served as an effective set-up for the season finale. Burr got his moments to shine, but with a 38-minute runtime, it’s hard to make the case for why no one else could have had a moment as well. Fett superfans were bound to be disappointed by the sidelining of the original helmeted bounty hunter. The Mandalorian needs to do a better job with simply taking a breath every once in a while.

For more Mandalorian coverage, check out Estradiol Illusions’ weekly recaps 

Saturday

28

November 2020

1

COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season 2 Review: Chapter 13

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There is a reason none of the Marvel characters from the Netflix series made appearances in Avengers: Endgame, a film with a finale designed to cap off a historic era in film connectivity. Popular as they may be, the inclusion of such characters presents some problems for a global audience that may have no idea who these people are. The hardcore fans are left with a natural degree of wanting for scenarios that would have been so incredible to see up on the big screen.

Ahsoka Tano is the breakout star of the popular animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, the former of which carried the torch for the fandom as it transitioned from the post-Revenge of the Sith Lucas era to its current home at Disney. There was a period of time where Ahsoka Tano was the best Star Wars creation of the 21st century, a sentiment countless Clone Wars fans undoubtedly still hold.

Tano’s appearance in The Mandalorian has been rumored since the show’s inception, a naturally tantalizing prospect for many. The logistics of her inclusion presented the showrunners with some of the same hurdles that the Marvel universe experienced with how to include a popular character in a global phenomenon that has plenty of fans who have never heard of her. Thankfully, Star Wars vet Dave Filoni rose to the task with near flawless execution.

The arrival on Corvus gave The Mandalorian a much needed reprieve from the piles of rocks on Tatooine and Nevarro, but also a chance to move the narrative forward in a game-changing fashion. This season has been about Mando delivering Baby Yoda to a Jedi. Given the show’s often glacier-slow pacing and affection for filler subplots, it might have been reasonable to assume that this might happen sometime at the end of the season.

Instead, we get a fan favorite character and a name for the Child. Grogu is not a good name. Yoda and Yaddle (the latter of which’s legacy was apparently forgotten by Tano, who presumably arrived at the Jedi Temple a little while after her death) are much better names. Grogu is the kind of cringy name that flies in the face of how adorable this fella is.

The action sequences were predictable phenomenal. Mando’s quest to find Ahsoka at the behest of former Empire leader Morgan Elsbeth was a tad perfunctory, but this episode had too much going on to be bogged down in narrative mechanics.

The audience could be forgiven for some eye-rolls at the timeline that Ahsoka provided for Grogu’s residence at the Jedi Temple. The little guy seems to understand Mando better this season, but he’s still basically a baby with a one-track mind for snacks. Are we really supposed to believe that he was trained at the Temple during the era of the prequels when he was 1/5th his current age?

Obviously Ahsoka is not going to train Grogu. That would require The Mandalorian to either lose its best asset or for the show to do a sharp pivot away from its title character. Neither Ahsoka nor Grogu popped up in the sequel trilogy, apart from the former’s brief vocal cameo in The Rise of Skywalker along with all the other Jedi who gave Rey a pep talk.

Rosario Dawson handled the fan favorite character quite well. Perhaps the highlight of the episode was when Ahsoka Tano reflected on her former master Anakin Skywalker in her refusal to train Grogu. Jedi are supposed to be trained at a young age to prevent outside attachments. Mando is for all intents and purposes Grogu’s father.

Mando can never succeed in his mission because it would mean the end of the series. In order to satisfy the viewers, the show is throwing out fan favorite mentions like Grand Admiral Thrawn and the planet Tython to keep things interesting. With the way “The Jedi” played out, longtime fans may get a bit antsy for more franchise reveals that probably won’t be coming anytime soon.

The only point that didn’t really work was Ahsoka Tano’s battle with Elsbeth. The whole nature of Tano’s efforts to make it seem like she killed Mando was a bit pointless, but seeing the skilled dual-wielding Jedi struggle to fight a woman wielding a beskar spear seemed very silly. Tano could’ve jerked the spear away with a single motion of the force. The fact that she didn’t gives fans a bit more satisfying of an action scene, but this sequence was silly enough to begin with.

Mando and Grogu will almost certainly not arrive on Tython with only three episodes left of the season, especially with Moff Gideon tracking the Razor Crest. Chapter 13 was the best episode of the series, striking a perfect balance between casual viewers and Star Wars superfans. This wasn’t just good television, but a perfect roadmap for a franchise to use with regard to exploring its own ethos. The Mandalorian is pretty great when it’s just performing as “The Baby Yoda show,” but there’s so much more for the series to explore.

Be sure to check out Estradiol Illusions’ Mandalorian recaps!

Saturday

21

November 2020

0

COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season Two Recap: Chapter Twelve

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Nevarro is not a very interesting planet, too much of a Tatooine clone in a way that’s only exacerbated by the existence of Jakku. There are seemingly countless planets for The Mandalorian to explore, but so far the show has followed the Star Trek model of prioritizing places that piles of rocks. Piles of rocks make for easy reusable set pieces.

The Mandalorian has very few recurring characters, let alone ones who are friendly to Mando and Baby Yoda. Greef Karga and Cara Dune are about it among the living. By practically every measure of conventional television storytelling, it makes sense that they’d pop up in season two, even if the plot might be better off with heading into new territory.

Mando’s arrival to Nevarro was a bit awkward, featuring some pretty wooden dialogue between Mando, Cara, and Greef. The Mandalorian has never been much for exposition, but a scene or two with Mando laying out the stakes of the season felt needed in this briskly paced episode. It’s always fun to see Carl Weathers again, who also directed this episode, but the writing hardly did his character any favors this time around.

As often happens with The Mandalorian, the action sequences are used to cover up the rushed exposition and clunky dialogue. The return of the unnamed Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) who Mando first captured in the show’s very first episode was a fun callback, though Greef and Cara’s unnecessary meanness toward him in the Imperial base was a bit much. Yelling at a guy to hurry up the second he started pushing buttons on a control system is hardly proper manners!

The first half of the episode made no effort to present the mission to blow up the Imperials as anything more than filler. Things took a completely unexpected turnaround when the team discovered that Moff Gideon had been using the base for genetic experiments. Putting aside the sly reference to midichlorians, the whole sequence served to give this detour real stakes in the show’s lore.

The action sequences were unsurprisingly spectacular. To some extent, the Stormtrooper cannon fodder is getting a little stale, but the sets are so fun to look at that it’s hard to care. The Trexler Marauder ship battle between the speeder bikes and the Tie Fighters was one of the highlights of the whole series, something that could have easily been showcased in a feature film.

One of the big questions I had heading into the season was how hard the show would try and capitalize on Baby Yoda’s status as one of the cutest fictional characters in the world. Baby Yoda being dropped in a classroom only to steal a student’s blue macarons is the kind of sequence that pretty much solely exists for memes. The little fella has a one-track mind when it comes to food, and it’s pretty much the most adorable thing in Star Wars history. He may not be a very good ship engineer, but he’s got a career waiting for him on The Food Network when this is all over.

The return of Captain Carson Teva, last seen leaving the ice planet in his X-wing instead of helping Mando fix his ship, hints at a broader role for the New Republic. The Outer Rim has historically been a problematic area for both Imperial and Republic control, though Greef and Cara seem to be keeping Nevarro in relatively good shape. As a series, The Mandalorian hasn’t spent a ton of time trying to bridge the gap between The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

 It seems unlikely that Mando will want to be a part of any broader conflict between the remnants of the Empire and the New Republic, exacerbated by the show’s fairly slow pace. The show does a good job presenting its adventures as existing in the larger canon without getting anyone’s expectations up. The Empire is tracking the Razor Crest, hinting that perhaps the broader New Republic will get involved after all.

Chapter 12 recovered nicely after a bumpy first act, putting forth some of the series’ best action scenes. One could be forgiven for an eye-roll at the return to Nevarro given how much this season has dragged its feet already. With four episodes left to go, hopefully the show will stop taking detours. For now, it’s still some of the best entertainment television has to offer.

Be sure to listen to Estradiol Illusions’ Mandalorian recaps!

Friday

20

November 2020

0

COMMENTS

The Crown returns to form on the coattails of its most celebrated Princess

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There is perhaps no greater moment of excitement for fans of The Crown than the arrival of Princess Diana. Four seasons in to a planned six-season run (briefly reduced to five before returning to its original course), Diana represents a turning point for the series, where period drama increasingly encroaches upon our modern era. As the Royal Family today endures controversies surrounding Megxit and Prince Andrew’s choice of friends, Diana’s popularity endures.

Surrounded by an exceptional cast including Olivia Colman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Tobias Menzies, Emma Corrin captivates as the young Princess of Wales. Corrin’s performance illustrates the complexities of Diana’s position both as an outsider to the Royal Family and as a figure who became a global sensation. Diana is a singular figure in modern culture. Corrin handles that immensely daunting task with nuance and grace.

Fellow season four newcomer Gillian Anderson takes on a similarly daunting task as Margaret Thatcher, in many ways the inverse of Diana for the purposes of The Crown. Thatcher is among the most hated politicians of the modern era, posing difficulties for a fictional depiction that’s bound to try and humanize the Iron Lady. Anderson is wonderful, occasionally bringing out those moments in the viewer where one’s emotions are tied up in an uncomfortable display of sympathy toward a figure known for her absence of humanity.

Season three often suffered from a lack of urgency to make the most of its ten episodes. Season four by comparison often has too much to do. Diana’s rise takes up much of the early episodes, intertwined with the Queen’s relationship with Thatcher. The Crown has always emphasized episodic storytelling within its broader narrative, but season four simply has better stories to tell. There’s nothing comparable to last year, when a whole episode was wasted on Prince Philip being fascinated with the moon.

Ten episodes is not a lot of time to spend on a group of individuals as complex and fascinating as the Royal Family. Prince Philip and Princesses Anne and Margaret see their roles greatly diminished, a necessary decision made in service to the season’s more compelling narratives. The Queen Mother (Marion Bailey) continues to be woefully ignored, a fascinating figure done a great disservice by The Crown.

Colman is finally given a chance to shine. Season three often sidelined the Queen in favor of the actions around her. Between conflicts with Thatcher and her responsibilities as a mother, the Queen has plenty to do this time around.

In many ways, Prince Charles is the true antagonist of the season, more so than Thatcher. Josh O’Connor does a fabulous job as the dour Prince of Wales, perpetually sulking over his marital problems and jealous of Diana’s enormous popularity. The Crown is hardly fair to the future King of England, who is depicted as fairly lazy and selfish. Stories need heroes and villains.

The Crown is not a documentary. Biopics almost always take large creative liberties with their subjects. Many articles are popping up over the inaccuracies of the events depicted, a fair correction of the record. One might feel a natural degree of sympathy toward how someone like the Duchess of Cornwall might feel at being seen as a vicious adulterer uncaring toward the mental wellbeing of a national icon. As bleak as it sounds, that shouldn’t really override the primary objective of The Crown, to produce compelling television.

Diana’s arrival gives The Crown a chance to recapture the magic of spectacle. Few series evoke a sense of awe and wonder quite like Morgan’s Royal Family fantasies. Historians can balk at the creative liberties all they want, but this is one of the most exciting shows on television. Truth need not be as important.

 

Saturday

14

November 2020

1

COMMENTS

The Mandalorian Season Two Recap: Chapter Eleven

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Would Mando be better off simply traveling to various planets asking locals in their bars for help finding Jedi? Maybe he should stand on a table holding Baby Yoda up, yelling, “Does anyone know where this kid came from?” That’s basically where we’re at.

Last episode saw the Razor Crest almost destroyed because Mando needed to travel at sub-light to protect Frog Lady’s eggs. The reason beyond this dangerous missions was supposed to be that Frog Lady’s husband had valuable information as to where Mando could find other helmet-wearers like him. Mando will likely spend the rest of his days picking spider webs out of his ship in service to this vital step in his journey.

Upon arriving at the water-heavy planet Trask, almost destroying what’s left of the ship in the process, Mr. Frog Lady does have a big reveal. He points at a bar. That’s it. That’s the information Mando almost died for. A glorified chowder recommendation.

Mando would have been much better off simply asking the X-wing pilots if they knew of any Jedi. They probably do. None of this is nitpicking. This season has yet to supply a reason for its broader quest to find other Mandalorians.

Mando finds some leads while Baby Yoda chows down on octopus chowder. Mr. Frog Lady didn’t exactly give the best intel, as the Quarren fishing boat was less interested in helping Mando than acquiring his armor. Baby Yoda’s floating bassinet apparently doesn’t float over water.

Part of the beauty of The Mandalorian is that it’s clearly crafted by people who love Star Wars. The series isn’t constructed in a way that forces anyone to watch animated shows like The Clone Wars or Rebels, while rewarding those that do. Seeing Bo-Katan in live-action is amazing, especially with Katee Sackoff reprising her role from the animated series.

Unlike Mando, Bo-Katan and her buddies are free to remove their helmets. While fitting in line with their animated appearances, seeing helmet-less Mandalorians is also valuable for the audience. People like to see faces and the expressions worn on them. This dynamic also allows the show to explore Mando’s core belief, one that would naturally sound pretty radical to any casual viewer.

Bo-Katan suggests that Mando is a Child of the Watch, essentially a Mando-extremist cult that broke off from the rest of Mandalore’s society. Mando doesn’t have a ton of time to process this information before the rest of the 35-minute episode’s action scenes need to take place, but this is a valuable question for the show to explore over the course of its run. Ideally, we the viewer may like to envision a scenario where Mando settles down, able to look at his adopted son with his own eyes.

Speaking of Baby Yoda, thankfully the little guy didn’t eat any more of Frog Lady’s eggs. It’s kind of ridiculous that Mando would ask her to babysit considering his snacking habits last episode, but it’s not like he has a ton of friends, on Trask or elsewhere. Kuiil would have been a great traveling babysitter. I miss him.

The action scenes aboard the Gozanti-class Imperial cruiser were great. It was super fun to see TV veteran Titus Welliver as the ship captain, who sadly died before he got a chance to have some tea. Obviously the other Mandalorians weren’t interested in raiding the ship for blasters, or other weapons.

Great to see the return of Moff Gideon. Giancarlo Esposito is fabulous in everything he’s in. Darksaber is one of the big questions of this season, one that I suspect the show won’t be in too big of a rush to address. Fun episodes like this make the destination less important than the journey.

Mando’s quest to find other Mandos did prove fruitful. After quoting Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together” slogan from her 2016 campaign, Bo-Katan tells Mando to head to Calodan to find Ahsoka Tano, another fan favorite. He probably could have stumbled upon that tidbit without having to travel by sublight to Trask, but here we are.

“The Heiress” demonstrates the show’s keen ability to simultaneously satisfy casual fans and Star Wars diehards. The Mandalorian rarely suffers when it drags its feet, but this episode moved the plot forward in a way that’s been lacking from this season’s first two installments. We’re almost at the halfway marker, as much as it feels like things just got started. Boba Fett may not come back until the end of the season, if at all. For now, that hardly seems to matter.

For more of Ian’s Mandalorian analysis, be sure to check out Estradiol Illusion’s weekly recaps

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Seduced breaks down the complexities of NXIVM’s vast web

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, TV Reviews

The saga of NXIVM is endlessly fascinating, a web of mostly detestable figures running a pyramid scheme in Albany, New York. Occasionally lost in the jokes about Keith Raniere’s bullshit is the trail of victims he left in his wake. There are the Mark Vicente’s and the Sarah Edmonson’s of the story, whose own culpability remains a puzzling question. The India Oxenberg’s of the story are perhaps even more complex, women who were indoctrinated at young ages to become sex slaves and cogs in the scheme’s vast machine.

Much of HBO’s The Vow was filmed in real time as former NXIVM members worked to take Raniere down, culminating in his 2018 arrest alongside several other key figures. A major storyline of The Vow centered around actress Catherine Oxenberg’s efforts to save her daughter India from the cult’s clutches. STARZ’s Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult picks up where season one of The Vow left off, presenting India’s story in her own words for the first time.

Seduced offers a superb primer into the world of cults, expertly breaking down the mechanics behind Raniere’s long grift. Several expert psychologists provide simple explanations for the ways that Raniere was able to build such a vast empire while mostly recycling nonsense from self-help gurus and Scientology. Like its bizarre name, NXIVM can be pretty confusing at first, but Seduced peels back the layers of the bullshit.

Raniere ruined countless people, both psychologically and financially. Part of NXIVM’s effectiveness was the way in which the organization was able to entrap its members by making many culpable themselves. The lines between victim and perpetrator can be blurred. India was a sex slave to Smallville actress Allison Mack, but India herself had slaves of her own. By including interviews with some of the prosecutors, Seduced works to clean up what will always be a messy picture. There are no easy answers here.

Seduced is a succinct series, presented over four episodes. The show is ostensibly India’s narrative, while including accounts from other DOS victims that help provide a clearer picture of the destruction Raniere caused. There is some slight overlap with content explored in The Vow, but Raniere’s insistence on recording practically every interaction ensures that there’s plenty of new material here.

India’s interviews are often challenging to watch. Persistent is the sense that she’s still clearly working through all of this. Maybe Seduced would be better off waiting for a bit longer to present her story, but maybe India simply wants to get on with her life. The brief amount of time between Raniere’s arrest and the arrival of NXIVM-related content is perhaps too short a period for much introspection, a dynamic exacerbated by the fact that many of the subjects only narrowly avoided prosecution. This is messy stuff.

India’s time in Albany gave her a much better front row seat to the actions of key players such as Nancy Salzman, Mack, and Raniere than The Vow was able to present. The web is complex, hardly the subject than any series would be able to tackle in only a handful of episodes. Seduced clearly has the better claim to casual viewers, supplying the broad details of what makes NXIVM so captivating while limiting the time spent down the various rabbit holes.

NXIVM is among the weirder true crime stories in recent memory, involving numerous Hollywood figures, ginger ale heiresses, and the Dalai Lama among countless others. It’s not hard to see why this saga is so fascinating to many. India is a young woman who went through the trauma of a lifetime in her early twenties. Seduced presents her story in a way that horrifies while also providing some hope that this unfortunate mess won’t define the rest of her life. NXIVM’s victims deserve a chance to turn the page.