Monday, March 31, 2014

I'm not even sure I have a word for this emotion.

There are plenty of riveting, painful moments in this week's Good Wife episode “The Last Call”—almost too many to count—and I wish I could talk about all of them. Despite having one strong A-plot and two clear subplots, one for each of the women most affected by Will’s death, it was largely an episode of moments. Narrative stepped aside in favor of raw emotion and microscopic detail. I don’t mean this as a bad thing. It’s more or less what Buffy the Vampire Slayer did in “The Body” (there’s a comparison everyone and their mother’s made), and it works. If you want to realistically portray the immediate aftermath of an unexpected loss, well, that’s just about the only way to do it, and The Good Wife does it well. Incredibly well.

It does mean, though, that it’s difficult to talk about everything that went into making the episode good, because more than narrative, more than A-plots and B-plots and arcs and resolutions, the episode relies on each and every individual moment being realistically written, heartbreakingly acted, and intensely personal. Every scene has to give us a slightly different but no less real perspective on the central tragedy than the one that came before; a single false note can throw us out of the episode. (For some people, that false note was the conversation Alicia had with her daughter about God. I loved that scene, personally, but the reasons why would probably constitute a blog post all their own, or, if I were going to be really clear about it, a memoir. For some people, the false note was Kalinda, and well, as with all things Kalinda, that's also its own post.)

Instead, I’d like to focus on one particular moment, out of the many. I’m not sure I’d call it the best moment, though it’s certainly a contender, but I do think it’s the most interesting one. It’s about a minute into the episode: Alicia, who was about to introduce Peter at a correspondents’ luncheon when Eli gave her the news of Will’s death, leaves, and Eli must take her place introducing Peter. Unfortunately, he’s still reading off a teleprompter of Alicia’s speech, which is full of references to Alicia’s dress, her children, her marriage to Peter, etc. Eli is shaken, and can’t quite figure out how to stop reading from the teleprompter.

I have never reacted to anything I’ve seen or read, ever, the way I reacted to that scene. It was an entirely novel experience for me. I started laughing and crying simultaneously, the two feeding off each other. It was funnier because it was so painful; it hurt deeper because it was so funny. It wasn’t cathartic, the way joking about a personal tragedy can be, nor did it have the sting and edge of dark humor. It didn’t break the tension, and I didn’t come out of it feeling any better. It was just—this joke, this perfectly normal joke that could conceivably be worked into any episode of The Good Wife, but it was here, instead, and somehow it was massively funny without breaking the tone of the episode, and without providing a single moment’s pause in my grief as a viewer. It’s not the moment in the episode I relate to most personally—those moments all belong to Alicia—but later, when the episode was over and I was talking to my sister, it was talking about that moment that made me cry, really cry, over what I’d just watched.

Quite simply, it was the most Good Wife thing The Good Wife has ever done. There’s not another show on television, now or in history, that could’ve pulled it off. Buffy couldn’t have pulled it off. Not because Buffy didn’t have the skill, although it took enormous skill to make the moment work, but because it’s just not what Buffy is. It was a triumph of tone, five years in the making. And if I still had any doubt, it’s proved to me once and for all that The Good Wife is the best it’s ever been—and that The Good Wife’s best is among the best television has to offer.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Honestly, I'm surprised I was coherent enough to blog about this.

SPOILERS for the most recent episode of The Good Wife, for the most recent season of Game of Thrones, and for major plot elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and House.

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It’s kind of weird to me that people keep comparing the latest episode of The Good Wife to Game of Thrones’ “Red Wedding.” The Red Wedding, though obviously shocking to those who hadn’t read the books, was fundamentally a follow-through of the series’ basic premise. Sudden deaths of major characters are written into GoT’s DNA. They’re inextricable. They’re part of the package.

The death of The Good Wife’s Will Gardner, on the other hand, is a swerve. Nobody could have predicted it. The show has never done anything like it before in four and a half seasons. Viewers simply do not sit down to an episode of The Good Wife prepared for the idea that a main character might die. On the one hand, that makes the death truly shocking; it leaves viewers shaken in a way that a death on Scandal or Lost, shows that are built on twists and sudden deaths, simply can’t. On the other hand, it runs the risk of being too shocking, and making viewers feel tricked or betrayed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve seen a certain amount of both reactions to Will’s death. As far as I can tell, the latter is primarily from bitterly disappointed Will/Alicia shippers, who seem to have felt they were promised or owed either a successful Will/Alicia relationship, or that Will would not die, or that Will would die in a certain way, if he ever did.

Every TV show makes an unwritten contract with its viewers: “This is the kind of show I am. These are the lines I can’t cross.” The Good Wife has only ever made two promises. First, it promised to take place in a reality very close to ours, one where not only will fantastical things not happen, but events will have realistic and long-term consequences. Alicia’s not going to run into a dragon or a witches’ coven, but equally importantly, if Peter ever has another affair and it’s publicized, his polling numbers are going to drop drastically.

Second, The Good Wife promised to be a show about Alicia. It promised to follow her, to examine her, to watch her grow. If Alicia ever leaves The Good Wife, it will cease, in some fundamental way, to be the same show.

That’s it. That’s all it promised its viewers. It never promised Will/Alicia as the endgame. It never promised that any character other than Alicia would live, and it never promised that there would be a warning if one of them died.

Other shows have pulled off, or almost pulled off, turns this surprising, this late in the game. Buffy the Vampire Slayer created a little sister out of thin air four years into its run, and the ensuing season was arguably the best the show ever did. Half of House’s main characters quit their jobs in its third season finale, and though the show went downhill after that, it wasn’t the change that did it, but the refusal to change—all three characters remained fixtures on the show for years to come, long after they’d stopped serving a narrative purpose.

It’s about follow-through. Buffy’s monumental twist worked because the show can be neatly split into two eras: pre-Dawn and post-Dawn. The show was never the same again. House’s, on the other hand, failed, because the writers tried to drastically change the characters’ world without actually changing the show. If The Good Wife is to remain the excellent show it’s proved itself to be in the last few seasons, it must forever be a show that is, at least a little bit, about grief and loss. It has to be a changed show, and the changes have to last.

If nothing changes, and the world of The Good Wife goes back to normal after a week or two—or if they start killing off a character every sweeps week—then we can start talking about jumping the shark. For now, though, nothing the show has done has intrinsically broken it. The Good Wife doesn’t owe us anything except what it promised on day one. And the writers don’t owe us anything except the best possible story they can tell. And I’ll tell you this—you can agree with what the Kings did or disagree, like it or dislike it, but you can’t argue that they put anything above the story.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Live"-blogging episodes 17-20 of Pretty Little Liars season 4

My sister has been asking for this for a while, and apparently I haven't been very supportive of her in her time of need (she's having an existential crisis because she has liked two episodes of The Walking Dead in a row), so here it is: A live-blog of Pretty Little Liars, episodes 4x17 - 4x20. I may put up an Actual Things I Said Out Loud for all of season 4b in the near future, but for now, here you go, Holly. Hope you're happy.


4x17, "Bite Your Tongue"

Since when is Aria right? (Actually, I take that back; Aria is pretty fucking dumb, but she’s often right about friendship/emotional stuff.)

Yes, Allison has shown so much indication of being willing to never contact you again.

Oh, hey, Mike’s a character!

Wait, is that the same actor Mike used to be? Is this going to be another Jason DiLaurentis situation?

Dude, Hanna, why are you reading a thriller? Is your real life not enough?

Oh lord, it’s some kind of twisted therapy.

Mona!

Mona has friends?

Dude, Mike, there’s “mistakes,” and then there’s “psychological torture.”

Emily’s dad! We’re just seeing all kinds of long-lost characters. Who’s next? Lucas? Sean? Spencer’s sister?

Emily, you know your father is in no way responsible for Spencer following you, right?

Things I still don’t care about: Ezra and his not-son.

Wait, who is this guy Hanna is talking to? Should I know who this person is? THIS SHOW HAS TOO MANY DAMN CHARACTERS.

“Hanna, please stop reading.” Emily, you’re the worst.

Mona, I don’t know how to tell you this, but you’re really obviously evil.

Spencer, it’s one test. You’re like basically already into college, aren’t you? Just bomb it. Or like talk to a teacher. Or something.

Hanna, you read books in the best way.

The group is not a “safe place!” Mona is there!

Also, it’s pretty much High School Administration 101 to discourage disturbed former bullies from associating with their victims’ family.

Who is this guy? Am I supposed to know this guy?

Okay, PLL, thank you for the fancy cinematography.

Oh my God I hope this all comes down to the time Hanna had to volunteer at the dentists’ office.

Aria, oh my God, stop it.

Emily, you’re always wrong and you always give terrible advice.

I CAN’T BELIEVE IT THEY ACTUALLY TALKED ABOUT SEAN! (Apparently he’s at boarding school.)

Mr. Fitz! He’s eating boysenberry pie! HE’S A, HE’S A!

What kind of town is this where they’re ALWAYS running into teachers outside of school?

I MEAN SERIOUSLY, HANNA.

That waitress is terrible. That waitress is a terrible waitress.

Maybe I’m missing something, because to be fair I’ve never had boysenberry pie and I’m not a huge beer drinker, but what’s so gross about that order?

HA IT’S BOARD SHORTS HA! But wait, how did Board Shorts get that nickname? I thought it was literally because they saw a picture of a guy wearing board shorts. But now I’m starting to think that that was not the case. Why has there been so much plot on this show? It’s impossible to remember all of it!

“Welcome to John Adams High! Where you are gonna die!”

No, she panicked because somebody was trying to kill her.

Heh. You guys all had a really terrible night.

Oh, I’m a terrible person, but the Super Best Friends doing a dental exam is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.

It’s a note! They left an A note in Hanna’s mouth! This is like the creepiest this show has ever been!

Oh, it’s that parrot. I vaguely remember that parrot being a thing.


  
 4x18, "Hot For Teacher"

How many times do I have to tell you girls not to trust anyone?

You know that one A is a dude. Why on earth would you assume there’s only one?

Seriously, why is Aria lying about seeing Ezra? I’m so confused.

Oh, Crazy Spencer. I’ve missed you SO MUCH.

Emily, I know this may be damning you with faint praise, but I think you’re probably the best dressed of the Super Best Friends. (For those wondering, the order goes: Emily, Crazy Spencer, Hanna, Normal Spencer, Aria.)

Shana, have you never said the word “fanfiction” out loud before? Because that’s not where the emphasis goes.

Sherlock Holmes!Hanna is a wonderful new flavor of Hanna.

Creepy Double Entendre!Ezra is also a wonderful new flavor of Ezra.

Spencer, you’ve been doing crazy Adderal research for days, and you just thought to search “Ezra Fitz Ravenswood address”?

Therapist, you are creepy.

A while back, PLL passed the Lost Inflection Point—the point at which it becomes clear that a show cannot possibly provide a satisfactory answer that justifies all of its mysteries. Shows that have passed the LIP are great fun. They’re like the all-night benders of TV shows; all about the fun and experience in the moment, and save the consequences for the morning.

Yes. Yes, Alison wants a twin poster. The twin poster will solve everything.

You know, sometimes it forgets it a little bit, but I’m really gratified by how much this show does care about these girls’ friendship.

Ezra, you really are the creepiest, and if Aria weren’t an idiot/seventeen, she would see how insanely manipulative you are.

That’s the only time I’ve ever seen chickpeas used as a scary reveal.

This moment in which Ezra creepily looks at pictures of teenage girls on his stalker computers seems like a good moment for me to remember that his actor went to my alma mater.

Somebody is definitely going to accidentally sell that bag of coffee.

The weirdest part about Sherlock!Hanna is that she’s actually a fairly competent detective.

Spencer I love your brain. Although you probably could have lied a little better just then.

Alison looks really different in this episode, but I can’t really put my finger on why.



4x19, "Shadow Play" 

I really like Mona’s shoes. Also, does she have blue hair now? Since when does Mona have blue hair?

I love how Spencer’s parents just leave their teenage daughter home alone, like, all the time.

Emily, hasn’t everybody in this group had to interrogate their significant other at some point?

Also, Spencer, why are there foxes on your boobs?

Oh no, Aria’s talking about writing. This can go nowhere good.

OH MY GOD, EZRA AND ARIA ARE HAVING A CREEPY STATEMENT CONTEST.

Am I going to have to have read Chandler to understand this episode?

Why are like 70% of the things I say about PLL these days questions?

PSYCHOTIC BREAK, EXCELLENT.

14-year-olds watch this show and even though it probably gives them terrible ideas about what constitutes a healthy relationship I think it’s excellent.

I’m not even going to bother guessing whether any of what’s on my screen is really happening.

Wow, Hanna is wonderfully well suited to the black-and-white era.

All of their clothing is 900% better than usual.

I’m really sad that none of them are affecting 1940s movie-star accents.

Edgewood 50139! Old-school phone numbers! (Fun fact: I stopped the episode here so that I could research telephone exchange names. “Edgewood” was code for ED, or 33, so Spencer is asking the operator to connect her to 335-0139. This is strange, since most TV shows and movies—including PLL, if I remember right—use the non-existent 555 area code, to avoid broadcasting a real person’s phone number. PLL could have done so in this case by having Spencer dial “Klondike 50139.” “Klondike,” code for KL, or 55, is a fictional telephone exchange that was used in old movies and TV shows for the same reason we use the 555 area code today. “KL-50139” would have translated to 555-0139—a non-existent phone number in any time period.)

Now I forget who Spencer was calling.

Actually, Toby’s actor is attempting a 1940s movie star accent. He’s not succeeding, but he’s definitely attempting.

I know I said I wasn’t going to guess what was really happening and what isn’t, but how could Spencer’s weird black-and-white dream world extend to scene’s she’s not actually present for?

Paige, meanwhile, has way stranger fashion in black and white. On the other hand, Paige! Once again a real person, on screen!

You know, it’s not like the heels these girls wear in 2014 are any lower than their 1940s heels. So why is it that only the 40s heels click on the pavement?

Split screen!

Further developments in the Not-Guessing-What’s-Real Department: No, definitely none of this is real.

HANNA’S A SWITCHBOARD OPERATOR? THAT’S AMAZING.

Have Aria and Paige ever spoken in real life?

Paige is getting more of a story in this incredibly not-real episode than she has for like the past two seasons.

Ezra and Toby, drinkin’ in the lodge.

On the other hand, this conversation between Spencer and Allie is probably about as real as 90% of the conversations we’ve seen between Allie and any of the Super Best Friends.

Wait, is Dream Toby a private investigator or a police detective?

You can’t fool me with black and white, show. That’s not champagne. That’s water.

Dream Ezra is still only like 70% as evil as real Ezra.

YES, SWITCHBOARD OPERATOR HANNA IS EXCELLENT.

Paige and Emily, you two are adorable in every time period ever. Though I’m a little perplexed that Spencer’s dream focuses so heavily on your love life.

Seriously, Spencer spends half her dream getting couples together who are already together in reality.

Also, Spencer seems to be aware on some level that Aria is still seeing Ezra.

“Everything that’s happening to him and me, I don’t feel like it’s ever happened to anyone else before.” Spencer sure knows Aria well.

Oh, but this is a very pretty episode.

My internet keeps acting up and the episode is pausing like once a minute and this is TORTURE.

Wow, Spencer had that whole dream in like three seconds, that’s pretty impressive.

Spencer, you can’t possibly be surprised by this turn of events. You just dreamed it, seriously.



4x20, "Free Fall"

Creepy double entendres from Ezra, I’m never gonna give you up.

The ranking of Crazy Spencer’s fashion sense is being revised downward, but at least her clothing is terrible in a normal way.

Spencer doesn’t have everybody fooled. Spencer has Aria fooled. And only Aria.

How long ago was two years ago, even? Was it pre-A? Pre Allie’s disappearance? Was Aria in Iceland? I can’t keep track of this show’s timeline.

Hanna, darling, you are bad at interventions.

Spencer, you would be so much more convincing if you didn’t look literally dead. On the other hand, you’re right. On the other hand, you’ve apparently decided that your movie dreams are reality. On the other hand, your friends are pretty quick to jump to the conclusion that you’re straight-up lying.

And wait, didn’t Hanna and Emily have perfectly good reasons to believe that Ezra’s up to no good that aren’t entirely dependent on Spencer’s word?

Mona, did you just call glasses “corrective lenses”?

THANK YOU, Hanna. Thank you for being reasonable.

Wow, Spencer’s mom, you’re not overly interested in your daughter’s life, are you?

Aria. Aria. Your boyfriend is evil. Just accept it.

Oh lord, Aria. Even if your boyfriend weren’t evil, that was a really stupid statement to agree with.

Spencer, honey.

Okay, 1) Where the fuck is Aria? Is she at Ezra’s cabin? Why doesn’t she know the password? Didn’t she come in here once before without having to enter a password? And 2) Ezra really needs to choose better passwords.

Oh, look, Spencer’s mom has entered the “aware” phase of her neglect/love parenting cycle.

Really, Ezra? You weren’t worried that Aria might, like, idly flip through the coffee table book one day?

Ezra senses a disturbance in the Force.

Aria, you idiot.

Why is there a ski lift? Is this a skiing mountain? And even if it is, is this skiing season? I’m confused.

ARIA, YOU’RE SUCH AN IDIOT.

Toby is here for the second intervention of the episode.

I’m really confused, though, because apparently Spencer is a recovering drug addict and we were just never told about this.

Also, just putting this out there: Spencer's mom is worse at interventions than Hanna.