From September 2016

Fear the Walking Dead – Season 2, Episode 12: “Pillar of Salt”

AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead
Season 2, Episode 12: “Pillar of Salt”
Directed by Gerardo Naranjo
Written by Carla Ching

* For a review of the previous episode, “Pablo & Jessica” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Date of Death” – click here
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In the villa, a family of three – mother, father, daughter – looks to be escaping. They quietly make their way through, past the empty streets and sleeping people, to try getting through the wall of zombies. Papa cuts open a walker and they all paint themselves, trying to make it through the wall like that. This opening sequence is chilling. An aerial shot craning upwards, wide on the ground, shows us how many of the zombies stumble around in the fenced off area. The family, luckily, gets out alive.
Then out of nowhere comes a vehicle. Some men confront the father. Marco Rodriguez (Alejandro Edda) pulls his gun on them, eventually forcing them into the vehicle, too. And off they go.
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Ofelia Salazar (Mercedes Mason) is off on her own. She’s doing fine. Killing zombies, taking care of business. A lot easier just to watch one person’s back. But then again, there’s nobody to watch yours except you. That isn’t always easy. For now, Ofelia finds herself near the ocean on the beach in a little house. She remembers life, before the fall and the zombie apocalypse. Her fiancee, their plans. All that’s long gone, painful memories at this point.
Back at the hotel everybody does their part to get things going. They’re locking the gates, making sure the electrical systems and generators are running to the best of their abilities. A garden’s being planted. Madison (Kim Dickens), Strand (Colman Domingo), Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey), they’re actually enjoying themselves for the first time in so long. Although Alicia worries for her brother, Nick (Frank Dillane). Speaking of Nick, he’s spent the night with Luciana (Danay Garcia). They’ve found about the family taking off in the night; the father was the one who helped get water for the villa. So Nick and Luciana have to take charge.
Tragedy strikes when the mother of the bride stabs Strand for having dispatched her daughter. Some of the hotel survivors try helping Victor, as do Madison and Alicia. One of the survivors studied in med school. He works to keep Strand alive.
When Alejandro (Paul Calderon) discovers the family missing from their villa, he isn’t happy. Mostly he feels slighted, so it seems. There’s something more here. Something boiling. I feel like Alejandro is wearing a mask, or at the very least hiding something.
Problem at the hotel is Ilene (Brenda Strong), the grieving bride’s mother. Madison lays down the law: “If anyone raises a hand to another, theyre out. Any of us; gone. Thats how it has to be. Thats the only way this works.” And such is the grounds for a new, primitive society in the hotel.
Nick is starting to wonder about Alejandro, who, for his part, doesn’t exactly appear calm and collected like he did once. He and Luciana want to head out to take care of their business. Except now Alejandro says nobody leaves their villa, for as long as he says. Hmm. That’s definitely sketchy.

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Elena (Karen Bethzabe) and Madison are on the road to seek out medication and supplies to help Strand. They bond a bit, as Elena tells her own personal story, more than we’ve heard yet. And just so happens it involves drug addiction, or someone of hers addicted to them. Something Madison knows too well. Her own son was lost in the drugs. At the same time, he’s lost in Mexico. Stuck in Alejandro’s little “colonia” (a creepy word if you think of this) – the villa he’s ruling over.
But the villa and the hotel are connected. Madison and Elena head to that big supermarket the gang controls, that’s where they go for the medical supplies necessary to treat Strand. Will this soon bring Nick and his mother together? Alejandro’s kept Nick from going anywhere today, so the reunion will have to wait. While Madison and Elena do their shopping, Marco is upstairs questioning the escapee father about the colonia from which he ran in the night. When Madison gets wind, via Elena, that an American came with Luciana about the drugs, things get tense. She flips, wanting to find her boy. Before Elena has to get them out fast.
Well, Nick is worrying more by the minute. Alejandro is gone paranoid, to the extreme. Acting like he’s been burdened with everything. He requires faith. “So you want me to just follow you blindly?” Nick finally outright inquires. However, it’s only more control Alejandro wants. That’s how it seems to me. Either way Nick doesn’t want to be under anybody’s thumb. He’s worried most about people going without water, and that Alejandro keeps pressing people not to leave, under any circumstances. You know the former junkie won’t have that. His philanthropist side has emerged larger with every episode he’s in. Simultaneously, he softens the hardened exterior of Luciana slowly.

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Everything’s slipping. On the rooftops, Nick spies Marco and his henchmen with binoculars: looks like they’ve found Alejandro’s colonia. Uh oh.
Back to Ofelia – she flashes to memories of her mother Griselda (Patricia Reyes Spíndola), talking about men and how you find the right one, et cetera. All those things she’d be thinking on the edge of a marriage. Her mother also talks about the violence of where they lived, and that leaving their original home wasn’t a struggle; they had to leave. They did not want to “live in fear” everyday. Griselda says she’d do anything on Earth for her family: “That is love.” On her own in the zombie apocalypse, heading back towards the USA, Ofelia understands her parents more than ever.
At the hotel, everybody’s going a little crazy. Elena isn’t pleased with the way Madison is acting after possibly hearing of Nick. She turns on the hotel lights, she’s made everything difficult with Marco and their crew. Madison is letting her head get clouded and Alicia doesn’t see things the way her mother does; not about the new world, not about Nick and what he did or where he’s been. Lot of tension between these two.
Although, out in the darkness Travis (Cliff Curtis) can see the hotel lights. When they shut off, he walks in their direction; alone. His son is nowhere to be seen.
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This was a stellar episode! Loved the twisting  bits wondering if Madison will finally find Nick, the intrigue about Alejandro and his paranoia. And now Travis is on his way back to his wife, hopefully having either put his son down or left him with those crazy dudes.
Next episode is titled “Date of Death” and I have a feeling we may see a cast member depart. Will it be Strand? I hope not. Someone else, please. I dig Victor. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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Quarry – Season 1, Episode 2: “Figure Four”

Cinemax’s Quarry
Season 1, Episode 2: “Figure Four”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Michael D. Fuller & Graham Gordy

* For a review of the premiere, “You Don’t Miss Your Water” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “A Mouthful of Splinters” – click here
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Mac ‘Quarry’ Conway (Logan Marshall-Green) is probably feeling sort of lost. He’s sitting by the pool listening to tapes Joni (Jodi Balfour) sent him while he was serving in the Vietnam War. Back when they were in love, before he found out about her affair. Before he killed the man who was sleeping with her. This opening sequence is great, watching the paperboy, Joni in her room, Mac by the pool, as the tapes play over top. All the while her lover lies dead in his garage. That’s where paperboy comes in: he finds the man crushed under his previously jacked up car.
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The couple are barely hanging on. Not sure how long that’ll last, either. Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) is looking into the death of Arthur, the one-legged man. His partner Detective Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) doesn’t seem as dead set on it all, but time will tell. Meanwhile, Mac meets the ever strange Buddy (Damon Herriman) and they head for a drink. Although it’s not a friendly one really. Mac’s tense about where the deal with the Broker (Peter Mullan) goes next. “Theres no good news in this world,” Buddy tells him. Either pay the money, or, well… we all know how these stories go, and Mac does, too. At the same time, Joni and her friend Andrea (Heighlen Boyd) discover the former’s lover dead, his house a crime scene.
Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and her family try to get on after Arthur’s death. Things weren’t perfect before, so they definitely aren’t doing any better now. Mac shows up to pay a visit, though, and Ruth appreciates it. He isn’t there just to check up. He’s poking around trying to find out where Arthur hid the money from the Broker. He cares for his friend, Ruth, but right at the moment it’s only fear and self-preservation that drives him. When he leaves Ruth’s place somebody watches him not far away.
Mac looks more flustered by the minute. He heads over to his father’s place. He isn’t there, only his wife. The one who doesn’t want Mac around. He barges his way in there, drinking up liquor and acting fairly passive aggressive. After leaving abruptly he doesn’t look any better, though he at least makes it home to fall in bed. Except it’s the bed where his wife cheated on him. He drunkenly, sadly, hilariously tries to get the mattress out before giving up and punching the shit out of it.

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Detectives Ratliff and Olsen sit in a bar drinking. Turns out Olsen knew the deceased, Joni’s lover. He wants to keep the case, just finds it “weird” to have known the victim. Naturally. I can see that he’ll be a bigger part of the show moving forward, at least that’s what I imagine. Knowing the guy, plus being police, naturally he’s going to want to find out who murdered him.
At home, Joni finds the vinyl rocking, Mac on the floor, a torn up and bloody mattress in the hallway. He is absolutely wild. Scaring her slightly. I can see that. All the same I totally understand Mac. He went to serve his country, now he’s home and his wife cheated on him, his country doesn’t want to take care of him, the one guy who knew exactly what he’d gone through died on a dirty apartment floor. Life for Mac Conway is absolute fucking shit. But now, after seeing the crime scene briefly from outside, Joni worries what he’s capable of when pushed too far. Murder; that’s what.
Buddy meets with a connect named Joe Don (Owen Harn) to get some guns. He’s a haggler. Trying to knock things down a few notches. After awhile this doesn’t make Joe too happy. What we see here is the intimidation factor of Buddy. He’s not a big man. Commanding, though. And in a split second – “No cussin‘” – he stops Joe in his tracks. Then brokers a proper deal. We already know that Buddy’s likely gay, or at least a bit feminine. Joe almost offends him by offering up a gift: a gun with a nice pink handle. Buddy takes the piece and does not look pleased.
Working at the newspaper, Joni gets called in by Detectives Ratliff and Olsen because of her connection to the dead man under his car. Of course Quan Thang comes up briefly. Mostly, we can see that her affair is probably going to come out eventually. She knows it. The worry is barely containable, she starts having a panic attack at the thought of what could happen. And paranoia’s setting in, as well. She winds up stealing evidence, one of the tapes.

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Mac goes out for a night of Dixie Wrestling with the Broker. They chat. Well, the Broker does, and Mac resents their even being there together, not wanting to deal with what’s to come. What’s noticeable in this scene is the Southern racism – Confederate flag flying, a Mandingo wrestler in the ring being booed as he inches towards victory. The Broker has a line on what’s happening in the investigation, assuring Mac nothing’s coming of it just yet. Mac starts to think Joni’s in danger, but the mysterious Broker only wants him to do more work, and in turn to provide more money for him.
A man named Moses (Mustafa Shakir) dines where Ruth works, he befriends her while she takes his order. He keeps a watchful eye on her. There’s something more in it. He slips back into her house, knowing she’s at work. He looks through the place. But soon the family comes home and he has to make a quick getaway.
Out at the gun meet, Buddy brings Quarry to do his deal with Joe Don. All of a sudden things get sketchy. Guns are drawn on the boys. When shit gets real, Buddy proves he’s not some “cocky little faggot” like Joe taunts with vicious bigotry: he chops big Joe in the throat, starting a gunfight. You know with a guy like Quarry on his side things manage to come out well for them. After a bit of messing around, anyways. Great acting all around from Logan Marshall-Green and Damion Herriman, plus a spectacular showing of practical special effects that will really wow even a horror fan. Intense. The car chase is fun, too.

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Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) and the Broker catch up with the banged up pair. Yet through all the violence there’s just as much sense in what’s happening at home as what happened in Vietnam, for Quarry. Or, now he’s transitioned back to Mac after the dirty deeds are done. He already had to become someone else over there during the war. Now, that someone else is hard to define because he’s becoming a monster at home just like he was as a soldier.
The episode ends with Joni listening to a tape from Mac. Full circle to the episode opening in the opposite way. After she listens to a tape of her and her lover, that is. While she does that, Mac tries to find a bit of love elsewhere; a bit of physical love. They’re certainly drifting apart.
And the man following Mac, he heads up to the house, knocking on the door. Before Joni gets to answer, the credits roll.
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Until next time. Following episode is titled “A Mouthful of Splinters” and there’s no telling what kind of mess Mac and his criminal alter ego Quarry will get into next. No telling what’ll happen at all. So much exciting development here. So much pain and suffering, so much paranoia, all kinds of ways the plot(s) can go.

31: Creeps, Clowns, & Chaotic Terror

31. 2016. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie.
Starring Sheri Moon Zombie, Jeff Daniel Phillips, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Malcolm McDowell, Jane Carr, Judy Geeson, Richard Brake, Pancho Moler, David Ury, Lew Temple, Torsten Voges, & E.G. Daily.
Bow and Arrow Entertainment/PalmStar Media/Protagonist Pictures.
Rated R. 102 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★★★
posterI’ll defend Rob Zombie to the day I die. You can say you don’t like him, you don’t dig his brand of horror; that’s totally fine. To each their own. You can’t say objectively that everything he does is bad. Because that simply isn’t true.
31 is a markedly different piece of horror from Mr. Zombie. It’s so clearly in his style, from the way he directs to how he writes his characters. At the same time, this is even more savage than his previous efforts with scarier characters, and we’re not given too much explanation so as to ruin the effect of his various maniacs. There is the recognisable Zombie directing, the old school 1970s-type freeze frames and his unique brand of dialogue. He’s just decided to take it up a notch.
The game at the heart of Murderworld – where Father Murder (Malcolm McDowell), Sister Serpent (Jane Carr) and Sister Dragon (Judy Geeson) bring their victims – is truly terrifying. Not something we haven’t seen before. Zombie makes the gimmick worth it. This isn’t some kind of Saw building setup with booby traps. No, Father and the Sisters have gathered together the worst of the worst killers, assembled their massive warehouse like a carnival of rooms and let those murderous clowns loose to play. Along with Zombie’s dare to be disturbing these clowns are something to behold.
pic1Totally dig the opening scene with Doom-Head (Richard Brake). He’s capable of channelling sinister energy, which comes out nicely here. The way Zombie has everything open, before we discover the pastor sitting on the other side of the shot awhile later, it’s as if Doom-Head is speaking right to us, the viewer. He tells us a tale before the kill. Of course he’s talking to the pastor. But it’s a neat way to get things going. Compounded by the fact it’s shot in black-and-white, there’s something jarring. Essentially, it’s the prologue to Zombie’s tale of horrific madness. A no-nonsense immersion into the stark terror for which Zombie so clearly aims. We come back to Doom-Head later, as he’s the ultimate main villain of the film. When we do, Brake goes into full awe mode, as he quotes Casablanca, Che Guevara, as well as has ferocious sex while watching Nosferatu, among plenty of other insanity; and it works. He’s a showstopper. Watching him put on the makeup is a transformation of acting and editing. Brake pumps himself up in terrifying form screaming “Im not crazy Im in control” then punching himself in the nose a ton. Meanwhile, the cuts leading up to his little chant flash around, skipping, like a schizophrenic fit, and then Brake’s face turns from a smile to a frown; the blood runs cold watching him become a vision of disorder.
The crazy clowns are each pretty gnarly! Sick-Head (Pancho Moler) surprised me. I feel like there was too much time spent on his character. Otherwise, he’s nasty. From the Nazi-Hitler fixation to the fact he’s a tiny man, it hits that shocking spot just right. The ones who disturbed me most were the pairings: brothers Psycho-Head (Lew Temple) and Schizo-Head (David Ury) wielding chainsaws, threatening sexual violence, looking like the sort of child molester clowns we all feared as children; then there’s Death-Head (Torsten Voges) and Sex-Head (E.G. Daily), a walking Freudian horror nightmare. Out of the two pairs, Sex and Death are the most bloodcurdling. Their size is off-putting, Death looming so tall and Sex so tiny. Death is physically intimidating and really strange-looking; Sex is tiny, violent, cute in a way that doesn’t make me feel good, and scary as fuck. While I do think Doom-Head steals the show because of Brake’s startling performance, the rest of the gang are equally well written by Zombie to give them all their own frightening elements.
pic1Zombie’s always guilty of a few writing mistakes. Mostly, he often doesn’t trim some of the fat. Like Charly (Sheri Moon Zombie) when she gives us the cliche “You wanna know whats going on inside my head; Ill tell you whats going on inside my head” before, yes, telling us exactly what’s on her mind. More than that I also find the character of Panda Thomas (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) poorly written. Could be that Hilton-Jacobs’ performance is super forced and annoying, too. Not sure which is the worst part of it. Either way, Panda isn’t as interesting as some of the others.
There’s lots of gritty, stylish directing on the part of Zombie, though. For all the slack in his writing he makes the whole film visually interesting. Whether it’s sticking to that ’70s practical effects driven horror and old school editing (those awesome swipe transitions at certain points make the movie feel like a comic book), or stylised sequences such as the showdown with Sex and Death, Zombie finds a way to bring something more than turning the camera on and letting the blood flow. He promised his most brutal film yet. I’ve seen some reviews out there who don’t think he’s accomplished that. I disagree. He’s definitely done disturbing before. Although, never before has his disturbing material reached such an adrenaline-fuelled, frenzied height of ferocity. In the best horror loving sense, it’s beyond fun.
pic2There’ll be constant detractors of Zombie because they just don’t like him, for whatever reason. There are legitimate horror fans who can’t get into his style. I respect all opinions, long as you can back them up. But for me, 31 is a blast. Some of my favourite horror is the more cerebral sort, the kind you can get lost in and think about constantly. In high regard I also hold the horror which purely scares me, to the bone. Doesn’t have to be an elaborate, twisty story to make me feel creeped out. Brake, among the other Heads, does enough to get to me, let alone some of the general blood an gore tossed in. SPOILER ALERT AHEAD: the ending does it for me, when we see Father Murder and the Sisters change back to their normal lives, and yet Doom-Head can’t let go. Yeah, the others are clearly sick, but how Doom can’t change back without finishing the game, you see how utterly lost in the delusion he’s become. A simple, horrifying conclusion.
I feel there are things Zombie could’ve easily changed, made better. A couple performances aren’t what they ought to be. Once more, Brake saves the day, as do Jeff Daniel Phillips, and Meg Foster (of whom I’ve always been a big fan). But Brake, he is the supervillain of the Heads, the violently crazy clowns of Murderworld. He gives me an actual fright, in the quieter, more subtle moments. There’s a pulsating electronic score at times, not the typical Zombie stuff (with help from John 5), which helps with much needed tension. The camera is chaotic, and also there are beautifully framed shots that linger: later when Doom-Head chokes Charly, their eyes are intercut in closeups, mirrored again right before the final shot. I do think Zombie, amongst all the viciousness, keeps improving as a filmmaker in a lot of different ways.
At the end of the day Zombie sets out to do what he wanted: to get fucked up, disturbing and nasty. He wants to get under your skin. Maybe if you think there’s too much violence, he did his job. Maybe if you feel the Heads are all too much, he did his job. And perhaps if you don’t feel like there’s enough violence, like Zombie didn’t deliver on the dripping blood and sloppy gore, then I don’t know if we were watching the same film.

American Horror Story – My Roanoke Nightmare: “Chapter 1”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 6, Episode 1: “Chapter 1”
Directed by Bradley Buecker
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy

* For a review of Chapter 2, click here.
screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-1-23-25-amThis year’s theme? My Roanoke Nightmare. Delicious.
We open on a series of talking heads. Almost seems like an Amityville Horror sort of thing, too. My Amityville Horror is a documentary by the man who was a child during the supposed Lutz story, and this seems to mirror its style a bit.
Well, Shelby (Rabe) and Matt (André Holland) are a married couple. They tell us about their relationship, what they do for a living, so on. They talk about the “worst night” of the their lives when Matt is randomly knocked out by some gang of kids. He nearly died because of their foolish brutality. We see Sarah Paulson playing Shelby and Cuba Gooding Jr. as Matt, like reenactments of that night. Sadly, Shelby lost her baby on that evening. After the event they took a trip out into the wilderness: “We werent city folks,” Matt says.
Out in the woods is an old farm house. A massive backwoods mansion. The house is cheap, just like the one the Lutz family fell into buying in Amityville. They snatch it up, now owning a surely haunted house. Shelby knew it from the beginning, in the back of her mind.
screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-1-23-34-amStrange banging in the night already starts Shelby and Matt off on a rough note. Interracial couple, rednecks kicking around. They’ve had troubles before, but were more than willing to fend any trouble off. Nothing’s too great. When Shelby’s home alone it starts raining teeth. TEETH! That’s pretty fucking unsettling. Of course no teeth are left when Matt gets back. To be expected when you live in a haunted Southern mansion. I mean, even the house, the big windows upstairs, the shape, it’s so reminiscent of The Amityville Horror. Not in a bad sense. Dig the homage.
One evening while cooking, home alone, Shelby sees two young women pass in the hallway, staring at her. Nice bit of tension, as she goes to check out where the women went. Finding nothing, only a suspenseful moment or two. Later when she relaxes in the hot tub outside until somebody holds her under. She calls Matt, who gets home quick, and the police, of course. Although the police don’t care much. Lots of paranoia swirling already. The couple aren’t sure anymore what to believe. So I LOVE the cinematography so far this season – the house especially looks ominous even in how the shadows cast over everything, big windows everywhere like eyes, darkness crowding around them.
Living in the house only gets worse, as you’d imagine. Weird noises get Matt out of bed and he finds a mutilated pig on the porch outside. He doesn’t tell his wife, he assumes it was the redneck boys who wanted to buy the house. So like a smart person, he hooks up lots of cameras and a nice security system hooked to his phone. Better yet, he gets his sister Lee (Angela Bassett) to go out there and look after Shelby. Lee was a bad ass cop, whose injury from getting shot on the job led her to taking medication a bit liberally. One day, really lit up on pills, she chased a serial rapist and her addiction was discovered. This got her fired, before wreaking absolute havoc on her personal life; she lost her husband, even her daughter. A sad, human tragedy.

 

 


Nothing changes in the house. Just because a security system’s in place and a former cop is looking after Shelby doesn’t mean whatever inhabits that house is going away. Paranoia runs mad now with another person kicking around. Only makes it easier for Shelby to confuse ghostly apparitions with Lee moving things, walking around, et cetera. An added interest is that Lee is still an addict. She asks Shelby not to drink, though I’m not sure how well that will hold up. On the other side is the fact Lee is also sceptical of her sister-in-law.
Then the house starts working on Lee. A lone wine bottle rolls across the floor at her, so she assumes it’s Lee being a bitch. “Why would you do something like that?” she questions Shelby. Now the accusations fly between the both of them. Meanwhile, Matt gets a text from his automated security: people in hoods carrying torches have headed through the gate up to the house. Oh, my. He tries to call the ladies, but they’re too busy arguing.
Suddenly, Shelby and Lee are interrupted by a videotape playing on the television, the strange noises from the night coming out – then on the tape appears a pig-headed man in the wilderness, squealing and bloody. Like anybody would be, the women are terrified. The hooded people with their torches get inside the house while the pair hide, and Matt rushes from a couple hours away to try getting home. When the ladies finally come out of hiding there are tons of creepy stick figures a la Blair Witch Project hanging about the house. Cops once more do nothing.
screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-1-45-55-amscreen-shot-2016-09-15-at-1-59-43-amWhen Matt is back he watches the video, only getting angrier at the local hillbillies. He still doesn’t want to leave; Shelby takes off in the car thinking only “fight or flight.” On her way she hits somebody in the road (it’s Kathy Bates and she just walks it off). Shelby chases her into the nearby woods and gets lost. She winds up finding more of the stick figures that were hung in the house, which sends her running into a place where the earth below seems to breathe. Deeper in she comes across a man missing some of his scalp and skull, brain exposed. And in the darkness lurks a man holding a torch, among many others holding torches – Wes Bentley’s character. We’ll just have to wait and find out who he is, as well as what happens to Shelby out there.

 

 


I don’t care what any of these other horror sites are saying – they probably won’t continue watching after the first episode of the series, anyways. So fuck ’em. This was a great start to the new series. Fun references, eerie shots and sequences, a bit of character intrigue and gritty development. “Chapter Two” will likely be good fun.