From October 2016

Westworld – Season 1, Episode 5: “Contrapasso”

HBO’s Westworld
Season 1, Episode 5: “Contrapasso”
Directed by Jonny Campbell
Story by Dominic Mitchell & Lisa Joy

* For a review of the previous episode, “Dissonance Theory” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Adversary” – click here
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Another chat between Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) and that cowboy, Old Bill (Michael Wincott), one of the oldest in the park, as the doctor tells him about the saddest thing he’d ever seen. A story about a dog and a cat, the latter being torn “to pieces” by the former. It’s really an allegory for humanity, or the pursuit of greatness by those who aren’t sure what they’ll do with it when they find it. They may just grab hold and hang on too hard until there’s nothing left.
Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) gradually moves from the path of her narrative with each passing episode. She finds herself still with William (Jimmi Simpson) and his buddy Logan (Ben Barnes), though her mind wanders. They make it into a nearby town full of all degenerate sorts, apparently. Logan talks about their company and some of the stuff outside Sweetwater. For his part, William doesn’t dig this town: “Whoever designed this place, you get the feeling they dont think very much of people.” Mercenaries arrive, we discover this all a part of a bigger game of war. Hmm. Sinister, or exciting? Or both?
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The Man in Black (Ed Harris) is busy still hauling Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr.) about, saying he’s on the hunt for the “big bad wolf.” He’s also got Teddy Flood (James Marsden) in tow, having saved him awhile back. Black mentions a friend of his, whomever that could possibly be, always say there’s a path for everybody; remember that, could be significant at some point, maybe. Meanwhile, the young boy who’d been talking to Dr. Ford at one time happens upon the group, being sent to fetch water for them. Because right now Lawrence is getting his throat slit. Not a nice sight for sweet English boys’ eyes. Considering Black drains Lawrence’s blood into his water pouch.
Outside, a couple technicians are checking out Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) again after her recent shootout. They notice her incision, as somebody were looking for something specific. Will they catch on?
All that blood was a makeshift transfusion for Teddy, to bring him back up to speed. Then he talks about how the humanity of the hosts is “cost effective” and laments how things were once upon a time. He mentions Dolores, too. He says a few fellas made off with her, and that gets Teddy on his feet again.
And what of Dolores? She keeps having flashbacks, seeing those corpses littered everywhere around her. William keeps her mind off things, but I keep wondering how much longer until she starts making connections like Maeve. Right now she talks about hoping for her life to change. When he talks of the real world, it doesn’t just roll off Dolores. She notices, and it sort of shakes William a bit. When a Day of the Dead parade comes through town Dolores sees a vision of herself in its crowd. Before passing out. When she’s brought out by Dr. Ford “in a dream,” a.k.a in a lab, they have a short talk. He speaks of Arnold, the one who created her so many years ago. That’s the voice she keeps hearing in her little daydreams, calling to come find him. Turns out Arnold had wanted her to help bring Westworld down. But Ford tries to make sure Dolores’ world is only heroes and villains, a black-and-white dichotomy instead of anything too complex. In the dark though, she still speaks to somebody: is it Arnold?

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One of the technicians who worked on Maeve is doing some kind of experiments with a bird. He wants to be a coder, but his partner tells him he’ll only ever be a “butcher.”
Back with William and Logan they come across a reincarnated Lawrence. Ahh, very interesting! Suddenly, Dolores starts making deals. She helps get Logan and William in with Lawrence on a job with the Confederados to get hold of some explosives. Regarding Lawrence, this doesn’t mean anything re: The Man in Black & William, because the timelines aren’t made positively clear. It’s suggestive, no doubt. Nothing definitive still. Anyways, the gang get their latest adventure kicked off, confronting a wagon. Things start off fine then get incredibly tense, a gunfight erupting with a bunch of hosts getting shot. They make out well, obviously, though William doesn’t seem to take much joy, if any, in killing. Regardless if it’s fake.
Elsie Hughes (Shannon Woodward) is working with a host who’s got more dick than brains. Literally. She happens to see the host that tried killing her being brought for disposal. Elsie ends up catching a technician on camera banging one of the hosts, like a “creepy necro perv,” so she uses that to get in to see her would-be killer host. She takes her findings to Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright): a laser-based satellite uplink. The hosts are being used to smuggle information out of the park.
At a freaky orgy party, Nine Inch Nails’ “Something I Can Never Have” plays on strings in the background. People fuck. Some are painted in gold. Logan, of course, loves it. William and Dolores sit on a couch, sort of equally repulsed in their own ways. Logan ends up in William’s face, they get very personal, especially the former. He digs into William, hard. At the same time Dolores wanders through the party, eventually coming upon a fortune teller with her Tarot cards. One of them laid in front of her is “the maze” – and a vision of herself reappears, telling her to follow it. She also grabs hold of a string in her forearm, pulling it bloody, her skin opening like latex. It isn’t real. But it scares her. Out in the street Lawrence is filling dead bodies in their coffins with explosives. He isn’t giving it over to the Confederados. Now, William is becoming wildly disillusioned with the creepiness of the whole game. There’s bigger problems, as the explosives turn out to be not explosive at all. And Logan takes the brunt of the fallout, being left behind by William. Dolores ends up shooting down a few men to save her new man. “I imagined a story where I didn’t have to be the damsel,” she tells William while they flee and catch a ride on a passing train. Landing right in the lap of Lawrence. This is actually the first time he introduces himself as such, since they’re all acquainted. And once more Dolores sees the mark of the maze on a coffin in the train: “Im coming,” she says. To whom? Arnold? God, I love the suspense.

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Back to the Man in Black – could he be William though? It’s intriguing – and Teddy. The pair drop by a bar. One where they run into Dr. Ford for a drink. This is a huge scene! Ford wonders exactly what Black is seeking. “I always felt like this place was missing a real villain, hence my humble contribution,” he tells the doctor. They talk about the working of the park, Black wonders if there’s anybody fit to stop him. We know for sure he’s headed for whatever happens to lie at the centre of that mysterious maze. What is it exactly? Does it represent a physical space, or could it be a component in the robots themselves? No telling. Yet. Either way, the Man in Black is dead set on finding the purpose, the truth behind it all. We also see that the hosts are quite protective of their maker, as well. So many mysteries in the artificial world of Westworld’s creations. So much to unravel.
Out in the lab the technician working on Maeve goes back to the bird. He calibrates a little then the bird flies around the room, like magic. Maeve, she’s up and about to greet the technician, Felix, and let the bird perch on her fingertip. She also wants to have a little chat with him. I wonder exactly what she’ll tell him. What sort of secrets could spill from her lips, and what is Felix getting himself into?

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An interesting episode, I must say. Lots to think about, as usual. I can’t help but wonder more about those theories surrounding the Man in Black. Next episode is titled “The Adversary” and I’m sure we’ll see more on ole Black himself.

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The Walking Dead – Season 7, Episode 2: “The Well”

AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 7, Episode 2: “The Well”
Directed by Greg Nicotero
Written by Matthew Negrete

* For a review of the Season 7 premiere, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Cell” – click here
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Morgan (Lennie James) and Carol (Melissa McBride) are being led to safety by a couple men in body armour, the ones they last met in the end of Season 6. On the road they’re overrun by walkers. Injured Carol is toppled off a cart they were carrying her on, though in her usual style she doesn’t stay down long, stumbling off through the nearby woods. Where the fuck are you going, Carol? She sees a woman in a window calling her. Only it’s not a woman, it’s a zombie. Luckily more people on horses show up to clear out the walkers. However, Carol’s only able to see them as people. Oh, man. Her apocalypse has been an absolute nightmare compared to that of others. Morgan keeps marking their way, so that there’s a possibility of heading back. Although I don’t see that happening any time soon.
Finally Morgan and Carol get to take a rest, in a real place again. She lies recuperating in an actual bed. Wind chimes in the window. A sort of surreal moment. Plus, she’s been sleeping a couple days. Only natural. They’ve been brought to a true community, with a bunch of crops, what looks like a schoolhouse, and clearly a clinic of sorts. They’re in the Kingdom, as the locals call it.
Then Carol gets to meet the leader of this place, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton). He’s got a nice pet tiger, too. Named Shiva.
Shit’s about to get real, mama.

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Ezekiel talks like he’s in a Renaissance Fair, referring to their home as “the realm” and y’know, having a tiger around on a big chain, sitting on a throne. He’s definitely a bit much to take in at first. Definitely quite the character, in all sense of the word. No bullshit Carol tells him “I dont know whats going on in the most wonderful way.” The King lays it out that everyone does their part to earn their keep, and anything the Kingdom reaps is theirs to enjoy. This episode’s title comes from Ezekiel’s analogy of having to take from the well and also replenish the well. For the time being Carol plays into the whole medieval nonsense this guy has going on. I can’t help but wonder, as a man with his own mental illness duo: is this guy okay? Morgan wants to believe, so god damn bad that he’s willing to follow along. Of course we know Carol has no time to deal with this kind of shit, even before she makes it known.
A few of the Kingdom’s members rally together some pigs that went running lose. Side note: lot of great zombie makeup effects that could easily go unnoticed, if you take a second and pause there’s magnificent work to appreciate. On their outing Morgan proves to be a friend of the Kingdom, helping out a younger man surprised by a walker. Ezekiel enjoys Morgan’s skills with the staff; real recognises real and bad motherfuckers know one when they see one. He even gets Morgan to agree to train the kid he helped out, Ben.
Yes, the Kingdom is a place to behold. A local choir group sings a rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right.” Carol has a look around, nabbing herself a knife on the sly and pretending to be a good little citizen, excited over “cobbler” and other yummy foods compared to possum and the nasty shit they survived on. She’s tricky, man. Dig it. Snags a set of clothes, as well. Looking forward to her getaway.
Some of the Kingdom’s secrets are revealed to Morgan, as we see they hand over their well-fed pigs – full with walker guts – to whom I can only assume are The Saviors.

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Morgan eventually finds Carol gone in the wind. She runs into Ezekiel, though. They end up having a private conversation, as he talks a little straight with her. He knows her game. They speak of the Saviors, about her survival tactics. I love how straight shooting Carol is, not afraid to call Ezekiel a straight up “joke” to his face. She questions his motives for acting like a King, let alone all the semi-medieval speak (he’s just talking fancy he isn’t even talking Middle English or anything). But finally he drops the whole thing, levelling with Carol about how people simply want someone to follow. It’s all a cult of personality. But what if that cult of personality served a good purpose, such as the Kingdom? Sure, he has his ass kissed like Carol calls him out, although they’ve built themselves a community. “I faked ittill I made it,” he admits. We find out that Shiva had a near fatal injury. Ezekiel saved her life, which bonded them together eternally. There’s also the fact Ezekiel once did community theatre, so he has them acting chops. At first I thought he was a bit of a nob. Now I actually really like him.
So will Carol stay, or will she (should she) go?
She’s decided to leave, it seems. More effective and happier on her own. Morgan rides with her out onto a nearby road. They say their goodbyes and she heads up to a house where she’d seen the woman earlier. She buries her in the front lawn then makes a fire inside. At the door comes knocking Ezekiel, apple in hand. I have a feeling these two are going to become better friends. Maybe he’ll convince her to come back to the Kingdom. I hope so.


This was a solid episode. Nothing crazy, just bringing us into the world of the Kingdom.
Excited for next week. Following episode is titled “The Cell” and I’m wondering who the focus will be on this time.

Quarry – Season 1, Episode 8: “nước chảy đá mòn”

Cinemax’s Quarry
Season 1, Episode 8: “nước chảy đá mòn”
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Written by Graham Gordy & Michael D. Fuller

* For a review of the penultimate episode, “Carnival of Souls” – click here
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From what I can tell, the English translation of the Vietnamese title for this episode means “flowing water wears away stone” roughly. An interesting thing to think about in terms of all the water imagery, Mac Conway’s (Logan Marshall-Green) love of swimming, and so on.
We start ten months before the current season’s timeline. The choppers fly overhead of the Vietnamese jungle. Troops are at base camp, relaxed for the moment. Mac and Arthur (Jamie Hector) get a few orders from their platoon captain. Mac watches the river carefully as a boat floats by; always suspicious, never off his guard.
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But in his present predicament Mac’s definitely off guard. Detective Tommy Olsen (Josh Randall) has him dead to rights, hoping to get more out of ole Quarry about Cliff’s death. That’s not long for this world; neither the conversation, nor Tommy. He gets his face shot off horrifically, as the carnival grounds around them come alive and bullets ring into the night. It’s Credence Mason (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), of course. He gets his, too. Then Buddy (Damon Herriman) and Mac are left in a gunfight with some of Mason’s Dixie crew. They’re a pretty handy pair, though.
They make it back in one piece, appeasing The Broker (Peter Mullan), as well as leaving Karl (Edoardo Ballerini) with a new game of Pong to play. Things are looking pretty good for The Broker now, poised to take over the local scene. Only problem is that now Mac has walked himself into something far bigger than just killing bad dudes for money. Again, that’s the call of the wild animal in him, unleashed by the United States Army overseas.
Mac’s dad Lloyd (Skip Sudduth) has him and Joni (Jodi Balfour) over to his place. Seems Lloyd got a cash offer for the house. A small family wants to buy the place, especially excited over the pool. Out of the blue, Joni doesn’t want to sell. Not after her husband put the pool in himself, they made a home for themselves. Things don’t get any better when Lloyd’s wife drops two dirty words on Mac: “war criminal.” She thinks Mac and Joni only want money from them. A truly insulting moment. Moreover, people always assume they know exactly what happened, all because of how the media tells them and frames it for the people back home. They don’t consider how it really was for soldiers, they don’t take in all the factors. In a dirty war like Vietnam that was particularly true.
At least now Mac has the money, paid off by his stepmother to never come back, and he can pay The Broker off. Or is it that simple now? Oh, I don’t know about that. In the meantime, we flashback to Vietnam those ten months ago. Mac, Arthur, and the rest of their platoon wade through water to a spot further inland. They’re headed for Quan Thang, which we already understand is where the massacre went down, the one in which Mac and Arthur were heavily implicated to have done terrible things. Supposedly.

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Poor Mac, he’s trying to find himself a job that doesn’t involve killing anybody, or guns in any way. He applies for a job selling pools. Luckily, the guy interviewing him doesn’t really pay attention to the news. I wonder how long it’ll last before discovering who Mac is, or at least who the media implies. He’s got the job, but I can’t help feeling there’s a gut punch coming down the line.
Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird) has Moses (Mustafa Shakir) over for dinner. Although she still doesn’t know that’s his name. And she also doesn’t realise why he’s there in the first place. He starts sniffing around after Marcus has been fixing the TV, buying things, suspicious little clues that Moses definitely suspects has to do with Arthur’s missing cash.
When Joni and Mac go out to celebrate the new job, the former soldier has a PTSD episode where he sees that Asian mask standing in the background, staring at him. He interrupts a band playing, terrifying everybody a bit. Outside he falls to the ground nearly weeping: “Im sorry,” he repeats, over and over.
So we go back those ten months again. In an abandoned building the soldiers come across that Asian mask hung on a wall, sitting in the dark. Mac stares at it for a while, fixated on the face. Something that’s obviously stuck with him, buried in the recesses of his mind and bubbling to the front in the worst of times.
Finally we see Moses confront Marcus. He asks plainly – “Dont fuckinlie to me, son” – where the money’s stashed. He takes the cash, and makes sure to tell the kid he better keep his mouth shut. Moses threatens his family with death. That’s a bad dude.

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Later on we see Mac at the voting booth, choosing between either Nixon or McGovern. At the same time Joni’s trying to find a doctor to talk with about Mac and his PTSD. Of course back then it wasn’t known as that, or at least not treated with the appropriate respect and gravity deserved. A guy at the VA hospital hands her a pamphlet, as if that’s meant to help. He also implies that seeing as how Mac has “both his arms” and “both his legs” then there’s nothing actually wrong with him. Sickening display of what we’re seeing now as the result of all that neglect. Tons of mental illness, death by murder or suicide or whatever else, too many problems.
Buddy’s having a tough time. Sitting with his mother Naomi (Ann Dowd), he talks about survival, from the time of dinosaurs right to the Black Plague spreading across Europe. He feels like he’s done nothing with his life: “What am I doinwith it, mama?”
In ‘Nam, we see Mac and the platoon heading further to their destination. Once there they take all precautions, although Arthur notes there’s a Catholic cross at the front of their village. Either way, the platoon’s captain sends them in making clear to “fire then you ask questions.” Inside the village all hell breaks loose. Civilians are killed. Napalm lights the forest on fire and burns villagers alive. Gunfire gets exchanged between the Americans and some Viet Cong. At one point Mac throws a grenade in a hidden tunnel, where women and children scream. He sees the bloody bits of a child next to him, still moving slightly. This all but melts his brain and his psyche. We can easily see, from this POV, that Mac and Arthur, most of those guys, did not realise what they were doing, led astray by orders followed blindly. Still, they then had to go on living with what they’d done.
At home, Mac goes to meet The Broker. Instead he runs into an old face from the army, someone he isn’t so happy to see – his old captain, Thurston (Matt Nable). They catch up on things, rather contentiously. We get the impression that Thurston hasn’t repented whatsoever, in any shape, for what they did in Vietnam. He seems to want to go back, not able to adjust at all to civilian life anymore. In Thurston, Mac sees everything he hates; about himself. He reminds Mac of what they did in that fishing village. On top of it all we get another flashback to Thurston commanding his officers to execute remaining villagers, under threat of death if they won’t comply. Close by, Mac looks into the distance with heavy sorrow. Well, in the series’ current moments Mac attacks Thurston outside of the bar. They tangle a bit before he takes off after the former captain into the woods.

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Do you recognise this scene?
It’s the very first one, from the beginning of the season. This is where it all started. We witness Thurston beating Mac, holding him below the water. After he thinks Mac is dead Thurston walks off. Only to take a bullet. And here, we see Mac pump more lead into the man making sure he’s good and dead. He pushes Thurston’s corpse out into the water to float out and far away from him.
In other news, Buddy goes out cruising but ends up getting attacked by a couple men. They viciously beat him, taking his money and leaving him unconscious, or worse.
When Mac finally goes to meet The Broker he’s beaten and fucked up. That whole meeting with Thurston was, naturally, the old fella’s doing. More than that The Broker tries to keep Quarry on for another job. However, our soldier doesn’t want anything to do with him after all they’ve been through together. “Whos a fella like you vote for?” Mac asks The Broker. He also says he “wrote someone in” on the ballot: Otis Redding. We discover The Broker hasn’t voted “since Truman.” Kind of fitting. Likewise, we discover Mac misses war. Not hard to tell.
Flashback to the war. Thurston receives a visit from none other than The Broker. He’s walked through Quan Thang. This is where Conway’s name first comes up for the old gentleman. The Broker takes a stroll in through the trees, to where a field is full of the ripe, beautiful plants needed for processing heroin. Ah, and it all comes together. Very interesting political twist on the Quan Thang.

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Buddy – or Sebastian, as we find out – makes it home to his mother, beaten into bloody pulp. Detective Verne Ratliff (Happy Anderson) has one last look at Cliff Williams’ book of lyrics. President Nixon is announced to have won on live television. And Ruth, she finds that Moses is no longer waiting for her at the diner, but sitting home with the found money, contemplating his next move.
On the shoreline Mac sits with his next kit – gun, money, name. He got himself out, yet allows himself to be sucked back in. The carnage of war has crept into his veins, important as the blood flowing through them. Meanwhile, The Broker plays him like a fiddle.
Then we see Mac strip down for a swim out into the river, perhaps doing the only thing he can to not think about everything other dark thing swirling around his entire existence.


What a beautiful, gritty, importantly relevant series! Man, this first season was a blast. With the finale episode and its flashbacks, the revelations, Quarry cements itself as one of the greats, up there with any of the best HBO has had to offer over the past 20 years. Truly amazing writing, lots of fine acting, as well as solid directing.
Cinemax: do what’s right. Give this show a second, third, fourth season. C’mon. Do not pass this up. There’s a lot of other important stories to tell in the world of Mac Conway.