American Gods – Season 1, Episode 5: “Lemon Scented You”

Starz’ American Gods
Season 1, Episode 5: “Lemon Scented You”
Directed by Vincenzo F. Natali
Written by David Graziano

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Git Gone” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “A Murder of Gods” – click here
Pic 1Mr. Ibis (Demore Barnes) tells us the story of a people crossing Siberia, many, many years ago. Woolly mammoths walk in the distance, snow everywhere. The people experience many hardships. And like others, they bring their god with them. However, once they reach the new lands it isn’t as they once imagined. So they had to pray. What they discovered is that prosperity always comes at a heavy price.
Many Old Gods, after so long, were forgotten, like that of these people – the woolly mammoth god, Nunyunnini. Note: I don’t believe this is a real god, but I do think Neil Gaiman intended this as a sort of Indigenous tribe worshipping animals, the land, et cetera. Particularly reminiscent of the Cherokee myth of Nun’Yunu’Wi, which is a monster in human form with skin like stone.
Mr. Ibis: “The gods are great, but the people are greater. For it is in their hearts that gods are born. And to their hearts that they return.”
Pic 1ABack with Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle), we see him walk into that motel room to find his dead wife Laura (Emily Browning) sitting on the edge of the bed, good as new. It’s a lot for him to process, not only her coming back from the dead but the fact she was cheating on him with his supposed good friend Robbie (Dane Cook). She’d rather focus on her reincarnation, though Shadow’s seen so much since his release it isn’t the biggest surprise. They hash out the affair, why she did it, so on. Such an odd reunion. Through all the pain I’m glad that Shadow’s at least trying to heal old wounds.
Soon enough Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) is at our man’s door, after receiving word from a little bird there’s something going on. Then, suddenly, cop cars and flashing lights arrive. Picking Shadow up for the bank robbery.
What about Technical Boy (Bruce Langley)? What’s he up to? Smoking toad and the like, meeting with Media (Gillian Anderson) who’s got concerns about his behaviour, and what Mr. World (Crispin Glover) thinks of it all. Love Media’s appearance as various different stars – first a bit of I Love Lucy, now David Bowie. Most of all we see how the New Gods are starting to rally together against Wednesday and the Old Gods. The battle’s brewing.
Over with the police, Shadow’s getting grilled. At the same time Wednesday spills the story of why he was in Chicago, which is – as expected – received with furrowed brows and disbelief. Who knows how they’ll get out of this one.
Pic 2At the motel, Mad Sweeney (Pablo Schreiber) turns up looking for his coin, and Laura’s not too happy to oblige. Since returning from the dead she has… powers, wild strength. He tries taking back the lucky coin, so she beats the shit out of him. But the big leprechaun wants it back, he won’t relent. No matter how many fingers and bones she breaks. Also, we discover Wednesday’s name is Grimnir. Hmm. Interesting. Seeing as how Grimnir is another name – out of the 200 existing names – for the one-eyed god Odin. Not hard to see Wednesday has two different coloured eyes, either.
Anyways, the cops come into the room as Sweeney tries drowning Laura, even though she can’t drown. She plays dead to make it look even better. What a sly customer, that Mrs. Moon.
Laura: “My lucky coin, ginger minge.”
Shadow and Wednesday are put in the same room for a chat, as a little spider – Anansi, no doubt – helps get the old guy’s cuffs off. Turns out there’s danger coming, it’s right on the doorstep. From the darkness appears Media, this time as Marilyn Monroe floating on air. This is a lot for Shadow to handle. But then she introduces Mr. World, he’s sly, all knowing – even knows about our man’s Bone Orchard dream, the face he makes as he masturbates, how many sexual partners his mother had, and (too much) more. Technical Boy, he’s there, too. To make an apology for “lynching” Shadow. Furthermore, they want to bring Wednesday into the fold, to find his “audience.” Or else, war. They’d like to merge the Old Gods with the New Gods. They have no time for “rugged individualism” any longer, only branding, corporatisation, marketing; an entirely new religion. The New Gods even give Wednesday a brand option, an Odin guided missile.
Media: “Valhalla anew, doesnt that sound swell?”
Pic 3But Wednesday, he doesn’t see it as a merger. He sees it as being sent to exile. Refusing their deal. For now, the New Gods retreat and let the Old God reconsider things; while Technical Boy has no respect for the old, Mr. World has plenty. I can see infighting becoming a thing for the New Gods.
The police station’s been ransacked and officers left bloodied. Outside, Mad is being transported in handcuffs. Inside, a tree-like creature grows, through the building, through the dead bodies. Luckily Mad gets himself free, as do Shadow and Wednesday, before the tree creature can consume them.
Meanwhile, at the morgue, there are strange noises emanating from one of the body’s drawers. The cover busts off and takes out an attendant. Laura’s not staying in there, no way. Being dead takes some getting used to, naturally.
Pic 4Another fan-fucking-tastic episode of American Gods, from acting to adaptation to score to visuals. What a feast! Love this series, even more than I anticipated before its arrival. I hope Gaiman is enjoying, too. He deserves to see his work adapted in such spectacular fashion.
Next episode is titled “A Murder of Gods” and I can see a fight coming, of some kind. Not sure between whom, but it’s coming. And the larger war is playing out, ready to unfold in front of our eyes.


Legion – Chapter 6

FX’s Legion
Chapter 6
Directed by Hiro Murai
Written by Nathaniel Halpern

* For a recap & review of Chapter 5, click here.
* For a recap & review of Chapter 7, click here.
Pic 1Dr. Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) sits with therapist Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), who talks with her about her frozen husband. They’re in a dangerous place. Next is Ptonomy Wallace (Jeremie Harris), talking of his mother who died while unloading the dishwasher. Then, Kerry and Cary Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder & Bill Irwin) ruminating on their likeness, their relationship (“Whos it hurting?”). Even The Eye (Mackenzie Gray) must have a session with Dr. Lenny.
Syd (Rachel Keller) is the only one to formally question their current reality. But it’s just more medication and off Syd goes back to the halls of the institution in which they’re all patients. In the lunge, Ptonomy and David (Dan Stevens) talk about a drooling, near comatose patient sitting in a wheelchair across from them.
Continually we see that Syd knows something isn’t right, she sees a different door than usual in one of the hallways. Yet nobody else does, and the more she tries to alert them the further Dr. Lenny meddles. And David, he’s sucked into that little world. Far too much.

At dinner, Amy (Katie Aselton) – a nurse in their facility – won’t let David have any pies. “Its just pie,” he quips when Syd offers not to eat in solidarity. Her next bite is filled with insects, swarming. Only it isn’t. But we’ve seen that before, right? Another sign of that Devil with the Yellow Eyes. If that weren’t enough we focus on the pie, as Lenny’s face is revealed in a nice cross-fade. Before a fun musical number with her edited in various ways across various places in David’s mind. Love the visuals of this series as a whole. And Lenny is the perfect chaotic embodiment of the mess going on inside David. Legion gets my vote for one of the most visually exciting TV shows of all time.
Syd: “You ever have that feeling like somethings happened before, except differently?”
David and Syd talk about their life in that hospital. He’s not keen on getting out because of his prior experiences. He can’t handle real life. Although what he knows, or thinks he knows there with Dr. Lenny, it’s all a lie. Syd knows this, and she doesn’t want to stay. She keeps on having a dream; about the moment before they wound up in that place. Creepy. Cary and Kerry, Ptonomy, Dr. Bird, David, they’re convinced in a need for treatment. But Syd keeps pushing.
And The Eye never stops sneaking, watching.

In the night, Cary sees that place Oliver showed us. Just beyond consciousness. Cary reaches out for it then everything around him disappears. Then he’s in a forest of stars. Across from him someone in an old diver’s outfit, like Oliver. But is it him? Or someone more sinister?
Syd begins to articulate to David that the facility they’re in may be a “version of reality” and not anything concrete. He insists it’s part of her psychosis, why she’s in there, maybe. He says she’s delusional. That he isn’t schizophrenic. It confuses her completely. Again, something isn’t quite right.
She comes across a strange, soft spot in the wall. Blood leaks out. Triggering memories, all sorts. They flood back to her relentlessly. Afterwards, Dr. Lenny turns up offering some music therapy, a nice pair of headphones. And once more Syd is subdued, thrown off track. She floats on to the sound of crickets.
When Kerry goes to find Cary she only finds The Eye, being utterly terrifying. Worse, she doesn’t know where her other half is gone.

David has a run in with his sister Amy, the nurse. She tells him he isn’t wanted there. Nobody likes him. “Youre a freak, youre disgusting,” she says. Then she gags and gags and gags without actually throwing up. Wow, that’s more unsettling than I’d have thought! And the mindgames, good lord. Poor David is being thrashed mentally. The closest person to him, his blood, telling him he’s revolting. That is deep and sharp and awful.
In her room Melanie sees Oliver. Or, someone in the diver’s suit. I worry for her, she seems particularly fragile out of the group. Then she follows the diver through a wall into a tunnel; at its end a flashing light. Further on she goes, in past a locked door, and this leads her down to a dark place. We see the moments before they were transported to that hospital. Bullets in mid air, frozen. She can’t piece it together. The diver points, suggesting she change the course of events. Yet always watching are the eyes of Dr. Lenny.
Speaking of, she tries convincing David that Syd isn’t the “right girl” for him. She has a grim conception of love, which he believes he has with Syd. She has a lot to say about power. And that it is in itself the entire point of life.

Dr. Lenny drops a bomb, too: she knew David’s father. Whoa! “I found you,” she taunts menacingly. Furthermore, the Devil with the Yellow Eyes wants to merge their powers. It needs the physical form.
Lenny: “I could give a shit about your mind
Later on, Syd gets a visit in her trance-like state from a man in a diver’s suit: Cary himself.
Pic 5LOVED THIS EPISODE TO DEATH! Jesus. Only gets better with every chapter. There were so many wild things happening here, and the story’s various strands twist together so well. A ton of great acting on top of all the solid writing. What a series. Already renewed for Season 2. Even a bit of David Bowie at the end of this episode; fucking sweet.

THE HUNGER is a Bloody & Heartbreaking Tale of Eternal Loneliness

The Hunger. 1983. Directed by Tony Scott. Screenplay by Ivan Davis & Michael Thomas; based on the novel of the same name by Whitley Strieber.
Starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon, Cliff De Young, Beth Ehlers, Dan Hedaya, Rufus Collins, Suzanne Bertish, Shane Rimmer, John Pankow, Willem Dafoe, & Peter Murphy with Bauhaus.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Peerford Ltd.
Rated R. 97 minutes.

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-20-58-pmDearly departed Tony Scott came onto the scene with a dark, flashy feature debut (having previously directed a 57-minute film called Loving Memory and a couple shorts), which announced him as a visionary filmmaker alongside his equally, if not more talented brother Ridley. Although Tony went on to define what some call the MTV-style of filmmaking – using quick edited action, often giving his stories a fast pace, as well as relying on a technique from his experience as a painter called chiaroscuro – he secured his legacy as an immense talent with 1983’s The Hunger.
Based on the novel by Whitley Strieber (also wrote Wolfen and Communion), Scott presents us with a story about vampires, although not the typical genre picture we might expect. In this film we look at vampirism in a more practical, reality-based way; maybe not at every moment, but certainly it’s a large and prominent theme. Strieber’s main ideas stay in tact, while some is changed to fit the mould of what Scott was hoping to accomplish. Mainly, the idea of eternal life and eternal youth as two distinctly different things is a large part of the screenplay, which also plays into vampirism, in this form, as a quest for vanity.
With style and a proper helping of eroticism and blood, The Hunger gnashes its way by the teeth into that upper echelon, the pantheon of great vampire movies. And it isn’t only the talent of Scott on which this film rides. Certainly doesn’t hurt to have the trio of lead characters played by Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon. Nor was it a mistake for Scott to use legendary makeup and effects artists Dick Smith to make the blood and the vampires and the various macabre pieces look wonderfully gruesome. You’ll be hard pressed to find any fit to trim off this flick.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-2-44-46-pmIf I had to choose, The Hunger just might be number one on my list for the greatest opening sequences of all time. Honestly. Scott almost sat thinking to himself, wondering how he could possibly open his first feature with a potent impact. So, he went and found Bauhaus playing in some little club, got them on board, and blew everybody’s tits off! “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” plays while Peter Murphy, the god himself sings with the band caged behind black chain-link fence. Miriam and John Blaylock (Deneuve & Bowie) scan the crowd, looking for victims. Then everything breaks into absolute chaos once the couple take home their latest prey; an unsuspecting couple ready for a night of hot sex with a pair of swingers. Instead it’s blood and mayhem. Not only that, Scott switches between this scene and a primate going completely mental – what he effectively does at the end with that intercutting of images is put vampirism next to science, which is a way to try and rationalise being a vampire; one of the story’s major thematic focuses throughout the plot.
When Scott gets into things he wants to ask about what happens when you figure out eternal life doesn’t necessarily mean eternal youth? Or what if you want to stop being a vampire? If you have to be one, then how do you feed? Where do you dispose of bodies so the police don’t keep sniffing around? Well, these are all things the film tries answering, at least in slivers. After John starts ageing, he discovers there’s no eternal youth for him. Only immortality. This is shocking to him, a pain unparalleled by anything else he’s ever known. Then, as he gets rapidly older, the question of feeding comes up. The frail, sickly John must search the streets for someone easy to kill to get his fill of blood. He can’t even manage to get the job done, a man fights him off in an alley. Takes work to stay youthful and gorgeous, right? No matter whether you’re immortal. Beauty is pain. This leads John to do something unspeakable – when he finds his victim, it is devastating, and the scene where he gets the blood is genuinely disturbing material. Great horror stuff, though.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-00-44-pmYou said forever
The crippling loneliness of vampirism is the reason why Miriam turned John, and why she goes on to turn Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon). Ultimately, immortality is painful because if you live forever, you’ll only keep outliving those you love. With eternal youth at her side, Miriam is also struck by equally crippling vanity; she stays young, as the ones at her side eventually age. Sure, it might take 300 years, but the lady’s got time. And so while Miriam is sort of tragic in a sense, the way her loneliness drives the vampirism and how it affects her relationships makes her unsympathetic. In the finale, we literally see the skeletons in her closet, the boxer lovers she keeps in coffins, come back to haunt her. As she discovers the end of eternal youth, Miriam is likewise locked into eternal life and feels the full force of her own game turned against her. Through twisting, turning vampire logic, Miriam almost becomes sympathetic once again. However, nobody ends on a happy note in any way, shape, or form. By the last shots, we’re left to ponder whether eternal life means anything good whatsoever. If you’re an addict, if you have to ruin the existence of another human being in order to function and be whole, if you’ll be forever lonely and in search of someone to fill that void (or various someones), then what good is living forever? No good at all.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-25-39-pmDick Smith’s makeup and effects work here is on the level of some of what he did on William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (and for those who don’t know he did – among a bunch of others – The GodfatherTaxi DriverThe SentinelExorcist II: The Heretic). Right down to the cut necks and throats, the blood is so awesome onscreen. Best of it all are the mummified corpses in Miriam’s apartment, and of course Bowie’s ageing vampire application. Truly, Smith is at the top of his game here. Impeccable, flawless work on Bowie, I mean… I can’t get over it. There’s almost no telling Bowie is under the makeup. If you didn’t know he was in the film before, somehow, you’d never be ale to guess it was him. Smith’s horrific exuberance is part of why the film works. If the effects and makeup were all even just second rate, the whole thing wouldn’t be near as effective. With Smith, The Hunger looks even more magical.
Certainly I can’t not talk about Bowie’s performance. Okay, in a film next to Deneuve and Sarandon you might not expect him to be the greatest. Especially considering his character, though a large part of the story, is a kind of stepping stone towards the real meat between Miriam and Sarah. But I’ll be god damned if this isn’t the best Bowie on film. I dig The Man Who Fell to Earth, completely adore The Last Temptation of Christ. His acting as John Blaylock is transcendent. Yes, I said it! It is, and I’ll tell you WHY. Because for all that heavy and gorgeously morbid makeup Smith applies to his face, Bowie emotes through it unlike anything I’ve seen in a vampire movie. Great actors are able to go past anything a makeup artist puts on their face. His performance is moving, it is full of pain and regret and utter sadness. One of those roles I’ll never forget. Fun note: to get his voice appropriately hoarse for the fact John ages so fast, Bowie went up on the George Washington Bridge every night and shouted all the punk rock songs he could remember. What a fucking cool dude.
screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-3-38-28-pmI’d give Scott’s first feature a full 5-star rating, although I do feel there are parts that could’ve been tighter in terms of writing. As director he does just about everything to perfection, being a young and hungry filmmaker at the time. The screenplay wanted for better pacing in the second half of the film.
Still, The Hunger is one of the greats. The cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt (OutlandLethal Weapon) is elegant, stylised, which does lots of neat visual things – that dazzling opener – as well as creates an overall brooding, shadowy mood perfect for a film inhabited by dreary and often hideous vampires. It is a spectacular instance of ’80s horror, and particularly the vampire sub-genre. Quite near the top of my list of favourites. There’s so much to love, from Bowie at his peak to Deneuve and Sarandon letting care go on the wind, abandoning all their hangups to film some wildly erotic material, to Smith’s work on the makeup effects.
Scott will always be missed. With plenty of solid films under his belt when he passed, I really do feel The Hunger is my favourite of his work. It’s the closest he and his brother Ridley ever felt as artists. Moreover, it feels like Tony at his most daring, hoping to bust into the industry with a strong feature full of danger, death, blood, and sex. You’d be sorely mistaken to pass this over. And if you were a fan of American Horror Story: Hotel, you should check out where the strong influence came from – it started right here with this groundbreaking piece of cinema.

Peaky Blinders – Season 3, Episode 5

BBC Two’s Peaky Blinders
Season 3, Episode 5
Directed by Tim Mielants
Written by Steven Knight

* For a review of Episode 4, click here.
* For a review of Episode 6, click here.
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Here we are at the penultimate episode of Series 3, and with two more already confirmed series’ ahead. What a treat!
Starting out with David Bowie’s “Lazarus”, a nice sequence shows us Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy) at the doctor. His head bashed in. We’re given a view into his past, also seeing his present, and in between. Still, the drugs are holding him tight. Even worse now with the morphine to keep his head from bursting. What will this bring for everything ahead?
He receives a visit from Michael Gray (Finn Cole). He knows things about Father Hughes (Paddy Considine), bad things from when he was a kid. He offers to even shoot the priest himself, long as Tommy shows him how to shoot. Wonder if this is finally the big way in for Michael.
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Cut to three months down the road. Tommy’s now trying to kick the morphine habit; good on ya, Tommy boy. Not sure how well that’s going to work, but who knows. Anyway, he talks about mad fever dreams on the drugs. Seeing his housemaid naked, reading from Leviticus. Amazing little moment here, the writing had me in a crack up.
Tommy and Johnny Dogs (Packy Lee) have a chat. Boss wants him to do a few things for him. Seems there comes with it 5,000 pounds, so nothing troubles Johnny much in the end. Better than that the other Shelby brothers arrive with someone who calls himself “the Wandering Jew.” Upstairs, Tommy meets with him – Alfie Solomons (Tom Hardy). The one and only. He’s come back along to tell Tommy about the funny rumours about him since the head injury, and to speak of business.
Meanwhile, Arthur (Paul Anderson), John (Joe Cole), Johnny, and Michael have their own chats. There’s trouble about for Michael, as his life is in turmoil. Yet none of them are exactly living smooth. What I love most is the chemistry these guys have together. They do seem like a big family, which is ultimately the goal of any ensemble cast; these guys are meant to be family, so their natural feeling chemistry as a group is excellent.
Arthur and Alfie have their reunion. The latter wants to bury the hatchet, all just business. Right? He extends apologies of all sorts. The Shelby brother isn’t exactly happy, though his new path to Jesus Christ urges him not to cause a scene. Quite a good scene filled with tension. Alfie’s not exactly there to make things easy. But Tommy’s got plans for how they’ll deal with the Russians, which is the reason for Alfie being there apparently.

Johnny Dogs: “Arthur, if youre gonna get on like dis with the Apaches theyd fuckinscalp you, by.”
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Headed out getting ready, Duchess and Princess Petrovna require seeing the brothers’ skin. They need to check for tattoos, et cetera, which may identify them as assassins. A hilarious scene, especially when Arthur’s not pleased. John doesn’t seem to mind, as the Russian ladies check every inch of them. Things get quite intense for Arthur in particular. That Princess is definitely one to watch. “Inside every man there is a devil,” she says ominously, looking back to Tommy.
Aunt Polly (Helen McCrory) and her son Michael are doing business, Ada (Sophie Rundle) along, too. He heads off to make a call to his lady, we find out he wants to get her an abortion. In the other room, Pol and Ada try to forge a “new kind of politics” in order to make a good life for themselves. “Welcome to the bourgeoisie,” Polly tells Ada with a sly smile. Now Ada is a member of the organization – properties and acquisitions. Also, we discover she and Ruben Oliver (Alexander Siddig) are getting incredibly close, soon likely to fall in bed together, as she makes clear to Ada. But tonight, “why should all the boys have fun?” asks Polly. The boys are certainly having fun – Arthur’s given up on sobriety, so it appears. They’re all busy drinking, getting laid or trying to, and all sorts of debauchery; there are even two men getting lustily close on the couch nearby under the radar. John gets some information off Stefan (Josef Altin), as Tommy goes with Tatiana to see some of their operation.
Downstairs, Alfie’s there. The Duchess and Duke (Jan Bijvoet) are there, as well. We further find out Solomons spoke Russian – he has beef with them, over her being hunted down by dogs in the snow. Yikes. He turns the other cheek, all in the name of business. But you better know not to fuck with Alfie, he doesn’t play games. He helps Tommy get an eye on how much the Russians have, and they have quite a bit of treasure.

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Ruben has finished the painting of Polly. It is astonishing. She looks upon it admiring the work he’s done, how beautiful he made her look (and she’s a gorgeous lady), and the effort it took to put her form to canvas. For his part, he believes it’s his best yet. Always a charmer. Either way, she’s flattered and wants a relationship with him: “Therell be more Sundays,” he tells her. Finally, they consummate their love. Except she’s reminded slightly by her rape at the hands of Campbell. Luckily he is a good man and he apologizes, he’s tender with her. A beautiful love scene, as opposed to so many in shows that are crude and just all for aesthetic pleasure.
Too busy falling down the bottle, Arthur is heading off with a prostitute. At the same time, Tommy sits back with a drink, listening to Tatiana’s bullshit. Later he breaks down a bit in her arms. Is he getting too close to her for his own good? No telling, but we’re close to finding out. A freaky sequence where he imagines being with his dead wife once more.
Tommy’s got some old army buddies with him now, along with Johnny Dogs, Arthur, and the rest of the mad bastards helping the Peaky Blinders. They’ve got the plan ready, maps, blueprints, the whole lot. Boss Shelby lays everything out for them and things are about to get underway.

Snooping around, Polly finds a wedding ring in Michael’s desk. Or so she thought. Inside is actually a literal bullet with Hughes’ name on it. Then Tommy catches his aunt with it right in her hands. Of course she worries for her son. Only she doesn’t know why Michael wants to do the job. She susses it out, though nobody says anything out loud. So now Pol knows why Tommy gave the job to Michael. “By order of the Peaky Blinders” and so on. She doesn’t want that for him. Threatening to bring them all down if her son pulls the trigger. Whoa.
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Great episode right before the finale. Cannot wait to see what they have in store for us in Episode 6. Lots to which we can look forward. Plus, they’ve already confirmed two more seasons. Glory be to the Peaky Blinders!

Vinyl – Season 1, Episode 6: “Cyclone”

HBO’s Vinyl
Season 1, Episode 6: “Cyclone”
Directed by Nicole Kassell
Written by Carl Capotorto & Erin Cressida Wilson

* For a review of the previous episode, “He In Racist Fire” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The King and I” – click here
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With everything all but falling down around Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), the first season of HBO’s Vinyl moves further towards the finale.
This episode starts with “Tequila” by The Champs playing on a radio outside the home of Mr. Finestra, as he sits inside railing cocaine in a craze. This guy is seriously developing more of a habit each day. He’s hanging out with old pal Ernst (Carrington Vilmont). He isn’t much of a good influence, pretty much egging Richie on about Devon (Olivia Wilde) and what she might be up to. At the same time, in come his kids while he’s high as fuck. What a father. What a dude.

Richie: “I should freeze my accounts
Ernst: “You should fuck!”
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Meanwhile, Devon’s off on her own at the Chelsea Hotel. Seems there’s a bit of plaster casting going on, in which she’s involved. And then she gets even more involved when the shoot gets troublesome, offering to take off some clothes and jump in, head first. If Richie can have fun, why can’t she? Nobody should be judging her any more than him. All around a very provocative scene. All the same, nothing makes her feel full. Like Richie, constantly chasing a bigger, better, high.
Off the rails spins Mr. Finestra. He rampages through American Century Records like the titular cyclone, shouting orders, talking to himself.
Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) welcomes Andrea Zito (Annie Parisse), and she seems ready to do business. Everybody’s happy to see her, from Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie) to Scott Levitt (P.J. Byrne). Then there’s the bossman who is a bit too over-the-top for everyone, clearly higher than Jesus. He leaves a little later, and it makes things easier for all involved. He heads off to cheat on his wife, but that doesn’t work.
Zak asks a little about Hannibal, to which Richie replies: “Because he tried to shove his dick inside my wife. Any other questions?” It’s just all out madness around the office. Richie’s falling apart, completely, right in front of everyone’s eyes.

Elsewhere, Julie Silver (Max Casella) requires Richie and his presence, concerning The Nasty Bits. “You kissed this broad not me,” says Julie. The problem is there are too many hippies at the auditions for a new guitar player. Richie trips out in front of everyone. We literally watch his tragic descent in front of the room. Then there is Ernst, reporting on Devon and her whereabouts. It’s all too much for Richie to handle right now, on top of the mountain of cocaine in his head. He takes off on the auditions leaving Jamie (Juno Temple) with Julie, the band, and no coke of her own.
Andrea takes Zak with her to go see David Bowie (Noah Bean), who jams onstage: “Is that Andy fucking Zito?” he calls down between jams. The guy playing Bowie looks SO MUCH like him, particularly in that era. Great sequence including him. Love the inclusion of all these musicians played by actors. Also gives Andrea lots of credibility, introducing her as a character quickly and efficient. But then Zak goes too heavy at Bowie and drives him away. Hilarious.
Outside a club, Richie ends up assaulting Andy Warhol (John Cameron Mitchell) by tossing him to the ground, then getting tossed into the road himself. His paranoia is building, especially after he finds out Ernst knows about what happened to Rogers – because Richie told him. The pair hotwire and steal a car, heading out for a little nighttime drive. Where to? Probably to track down his wife.

Devon is enjoying herself, blowing off steam. They talk about Ernst, Richie, all kinds of things. But Devon would rather not talk of her husband, his “bender” and such. Or is it more than that? She’s more drowned by the monotonous life at home, stuck with a husband, children. It isn’t exactly what she wanted, yet that life was forced upon her. This whole thing brings up the idea of artistry, what it means to be one, when you are one, who says, and so on. Love this whole sequence. Because then there’s the side of Devon which knows she’s bringing chaos to her kids, the family, and it pains her. Not all her fault, though. “Im so lonely,” she says: “Its pathetic. Im not myself anymore.” And that’s what it’s about: losing herself in the life of her husband, giving him everything with nothing left for herself.

Devon: “Day after day in that house I hear this creaking, back and forth, its the sound of me hanging myself from the rafters.”
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While his wife is pondering the big questions, Richie’s sleeping off a bender in the car. And forgetting important things. Simultaneously, in a guitar shop Kip (James Jagger) might’ve come across someone worth having in the band. Not only for his guitar player skills, but his scheming initiative. They both take off with guitars from the shop, and eventually Kip turns it into an offer.
Devon heads home, and almost instantly the sad quiet of that life returns, smothering her. Before she hears the kids, the one thing anchoring her there at all.
At the Bat Mitzvah, things are pretty much over. Zak isn’t overly happy to see Richie, after a six hour party. Such an awkward scene, as Richie makes a fool of himself, higher than the sky itself. He tries to apologize for everything over the past few months. Is it enough? Not so sure. “You ruined my life, and my familys life,” Zak yells at his boss. And Richie gets the toss, naturally. High and yelling at a Bat Mitzvah. Not a pinnacle of good living.

Worst of all, though, Richie knows he’s responsible for his problems, all those issues plaguing his life. He recognizes it all too well. Likely why he huffs down the drugs at such an incredibly dangerous rate, why he’s pretty much intent on self-destructing.
At home he finds Devon. He talks a good game – “Im gonna fix this” – but will anything truly change? He says the right things, makes the right moves, only she knows there’s more behind it all. Then he goes way too far and pushes her past the point of no return. She quickly grabs a few things, as well as the children. She finally decides to get out of there, recognizing the cyclone that is Richie, fueled by rage, ego, and cocaine.
Great montage of scenes as Trey Songz sings Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” and Zak mulling over his life, plus Richie discovers Devon and the kids gone.
Then we discover Ernst is dead – a hole in the back of his head. Has been all along. Could’ve guessed it, yet I still love this episode. A great bit of writing. What follows is an eventual car crash, as Richie hallucinates his long dead friend and gets totaled by another car in the road. A massacre to end such a wild, frantic episode. Then out steps Buddy Holly (Philip Radiotes) for a quick jam. And then Richie sits in his car, totally fine, staring at the Cyclone rollercoaster in front of him. Psyched out, man. Did he kill Ernst in a crash, is that how he died? Pretty sure. Love the intricacies. It becomes more and more clear with each passing episode that Richie turns everything to shit once it comes into his life, one way or another.

This was a whopper of an episode. Fun writing, excellent direction, and dedicated to the memory of David Bowie. Looking forward to “The King and I” next. Stay tuned with me, fellow fans!

American Horror Story – Freak Show, Episode 1: “Monsters Among Us”

FX’s American Horror Story
Season 4, Episode 1: 
“Monsters Among Us”
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Written by Brad Falchuk & Ryan Murphy

* For a review of the Season 3 Coven finale, “The Seven Wonders” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Massacres and Matinees” – click here
This season begins with Sarah Paulson narrating us, her face fades in quickly. Well, one of her faces.
Our introduction to them comes in 1952 – Jupiter, Florida – when the milkman Bill Palmer (Wilson Bradford) finds mouldy looking milk bottles outside the door. Going inside, he comes to discover there’s been something awful going on, as the food is all left out, everything in disarray, and Ms. Tattler lays in a pool of her own blood. Upstairs, he comes to discover what’s been hiding in the house all these years, tucked away in secret by the old woman. Back at the hospital, we get to see the terrified look in the eyes of a nurse as a doctor lists off the internal anomalies of the person they found at the Tattler house.
Before seeing what’s been causing all the commotion, Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange) shows up asking questions of a candy striper named Penny (Grace Gummer). Turns out Elsa is poking around for business purposes, she runs a traveling carnival and show of oddities. Penny, being the naughty nurse she is, helps Elsa on her way inside. Now, we finally get to discover why the hospital is in an uproar, hell – the whole town.
Another go around sees Paulson playing the twins Bette and Dot Tattler. Not only are they identical twins, they’re conjoined – rather, they’ve got two heads on a single body. They’re both highly different, though, each with their own distinct and vibrant personality. Even better than that, we as the audience get to sit in on their internal conversations and monologues, which is damn cool and will certainly serve as a unique, important device throughout the season.
Something I love about Bette/Dot is the way the visuals have started to work in “Monsters Among Us”. At various moments in any given scene, we’re treated to a split-screen technique giving us a slightly differing perspective from each of the women. It already visually sets up the tension and different feelings they have about Elsa and her ways.
While Elsa poses as a caring person to them, underneath it all she’s selfishly interested in their life, their condition, simply so they might come and work for her at the freak show.
screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-10-41-53-pmThe horror begins pretty savagely here in the first episode. Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) wanders out of the trees to a clearing where Bonnie Lipton (Skyler Samuels) and Troy Miller (Andrew Duplessie) are almost ready to make a little love together. Twisty is so unbelievably creepy. Part of his face is all skin and makeup, while the other parts seem glued on… or torn off. There’s bloody edges all over his skin almost mixing in with the makeup.
Pretty much you can bet he’s a bad, bad sort of clown once he hauls out a couple bowling pins and whacks the lovers in their heads.
Little nod to Lynch’s turn in David Fincher’s Zodiac, as Bonnie comes to and sees Troy being stabbed to death by this nasty clown.
More characters filter into our mind’s eye now.
First, introducing the chameleon going by the name of Evan Peters, this season taking up the role of Jimmy Darling. His initial scene gives us a bit about him, and some about Elsa. It seems their travelling carnival is in trouble, with only what’s between Ms. Mars’ legs keeping them in town and staving off the landlord. Meanwhile, she’s pissed with Jimmy – a freak in his own right at her carnival – because he’s out flaunting himself and looking to hook up with women. He wears big, heavy leather mitts on his hands. Only hinting at his character to come.
Next scene, the gloves come off; in more than one way.
At a little party full of 1950s-era housewives, ole Jimmy is the entertainment. At the back of the house, in one of the bedrooms, each of the women head to see Jimmy and his big, long lobster hands. Y’know – the better to make you cum with, my dear.
Throughout the rest of the episode we see a lot of weird, wonderfully grim and exciting stuff.
Twisty goes back to the abandoned rusty bus where he keeps a young boy whose family he killed and Bonnie Lipton. There, he terrorises them in their cage after his attempts to amuse them fail. Absolutely disturbing stuff, even more vile if you’re afraid of clowns!
Elsa further worms her way into the lives of the twins. She scares Bette – the more innocent of the two – while Dot is much more sceptical of Ms. Mars and her scheming ways. Because, as it turns out, Bette went a little mad and started to stab their mother, which led to them both becoming accomplice to the crime. So naturally, Elsa uses this to her advantage. She claims it’s to save them, when really it only benefits her in the end; after all, she holds all the power knowing the truth of what happened to their mother. Off the twins go, back to the freak show, ready to help draw in some paying customers.

So many different things happening in this first episode of Season 4. There are even more interesting characters than ever before, I think. With such a full and wide variety of characters – due to the vast freak show – it’s impressive how well Falchuk and Murphy fit so many pieces into the script.
We get a brief flashback scene to when Elsa meets Ethel Darling (Kathy Bates), a.k.a The Bearded Lady (and Jimmy’s mama). Man – just have to say it, Bates is a powerhouse of a performer. Her accent is awesome, the whole bearded look goes well, and she embodies the character like always; quality actor.
There’s also Paul the Illustrated Seal (Mat Fraser), Amazon Eve (Erika Ervin), tiny little Ma Petite (Jyoti Amge), the familiar face from Season 2 Asylum Pepper (Naomi Grossman) and another awfully termed pinhead named Salty (Christopher Neiman), and more. Very rich tapestry of characters going on already from the start.
Funny enough, the candy striper from earlier named Penny wakes up after her time with the freaks and seems to have a problem with what happened to her, saying she was “drugged and ravaged.” Although, Elsa hauls out a film of all that went on the previous night, which pretty clearly shows how much fun Penny actually had. In this scene, we get a good look at how fed up Elsa is with how she and the freaks are treated – she calls them “beautiful” and “heroic,” chastising Penny for her and her kind’s way of looking down on them and at them.
At the same time, Jimmy Darling wants to have a normal life outside of their freak show, he wants to take him and his mother away, all of them. He even expresses the desire to help the freaks get away from drowning their sorrows in alcohol, telling Ethel how there are meetings and support groups for those types of issues now. He’s obviously a caring person, more than just a guy to be labelled ‘freak’, just like the rest of them. Loving this season’s themes already beginning to branch out from this first instalment.
But a dark side comes out of Jimmy’s hopes to look after the freaks. When a cop comes poking around for Bette and Dot, wanting to take them in under arrest for murdering their mother, Jimmy cuts his throat after he continually uses the F-word (no not that one: freak).

Finally we’re introduced to the sickly stuck-up Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock) and his doting mother Gloria (Frances Conroy). They’re a hilarious pair, decadently dressed while taking in the local show Elsa and her carnival of freaks offer up. Our initial view of them is not overly long, however, within these moments we’re also treated to Elsa and the freaks putting off their show.
Some found it strange the way Murphy incorporated music into this season. I love his explanation, though, as every artist’s music they use is someone who has identified as a type of ‘freak’ over the years. For instance, we continually get Elsa singing Bowie, so it’s not hard to see his outsider status; later we’ll get other musicians like that, even a bit of Nirvana. Great sequence in this episode with seeing/hearing Jessica Lange performing David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?”, as the freaks play instruments in the background. Amazing stuff to kick this season into full gear.
My favourite part is the end of the episode when Elsa takes off her wooden legs for the night, slowly rolling down her socks, undressing. Very powerful scene. Now we understand a little more perhaps why Elsa is hardened and vicious and ruthless at times. As “Auf Weidersehn, Sweetheart” by Vera Lynn plays, the episode finishes on Elsa’s sad, tragic face. We’ll see where she and the rest of these characters take us in the second episode.
Jimmy Darling: “They wanna call us monsters fine, well act like monsters.”
Dig the music in this season even more than any other before it. There’s a great quality to it with an almost 1950s sci-fi sound at certain points. It’s full of strings that sweep from one end of the spectrum to the next, so beautifully and at the same time in an eerie sense. I also can’t shake the weird electronic heartbeat-type sound, it comes out with the strings and it’s like a pulse beneath all the other sounds. At first you almost think it sounds out of place, then after some time the noise grows on you and morphs into the rest of the sonic wall. Score and soundtrack have been a big thing since the first season, but Season 4 in particular really has it down pat. Can’t wait to see how the aesthetic overall works in this season as the episodes go on.

Next episode is titled “Massacres and Matinees”, directed by series regular Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.