Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Save me, Jebus.

So, yeah. This will be the last post about True Detective for the foreseeable future or at least until Nick Pizzolatto buries the hatchet with Cary Fukunaga and/or finds a decent casting director and/or rediscovers the mojo that led to a brilliant story in the first season. This season is a trainwreck, interesting only for how bad it can possibly get before the end.

We're both pretending to be Pizzolatto jerking ourselves off.
Let's start with the cliché, since there were plenty to choose from. Ray and Frank square off across the kitchen table, guns drawn, tension high... and trying to make every sentence sound as profound as possible, since only one other person in the world might remember how eloquent you were before you had a hole blown in your chest, presuming that he doesn't a) also die and b) decides to preserve your brilliance for posterity when he staggers away to the ER. I mean, seriously: "If you ever point a gun under a table at me again, you better not let me see you coming." What does that even mean? How does it make sense? Once again: People don't fucking talk like that! Stock characters could. Animated mannequins might. Writers trying to club people over the head with their self-declared brilliance do... Oh, wait. There it is. What happened to the casual pace of last season, where confrontations like this developed out of daily life (as they do), rather than completely artificial staging (as they don't)? What happened to the relationship between the leads that drove the story? What happened to the story?

Apparently that story also includes a key character named "Stan", because Frank has been mourning "Stan" for the last three episodes, including this one, where he spent several minutes delivering bullshit homilies about having a heart of gold. Who the hell is "Stan"?  Oh, right.

That's Stan. On the left. With the breathing problem.
"Stan" was the guy with a whole sixty seconds of screen time before he was ambushed by a couple of Russian heavies and dumped in a drainage pit. And yet Frank has been acting like it's the ides of March and he finally got around to doing "Friends, Romans, countrymen..." to an eight-year-old. Because, you know, "Stan" was that important of a guy. Seriously. Is this where a writer gets stuck on the small details and loses the (many) thread(s) of the plot?

I'm feeling almost as distressed about what I was watching.
But the crowner, of course, was the orgy scene. This is HBO, right? This is the network that isn't afraid of showing realistic events, right? So, they decided to rein it in and didn't show anything explicit. Fine. I don't care about that. If they wanted to paper it over, that's their choice. But to take a lead character, place her in the midst of that kind of event, and then keep everything essentially as background noise does a disservice to the audience and the character. Ani is someone who has some psychological issues around sex. Great. We should be able to follow her into this event and experience her twisting reactions to what she's seeing. But we don't get that. We get a drug reaction that has no connection to reality whatsoever! "Molly" is MDMA, also known as Ecstasy. Ecstasy is an enhancer, like cocaine. It makes you feel really good and like the whole world is a party (I know. I've taken it.), exactly like the other women seemed to be acting. What it doesn't do is cloud your vision and make you feel like someone has just hit you over the head with a shovel. That sounds a lot more like the various "date rape" drugs (Haven't taken'em. Only know secondhand.) So did everyone else get Ecstasy and Ani got something else or did she just have a worse reaction to X than anyone else, like, ever? Couldn't we have gotten this just from the emotional blowback as we now know that her personality has been shaped by a childhood assault? Wouldn't that have been more interesting and made this whole scene (and episode... and season) seem less staged and artificial and stock PG-13 action film?

Incidentally, given the amount of disorientation she was showing, it's obvious that whatever drug she was given had long since entered her bloodstream, which means putting her finger down her throat would do jack-all for her state of mind. But, amazingly, post-bathtub Ani can sprint down a hillside, perfectly lucid, while carrying another woman (her conveniently discovered missing person that she didn't see waiting on the street... or in the bus... or in the front room... until Ani discovers her in the bathroom also having the worst reaction to X ever known (So now there's two. Scientific trend or just shitty plotting? You be the judge.)) Vomiting apparently does more for Ani than any other human alive. And we thought her sister, Athena, was the god...

Wait! It's an actual plot! Hide!
Insult to injury was Ray and Paul doing what cops everywhere do: overhear key conversations while avoiding detection only to break in and steal conveniently placed documents that reveal the whole scheme. That's what being a TRUE detective is all about! It's also an example of a screenplay written by a freshman at USC. It hits the right notes for bog-standard cop flick, but is a far cry from the far more interesting first season, where actual police work (boring, repetitive, takes a long time, with occasional inadvertent discoveries or methodical assembly of testimony) was shown with fewer shortcuts but far more interesting development. You know: not CSI: Vinci.

Kill it, Ani! Kill it with-! OK. Not fire. Just kill it.
So, yeah. We're done here. Given the bookends of The Killing and TD2, I'm feeling relatively safe in saying that TD1 was a fluke of timing, where Pizzolatto had his baby that he'd been nurturing for years and tossed it to two guys (Fukunaga and McConaughey) at the peak of their powers and they made it into a thing. Cut away the latter two and leave Pizzolatto and we're left with this,which isn't something that anyone is going to watch on a regular basis (in addition to the poor casting.) I'll leave the last two on the DVR and watch them someday. Perhaps the next time I score some X so I can take a hit and try to feel good about it, but probably not.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dolor, episode 5

Nothing embodies the feeling of watching season 2 of True Detective more than the above GIF. It's kind of a persistent malaise, where you wait for something compelling to break you out of your one-blink-every-five-seconds pattern. Of course, I do a fair amount of eyebrow-raising and low mutters of "Are you fucking kidding me?" but even those are pretty low-key and brooding, which is exactly the atmosphere that writer Nick Pizzolatto enjoys and employed in the first season. The difference is that the first season had a better story, better actors, and a better screenplay for them to work with. This season remains a step down in every possible respect, which is probably why I only feel motivated to write about it at every other episode.

Story: At the most basic level, the stories of season 1 and 2 (We really need a shorthand to differentiate the two, but one was in Louisiana (LA) and the other is in Los Angeles (LA), so... Since we're in the vein of police procedurals here, perhaps TDBayou and TDVentura? Let's go with that.) aren't that different: troubled cops investigate ritual murder, find a tangled network of interests behind said murder(s) while trying to sort out their own problems. But the essential conflict in TDBayou was between Rust Cohle and Martin Hart. They got swept up in the weird circumstances surrounding the murders, but it was still about nihilist Cohle and his drive to help people in the face of his own darkness and traditional Hart and his drive toward self-destruction in the face of his assertion that the world was better than Cohle was saying it was. There was a basic dynamic there that provided the fulcrum for the whole package.

In TDVentura, we have twice the leads with twice the problems, but the problems are more personal. Everyone is struggling with their own version of impotence, which is a story and certainly something that most of humanity has encountered at one time or another. But it lacks the grand philosophical framework of TDBayou and is going to be both less interesting and less compelling, as a consequence. Indeed, a story about impotence is kind of less compelling almost by definition. You can say that Ray Velcoro's anguish about losing the kid that may not even be his is genuinely interesting, but I can argue that Rust Cohle's assertion that the kid shouldn't even be alive is probably moreso but, then, I'm a cynic. The fact that, by episode 5, we're only now finally touching on whether the series of events that immediately followed that kid's conception is based on a lie may also be an indication of where TDVentura has gone off the rails, because we had to sit through quite a bit of dreck to get to that moment of genuine interest.

Actors: In short, Vaughn is totally one-note, McAdams is invisible, and Farrell swings between effective (or even good) and looking like he's giving an acting class on how to emote ("OK, class. THIS is anguish!") Kitsch is the only one who looks like he really gets his character, but even in this latest episode he was chewing scenery in the scene with his mom. You can argue all of those points except Vaughn, in that Woodrugh is already kind of overwrought and Bezzerides is trying to stay in the background in a lot of situations and Velcoro is definitely confused about his route in life... but none of them have really been selling me on those points on a consistent basis. Farrell and Kitsch have both had good moments so it hasn't been a complete disaster, but I think the characters that they're playing are meant to be so dolorous and so crushed by the seeming inevitability of their lives ("You stick with what you know.") that they don't have a lot of room to maneuver.

Vaughn, OTOH, is just lost. He does the same thing every episode, regardless of circumstances or whom he's playing across from. At the very least, he's not doing summer stock and breaking glasses in a fireplace in every third scene, but there's no sense of style or expansion of the two-dimensional role that he's been given. He's going through the motions and it shows.

Screenplay: The script, of course, is doing them no favors. There's a cliché moment in every episode where someone has to spout something that's supposed to sound profound but which comes out sounding like they're quoting from a Dear Abby column. No one fucking talks like that! Or at least they don't if they don't want to get punched by whoever they're hanging out with. At least when McConaughey was doing it in TDBayou, it was a pattern that was set from the first minute of the series and you knew he was a little off-kilter. It also helped that he was the only one who did it. Now it seems like Pizzolatto has extended that speech pattern that so many viewers loved to everyone in the show. It's like when Chris Claremont wrote the X-Men and everyone started talking like Wolverine, because he was the most popular character. All that tells me is that these aren't real characters. They're shells. That's what happens when you can't really get inside the heads of your people. They speak in aphorisms and their motivations often seem contrived or rote. That likely means that Vaughn couldn't get anything from his role even if he was capable of doing it.

Plus, did Pizzolatto really need to do the Terminator 2 thing (i.e. tell the same story using the same devices)? So, you have this great story where these cops think they've solved a case and move on with their lives only to find that it's still lurking around the periphery and poisoning those lives. Worked the first time, so let's do it again! This time it's only 66 days instead of 3 or 4 years, but it's the same device. "Do you think we really solved the case?" Of course not. There's three episodes left. Do you think you really have to drag the audience through this "waking up" moment, especially considering that a bunch of dealers in a factory, having nothing to do with crow-masked guys with shotguns or state government, are nowhere near the red herring that was the two true believers that Cohle and Hart executed in TDBayou? No one with any shred of deductive ability could think that a couple of gangbangers desperate enough to spray down a police raid in the open were the same guys who would effect a ritualistic murder on Caspere. The characters aren't that dumb and neither is the audience. At least in The Killing, we'd waste an episode on a red herring that seemed plausible until the end. What this tells me is that the big firefight in episode 4 probably should have taken place in episode 2 so that there was chum to swim through and we could get to some of the more interesting aspects of the story much sooner. Of course, to have impact, something like the revelation that Semyon had lied to Velcoro about his wife's rapist has to be a bit drawn out. What that indicates to me is that this whole story needed more time in the planning stages so that the show wouldn't have lost half its audience by this point.

So, yeah... Again, Pizzolatto made kind of a point to the press that the show was his baby. It wasn't McConaughey. It wasn't Fukunaga. It was Nick. All Nick. And, despite the fact that those two still have exec producer credits on the show, it's clear that this is all Nick and it's not very good as a consequence.

Monday, July 6, 2015


I didn't write anything about last week's True Detective because it was basically a non-entity to me. It didn't lead to the "lolwut" level of response like the opener, but it also didn't do anything to recommend the show. Yes, yes: "Colin Farrell took two blasts from a shotgun at close range!" Big deal. No one could believe for a second that they would build Ray into the most faceted character in the show and then kill him in episode 2. For those of you about to drag out the now-hoary Eddard Stark example, please recall that he was around for 9 episodes before he got the Public Safety haircut, to say nothing of the plot kind of shepherding everyone in that direction, anyway. Other than Dr. Pitior, easily the most fascinating character of the show and played by none other than Rick Springfield (Jessie's Girl!), episode 2 was a lot more of the same: incredibly morose cops surrounded by incredibly obvious corruption and a crimelord who's determined to be the toughest not-tough-guy anyone has ever seen.

Episode 3, despite being lauded by some critics who had gotten previews as the moment when the series begins to take flight, didn't add a whole lot to our continued tour of CSI: Eyes Wide Shut. Ray did survive being gunned down by the raven-masked guy (Dark wings, dark wo- oh, wait. Just riot shells. Since Pizzolatto is dipping into Kubrick, I thought he might borrow from Tarantino and make it rock salt.) and remains the one actor with a lot of meat to work with in terms of character, but who is still sandbagged by dialogue that seems to have come from the writers' room dartboard. He actually sat across from a guy he's known forever and used the word "apoplectic" like he was quoting Atticus Finch? And then explained drinking a glass of water (without ice? In a bar? I know there's a drought, but...) because "I want to stay angry." Sure, it could be false bravado and, given Ray's character, probably is. But it also sounds clumsy and forced. There's a fine line between selling that as a character and making your audience think that the writer was out of ideas when it came to that line and I'm not quite sure that Pizzolatto is staying on the right side of it. Farrell continues to work with what he's given but a couple more haunted looks and I think he might have reached the limit of what he can do here.

Taylor Kitsch, OTOH, did take a much larger step toward becoming a (ahem) person of interest when we discover that the reason for the performance-enhancing drugs and the angst over wartime is not about the combat, but the lover he can't quite forget and the associated urges. That's real conflict and created real drama and genuine character interaction when he found the guys who could lead him to the club, not to mention the series-defining line to this point: "They won't even talk to you... with that angsty, cop thing you're rolling." Yes, you. All of you. Even the one who's not a cop. Suddenly we have someone who's struggling not with the demons of the past that none of us can really see, but beasts of the present (one might even say "animal lust", if one were so inclined) that are Mr. Right here and right now. Woodrugh's insistence on not looking at the people who can already see right through him was a great bit of acting by Kitsch.

And then there's Vince. Poor Vince/Frank. The guy just can't catch a break. Problem is, he can't act one, either. While I was intrigued by the casting of comedic actor Vaughn to play a role in a series that was doubtlessly going to be way, way out of his typical range, at this point I think we have to declare this a failed experiment. Most people (or at least those who hadn't seen Dallas Buyers Club) assumed that Matthew McConaughey couldn't do grim and gritty, either, but he sold it last season from the first moment in the interrogation room. Even while he was rambling, the restraint, the tension, the coiled power, was there. Frank Semyon is a different character, but I think he calls for that same kind of self-assuredness and Vaughn just can't do that. Every time he's on screen, he's bloviating and leaving everyone with the impression that he's in control of nothing, but especially not himself. This is a guy who deals with the Russians? I ain't buyin' it. It'd be approaching believable if he played it with some comic timing, as in most of his other roles. Those are the actor's roots and, therefore, would be easier to accept as the character's roots, too. It's where he's comfortable. Instead, he just looks as out of his element in performing the role as Frank does in trying not to be tough.

In complete contrast, what we have in Antigone is a capable actor in Rachel McAdams with a role that's bordering on utterly worthless. She's a sounding board for the crazy guys. That's it. It's the same problem that existed in season 1, where every woman in the show existed solely to be the scenery for Marty and Rust. Since that series was essentially about their contrasting and hypocritical personalities, you can make an allowance for the fact that most of the other characters didn't exactly have depth. But Ani is no different. Her "moment" in episode 2 was a few seconds where we discover that she actually likes porn. Newsflash: Everyone likes porn. (One day, I will actually get into a Moth Radio Hour session and regale you all with a story about that very topic.) Porn is one leg of the stool that makes up the Interwebs, along with Amazon and Youtube comment threads. This is not a huge revelation nor does it make her tortured or weird or perverted in any way. It's normal. If it's meant to reinforce the fact that she keeps everyone at a distance, we already know that, since the rest of her character serves as nothing but to be the normal, straight-laced "good" cop who gets to be the contrast to the guys with all kinds of issues. You know, the ones that are actually interesting.  The fact that McAdams can play the stock casting call "tough cop" that the role apparently is and still have a certain degree of chemistry with her partners ("Is that a fucking e-cigarette?") is a credit to her, not the role. Episode 3 did nothing for her but give her a bunch of scenes where she shows she's the "hard worker" and "too obsessed with her job to have a 'relationship'" (Ewwww!) and she's built this tough, outer shell to hide the fact that she likes watching people screw? Um... so do I. So does everyone. This is not a crisis.

If I sound like I'm ripping the show up one side and down the other... well, it's because I am. Like many, I had high hopes for it after the phenomenal first season and the second season has turned into something that I would have dropped from my viewing time if not for the foundation laid in the swamps of Louisiana. The setting is less interesting, the characters are less compelling, the writing is exposition on meth, and all apologies to T. Bone, but the theme song kinda sucks, too. At this point last season, I was enthralled. Here we are one episode from the halfway point of season 2 and I'm really kinda bored. I don't care about Caspere getting his balls blown off and the big plot to build a trolley. There are a couple points of intrigue (Rick Springfield! Who knew he could even act?) but they're not really worth the hour a week to dig for them. One does have to acknowledged the awesomeness that is Fred Ward (Remo!) playing Ray's dad, but that's just one more candle in the darkness. We'll give it one more week and then HBO might be getting cut off until March.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Impotence is a fact of life

No, seriously. It is. If you don't believe me, just go watch episode 1 of the second season of True Detective. They will beat you over the head with that fact even worse than the beatdown that Colin Farrell's character delivers to the father of the kid who bullied his son at school. Problem is, I think impotence kind of wound its way into the script, too. Was it a bad hour of TV? No. Was it anywhere near even the slow opening of season 1? About as close as Carcosa.

Let's meet our cast: Taylor Kitsch is Paul Woodrugh, a CHP officer (degree of difficulty limits on all Erik Estrada comparisons begins now) having a secret affair with the big, blue pill that he can't tell his girlfriend about and which leads him to getting suspended when he figures some desperate low-grade starlet might be the solution to getting it back up without the assist. Fine. Those sound like human motivations and provide us our rogue operator who will be torn between sticking to the law and running across it in order to get back to the force. He has a little bit of stock Hollywood in him with the burn scars and the stories "from the war" (Tangent: We're confronted with an odd situation in this, our modern era, in that when someone says "from the war", he/she could be talking about Iraq, Afghanistan, or both, so we're never quite sure which of our endless wars they're talking about. But that's OK, since Ignorance is Strength. Now back to the Ministry of Love./tangent) but we can live with that. It gives him a background. Unfortunately, it didn't also give him good dialogue, such as when he tells his lieutenant that the bike "makes me feel alive!" I could understand if he just wanted his job back and didn't have to express how having the throbbing machine between his legs was what made him... Oh. Right. You think I'm projecting? Just wait.

Then we come to Rachel McAdams, who plays Detective Antigone Bezzerides. I shit you not. Her character's name is "Antigone". A little Greek classical drama/mythology lesson for those not in the know: Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus by his mother, Jocasta, just in case you thought sexual mores weren't going to utterly dominate our story. The name means "in place of one's parents", which is exactly what we see Antigone doing in her first scene, where she runs an operation to clear out a webcasting studio that happens to employ her sister, Athena(!), gettin' busy for dollas. See, prostitution is a crime, but making porn for willing customers isn't. However, Ani's impotence extends to both her attempts to shepherd her sister into something Ani considers worthwhile (She's against porn; shouldn't her nickname be "Anti"?) and apparently her ability to feel meaningful outside of her job, since we spend a few seconds watching her load up to receive the last charge on the Alamo before she heads out to the casino and somehow fails to beat the house (clearly, it's not just men who need their guns to feel powerful.) Hard-drinking cop, gambles, has family refuse to accept advice or protection; bog standard, but OK. Maybe there's something more. It's the name that just kills me. I mean, fine, I'm probably in a small minority who knows the reference but, seriously, did Pizzolatto really want to be this obvious? It's not enough that her sister could have been wrapped up in drugs or something more subtle, but that sex theme just won't go away.

Continuing our soiree is Frank Semyon, played by Vince Vaughn. Frank's a crimelord with a heart of gold, since those guys always seem to be successful. In Hollywood. They also seem to be really numerous in Hollywood, which makes you think that most writers may never have met someone who actually controls a significant part of the underworld (out of the goodness of his heart, no doubt.) Frank's frustrated because his big development deal for a new light rail system (doubtlessly going right through Toon Town) hinges on the city planner who has recently disappeared. Frustration mounts, but in Frank's case, it's even more obvious when it becomes apparent that his wife, Jordan (Kelly Riley), is far more adept at running his business than he is. See, Frank's impotence isn't because of hormones or family issues or even just job frustrations; it's because his wife makes him so. So, back when season 2 was announced, there was a hot rumor that the story would center around not just one but two female leads, in the same way that season 1 had used women as little more than background for the main story, which was the struggle between Rust Cohle, Martin Hart, their differing philosophies, and how they were both running from them. If that's your story, great. Sometimes you're just not going to have other people in prominent roles. Now we've arrived at season 2 and not only is one of the leads completely overshadowed by her compatriots in terms of interest, but another is kind of a secondary character who find herself cast as a symbol of the problem that afflicts all the rest. This is hardly a step forward. It's not helped by the fact that Reilly is the far superior actor to Vaughn, who not only didn't sell me on the idea of him being some kind of underworld kingpin, but was also stuck with the most rote scenes imaginable, even in what appears to be a trumped-up police procedural. For the whole minute that we waited for Osip (Tim Murphy) to leave the room after handing Frank his glass, I muttered: "Don't throw the glass. Don't throw the glass. Don't be fucking standard rage nitwit and throw the gla-. Shit." And, just in case you didn't get that whole impotence thing (No. Really.), Frank has to let Ray know that he and Jordan are going the IVF route because, you know, it's not working. A lot of things aren't.

Oh, yeah. Ray. Colin Farrell is Detective Ray Valcoro. He is. Just look at him. The hangdog eyes. The pornstache that pretty much screams "down on his luck." The heavy sigh that accompanies every spoken word. The character is basically the walking definition of malaise. Of course, we discover that not only was he unable to prevent his wife's rape, but that he's now reminded of it every time he looks at the son who resembles him not at all and whom he now can't even get regular access to, in standard American weekend-dad style. You almost might say he was impotent... or something. Once again, cinderblock meets head when we're informed that he's "not interested in that anymore", when asked by Frank if he's dating anyone. It's at this point where I'm wondering if we're watching an HBO series or a dramatization of a Dr. Ruth call-in show (which, now that I think of it, might be kinda interesting...) To Farrell's extreme credit, he takes the turgid material that he's given and turns some of it into points of genuine interest. You can see the inner conflict in his face at several points of the episode, even right before he delivers the aforementioned beating. That said, the character is so standard police procedural that you wonder why someone (director, editor, Farrell himself) didn't stop and turn to Pizzolatto and say: "Is that it?"

Because that's the way I'm feeling about the whole show right now. The disappearance of the city planner who then turns up at the end, setting up what might just be a long game of: Who killed Casper? (we didn't get the answer to that with this guy, either) is memorable of nothing so much as The Killing, the AMC show that Pizzolatto did write for and which he probably never wants anyone to ask him about again. And, yet, here we are. It's a murder mystery, doubtlessly involving multiple factions of interest, and affecting most of our main cast, all of whom could have "angst" tattooed on their foreheads. Sounds familiar? It does to me and that's terrifying. Of course, Pizzolatto gets miles of credit from season 1, so I'm not bailing after one episode (again, last season started a little slowly, too) but there's a lot of ground to make up next week. Pile all of the above on top of the interviews with Pizzolatto that seem to indicate he's not letting anyone else interfere with his singular vision (like director of all of last season, Cory Fukunaga, whose talents led to the greatest long shot in the history of the medium) and I start to get pretty leery of how quickly this might crash and burn in the face of mammoth expectations, not least my own. Get it up, Nick.

Monday, June 15, 2015

For the Watch. And the fans?

After last week's tirade, I'm in an interesting spot as a reviewer. Once you enter The Snark, it's difficult to leave it. As anyone who's ever written criticism of any kind (both constructive and non-) will tell you, it's far easier to be negative than it is to be positive. Knocking things down is much easier than building it in the first place, so I can go ahead and continue to be dismissive of a couple of the storylines in the season 5 finale, "Mother's Mercy" and I will be. At the same time, I think I still have room to say that there were a number of great scenes that both brought us back to the usual level of quality that GoT is associated with and also did a rather amazing job of bringing most of the storylines and characters around to where they are at the conclusion of A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book. So, let's be pedantic and get the sorest spot out of the way first.

In Jerkoff Motion Land, we finally see the buddy cop sequence drawing to a close as Jaime, Bronn, and Myrcella leave behind the ephemeral Doran, the directionless Tyene, and the not-even-named-in-the-show Areo Hotah. At this point, I'm not sure where Dorne fits into the overall picture, as there's a sizable element of the plot in the books that's been left out of the show. Furthermore, Ellaria and the Snakes seem to have just initiated the war that Doran went out of his way to prevent by essentially placing the Snakes under house arrest in the books. Thus, in the show, the rebellion against the crown is on. And, in the books, the rebellion against the crown is also on, but in a less venomous form. It still wasn't worth an entire season of slaphand in a Dornish dungeon.

That said, the scene between Jaime and Myrcella did nothing to damage my impression of Nikolai Coster-Waldau as one of the best performers on the show. The serially changing emotions on his face when Myrcella told him that she knew he was her father were great. That kind of revelation isn't an easy thing to sell without dialogue.

Across the sea in Sitcom, we had the expected commiserating about the loss of the queen and the hashing out of the "what do we do now?" moment. While it wasn't overly surprising to see Daario being the voice of reason, since he's the least burdened by alcohol and emotion among the group and also the most likely to look at things in a linear fashion (straight, like the edge of a (sell)sword), the conclusion that he came to was stock Hollywood. We just ended season 5's buddy cop excursion and now we start another as Daario and Jorah venture off in search of each episode's swordplay scene and, ostensibly, the queen and her largest dragon. It's like D&D have decided that they can't get through a season without a Hollywood trope. This is example A of what has concerned me about much of this season: the episodes were formulaic. You needed X amount of dramatic conversation and Y amount of swordswinging and Z amount of shocking event(!!!) and every episode had those. Sure, there's such a thing as dramatic structure and you do have to apply yourself to the terms of the medium (story told in 10 separate parts) that doesn't lend itself well to a sprawling epic. But when that structure becomes rote and obvious, you have issues. I'm just hoping that they can loosen things up a bit when they start filming this summer, since the screenplays are already written.

Even though it's not canon, I was pretty pleased to see Varys return. He's not in Meereen in the books, but the exchanges between him and Tyrion on the show have been excellent and they picked up last night right where they had left off in Volantis. Watching the two of them try to run Meereen for much of next season should be pretty entertaining. Meanwhile, out on the plains with the queen, we're right in stride with the books, although the perspective was a bit off. Why would an entire khalassar demonstrate in front of one small woman whom they could easily pick off the Dothraki Sea at a whim? I had always assumed that what kept them from immediately claiming her as chattel at the end of Dance was the massive black reptile sitting next to her. Effects shots do cost money, so it was probably cheaper to leave Drogon out, but if they were already doing the CGI for the riders...

The Braavos scenes... bugged me. Arya finally taking vengeance on Meryn Trant seemed wasteful and stupid, probably because it was intended to be that way. Stabbing a victim's eyes out and then basically parading around him isn't quite the conduct of a Faceless Man or any of the other assassination cults of the world (She, clearly, was not sorry at all.) But we already knew that she wasn't willing to be "no one" simply by her conduct from last episode and even from the beginning of the season, since she hid Needle, rather than discarding it. So we really didn't need to see her doing the bloodspatter thing. Even killing Trant with the water and then retreating to the temple would have been enough to get her in trouble, since the took the wrong life. The over-the-top murder scene kind of made it difficult for me to take the blinding scene well. Having someone go blind in an (ahem) visual medium, especially that quickly, is a difficult thing to convey, so I don't have a problem with the technical merits. It just ended up being an evening of too many Arya shrieks and not quite enough of the subtlety that she'd been developing. Either that or I'm just impatient for her to get to the next steps of her development, as she ended up somewhat behind the pace of the other stories.

And so we come to the momentous events of the evening, beginning with Stannis. Carice van Houten really shone here. She had her usual self-satisfied look when the coincidence of the thaw signaled the approval of the Lord of Light (somehow, coincidence always serves religion...) but looked genuinely surprised when Stannis physically brushed her off in the tent and then clearly shaken when the desertions where announced. Going from her usual ic(y hot) queen image to someone who finds her own faith shaken for the first time was a great moment. Stannis, realizing that he's been left with no alternative and no longer a believer in R'hllor, goes all in, anyway. However, I was immediately irked when we see Stannis, supposedly military commander par excellence, leading a disorganized mob toward Winterfell. This is not how sieges are laid, especially when you're leading only those troops that are blood loyal to you and you know the enemy is expecting your approach (yes, I'm totally anal about these things.)

The CGI of the closing battlelines was a great shot and redolent of other double envelopments throughout history like Cannae (the harvest of gold senatorial rings, etc.; yes, I'm a total history nerd. Shut up.) That said, it was aggravating that, once again, the scene ended up being a complete driveby on the battle itself (reminiscent of Tyrion's first martial encounter that he slept through in season 1.) Once again, we have a season full of build-up for... this? We get two minutes of Stannis fighting the rearguard? Epic fail. The sequence was partially saved by the fairly exciting confrontation of Brienne and Stannis. Unlike the Arya/Meryn moment, this one felt wholly justified and Stannis even reinforced that with his typically stalwart acceptance of his fate ("Go on. Do your duty.") Of course, since they didn't show his actual execution, I have my doubts that it actually occurred, since Brienne is wise enough to know that having yet another ally in rescuing Sansa is better than fulfilling her thirst for vengeance.

Speaking of which, Sansa's scenes should have been among the less controversial of the finale except for one thing that the producers and actor did right. So, the whole season we've been watching Reek continue in his servile manner, knowing that no matter what happened (a childhood friend being raped in front of him; said childhood friend pleading for the smallest of favors; etc.), he was Ramsay's, body and soul. Thus, when the confrontation with Miranda occurs, it somehow seems even less likely that Theon would use that moment to reemerge. Alfie Allen had been so good in his role that it was simply accepted fact: he was Reek. By the same token, he had shown a fair amount of struggle in that identity over the latter half of the season, so it's not unbelievable that he chose that moment to finally save his friend, but it did lead to some degree of question. One would suppose that as surely as the arrogant, self-assured Theon can be turned into the mewling sycophant that refuses to leave his dog cage, that same self-assurance can break back through for just a moment. Thus are unusual character studies made, I guess. It's the same route that took place in the books, after all; just not with Sansa.

And then there was Jon. This was the last moment for book-readers to have the one-up on show-watchers, since there's precious little left to know that hasn't been written out of the TV series at this point. I think D&D took the unfortunate route of playing up Olly's discomfort with the inclusion of the Wildlings for the entire season. While the dissent was a factor in the books, it was presented as an undercurrent, such that the final event was a bit of a surprise (yes, even jaded book readers can be taken in once in a while; despite the reputation for Martin killing anyone and everyone, it really doesn't happen that often.) Here it was obvious from about midseason onward, mostly because of Olly. All things considered, they played the scene extremely well. Thorne didn't show any particular glee when he contributed to the removal of his rival and no one else showed much emotion other than some wisps of the dismay that was all over Olly's face. If you're going to mutiny and assassinate your sworn commander, you might as well show some degree of regret or concern over the size of the crime when you commit it, because there's supposedly going to be no one left to call you on the carpet for it. Kit Harrington has been cited in a couple sources stating that his character is dead and he hasn't been asked back. There's at least one link being cited that shows the contract extensions through season 7 for the "A tier" cast, which includes Harrington, but that extension doesn't matter if their character is written out.

Of course, killing off a character far more central than Eddard or Robb ever were, given the theories about his parentage and him being the only other perspective character at the Wall now that Sam is gone, is pretty unlikely. Given Jon's ability to warg (into his direwolf, Ghost... Remember Ghost? Remember when we had direwolves in this show?) and the presence of Melisandre at Castle Black, most fan theories since the publication of Dance have centered around how he's going to return, which suggests that the actor is just engaged in some hardcore trolling.

One interesting note about the scenes at the Wall is the discussion about Sam's voyage to Oldtown to become a maester. In the books, it's Jon who tells Sam to do it, using the same arguments (he's suited, Castle Black needs a replacement for Aemon, etc.), but in the show they decided to reverse it, leaving Jon feeling vulnerable without his friend rather than Sam feeling guilty for abandoning his. It's an interesting statement on where the respective writers see the central character. It also makes me wonder just how much of Sam's activity in Oldtown we'll see, as there are some important details that occur there, but it's also another huge expenditure of sets and locations (although they can probably just use a different angle in Jerkoff Land since it's at the same latitude... snarking, sorry) Since they decided to completely reverse the scene, I wonder if Sam will sail down the west coast of Westeros, rather than the east, since the presence of Ironborn piracy hasn't been nearly as prominent in the show?

And, finally, the Walk of Shame. I have a long-time friend who is also a book-reader who has always been disappointed in the selection of Lena Headey for the role of Cersei, as the actress doesn't fit her image of the character. As I've mentioned before, my opinion is the direct opposite: I think she's been fantastic and has shown aspects of the character as a whole being, rather than the cardboard wicked witch that she sometimes appears to be at certain points in the story. Grasping, vain, ruthless, devoted, spiteful, cunning, arrogant, deluded; Headey has done it all and done it well. The Walk scene last night was easily the best of the entire season and one of the best directed scenes of the series as a whole. Walking revealed and accused as a common criminal through the city that she ruled with iron (no matter who was sitting on the throne), you could see that arrogance trying to shield her from all of the abuse, physical and verbal, but finally failing. It makes up for a lot of things that have gone wrong in season 5 and perhaps gives some hope for season 6. As I said, in the end, they did a lot of good work in wrapping everything back to where most of the book fans think they should be. I still think they need to inject a new writer or two to escape the formula trap and perhaps lessen the obviousness of the short cuts they're taking to condense parts of the books. But now that the books are no longer a framework, I guess we'll see how well they do entirely on their own.

Lines of the week:

"Long may they sneer."
Sam and Jon; spoken like two high school-aged outcasts.

"I'm glad the end of the world's working out well for someone."
Jon's despondency doesn't completely extinguish the sense of humor that all Night's Watchmen require. Look at Edd.

"Bolton has women fighting for him?"
This just struck me as a funny expression of the limits Stannis had pushed himself to in the face of obvious futility. 'After all that and now I have to put up with women from the Dreadfort?'

"You want a good girl, but you need a bad pussy."
Don't we all?

"Have you ever known your mother to like anyone aside from her children?"
"She likes you."
"I'm not so sure about that."
Like Jon, Jaime's wry humor rarely abandons him. That's part of what makes Coster-Waldau so good.

"My Valyrian is a bit nostril."
Mine, too.

"So, mainly you talk?"
"And drink."
Don't count out drinking as a solution, especially in a sitcom. (I'll stop. Really.)

"He's the toughest man with no balls I've ever met."
Ha. Daario has no idea. He just rode away from the world's toughest in Varys.

(What should have been a line from Drogon with that annoying queen-thing on his back: "Go 'way. I'm sleepin'.")

And the winner:

"A grand old city, choking on violence and deceit. Who could possibly have any experience managing such an ungainly beast?"
"I did miss you."
"Oh, I know."
Seriously, the two of them next season just might be awesome.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Dancers at the End of Time

If only I was actually writing about the Michael Moorcock series and not the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Truth be told, I'd be far more inspired to spend the next hour or two recapping one of Moorcock's lesser efforts (in comparison to things like Elric or Jerry Cornelius) than I am in going back through the latest offering of a series that, barring the one serious uptick last week, has pretty rapidly descended from its former heights. Likewise, this episode, barring a couple great acting moments, offered virtually nothing memorable other than the fairly surprising loss of Shireen. The Dorne scenes were, once again, almost completely superfluous. The Braavos scenes were obvious and fairly pedantic. And the stuff in Meereen continued to be a half-assed version of Gladiator which seemed to leave that storyline with even less direction and intrigue than it had before. Why is Jorah already back in the queen's good graces when the character is so much more interesting when he's stewing in frustration? Why is Hizdahr zo Loraq dead, thus robbing the story of his connections to the nobility of Meereen (i.e. the Sons of the Harpy) and the rivalry with Daario? With Daenerys gone, is the rule of Meereen to end up in the hands of a former slave (Missandei), a mercenary (Daario), a disgraced Westerosi knight (Jorah), and the Imp? It sounds like a sitcom. My suspension of disbelief is withering quickly and with it, the wonderful pace and texture that has been the hallmark of this series since it began.

Despite the leading image, I'm not overwrought about the loss of Shireen. I think Kerry Ingram played the role well and brought a lot of humanity to scenes that often lacked it because of the presence of her father. Unlike in the books, she also opened the door for moments with said father that made him more human than he has otherwise been portrayed. As many of you probably know by now, the decision to end her story is one that has been made by GRRM and will be a moment in The Winds of Winter, so giving D&D abuse for deviating from "canon" in this instance is sorely misplaced, as they didn't.

Giving the showrunners grief for their deviations from the books at this point is idiotic; full stop. The show was never going to be in lockstep with the books. It's impossible. Martin specifically wrote the story to be unfilmable because of its size and the number of characters involved. It was his playground to finally be able to do whatever he wanted and logistics be damned. People crying about this or that happening to Sansa or not happening to Jaime really just have to get over it. The books are unfilmable. No set of actors, directors, and producers could do it. Changes have to be made, have been made, and will continue to be made. The show has to be enjoyed on its own merits now, especially given the fact that the next book may not emerge before the show wraps up. This will be the last time I bring this up. /tangent

That said, if you are going to run a show for several years, you kinda have to maintain your audience by giving them something worth watching (This is today's Tautological Lesson™.) Season 5, with few exceptions, has not been a way to maintain that audience because Weiss and Benioff haven't really given us anything to wonder about other than why they're making the choices that they are.

Witness Dorne. The entire excursion into the last of the Seven Kingdoms has been a complete waste of time. Alexander Siddiq, as Prince Doran, has had a grand total of about 10 minutes of screen time for the whole season. What has that told us about him as a character? What has it accomplished other than showing Ellaria's impotent rage over the death of her paramour, Oberyn? We already have that with Cersei. We already have that with Sansa. Hell, we have that with most of the women in the show and would have more of it if they'd included the Lady Coldheart storyline, but that theme has been beaten into the ground. If they were going to introduce Dorne (and I would have been sorely disappointed if they hadn't but, yes, would have recognized the logistical need to sacrifice it), then include the genuine plotting nature of that family and its portrayal in Feast and Dance. If there was anything that could have been cut, it's the Sand Snakes and their (all together now) impotent rage. In a season marked by extended conversations about background events, the ones that really could have whetted our mass appetite for next season are the ones we didn't get from Prince Doran. Yes, show-watchers, there's an assload of story (surprise!) behind the Dorne stuff that has a lot to do with what's going on in Essos and what happened during Robert's Rebellion (even more than what Oberyn referred to last season.) But you're not going to get any of that because, instead, you got Bronn being Bronn and Jaime being Jaime and no one doing anything but running in place, both in terms of character development or plot progression. The one word label for "jerking off motion" in all of its possible connotations (and there are many) is now "Dorne"; even more fitting because they couldn't even be bothered to give the city its actual name ("Sunspear", in case you didn't know or missed it the first time I ranted about it) and not because it's a phallic symbol.

The best moment of the entire episode was watching Thorne's expression from the top of the Wall as Jon and the Wildlings approached. That one moment of acting told us everything about the man, his opinions, his relationship with the new Lord Commander, and everything they'd been through together. It was brilliant and Owen Teale deserves every bit of praise for pulling it off. That moment was the only one of genuine tension in the episode, as we sat there wondering whether Thorne would let them back in or leave them to die at the hands of the Others. He would have been justified in doing so, given most of the Watch's antipathy toward their other hereditary enemies, the Wildlings. It would also have been convenient, given his and Jon's personal distaste for each other and his conviction that Jon's plan for the Watch is a bad one. That's storytelling. That's plot. That's character. That's real conflict. Thorne's acquiescence and commitment to duty was evident as we all crossed that hurdle together. None of that occurred in the entirety of the Dorne material for the season.

The other great moment of the episode was, of course, the subtle goodbye that Davos had with Shireen. In the end, when you're telling stories, whether it's a plot-driven epic like a Song of Ice and Fire or a character-driven tale like Tom Sawyer, the people involved need to be real. "Real" usually means "human", in that they act and feel in ways that the watchers or readers can relate to. It's something I'm hyper-conscious of because I've written a number of things where people acted in ways that were either rote or unnatural and those are always the stories that crash and burn. Watching Davos (Liam Cunningham) be torn between his affection for Shireen and his natural predilection toward doing what's right on the one hand, and the duty imposed on him by his king on the other, was excellent. Shireen's unknowing earnestness about their friendship was the crowning touch. Again: conflict, character, plot, story. It was all there. The rest of the episode largely lacked it and so has most of this season.

I mean, seriously, what was the point of killing Hizdahr here? What did it do for us? There's no longer any question of whether he was tied to the Sons of the Harpy, which is one of the more interesting plot points about the character, because he's dead. There's no longer any question about whether he was attaching himself to Dany for personal ambition or political motives or even genuine affection, because he's dead. Now we have to imagine that a bunch of outsiders, without the force of personality and dragons of their queen, and alongside the increasingly inept Unsullied, will somehow succeed without a single person in Meereen by their side? Good fiction occasionally does take leaps of logic (most people refer to them as "plot twists") but this one is going down a road that seems less likely by the minute. I'm not watching the series to see Daario do a Die Hard in the great pyramid of Meereen. I'm watching for a good story and, right now, I'm not getting it.

That complaint becomes even more acute when considering Arya's storyline, which is one of my favorites in the books and has been so for the last two seasons. Yet this episode's lengthy time in Braavos found her wandering after Meryn Trant and wheeling an oyster cart into one of the most expensive whorehouses in the city. Somehow no one stopped her at the door? Somehow an editor didn't look at this screenplay and say: "Perhaps wandering around with Arya while she wavers between murderous intent toward Trant and concern about that same intent toward the ship insurance guy without actually doing anything might be a little tedious?" It was at that moment that I wondered, with all of the increasingly obvious shortcuts they've been taking to keep the story under control, somehow they thought an episode full of no actual action by Arya was OK? Are we at the point where we have to consider the idea that D&D, largely unmoored from Martin's books, have lost their way? It's certainly starting to look that way.

Side notes:

Along that whole "leap of logic" thing, I found it especially unreasonable that Ramsay and his 20 picked men could have become so familiar with the layout of Stannis' camp that they would have been able to burn the food stores and the siege weapons and escape without being seen. Granted, doing it in the midst of a low-grade blizzard is a sure way to cover your tracks (literally) but trying to scout a camp of 6000, enter it, set enough fires to burn successfully, and leave in the midst of a low-grade blizzard isn't exactly likely.

Was I the only one kind of disappointed in the production value this season? It became pretty obvious that, for all the glory of the Water Gardens in Sunspear, they were essentially shooting the same room from different angles. That's a trick you have to do in order to control costs, but it was getting kind of tired by the end. Of course, that might be just because there was nothing actually happening. But it really hit me when Dany did the Great Drogon Escape at the end. Her riding on his back looked like nothing so much as the kid in the Neverending Story; a movie from 30 years ago with vastly inferior technology.

Lines of the week:

"You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It'll get us all killed."
Alliser Thorne, pragmatist.

"It's always changing. Who we're supposed to love and who we're not. The only thing that stays the same is who we want."
Ellaria making the case for modern sexual politics.

"What great thing has ever been accomplished without death and cruelty?"
"It's easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked in your favor."
And Tyrion chiming in with an easy statement about modern America.

Monday, June 1, 2015


For the last two episodes, the greater amount of action has taken place in the North, perhaps to remind the audience that the basis of the story is a Song of Ice and Fire. The real threat is what the Starks have been saying for generations: Winter is coming. Leading the way just happens to be The Others, who have their first significant and lasting presence on-screen since the end of season 2, when Sam witnessed their advance on the Fist of the First Men at the head of a horde of undead (The nomenclature is about to become very difficult, since the dead are "walkers" in The Walking Dead and The Others have become the "White Walkers" in the GoT series.) Here our horde of undead is present, but so are not only the seeming priests or mages of the Others who raise the dead of Hardhome in front of Jon and Co., but also one badass warrior who moves in a way that icy guys generally don't in most fantasy tropes. Of course, neither do the undead. But we'll get to that.

In covering a fair amount of ground, Michael Sapochnik's direction is fairly clipped. Not only do we sprint around the globe while checking in on the various storylines, but we also do so in repeated snippets. While we could have easily done Cersei's scenes in one sequence (Qyburn comes in, followed by nun with the Ladle of Confession, Cersei laps the floor.) Instead, he broke that story into two scenes, along with the extended conversation between Tyrion and Dany. I think that technique is normally put to good use and, in fact, Martin does it regularly in the books and it frequently produces the same sensation that I got here: that of mild frustration that a Tyrion moment was ending and someone else was taking his place. I guess that's what keeps the reader reading and the viewers viewing, but this time it felt like no one was getting the space they really needed to tell their story, except for Jon and Tormund, which turned out to be the one extended scene of the episode and its close.

The one I especially wanted to see more of was, of course, Dany and Tyrion. Not only has this event not happened in the books, but it's been a long-awaited one and I think the two of them lived up to the occasion. Combining Dany's emotional impulsiveness but obvious intelligence with Tyrion's overflowing common sense about politics but neo-nihilism was bound to be a good mix. Now comes the time where two of the most obvious "good guys" end up facing the depredations of their respective authors (Martin and D&D.) Given the caterwauling over the way Sansa and the rest of the Starks have been treated, one can only imagine how loud it's going to get once the Imp and the Dragon Queen run into serious trouble on their quest to help the common people. Remember, we have two whole seasons to fill after this one.

In truth, as both a book reader and viewer who was relatively disappointed through the first half of this season, I've noticed in the past two weeks that my interest has hopped around in the same way this episode did. When I watch the Cersei scenes, they seem rote. Everything is proceeding in the same fashion as in the books and I'm OK shrugging my shoulders at it (in addition to the fact that those scenes are taking place inside a cell with a wholly predictable response by the character leading them.) OTOH, when events take place that weren't in the books, I'm kind of fascinated in a way that exceeds previous seasons. Before this, they were deviations, albeit ones that struck me as allowing the actors to really spread their wings. Now, they're new material that may be glimpses into what's developing in Winds of Winter (Yes. The Sansa rape scene may be in WoW. How many fans will give in to their outrage and stop reading the books as a consequence?) and/or are giving us insight that wasn't otherwise apparent, as with Hardhome.

In the books, the collecting of the Wildlings from Hardhome hasn't taken place, although Jon knows of the dire situation there (far moreso than what appears on camera.) Tormund is sent to retrieve them and that's the last we know to date. Tonight, we discover not only the presence of different kinds of Others, but also that there's another substance other than dragonglass that they're vulnerable to: Valyrian steel. In truth, this seems obvious. If the steel comes from the place where dragons once roamed the countryside ("Fire") then it makes sense that it has an effect on the opposite number ("Ice") and is more than just a version of Damascus steel in the world of Martin. All the same, I admit to being surprised when Jon's confrontation with the warrior Other ended the way it did, as I've had dragonglass stuck in my brain as the only effective thing for nigh-on 20 years now.

All that said, the sisters Stark also had fine moments, with Arya finally assuming her role as Oyster Girl (a kind of mashup of how her sequence played out in both Feast and Dance) and Sansa getting vicious with Reek and finally learning that she may not be the last surviving Stark, after all. In both cases, new worlds were opened to the sisters, albeit in drastically different ways. It feels as if they're setting up one of the epic moments of Feast in the way they're introducing Arya's progression, which can only be a good thing. By the same token, I have a hard time knowing what they're going to do with Sansa, since they've spent the latter half of the season kind of reinforcing the "there is no hope" mantra. Again, with Stannis on his way, things could change rapidly or, in some ways, veer back to the way things developed in Dance. As much as I said there aren't ways to spoil the story any longer, there really are, so I'll wait out the rest of the season to see if the snowball grows in the way I expect it to.

Side notes:

Iain Glen played his scene in the throne room with a very light touch, which I think is to his credit, as he could have emoted all over the floor at being cast out once again. Instead, he showed that Mormont resolution, took the Long Walk, and just found a way to get back in the queen's presence one more time. What he's going to do once he gets there is open to question. Meanwhile, the greyscale thing is still utterly superfluous to the story.

It's fair to say that Ramsay's seemingly rash decision to do a commando raid on Stannis in the snow is both exemplary of the character's nature in the books (and in the show) and also a pretty easy out for Sansa if things go poorly. In that respect, I find it hard to believe that they will, so the Helen Lovejoys may have to wait yet another season for the Boltons to get theirs.

All things considered, given the momentous happenings elsewhere, one of the best scenes of the night was the conversation between Sam and Olly about how to make your enemies your friends. It was an extremely heartfelt moment and there was a good rhythm with the way both Brenock O'Connor (Olly) and John Bradley (Sam) played it. I think it continues to add to Sam's character and prepares him for some of his upcoming changes.

Despite the thrilling events at Hardhome, I was a little perturbed at the appearance of the undead. First off, they were moving a lot faster than we've seen before. The shambling masses of the end scene of season 2 is the usual, despite the swiftness of the one creature that Jon waylaid at Mormont's door in season 1. Also, despite their ability to throw themselves off a cliff and resist grievous wounds and multiple arrows (as you'd expect from most things no longer animated by respiration), they did react in typical zombie fashion from time out of mind every time they were shot in the head (i.e. falling over like the magic bullseye had been hit.) I really, really hope that D&D haven't surrendered to that trope. Granted, not having an Achilles' forehead may make them ridiculously difficult to kill, having to do the Wunwun Stomp (new dance meme: Go!) or basically dismember them, but The Walking Dead has already (ahem) killed the "shoot them in the head" thing for basically all time.

Lines of the week:

"How can a man tell a girl this? If he knew what she would see, there would be no reason to send her."
This is both a reproving comment and a demonstration to Arya that she is now a key cog in the machine.

 "Hit first, hit hard, and leave a feast for the crows."
Title check!

"Men brawl from time to time. It's only natural."
When lies are the truth.

"Gather the elders and let's talk."
There's nothing particularly memorable about this except for the extreme beatdown of the Lord of Bones that accompanied it.

"My ancestors would spit on me if I broke bread with a Crow."

"So would mine, but fuck'em. They're dead."
Pragmatism, but if she only knew at that point...

Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke had excellent chemistry. As with the Varys and Littlefinger scenes, I could have watched the two of them volleying for another half hour. There were a number of great dialogue moments:

"Killing and politics aren't always the same thing."
"Someday, if you decide not to have me killed, I'll tell you all about why I killed my father. On that day, should it ever come, you'll need more wine than this."
"Why did you travel all this way to meet someone terrible?"
"To see if you were the right kind of terrible."
"If I want jokes, I'll get myself a proper fool."
If that last one was a sly reference to some of his scenes in the books, then well done.

But the winner had to be:

"Belief is so often the death of reason."
This man speaketh truth. The odd thing, of course, is that Qyburn was banished by the masters of reason in Westeros: the maesters.