The Past Fortnight on TV #47

This fortnight: mad queens, burning cities, and melting chairs on Game of Thrones; disembodied little girls, controlling space captains, and time travelling dreamers on The Twilight Zone; and a couple of other bits & bobs at the end, too.

Game of Thrones  Season 8 Episodes 5-6
These episodes have been hella controversial, so I’m going to stake my position right away: the penultimate episode isn’t perfect but is very good; the finale was fantastic. If you’re one of those people who rated it 1 on IMDb, you’re an idiot. Yeah, sure, opinions differ, and if you didn’t think it was as superb as I did then you may have some valid arguments… but 1 out of 10? No. Those people are morons.

The Mad QueenTo call these two episodes “the climax” of Game of Thrones feels slightly disingenuous, because really the whole season has been the climax (to wit, my review of episodes one and two is here, and episodes three and four here). As I think I discussed before, I feel this is where some people’s maladjusted complaints about it stem from — a misunderstanding of the pace the story’s being told at. This isn’t a show that is plot, plot, plot until a conclusion wraps everything up within the final episode. There’s far too much going on for that to be possible. No, the whole season is the conclusion. How they paced that conclusion across the final few episodes is another matter, because I agree that sometimes the story has moved too fast this season, and The Bells is (at times) another case in point. I completely buy Dany’s turn to the dark side: it’s been building since almost the start of the series (mistaken by many for her being powerful and just) and the events of the past few episodes have really pushed her to the edge — and, of course, over it.

So, I think the groundwork is there to explain her ‘sudden’ turn, but the speed those events were relayed to the audience didn’t give people enough time to process where it was leading her. The distrust of the very people she came to liberate when she arrives in the North; their lack of explicit gratitude after the Battle of Winterfell; the deaths of her closest friends and allies, Ser Jorah and Missandei; not only the grief of that, but losing their cool-headed advice; distrusting the advisors she does have left — Varys betraying her, Tyrion seeming to constantly let her down, Jon rejecting her romantic advances; not to mention that he represents a very real threat to her life-long goal; and, despite his protestations that he doesn’t want it, he went against her wishes and told his family, which means others now know… All of that underpins her ‘sudden’ desire to burn King’s Landing and all its people. But when that’s been conveyed across just a couple of episodes, along with a whole load of other stuff that’s been going on, I don’t think people had time to process it. In my review of Last of the Starks I argued that it should’ve been extended and split in two, and I think the same is probably true of The Bells: everything up to the attack on King’s Landing actually happening is one episode; the extended action sequence(s) that follow is another. That kind of extension would not only bring obvious screen time advantages — literally, more and/or longer scenes to play out what’s happening — but it also adds time between episodes (a whole week) for viewers to mull over and discuss what they’re seeing, rather than pelting headlong into more events.

Azor AhaiConversely, I thought the finale, The Iron Throne, was excellently handled in virtually every respect, including the pace. Well, mostly. I mean, I think it’s only during their conversation in front of the Iron Throne that Jon realises what he has to do to Daenerys, so that he then immediately carries it out is a little abrupt — should he have gone away, to steel himself for the task, and done it later? Maybe. Equally, why wait? And the scene needs to occur there for the powerful events that follow with Drogon’s grief and melting the throne. Some would also say the time jump to the Dragonpit court is a case of rushing the story, but do we need to see the Unsullied taking Jon Snow prisoner? Do we need to see the armies arrive at the gates of King’s Landing? You could draw the story out by putting all of that on screen, but what you actually need to know for the narrative is conveyed in the dialogue. Mind you, here I am wondering if it should’ve been slower when some of those petition-signing halfwits reckon “nothing happened” this episode. After weeks moaning about the pace being too fast, they think this was so slow that “nothing happened”! There’s no helping some people…

As for the final stretch, where the episode laid out where everyone ends up, I liked that part most of all. There’s a fitting fate for everyone — not necessarily what’s just or fair, but then when has Game of Thrones ever been about delivering that? I would’ve liked to see Grey Worm punished for the heinous war crimes he committed, but sometimes bad people get away with bad things. Poor Tyrion is stuck as Hand of the King, though it’s a job he remains suited to, perhaps especially because he’s not sure he deserves it. Bran is an odd choice for king, perhaps, but Tyrion sold me on the notion in the same way he did the assembled lords; and I don’t think Bran wanted it, but I think that, as the all-seeing Three-Eyed Raven who has always acted to protect humanity, he can see it’s the right course.

The rest of the Starks get fates that suit them entirely. Arya has talked about wanting to sail west before, in season six; personally, I’ve wondered if that was her destiny even before she voiced it — it fits her nature, to explore the unknown. Sansa is Queen in the North, a role she has earned in so many ways — her arc, from naive little princess to powerful political leader, is arguably the greatest in the entire series. Jon is sent back to the Night’s Watch — as explicitly stated, it’s just as a punishment, but there’s a political motive too: if he can father no heirs then there will never be any offspring to grow up believing they have a true claim to the throne. But it’s not a real punishment, of course, because it means he can venture north of the Wall, where his heart really belongs. I suspect Bran knew that when he sentenced him.

Last of the StarksTo cap it all off, both episodes were incredibly well made. That’s par for the course on this mega-expensive show, but it still merits observing. Okay, perhaps The Bells had a few too many scenes of King’s Landing’s destruction (a point on pacing again), but it was all spectacularly realised, keeping us mostly in the streets with the people who were really suffering. For striking moments, however, the finale was the place to be: that shot of Dany with Drogon’s wings (the subject of its own mini Twitter controversy, for yet more dumbass reasons); her speech to her assembled forces in the ruins, the staging and design evoking the the Nazis or Stalin’s Russia; the melting throne; the final montage, with the matching shots of Sansa, Arya and Jon embracing their destinies; and the very final scene, a mirror image of the opening scene of the very first episode. What a way to end; even with a green root poking through the snow north of the Wall — a dream of spring.

The Twilight Zone  ‘Best Of’
As regular readers will know by now, for the past couple of months I’ve been reviewing the best episodes of the original 1959-64 iteration of The Twilight Zone, according to IMDb voters and an article I happened across on ScreenCrush. So far I’ve mostly stuck to episodes that are in the lists’ top tens (the exception is one I reviewed last fortnight, Nick of Time, which is #12 on ScreenCrush and #25 on IMDb), and in this fourth selection I’ll be finishing off those top tens.

Little Girl LostFirst, two episodes from season three. The Shelter is one of just four episodes in the entire series with no sci-fi or fantasy element (according to its IMDb trivia page). When the warning sirens go off that missiles, presumably nuclear, may be on their way to destroy the United States, a foresightful doctor and his family are able to retreat to their bomb shelter, but his less prepared neighbours want in too. It’s another of Rod Serling’s morality tales about the truth of human nature, and a particularly potent one because it’s very easy to relate to almost everyone’s position — there are no heroes or villains here (well, except for maybe one racist guy), just people who want to survive. The titular room is made for three people, not the dozen or so who try to break in to share it, which suggests perhaps the episode’s most universally applicable lesson: in panic, logic goes out the window.

Little Girl Lost merits 8th on ScreenCrush’s list, but only places 39th on IMDb. I side closer to the former. Another episode by the great Richard Matheson, this one is about parents whose little girl goes missing in the middle of the night — they can hear her calling somewhere in the house, but she’s nowhere to be seen. The setup has some contrivances (I mean, it’s the middle of the night, your six-year-old daughter is calling out for you, but she’s not in her bed, nor under it, so your next step is to… phone your friend who’s a physicist? O…kay…), but it just expedites where the story is going to go anyway. That said, it doesn’t always make the best use of the rest of its time (a trippy sequence in another dimension goes on longer than necessary). It’s not as unnerving as it might’ve been (the horror of your child being you-don’t-know-where, plus a disembodied little girl’s voice coming from somewhere and nowhere within the house? Sounds like a recipe for a horror movie to me), but it’s more minded to its edge-of-science explanation than a disquieting atmosphere. Ultimately, it’s using a relatable situation to explore a notion at the limits of scientific understanding, which is very fitting for this show. Plus it has a cute dog who’s instrumental in saving the day, which is always a significant bonus in my estimation.

On Thursday We Leave for HomeFor its fourth season, Twilight Zone was scheduled as a replacement for another series, meaning it had to expand to hour-long episodes to fill the given time slot. This is largely regarded as being to the series’ detriment, and I can see why — I mean, some of the 25-minute episodes feel padded, so doubling the length…! Consequently, season four has very few episodes at the top of either list. The exception is On Thursday We Leave for Home, which is the highest-ranked season four episode on both: it comes 10th at ScreenCrush, but still only 24th on IMDb. This one is outright sci-fi from the off: it’s set on mankind’s first off-world colony, which has been a disaster, and after three decades a spaceship is finally arriving to take them back to Earth. What unfolds is another tale of man’s hubris and delusion with a self-wrought tragic ending — in other words, an episode of The Twilight Zone. But it has a unique angle and commentary on the corrupting influence of power; about how being in charge of the colonists has become Captain Benteen’s very reason to exist, to the point where he not only can’t imagine life any other way, but he can’t imagine his ‘subjects’ would want it any other way either. He’s thoroughly deluded.

It’s significant, I think, that Benteen views ‘his people’ as children who are unable to make their own decision, but he was only 15-years-old when they arrived there, and at the end he hides away, like a small child who doesn’t want to go home, until it’s too late and the ride has left; except rather than a parent playing a trick to get the child to change their mind, the ride is really gone, and Benteen discovers too late that he’s doomed himself. The episode makes strong use of the double-length format to let this unravel itself, establishing how tough life has been on the colony, then the relief and euphoria of their “rescue” arriving, before the truth of Benteen’s mind is revealed. Sure, you’d tell the same story faster today, but for the era it doesn’t feel drawn out (there are 25-minute episodes that are worse for that). So, it’s not just “the best of a bad bunch”, but a great little sci-fi parable in its own right. You could probably remake it as a feature…

A Stop at WilloughbyFinally for now, season one’s A Stop at Willoughby, which doesn’t quite make either list’s top ten (it’s 12th on IMDb, 17th on ScreenCrush), but I keep hearing it mentioned elsewhere as a favourite episode or referenced in other ways (as with Eye of the Beholder last time, it factors into Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!). It’s about a harried ad exec in ’60s New York, whose boss’ motto of “push, push, push” pretty well tells how he’s feeling. On the train to his suburban home (there’s no real correlation here, but there are definite shades of Mad Men across this setup!) he falls asleep and wakes when the train stops at the village of Willoughby… in the year 1888. It’s an idyllic place on a warm summer day, with people enjoying leisurely strolls in the park — a simpler, calmer time. But then he really wakes up: he didn’t travel in time, Willoughby was just a dream; but it’s a dream of a place and time where he’d rather be — can he get back there? If Walking Distance was an ultimately uplifting story about how you can’t go home again, A Stop at Willoughby is its dark mirror image. Suffice to say, the town of Willoughby is most definitely located in the Twilight Zone.

Also watched…
  • Eurovision Tel Aviv 2019 — Normally I give Eurovision a full review, but I was a bit underwhelmed by it this year. Even by its own standards the music was mediocre, and there was little memorable in the actual performances either (with the exception of Australia’s pole stuff). Oh well.
  • Thronecast Series 8 Episodes 5-7 — I applaud the final episodes of Sky Atlantic’s tie-in show for not ignoring that there’d been some displeasure online, but deservedly praising the episodes anyway, especially the finale.

    Things to Catch Up On
    Years and YearsThis fortnight I have mostly been missing Years and Years, the new drama from the pen of Russell T Davies that spans the next couple of decades to look at, presumably, how much worse things are going to get even than they are now. I’ve long been a big fan of Davies’ writing, though must confess I’ve missed most of what he’s done post-Doctor Who — I’ve been meaning to get round to A Very English Scandal ever since it aired, which was a whole year ago now. Hopefully I won’t take so long to get to this new one.

    Next month… what can possibly follow Game of Thrones?! No, I don’t know either.

  • 24 thoughts on “The Past Fortnight on TV #47

    1. I agree completely regards Game of Thrones- pacing issues aside (which plagued both season 7 & 8) I think it wrapped up pretty well. I don’t think everything worked (Cersei really deserved a fitting death and rocks falling on her and Jamie didn’t cut it- however poetic an end they were aiming for) but overall I’m okay with it. The Winter King was a bigger issue to me than the King’s Landing stuff.

      The show really needed another season to spread things out and give it some weight and emotion, rather than give us what largely felt like a Reader’s Digest edition.

      The fan entitlement/ backlash is therefore not surprising, and some of the wtf?!! reviews on YouTube are hilarious. I commented on some of this on the ghostof82 blog. It’s the world we are living in, I guess.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t say I had a problem with how Cersei went out. Sure, it’s not as satisfying as if Arya or Dany or someone had got to her in a fitting way, but it’s in-keeping with the overall style of the series that people don’t get what they deserved or in the way they deserved it.

        As for spreading it out more, I honestly think not that much more screen time was needed to make it all work. How much exactly is hard to say, but I reckon if they’d done 7 and 8 as full seasons (which would mean another 7 episodes total; fewer if they extended and divided the 80-minute ones), I suspect that would’ve been all it needed. But I guess we’ll never know for sure.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. It was a terrible season 8,,, the storyline was a joke,,, the last 3 episodes,,, what can you say,,, all the characters acted out of character from previous 7 seasons. Nothing added up,, I ended up picking holes in it right through last 3 episodes. The story telling did not make any sense at all. A shocking way to end the series. It should be redone with a well thought out script like first 7 seasons. Season 8 has virtually nothing to do with first 7 seasons. It was clear there was no story line and what story line there just left you thinking what load of bull. So many terrible points through out. I am so dissapointed with season 8. As far as I am concerned Got stopped at season 7. Season never happened. I think a 5 year old would have made a better story line than joke of an effort that not even the most stupid person would swallow without a good dose of being paid for good words on season 8. Indefensible sonny Jim.

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    3. A 12 year old Youtuber could’ve done a better review than this. THIS is what a true idiocy is like, sir, not being disappointed in this joke of a final. I suggest you never review shows likecthis, ever again, and try something different. An Indian soap opera maybe. I’m pretty sure you will have a lot of things to like there

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      • Maybe I would — I’ve never seen an Indian soap opera, so I don’t know. I doubt any are accessible over here, to be honest.

        Still, I stand by my assessment that the Thrones finale was a good and fitting end to the series.

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    4. “If you’re one of those people who rated it 1 on IMDb, you’re an idiot.”
      Let me put it this way: if you rated it higher than 5, you are almost surely at the left half of the IQ distribution, almost surely have never published an original scientific article in a STEM field, have zero inventions or patents, and probably have not read-and-appreciated Dostoevsky. I rated it 1, and I have done all those things, statistically putting me into the far-from-an-idiot category. So, no, people who rated it 1 are not idiots just because you proclaim it as such. You are, however, for apparently failing to comprehend the contents of at least a subset of the the arguments being made, and begging to differ in a constructive manner.
      See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAhKOV3nImQ

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      • I’m sure you’re indeed a very clever individual, with your list of big achievements you’ve so meticulously laid out, but I’m not convinced of your ability to assess the quality of film or TV if you think that episode was so poorly written, so poorly acted, so poorly directed, so poorly shot, so poorly edited, so poorly scored, so poorly produced that it had no redeeming features whatsoever; that it is worse than the vast majority of other film or TV productions that have ever been released, to the extent that it merits being placed on a level with the very poorest the medium has ever spawned. That’s what rating it 1 out of 10 connotes, and therefore, in respect of the critical evaluation of film and TV, I stand by my original assertion.

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        • The big issue is the writing. Everything else is great, the acting, the production, the cgi, the sound, the wardrobe, everything but the story was so mediocre(even the actors felts that way, you can go and watch some interviews) that it all fell apart. From the night king being useless and killed by Arya(obviously a joke) to dany going full nuts, after winning the war and cersei’s surrendered, just doesn’t make any sense but subvertion I guess. I would have been ok with bran being the king if his story/poweres were more developed in the last seasons but they just through all of that, like many other things to the garbage. Can’t really manipulate your opinion or would I but saying that the season finale was satisfying seems a little bit disingenuous.

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          • I don’t agree with some of those criticisms, personally. The Night King wasn’t useless — he successfully got through the Wall, slaughtered his way from the Wall to Winterfell, where his army came very close to victory. Arya killing the Night King seems perfectly logical to me — she’s been training as an assassin for years, she’s got the skills and the necessary weaponry. The “kill the leader and the whole army dies” thing is definitely a cliche now, but it was also established as the rules at least as far back as Hardhome, so it’s not a surprise.

            Dany’s turn to ‘the dark side’ is something I think has been layered in from very early on — there’s a reason some people have been predicting for years that she’d ultimately flip and become a villain, because evidence for it has been there. This is also what I was touching on in my review, though: I think all the necessary final stepping stones for that development were in the plot, but they did rush through them and that made it feel more sudden than it should have. Of course, that development happened in episode 5, so if we start episode 6 accepting that she’s gone ‘mad’ as a fact, I think episode 6 in itself builds off those events in logical, character-accurate ways.

            Personally I think we’ve seen enough of how Bran is and what he can do to understand why he’d be nominated to rule, though I don’t disagree that the exact extent of his abilities is still a bit vague. But I also believed Tyrion’s speech to the assembled lords as something that would be enough to convince them. Of course, everyone’s individual acceptance or not of these things is going to vary and that’s going to influence their opinion, and obviously not everyone enjoyed it; but, personally, I did enjoy it, and I did think episode 6 was a satisfying conclusion to the story.

            Liked by 1 person

    5. “You’re an idiot” well your a complete waste of time. Why would I read your critic when you called nearly 1000 people an idiot. I’d like to see you say that without sitting behind your desk. What a joke you are.

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      • It’s more like 79,000 people who rated it 1 star on IMDb. I thought carefully before I branded so many people idiots (also morons, maladjusted, and halfwits elsewhere in my post), but I stand by it for all the reasons I listed in reply to eclipsicaloid.

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    6. Your review is rubbish. How much they paid you? Emm… Never mind, of course you will denial it.
      The true review is the score from the most people, may be “moron” is to good to call you.

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    7. I write a post on fan entitlement and Game of Thrones and nobody reads or comments on it. You write a positive review and you get loads of angry comments correcting you. I think there’s a lesson there somewhere, but maybe it’s just because I didn’t call them idiots. Or maybe the word ‘entitlement’ was too big a word and confused them…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I submitted these posts to the “external reviews” bit on IMDb, so I guess that kinda ‘invites’ comments from people who rated it there and then read the linked reviews. People who have extreme reactions to TV programmes (like, giving something 1 out of 10) often have extreme reactions to being insulted, I suppose…

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    8. I disagree with your assessment. To give 10, 9 or even 8 stars for the mess that was season 8 is just as ridiculous as those giving 1 star. I don’t have an issue with where the story lines ended up, but I do take issue with the 0 to 60 approach they took to get there. GRRM told d&d where it (the story) was going after all. They had enough material for 14 seasons and a movie according to GRRM, who, by the way, knows better than anyone. D&D were eager to move onto other projects and it showed. They only wanted 7 seasons, but begrudgingly agreed to 8. Can you imagine the poop show that would have insued with only 7 seasons? Now, im not going to resort to name calling or insulting you because we disagree. That kind of behavior is to rampant in society today. Im just going to spend a few moments pondering why someone would risk their “reputation” by writting a puff piece on a season that is 5/10 stars(IMO), 50% on rotten tomatoes and 53% critics score.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Some people actually liked The Last Jedi though, which was probably as divisive as the Game of Thrones final season. I hated The Last Jedi with a passion, but I understand it has fans. I don’t think anyone’s reputation is ruined for enjoying season eight nor is it for enjoying The Last Jedi. We’re all different.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I do agree that the season on the whole wasn’t perfect, in particular because they rushed parts of it (and I’ve touched on that in my reviews, I feel, so I don’t think they’re puff pieces). I guess where we really disagree is how much effect that rushing had. For you, it takes it down to 5/10; for me, it makes it imperfect but not horribly flawed, and I’d still give the season a pretty high mark overall. I feel differently on an episode-by-episode basis. When it comes to the finale in particular, maybe it’s not perfect, but I had very few problems with it. They rushed to get there, but when they did I thought they did a good job of the episode itself.

        I will add, when it comes to Rotten Tomatoes ratings specifically, that’s calculated with only a binary fresh/rotten method, so 50% doesn’t mean every review averaged out to 5/10. Indeed, although the season has a 52% Tomatometer, the average rating is actually 6.63/10. Obviously, some critics would’ve given it a higher mark than that, some a lower one. Sorry if this is stating the obvious, but my point is I’m not alone in enjoying these final episodes. In the minority? Perhaps, but not alone.

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    9. ah nice to see some sensible opinions on the seasons that isn’t enflamed by “everything isn’t perfect like I envisioned it in my head therefor it’s ALL horrible”
      yes, I did have a lot of minor issues with the season (like how they insisted on stationing their soldiers IN FRONT of the castle walls) but overall I completely bought Danys transformation since she has indeed been edging toward that path and those two last episodes were quite satisfying.
      Not a perfect ending to the season but quite abit better than I had expected to be honest^^

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, and I completely agree about the (over)reaction by many. Sure, it wasn’t what some people hoped for, but you don’t always get what you want, and the idea that it was all a complete disaster is just ludicrous to me.

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    10. YOU are wrong. As soon as they didn’t have a story already written for them the show was off the rails. The entire series Danny was the breaker of chains and they write in that she goes ape and destroys everything?!
      The battle of winterfel was shot with the lowest lighting ever so you couldn’t see the short comings. The night king can slay a dragon AND BRING IT INSIDE. But a small child can get past everyone of his defenders? For sure…
      Jamie Lannister is an ever changing character and they kill him off as a sniveling dog at the end?
      SO DRAGONS UNDERSTAND SYMBOLISM NOW!?!?!?!? He burns down a thrown instead of John snow because he’s a people and understands that chair was the personification of evil-doery!?

      The final season was the worst rap up to a season. Ever. They did it for money. They wrote it in a way to keep the most main characters alive to be able to do as many spinoffs later down the line. HBO ruined this franchise and showed once again that if it isn’t written for them they have no idea how to finish. 1 star for this critics most likely paid review.

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      • Man, I wish someone paid me to write reviews.

        I think some people are going to be surprised when GRRM’s books end in fundamentally the same way as the TV series. Hopefully he’ll make how it goes down smoother, because there are certainly problems in the TV show’s race-to-the-finish-line version, but they knew GRRM’s intended ending, so… That’s if he ever finishes the damn things, of course.

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