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Thursday, November 20, 2014


Article first published as STATE OF AFFAIRS Review on Seat42F.

State of Affairs - Season Pilot

Anyone who remembers the Grey’s Anatomy behind-the-scenes drama of a few years ago won’t exactly be excited for Katherine Heigl’s return to television. NBC decided to take a chance on her anyway with STATE OF AFFAIRS, premiering this week, which has Heigl in the leading role. With some good actors around her, though, and an interesting premise, this series is not half bad, though far from great.

Heigl plays Charleston “Charlie” Tucker, a CIA Analyst responsible for assembling and delivering the president’s daily briefing. Charlie is haunted by her past, though, suffering PTSD from witnessing her fiance’s death in the Middle East, leading to copious drinking and erratic sexual decisions in her off-hours, before somehow still managing to be a put-together woman at work, doing her job well, even at 2AM. Will this catch up with her? Or might her therapist, whom she resents having to see, eventually be able to help her work through her issues?

STATE OF AFFAIRS does suffer from an abundance of coincidence and believability-stretching elements. The president whom Charlie serves is Constance Payton (Alfre Woodard, Desperate Housewives, Star Trek: First Contact), who just happens to be Charlie’s dead fiance’s mother. Constance is bent on revenge for her son, which makes one wonder how she manages to stay in office and be a good leader as the first black female POTUS. There’s also a mystery surrounding the day of the death about which Charlie is repressing memories. This all feels a little too contrived to me.

Charlie’s team is equally preposterous, eagerly standing by her at the risk of their own jobs, without pausing to consider what might happen to them. Even if they like her, they shouldn’t be so willing to jump off a cliff for her, at least not without agonizing over the decision.

Charlie has a scene in the pilot in which she defies her boss in order to do a noble thing, putting the life of a doctor captured by terrorists ahead of petty vengeance. This is supposed to establish Charlie has a genuine hero, but instead, drags STATE OF AFFAIRS down. For one, why do TV shows always have to have one person who ignores authority because they inherently know the right thing, proving themselves better than everyone else? For another, why would a briefer have the power Charlie has to affect events?

Yet, I still want to watch this show. One big reason for that is because it is a political drama. I love the machinations of politics, various factions battling one another for power on the national stage. There are many shows that have done it a lot better and more authentic than STATE OF AFFAIRS; The West Wing and House of Cards spring to mind, or even Scandal. But there is still some draw that this show has in that arena.

For another, besides Woodard, whom I enjoy, the show has David Harbour (The Newsroom, Manhattan) as Chief of Staff David Patrick and several familiar guest actors sure to be recurring. These performers are entertaining to watch and raise the show a bit above Heigl’s expected quality.

STATE OF AFFAIRS does have the afore-mentioned personal component in Heigl’s character, but unlike new CBS stinker Madam Secretary, doesn’t allow it to make the show melodramatic or whiny. The scenes outside of the work place are well used to add depth to the character, but not the meat of each episode. Hopefully, it stays that way.

STATE OF AFFAIRS is popcorn in the way 24 was. It gets the adrenaline pumping and it’s fun to watch, but it’s never going to win any awards for being the best acting or writing on television. For my money, that’s good enough for now, and compared to a very weak crop of fellow freshman dramas this fall, this one is certainly one of the better recent entries on the broadcast networks.

STATE OF AFFAIRS premieres Monday, November 17th at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

ONCE UPON A TIME Needs a Long Look in the "Mirror"

Article first published as ONCE UPON A TIME Review Season 4 Episode 8/9 Smash the Mirror on Seat42F.

A lot happens in last night’s special two-hour ONCE UPON A TIME on ABC, “Smash the Mirror.” We see the rest of the Arendelle flashback story, bringing us up to the point in which the Snow Queen (Elizabeth Mitchell) comes over to our world. We witness the battle for Emma’s (Jennifer Morrison) soul, both internally and externally. And a former villain is given hope for a happy ending. Let’s get started.

First, despite the glaring flaws in this fall’s run, the Frozen tale has been nearly flawless. “Smash the Mirror” picks back up where last we left it, Anna (Elizabeth Lail) imprisoned by her aunt. Elsa (Georgina Haig) learns of this and quickly concocts a plan to stop the Snow Queen, refusing to believe ill of her sister. Their plan fails, unfortunately, with Elsa ending up in an urn, Anna and Kristoff (Scott Michael Foster) frozen (hehe) in the castle, and the Snow Queen messing with Elsa’s memory before The Apprentice (Timothy Webber) sends her to our world, circa 1982.

The story of the sisters, Elsa and Anna, is a strong one. Anna goes to other realms to save Elsa, and Elsa never stops believing in Anna, even when Anna is under a spell that makes her say horrible things. There is an argument to be made that Nasty Anna is buried deep inside the real Anna, an expression of the suffering she has endured. But an essential part of Anna is that she keeps hope and moves past such issues, always deciding to believe in Elsa. Seeing Elsa pay this back is extremely gratifying, and it’s this bond that the Snow Queen will never have.

There’s very much a there-but-for-you-go-I element in “Smash the Mirror.” Had the Snow Queen’s surviving sister stuck by her, no matter what bad things the Snow Queen accidentally did, her fate might have turned out very differently. The Snow Queen desperately wants what Elsa and Anna already have. Knowing they won’t accept her as one of them, she goes to extremes to force such a relationship. What she will have to end up realizing, but hasn’t yet, is such bonds cannot be forced. They have to be given freely.

ONCE UPON A TIME does make the plot quite cohesive, providing a believable way the Snow Queen comes to our land, sets the stage for her memory spells, and provides a possible motivation as to why she does what she goes. Once the Snow Queen knows she can make people forget and start with a clean slate again, it would be tempting to do so anytime things go bad. That’s surely what happened with Emma, though we haven’t seen that yet.

The Snow Queen is a formidable foe. She goes toe-to-toe with Rumple (Robert Carlyle) this week and wins. While she herself is not the instrument of victory, she does manages to link Emma and Elsa to herself, which is the next stage in her plan, and goes against Rumple’s desires. It will be interesting to see how she can be defeated because, despite knowing she must fail, she is in a pretty good position at the episode’s end.

Emma is still a bit out-of-character in “Smash the Mirror.” After making Henry (Jared S. Gilmore) very slightly bleed, she goes into a panic, and eagerly accepts Rumple’s offer to remove her powers. It takes her forever to get to his cabin, and the others have plenty of time to track her, which doesn’t seem right, but from an emotional standpoint, these hours do a better job of illustrating the turmoil in Emma’s heart than others have. She wants to rid herself of power because she’s afraid of it, but Elsa, who has personal understanding, gets through to Emma and helps her accept herself.

It’s a little strange how easily Emma has things under control at the end of the episode, a new stage for ONCE UPON A TIME. Yet, perhaps it’s a timing thing. Finally able to see who she is and live up to her potential, she gets a handle on the powers. Even if the path to get there is a little bumpy, there are some strong character moments for Emma, and her fireworks scene is an earned triumph.

More uneven than Emma is Rumple’s plot, though. This Rumple takes Hook’s (Colin O’Donoghue) heart and seeks to destroy Emma so he can have power and take over the world. This is absolutely ridiculous. Rumple has never been shown to have these ambitions, and in fact works directly against such things in past seasons. The Rumple in “Smash the Mirror” is a completely new character than before, and not in a good way. ONCE’s biggest glaring mistake this year is to toss out Rumple’s entire arc and start fresh with an unrecognizable antagonist. It makes me ill to see how he has been handled.

Hook, to a lesser extent, is in a similar boat. His actions, from betraying Emma, to confessing to her, have bene erratic and nonsensical. I get the urge to be a hero and worthy of Emma, but then it’s more confusing when Hook acts against those interests. He has been used poorly as of late, too.

On a polar opposite, Regina’s ONCE UPON A TIME arc has been stellar. This week, she gets assurances from Robin Hood (Sean Maguire) that she’ll have a happy ending, ponders the path not taken, has a touching moment with her son, and is given encouragement by Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), of all people, who admits her own bratty past. I was worried for a bit the show would let Regina slip, negating her growth, but the other characters have rallied around her, even those who one doesn’t expect to, and in their eyes, Regina finally sees her best self reflected.

What’s more, Robin’s discovery in the library, with the help of Will Scarlet (Michael Socha), gives Regina hope. Robin finds an alternate page to Henry’s storybook, one in which Regina is not a villain. This proves the book isn’t set in stone so Regina can still change her ending! Yay!

Which begs the question, are new pages being added to the book? If so, why hasn’t anyone mentioned it? And because the page just appears in Robin’s bag, does that mean the author is still around? Possibly hiding in the magic library? Maleficent is still in the basement, isn’t she? And where is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, who can see past and future, these days? Anyone else get the feeling the Apprentice might actually be the Sorcerer? Hmm.

For everyone awesome ONCE UPON A TIME moment, and there are many in “Smash the Mirror,” there is an unfortunate one, sometimes small, but always present. When looking at the TV schedule from last night, ONCE is only about the sixth or seventh best show on Sunday nights (behind The Walking Dead, The Newsroom, The Good Wife, and arguably several others) right now. There are a heck of a lot more than six shows on Sundays, but that’s still not a position to really brag about. If only it would get its act together, like it did a year ago, it could rise to match or exceed some of its currently-better peers. The potential is high, but the series just doesn’t live up to it as much as it should, making its wins, such as last night’s episode, bittersweet.

ONCE UPON A TIME airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

THE WALKING DEAD "Consumed" Review

Article first published as THE WALKING DEAD Review Season 5 Episode 6 Consumed on Seat42F.

The title of this week’s episode of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD is “Consumed.” This refers to the way fire consumes, metaphorically and literally. As Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBridge) track the missing Beth, they reflect on how their old selves have been burned away, possibly multiple times, and whether they are phoenixes or ashes. We also see Carol remembering some actual fires, both ones alerting her to danger, and ones highlighting her own mistakes.

Carol has become a fan-favorite character, right up there with Daryl, for many good reasons. Her memories show Rick (Andrew Lincoln) burning the bridge with her, the people Carol murdered at the prison, Carol burying the girl she shoots, Carol rushing to save her friends at the prison and Terminus, and Carol considering fleeing again. These are all pivotal moments in her character’s journey over the past season or so, and by keeping them brief, THE WALKING DEAD does a good job of reminding us of them without hammering them in too hard.

Because of all of these things, Carol isn’t sure she wants or deserves to be a part of the group any more. She agonizes over decisions made. She is too close to the source, though, to see it clearly. The rest of us have a fuller picture of her, remembering everything she has done, who she was, and how far she has come, not just these glimpses. Daryl gives voice to our side of the story, telling Carol that she “ain’t ashes.” She is still a human being who is as deserving of love as anyone else.

Daryl has a similar arc, though less prevalent in “Consumed.” As Carol says, he has grown from a boy into a man, stepping up to do what must be done. Daryl obviously still has doubts about himself, unlike how he sees Carol, because he takes a book on abuse from the shelter they stay at. This clues us in to things Daryl has trouble saying out loud. But again, Carol gives voice to our thoughts when she reassures Daryl about who he is.

There are many things to love about THE WALKING DEAD, but these characters are at the top of the list. Not a lot happens in “Consumed,” but that’s just fine because it gives us time to examine these personalities a bit more closely. While circumstances have shaped everyone in different ways, such as Rick into a badass leader, it has made Carol and Daryl much more noble and worthy people than they would have been in the old world. It has stripped away their previous issues and given them a second chance. They are both using this new start well.

The fact that Daryl and Carol are hunting for Beth and helping each other at the same time proves this point. “Consumed” sees Daryl burning abused children Walkers for Carol and willing to go over a bridge in a van. Carol does the latter, too, willingly for a girl she hasn’t seen in awhile and probably owes nothing to. They are heroes, plain and simple.

“Consumed” also unites them with Noah (Tyler James Williams), who stalks them and steals their weapons. Had this been all we’d seen of Noah, it would be difficult to use him this way or know whether to trust him. Because we know he’s also working to save Beth, though, one hopes for him to get a chance to talk to the pair so they can discover their common ground and work together. Thankfully, THE WALKING DEAD finds a natural way to do this, as it would be all-too-easy to make it clunky.

Noah is one of the fastest characters audiences have come to trust, and Daryl has been semi-comfortable with, too. This unique ability he has to worm his way into hearts, surely helped along by excellent writing, makes him an individual to watch, and one I hope sticks around. Circumstances ally him with Daryl, but choice can make him part of the group.

“Consumed” brings us up to other points seen, where Daryl returns to camp and an injured Carol is brought into Beth’s hospital. This means, with two hours to go in this half season, we’re promised action and large-group stories. I like how the first half of the year has danced back and forth between those exciting times and these character focuses, striking a terrific balance in a show known for both.

THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

ARROW "Guilty" of a Few Things

Article first published as ARROW Review Season 3 Episode 6 Guilty on Seat42F.


The CW’S ARROW proclaims someone “Guilty” this week when a serial killer begins slaughtering criminals. Suspicion immediately falls on Ted Grant (J.R. Ramirez), who is seen on the scene of multiple murders and who, it turns out, used to be a vigilante himself, like The Arrow. Laurel (Katie Cassidy) is sure Ted is innocent, but could that be because she’s developed a loyalty during her training sessions and so is blinded to the truth?

It’s hard to believe that Oliver (Stephen Amell) doesn’t take Laurel at her word immediately when she says she is with Ted during a murder. After all, Laurel and Oliver have a long history together and he even trusts her with his secret identity as The Arrow. Why would she by lying to him now? She has been a little erratic lately in seeking vengeance for the death of her sister, but I still don’t think that should cast doubt about her words in a totally unrelated matter. It’s just poor writing.

It is neat to learn about Ted “Wildcat” Grant’s past. He serves as both an inspiration and a cautionary tale to Oliver. Ted was tough enough to handle the city’s scum, but he had an apprentice named Isaac (Nathan Mitchell, Tide Waters) who crossed a line, and is the one framing Ted in the present. As Oliver thinks about Roy’s (Colton Haynes) woes and how young Speedy has strayed from the path, it’s easy to see the parallels between the two men’s situations.

Unfortunately, ARROW isn’t completely solid on the storytelling here, either. Roy asks Oliver not to give up on him and Oliver says “Never,” as he should. Then, immediately Roy wants to hang up his superhero suit. Is Roy asking Oliver to not give up on him personally? If so, that’s not clear. The handling of this is a bit murky when a few tweaks would have made it solid. Also, the transition of Roy from Speedy to Arsenal is a bit heavy-handed when coming up with the new name.

Roy’s big issue in “Guilty” is that he’s being haunted by dreams of murdering Sara. He eventually confesses to first Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards), then when Felicity indicates Roy may have actually done it, to Oliver, Laurel, and Diggle (David Ramsey). This is a major step for Roy, but one that his character has earned in his growth. He is willing to take responsibility for his actions, even those he isn’t entirely in control of. He’s ready to turn himself over to the authorities so that Sara will get justice, even though it wouldn’t be justice for Roy. Excellent Roy moment.

When Roy realizes he didn’t kill Sara, just a cop, the fact that his guilt quotient remains high is terrific. This proves Roy really is a compassionate person, above and beyond worrying about his friends. I think Oliver can help Roy get over the guilt and I hope Roy lets him do so, but another excellent development for the sidekick.

I’m disappointed that Diggle turns on Roy so quickly, arguing that justice must be applied equally to friends and foes. Diggle is fully aware of the Mirakuru drug and what it can do. He also knows Roy, a man who would never kill an innocent. Why can’t Diggle be the least bit understanding of the situation? Why does he think Roy should be punished and kicked out of the group? It’s a stretch for ARROW to do this.

Now, Laurel turning on Roy, that I would understand. It’s her sister that is dead, and emotion over something like losing one’s sibling can override common sense. “Guilty” doesn’t reveal if Laurel will blame Roy or not. But then Roy is cleared, so he should be safe from her. Not so for whoever the actual murderer is because, despite Oliver reiterating that Laurel shouldn’t be training, she goes back to Ted at the end of the episode and carries on.

Katie Cassidy as Black Canary ArrowThe scene in which Oliver tells Laurel he never sees her as helpless, he just tries to protect her because he cares, is a great one. It’s a charged moment between the two exes, and one that holds out hope there could be a rekindling at some point, though they’re not on the same page right now. It’s also a testament to how Laurel has changed over the course of ARROW to be much more than a damsel that needs rescuing. The pictures that the CW released yesterday of Laurel donning the Black Canary outfit (right ) should continue this nicely.

There’s also another completely unnecessary flashback of Oliver in Hong Kong this week. It does deal with memories and such, which ties it to the main plot of “Guilty,” but the episode could easily have proceeded without them and not lost a thing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it is past time for ARROW to drop this element.

“Guilty” is a bit uneven, as shows on the CW in general and installments of ARROW in particular tend to be, but it’s still got some good stuff in it, especially where Laurel, Roy, and Oliver are concerned. As long as the show sticks to its character development and allows continued growth, it’ll remain worth watching.

ARROW airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on the CW.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Breaks Through a "Wall"

Article first published as MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Review Season 2 Episode 7 The Writing on the Wall at Seat42F.


Is “The Writing on the Wall” for ABC’s MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.? Well, it quite literally is in last night’s episode, which finds Coulson’s (Clark Gregg) carving compulsions getting stronger and stronger, taking over his life. Luckily, there may be a break in the case as others who share his affliction begin showing up dead, murdered at the hands of one of their own. The team tracks the killer, hoping he will lead to answers.

I like that MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. has these big arcs right off the bat in season two. Season one began quite slowly, killing time until the series could build into the secrets revealed in the film Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While it seems this year’s stories could tie into the motion pictures, too, at least eventually, they also feel like they’ve been given the freedom not to wait for the big screen to catch up, to just go ahead and tell the tale they want to tell now. It’s a marked improvement.

Fans of both big and small screen Marvel endeavors have long wondered about Coulson’s resurrection, a key mystery when the show begins. The general facts are now known and “The Writing on the Wall” reveals more, as viewers are offered glimpses of the past when the serum was tested with six other individuals. It didn’t work out well, memories having to be re-written, and now only two, the killer (Brian Van Holt, Cougar Town) and his last would-be victim (Joel Gretsch, V), remain. This is the program that gave Coulson his second chance.

What I wonder is, though, after these tests failed, why was Coulson injected? Presumably it wasn’t up to Coulson, or that’s what the end of last season indicated. Perhaps Fury decided Coulson was valuable enough it was worth the risk. But Coulson alone was allowed to keep his identity. Why? Who thought this would work? Or did they know exactly what would happen and want the city Coulson has been carving to be found? That’s the new question going forward.

Skye (Chloe Bennet) continues to show none of the same symptoms as Coulson, even though she, too, has the alien blood in her veins. Does this mean Skye is an alien? Or perhaps an Inhuman, as that race has been given an upcoming Marvel film?

Coulson does betray Skye in “The Writing on the Wall,” but she should forgive him. He isn’t in his right mind, and that’s pretty obvious. This stuff made Garrett crazy, too, but Garrett had underlying evil in him. When Coulson makes poor judgment calls, he does so so that he can go try to save a life. It might not be wise or kind, but he’s not hurting anyone.

The other half of “The Writing on the Wall” finds May (Ming-Na Wen) and several agents on the trail of the escaped Grant Ward (Brett Dalton). This episode reminds us just how capable Ward is, eluding May’s attempts to get close, and quickly recognizing even agents he doesn’t know, such as Hunter (Nick Blood) and Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki). He’s a very smart person and it will not be easy to recapture him, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best not yet being up to the task.

We knew Ward had to get out eventually, and I’m fascinated by the journey he is on. Equal parts insane and purpose-driven, it’s hard to know what he’ll do next. He definitely has his own inner compass that he follows and his own goals, so he’s not an erratic target. But what he believes and thinks is quite far enough skewed off of the norm that he’s not predictable, either. With the skills he has, he’s an impressive adversary.

I think it is telling that Ward doesn’t hurt or kill Bobbi or Hunter or anyone else. In fact, he gives his S.H.I.E.L.D. tail a present, a high-ranking Hydra official. Why? Is his end goal to prove himself worthy of Skye, which will never happen? Does he want to rejoin Hydra, which seems unlikely now that Garrett is gone? Does he think S.H.I.E.L.D. may just be desperate enough to take him back? I just don’t know, and that’s a good thing.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. is not as good as the movies, and I think it would benefit from shorter seasons, giving the writers more time to develop a compact story. However, it is still quite exciting, and has improved over its beginnings. The characters are excellent and the stories lead to somewhere worth going. “The Writing on the Wall” continues this trend.

MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Friday, November 14, 2014

SLEEPY HOLLOW Would Benefit From Less Structure

Article first published as SLEEPY HOLLOW Review Season 2 Episode 8 Heartless on Seat42F.


In this week’s SLEEPY HOLLOW, “Heartless,” we learn that baby Moloch is not dead, but merely in need of some TLC. Apparently, the demon doesn’t eat formula, though, instead needing to consume souls (natch). Henry (John Noble) brings forth a shape-changing succubus (various actresses, but mainly Still’s Caroline Ford) to collect dinner, which our heroes must scramble to destroy before it kills more people. This is easier said than done because the only way to kill a succubus is to use a spell to burn its heart, which is hidden somewhere outside its body.

I’m quite disappointed SLEEPY HOLLOW still uses a case-of-the-week format so often. Sure, the succubus plot is tied into a larger arc, that of Moloch coming into our realm. And the hour is full of character development and fun moments, which is why the show is still worth watching. But the story would be so much better if it would allow itself to be more free-form, rather than forced to conform to a repetitive structure, with the good stuff built around the unoriginal core. Sigh.

“Heartless” begins with Ichabod (Tom Mison) and Katrina (Katia Winter) curled up to watch a reality dating show. It’s a humorous scene, Ichabod’s fish-out-of-water quality multiplied times two, and mainly brings a smile to the viewer’s face. However, pick apart the moment a little deeper, and you’ll notice that it illustrates a schism between the pair, with both seeing different things in the show and concerning love. This could be waved away easily enough if the hour didn’t further illustrate that they are at different points in their lives with differing opinions as to what must be done.

Ichabod is a Witness, called upon to stop the forces of darkness. Katrina gets in the way of that a little, as Abbie (Nicole Beharie) is definitely feeling neglected (even if she tries not to show it) when Ichabod repeatedly puts Katrina before his partner. This isn’t good for the work, even more so than Ichabod’s nagging hope that he might still save his son. Plus, when Ichabod is confronted by the succubus, it sees pain and woe within him that definitely indicates Mr. and Mrs. Crane are currently out of sync.

Katrina, for her part, does prove her worth to the team, which even Abbie is forced to admit. But she’s not a team player, striking out on her own mission to go back to being a double agent without consulting anyone first, least of all her husband. One may assume that her motivations are pure, but this disconnect will only increase the tension and discord between the couple, which really do feel doomed to failure at this point.

Even more worrying is how Katrina is sucked into what is going on with Moloch. Her affection for Abraham (Neil Jackson) is most likely feigned, something Henry probably sees through even if Abraham doesn’t, but the look Katrina gets when staring at the baby seems real. Moloch appears to be a typical human infant, not a scary demon child, and he did come forth from Katrina’s womb. Might she see him as a second chance to be a good parent? A way to prove to Henry that she can be? Or is this part of an enchantment she’s under because of the necklace she’s wearing?

While Ichabod’s love life is falling apart in “Heartless,” Abbie’s is coming together rather nicely. Hawley (Matt Barr) doesn’t like to show his vulnerable side too freely, but he’s definitely smitten with the cop, and comes to her defense without asking for payment. The fact that Abbie gives him a reward shows the feelings are mutual because she wouldn’t go out of her way for him if she didn’t care. When Ichabod blesses the relationship, it’s all but certain they will get together.

Now, Hawley and Abbie aren’t a perfect match. He has a heart, but he’s also got a business to run and won’t switch his activity to purely altruistic pursuits. This often puts him at odds with the job Abbie must do. However, they both want this, clearly, so they’ll find a way to make it work.

The vast majority of this review is about the good elements in an exciting story. If the show would just free itself up a bit further, as they sometimes, but not often enough, do, it could be among my favorites. Unfortunately, it holds back, not reaching its full potential, which is a frequent disappointment.

SLEEPY HOLLOW airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

THE WALKING DEAD Characters Reveal "Self"

Article first published as THE WALKING DEAD Review Season 5 Episode 5 Self Help on Seat42F.


This week’s episode of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD, “Self Help,” follows six of our survivors on the road to D.C. They don’t get very far, running into issues both man-made and Walker-inspired, but we learn a bit about a couple of the players, and a startling revelation ends the hour in a big way.

The entire reason this group splits off from the main one is Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz). Driven in his mission to bring Eugene (Josh McDermitt), who says he has a cure for the outbreak, to the nation’s capital, Abraham refuses to be patient and wait for the others. He doesn’t put up with any delays or detours, pushing on, even if the going is slow. This is a man who has blinders firmly in place.

One may wonder how Abraham got that way, and the initial reasoning seems to be that’s he a soldier who only knows how to take and follow orders, but that is far too simplistic an explanation. “Self Help” shows us how Abraham’s family flees from his brutality, only to die without his protection, taking Abraham to the point of suicide. He is strong enough to survive in this world, but his loved ones were not. Had Eugene not shown up with this cause when he did, Abraham would have no reason to live, everything he cares about being gone. The mission is all that is keeping him going, a shred of hope in a hopeless existence.

Sadly, this is stripped away when Eugene reveals that he is lying. Abraham reacts the only way he knows how, punching Eugene in the face. They are sort-of friends before this point, but Abraham justifiably feels betrayed. Eugene’s lies remove that thread to which Abraham is clinging, so Abraham has nothing left. Eugene could not have done anything worse to Abraham, even though Eugene saved his life.

Eugene reveals his motivation in “Self Help,” too, first in small pieces to Tara (Alanna Masterson), then to the group as a whole. He speaks of feeling helpless, knowing he couldn’t survive on his own. He had to find something invaluable to contribute, to make people want to take care of him. The lie, selfish as it might be, is his way of fighting for survival, something everyone understands. He is a desperate man, too, and his method of staying alive isn’t really that bad, compared to what others have done, especially when he confesses to those he trusts. Even the bus sabotaging, while potentially dangerous, doesn’t seem that bad in the face of everything else, especially since no one was seriously hurt.

I do think Eugene can take care of himself to a certain extent now. He finally stabs a Walker this week, stepping up in a way he has not before. He’s not the group’s strongest fighter by a long shot, but I think part of why he spills the secret is so he can begin contributing as he should. This people have been kind to him, especially the larger group, and he feels guilty for those who have died while he hid behind them. He’s connecting with them on a personal level, something that clearly doesn’t come easy to him. He’s a coward, but facing and owning up to his fears puts him on the path to becoming a stronger man.

What will the group do now? Hopefully, turn around and go back to the others. D.C. may still be their best hope of survival, and I assume that’s where they will end up, as they do in the comics, though Eugene’s confession comes later. But they all should go together. Without Eugene’s non-existent knowledge, the urgency is gone.

I also hope Abraham finds another reason to continue. Maybe his relationship with Rosita (Christian Serratos), which seems playful but sincere, not just about sex, could help? She may not be the love of his life, but he has to care about her, right?

This is the episode of THE WALKING DEAD I’ve had the least to say about in recent memory. Yet, I still feel it is a good, solid episode. It concentrates on only a few things, but it does them very well.

THE WALKING DEAD airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.