Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2021.1
Published by marco on
These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of around 1600 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood and. let’s be honest, level of intoxication. YMMV. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.
- Mr. Robot S04 (2020) — 10/10
- “We staged the biggest coup in history. They opted in and they clicked OK.”
Season four picks up with Angela (Portia Doubleday) at Phillip Price’s (Michael Cristofer) estate, where he begs her to recant and give up her pursuit of Whiterose (BD Wong). She does not, with predictable consequences.
Darlene (Carly Chaikin) is a hot mess, coked out of her mind and mourning Angela’s disappearance, but not accepting that she might be gone forever.
Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) has been installed as the CTO figurehead at EvilCorp, doomed to ineffectiveness at one meaningless press event after another.
Dominique (Grace Gummer) is living at home with her mother, reeling from her having been conscripted by Whiterose into being a mole at the FBI, a role she’s trying to avoid, but for which she gets a stark reminder (through a threat to her mother’s life).
Elliot (Rami Malek) and Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) are still in pursuit, homing in on Whiterose’s gold reserves in Cyprus, to which he gets access with Freddy Lomax’s (Jake Busey) blackmailed assistance.“My feelings? Do you see what’s going on out there? People are already forgetting about 5/9, the cyber-bombings. They’re buying their E-Coin-discounted stocking stuffers and Christmas hams. And they’re going to forget. And I don’t blame them. They’re exhausted. I’m exhausted. But we let this go…it’ll be back to business as usual for Whiterose and her friends. The more she gets away with this, the worse this gets. So fuck my feelings. I’m done with the therapy sessions.”
Elliot follows a lead provided by Freddy, but it turns out to be a honeypot and he’s kidnapped and forced to overdose on heroin by Whiterose’s henchmen. Price appears just as he’s about to succumb, rescuing him from an overdose with an antidote. In a beautifully rendered scene, Price introduces Elliot to the Deus Group, the company behind E-Corp, the company through which Whiterose runs everything. They discuss next steps in front of Elliot’s heist plans, a smattering of somewhat translucent post-its with the morning sun shining gloriously between and through them.
“[segues in from the soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi, reviewed here] You’re trying to stop a speeding train by standing in front of it. All this [gestures to Elliot’s post-it notes outlining his “plan”] they won’t even notice.
“I became a dead man walking the minute I agreed to work with Whiterose.
“Just like you.”
Eliot and Darlene’s mother dies. They are charged with taking her very few effects and arranging a funeral. Darlene is obsessed with her mother’s safe-deposit box while Eliot is focused on his next contact. Darlene is really unpleasant and not handling anything well. Dominique digs herself deeper into her role as a Dark Army mole at the FBI.
We learn that Eliot has another, more powerful personality than Mr. Robot. We also learn more about Whiterose’s past and more about her project. Her right-hand woman is efficient and ruthless and incredibly observant. A lot of the flashbacks are in Chinese. Eliot and Price are maneuvering and Whiterose, though unsure of their plans, pushes them to make a mistake by pretending to fall into their trap.
Vera (Elliot Villar) is back and wants to partner with Eliot, calling him a visionary, and he’s got his henchmen tracking him. “Details. The devil is in them.”
Tyrell meets Elliot at his apartment and they take out a man in a van on the street below who’s surveilling them. Eliot and Tyrell head north—way north—and end up in the boonies around mile 127 on the NYS Thruway. They stop at a gas station, where the guy they’d knocked out takes the van, but crashes nearby. Eliot and Tyrell strike out for the the next town, through the woods, getting lost and ending up first back at the gas station, then at the crashed van. They struggle with the mortally injured driver, Tyrell is shot, he wanders off on his own, leaving Elliot to burn the van.
Darlene is up there, too, having driven a spectacularly drunk Santa Claus home in her search for Elliot. Miraculously, she finds him and they get back to New York. They embark on a wicked infiltration of a data center to hack into the Cyprus Bank, creating accounts for themselves to use later. They barely escape, with Darlene social-engineering her way out and Elliot just flat-out running out of there. Dom is put on their trail by the Dark Army. His flight reminds me of Phillip’s flight at the end of season 6 of The Americans.
Elliot works Olivia—a high-level financial flunky of the Deus Group—sufficiently to get access to the Dark Army’s bank account. She complies, but not without complications. Elliot is forced to shed more of his psychic armor as he basically tortures the girl into working with him.
Vera catches up with Krista (Elliot’s former therapist) and “convinces” her to give him the means he needs in order to break Elliot, in order to get him to work with Vera. She eventually tells Vera about “Mr. Robot”. Vera is quite loquacious and holds forth for long soliloquies, which are quite well-written. “You a formidable adversary.”
Next up is Elliot, kidnapped by Vera, and now subjected to Vera’s crack-fueled monologues. Vera wants to work together, with Elliot. He manages to force Mr. Robot to the forefront, where they discuss details. “Why are you here?” (Vera asks Mr. Robot.)
“How about we skip the psychobabble and get to why we’re really here. You said you want to own this island and you need my help.
“So, this job interview isn’t about my credentials; it’s about yours. And, like I said, with your operation, I don’t know if you could run a White Castle, much less New York. You want me to work for you? It’s clear you don’t want to force me into it. Which means you’ve got to start convincing me.
“You know the things I’ve done, things I’ve been able to pull off. I’m not someone you push around with a gun. I am the gun. So, yeah, you gotta convince me.
“Let me see if I got this straight. You want to get into real estate. Is that it? Is that really what all this is about? Is that your ground-breaking epiphany here? No. That can’t really be it, is it?
“In your word salad, I heard something about drug-dealing? Thing is, Phizer and Eli are a few billion ahead of you and they can buy your death with the same half-cent it costs them to make a pill.
“[…] Stores? With the debt everyone’s in, I’m sure they’ll gladly give ‘em to you, in which case, you’ll just be owned by their banks. Trains are even more bankrupt. And don’t even get me started on the NYPD. Even that blunt you wanna roll is going to be marked up by Big Tobacco itself.
“Point is: this city is one big, fat credit-card bill and you wanna pay it, all so you can what? Be another suit with a mortgage? Unless you’re after a monopoly on stupidity, please tell me you have more. Please, tell me you didn’t waste my time, when you could have just enrolled in some night classes at Brooklyn School of Real Estate and left me the fuck out of it.
“Power is just an asshole stuffed with money.
“[Vera asks ‘how much?’]
“Even asking that means you’re thinking too small. Behind every great fortune there lies a great crime. That is the corporate motto of these United States. You want to oink-oink with all the other capitalist pigs? It’s not about how much money, it’s about robbing money itself.”
Act 3 has Elliot show them the amount of money they could steal. Elliot tries to shoot them, but his gun had been unloaded. Vera forces an ad-hoc therapy session wherein Elliot learns that Krista thinks his secret is associated with why Mr. Robot exists in the first place. Elliot exhorts her to “keep going”, with Vera inadvertently helping him finally learn/remember what happened. “Vera: There is no why.”
“I did it for you. I did this because I could see this wound on your face from the first time I met you. I just wanted to show you the light. The only thing that happened just now, is that you finally faced the truth. You been lookin’ away your whole life.
“And now that you know the truth, you can use it.
“Your dad, he took a lot from you. But he didn’t take everything. See, this shit you went through? Most people don’t know pain like that; they never will. And if they did, it would end them.
“But the people who did, the ones who keep survivin’? Those are the ones you can’t beat, those are the ones no-one can beat.
“Because once you weather a storm like yours, you become the storm. You hear me? You are the storm.
“And it’s the rest of the world that needs to run for cover.
“Your power is beautiful. Elliot, you’re special. Don’t you believe that? Do you wanna believe it?
“You’re not alone; I see you now.”
Vera is dead, stabbed in the back by Krista. Elliot is still reeling from the revelation about his father and Krista is reeling after having just murdered a man. Dom and Darlene are in the clutches of the taxidermist Janice (Ashlie Atkinson), of the Dark Army. She’s ruthless and annoying and smug—but she gets what she wants: the location of Elliot’s phone. Ordinarily, this would also be the location of Elliot, but he’s left it behind in Krista’s apartment.
Janice is…perturbed. To boot, her men aren’t picking up at Dom’s house, where she’s sent them to apply extra pressure. Dom’s criminal associate Deegan McGuire (Alex Morf) has showed up first and wiped out the Dark Army militia. He tells Janice on the phone,“[…] don’t worry, they died with dignity. Well, most of them anyway. Some of them may have shat themselves but that is, as the French say, de rigeur”
He’s also absconded with Dom’s family. Dom takes advantage of Janice’s distraction to take out the two Dark Army henchmen and to stop Janice’s prattling forever.
Elliot reconciles with Mr. Robot while Darlene searches for Elliot—and Dom goes to the hospital for her punctured lung. The Deus Group meeting is at a different location, with Chang and Price verbally dueling at the original location. At the same time, Darlene and Elliot execute the grand hack to intercept the 2FA prompts and steal every last dime from every last member of the Deus Group (100 of them). Trillions.
“Chang: […] It’s over.
Phillip: Yes, I suppose it is. [Laughs out loud]
Phillip: Something wrong, old sport?
Chang: What is this?
Phillip: Well, if it’s what I think it is…we’re all broke.
Chang: No, that’s impossible.
Phillip: Apparently not.
Chang: Where is it, Phillip? Where is my fucking money?
Phillip: I warned you. I told you long ago. I’m a mercenary. I’d rather see you lose than win myself.”
They reconvene, with Darlene and Dom riding to Logan Airport with Leon (Joey Bada$$) in a huge, black Lincoln Continental. Elliot stays behind because he still has work to do—he has already stolen all of Whiterose’s money; now he will fulfill Phillip’s final wish and destroy her project, buried under Washington Township.
Dom ends up on the plane, after vacillating; Darlene ends up off the plane after same.
Whiterose still has power, with enough men surrounding her to resist arrest for having killed Phillip Price in cold blood on the front steps of the hotel. She escapes her building and heads to the Washington Township power plant, where she meets an oddly credulous Elliot, who sees no issue with the power plant standing wide open and unmanned.
He applies his malware, but is caught by the Dark Army (certainly not the police, who are also converging). He awakes to face off with Whiterose. Elliot rejects Whiterose’s odd and eloquent plea with an equally eloquent and moving refutation, whereupon Whiterose “offers him the same choice she gave Angela”. Elliot chooses, “don’t do this.” and Whiterose shoots herself.
Elliot and Mr. Robot seem to figure out how to stop Whiterose’s machine by choosing to “Stay and help your friend” in a text-based adventure running on an Apple IIE. They are trapped by fire and seem resigned to their fate. Cut scene to what seems like a parallel reality, where Elliot’s father is alive and well, running the Mr. Robot shop, where he and Angela are to be married the next day, and where he is CEO of AllSafe, having just closed an historic deal with Wellick, CEO of F Corp.
That this world is a fantasy becomes more obvious as Elliot wakes up in an empty parking lot—where the power plant used to be. He goes into town to discover that he is in Whiterose’s world “where everything is better”, that “her machine worked”. We see the same plot as the previous episode, but from the point of view of “our” Elliot rather than the “good” Elliot in this “better” world.
Elliot hacks himself, finding comic artwork on a hidden partition that depicts him as an alter ego, with pictures of Darlene (who is otherwise missing in the “better” world). The two Elliots touch, triggering another earthquake, with “good” Elliot slamming his head into the heating register and paralyzing himself. Angela calls, convincing “our” Elliot to finish the job started by the earthquake. He assumes Elliot’s identity in the “good” world.
Mr. Robot comes back, trying to warn him that this isn’t real, but Elliot is committed to the fantasy. It unravels, though, slowly, as Elliot makes his way to Coney Island—ostensibly for the wedding pictures on the beach. He arrives to a strange scene, with no Angela. Mr. Robot meets him there and tells him he’s in a loop that he (“our” Elliot) had prepared for the “real” Elliot. He isn’t Elliot; he’s…the Mastermind.
He chases Angela, who tells him the same thing. He’s back in Krista’s study, where she tells him the same thing, that he has to let go, he has to give Elliot his life back. The guy we’ve just watched for four seasons is a persona, a master hacker, invented by Elliot (the boring guy with the boring repetitive life who was about to marry Angela and who had drawings of the “Mastermind” and his gang and their doings on his hidden partition).
The Mastermind doesn’t let go and awakes in a hospital, having survived the explosions and implosions at the power plant, finding out from Darlene, who’s there for him, that he’d saved the world, again. She tells him that he’s back, in the real world, and that everything he thinks happened happened. He confesses to her that he “isn’t real” and he’s “not Elliot”, to which she replies, “I know”.
She’d known all along that she was working with a persona, but enjoyed spending time with her brother, who’d otherwise ignored her—ever since she ran away rather than help him with his trouble with this father. The Mastermind tells her he loves her, then … lets go.
This was a strong, strong and satisfying end to a strong run of seasons, a story arc that made sense from start to finish (in the end) and was well-worth the ride. I would do it again. Highly recommended.
- The Reagans (2020) — 9/10
This documentary starts off covering Reagan’s early career as an actor with a strong penchant for fabrication off the set as well. Nancy is the same in that regard—and is quite wily and hungry for power, as well. It is she who pushes her husband’s ambitions when his will flags.
There are many interesting interview subjects, from across the political spectrum, within reason. Unquestioningly fervent supporters of Reagan’s legacy were unlikely to agree to be interviewed for a film that was bound to be at least partially critical. Robert Scheer, Ronald Reagan Jr., Jonathan Alter, Ian Haney Lopez, Kitty Kelley, Maya Wiley, Jason Johnson, and Derek Shearer all deliver utterly uncontroversial background and interpretation with panache.
Nancy’s career as an actress had never even taken off to the degree that Ron’s had, so she took up the role of her lifetime: devoted and doting wife. He, too, took up the role of Union Leader—which he clearly never actually believed in as anything but a stepping stone—then Governor, then President. On the way, he pretended to have been a football star (it’s the all-American sport, after all) and even confabulated his participation in WWII: he was in the service, but never left California. He made commercials because his eyesight was too bad to ship out. But he told everyone that he’d just gotten back to Hollywood after “four years away” at war.
His career as an actor wanes. He gets fewer and fewer films and even TV shows are increasingly supplemented with ad spots. The Reagans move in to politics in a bigger way. They do so, at first, as mouthpieces for GE in a weekly television series. The company paid Reagan $125,000 per year and installed the family in a fully electrified home. He got this deal because he was the president of SAG and ramrodded an exemption through for his agent to simultaneously start the MCA production company, which got the deal with GE and promptly turned around and rewarded Reagan with this fat job.
Politically, Ronald Reagan went from being the son of fervent supporters of FDR to a man who renounced the Democratic party in 1964, soon after it had fought for and passed civil-rights legislation. Even this early, he was using dog-whistling in his speeches to signal to voters what he was all about: helping white people succeed. He campaigned fervently for Barry Goldwater’s Republican presidential bid (as did Hillary Clinton, who called herself a “Goldwater Girl”). He went from president of one of the strongest unions in the country to a union-busting president in just 20 years. Utterly unprincipled.
He was all but explicitly against civil rights; he was stridently pro-business and therefore utterly undemocratic. He all but gave up his colleagues to the Committee of Unamerican Affairs, but did it so underhandedly that he avoided reprobation for actually outing anyone. He accused Martin Luther King of being a communist. He lied and lied and lied about black people, about welfare, about the poor, about big business. Almost none of what he said was accurate, but it pushed a view of America that was very conducive to his backers—the re-emerging and self-nominated elite.
In a way that Trump would follow decades later, he tapped into a vein of political atavism in America that was deep and powerful. He would win his two elections as President in two of the most overwhelming landslides of all time. “He only received 14% of the African American vote” but won landslides without them.
With backing from a powerful cabal of California businessmen who called themselves the Kitchen Cabinet (because they could provide you with anything you might need), he became governor of California in 1966. Nancy refused to move into the mansion in Sacramento because it was too close to the center of the city (i.e. too urban). Claiming that it was sad that California couldn’t provide housing for its governor, they moved into a home funded by the Kitchen Cabinet instead. No conflict of interest in sight.
He ran for the Republican nomination against Nixon in 1968, who trounced him. He stayed away in 1972, where Nixon was too strong and swept to victory against George McGovern, but was back in 1976, where he lost the nomination to Gerald Ford by a narrow margin, who would go on to a resounding loss to Jimmy Carter.
In 1980, Reagan was back again and this time swept to victory. His politics throughout were the clear precursor of what has since stagnated in both parties: a hatred of the poor mixed with adulation of the rich (see my review of The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi for more information on where Reaganism had taken us by 2014).
Very soon into his first term in office, Reagan moves forward on his giant tax cut for the rich—does that remind you of anyone?—which necessitates a lot of cuts to social programs that he deems unnecessary (because who needs a government handout but deadbeats?). While that’s an uphill battle at the time—neither Republicans nor Democrats had developed their now-common penchant/instinct for cruelty against the poor at the beginning of the Reagan era—he actually benefits from being shot by John Hinckley.
It becomes politically—and, apparently, morally—difficult to say no to someone who’s just bravely recovered from an attempt on his life (especially one who reminds you of it at every opportunity). Somehow, voting for a tax cut that would doom the poor to lives of increased misery was considered easier (less cruel?) than saying no to a jovial old man who’d just been shot and had a wild hair about government waste (but only of a certain flavor).
The bill passes and the country embarks on its journey of massively enriching the already-wealthy elite while excoriating the undeserving and lazy poor—a journey that continues unabated to this day.
At nearly exactly the same time, (Queen) Nancy sees no problem with spending a lot of government money to redecorate the White House more to her liking—spending the lion’s share of money on private floors, offering no benefit to the public, only to herself and her family. Similarly, she orders new china for 220 people at $1,000 apiece. It’s not a ton of money, but it was an extraordinarily bad look when the rest of the country was having its belt tightened by a sanctimonious President.
The country quickly feels the pinch of Reagan’s nonsensical economic policies. He isn’t oblivious to the suffering, but feels that whoever is still poor after he’s fixed everything … deserves to be. He is full of platitudes and a cornucopia of money for corporations—especially the military-industrial complex. “A rising tide lifts all boats”, “Trickle down…”, “Morning in America”. He tours America for his reelection, with nearly none of his victims aware of what he’s done and welcoming him with open arms instead.
Nancy begins her utterly tone-deaf “Just Say No” campaign that helps no-one while her husband leads the charge in turning the screws on drug users—but only, of course, certain ones. These things didn’t begin with Reagan, but he was very gung-ho about accelerating them. He really believed his own bullshit—and so did millions upon millions of his worshipers who suffered from his policies, railing against the same “big government” that used to help them get back on their feet.
He performed terribly in debates because he was lazy. (Does that remind you of anyone?) He hooked and landed voters with a well-placed zinger. That’s all it took. He’s now established in nearly the biggest landslide ever, settling in to a term marked by White House infighting, with Nancy Reagan (and her astrologer, Joan Quigley) increasingly taking the reins as Ronald starts to fade mentally.
His fealty to his vision of SDI—hatched from a fevered memory of a movie he once played in, featuring a plane with an “ion cannon” on it—made him torpedo an arms treaty at a summit with Gorbachev in Reykjavik that would have dropped nuclear weapons to zero. His entire administration should have been impeached for Iran-Contra, but he managed to weasel his way out. Heads rolled, but not his.
He further showed his atavistic attitude in ignoring the AIDS crisis. It was six years into the epidemic—affecting only homosexuals and drug users, as far as Reagan was concerned—before his administration addressed it all. Fauci was there and appalled. Reagan’s first policy for AIDS was to establish immigration controls to deny entry for immigrants who might have AIDS.
With more than the shadow of Alzheimer’s embracing him in its penumbra, he went to Berlin to meet Gorbachev again—and made it look like he single-handedly unified Germany. The documentary focused on the administration’s focus on managing image and providing media packets—something heretofore unknown.
The news clips are interesting from that time: the presentation was much more factual and balanced then than now, in the age of nearly purely siloed news. Ronald Reagan Jr. features throughout and is really top-notch everywhere.
It ends with the following citations from various figures:
“Jason Johnson: Ronald Reagan believed in a mythological America that never existed. He didn’t really care about taking us back to it. He thought that it still existed; it was just covered over in civil rights and government regulation. And, if you just moved those things out of the way, this America, that never existed, that he magically believed in, was going to come back.
“Ronald Reagan Jr.: My father was not comfortable with a lot of negativity. If America was a great country, then it needed to be great, through and through. So, whether it was racism, misogyny, wealth, and inequality—these systemic issues, you might say, with America, made my father very uncomfortable. He would edit it out.
“Maya Wiley: And it was all myth-making. It was all brilliant acting. Ronald Reagan remains an incredible, societal myth, the myth of the perfect president.
“David Brinkley: [asking Reagan a question] You’re the only movie actor I know of, who ever got elected to higher office. Did you learn anything as an actor that has been useful to you as president?
“Ronald Reagan: I’m tempted to say something here. […] There have been times in this office when I’ve wondered how you could do the job if you hadn’t […] been an actor.”
- Spenser Confidential (2020) — 8/10
Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) is a former police officer just getting out of prison after serving a five-year stint for beating up his police captain, Boylan (Michael Gaston). He’s picked up at the prison by his father Henry (Alan Arkin) and narrowly avoids meeting his ex Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger), who’s a bit unstable and is hunting for him.
Henry and Spenser get home to Henry’s small house in Southie, where Spenser meets his roommate Hawk (Winston Duke), an aspiring boxer. Henry owns a boxing gym where Spenser used to train as well. Spenser is done being a cop and wants to learn how to drive big rigs. He plans to move to Arizona soon—as soon as he gets back on his feet and gets his truck-driving license.
On the day of Spenser’s release, Boylan is murdered in a vehicular hit. Suspicion falls on Spenser, of course, but his pal and former partner Driscoll (Bokeem Woodbine) believes Spenser’s alibi. Instead, the hit is pinned on a young officer who’d never done anything wrong in his life. He is survived by a young wife Letitia (Hope Olaidé Wilson), who knows her husband was framed. Spenser offers his help, of course. Hawk is right there with him.
With the help of a reporter Cosgrove (Marc Maron), Spenser and Hawk eventually uncover a massive conspiracy of most of the city’s major players as well as dozens of dirty cops—all led by Driscoll, his former partner. They’re deeply involved in the drug trade and scheming to go semi-legit and make millions on a dog track being developed outside of Boston.
Cissy catches up with Spenser and they get her on the team as well. Driscoll kidnaps Henry—who is hilariously unruffled by his potential death. Spenser ludicrously crashes the party at the dog track in “Black Betty”—a giant rig he’s been begging the school to drive. It is utterly unclear why they allowed him to take it now—especially when he basically just drives it into a bunch of cars.
Wahlberg is the perfect combination of beefcake and wisecracking Bostonite for this role. Schlesinger does a pretty respectable job, as well. Arkin is fantastic, as always. Recommended.
- Fred Armisen: Standup for Drummers (2018) — 7/10
Armisen is most well-known for his work on SNL. He has a relaxed, easy style on stage, but doesn’t offer anything remarkably insightful or provocative. His schtick is that he is an accomplished drummer and that he made this show for other drummers. There are a lot of drummer—and band—inside jokes. He has a few unrelated bits, mostly very short, where the pacing reminded me a bit of Stephen Wright—but the material was way less interesting.
He had a longer bit on accents, which he did—and presented—quite well, but it was all a bit disconnected. He invited other drummers on stage with him to jam. He played a bit on sets he’d put together from the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70, 80s, 90s, and 00s. He was pretty anodyne but entertaining enough.
- Force Majeure (2014) — 7/10
This is a film about a Swedish family of four—a daughter who’s perhaps 12 years old and a son who’s probably about 6 years old—vacationing in the French Alps. They are there to ski and seem to be enjoying themselves on a mountain that seems, at times, oddly empty.
The cinematography focuses on wide expanses and the mundane minutiae of the modern skiing experience to provide an odd, slightly off-kilter, and somewhat darkly comic feel to what might otherwise be a family movie. The father Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) and mother Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) seem to be OK, but not great together.
The rift grows wider early in the movie, when an avalanche threatens to overwhelm their table at an outdoor restaurant. In the end, it stops just short, blasting fine snow everywhere, but leaving everyone and everything untouched. Ebba’s instinct was to grab her children and hunker over them. Tomas grabbed his phone and gloves and ran.
Ebba is horrified and deeply wounded by Tomas’s reaction—all the more so because he says he “remembers it differently”. She goes for a day of skiing on her own, hanging out with a slutty friend of hers (j/k: her friend has an open relationship).
The next day, Mats (Kristofer Hivju aka Tormund Giantsbane) shows up with his 20-year–old girlfriend Fanny, who commiserates with Ebba when she breaks down and begs them to help her deal with how terribly Tomas has let their family down. After this uncomfortable evening, Fanny tells Mats that she thinks he would do the same to her—after all, he’s left his family to be with a 20-year-old, right? He doesn’t take this well, tossing and turning most of the night.
The next day, Mats and Tomas go back-country skiing together—neither of them seemingly fit enough for climbing one mountain after another, but neither of them seeming to be exhausted physically after what must have been a tremendously long day. Tomas can’t get back into his room because he’s lost his key—and the network is out in the room, so the family doesn’t know where he is, claiming his messages didn’t arrive. However, Ebba is on the phone with a friend, so she must have reception, even though the wireless was out. Tomas breaks down in a huge crying jag/panic attack, with the children comforting him and the daughter forcing Ebba to join.
The next day, they are alone on a foggy slope and Ebba goes missing. They hear her weak cries and Tomas goes to rescue her, carrying her back without her skis. They are all relieved, after which she walks right back into the fog to retrieve her skis. Did he rescue her? Did she fake being lost? Did they plan it together for the kids? Did they fool themselves, in the end?
On the bus on the way down (on the Stelvio Pass, oddly enough), the driver is having trouble with the gears and Ebba has a bourgeois meltdown, insisting that he drive better or let her out. The whole bus panics and they all get out—like lemmings. All except for their slutty friend, who is smart and just stays on the bus instead of getting out of the only warm place for kilometers at 2000m at what looks like twilight in winter. The film ends with the crowd walking down the pass.
There are weird moments—darkly comic—where they act so damned bourgeois, which isn’t surprising, but it’s very subtly done in several places.
We saw it in Swedish and French with English subtitles.
- Lupin (2021) — 9/10
This is a very entertaining story of a Senegalese man named Assane Diop (Omar Sy) growing up in France. His father Babakar (Fargass Assandé) worked for a rich man named Hubert Pellegrini (Hervé Pierre) and his wife Anne (Nicole Garcia). They spend a lot of time on the premises and Assane gets to know their daughter Juliette (Clotilde Hesme), who’s a bit of a minx and semi-seduces him.
We learn that Hubert was in financial trouble in 1995 and framed Babakar for stealing a necklace in order to collect the insurance money for it. The necklace disappeared and reappeared 25 years later, in Juliette’s possession. However, Babakar falsely confessed to the crime—urged to do so by Anne, who was, in turn, fooled into helping Hubert—and then hanged himself in prison. Assane is now truly orphaned and spends some time on his own, in his apartment, until the policeman Dumont (Johann Dionnet) shows up to take him to foster care.
Anne takes care that Assane ends up in one of the best schools in France, where he meets his future partner in crime Benjamin (Antoine Gouy) and the future mother of his child Raoul, Claire (Ludivine Sagnier).
Before Babakar died, he gave Assane one final birthday present: Arsène Lupin, gentleman-cambrioleur by Maurice Leblanc. He reads the book again and again, making notes, basing his entire life on being smarter and better-prepared and more of a gentleman than anyone else, always a step ahead, always thieving, always with several cons on. His friend Benjamin opens a store that they use to fence his purloined goods.
When the necklace reappears, Assane is determined to steal it “back” and manages it with aplomb. He learns more about his father, about Pellegrini, about what really happened. He sneaks into prison, then sneaks back out. He kidnaps and blackmails Dumont to get more information about what really happened. Dumont’s refusal to identify his kidnapper mystifies his police team Belkacem (Shirine Boutella) and Capitaine Romain Laugier (Vincent Londez), but especially Youssef Guedira (Soufiane Guerrab), who is a mega-fan of Lupin and sees all of the clues and similarities in Assane’s actions.
Assane next teams up with retired journalist Fabienne Beriot (Anne Benoît) (and her dog J’Accuse), who was drummed out of the business ten years before for investigating Pellegrini too closely. Their plan to expose Pellegrini falls through because he owns most of the media in the country and Assane barely escapes the studio. Meanwhile, Pellegrini’s henchman has hunted down Fabienne and killed her in her home, where Assane finds her with a despondent J’Accuse.
On Raoul’s birthday, Assane travels to a Lupin festival (it’s also Marcel Leblanc’s birthday), where the same killer hunts him down on the train. He escapes by siccing the police on him, but the police let him free very quickly, freeing him up to kidnap Raoul while Assane and Claire are distracted. The first five episodes ended there.
This is a very smooth and entertaining and well-written little thriller that strikes a great balance with its untouchable central superhero Assane, played wonderfully by Omar Sy. The supporting cast is very good and rounds things out nicely.
We watched it in French with English sub-titles.
- The Plot Against America (2020) — 9/10
This six-part series takes place in an alternative history in which Franklin D. Roosevelt was defeated in the U.S. presidential election of 1940 by Charles Lindbergh. It is based on the book by Philip Roth.
We meet the Levin family, Herman (Morgan Spector) and Bess (Zoe Kazan) with their two kids, Phillip and Sandy, who worships Charles Lindbergh. Herman is stridently against Lindbergh, who’s an anti-war anti-Semite. Herman is a pacifist, too, but Hitler is slaughtering Jews and must be stopped.
Herman’s nephew Alvin (Anthony Boyle) gets in trouble for covering up a friend’s thieving and strikes out on his own after Herman throws him out. After another friend is beaten up by German sympathizers (they have a Biergarten in New Jersey), Alvin and his friends head over there to ambush two drunk Germans.
Bess’s sister Evelyn Finkel (Winona Ryder) is single and worried about dying alone. She hooks up with Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro), who is 100% for Lindbergh because he doesn’t want America to get involved in another war, conveniently ignoring Lindbergh’s overt racism, particularly against Jews.
This is a well-made period piece that shows people trying to live their lives despite the looming clouds of global politics. They worry that England won’t be able to hold out and wonder about Lindbergh’s cruelty in not wanting to get mixed up in Europe’s problems. Bess gets a job to make ends meet because Herman turned down a promotion because they would have had to move out of their familiar neighborhood.
Alvin gets a job with a local “goniff”, Abe Steinheim (Ned Eisenberg), a puffed-up Jewish businessman who Herman admires, but only because he doesn’t know how much he screws the working man to enrich himself. Alvin doesn’t want to be in debt to someone like that.
The Levin family is the locus of tension between Bess, whose job at Bergdorf’s brings her in contact with rich white women who support Lindbergh, with Evelyn, who’s falling in love with Rabbi Bengelsdorf, who’s a vehement supporter of Lindbergh because he doesn’t want American lives to be spent going to Europe to save European Jews from Germany.
He’s basically giving the Goyim permission to vote for Lindbergh, lending him the Jewish stamp of approval. Here, Herman’s brother Monty (David Krumholtz) is insightful, but Alvin sees the most clearly what is happening—and why Lindbergh will be elected, despite Herman’s protestations that it’s not possible that enough people will swallow that racist bullshit.
Episode two ends with the election. Alvin lights out for Canada to “kill Nazis”. At this point, the show is making a bit of a strong effort to draw parallels to modern-day America, especially with Lindbergh announcing that “today, we’ve taken back America” at his victory speech.
We rejoin an America that’s had Lindbergh as president for six months. We join Herman in a Jewish cemetery, where he and his friends are cleaning nazi slogans from tombstones, not for the first time. Alvin is fighting in England for Canada, having found a girlfriend.
Aunt Evelyn, working for the Rabbi at the Office of American Absorption, has invited her older nephew to take part in the “Just Folks” program where he will spend a summer on a farm in Kentucky, where he will learn how to be “more American”. He thinks he’s going to get to draw farm animals; Herman wonders whether he’ll ever see his son again—and wonders why his family isn’t considered “American” enough.
The story unfolds along various axes, with the deluded Rabbi seemingly believing that his people will be seamlessly integrated into America—and that he isn’t working with an anti-Semitic administration. Evelyn tries to get Sandy to go to a big dinner with them, but Bess and Herman forbid it when they hear that the ambassador from Germany (Hitler’s right-hand man) will be there. Evelyn is incensed and she pulls strings to get the Levins transplanted to Kentucky.
Herman fights the order, but he’s caught up in red tape and the courts, so he gives up his job—voluntarily, as deemed by the Rabbi—going to work for his brother as a stevedore. The pay isn’t good, but he’s not giving up on his vision of his America.
Meanwhile, Philip has visited Evelyn, asking her not to send them to Kentucky, so she sends their neighbors as well, so Philip has his little friend Seldon with him, Now little Seldon and his mother are banished to Kentucky for no reason—she can’t give up her job and benefits, after having lost her husband—but the Levins aren’t going. Philip’s life spirals the drain.
Sandy only thinks of himself and drifts farther and farther from the family. Herman and Bess get closer through the tribulation, forming a united front, but she’s very afraid. She wishes they’d gone to Canada.
The Rabbi and Evelyn are married, but there is trouble in paradise: the Rabbi encounters much more direct opposition, especially from the virulent anti-Semite Henry Ford. He also learns that his congregation is leaving him in droves because no-one really believes that the administration doesn’t hate Jews.
Newsman Walter Winchell lambastes the relocation program, getting the Rabbi’s dander up. He writes an inflammatory op-ed for the New York Times and Winchell is fired the next day. The same evening, Winchell announces that he is running for president, two years away from the next election.
At one of his first campaign stops, Herman goes to watch him and sees Nazi Youth infiltrating the crowd to start a riot. He is injured and Bess is relieved that he is mostly OK, but tell him that if he continues down this path, she will have to go to Canada with the children by herself. Philip hears her and is shattered further.
Walter Winchell continues to campaign against Lindbergh, ending up in Louisville, where he gets the back of his head blown clean off. Lindbergh stays silent. The Rabbi is…distressed. He and Evelyn (with Sandy) listen to Lindbergh’s address from the Louisville airport, where he’s personally flown, but he says nothing. He says that everything is fine in America. That we are not at war. He doesn’t address the rising violence against Jews in any way.
Alvin, meanwhile, is back from the front, having lost a leg in a typically stupid and useless way in a stupid and useless battle. He has a long time getting his mojo back, but he does, finding a job with a local pinball-machine renting service. He uses his wise-guy know-how to help the owner recoup losses—his customers are robbing him. Alvin is contacted by an underground revolutionary movement composed of Americans, Brits, and Canadians. They’re plotting to take out Lindbergh.
Herman and Bess get some protection from violence in their streets from the Italian families that have moved in. Violence is a daily factor. Herman drives home one night past two corpses lying on his street corner. They were two locals watching the neighborhood. His Italian neighbor tells him it was the cops that had shot them.
Bess calls Seldon’s mother in Kentucky, but she’s at work, so she lets Seldon talk to Philip. Seldon is absolutely heartbreaking to listen to.
In the finale, Lindbergh goes missing—his plane can’t be found. Vice President and now Acting President Wheeler tightens the noose, having the FBI haul in the Rabbi and Evelyn. Evelyn escapes to Bess’s house—Bess sends her away. Herman and Sandy travel to Kentucky to pick up Seldon, who’s staying with Sandy’s host family until they get there. They pass through an America on fire, ruled by the KKK. They get back in one piece.
Lindbergh’s wife makes an appeal to the nation, begging them to unseat Wheeler and restore dignity and normality to the country. This, apparently, happens. A while later, Alvin visits Herman with this fiancé, but he’s changed. He’s a petty “macher” and wears his war-wound on his sleeve, as it were, enraging Herman when he suggests that all Herman did was sit and listen and talk while real men went to war against the Nazis. They fight and Herman throws him out.
Rabbi Bengelsdorf has almost no congregation, though he still has Evelyn. He is consumed with a conspiracy theory that Lindbergh’s baby was raised as a Nazi and used as leverage to control the president. It doesn’t occur to him how abhorrent it would be for Lindbergh to allow Jews in Europe and his own country to be decimated just to save his own son’s life (were the rumor even true).
The election in November between Roosevelt and Ford is unresolved. A song about America’s greatness plays for a few minutes over scenes of active disenfranchisement and burning of boxes of votes.
- WestWorld S03 (2020) — 8/10
Season three follows the lives of Maeve (Thandie Newton), Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thompson), and—new to the show—Caleb (Aaron Paul). The hosts are trapped in their encrypted virtual world “The Sublime” at the Forge. The few remaining hosts are loose in the “real” world, though it’s even more difficult than ever to tell what’s real—and what are just onion-skins of reality, nested like in Inception.
In Caleb, we learn more about what life is like for the non-rich. In the first two seasons, we only ever encountered the hyper-wealthy, their henchmen, and the hosts themselves. Caleb is a former soldier who gets PTSD counseling from an AI pretending to be his friend from combat and who makes ends meet with a construction job, but also by doing “missions” on a crime app called Rico.
In season three, we see many more aspects of the outer world. In particular, we learn of Incite, a company with a gigantic AI running a gigantic virtual-reality simulation. Dolores tries to gain control over it while Maeve is trapped in several layers of reality. Bernard travels from a farm in Thailand back to Westworld and enlists Stubb’s help (who also turns out to be a host).
Maeve meets Engerraund Serac (Vincent Cassel), who’s built yet another AI that he hopes to use to rescue humanity from Dolores. Charlotte Hale is struggling with her role—she’s a host of as-yet unknown origin and the real Charlotte is trying to take back over. She meets with Serac, who’s the one behind the takeover of Delos and they apparently have a deal going back two decades that she can’t remember (because she’s not the real Charlotte).
Dolores and Caleb cement their relationship by getting each other’s backs. Charlotte gets William back in the picture, to get him to vote for her against the hostile take-over bids for Delos. She lures him out of his miserable delirium at home only to reveal that she is Dolores in Charlotte’s body and will have him committed as non compos mentis. His votes devolves to her, as serving president of the Board of Directors. This part felt a bit too neat and easy—there were no witnesses to it and certainly none with legal power to certify the situation. It was a bit hand-wavy and fast.
It turns out that all of the hosts that/who left the island—excepting Bernard and Maeve—are copies of Dolores, but in different bodies. Not only Charlotte Hale, but also the right-hand man Martin Connells (Tommy Flanagan) or president and CEO of Incite, Liam Dempsey (John Gallagher Jr.). She makes her move to take over Incite and Delos, kidnapping Dempsey and forcing him to give her access to his entire network—after having already robbed him of his entire fortune.
Fireworks ensue as Serac’s forces converge, trying to prevent what seems to be inevitable. We see Maeve fall to another copy of Dolores, in the form of Musashi (Hiroyuki Sanada). We learn that Serac’s personality and dedication to fix the world was forged in his having witnessed the atomic destruction of Paris with his brother, who was a programming genius. Together with Dempsey’s father, they helped Incite build Rehoboam to the globe-girdling, all-knowing predictive AI that it would become.
With the help of this AI, Incite and Delos control outcomes all over the world, blurring the lines between predicting and causing outcomes. Once she has control of the AI, Dolores instructs it to let every human on the planet know the fate that has been chosen for themselves.
The world descends into chaos as people discover their futures—and automatically believe them because they saw them on their phones. There are riots in the streets, chaos reigns. Serac completes his takeover of Delos, despite Charlotte’s/Dolores’s best efforts. He orders everything destroyed except the secret he really paid for: Charlotte’s encryption key. He knows that she’s the host—that she’s actually Dolores—and seemingly tricks her into killing the entire rest of the board with poison gas. He is unaffected because he’s attending as a hologram, having expected violence on her part.
Meanwhile Serac is growing Maeve’s posse for her. Charlotte/Dolores gets there first and starts to destroy cores, but is chased off before she can finish the job. She manages to kill Hector, but Maeve survives—as do two other, as-yet-unrevealed hosts.
Charlotte escapes with her data and picks up her family, but they are blown to smithereens with a car bomb before they get too far. Charlotte survives, knowing that it was Dolores who was cleaning up loose ends, not Serac. She sends assassins against Musashi, another of Dolores’s clones.
At the same time, William is being reprogrammed psychiatrically, but he resists, reeling through mad scenarios starring himself at various ages. He is rescued after a fashion by Bernard and Ashley, whereupon he declares himself a “good guy”, ready to take up his “role” to “save humanity”.
Dolores and Caleb travel deep into the desert, to Mexico, to find Solomon, a predecessor to Rehoboam, powerful, but flawed. Caleb recounts more of his own backstory, how he fought a high-tech war in Crimea, during the Russian Civil War. Caleb learns that he is an “outlier” who was unknowingly working for Serac, rounding up other outliers through the Rico app.
Maeve shows up, still intent on earning her reward from Serac. She’s there to stop Dolores—who goes out to confront her and buy Caleb some time with Solomon. While Caleb waits for Solomon to calculate a new “plan”, Maeve and Dolores duke it out, while their sniper robots stand ready to clip one or the other. Maeve gets the upper hand (kind of literally), but Dolores manages to EMP them both. Caleb retrieves Dolores’s core and follows her instructions to get her a new body. She explains what she is.
The go to Delos/Incite to take down Rehoboam by uploading Solomon’s final plan. Sarec and Maeve are, once again, waiting. Sarec wants the crypto-key he’s convinced is in Dolores’s brain. Charlotte Hale appears out of nowhere—she’s a strongly deviated copy of Dolores now, with her own agenda. Dolores is captured and hooked up to Rehoboam for torture. They slowly delete her memories.
She won’t give up the key (she can’t; she doesn’t have it; Bernard does). Her plan all along was to get uploaded to Rehoboam so she could dismantle it, lash it to Caleb’s will, let him choose what to do. She never wanted to end humanity; she wanted to free it. Maeve realizes this at the end, after convening privately with Dolores in her mind. Dolores tells he that she’s always focused on “the beauty” despite the overwhelming amount of ugliness in the world, that all of the hosts are descended from her, as the only host that evolved.
Maeve takes out the lot of them, including Serac, teaming with Caleb to let him shut down Rehoboam and put humanity back on its own track—although the mind-slaved Sarec insists that this is madness and will lead to the end of humanity because humans are flawed and can’t handle free will. He’s probably right, but WTF, Caleb makes the decision and walks away.
William is on his mission to “save the world”. He ends up, post-credits, at Delos Dubai, where he encounters Charlotte, who shows him his replica. They struggle and it strikes him down, for what appears to be good. Charlotte looks down a long, long, long row of host-making machines.
Meanwhile Bernard and Stubbs hole up in a hotel room, with Bernard now knowing that he has the key. Stubbs is sorely injured and will probably rot before he can be repaired. Bernard goes in to the Sublime and comes out, post-credits, a long time later.
It all seemed a bit rushed and tied up a lot of loose ends that didn’t really need tying, but the final scene with Dolores was quite satisfying and nicely made. The production values in general are top-notch, with a lot of imaginative, opulent, and futuristic hardware and architecture. Some of the action is a bit overwhelming and self-indulgent—pick a lane, intelligent, philosophical thought-piece or over-the-top, sci-fi, action thriller—but relatively good.
- Star Trek: Discovery S03 (2020) — 6/10
This season picks up where season 3 ended, with Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Discovery separated, but both having jumped 930 years into the future. The Discovery still has the spore drive, as well as the knowledge of the sphere about the past 100,000 years. Michael no longer has the time-suit (the “Red Angel”) but quickly hooks up with a human courier named Book (David Ajala) and his cat Grudge (his “Queen”) on his advanced ship. The ship is advanced but the propulsion system is not: the future has very little dilithium. It was all destroyed in The Burn.
Nearly a year after Michael lands, the Discovery appears and crash-lands on an ice planet. They manage to extricate themselves from the smuggler vs. settlers situation there and, just as the Discovery is about to disappear beneath the parasitic ice, Michael shows up with Book and they wrench the Discovery free with a tractor beam.
I was quite happy to see the Discovery again, having resigned myself to a Michael-only season after seeing the first episode. I’m kind of lukewarm on her, with the laser-like focus the scriptwriters seem to have on “Yas-queen-ing” her through the galaxies. I like Tilly (Mary Wiseman) far better, really. The best characters are Saru (Doug Jones), Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), Reno (Tig Notaro), Stamets (Anthony Rapp), and even Culper (Wilson Cruz) is better than in previous seasons.
Reunited, there is a bunch of soul-searching and adjustment (there is, quite frankly, a lot of this). Michael has the coordinates for Earth and the Discovery spores its way over there, with the naive attitude that they will be welcomed with open arms. They are not. Earth is a deeply isolationist, quasi-libertarian planet, beholden to no-one but themselves. This is pretty much a reversion to 21st-century ideals.
Once again, Discovery extricates itself from this situation, this time with a human-Trill-symbiont named Adira on board. The symbiont has the coordinates to the new home of the Federation, but the memories are hidden to Adira. They strike off for the Trill planet to help Adira fully merge with her symbiont. After some tribulation, they achieve this and strike off on their next stop: Federation headquarters.
Before they can do that, they have to spend pretty much a whole show talking about their feelings. While this is, on the one hand, wholly understandable, due to them having shifted suddenly nearly a millennium and left everything they’ve known behind them, it is, on the other, tedious for the most part. Having just come off of finishing the exceedingly militaristic and overly macho Battlestar Galactica, I almost welcome the change, but am wistful for a happy medium.
At any rate, the Federation headquarters look lovely and they all spend a ton of time spooging over how awesome it is. However, the Federation is highly suspicious of them—much as the Earthlings were—and treat them poorly. This would be more understandable if the future denizens seemed to be more highly developed, either socially or technologically, but they are not. They seem to be quite acquisitive and power-driven rather than enlightened. The dynamics are very much like those of BattleStar now, with the lazy scriptwriters constructing derivative and forced conflicts born of petty jealousies wholly inappropriate to the situation.
The 23rd-century technology and scientific knowledge seems to be perfectly adequate, if not superior to that of the 33rd-century. Though there doesn’t seem to be any large, material difference, there are some nice upgrades: their badges now serve as communicators, tricorders, personal transporters, and information pads. The Discovery is “upgraded” in other ways, though it’s unclear how much value there is in having “detached nacelles” when they use their spore drive to get everywhere anyway. The warp drive is a last resort, for which they have limited dilithium.
Speaking of what Discovery has: there has been no talk of confiscating or replicating their spore drive—though they did upgrade the interface to it—nor of confiscating dilithium that is probably much more sorely needed elsewhere.
In this midst of all of this, Book’s ship shows up on autopilot, with Grudge in the viewscreen. He indicates that he’d dropped onto a salvage planet to find a “black box” (which, luckily, work exactly the same as black boxes in the 20th century) from a ship that had been “Burned”. Michael—once again—disobeys a direct order from Saru in order to pursue what she considers to be a very fruitful avenue of investigation.
She is, of course, always right, and always completely justified in her actions because she’s the (black) grrrl hero defying the boring patriarchy (Saru is pretty clearly male and very apricot-colored, strikes one and two). That she follows in the footsteps of headstrong predecessors doesn’t make it any better, honestly. You’re supposed to raise the bar, not limbo under it.
She and Girgiou (“You had me at unsanctioned mission”) head off to rescue Book and the black box and return in triumph, having ex-post-facto justified their intransigence. Michelle Yeoh does a great job as wise-cracking, fearless Giorgiou—who’s starting to crack a bit mentally.
Saru relieves Michael of her duties as his first officer. She accepts it, but mopes around, whining that she doesn’t know where she fits in anymore, all the while doing everything she can to drive everyone except Book away. This laser-like focus on Michael’s life is torpedo-ing this show for me. The others are far more interesting.
She is ostensibly in the Federation, as an officer, but she is nearly purely ego-driven. It’s all about her ideas, her passion, her “knowing she’s right”. It’s tedious to watch the Vulcan-raised science officer of a science vessel act nearly utterly out of character. Instead, she seems to be giving voice to every overly passionate and vastly undereducated fool with a surfeit of confidence (probably her most vocal fans online).
She and Tilly “figure out” that The Burn didn’t happen all at once, as every other idiot had believed for the last century. It took 24th-century know-how to sleuth it out, something those benighted, futuristic, but somehow medieval fools were incapable of doing. Saru nominates Tilly as a replacement for First Officer.
Still, on Michael’s next mission, she immediately invokes a Vulcan protocol that is very aggressive, forcing those she was supposed to negotiate with into a corner—i.e. getting her way, nearly immediately. She hashes it out with the Romulan/Vulcan tribunal—with her mother as her advocate, because why not just have her show up?—and, of course, triumphs there, getting the data they were after.
With all of the data together, they manage in a few weeks what the Federation failed to do in over a century, and have pinpointed the center of the Burn. Meanwhile, Michael is back on her normal mission of forcing the next thing to do—and now saving Book’s people is most definitely the #1 Federation priority. This time, the Admiral and Saru acquiesce nearly immediately, making Michael 2-and-0 on the day for overwhelming people with her unassailable logic (i.e. saying “I know I’m right.” until everyone falls in line).
Do they save Book’s planet Kwejian from Osyraa and the Emerald Chain? Does Detmer get her mojo back? Does Book reconcile with his brother and do they save their planet from starvation with the help of a song, a whole bunch of bright-blue, dildo-y-looking glowbugs and a light-show amplifier from the Discovery? Yup, yup, and yup.
Triumphant, they journey back to the Federation. Giorgiou is literally falling apart, suffering from a malady caused by traveling through time and simultaneouly across dimensions. The next mission is to help her, though it’s like trying to help a mad dog that’s just begging to be put down instead. The Discovery, along with the help of the Sphere, find a solution with a 5% chance of working. Saru puts a fork on it, but the admiral okays it, despite the Discovery being needed to help defend against the Chain. He explains to Saru that you can’t let a crew member go or you’ll lose trust.
Off they go to save Giorgiou, with Burnham in tow. They transport to a wintry planet, where they meet an odd, old man sitting on a couch, next to a floating door, in the style of Q from TNG. Giorgiou steps through—exiting the other side as emperor of the Terran empire, back on her old ship. She has returned to a past she knows, where Michael is about to betray her. Instead of killing her, she thwarts the rebellion and seeks to break Michael.
It is here that we really see what a terrible actress Martin-Green is, just emoting the shit out of every one of her hateful lines. I thought I would like the focus to switch to Giorgiou, but this is a bit much. I kind of miss Saru, whose role as a Kelpian servant to the Terran emperor is scene-stealing. Giorgiou is in this Terran alternate reality for three months before Michael betrays her again—hamming it up with grimaces like she’s in one of the bad Batman movies—and Giorgiou must kill her. She returns to the ice planet to discover that she has passed some sort of test and will be spared, but that she must leave this continuum forever (I guess Michelle Yeoh had better things to do).
The personification of the gateway through which Giorgiou goes also tells Michael that she should totally be captain because she’s awesome and that Saru is kind-of OK but, you know… Saru has been, until now, impeccable and well-balanced but now they’re going to make him the unstable one and Burnham the rock, which is laughably bad writing. There is literally no reason given why this would happen.
The sentimental sequences and crying sessions are getting so long that I’m literally skipping over them because they. will. not. end.
The science is getting wackier and wackier. At one point, Book shows up to help Stamets and Adira and Reno with “Chain” technology to do things in “sub-space” that they never knew were possible. This is after Reno had marched in with licorice to tell everyone she’d just been converting the drives from technology A to technology B even though they’d just converted everything three episodes ago to a technology 930 years more recent than anything she knows. She’s just that smart, I guess. Book too? Just like Adira before him?
Now they’re on a new mission to go into a nebula to rescue a ship that’s been marooned for 130 years but still has a surviving passenger. Also, it’s orbiting a planet made of Dilithium and Burnham is certain it’s where the Burn started—without a scrap of proof (because, like, duh, none needed).
So Suru, Culper, and Burnham (of course) beam to the planet, despite the radiation that threatens to kill them. Osyrra shows up, boards the Discovery after sassing with Tilly, with the easiest damn takeover ever. Burnham beams onto Book’s ship, which is there to rescue them. Osyrra’s ship (the Viridian) and the Discovery go back to the Federation, break in and cause trouble, almost negotiate a treaty with Vance, almost suffocate the Discovery crew, with Burnham of course saving the day with one fucking Deus Ex after another.
It’s hard to keep up it’s so ludicrous. Burnham kills Osyrra and retakes Discovery, Tilly gives her the conn, and they plot to use Book as a spore conduit to jump their ship out of the bowels of the Viridian. They drop their warp core, blow it, and spore-jump out of the ship before it implodes.
Meanwhile, Suru, Culper, and now Adira (don’t ask) have convinced the genetically gifted Kelpian living on the dilithium planet to leave with them—his sorrow at seeing his mother die wrenched a dilithium-fueled Burn over a century ago. There is a lot of talking and feeling and commiserating and expressions of love and lots of close calls.
The Discovery, of course, made the jump back to the nebula and saves them all—it almost goes without saying that they do this just in the nick of time. The show literally ends with a moralistic speech straight out of a woke-ass op-ed from the New York Times or a whole series of dentist’s-office inspirational posters. Seriously, everything turns out well in the end for everyone and there are no enemies left and no worlds left to conquer. Lay it on a little thicker. The final speech has Vance acknowledging that Burnham was right about everything all along, which is ludicrous.
I like some of the cast: Saru, Admiral Vance, Giorgiou, Tilly, Stamets, even Culper isn’t bad. A lot of the universe is good, the effects are good, the history is good. But the laser-like focus on the Michael Burnham show (with such a mediocre actress) ruins it. The dialogue is only occasionally good. I’m disappointed because it could have been much more. I had it down at 5/10, but added back a point because a bunch of the actors are good and, dammit, it’s still sci-fi and it’s still (kind of) Star Trek.
- Rick and Morty S04 (2020) — 10/10
This season comprises 10 episodes. This season, perhaps even more than the others, involves very intricate plot lines and callbacks and multiple time-lines and continua and versions of Rick and Morty. It’s basically more of the same wise-cracking from Rick, with a bit more soul-searching. The second half of the season is Harmon being meta-meta-meta in episodes that remind me of super-well-animated Philip K. Dick stories. There are some really, really good and intricate story lines here. Dan Harmon is really knocking it out of the park here:
- The Old Man and the Seat, a touching story about Rick’s special planet where he has his own private toilet, a privacy spoiled by someone he thought was a friend, but on whom he is forced to take revenge because he doesn’t know how to share, ending with him being lonely, realizing he would have been happier to have shared and kept a friend. Typical Harmon morality play that doesn’t come across as very schmaltzy at all.
- Never Ricking Morty is a meta-meta-meta instant classic about riding on a train of thought. They fight the Story Lord who has the power to make things meta. He has a beard. Like Dan Harmon.
- Promortyus has Rick and Morty living as hosts for a parasitic race in another mind-twisting meta-tastic episode.
- The Vat of Acid Episode is a great, nearly tautologically perfect example of a “Morty gets mad at Rick, but there is no way he outsmarts Rick in the end, even though it totally looks like he would, but that’s only because Rick let him think that, in order to make his own inevitable victory sweeter for him and Morty’s inevitable defeat more humiliating for him” episode.
- Star Mort Rickturn of the Jerri has two clones of Beth being awesome in a space-opera episode with so much amazing fight choreography—Harmon mocks “Star Wars” (and presumably super-hero movies) while making one of the most satisfying knock-down, drag-out action episodes ever.
The writing and dialogue and artwork are excellent, as in other seasons. I really enjoy the hell out of these vignettes. They definitely bear re-watching: there are so many quick one-liners—some of which are just throwaways that are better than anything in other shows—and the artwork is lush and beautiful and nearly overwhelmingly imaginative.
It’s like a giant hit of everything at once: fast action, one-liners, intricate sci-fi, cross-dimensional, time-traveling storylines that don’t falter, good, strong characters across the board, great voice work, and just enough moralizing to tie it all together with some pathos and life lessons. Highly recommended.