Category Archives: Television Reviews

The Great Golden Girls Marathon “‘Twas the Nightmare Before Christmas” (S2, Ep. 11)

And so we come to that staple of most 1980s sitcoms, the Christmas episode. After exchanging their gifts, the four women are held captive by a deranged Santa while picking up Rose from her job at the counseling center. Though their plans to visit their own families out of state are ultimately foiled, they come to realize that they are more like family than they ever realized

The true highlight of the episode is, of course, the calendar that Blanche gives to the other girls, entitled “The Men of Blanche’s Boudoir.” Of course, we don’t get to see what is contained in said calendar, but that just makes it all the more hilarious when the women–particularly Dorothy and Sophia–respond to the…endowments of the men on display. Sophia’s remark is, unsurprisingly, very earthy (“I’m surprised you were able to walk in October,” she exclaims), and we find ourselves both vastly amused and very curious.

Despite the fact that we don’t get to see the men, there is something more than a little subversive about this moment. As most people will agree, it is typically women who are rendered into objects of spectacle for men, their bodies a source of erotic delight (the film theorist Laura Mulvery has a remarkable essay on just this subject). As they so often do, the women manage to flip the gendered dynamics that society so often relies upon, and it does so in a way that is all the more subversive for being played for laughs.

The real emotional center of the episode, however, occurs after they go to a diner to commiserate over their seemingly ruined holiday. The friendly waiter (played by Teddy Wilson, who would return in a later episode as a different character) remarks that, given how they were carrying on and teasing one another, he had assumed their family. This casual remark from a stranger forces the four women to recognize that, in reality, they are a family in all of the ways that really matter. This might seem trivial to some people, but to me it’s one of those moments in the series where you really start to realize how much these four women mean to one another. For queer people in particular–who often have a strained relationship with their families–there is something especially resonant about the way in which these wonderful women find such profound emotional fulfillment with one another.

Now, admittedly, there is something more than a little problematic in the scene that takes place at the counseling center, especially since it uses those with mental illness as the punchline. However, in cases like this it’s important to remember that, as progressive as it often is, The Golden Girls is still very much a product of its time.

Overall, I’ve always found this to be an enjoyable episode, even if it doesn’t pack quite the punch of some of the others in the second season. Next up, we’ll be talking about one of my all-time fave episodes, in which we finally get to meet Sophia’s estranged sister Angela (played by the inimitable Nancy Walker).

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The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Love, Rose” (S2, Ep. 10)

In today’s entry, we’re going to talk about one of the more touching episodes of the second season. In this episode, Blanche and Dorothy, dismayed at Rose’s loneliness–and at the lack of success she has when placing a personal ad–decide to pose as Rose’s perfect match, Isaac Newton (played by Paul Dooley). Unfortunately, things hit a snag when Rose actually contacts Isaac and asks him to go to a dance with her. Hijinks, of course, ensue.

This episode marks one of two times that the veteran character actor Paul Dooley appears (he makes another appearance at the end of season 5, in what was supposed to be a backdoor pilot for a series starring him and Rita Moreno). Though he’s never really ascended into the ranks of top actors, I’ve always had a lot of respect for Dooley (and not just because he’s from West Virginia, though admittedly that also plays a role). Somehow, he manages to imbue the character of Isaac–who is, to put it mildly, something of a tool–with some measure of humble humanity. It’s tempting to wonder what might have happened had Rose continued to date Isaac beyond the confines of this episode but, alas, that will have to remain in the space of conjecture.

Admittedly, the scheme that Blanche concocts is absurd in the most sitcomiest sense, but it’s also touching in its own way. Both Dorothy and Blanche clearly have a lot of love for Rose, and the fact that they’re willing to go to such a bizarre length to make her feel better about herself says a lot about the depth of their feeling for their friend. Just as importantly, it’s also a convenient way for the series to channel its subversive queer desires into a joke, a means of defusing queer desire in a safe way. Indeed, it’s hard not to feel more than a little verklempt at the scene in which Dorothy and Blanche confess that they met every word that they wrote in those letters.

One final, somewhat throwaway comment. My boyfriend and I were discussing the other day the fact that my sitcom scenarios from the 1980s would never happen now because the technologies and cultural practices that were their foundation no longer exist. It occurs to me that this entire episode is premised on a cultural practice that is now extinct: the personal ad. This entire episode couldn’t be written today (or, more precisely, could not take place in exactly this same way in our present moment), simply because no one reads print newspapers, let alone personal ads. Even such institutions as the personals on CraigsList have gone the way of the dodo, and hookup apps are a very different sort of creature than their print predecessors. Come to think of it, it’s actually a rather amusing game to think of how a Golden Girls episode would play out with Tinder…

Coming up, we’ll be talking about one of the series’ Christmas episodes, which is by turns infuriating, heartwarming, and sad. Stay tuned!

The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Joust Between Friends” (S2, Ep.9)

Moving right along with our episode-by-episode breakdown of The Golden Girls, we come to another of those episodes where two of the women square off agains each other. In this case, the catalyst is Dorothy’s employment at Blanche’s museum. When it looks like she is going to outdo Blanche, the latter quits in a huff, not realizing that Dorothy has been put in charge of planning a party in her honor. Meanwhile, Rose adopts a dog, much to Dorothy’s chagrin.

This episode falls squarely into that set of Golden Girls episodes that explores the fraught territory of female friendships. This time, though, there’s no middle ground, since it’s pretty clear from the beginning that Blanche is in the wrong. Dorothy, as their therapist remarks in a later episode, cannot be blamed for being competent. And, of course, Dorothy takes the high road, even when it would be easier to give in to her baser instincts and just tell Blanche the truth. It’s also worth noting that the scenes of confrontation between the two of them–including and especially when Blanche pleads for forgiveness and Dorothy tearfully responds that she doesn’t know whether she can give it. As comedic as these scenes ultimately are, they still showcase just how extraordinarily talented these women were.

And yet, one can’t help but feel at least a bit of sympathy for Blanche and her plight. As she says to Dorothy, she’s been working at the museum for a number of years by this point, and to see Dorothy come in and do her job in such a short time is incredibly disorienting. Maybe it’s just my innate sympathy toward Blanche (to say nothing of my own fragile ego), but I can see where’s coming from, even if I think that her reaction to the situation is a bit overblown.

One of the things I like most about this episode is the fact that it’s Sophia that tells Blanche that Dorothy has been planning her surprise party, thus quite thoroughly shaming her. As biting as Sophia can be when it comes to interacting with Dorothy, incidents like this show that her loyalty to her daughter is deep and true. It’s one thing for her to insult Dorothy, but when someone else does–even if it’s someone who is like a daughter–she will definitely come out swinging. It’s one of those wonderful moments when we get to see just how strong the bond is between the two of them.

Of course, there are a number of continuity questions that this episode raises, particularly in the sequence where Blanche is describing Dorothy’s experiences (this is, I think, the only time that we hear about Dorothy’s study abroad experiences). Likewise, Dorothy’s reluctance/hostility to dog ownership is somewhat at odds with what happens in later episodes but still, it is touching to know that it stems from her deep, and ultimately devastating, love for a former schnauzer that lies at the root of her current antipathy toward pet ownership.

Overall I found this to be a very entertaining episode, even if it falls more into the category of filler than some of the others in this season. As always, we emerge reassured that Blanche and Dorothy have made peace with one another, at least until the next blow-up threatens their friendship.

Next up, Blanche and Dorothy concoct a clever (if ultimately rather silly) plan to make Rose feel better about her barren dating prospects.

The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Vacation” (S2, Ep. 8)

Hello, fellow Golden Girls fans! Since I’ve now made a commitment to finishing up this marathon fairly soon, I wanted to jump right in with another installment. In today’s episode, “The Vacation,” Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose decide to go on a much-needed vacation to the Caribbean. Once there, however, they find that the advertisements were, to put mildly, misleading, and that they have to share their room with a trio of surly and spoiled young men. Sophia, meanwhile, takes this time to finally pursue a little dalliance with their Japanese gardener.

There are some truly funny sequences in this episode, and the sparring between the three women and the men are particularly amusing. The highlight of this portion, however, comes near the end, when the three of them are sitting on the beach, having survived the wrecking of the men’s boat. This incident brings out the best and the worst in the women, as each of them confesses some of their dark secrets that they’ve been hiding from one another (including the fact that both Dorothy and Blanche slept with Rose’s cousin). This sequence also features a very funny bit where Rose asserts her dominance over her squabbling fellows, one of those hilarious instances where Rose reveals that, beneath the midwest nice persona there’s a core of iron and badassery.

Now, admittedly, the sequences that actually take place on the island are more than a little problematic, perpetuating as they do the idea that places in the Caribbean are full of corrupt bureaucrats, decadent politics, and violent revolution. Now, I know that it’s played for laughs, but it’s worth emphasizing that, as progressive as it often was, there were times when The Golden Girls was problematic. It’s important to remember that there was substantial unrest in the Caribbean at the time, including notably the uprising that toppled the president of Haiti (an incident that Sophia alludes to in another episode), so it’s hardly surprising that this would have some impact on the series’ storylines.

As hilarious (and problematic) as the main plot is, to my mind the more significant aspect of the episode is Sophia’s little love affair with the gardener Mr. Mitsumo. The scenes between two of them are actually incredibly sweet, as they somehow manage to overcome the language barrier (he speaks only broken English and she, of course, doesn’t speak Japanese) to find that there is something deeper between them. The part of the scene where they kiss is incredibly endearing and I, for one, love seeing Sophia just as prone to feeling the prick of Cupid’s arrow as the rest of the girls.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable episode of The Golden Girls, though I would probably rank it in the bottom third overall. There’s not much significant political or emotional heft to the episode as a whole, and the humor is a little simplistic. It’s pretty average sitcom fare, and that’s perfectly okay.

In our next outing, we get to see yet another conflict between Dorothy and Blanche as they compete for accolades at the art museum.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”–“Paranor” and “Crimson” (S2, Eps. 5 & 6)

Full spoilers for the episode follow.

In a special double feature, our intrepid heroes Wil and Mareth continue their quest to bring the Warlock Lord’s skull back from the past, the politics of Leah grow ever more complicated, and Allanon must confront the reality that he is dying.

The Warlock Lord continues to loom as the series’ potential Big Bad, the force that will bring about the fall of the Four Lands and all of our noble (if seriously flawed) heroes. At this point, it’s pretty clear that we are going to see this figure return from the dead, though it’s equally certain that Wil will have to defeat him.

The Queen of Leah continues to be a compelling and deeply flawed character. Despite the fact that she does what she does–the scheming, the manipulating, the backhand dealing–she does for the good of her people, she inadvertently has set in motion the very destruction that she originally set out to prevent. In the end, she not only sees her ambitions come to nothing when Riga slaughters her retainers and Ander himself (which was both brutal and hear-wrenching), but she has also put her daughter at risk. The Crimson is a destructive force that will, it seems, make the Warlock Lord’s mission to bring the world into darkness that much easier. There is clearly a dark poison working its way through the bloodstream of the Four Lands, and one can hope that Wil is able to cleanse it before it does any more damage.

We finally learn the secrets of Eretria’s legacy, as one of those whose ancestors survived the Great Wars; as such she has the potential to be either a being a saviour or a demon. If I’m being completely honest, this feels a bit tacked-on, a means of giving Eretria something to do besides mope around after her sundry love interests. Don’t get me wrong: Ivana Baquero is probably one of the better actors in this show, and it’s that fact that keeps her character so continually interesting to watch.

For his part, Manu Bennett continues to chew scenery with abandon, but that’s part of what makes him one of the best things about the show. One thing The Shannara Chronicles gets right is the fact that Allanon is a ruthless manipulator, one who is willing to sacrifice anyone in his efforts to save the Four Lands. At the same time, we also get to see the toll this has begun to take, both physically and emotionally. I, for one, have no doubts that he’s not going to make it through to the end of the season, and that will actually fit well with the series’ clear intention of breaking apart the myth of the triumphant hero.

I can’t shake the feeling that the show-runners know that this is going to be the final season, and so they are pulling out all the stops (including showing two episodes in one night). It’s really a shame, though, since the series has taken some interesting turns. Still, I rather wish that they had chosen to adapt most of The Wishsong rather than doing a grab-bag of the various other parts of the Shannara mythos. Doing so has really short-circuited some of the season’s narrative threads, though fortunately “Crimson” managed to bring things together in the end. Still, it’s rather irritating to see the characters wandering about doing nothing consequential and then abruptly having a climactic moment that is moving but doesn’t really feel earned.

Overall, these two episodes were…good. However, it’s hard not to shake the feeling that the series is verging on the edge of going completely off the rails. There are just too many sub-plots going on–time travel, sinister wraiths, anti-magic users–and the show hasn’t done a great deal to bring them all together into a cohesive whole. The time travel plot in particular feels both strange and unnecessary, and I for one am glad that that plot is done with.

At this point, I will be satisfied if the series comes to a satisfactory conclusion, with all of the sundry plot threads wrapped up. I really don’t think it would be wise to leave anything hanging (as happened last season). I guess we will just have to wait to see how things pan out.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”–“Dweller” (S2, Ep. 4)

Well, kids, shit got really dark on this episode of The Shannara Chronicles.

(My apologies for taking a week to respond to this episode. I was out of town for a conference.)

In the fourth episode of the second season, all of the characters have to contend with a personal crisis. Bandon has to relive the trauma of his childhood when he encounters a group of Elves who are virulently anti-magic; Jax has to relive a moment of terror during his time with the Border Legion; Wil has to see his father’s dead body and relive a traumatic memory from his past; the list goes on. These characters are put through the wringer in this episode, and none of them are left unscarred by their encounters.

This episode is fundamentally about the various broken characters that inhabit this world. Bandon, Ander, Wil…all of them struggle with the realities of politics and magic. Bandon comes across in this episode as someone who really is a product of his environment: tortured and imprisoned by his family, shunned by his own people, to some degree it’s no wonder that he has succumbed to the darkness inside him. The fact that he murders a child with the mask that had once been used to oppress him is both horrifying and

If the first season fell rather predictably into the epic hero pattern, this season seems to be about the deconstruction of that mythic pattern. Ander, for all that he might seem to be an epic hero, comes to understand the terrible price that that will exact, as exemplified in his execution of his childhood friend for murder and treason. He knows that it must be done, and in the end he does it without any compunction, but we’re left to wonder just how deep the psychic wounds go and how he will continue to deal with the consequences of what he has been forced to do. What’s more, we’re left to wonder whether, when all is said and done, anyone will emerge from this whole adventure intact. Adventures, like magic, seem to have a heavy price for those cursed to go on them.

This episode really plunges into a dark vision of the Shannara world. Clearly, it is tapping into the anxiety many of us feel about the rise of the alt-right, which bears some striking similarities to the Crimson. However, it’s important to remember that Brooks’s work in many ways predicted the sort of rabid brutality that has infected the American body politic, and so in that sense the series is staying true to the books that gave it birth, showing once again just how socially engaged the Shannara novels have always been. I’m just glad that the series has chosen to tap into that vein of the mythos rather than the more optimistic one.

For all of its darkness, this episode is also about the importance of family, of carving out an identity that is part of something larger than the self. At this point, none of the characters have yet found the elusive thing that they clearly desire: Shea is tormented by the fact that his father was driven mad and had to die alone; Mareth craves mentoring by Allanon, though she insists that she does not need a father; and the royal family of Leah continues to be riven by internal conflicts that may yet lead the kingdom to ruin.

Lastly, and somewhat inconsequentially, the series continues to display a visual splendour that really leaves the first season in the shade. From the sweeping vistas to the magnificent sets associated with Leah, it’s clear that Spike gave the show a lot more money. And if I’m being perfectly candid…well, Bandon makes a very dishy villain indeed. He may be a real bastard–slaying children and all–but he sure does look good with his shirt off.

Needless to say, I am really looking forward to the next episode. Clearly, there are a lot of pieces still in play, and it remains to be seen how it will all play out.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”–Graymark” (S2, Ep. 3)

So, we’ve come to the third episode of The Shannara Chronicles. The last episode saw all of our characters in states of peril, and this episode moves the pieces in some interesting directions as each of them has to cope with an increasingly hostile and unstable world.

Wil, having been seriously injured by an thoroughly-evil Bandon, is at last reunited with Eretria. There’s no doubt that the two actors have some truly sparking chemistry. It’s not just a romantic connection–though that is undoubtedly there–but also the pressure that each character puts on the other. Each of them has their own personal demons, and neither seems quite able to reach the same level of closeness that they used to possess. Hopefully, they’ll be able to put aside all of the old wounds and scars and find the healing they need with one another. Both of them are also fiercely loyal to each other.

It’s nice to see the incredibly charismatic Garet Jax continue to appear. Seriously, I cannot tell you how much I really love the way that the series has interpreted this character. Like all good rogues of fantasy, he thinks that he will be able to remain distant from the conflicts engulfing all corners of the Four Lands, but there is little doubt that he will eventually be drawn in. In a world like this one, it really isn’t possible to stay unallied unless, of course, you want to end up dead.

I continue to be impressed by the sweeping visuals. The network clearly threw a lot of money at Shannara in the hopes that a larger scale will elevate the drama. And I have to say, I think that the gambit has paid off. This season has a grandness and a power to it that I rather felt was lacking in a lot of the first season, which was very typical of the epic fantasy quest in many ways. There is a greater emphasis on politics and scheming, and this is always refreshing in the fantasy genre.

Though she is (I think) one of this season’s villains, Queen Tamlin is still a very compelling character indeed. This is a woman who is ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to protect her country and gain a little power for herself. She may not be the most sympathetic of characters, but there is definitely something attractive about the fact that she is so kickass.

There’s something especially ominous about Graymark, the fortress of the Crimson, with its double-headed red eagle emblem. There are clear echoes of the sort of neo-fascism that this group seems to espouse, which makes the series feel an especially relevant one for the troubled political times in which we live. Riga, for all that he seems to have a greater good in mind–averting the sort of  catastrophe that nearly saw his people eradicated with the release of the demons–has become something even darker and more ruthless than they were. There is no limit to what he is willing to do, and he is truly willing to inflict a tremendous amount of damage on Allanon in his attempts to gain the codex that will allow him to eradicate magic.

Allanon continues to have to cope with the law of uintended consequences. Though he clearly did not intend for Bandon to become a scion of the Warlock Lord and lead the world to the brink of total ruin, that seems to be exactly what is happening. What’s more, he doesn’t seem terribly capable of getting himself out of the mess that he is created. This is an Allanon who is significantly more vulnerable than his novel counterpart, but that actually works well for the universe that the television series has created. I’m not sure the seemingly-invulnerable Allanon that Brooks originally created would fit in with our current world, where such things seem hopelessly antiquated. Who knows, though. He might just become a hero in his own right. We know that he is willing to sacrifice the lives of other’s for the greater good, which is both his greatest strength and his greatest weakness.

Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that this season is a hell of a lot darker than the last one. The bodies of our heroes are as subject to torture and pain as any other’s, and that allows a distinct sense of unease and disquiet to permeate the episodes so far. Let’s hope they keep it up.

I remain quite enamoured of this series, and I really hope that the network sees that this show is worth the continuing investment. If so, it could well prove to be a truly worthy adaptation of Terry Brooks’s magnificent work.

TV Review: “The Shannara Chronicles”–“Wraith” (S2, Ep. 2)

Having escaped from the dark spirits sent to murder him, Wil attempts to save his uncle Flick from the imminent danger he faces, while Alannon leads King Ander to the kingdom of Leah to seek the aid of its queen. The Crimson continue their quest to destroy those who wield magic, and Mareth wants to find her father (allegedly Allanon). And of course the Mord Wraiths persist in their quest to destroy Wil and resurrect the Warlock Lord.

The series continues to move along at a brisk pace. For those familiar with Brooks’s novels, this is in keeping with the Shannara universe, in which the action is always tightly woven and driven by a powerful momentum, and the episode both poses several enigmatic questions about the past and the future, forcing each of the characters to confront the secrets of their identities and their histories.

Despite its brisk pacing, the series continues to ask a fundamental question: is there price that is too high for heroism? One of the characters states that “history is made by those who survive,” a rather bleak assessment of the future of these characters. Having barely recovered from a near-apocalypse, they still have to keep going, no matter how many lives are lost in the process. (Needless to say, this season is much grimmer than the last, and that is definitely a good thing).

This episode introduces us to two new characters. The first if the weapons master (and bounty hunter) Garet Jax. The other is Queen Tamlin of Leah, a formidable political player determined to make sure that she gets the best out of every bargain. Both of these characters remain enigmas, with their own murky motivations, and one of the episode’s strengths is that it doesn’t tell us too much about them just yet.

One of the things I love the most about this adaptation is its willingness to cast people of colour in roles that don’t render them as simply a fetish or a projection of orientalist fantasies (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones). Garet Jax truly shines in this episode and, given that he’s always been a favourite of the fan-base, I’m going to assume that people are happy with his portrayal here. I’m going to be quite honest: he’s gorgeous, and if you don’t like him, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

The Shannara Chronicles continues to showcase its obviously-substantial budget, with some gorgeous scenery and a lush colour palette that is truly a feast for the eyes. The palace of Queen Tamlin is truly resplendent, a stunning confection of gold and light. I know the series rather gaudy techno aesthetic isn’t to everyone’s liking, but I for one find it a unique take on Brooks’s imaginary world. It might not have the grandeur or dignity of some other fantasy adaptations, but that doesn’t make it any less pleasurable to watch.

If there is one casualty of this season, it’s Allanon. While Manu Bennett is still as badass as always, he does seem to be a bit out of his depth. When he is struck down by the Crimson and taken away, it’s hard not to see it as a sign of his growing weakness in the face of the threats assaulting the Four Lands. I do wonder if he will make it out of this season alive, and whether he will be able to defeat Bandon (who, for his part, continues to combine beauty and evil in equal measure. One wonders whether he is beyond redemption or if there is some hope for him).

Lastly, I’d like to note that one thing I particularly appreciate about this series is the way in which it plays with sexuality. This is, I think I can say without fear of contradiction, one of the most straightforwardly queer fantasy series I’ve seen on television. It’s not just that the characters entertain same-sex attraction; it’s that there is a free-wheeling play with gender and sexuality that I find truly refreshing. It feels honest rather than merely titillating.

Overall, this was another strong episode. I’m curious to see how it will continue to adapt Brooks’s oeuvre, especially since they seem to be using the vast timeline of the book series (which covers multiple generations and several hundred years) as the basic ingredients for very different stories. As a longtime reader of the books, I find this approach to be a uniquely enjoyable one; though I have an inkling as to how the entire season will end up, I am just as in the dark as non-novel readers. Truly exciting stuff!

 

The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “End of the Curse” (S2, Ep. 1)

As it’s been ages since I wrote anything about The Golden Girls, I thought I’d take a bit of a break from my novel and dissertation stuff to write a brief entry in The Great Golden Girls Marathon. Here, we move at last into the second season, wherein Blanche has to confront the fact that she is moving into the next phase of her life, when she is told that she has begun menopause.

To my eye, this episode marks a definitive turning point in the way that the series works. Whereas Season 1 focused primarily on the familial and the personal–conflicts with grandchildren, nephews, sons, daughters, etc.–the second begins to really break out in an explicit way into the broader political questions that will become one of the series’ hallmarks.

Further, it also marks some significant shifts in tone. As I noted several times in my discussion of the first season, the characters had not quite gelled yet, though they came pretty close by the season finale. Rose is the character that shows the greatest change from the first season. By this episode, she has largely shed the prude persona–so conspicuously on display in the episode in which Dorothy has an affair with a married man–and has slowly morphed into the naive, slightly dim-witted, yet incredibly sincere and lovable Rose that will be her incarnation for the remainder of the series. Her funniest moment in this episode comes from her fundamental understanding of what an aphrodisiac is, leading to an absolutely hilarious interchange with Dorothy about “African what?,” the singular or plural form of Spanish fly (or beetle); and whether minks can be induced to mate.

The real center of the episode, however, is Blanche’s body and her relationship to it.

There’s no question that the subject of women’s bodies and their functioning is one of the most vexed in western (and perhaps global) culture. This is particularly true of Blanche, who sees herself as, first and foremost, both an object of desire for men and, I would argue, as the agent of that desire. The accumulated myths associated with menopause (or “The Change,” as it is menacingly referred to throughout the episode) suggest to her that with this biological shift she is losing an essential part of her femininity that renders her into that desirable and desiring subject/object.

Fortunately, the episode goes out of its way to inform Blanche (and us), that there is nothing unnatural about this shift. As her psychologist tells her, she will still be the same Blanche that she has always been, the same desiring, fun-loving woman with an uninhibited sex drive. Rather than seeing her as deranged–which Rose seems to, quite problematically, believe–he helps de-escalate her psychological state. As a result, she goes from seeing in her face the shade of her mother to hitting on the veterinarian who comes to examine the minks. She has emerged triumphant, back to being the love goddess that we know and love.

It is also worth noting that the series other major plotline, the breeding of minks for their fur, also expresses (albeit more subtly) one of the other semi-consistent political issues of the series: the ethical treatment of animals. Fortunately, the minks don’t end up being fur coats.

Next up, we come to one of my favourite episodes, in which the women’s plans to meet Burt Reynolds go terribly awry…

TV Review: “Feud”–“You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?”

So, we come at last to it, the finale of the first season of Feud. I’m still not sure that the series needed all 8 episodes that it got in order to get to this point, but I do think that it told a good story, solidly acted, and beautifully shot. It may not go down in history as one of the greatest TV series, it is nevertheless a solid part of the Murphy oeuvre, a testament to his ability to imprint his vision on Hollywood history.

Whereas earlier episodes showed Lange’s Crawford slipping into moments of high-strung histrionics, this episode sees her bowing out with a measure of pathos-drenched grace. This is the Joan whose body has begun to fail her, first in the rash of dental problems that are the result of her having molars extracted in her youth to give her cheeks a more carved appearance, and then when the cancer that will take her life starts to take its toll. She gradually withdraws into her apartment, determined at the last to maintain a measure of dignity despite everything else (this becomes an especially acute issue after a photo that she deems unflattering sees the light of day).

The episode makes no secret that Joan’s career was definitely the one that fizzled out much more ignominiously than Davis’s. (While you wouldn’t know it from this episode, Davis would actually go on to have several more notable film appearances, even costarring with Lilian Gish in The Whales of August). One cannot but feel sorry for Joan, that one of the giants of the screen should be reduced to playing in a film such as Trog. Even there, though, the series does show that she continued to be a consummate professional, working with all of her considerable skills to bring an element of craftsmanship to this inglorious position. She faces every new humiliation with aplomb, even though she is truly working in less-than-ideal conditions.

The highlight of the episode is, of course, a fever dream in which Joan sees Hedda, Jack, and Bette gathered in her living room. There ensues a conversation  in which Bette and Joan at last say the things to each other that they never said in life. As with the rest of this episode, the moment is laden with ambiguity, a potent and pathos-laden incident in which we are treated to a world that might-have-been. It’s a moment when both Bette and Joan are restored to their former glamourous glory, and they can at last be honest with one another.

Of course, the fantasy cannot last, and the scene abruptly shifts to Joan sitting alone in her dark living room, her long hair askew. The fantasy has been punctured, and the revelation that Joan died shortly thereafter makes the scene all the more poignant. When Bette responds to the death with a cruelly offhand remark, we’re left wondering if she does it out of a residual sense of bitterness, a lack of feeling one way or another, or just because by this point it’s what she’s expected to do.

The last scene is one that is also laden with ambiguity, as we are shown a scene in which Bette and Joan, on the first day of shooting for Baby Jane, both think that is the beginning of a beautiful new friendship. But, of course, the past 8 episodes have shown us that that is a hope that remains unfulfilled, that the dark forces of male Hollywood will always come in between them. This sequence ultimately raises more questions than it answers: Is this a flashback to what actually transpired on the first set of the film, a moment of utopian longing for a friendship that could have been? Or is instead just that, a utopian figment, a figment of the imagination, a cautionary tale about the dangers of Hollywood feuding (and, by implication, our complicity in consuming this narrative?)

And of course the last shot is the most heartbreaking of all, as the two actresses, both of them larger than life, both of them outshining many of the stars who would come in their wake, go to their separate dressing rooms. It’s a moment laden with a melancholy significance, as we in the audience are left to mourn a friendship that never was, just as we were left to contemplate the tragedy of Joan’s final delusion, in which she imagines a rapprochement that never took place but which we wish might have, as it would have offered both of them an opportunity to unite against the system that worked so stridently to keep them apart.

In the final analysis, I think Feud is a thoroughly good show. Is it one of the greatest or even great on its own terms? I don’t think so. It tends to rely too much on cleverness and surface, and there are some questionable historical choices (and even more questionable accuracy). As with so many Ryan Murphy projects, it tends to be better in concept than in execution. Still, as a student and amateur historian of classic Hollywood, I’m excited that it was made, and I’m glad that it has brought such increased visibility to a period that has only recently begun to get the respect and attention that it deserves.

If I have one major complaint about the series, it’s that it tends to focus too much on Joan at the expense of Bette. This wasn’t as noticeable early in the series, but as it went on it was very clear that Murphy was more invested in her side of the narrative than Bette’s. She gets to have more of the tender moments–particularly in this last episode, where we see her visibly touched by the love of one of her daughters–whereas Bette is always seen as the tower of strength. That by itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though it does tend to skew the series in Joan’s favour.

Overall, I’m glad that Feud was made, and I am very glad that I stuck with it to the very end. While I tend to fall of the wagon with Murphy’s series, for once he made it worth sticking with him.

Long live Bette and Joan.