Friday, October 2, 2015

What I Am Watching: Season(s) Complete

Longmire, Netflix
The Last Ship, TNT
Mr Robot, USA

Its been a while since I covered this topic, and I may have to follow it up soon if I start watching anything regularly this coming fall season. But let's go over some recently completed seasons of shows I enjoyed.

Longmire was cancelled by A&E last spring and a ton of voices screamed in the darkness, as the cliffhanger shooting of Branch Connelly (yes, still a stupid name) left us hanging.  I've been watching it since it started, and I have become quite invested in those characters. But moreso in the mood of the show. Its a sombre, lone cowboy on the range mood that lingers with me long after the episodes have ended. Its never any one episode or any one thing that sticks, just a theme and feeling left behind as the credits roll.

Netflix walked in like a big ol hero and presented season 4. Against my good judgement, I binge watched over a weekend. Now I have to wait a year for more.

I realized last night as I listened to a mix I made with the closing credit song from the final episode of the season, that I am easily manipulated into watching certain shows. Aging, quiet men with a certain amount of melancholy about them easily click for me. Not always; Hinterland only presented the concept but gave no method of attaching myself to the lead. But in Walander, Case Histories and Longmire I find myself drawn into the melancholy of the characters. Kurt Walander has the weight of the tragedy & horror  he experiences, Jackson Brodie has a terribly tragic past and Walt Longmire starts the series coming out of a depression, after his wife's murder. I am a bit of a brooder, and aging, so its easy to see where I connect with these  guys.

The show has run along the ever connecting thread of the murder of Walt's wife. Each of the three seasons pulled at the fraying mystery, eventually leading us to David Ridges, a "white warrior" and a man in the employ of Jacob Nighthorse, business man and casino builder. But it takes some digging by Branch, the deputy who has been at odds with Sheriff Walt Longmire since the series began, to find the true story. It was Branch's own unhealthy obsession with Ridges that lead him out of the Sheriff's department and into his wealthy father's business. And there he found out the motive and truth behind the murder that spawns the show.

Spoiler spoiler spoiled.

That discovery leads to Branch's death. At the hands of his father. Yes, the show killed of one of main characters, a not entirely unloved character but not a popular one. He was ever the yin to Walt's yang, always doubting, more savvy in the public eye and more likely to play the right game of politics. Walt didn't like him much but finding Branch's body was obviously devastating. Someone in his employ was dead, someone who they suspected (due to delicately placed hints) had committed suicide, someone who Walt had been letting his annoyance win over, instead of catching the terminal details. Walt feels responsible.

This was the kind of plot point you couldn't stretch out for another season, so in three quick episodes they discover Branch did not kill himself and we watch Barlow Connelly struggle with what he has done -- is he faking that breakdown? The arc ends with death by cop, but not quite. Barlow wants to die but Walt also wants  him dead.

The next season.... I mean, episode resumes with Walt on the veranda, the deck that overlooks all that big wide space he owns, a massive amount of mostly untouched green valley. He is reading and reading, drinking can after can of Ranier beer. The FBI investigates, clears Walt and he returns to work a month later. Walt replaces the bookcase he wrecked last season. A new loaner deputy, a new crush for Vic (who has mysteriously dumped her crush on Walt) and its back to business as usual.

So, how does a series continue when the center thread of its plot has been unravelled? Things have been explained. Stories have been summed up. There has been closure. Rightfully, the show doesn't start pulling on another one, but does continue on some lingering secondary plot points from seasons past. The hated casino has been built, bringing new crime and new reasons to loathe Jacob Nighthorse. Cheyenne Batman Hector is dead, but his ghost lives on and Henry steps into his shoes. This is primarily Henry's season, one where he gets to speak more than calm, incredibly articulate one liners. We see emotional development, expansion and struggle. The tension between Vic and Walt is explored in other, less healthy ways leading to another season ending cliffhanger. No yarn sized thread to follow, just a whole lot of threads woven together by the characters we have already become attached to.

Darn nabbit, I shouldn't have binge watched.

The Last Ship is my anti-Walking Dead. Where the latter is all about the failure of mankind, and not much about the rise above its weaknesses, the former is all about that. I have mentioned it is centered on the rah-rah American ideal, one generated by co-creator Michael Bay, but one that is sorely needed in this show. The planet has been mostly devastated by a virus, and it needs the last known working American naval ship to continue working on the cure, and more importantly, bring it to the people.

Last season ended with the cure found and the Last Ship dealing with the first despotic remnant of a government they find. With her put down, the crew's next step is to work with land based labs, manufacture and distribute the cure, and then see what is left of the world. That is interrupted by a submarine full of madmen who destroy all the labs, firing long range missiles and wiping out so many survivors. Fucking madness. The crew of this sub, of European origins, has already completely nuked France (literally) and devastated the European countryside. Their goal is to infect (and kill) any survivors in order to reveal the naturally immune. The Immunes will then rise up and create a whole new world. Psycho Messiah stuff.

Evil. Very real evil. And a proper Big Bad for the Last Ship and its crew to fight.

The thing I notice about this show, the primary thing that The Walking Dead and The Strain are so rightfully criticized for, is the lack of filler episodes. This show is full steam ahead to a goal and it follows that agenda faithfully. Each and every episode, barring one weird, confusing one about rescuing kids, is about fighting this enemy in The Immunes. Its not as simple as shooting a sub, because, well its a sub. But The Immunes are also winning the land based political and ideological battle via the charisma of its leader and some magical cell phone technology. The crew of the ship are labeled evil aggressors while the immunes secretly deliver the infection via virus laden teddy bears, in case you didn't know they were evil.

Its nice having a shift from current depressing dramatic action to a show where things can go right. The crew is always making strides forward, despite some pretty dramatic losses. They are always focused on doing the right thing. Its an American ideal that hasn't been around since the 80s, before they tainted their own morality with torture and Doing What Has To Be Done. Sure, its a little overbearing, including the addition of a President they can worship, but at least its heart is in the right place.

The whole point of the tortured drama at the heart of The Walking Dead is that we are never sure what Rick is doing is the right thing. Sure, he shows results and protects his people, but at what cost?  The Last Ship wants us to like and respect the people involved. And I do.

Mr Robot was a profound shift in my television watching this season. The hacker (that's belittling it, really) show that borrows ideas and thoughtspaces from so much else, just perfectly clicked with me. After that astounding first episode, I was hooked.

Profound shift? Despite the prevalence of non-standard TV and my accessibility to it, the non-network shows like True Blood, The Walking Dead, Mad Men, etc. in the last few years, I have been watching less of those. TV has once again started to feel like derivative crap. Or at least a big bag of meh. I haven't been as faithful to my What I Am Watching but take my word for it, I have mostly reverted back to network TV and familiar downloads. Standard TV is easier to digest than getting indigestion from cable shows that disappoint.

But Mr Robot feels so different, so utterly new, I had to watch.

Elliot, our "hero" is a socially awkward, emotionally damaged hacker working for a software security firm. He is also being coaxed into a hack which will have world wide ramifications. I covered all this in my review of episode one, but it sits as the plot of the entire season, even as we learn more about Evil Corp and what it has personally done to Elliot and his family. Evil Corp -- initially called E Corp, but then Elliot references "everyone calls it Evil Corp" and then for the rest of the show, everyone does. We are seeing this world through Elliot's eyes, slightly skewed, painfully truthful and somewhat shadowy. We are, afterall, Elliot's imaginary friend.

Hello friend. Don't read if you don't want to be spoiled.

In my commentary on the first episode, I mention Mr Robot might not be real. Taking on the idea that the show is borrowing / homage-ing Fight Club, Mr Robot (played by Christian Slater) is the show's Tyler Durden, and once you approach the show with that premise in your head, things become so much fun. Wait, wasn't he just interacting with someone?  Oh but there is Elliot in the background, sitting alone, not being noticed or interacting. And if this is true, then when Elliot is introduced to the hacker group F* Society, for the first time, then he is.... introducing.... himself? Yeah, Elliot is much more messed up then the first episode suggested.

Then the show trips over the Sony hacks and the Ashley Madison hacks and references to the Planetary comic and and and.... This show will require another watching to just enjoy the second level of references. Detailed, intricate, involving.  Weeee,