True Blood: A Three-Quarters Assessment
Of a typical 12 episode season for True Blood (and most summer shows for that matter), here we stand 9 deep with the last 3 remaining. I chose to write this piece and reflection about the current season of the show at this time because this is usually when the plot starts to lose its understanding of boundaries and go straight up bananas. For the most part, the homestretch of a True Blood season is really enjoyable in this way. All hell breaks loose, and just before we see the point of no return, the writing team corrals everything in time to set up details and hints about the next season. Based on where this season has been, is, and is going, I’m not sure I’m ready or that much anticipating what the resolution will look like. There have been instances along the way where I felt like I had the old show back, but for all the times its peered towards the edge over the course of almost 5 full seasons, my gut tells me my interest may be slowly slipping for good now.
The start of any season of True Blood up to this point has me intrigued and to a certain extent mad with anticipation. There were signs from season 4 (the were-panther arc, the end of the Marnie story, countless plot holes without explanation) that could have hinted that the show was losing its way, but I repressed those thoughts in favor of happier ones as to not cloud any judgment. And then came the first episode. IMHO, an absolute dud. At no point did I say to myself, “Awesome!” It was more like, “Is this what the whole season is going to be like?” There was the revelation that Tara was alive, a total bummer for me – ironically her arc has been one thing I’ve really enjoyed this season – because she was my least favorite character; sounds harsh, but it’s a TV show, come on. Then the anticipation left from last season’s finale about Russell only to realize he didn’t show up here (or the next few hours either). And of course, the extremely odd part with Steve Newlin and his obsession with Jason. We knew he was going to be a vampire, but their immediate direction with him was very anti-climactic.
To the show’s credit, the next few episodes definitely picked up the pace, only to seemingly plateau again soon after. We had the stagnant arc of Terry and that guy from Felicity going all PTSD, simultaneously accompanied by Bill and Eric’s and their condemnation to the Authority building. Forever. Like I mentioned, there have been bursts of brilliance, harkening back memories of near flawless seasons like 2 and 3. However, a pattern that began to emerge in season 3 (werewolves) continued in season 4 (witches, fairies) and was headed in a direction GOK coming into this season may stain whatever is left. With so many characters involved in so many narratives, it appears as if this was better served when we were dealing with vampires, and them alone. The introduction of other supernatural creatures like clockwork and an attempt to integrate it all seamlessly is grinding the gears to a point that may have even the actors thinking, “what the hell is going on here?”
With all of that being said, perhaps the final 3 episodes will impact me so much I will rescind any bad thing I ever said about the show. And to be honest, the capacity for that actually exists. Furthermore, when I said my interest may be slowly slipping away for good, I did mean slowly. My obsession may never return to its peak but I will continue to watch even as my interest declines. I hope the next three weeks are telling in the best way possible.
Some other lowlights that I wanted to mention:
Christopher Meloni’s part – underwhelming; more the writing (he tried REALLY hard) than anything else. I WANT MORE LAFAYETTE. The relapse of Jason into utter stupidity; he’s funny that way, but he showed last season he can be funny and evolving at the same time. The absence of a naked Jessica. WAY too political; perhaps it’s Alan Ball’s drop the mic moment as fades into the sunset. Bill’s transformation; believed Eric’s last season, having a hard time with Bill now. Eric calling Nora his sister; just because vampire babies are made different doesn’t change what they did as incest. Having a child vampire as the bad guy – no fun for anybody. Weird fairy parties.
There have also certainly been some highlights:
Lafayette’s mom and her one, glorious scene. (She deserves to be isolated)
Alcide just being a total badass and sensitive at the same time. Eric; he grows on me every season, a nod to Skarsgard and his versatility. Andy’s one liners. The return of Bud Dearborne, if only too brief. When Russell finally came back and actually contributed to the plot; be careful with him writers of True Blood! The dynamic between Pam and Tara as maker and progeny; I actually care about Tara’s story now! Don Bartolo – I just love that name.
Concerning all of the lowlights, the highlights, the good and the bad, the weird and the nauseating, I’ll be doing a more in depth season review after the last episode.
If you’ve seen most of the season do you agree? Disagree? Don’t care anymore and just want to see more blood and sex? Me too.
Book Club: ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’
Some Plot Spoilers!!
For Whom the Bell Tolls is the result of Ernest Hemingway’s time spent in Spain during their civil war in the 1930’s. It is a brutal look at the physical and mental struggles that impact those involved in, and affected by, war. Although it isn’t my favorite Hemingway work, I just recently finished it for real (when it had been a required reading, I spark noted that shit), and wanted to pen some thoughts I had about it.
The novel’s pace initially had me lukewarm. A timespan covered in the first 50 pages of The Sun Also Rises (which is my favorite Hemingway book) eclipses the entire length of Bell. 4 days, 3 nights, 500 pages. While his customary terse prose is still in effect, it doesn’t seem to flow as well as I thought it would. Although, with the entire scope of the book itself, it wasn’t one of the things taken into account primarily.
By far, the most interesting aspect of how the book is written is its narrative structure and use of language. For the better part of the first half, it is almost all in third person. As it continues on however, it exchanges between third person and first person inner-dialogue, mainly that of the main character, Robert Jordan. It is a technique that emphasizes the escalating mental strain endured by the ensemble Hemingway familiarizes us with. Furthermore, the language – including literary keywords like syntax, and diction! – is something that can be frustrating, and also fascinating. Obviously, the novel is told in English, with the idea that it has already been translated from the Spanish the characters are speaking. This results in Hemingway using things like false friends (ex., “molestar” does not mean “molest” it means bother, as in “me molesta” = “it bothers me” where he uses “it molests me”), direct translations (“voy” means “I go” but in reality we would use it in the continuous form, “I’m going,” but again Hemingway keeps “I go”), and grammar techniques used many times in Spanish but almost never in English (“que me digas” is a common way to say “tell me” but would literally be said as “that you tell me” which Hemingway uses). This permeates the entire novel, in no small part influenced by his immersion in key Spanish cities reporting during the war.
One thing that left me in a bit of a conundrum about his use of language was that, as a Spanish speaker, I can understand what he is trying to say in all of the instances where it doesn’t seem like sound English. Also, he many times uses Spanish, which he sometimes translates immediately after, but sometimes doesn’t. Again, I can understand the Spanish, and in that sense it doesn’t affect me one way or another, but towards the end he also uses a little French, which I don’t speak, and I realized how vexing it could possibly be to attempt to translate key things that characters may be saying. Overall, the narrative structure and language hadn’t really enhanced the book in my eyes, because of the above mentioned.
Another thing I was a little on the fence about was the character of Maria. In a way her relationship with Robert seems rushed and disingenuous. However, the relationship itself helps explain the vulnerability of her character and the fragility of so many young people left without families as a result of the war. I believed in the history of Jake and Brett from The Sun Also Rises more; he was left impotent by a war injury, leaving Brett physically unsatisfied whenever she is with him, but emotionally still very in love with him. However, the deeper nature of Maria’s story exposed through her relationship with Robert is chilling, and in the end, necessary.
However, anything talked about involving this book is secondary to the analysis of Robert Jordan. Tasked by a Russian general to blow up a bridge between Madrid and Segovia with the help of a guerilla band fighting for the Republic, Robert ends up getting involved in guerilla politics within the guerilla warfare. At one point, in an incredibly tense scene, the entire band is eating dinner inside of the cave they have taken as shelter, and Robert, thinking to himself, wonders whether he should kill the band leader, and resident drunk, Pablo. The crazy part is that everyone is expecting him to do it, including Pablo, who seems to be resigned to the fact. Why? It all seems to come back to the principle thought of war. Normal conventions of interaction are suspended because there are no rules in war.
Towards the end of the novel, Robert beings to think more and more about death. Not that it hadn’t come up before, but in a way he becomes obsessed by it, as do all the characters we meet. And in this comes a startling revelation: even before the events of the book start, Robert knows that death is the only conclusion. The fact that it is because his horse gets shot after he blows up the bridge and it collapses, breaking his leg and leaving him immobile, is secondary. At times he tricks himself into believing that he’ll survive the ordeal (mostly with Maria), but it is clear that he’s always known. And his death will be worth something because he fought for it. He makes this clear distinction when he brings up his father’s suicide and how it makes him think his father was a coward. An extremely eerie premonition for Hemingway’s own life, especially considering he sees himself in many of his leading characters.
Like I said, it’s not my favorite Hemingway. What it is, is an expose on something he fixated on his entire life, war. His straightforward dialogue and descriptions pull no punches and paint a grim reality. It’s also painful to think that it’s written from the Republic point of view, knowing full well the Fascist side ends up winning the war and ushering in Franco for decades to come. It was also both creepy and rewarding to read it while living here in Spain. He vividly describes areas that are a 5 minute walk from my flat, implanting the idea of turmoil in a place I’ve always seen as inspiring. It was a months-long journey that I certainly do not regret, and solidified my respect for Hemingway for what he is: an ultimate badass.
The ‘Person of Interest’ Dilemma
A little while ago, I had somehow made my way out of my bat cave (inside jokes are the best!) because our internet had decided not to work for the better part of 48 hours. sidenote: the cable had been unplugged and we didn’t have internet because it was the last thing we checked. #firstworldproblems
During this time I was watching Spanish television for one of the seldom times I had all year long, and stumbled upon ANOTHER American procedural entitled Person of Interest. Before I go any further, and I warn you whether or not you should watch this show, remember this: the CBS drama stars Jesus. Food for thought.
The problem in today’s television world and procedurals is their number. Originally, CSI was a pioneer. It built off the success of a show like Law & Order and providing the viewer with a weekly show that, if chosen that way, could be consumed through that hour alone. Now, of course, there are overarching storylines that permeate each procedural, but nothing is required before any one episode like it would be essential in something like Lost. However, if you think about it, what show isn’t a procedural, especially on CBS? Their ratings are through the roof, but they have the CSI franchise, Criminal Minds, and Blue Bloods just to name a few. Oh, and Person of Interest. So where does this one land?
Well, it has a million things that relate to every other cop show that we’ve ever seen. Foremost, barring some multi-arc episode or season finale, the conflict presented at the start of the episode will be resolved by the end. There is a season long arc involving a crime boss, but it is very rarely played into a single-episode plot. And if it is, it isn’t essential except for once, which hardly qualifies as a prerequisite.
In essence none of the above mentioned present the dilemma I want to speak of. The dilemma first presents itself in my “do I actually like this show?…a lot?” Yes, and, no. I do like it. It was created by Jonathan Nolan, brother to the most gifted director in Hollywood. Speaking of those brothers, one speaks American and one speaks British…awkward. It, by necessity, follows every convention of previous procedurals. It has to because it’s a network and it needs ratings. But no, the dilemma here comes from the embracement of the main characters.
The show is based upon the idea that a genius invented a machine that can predict violent crime (see: previous-terrorism) but he is meek and needs a physical vigilante to carry out justice. This is where Jesus comes in. He plays a total badass, a la Jesus Cristo, and each time he comes up against a foe I’m waiting for the hammer. The show establishes early that this is a man, come upon hard times, with a special set of skills (…and then I’m going to kill you). So, unless he comes upon a CIA operative, he’s going to win. And I relish the moment where he pwns them. It’s great.
No, the dilemma here comes from Jesus acting like for some reason, in the world’s busiest city, he is constantly in a library. It seems like the producers said, ‘play this real serious.’ And then, when he played it as is, they said, ‘whoa! way too serious!’ Does he have a vocal chord issue? Did something happen to him where he needs to constantly whisper?
Whatever it is, it won’t stop me from watching the show. Now, does this say more about me as part of the mass viewers these days? Or that I notice refreshing writing when I see it? I’ll take the latter. On a parlay.
After some time of leaving his music to the burner, for the past few weeks I have been able to do nothing but listen to Drake’s Take Care. I could have been quoted at some point during this time as telling one of my roommates, “Drake got me through work today.” And I wasn’t even joking. Since my good man DJ Fergs (twitter: @DJFergieFerg) introduced me to the newest member of ‘Young Money’ back in the summer of ’09, I’ve been on that ‘Jimmy from Degrassi: The Next Generation’ bandwagon. Remember? He got shot and ended up in a wheelchair. Later on that summer “Best I Ever Had” blew up, leaving many to forget that track was actually off a mixtape. But don’t worry, Aubrey Graham made sure to remind us on “Forever.”
And that’s one thing that has translated throughout his short career, again on this album, that I really appreciate. He can be cocky, but he backs it up; and at the end of it, he gets introspective in a way that not so many MC’s can nowadays. What started on Thank Me Later Drake finishes here. You could tell after his debut that he had sold even himself a little bit short, that it may have been rushed after all the hype, and he was ready to put out a complete piece of art last November.
Much of the material on Take Care comes sourced from girls and women in place of bitches and hoes. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m down for my occasional bitches and hoes, but Drake really opens the window to some of his past relationships and the emotional damage they inflicted on him.
Additionally, we know now that if Drake is featured on a new track, he’ll probably slay it. (see: “Say Something”) However, murdering hooks and overshadowing others on their own tracks doesn’t always translate to a full length LP. Here, it does. Not only does he masterfully blend melodies and flow, but his lyrics are relevant. More so on a full album than I’ve heard anytime recently. I know I could never dream of having a flow like Drake, but wondering whether I might not be able to touch his chorus hooks is both a little depressing and wonderful as a fan.
My favorite song on the album is “Shot for Me.” It is what I would call ‘sensitively arrogant.’ He’s telling all the girls from his past that they made a big mistake – just look at how famous he is! – but later wrestling with the fact that he still does miss them, and he’s hurt by some of the rumors that went around when he was with them. And after all of it, he seems to sincerely wish them the best while realizing that they are most likely beat up inside as well. It has an understated beat/melody and works beautifully as a pseudo-start to the album. (As the 2nd track)
I also must say that I have been shamelessly using YOLO recently. Some of my friends and I have been abusing it, realizing that it’s a bit ridiculous while also not caring because most of my American friends have left me for good or at least for the summer. I’ll also always take solace in the fact that not only did Drake drop YOLO on us, but listening through Take Care for the umpteenth time on repeat last weekend, I felt as if Rick Ross was personally speaking to me with ‘You Only Live Once!’
J Will Out…
Tres Metros Sobre El Cielo or Three Meters Above Heaven is a Spanish film that came out late in 2010 based on an Italian novel of the same name. It follows the story of two young lovers from different worlds and the inherent problems that come from mixing divergent backgrounds. After seeing promos for it on TV and around the city of Madrid when it was first premiering, I was intrigued and had some ‘ganas’ to see it. The closest this had come to actually happening before last week was last fall when a family I tutored tried to give it to me through a pen drive. It didn’t take and I more or less forgot about it.
However, on the 4th last week, while doing my patriotic duty by drinking Budweiser and correcting some papers, it came on TV and I thought I’d start watching it just to see. It pretty much immediately grabbed my attention, so I left the papers to the side (luckily commercial breaks here last about 8 minutes so I did both) and become engrossed by what I saw.
It follows a storyline we’ve all seen before. Good girl, bad boy. Good girl falls for bad boy. Bad boy gets good girl in trouble. Good girl is torn emotionally. And to that effect, it could have been just another one of those stories. But for many reasons it wasn’t. Principally, with all the odds stacked against it, the film does its best to avoid cheesy. Not completely, but mostly, which is more than the majority of like films can claim. Also, the chemistry between the leads is paramount to oblige the audience into their own belief of the story. Individually, they both give their characters a necessary depth beyond just “I really like this person.” And it didn’t hurt (at least on my part) that the lead actress, Maria Valverde, had me in love with her (like all other Spanish women I ever see) from the first interview I saw her do for promotion a year and a half ago.
The dialogue is crisp and relevant, the directing is solid, and the overall story is emotionally strong. While watching, you really feel for the characters and what is to become of them. A sequel just came out (based on the subsequent Italian novel) and I’m definitely in on that. If you ever get the chance to watch what some in the Spanish media have dubbed as ‘Romeo and Juliet 2.0’ I suggest you take that chance. It really is one of my favorite foreign films I’ve seen in a while.
Well, figuratively AND literally in the world we’re talking about. The insanity that is True Blood returns for a 5th season this Sunday, June 10th. For the last few weeks I’ve been: recapping season 3 with YouTube clips, watching season 4 in its entirety online, and previewing season 5 over and over again. I’m all in, and have been since the start of season 2. To be honest, when I started getting in to the show back in the summer of 2009, I had NO idea what I was watching. It went a little like this: “What the fuck?!”…“Oh, ok”…“This show is awesome!” The show in and of itself has become something of a societal phenomenon, with ratings through the roof (although ratings aren’t vitally important on a pay-for-viewing setup like HBO) and cultural one-liners everywhere. Sookie! Vampires! Lousiana!
So what will this season bring? Any other answer than “who knows?” would seem naïve. Each season brings something new into the fold. Werewolves and Witches. New characters with supernatural powers we didn’t even know existed in the world of fantasy. Different nuances of the vampire sector. What I love about the show is how it manages to corral the insanity. There is so much going on at any given moment, with the things that are going on being seemingly ridiculous, but we remain engaged. Why? Well, each hour of True Blood is a roller-coaster ride that leaves you in the mindset of “Can’t wait til next week!” It’s also really funny. It can sometimes be overt, sometimes subtle, but overall the humor is underrated. And whether it’s exciting, dramatic, or funny, each episode is always wildly entertaining. And each season is something during the summer I’m always looking forward to.
So you should watch. If you haven’t started yet, it’s not too late. To catch up on 4 seasons seems tough, but whether it’s online, Netflix, or whatever, it’s an addicting process. Set a few days aside and do work. I promise that you won’t regret it. However, also be careful who you watch it with. It’s sexual. It’s violent. I’d like to tell my parents in the nicest way possible that I NEVER PLAN TO WATCH THIS WITH YOU AGAIN. It was awkward. It gets away with things that only HBO could think of.
So it is back. Sunday. Let’s do this. I’ll plan on writing a longer piece sometime during the season, but for now – The wait is over!