Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S5)

So this is how it ends. After devoted viewing through the entire show I’ve arrived at the last season and the grand finale of Orphan Black. (Spoilers, probably.)

er-orphanblack5Orphan Black (season 5)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
In the conclusion of the clone saga Sarah and her family need to face the last standing villains and then deal with the fallout as they embark on their normal lives again.

How I found it:
Naturally.

Summary judgment:
Endings are never as good as beginnings but this is as good as it gets.

Best things about it:
The story ends completely, without irritating hanging threads. Our beloved characters get a well-deserved send-off and, best of all, it’s mostly a happy ending. I love those.

Worst things about it:
I wasn’t such a big fan of the Moreau island. It didn’t interest me visually (though the Victorian mansion was a nice touch) nor dramatically and things picked up once everyone returned to the city.

Other pluses:
Till the very end Tatiana Maslany astounds. Just think about the childbirth scene or the motherly confessions.
✤ The episode with Felix’s art opening is brilliantly emotional, and not just because it prepares the viewer for S’s death. This show is always at its best when it contrasts the clones’ adventures with regular social gatherings. Remember Alison’s pot luck?
✤ I like how they show a different body type with Donnie and wish they did this with women, too.

✤ Even with the high stakes of the finale the show remembers to have fun.

Other minuses:
The villains remain unexciting.

How it enriched my life:
It’s time to speak of the show as a whole here: it definitely gave me hours of quality entertainment, deeply humanist storytelling and wonder. It’s one of better shows I’ve ever seen.

Fun fact:
I kept having to remind myself not to watch during breakfast because I always worried there might be a beheading of a swan coming or something unappetizing like that. But I really wanted to watch at breakfast!

Follow-up:
This story is such a complete work and I enjoy it so much that I’m sure to return to it once the details of the plot get blurrier in my memory. There are also comics and I might check them out though from what I’ve seen the art is not the kind I enjoy.

Recommended for:
Everyone who needs their clone story completed.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Thor Ragnarok – it’s high time

Advertisements
Standard
Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S4)

As I’ve decided to possibly see Thor: Ragnarok once more, the review will show up next week and before then let’s just finish the rest of Orphan Black, shall we? Season four gets good again, too.

er-orphanblack4Orphan Black (season 4)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Sarah and her sisters face completely new villains (again) but at least we’re back to the scientific backbone of the story and no more forays into the military. We learn more about the background of Beth’s suicide and the stakes get raised yet again. Also, so many bugs.

How I found it:
Easily.

Summary judgment:
Orphan Black gets good again – so good, at least season two good or maybe better.

Best things about it:
It’s a welcome return to form with only one Castor left and the focus back on the ethics of science. I loved Beth’s flashbacks! They really fleshed out both the character and the whole story – and allowed for showing some of the old favorites who’ve left the show. And, within the same spirit, the episode showing Sarah in her old environments and her old self-destructive habits is also strong. This gives season four some of the intimacy of season one.

Worst things about it:
The villain-an-episode routine gets a bit old. So now it’s Evie, now it’s some boring cop, now it’s another spoiler… none of them interesting. I never care about villains too much but I’m beginning to miss Leekie after two seasons of random search for someone who would stick.

Other pluses:
Unlike previously, new characters add to the story and gel well with the rest of the cast. (Mostly.) MK is cool and so is Adele. I’m not a huge fan of Krystal but Tatiana Maslany must be having fun playing her.

Other minuses:
It continues being uncomfortable to watch at times for its graphic scenes, especially those including deformed babies. I imagine for people with any particular dislike to bugs this must be even harder to watch than for a casual viewer.

How it enriched my life:
I spent an exciting Sunday binge-watching the whole thing.

Fun fact:
When I choose an outfit now I wonder which clone’s style it would match the most – and it’s usually a mix of Beth and Cosima, with some Sarah thrown in. So it’s a thing now for me.

Follow-up:
I’m so excited for season 5, and sad that it will be the last one.

Recommended for:
Fans of the show who didn’t drop it during season three (and those who did should also try returning) and don’t have entomophobia. Not for new parents, I think.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The grand finale

Standard
Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S3)

In my recent re-watch of Orphan Black I have arrived at the last season I’d already seen, and definitely my least favorite so far. Let’s talk season three (find one and two here).

er-orphanblack3Orphan Black (season 3)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
We deal with the fallout of the last season… Oh, there will be spoilers, maybe more than usual. You’ve been warned. So Helena is kidnapped by the creepy military, Sarah tries to rescue her and the obnoxious male clones run rampant. Meantime Alison and Cosima are having their own crises, loosely related to the rest of the story.

How I found it:
Not really a question since I was already invested after the first two seasons.

Summary judgment:
As I said, it’s my least favorite so far – but still better than so much TV.

Best things about it:
The story continues and it’s never boring. In fact, it takes you along on a pretty crazy ride. Tatiana Maslany gets even more challenging things to do, as if she hadn’t already proven she’s superhuman, and there’s no more doubt that Helena is awesome.

Worst things about it:
Well, this season is a bit of a mess. I hate the military base: it’s visually boring, full of unnecessary violence and, maybe worst of all, makes the show go artsy, what with all the visions and hallucinations. No, actually, worst of all, they kill Paul, having established him as a positive hero once and for all, and I’ll never forgive them.
And I hate the male clones. Honestly, this is such a redundant idea and I’m sure the actor who plays them is as talented as he is sculpted but it only shows that what Maslany is doing is not a casual acting feat. The writers try to make it easier on the actor by making most of the male clones the same but the over-the-top insane woman-abuser act remains cringeworthy. I’m glad Castors seem on the way out at the end of the season.

Other pluses:
✤ Some new characters, while it’s debatable if necessary at all, are certainly well cast.
✤ I like the simple use of different color filters to differentiate between the locations.
✤ I like the more subtle character storylines, like Delphine’s arc. I mean, that bug was a definition of subtle, huh.

Other minuses:
 The first part of the season resembles a slasher movie with characters constantly sneaking up on one another and hurting each other in gruesome ways. There’s so much visual violence (sometimes as actual violence, sometimes as medical procedures but all of them very graphic) as if the creators wanted to make the show uncomfortable to watch.
✤ Too many new characters that bring little to the story but steal screen time away from the actual stars.
✤ Alison’s story runs separately from the rest of them, like a lost script for Desperate Housewives, and while it’s not a bad storyline by itself, it clashes a little with the rest. I also don’t like the conclusion with Helena single-handedly destroying the Portuguese mob (which, what?) like a Valkyrie-ex-machina. To be clear, I don’t mind the mob gone.

How it enriched my life:
I didn’t remember most of this season so it was actually very interesting to watch and I went through it within two days or so.

Fun fact:
I love Helena’s way of speaking. Almost makes me want to speak so badly if it comes with so much sass.

Follow-up:
Season 4. Season 5.

Recommended for:
People who want to know the story. People who thought the previous seasons didn’t show enough blood and wounds.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: We press on – or else I’ll manage to squeeze in the new Thor

Standard
Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S2)

My re-watch of Orphan Black continues with season 2. The first time I watched it, soon after the stellar first season (read about it here), it was a bit of a letdown. This time I think I liked it more.

er-orphanblack2Orphan Black (season 2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Sarah’s fight for control over her life continues with the villains now better-defined. Both the evil corporation Dyad and the group of religious freaks want to use the clones for their sinister ends and for most of the season the characters try to escape or outsmart them. Or just burn them to the ground.

How I found it:
Once I watched the first season I couldn’t wait for the second one.

Summary judgment:
It’s better than I remembered it, even if it couldn’t remain as good as the first one.

Best things about it:
With the main characters in place the show may now focus on deepening the relations between them and despite many action sequences it actually manages to spend a lot of time on the people. It throws them into new configurations – like Alison and Vic, Art and Helena etc. – shining new light on all of them and allowing for many delightful comedic moments. It’s not just about Sarah this time: Helena, Cosima and Alison, even Mrs. S are all served right with their storylines.

Worst things about it:
It’s usually the case that when you build an intriguing mystery, whatever answer you provide has to be a bit disappointing. And it doesn’t help how convoluted and vague our answers are (and from what I remember season three doesn’t improve on that). A lot is happening and sometimes I wasn’t even sure who was on which side anymore but I didn’t much care because I really wanted to see more Alison drinking and Sarah bonding with her baby daddy. It’s too bad that my favorite part of the first season, namely the personal stories of the clones, slowly begins to compete with the bigger picture for the screen time.

Other pluses:
✤ I don’t think I mentioned it before but this show is so impressive in how it puts multiple Tatianas on-screen at the same time! In fact, the dancing scene was plain showing off, with all of them dancing together, each one differently. But usually it’s done so naturally you don’t even think about the technical difficulties.
✤ Cal is alright. I used to be very Team Paul during the first watch but now I can see Cal’s probably a better choice (so far).
✤ Winter looks both pretty and realistically depressing in this season.

Other minuses:
✤ Ugh, Rachel, and all of the institute, particularly Daniel reaaaally get on my nerves. I know it’s villains’ job but they are just – too good at it.
✤ This season introduces many new characters but most of them feel superfluous and way less interesting than our previous stars. Case in point: the new clone, I don’t see a reason for introducing Tony, except that everyone wanted to see what else Tatiana Maslany could do?
✤ I know it’s only starting this season but can we please not do the male clones? No? Okay, we’ll get back to this.

How it enriched my life:
I watched it so fast, stealing time from other duties. Such a good show.

Fun fact:
So, I caught a cold – again, this time from my son – and that’s why I managed to watch the show so quickly. (I know this barely classifies as a fun fact but I’m trying.)

Follow-up:
Season 3, again. Season 4. Season 5.

Recommended for:
People who loved the first season. People who loved it but thought that maybe there was too little of evil corporations, sinister military or too few characters altogether.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Dangerous Liaisons

Standard
Show Case

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black

I have so far watched three seasons of Orphan Black, with varying levels of enthusiasm, and before watching the last two I’ve decided to re-watch the beginning. So today I’m sharing my thoughts on season one, but bear in mind that while they might be colored by my knowledge of seasons two and three I know nothing yet about the further developments in the show.

er-orphanblack1Orphan Black (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A mildly science-fiction show about Sarah Manning, who accidentally discovers that women identical to her exist, precisely – that they are her clones. They become increasingly involved with one another as they try to discover the truth about their origins and about the many dangers they face. The show stars Tatiana Maslany, who does wonders playing all the clones in all their differences. As if that wasn’t marvellous enough, she also gets to play clones who pretend to be other clones and wow, is she amazing. Sometimes you forget it’s the same actress all along. The first season focuses on discovering variants of Sarah and on their private lives and as such is, so far, my favorite.

How I found it:
Back when tv.com was a good website I was mildly addicted to it and when they started promoting Orphan Black (which the fans of the show requested), I decided to check it out. And boy, was I hooked. I watched the first season within two or three days and loved every minute of it.

Summary judgment:
This is one of the all time great first seasons of TV shows, no matter how many times I watch it.

Best things about it:
Sarah: she’s a great protagonist, a determined survivor with a soft side and a strong loyalty, firmly keeping us on her side throughout the season.
Paul: very crushable, even when he’s shady. The episode in which he crashes a suburban party is my favorite.
Also, the show looks amazing, with the filtered subdued color palette and the various interiors, each evoking a different social and emotional situation (my absolute favorites are Beth’s and Felix’s apartments).

Worst things about it:
Rachel, but luckily she only appears at the end. The more of the Institute there will be, the more messy the show will become.

Other pluses:
Felix: flamboyant and lovable, the best sidekick one could hope for.
Alison: putting heart into a suburban mom cliché and possibly Maslany’s quiet tour de force.
Cosima: even though she makes irritatingly stupid decisions, in a way she’s the most relatable clone.

Other minuses:
Helena: I know that within the next two seasons she will become quite great but I never liked her in the first season.

How it enriched my life:
It’s one of my favorite seasons of TV, as said, and even during the third watch it still kept me excited about what was going to happen.

Fun fact:
It was one of quite few shows which kept me up at night binge-watching and not feeling guilty about it afterwards. The other one was the first season of True Blood – you know that the first season was good, whatever happened later.

Follow-up:
Season 2, again. Season 3, again. Season 4. Season 5.

Recommended for:
Anyone who enjoys a well-done, exciting story with just the right balance between action/mystery and emotional moments. Actors serious about their craft, so that they can study Maslany and get depressed.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Younger, again

Standard
Bookworming

Teenagers, Murders and Secret Societies: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

er-specialtopicsEven though I don’t specifically search for stories about high school girls, I find them in the strangest places, my latest one the once-controversial Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl.

This début novel tells a story of 17-year-old Blue van Meer in an unapologetically postmodernist fashion, rife with literary allusions and metaphors. Blue travels the country with her father, a professor of political science, to finally settle for her senior year in a mountain town. She gets involved with a mysterious group of pretentious teenagers led by an even more mysterious, and probably insane, teacher. It’s then that life-changing events unravel (they include hanging; and it’s not a spoiler because the book tells you on the first page).

Like a precocious teen, the book can’t decide between its two preoccupations: does it want to be extravagantly fun (as a whodunnit) or seriously ponder life questions. Sometimes it manages to merge these two, but generally it’s better at the page-turning aspect because once the revelations start coming, you can’t put the book down – even though you rightly suspect in the end you’ll be treated to an open ending.

The open ending is interestingly solved, though. The whole novel is structured like a syllabus, each chapter titled with a famous book’s title. Sometimes this casts an important light on the events, sometimes it seems more like playing with the phrase from the title itself (“Things Fall Apart,” “The Trial”). At first I welcomed the game of allusions but after a while you realize that the very amount of books referenced requires a determination of a Bible scholar and you focus less, especially as the events speed up. At any rate, the syllabus ends with a “Final Exam” where all the possible answers to the story are gathered as multiple answers to test questions. This is an interesting and quite effective way to sum up the unanswered mysteries and at least give the reader a selection from which to pick out their favorite ending.

Just like literary allusions multiply beyond reason, metaphors crowd one another. Most of them are surprising and fresh, sometimes also awkward and confusing. I didn’t mind but I only occasionally interpreted them, again overwhelmed by their amount. But not a single one stood out to me as much as this one used by this reviewer: “she seems to think that if you fling enough metaphors at your readers’ heads, their ducking can be interpreted as bows of reverence.” Pessl doesn’t usually reach this level of accuracy in her metaphoric choices.

While the elaborate story leaves us wanting for final answers, another motif gets precedence: how growing up means emancipating from your parents. Blue’s father, professor van Meer, is definitely the most interesting character in the novel that you can’t decide whether to love or to hate. He’s charming, self-assured and intelligent, treats his women like doormats, thinks himself a wonder and refuses to apologize for anything. Obviously for Blue he’s the center of the world. The mysterious teacher, Hannah Schneider, serves as a mother figure and will also turn out a disappointment. In two poignant scenes, Pessl presents them in a similar way, their faces lit orange and monster-like. This emancipation from parents is a fairy-tale motif, very Bruno-Bettelheimian. In the end, in the world devoid of competent adults, Blue will learn to stand on her own and even, despite endless bad examples, form a romantic relationship. This is the true closed ending of the novel and I actually liked it.

Standard