After a questionable second season, whose times jumps played havoc on all aspects of the series, last year's "Downton Abbey" Christmas Special righted the ship that show creator and head writer Julian Fellowes let run precariously off-course. Now that "that pesky war" is over with, Fellowes can return to what he does best: posh manner drama (with plenty of downstairs intrigue).
Like last year, I did cheat again this time and procure the episodes as they aired first in the U.K. (if you want to know why the episodes air here so late, Slate has a good explanation for it), and can confirm that the third season is miles above the second in terms of story (with another surprising Christmas Special). But that is the last you'll hear of it (and NO spoilers in the comments, please), because unlike last year, the season doesn't require constant reassurance that you'll need to stick with it. It speaks for itself.
Now onto the specifics: it's 1920, and things much as they were in 1912. The biggest difference is that unlike a Jane Austen novel, life continues even after marriage, and so we pick up both with Anna and Bates' trials (literally, and snooze) as well as Sybil and Branson after their move to Ireland. The most important marriage of them all is the one still on the horizon, though: Matthew and Mary, and show's OTP (or "one true pairing," to use fan speak that means soulmates) are finally ready to tie the knot (and do, amen).
"The Choice" opens with a nice bit of continuity, as Carrie brings Brody back to the Mathison family cabin, the place where they sort of fell in love in the Season One episode "The Weekend." At one point Brody holds Carrie by the arms and she says, "Ow, watch the wrists!" revealing her injuries from her captivity. He calls her a "wounded warrior." Later, Brody finds the handgun in the nightstand, and she empties it of bullets, which she puts in an Altoids box (in a nice detail). As Carrie and Brody flirt, play house, and share their feelings with each other, the episode sets a leisurely pace. See, a show about a happy couple would be pretty boring.
Chill, people. Granted, "Homeland's" recent episodes have marked a puzzling change of direction to a more conventional TV espionage series, compared to the show's first season and a half. My fellow critics seem all too eager to throw out the baby with the bathwater, as if they've become clones of Ratatouille's Anton Ego, demanding perfection at every turn. I don't want to knock high standards, and a show like "Breaking Bad" certainly sustains a level of excellence, but most serial dramas have creative peaks and valleys.
Sometimes "The Good Wife" doesn't do a proper mid-season finale and straggles on through the holidays, but this year it looks like (according to the last schedule I saw) that there's been a clean break and the series will return at the first of January. I think this was the right choice to keep the show's drama taught, and "Battle of the Proxies" left us with plenty to look forward to in 2013.
It seemed from the promos that "Battle of the Proxies" would focus on the ethical issue of trying a client who is known to be guilty and, beyond that, simultaneously working to convict an innocent man of the same crime. Strangely, that turned out to be more a footnote, with the courtroom circus in Minooka being the main focus (presided over by Stephen Root, a favorite of mine). It made the Case of the Week a lot more interesting, but the shrugging dismissal of the fact that two cases could be tried for the same crime at the same time (which I didn't know was possible) and that "well it's ok that we helped convict the innocent one on false information, we'll just slip them a note for appeal!" was unsatisfactory.
There was plenty to unpack though in "Battle of the Proxies," and much of it focused on a far more interesting and engaging Alicia (her character has really, really flourished without the Will and Peter baggage this year, proving the "Alicia/independence" pairing may indeed be the best one). Her unilaterally deciding to no longer support Nick at the firm without consulting the partners was something that Alicia would not have found the courage to do before. Her standing up to him was not necessarily new, but the way she did it without hesitation was a fierce move for her. Her protection of Kalinda, too (and dropping the information about the drugs like it was Known Information) and her kicking Nick to the curb partially on Kalinda's behalf seemed to spur Kalinda herself into action.
Kalinda, one of the best/worst characters on the show (to quote an old rhyme, "and when she was good she was very good, and when she was bad she was horrid") has a more clear arc now than ever before. No longer on the run, she seems to want to fight for normalcy with the roots she's laid down, without meaning to perhaps, in Chicago. Where did that ultimate lead, though?
"Homeland" has always presented itself as being more grounded in the real world than "24," and viewers complain that the former looks too much like the latter when Showtime's spies take actions that strain credibility. You can't build up the realistic interactions of the Brody family or the CIA bureaucracy and then pile on crazy twists. "Homeland" usually avoids this kind of thing - I doubt Dana Brody will have to fend off a hungry mountain lion on the show - but it's always a little jarring when the series seems to gift into a different level of genre. A lot of that happens this week, the incidents of which could have fit into an hour of real time (at least, "24"-style real time), but thankfully were not.
So Mandy and Murray walk into a diner. Actually, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) walks into a diner and finds Dar Adal (F. Murray Abraham). Saul knows Adal is a regular there and Adal shrugs, "I guess old habits die hard." (Maybe the sixth film in that Bruce Willis action series will be called Old Habits Die Hard. As a covert ops muckety-muck, Adal confirms that Quinn belongs to his team and calls him a soldier. Saul points out that soldiers kill people, and Adal replies, "They also fix airplane and engines and cook bad food. It's a figure of speech." He also says that Quinn is on the team at Estes' request.
What is it about "Vegas" that is so engaging? It has plenty of problems, starting with some pretty ludicrous crime plots week by week, and it hasn't yet fleshed out its characters very well. Maybe it's that it's just filmed so lusciously that I become lulled into a hypnotic state in which the filtered light and vibrantly saturated colors wash over me and I forget all about the fact that the Lamb family just waltzed into a top secret (top!) military base that's studying radiation effects by poisoning an entire air squadron. But hey, let's talk Army-Air Force football!
The same things that worked in "Exposure" are the same things that have worked all season for "Vegas," and what hasn't worked still doesn't. The Case of the Week often feels shoehorned, but there are aspects of the rest of the series that are really promising. Though some have said Quaid's hammy performance detracts from the show, I think his camera mugging fits in with both his character and the show itself.
There's something about "Vegas" that is almost, dare I say, wholesome? We get introduced to Savino's mistress, the singer Diane Desmond (Ivana Milicevic), but their affair is from a long time ago and seems to have happened to a much different Savino that we now know. And in any case, he's not interested in pursuing it now. He doesn't give away his wife's necklace, he doesn't sleep with Diane, and he attempts to protect Rizzo from her on top of everything else.
"The Good Wife" trimmed the fat (mostly) for "A Defense of Marriage," and focused almost entirely on Alicia both in and out of the courtroom. It's of little wonder though when this series' named is paired with an episode title and theme like this one. Marriage was on trial for everyone this week, from the micro to the macro, and while some may criticize the show not taking a stand one way or another on, well, anything, I think it was actually a perfect way to illustrate the ambiguity of its subject.
The best "Good Wife" episodes usually deal with politics, and "A Defense of Marriage" was no exception. The other key part is having a relevant and related Case of the Week, which also played out nicely with Alicia's family politics. The idea of what a marriage is or can be defined as (or can it really, when one comes down to the nitty gritty) was the main thrust in both the politics of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) as well as both Alicia's and her mother's person lives.
While Stockard Channing made a great turn as Alicia's flirty and outspoken mother, her turning on Peter and resurrecting the Will storyline (which always happens when Owen is in town - Owen also being my least favorite and least essential supporting cast member) felt too backwards. We've been over this, we've moved past it. What's more interesting at this point is Alicia repairing her relationship with Peter. Lest we forget, we've actually seen them very happy over the last few weeks, with Alicia standing behind him during the attacks by Mattie to shade his reputation. Though "The Good Wife" is right to return its focus to its main character, it is wrong if it seeks to retread her old plots when there are plenty of new places to go.
Where in the world is
Carmen San Diego Congressman Brody? Team Quinn scrambles for answers as the helicopter apparently vanished into thin air the night before and "Terrorist chatter across all hot zones is virtually nonexistent." (Did I mention how I love contemporary spy jargon?) Carrie and company conclude that even if Brody's not physically dead, he's "operationally" dead, and they have no choice but to arrest Roya as their last lead. Carrie's putting a brave face on it.
"Vegas" continues to get better and better, not only starting to find its rhythm narratively but also by doubling back and building on stories it's already established. The Case of the Week plots aren't always throwaways - the Milwaukee crew from a few weeks back that Savino had killed is found (Pro Tip: never bury your bodies on farm land!), which heralds the return of Jones, full (or real) name unknown. What is known is that he's a cold-blooded killer and very smart about his trade.
This is where my praise dims slightly. Jones is a fantastic character, and him coming after Savino could have given a least another week of narrative tension, but Ralph is able to disarm him and arrest him pretty easily in his typical Ralph Wins All The Things ways.
The previews for "Bad Seeds" teased a kind of "odd couple" scenario between Ralph and Savino, where Savino would be locked to Ralph until Jones was apprehended, for Savino's own safety. Thirty minutes into the episode, the two still weren't handcuffed together, and it turns out that the extent of their shared confinement lasted less than one poorly-cooked steak dinner.
Still, oh how fantastic those moments were! The two played off of each other so expertly, with wisecracks and snarky comebacks that were delightful to watch unfold. The show couldn't keep the two at constant odds, and even though they don't like or trust each other, having to work together for any amount of time is great fun.
This has been another transitional season for "The Good Wife," but despite some starts and stops it really has remained a great show. "Here Comes the Judge" again married the Case of the Week closely with Lockhart Gardner, to its benefit. And though there were some lagging sidebar plots (hmmm who could that be ... Nick maybe? You got it!), overall it was a pretty engaging episode that raised some interesting questions.
The main one for me is: how are we supposed to feel about the firm these days and their ruthless pursuit of their own interests? I really like Diane and I'm OK with Will, but the way they have plotted against and alienated Hayden in the past and dragged Judge Creary in this episode (and they way they did it) just feels slimy. I would be surprised if viewers disagreed with Judge Dunaway's final thoughts on the matter: yes, Lockhart Gardner proved their point, but at what moral and ethical cost?
I was slightly disappointed, speaking of the Case of the Week that wasn't, that there wasn't more time spent on the Andrea Sneiderman-inspired case (I mean that was clearly the "ripped from the headlines" story it was cobbled from, right?) It was certainly riveting in real life, and I think that the show could have done more with it. Still, the direction things ended up going was something most legal shows don't focus on: the judges. "The Good Wife" has always given them a lot of consideration, from their quirks and biases to their friendship with attorneys that lead more or less to Will's disbarment.
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